Lieutenant Norman Travers Simpkin

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in California.

Sergeant Norman Travers Simpkin, 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment
Sergeant Norman Travers Simpkin, 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment

Norman Travers Simpkin is the only man commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the United States who served with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli—he was a troop sergeant in 2nd Light Horse Regiment, wounded in the attack near Quinn’s Post in August 1915.

He was born in Richmond, Virginia on 26 January 1888, the son of William Simpkin and Annie Orr. Both parents were English, from Bury in Lancashire, where his older siblings, William, Ada and Edith, were also born.[1] His father, a civil engineer moved to the United States and his mother, a teacher, and his siblings followed, arriving on 3 June 1884.[2]

The family eventually settled in Ricine, Wisconsin, at 418 Sixteenth Street. Travers Simkin was educated at Racine College before travelling to England with his mother, father and elder brother in July 1902, where he boarded at Dover College from that autumn term until 1906; he was twice awarded colours for athletics.

His military service began with four years in the Cadet Corps at Dover College. He was then commissioned on 2 June 1906 into the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), with which he served until he resigned his commission on 31 March 1908—a move precipitated by his father’s suicide. With the help of his commanding officer he secured a billet as an assistant purser with the Orient Steam Navigation Co., on the United Kingdom to Australia routes. On 24 April 1910 he left the Orient Line and became a book-keeper on a ranch in New South Wales working for Ben M. Osborne, one of the region’s biggest ranchers. He then moved to Queensland where he joined Mr Colin Bell, another well known pastoralist, eventually becoming manager of his property ‘Tullamore’ near the township of Alpha.[3] Alpha had been established during the westward construction of the Great Northern Railway, which reached the new settlement on 22 September 1884. The township then became a local centre for the surrounding agricultural properties. By 1913 he was trading there as ‘Simkin & Co. Stock and Station Agents’.

In July 1914 his mother, worried about his fate having not heard from him since April 1913, wrote to the authorities in Australia asking if his whereabouts were known. By the time he was traced he had enlisted and was at the military camp at Enoggera on the outskirts of Brisbane.

Simpkin had enlisted on 21 August 1914 and joined the locally raised 2nd Light Horse Regiment on 25 August. He was allocated the regimental number 279, joined ‘B’ Squadron, and within days was promoted to Lance Corporal. He was promoted to Sergeant on 8 September and became the troop sergeant of ‘D’ Troop, ‘B’ Squadron. The troop comprised men recruited from around Alpha and was commanded by his friend and business rival Lieutenant Joseph Burge.

2nd Light Horse Regiment had been raised at Enoggera on 18 August 1914, recruited mainly from Queensland but with some men from the northern rivers district of New South Wales. Many of its soldiers had previous military experience in the militia and training progressed quickly. The regiment was organized into three squadrons, each of six troops. It was not a cavalry regiment, however, but mounted infantry, a capability proven to be effective during the Boer War. It was one of three Light Horse Regiments in 1st Light Horse Brigade.

2nd Light Horse Regiment on parade in Brisbane, September 1914
2nd Light Horse Regiment on parade in Brisbane, September 1914

The regiment embarked on HMAT[4] Star of England at Brisbane on 25 September and sailed in convoy for the Mediterranean, where men and horses disembarked in Egypt on 9 December. Further training followed and the early part of 1915 was spent guarding the Suez Canal.

In late spring 2nd Light Horse sailed for Gallipoli, leaving its horses in Egypt. It landed there on 12 May 1915 as part of the New Zealand and Australian Division.

Men of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment approaching Anzac Cove, May 1915
Men of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment approaching Anzac Cove, May 1915

The Regiment played a defensive role on the high ground above Anzac Cove around Quinn’s Post until August, when it took part in the Battle of Sari Bair.

Men of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli; on right with periscope is Lieutenant Burge
Men of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli; on right with periscope is Lieutenant Burge

The battle was the last attempt to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsula and involved a landing by British troops at Suvla Bay, with a concurrent attack to the south by the ANZAC Corps against the positions on the harsh, mountainous Sari Bair range. 2nd Light Horse took part in an attack to the south of the ANZAC Corps advance.

Quinn's Post. The Turkish positions were on the other side of the ridge.
Quinn’s Post. The Turkish positions were on the other side of the ridge.

The Regiment had spent the first few days of the month in the positions on Pope’s Hill, before moving into Quinn’s Post on the morning of 5 August. The attack on 7 August against the Turkish trenches opposite the post was led by Major T J Logan, Lieutenant Burge and Lieutenant A R Norris. It was soon apparent that the Turks had the upper hand and the attack was called off. It cost 2nd Light Horse Major Logan, and Lieutenant Burge killed and Lieutenant Norris wounded; another officer, Lieutenant H G Hinton was killed in the trenches at Quinn’s Post during the attack; and 14 other ranks were killed and 36 wounded.[5] One of the wounded was Sergeant Travers Simpkin—he was shot in the neck and throat near where his friend Joseph Burge was killed.

He was evacuated by ship, the HMHS Dunluce Castle, to Malta, where he was treated at the hospital at St Elmo in Valetta. He departed Malta by sea on the hospital ship Re D’italia on 2 September for the United Kingdom, where he was admitted to the City of London War Hospital at Epsom on 10 September.

