Gilbert Leslie Eaton (Service No. 151)
(1890 - 1963)

Gilbert Leslie Eaton was born 11 February 1890, in Laverton to parents John Thomas Eaton and Margaret Anne Eaton nee Jackson. The Eaton’s were originally from the Broadford area but John Eaton took on employment in Laverton around the time Laverton was being developed as a ‘new model suburb’ 1887 to 1892 working with the Victorian Railways. John and Margaret had eight children three born at Laverton being James, Gilbert and Roy.

Having left school, Gilbert took after his father and joined the railway initially working around the Spencer Street and North Melbourne rail yards. On 11 February 1915 and now 25 years old Gilbert celebrated his birthday by enlisting into the AIF and heading to Broadmeadows to commence his training. His enlistment form noted his place of birth as Laverton and his next of kin being his father John Eaton who had by now returned to live and work in Broadford. Whilst Gilbert Leslie Eaton is not recorded on the Werribee or Laverton honor boards, he is none the less a son of Laverton and so here takes his place amongst the others from the district. Gilbert was not the only family member to enlist. His younger brother Desmond Russell Eaton enlisted five months after Gilbert 5 July 1915 serving with the 6th Field Artillery Brigade.

Gilbert Eaton was appointed a private and transferred to the 21st Battalion ‘A’ Company and he and the Company embarked from Melbourne on 10 May 1915 aboard HMAT A38 Ulysses. Also, on the same ship were the men of the 22nd Battalion that included Ernest Peacock William Cameron and Alfred Newland. The 21st headed for Egypt and after arriving there in June 1915 it undertook further training before being dispatched as reinforcements to Gallipoli in late August. Whilst enroute the battalion’s transport HMAT Southland was torpedoed by the German submarine UB-14 near Lemnos and the passengers and crew were forced to abandon ship.

Nevertheless the 21st Battalion eventually arrived at Anzac Cove on 7 September 1915. While fighting at Gallipoli Private Eaton injured his knee and was evacuated to hospital for treatment and spent about four weeks recovering. He rejoined his unit on 12 October 1915 still at Gallipoli where they undertook mainly defensive duties along the Australian line until December 1915 they were then evacuated after the decision was made to withdraw Allied forces from the peninsula. Only one 21st Battalion soldier was killed during the Gallipoli campaign Private James Martin who was only 14 years and nine months old and is believed to have been the youngest Australian soldier killed during the war.

 

Troop ship Southland – torpedoed on 2 September 1915 forcing everyone to abandon ship (Courtesy: awm.gov.au/collection/C1009141)
Troop ship Southland – torpedoed on 2 September 1915 forcing everyone to abandon ship (Courtesy: awm.gov.au/collection/C1009141)

Returning to Egypt the battalion undertook Canal Zone defensive duties and further training. During this time the AIF underwent a period of reorganisation while its future employment on operations was decided. A number of units from the 1st Division were split up and used to provide unit staff for newly formed battalions however the 21st Battalion remained intact. In early 1916 the decision was made to transfer part of the AIF to Europe to take part in the fighting along the Western Front and in March 1916 the 21st arrived in France. In April they became the first Australian battalion to commence active operations on the Western Front. In July 1916 during the Battle of Pozières the battalion was committed to the battle but was mainly used to carry out ‘portage’ tasks. While this might have been the case there was still danger in carrying out these duties and Private Eaton was wounded suffering mild shell shock at the end of July 1916 and spending a short period in the hospital.

Private Eaton rejoined his battalion on 28 August just as they undertook fighting around Mouquet Farm where the 21st Battalion suffered its most significant losses of the war. In early September Gilbert Eaton was promoted to Lance-Corporal. Throughout 1917 the battalion took part in two major battles after the Germans shortened their lines and withdrew towards the prepared defences of the Hindenburg Line. The first battle came in May when the 21st Battalion fought in the Second Battle of Bullecourt. Later they were moved to Belgium in October where they joined the fighting around Broodseinde. Unfortunately, Lance-Corporal Eaton had been admitted to hospital spending nearly four months there before rejoining his battalion in early May 1917. By August of 1917 Lance-Corporal Eaton had been transferred to the 6th Infantry Training Battalion to ensure its establishment and in September was promoted to Acting Corporal. Gilbert remained with the 6th until he again fell ill mid-June 1918 and remained there for a short period before being attached to the 2nd Machine Gun Company where he stayed until the armistice was signed in November 1918. He Returned to Australia 9 March 1919 aboard HMAT Kashmir arriving in Melbourne 30 April 1919.

Following his discharge Gilbert Eaton returned to living in West Melbourne and working for the Victorian Railways. In 1923 he married Margaret May Cruickshank and the couple moved to Speight Street Newport where they lived and raised their two children. Gilbert continued working for the Victorian Railways until his retirement and the couple stayed at Speight Street until Gilbert passed away in November 1963 aged 73 and is buried in Altona Memorial Park.

References:

  1. ancestry.com.au
  2. https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=3533356
  3. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51461
  4. https://www.awm.gov.au/advanced-search?collection=true&facet_type=Photograph&facet_related_units=21st%20Australian%20Infantry%20Battalion&page=8
  5. https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=87935
  6. Image: Courtesy: awm.gov.au/collection/C1009141

Research by: Graeme Reilly (ALHS)