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Letters from the Western Front...

- Excerpts from two interesting letters written by 3 Squadron AFC Observer, Lt. Francis Joseph TARRANT
(Submitted by his relative Michael Owens.)


A hand-tinted photograph of Frank Tarrant, preserved by his mother.

To his Mother (dated 1 January 1918), Frank writes about Christmas Day 1917:

...Mum, we had a roaring big fire, we had turkey, duck, ham.  Oh Mum, goodness only knows what we never had. 

We had no flying on Christmas Day, it was snowing all day.  The country looks very pretty after a good fall of snow.  At present there is a very sharp freeze on.  As I look out of my door, I can see a lot of French kids skating on the ice.  All the pools are frozen hard.

I bet you would enjoy a trip in a plane, it is simply grand. 

Well Mum, the squadron has had a bit of bad luck.  There have been three Officers and one Sergeant killed.  No doubt our chaps give the old Hun a pretty rough house.

Well Dear Mum, I am feeling real good.  We are still at the same place.  Real good quarters.  By jove Mum, you aught to see my room.  We are in Huts – two Officers to one Hut.  I told you that we have a Brussells carpet on the floor, we have got a very flash stove, which is polished every day with black lead.  We have got also two little chests of drawers in which we keep our underclothing etc.

Also a wardrobe made of dark blue cloth where we hang our tunics, coats etc.  We went down the town the other day and brought enough linen (dark blue) to line the hut complete, drape our washing stands and make curtains for our windows.

Then around the hut near the ceiling we have got two strips of pale blue ribbon – it makes a fine border.  Then we have got six real pretty pictures…..without frames.  Anyway Mum we framed them with purple ribbon, they look real bonza.  The best of all I am getting the family photo of us enlarged to 15 x 12.  Our photographic officer is getting it done for me.  I have got a lovely frame for it, so we are going to hang it up in the centre of the Hut. 

I can tell you Mum, this hut of ours is some Hut.   I recon you would admire it.   The colours might seem rather odd, but they are Good O…..…..”

I have got my second star.  I am now going strong for a Captain… I have written this in a bit of a hurry.  I have to give a lecture tomorrow to Infantry Officers. 

Well “Au” for the present.  Fondest love to all at Home.

Postcript: “I always make the sign of the cross and say a little prayer just before I go off the ground (never forget).

Rosary going Good O …Cheer up all, trust me to look after myself.

 

https://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/E01639.JPG
The interior of one of the huts for officers of B Flight, 3rd Squadron, AFC, at Bailleul.
Left to right: Lieutenant (Lt) Athol B. Cochrope; Lt N. Clark, Signals Officer; Lt A. V. Barrow.  [AWM EO1639.]

Excerpts from a letter to Frank's family dated 8 February 1918, France:

My Dear Mum, Dad, Tribe,

Hoping this letter finds you all alive and kicking as it leaves me at present.  Well Dear Mum, the war still goes on…  I think myself, Mum, that peace will be declared before Christmas.  I think that this Spring will see it through.

I think that our Artillery alone will knock the Germans out, let alone our Infantry.  What a sight this Spring will bring forth.  I really think that the German is doomed this coming Spring.

Well Mum, I take a sporting bet, that this Spring or before, the Hun will retire, so as to alter plans etc.  But leave it to the Australians, they will keep pace with the best Army in the world.  They are no doubt a thorn in the Germans' side.  And as for the Australian Flying Corps, well since we have been over the Aussies, the Hun has never attempted to worry our infantry by bombing them from the air.  They used to do a fair amount of it before we took over our own Corps Front.

If one Hun happens to get through, well Mum we give a Guarantee that they do not get back.

Well Mum, I think that in about a month or so I will be sent to England to learn to fly fighting machines.  I think the course will take about six months.  I am longing to get into a fighting Squadron. Mum this game is simply grand.  I feel as if I was born for the air.

I know Dear Mother you all must worry about me and what I am going to do next, but don’t worry.  I am coming back to dear Australia when this war is over.  All we long for and dream of is Home Sweet Home in that sunny Southern Land and you can bet your life Mum I keep my eyes well open and ears well back.

Well My Dear Mum, we are having a fair amount of rain at present, consequently little flying.  I think that I will be going over on leave any day now.  There has been some delay at the HQ with the leave warrant.  I suppose by the time you receive this letter I will be in London, Ireland or Scotland.

 

Sadly, Frank's confident predictions were not borne out.   The Spring of 1918 actually featured a massive German offensive which evicted 3 Squadron from the Bailleul aerodrome, with some casualties sustained due to the German shelling. 

Even worse, just over one week after writing the words above,  Frank was killed in action (falling to "friendly fire").  Tragically, the administrative delay with his leave warrant had meant that he continued to fly operations over the Front. 

The Squadron history ("The Battle Below") records:

...The 17th of February 1918 witnessed the loss of another of the Squadron's aircraft, when an R.E.8, piloted by Lieutenant H. Streeter, with Lieutenant F. J. Tarrant as observer, was brought down on the north-eastern edge of Oosttaverne Wood.  These officers were engaged in observing the fire of the 70th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (8-inch Howitzers), and the last signal received from them by the Squadron Wireless Station was one for the battery to fire, received at 12.32 p.m. 

Ten minutes later, the 5th Australian Divisional Artillery reported that an R.E.8 aircraft, when flying at about 5,000 feet over the neighbourhood of Oosttaverne Wood at 12.35 p.m., was seen to fall to pieces and crash to the ground.  As the same report stated there were no enemy aircraft in the vicinity and there were no anti-aircraft shell-bursts in the air at the time, the conclusion was arrived at that the aircraft had been hit by one of our own shells.  This report was later confirmed by one from the 4th Australian Divisional Artillery, which stated that the aircraft had crashed in a shell crater and was a total wreck, the engine being 15 feet under water and the rudder being the only part of the aircraft that was left intact.


Frank (left) with his pilot Henry Streeter at the muddy Bailleul aerodrome in Northern France.  Both were killed in action 17-2-1918.

Michael Owens Adds:

Above is a photo of the home that his family moved to a few months after Frank was killed.  His mother had a wrought-iron gate made and called the house "Bailleul" in memory of her son.  His brother Ambrose built the fence and both the fence and gate still stand to this day.

My grandmother called her younger brother "Frankie".   He was revelling in life at the time that he wrote those letters.  He was ambitious and keen on flying.

Prior to enlisting in the AIF on 23 September 1915, he had served three years as a cadet in the Citizen Military Forces Artillery, then three months in the Royal Australian Field Artillery (RAFA).  By the time that he enlisted, he already had a bullet wound to his left leg outer side.

He was ranked a Sergeant on enlistment due to his prior service in the RAFA.  He embarked with his unit, Field Artillery Brigade 4 Ammunition Column, on 18 November 1915 from Melbourne on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire, which sailed for Egypt.  On 7 March 1916, he was transferred to 5th Division Artillery and posted to 47th Battery.  On 12 March 1916 he was promoted to rank of Battery Sergeant-Major (BSM).  On 22 April 1917 Frank was transferred to the Australian Flying Corps, and travelled to Reading, England for training.

 

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