Lewis Gunner, Private Peter Joseph Reinhard of the 20th Battalion AIF
by Isobel Kachoyan
My Anzac Story is that of WWI, The Somme & a young man I never met who held a place in my grandmother, May Clayton's, heart all her life & whose grave in France I visited for the first time in 2009 & again in 2011 & placed flowers there, the first family member ever to do so.
Lewis Gunner, Private Peter Joseph Reinhard, of the 20th Battalion, AIF -- who rests among rows of service men & women in the Military Extension of Albert Community Cemetery, died in the 57th Field Hospital, near midnight on July 27, 1916 from wounds inflicted while withdrawing from forward trenches in Pozieres in the early evening & was laid to rest, temporarily, near the field hospital, on the edge of the town. When the Commonwealth War Graves Commission began establishing its distinctive cemeteries across the former battlefields, Peter's remains were permanently interred in the Albert Cemetery where he lay, Plot 1, Row K, Grave 8, among well-tended gardens, in the care of the Commission for the past 97 years.
Peter was fairly typical of the majority of the forces serving in the volunteer Australian Imperial Forces - he had no previous military experience. Peter was as a trained electrician working in Sydney's inner west, aged 24 years & 3 months, single & living with Jane, his widowed mother when he enlisted in Glebe, Sydney in August 1915. Peter's father had died when he was a teenager & he had no siblings. After some basic training in Liverpool, he left for Egypt towards the end of 1915, training in the desert near Cairo & getting into a few scrapes with the Military Police as well as having a few admissions to hospital for treatment related to visits to certain amenities in the back streets of Cairo! As the Allies built up their forces in France, he found himself on a ship to Marseilles arriving there on March 25, 1916. He was in the army less than year, and in France only a matter of months when he was killed.
As a Lewis Gunner, Peter Reinhard was part of a team of four: the gunner, the mechanic & the two "powder monkeys" who carried the extremely heavy rounds. They were the first in & the last out, providing forward covering fire going in & covering the backs of the withdrawing troops when relief troops came up the line. Theirs was a dangerous role in a dangerous landscape. The gun was very heavy, became very hot as it was fired & frequently needed to be cooled down & a new magazine loaded. The team worked as a tight unit, each member knowing their task & able to execute it under extreme conditions.
The evening Peter was wounded, all 4 of the four man gun teams had been in the trench system at the north end of Pozieres, not too far from the Windmill, when a German bomb was lobbed at them. Peter was one of 5 or 6 not killed outright in the attack. He suffered a serious head wound, shrapnel to many areas & sustained multiple fractures to both legs. Withdrawn to a dressing station as quickly as practicable, he was assessed & moved on by road to the field hospital on the outskirts of Albert. It was here that he died a few hours later. He was 25 years old.
As I stood at Peter's grave in Albert, I felt a profound sadness wash over me. As the first member of my family to visit his grave, I felt the spirits of his mother, Jane & his cousin, May, standing with me. They had never had the means to travel overseas & be reassured that their son & cousin did rest in peace in the soil of France. I felt the salt of their tears with mine & I felt very proud to be able to place a few simple flowers on his grave, say a prayer for him & sing Panis Angelicas at the top of my lungs. I had carried one of his last postcards home to May with me to the grave & this I read aloud & along with the flowers I placed a copy of a photo of May & one of Peter in his uniform -- the same ones they had exchanged before he left for Egypt, next to his headstone.
I also felt enormous gratitude to the original War Grave Commissioners, whose vision & determination to honour the lives lost, had created the beautiful places that the dead of this conflict rest in & memorials where the missing are remembered. The CWGC's work had begun in 1914 as the first waves of war wrought destruction on lives & the landscape across Northern France & Belgium. In the years immediately after WWI, establishing the many Cemeteries & Memorials to the Missing must have been a monumental task but what was achieved across a once desolate landscape, has left sites of outstanding design, crafted using beautifully appropriate materials & well executed in their construction. In the years since their establishment, the maintenance of these varied sites has been undertaken with those same very high standards. It must be noted too that the considerable reconstruction work after WWII, during which many battles were fought in areas with established WWI graves & memorials, has been carried out to the same exacting standards.
When I first became aware of the connection between the black & white photo of a young man in uniform & my grandmother, I made a vow that I would find him. I knew very little about him. My father could only tell me that his mother, May, always had the picture on her bedside table & that his name was Peter Reinhard & he had fought in WWI & not returned. I did not know when I began that he had, in fact, been a casualty of the Great War & lay in a grave in Northern France. I carried out my research online, finding Peter's enlistment papers in the materials held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. I slowly built up a picture of this man & by reading extensively about the war & its various battles, specifically the 20th Battalion's role in the Battle of Pozieres; I began to construct a brief history of Peter's last year & his role as a Lewis Gunner.
I learnt almost everything I know about Peter Joseph Reinhard from sources outside my family's memories but I do feel that I know something of him & the contribution he made to the war effort. I understand the fervour with which young Australian men signed up for adventure & a chance to see the world. I understand the sense of duty felt in going to the aid of the mother country & serving the Empire in her need. I understand that these brave men faced danger & death with fortitude & determination.
I also understand the pain & sorrow that their families in Australia felt as the heard their loved ones were missing or had been killed & the awful emptiness in not being able to pay them due respect & bury them in the earth of home. The heartache of those living, while in debt for the sacrifices made, must have been just awful to behold as with empty arms they mourned for sons lost to foreign soil.
I understand all that & much more & I feel a deep & lasting gratitude to Peter Reinhard & all those who gave their lives in WWI & other conflicts & for those who returned to live out their lives. I think our Anzacs of both WWI & WWI right up to present day service personnel should be accorded our respect & honoured.
I can stand at Peter's grave now as his mother & cousin could not sure in the knowledge that he does rest in peace & that keeping his story alive among our family is the most important thing I can do.
To paraphrase The Ode:
He shall grow not old ... I will remember him.