When Noel Casey attends Beaudesert’s Anzac Day dawn service, he’ll think of his father.
Private John Martin Casey served as a stretcher bearer with the 7th Field Ambulance in the First World War, enlisting at the age of 19 in 1916 and returning in 1919.
Private Casey kept daily diaries those four years and sent handcrafted postcards home from place including Belgium. To this day, more than a century later, his family safeguards those keepsakes.
Service never forgotten
Private John Martin Casey’s brief diary entry from 25 April 1918 tells the sombre story of an Anzac Day forever etched in his memory.
“Terrible fighting all night in the town. Gutters running with blood. Bayonet fighting in the houses and rooms. Snipers everywhere. Plenty of dead and wounded. A night not easily forgotten. Town recaptured,” he wrote.
His entry from 24 April gave a glimpse of what was to come.
“Returned to unit. Had a good feed and a clean shirt. Preparing to go to Villers Bret. (sic). Tommies lost the town last night.”
Private Casey was serving as stretcher bearer with the 7th Field Ambulance when Villers-Bretonneux was cleared of enemy troops on 25 April 1918, the third anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli.
His son Noel Casey, 86, returned to Villers-Bretonneux with one of his sons for Anzac Day 2018 – the centenary of his father’s service there.
Mr Casey, who has lived in Beaudesert for 55 years and is known for having had a pharmacy in town, said Anzac Day was a time of reflection.
“It’s not an emotional day but I just think my father did his bit. I haven’t been to a service for a long time, but I will this year – I’ll go down to the dawn service,” he said.
“He marched for some years after he got back, but the old friends were dying, and I think about three out of the eight stretcher bearers were killed in service. And they would have been pretty close to each other.”
Mr Casey’s family has held onto Private Casey’s First World War diaries, and his younger sister Veronica White has looked after the now very fragile items for a number of years.
Mr Casey said his father was fortunate to come home from war.
“The stretcher bearers had a reasonably high mortality rate, because as far as artillery was concerned bombs would just land, they didn’t select anyone,” he said.
“He was wounded a couple of times, went to England, and if they weren’t almost dead, they sent them back (to serve).”