Hero of No Man's Land

Hero of No Man's Land

Aussie Diggers don't leave their mates behind

Lieutenant Roy Retchford ran across No Man’s Land, stumbling under the weight of his Sergeant as the machinegun bullet tore through his thigh.

It was the night of 21 March 1918 and the two 11th Battalion soldiers were on patrol in the Hill 60 sector south-east of Ypres in Belgium. Patrol leader Lieutenant Retchford’s orders were to reconnoitre the German position.

He and his Sergeant pushed ahead of the patrol and reached the enemy wire. The pair were spotted in the bright moonlight and the German guns opened up, seriously wounding the NCO.

Without a second thought, Lieutenant Retchford hefted his Sergeant over his shoulder and began running back towards the Australian lines. He was shot in the thigh, but managed to keep moving and the pair made it to safety.

The young Lieutenant was awarded the Military Cross for his courageous action but didn’t live to receive it – a few months later, on June 3, 1918, he was killed in action at Mont de Merris in northern France. He was 23 years old.

The award citation described Lieutenant Retchford as showing “courage and endurance of a high order”. His Military Cross was presented in 1919 to his elder brother Percival, who also served in the war.

Albert Roy Retchford was a 20-year-old locomotive fireman on the Trans-Australian railway line when he enlisted in Kalgoorlie on 18 August, 1914, just two weeks after his country entered the war. Before he joined the construction crews building Australia’s longest railway line, the former Kalgoorlie School of Mines student worked on the Sons of Gwalia gold mine near Leonora, 235 kilometres to the north of Kalgoorlie.

Private Retchford embarked from Fremantle as a signaller with the 11th Infantry Battalion aboard HMAT Ascanius on November 2. Among the first ashore at Gallipoli, he was twice mentioned in despatches for “gallant and good work”. By December he had been promoted to Sergeant.

In March 1916 the 11th Battalion sailed for France where for the next two and half years its soldiers fought in all the major battles of the Western Front, including Pozieres, the Somme and Ypres in Belgium. A good soldier, Roy Retchford rose through the ranks and it was as a Lieutenant that the fatal bullet found him.

Lieutenant Retchford lies in the Borre British Cemetery near Hazebroucke. His name can be found on the Sons of Gwalia honour board which lists 85 men from the mine who served in the war. More than a quarter of them never came home – an attrition rate of over 28 per cent, almost twice the national average of 14.4 per cent.

The Sons of Gwalia honour roll is now the focal point of the Gwalia Ghost Town Museum’s World War 1 exhibition.

*Anne Skinner is a writer based in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia. She is passionate about telling stories from the Goldfields, and is researching the men and women from the region who served in World War 1.