Col John Platt, CSC Ret'd
The iconic Harbord Diggers RSL sub-Branch, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, has a long and proud history of serving the veterans’ community of Freshwater, going back to the end of World War 1.
The sub-Branch continues to share a special partnership with The Harbord Diggers Club. Both are separate entities.
Both clubs, from the start, shared similar objectives with their membership.
The Harbord Legion of Ex-Servicemen’s Club, later to be called, Harbord Diggers Memorial Club (The Diggers) was born out of frustration with the RSL movement’s membership rules, which only allowed “returned veterans” to become full members of the RSL. Whereas the Diggers was made up of anyone that had served, including those that served on the “Homefront”. The Diggers Club was based more on community social activities. In the late 1950s both clubs shared joint committees. Mateship was at the core of both organisations.
Both clubs strive to uphold the three main objectives identified back in the 1930’s by the founders;
1. Look after the families of local men killed in WW1 - “Welfare”
2. Look after ex-servicemen who needed support - “Wellbeing”
3. Remember their service - “Ceremonial”
A Walk Back in Time…
Over the four years of World War One (WW1) we guesstimate that about 1900 men, (many of whom were just boys) from the Northern Beaches of Sydney volunteered to serve in Australia’s war effort on battle fields in the Middle East and Europe.
Our RSL sub-Branch, in partnership with the Soldiers Ave Stakeholders Group, believe that over 100 men from the then little village of Freshwater served in WW1 with at least 32 killed in action. The following two short stories of local’s men, both killed in WW1, are special with their full stories found in the history page on this site.
The First Anzac… Sapper Fred Reynolds
The Royal Australian Army of Engineers hold the annual “Reynolds Charity Dinner” in honour of Freshwater local, Frederick Reynolds, who was the first man from Sydney, if not Australia, to lose his life at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915 at about 0428hrs.
Fred Reynolds lived in Crown Road, Queenscliff. He loved to surf and was credited with saving several lives as a lifesaver before he was 19. He worked as an electrical engineer at the Submarine Mine Station, Chowder Bay, before joining the AIF’s 1st Field Company Engineers in 1914.
Prior to the landing of troops at Gallipoli he was on the flagship, HMS Elizabeth. Before the impending battle, he penned his last letter:
“Dear Dad and Mother, just a hurried line to let you know where I am. We are on the flagship. There are 24 of us attached to the 8th Battalion as a demolition party. I will be on the first boat ashore. Quite an honour.”
Fred’s unit was part of the lead element of the Australian and New Zealand Forces to land at dawn at Gallipoli on that fateful morning, but his war was over before it had begun as he was shot in the head and died instantly after using his surfing skills to help rescue three wounded mates.
L - His body is prominently featured, lying on the waters’ edge, in the iconic “First Day Landing” photograph held in the Australian War Memorial.
Fred’s memory is perpetrated on the Great War Rolls of Honour in the Uniting Church in Marmora Street, Freshwater and on the Manly War Memorial. He has been fittingly remembered in the naming of the Reynolds residential building at the Harbord Diggers Club.
Last Anzac Killed in WW1 from Freshwater…
Joe “Iodine” Saunders was a local, who did not carry a weapon at all. His weapons of war were “buckets of iodine and wads of cotton wool”. Saunders was one of the first stretch-bearer to land on Gallipoli Beach on 25th April 1915, shortly after Reynolds was killed.
How he earned the nickname of "Iodine Joe"— The following article appeared in Smith’s Weekly, a Sydney newspaper dated Saturday 17 January 1925:
“Joe Saunders 'Iodine Joe' of the 1st and 14th Field Ambulance, was one of the gamest chaps who ever left Australia. He carried a wad cotton wool, lint and a bottle of iodine, but his most treasured possession was a mouth-organ with which he comforted many a pain racked lad, both mentally, and physically. Wherever he was, if he came across a casualty, out came the iodine and bandage. He'd go over the top with the rest of the mob and start his good work.”
"Iodine" was one of those individuals who earned a decoration every day of the week and never caught the judge's eye'. Sailing with the - first contingent in- 1914 — he was only a boy of 18 — he served right through to May 1918. He was due for his-long service leave to Australia on May 21, 1918, but on the 20th he was killed while making he’s way to; the rear”.
Fred Reynolds was the “first” killed on day one, 25 April 1915 from Freshwater, and Joe Saunders, near war’s end was the last to be killed, just one day before leaving war for peace at Freshwater. Both men, we think knew each other and neither ever fired a shot. Both true heroes, whose memorial trees were planted by grieving mothers in the 1920’s. Both trees still stand proudly today, not more than 20 meters apart in Soldiers Ave of Honour, Freshwater. Their deeds will not be forgotten.
The above stories are two of many from Sydney’s Northern Beaches … many have been written about by our historian, Wendy Machon and can be found in the “history” section on this site…. all need to be remembered.