While in hospital Simpkin wrote and applied for a commission. In his letter he wrote: ‘I am sure that you will understand my not wanting to serve under any other junior officer after Mr Burge – and nearly all of my old troop is gone – so I’d rather seek new fields.’[6]

Having been discharged from hospital on 4 October, he was duly interviewed three days later and accepted for a commission. He was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery on 8 October 1915—having been ‘discharged from the Australian Imperial Force having been granted a commission in the Imperial Army’—and promoted to Lieutenant on 29 July 1916.

He spent his convalescence with his brother-in-law, Dr Eric Batiscombe,[7] in Devon before joining 2A Reserve Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in the north of England. While in England in the spring of 1916 he married Gladys Gordon Fraser.[8]

Simpkin soon deployed to France and joined ‘B’ Battery, 173rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in 36th (Ulster) Division. He did not serve there for long, however, before he fell ill with tuberculosis. He was evacuated to England on 27 August 1916 and was treated at Pinewood Sanatorium in Wokingham. His illness precluded further service he was placed on the retired list from 12 July 1917, ‘on account of ill-health contracted on active service’.[9]

He and his wife journeyed to the United States, on board the SS St Paul, on 23 December 1917 destined for Boston, Massachusetts. His reason for returing to the United States is not known but he secured a position with the British War Mission in the purchasing department based at 120 Broadway, New York, which he joined on 10 June 1918. The department was responsible for negotiating ‘the purchase of munitions and other war supplies and concludes the contracts for such purchases’.[10]

At some time Travers Simpkin moved to California. He died in San Francisco on 18 August 1919, and is buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma. Section F, plot 28, grave 15. His grave is marked by a private memorial inscribed: ‘An Anzac Who Fought in Gallipoli Landing and Later in France’.

The Grave of Norman Travers Simpkin
The Grave of Norman Travers Simpkin

His wife returned to England where she lived initially with her brother in Horsham. She married Oswald Trenchard,[11] her cousin and an officer in the Corps of Royal Engineers, in 1923. In 1936 the couple emigrated to the United States, where they lived in Honolulu and in and around San Francisco. Oswald Trenchard died on 2 December 1976, aged 94, and Gladys died on 14 January 1981, aged 91.

Lieutenant Travers Simpkin’s medals group comprises: 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-20; and Victory Medal. He was also awarded the Silver War Badge (number 240335).

1. (Back) William Simpkin (13 August 1851 – 1908); Annie Orr Simpkin (26 April 1855 – 27 December 1931); William Simpkin (13 February 1877 – 31 March 1929); Ada Orr Simpkin (18 September 1878 – c1929); Edith May Simpkin (10 September 1881 – September 1975).
2. (Back) His father established himself as a civil engineer firstly in England and then in the United States. In the United States he worked for Vanderbilt Brothers, the Economical Refrigerating Company, of Chicago, and the JI Case Threshing Machine Company, in Racine, Wisconsin, where the family finally settled. He then spent two years working for Thomas Edison before returning to London, to become an engineer with the Dunderland Iron Ore Company, owned by Edison. He took his own life in London in March 1908. His wife returned to Wisconsin in April 1909.
3. (Back) Colin Basil Peter Bell (26 June 1867 – 21 April 1934).
4. (Back) His Majesty’s Australian Transport.
5. (Back) Those killed were:

755 Trooper Albert Anderson
292 Trooper Leslie Raymond Arthur
96 Sergeant Harold Joseph Barry
Lieutenant Joseph Burge
32 Driver William Carl
741 Trooper John Francis Dwyer
771 Trooper Henry Hammond
869 Trooper Stuart Samson Hamp
Lieutenant Herbert Gerald Hinton
Major Thomas James Logan
247 Trooper John Kenneth Lush
347 Trooper Cecil James Marson
190 Trooper Edward Charles Henry Pearce
794 Trooper Walter Edward Smale
236 Driver Percy George Whittall
803 Trooper Wright Wilson
804 Trooper Edward Wylie

6. (Back) Simpkin, N T., (26 September 1915). Letter to Colonel Newton-Moore. National Archives of Australia. B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920. Simpkin, Norman Travers.
7. (Back) Dr Eric George Battiscombe (1873 – 1949) married Edith May Simpkin in 1908 in London.
8. (Back) Gladys Gordon Fraser was born in Totnes, Devon on 20 September 1889, the second child of Donald Alexander Fraser, a doctor from Hobart, Tasmania and his wife Elizabeth Trenchard, who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her older brother, Alexander Edward Gordon Fraser, became a doctor and was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1908. He was captured on 27 October 1914 and exchanged, sick, on 29 June 1915. He retired on half pay due to ill health in 1922.
9. (Back) London Gazette 11 July 1917. Issue 30178, p 6957.
10. (Back) Introduction – The British War Mission to the United States. (October 1918) Who’s Who in the British War Mission in the United States of America 1918. 2nd Edition. p vi. New York: Edward J. Clode.
11. (Back) Colonel Oswald Henry Bisdee Trenchard was born in London on 6 April 1882—his aunt was Elizabeth Trenchard (see footnote 8). He was commissioned from the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich into the Corps of Royal Engineers on 4 February 1901, and specialized as a surveyor, particularly in northern India. He married Alena May Bisdee, his 2nd cousin, on 7 January 1915; she died in India on 13 May 1918. He married Gladys Gordon in the 2nd quarter of 1923. His final appointment was as Chief Engineer Western Command and he retired on 17 October 1935.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.