Charles Raby Anstey (1891-1916)

by Gary. M. Ansteychief researcher of the Anstey story project.

Charles Raby Anstey, known as Raby, was born in 1891 in Tregeagle near Lismore in New South Wales, Australia to parents Charles Anstey and Jane Raby; he is thus a member of the Tywardreath Ansteys of Cornwall. Raby was schooled at Tregeagle and Lismore Public Schools and Sydney Grammar School. In the 1913 Electoral Roll, he was living with his parents in Tregeagle, his profession was listed as ‘farmer’.

Around a year after the outbreak of World War One, Raby enlisted for active service in Lismore on 12 August 1915, originally being attached to the 25th Infantry Battalion (5th Reinforcements) of the Australian Imperial Force as a Private (Service Number 2327A). After training at Ennogera in Queensland, he embarked on HMAT ‘Warilda’ at Brisbane on 5 October 1915.

Raby was transferred to the 9th Battalion on 28 January 1916, then on 27 February 1916 he proceeded to join the 9th Battalion at the Bir el Habeita Camp near Zeitoun, Egypt. On 27 March 1916, Raby and his battalion joined the Bristish Expeditionary Force, sailing from Alexandria, Egypt on board ‘Saxonia’ and disembarking in Marseilles, France on 3 April 1916, where they headed for the trenches of the Western Front in Northern France.

On 2 July 1916 Raby was wounded in action after volunteering to take part in a “trench raid” on the German trenches; he was taken to hospital (1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station in Etaples, France) with a gunshot wound to the ankle, which necessitated amputation and Raby died later the same day of his wounds.

The ‘Northern Star (Lismore)‘ on 31 August 1916 gave a detailed description of the 2 July 1916 “trench raid” on the German lines in which Raby had volunteered to take part, via a letter from a fellow participant Bomber A. E. Green, in which he wrote:

They asked for volunteers for a raiding party. There were plenty willing so they picked 150 men, including one team of the Headquarters Bombers, numbering eight men. We were taken to separate billets and got three weeks very severe training… We were put into three parties and entered the trenches at three different places, about 100 yards apart. This was a big surprise to the Huns, for most of the other raiding parties all went in one party… The telephonists were connected with our own lines and continually reported our progress as we crawled through No Man’s Land; this was very essential to keep in touch with each party, for the grass was very long and we couldn’t see the other parties… The whole business was carried out very secretly, and we didn’t know till six o’clock that it was coming off that night. We marched away from our billets at 5.30 and were picked up by motor transports shortly after, and taken within a couple of miles of our own lines. Here we put on the finishing touches, which included a good daubing of burnt cork and grease all over our faces and hands. We also had illuminous painted bands sewn on our left forearm so we should know one another in the trenches. Well, the real performance started at 11 o’clock, when we moved out of our sally port and took up positions just outside our barbed wire in No Man’s Land, the Huns’ trench here being about 300 yards away… The order of advance was the officer, messengers and telephonists front line, bombers second line, bayonet men third line, the salvage and others behind. We were all close enough to touch one another and pass on whispered orders. We had to crawl along very quietly and keep perfectly still when a glare went up. This was pretty frequent too. When we were about half way across we got into a ditch with mud and water up to our knees, but we soon got through that. We were also hampered with bits of loose barbed wire, and crawled over several bodies that had been there some considerable time, for they were all dried up. Our party got right up to the Huns’ wire about 12 o’clock. Then came an awful wait… we had to wait here for nearly an hour before the other parties were into position… When our parties were all up to the wire the signal went back for the artillery to open fire. The first shot from the artillery was our signal to charge the trench, and this was done in no mean order, either, I can tell you. This was also the signal for the whole of the artillery to open. Between 60 and 70 guns took part, with several trench mortars and about twenty machine guns. They were all at it in two or three seconds and you never heard such a row. Some of the guns were trained to drop the shells just behind the first German line, but most of them were dropping the shells on either flanks… Well, as soon as the first shot went we up and charged for the trench, but we had a terrible job getting through the wire, although it had been cut up pretty well with shells a few days before. Some got through pretty well. The [Germans] put up a very poor fight and were terrified, for as soon as we were in we threw bombs every where and worked each way along the trench… We got through the first barricade, which was about 10 yards from the parapet. By this time the Huns had fairly woke up and were sending in shrapnel and were enfilading from either flanks with machine guns and rifles, and the bullets were pattering about like hail… There were too many getting shot. Several just beside me were shot… It didn’t take us long to get back to our own lines from here, for I knew the way and the place where our wire was opened. It was almost as light as day coming back, for the Huns were sending up plenty of star shells, and they turned a searchlight on us as well. It was simply a living hell getting back, and I hope I never have to go through the same again. We were only supposed to stop in the German trenches five minutes, but we were there nearly ten. We got a fine lot of stuff, the salvage men were detailed for this, and got everything they could lay hands on. I had a good supply myself, as much as I could carry on my left arm. The prisoners were very pleased when we got them into our own lines. We got 24 alive; six were killed coming across, and we left a terrible lot of dead behind in the trenches…

We suffered pretty heavy, many have since died from wounds including Raby Anstey from Tregeagle. He was wounded about half way back from No Mans Land. He was carried in by Sergeant Butler. I passed the Sergeant with poor Raby on his back nearly back at our own lines. That was the last I saw of Raby, for I had to hang onto the prisoners.”

Later in the letter the writer noted that the trench raid in which Raby took part was the “record raid for Australians in France so far“.

Raby was buried the following day, 3 July 1916 at the Nord France Estaires Communal Cemetery and Extension Grave Reference “Plot II Row T Grave 10.” A headstone inscription was later added, which reads “The loved & only son of Mr & Mrs Anstey of Tregeagle N.S.W. Age 25 Son of Charles and Jane Anstey, of Tregeagle, New South Wales.

The ‘Northern Star (Lismore)‘ had earlier reported on 9 August 1916 Raby’s death, stating: “The Late Private C. R. Anstey: THE LATE PRIVATE C. R. ANSTEY. The late Private C. R. Anstey, whose death from wounds on July 2nd has been reported from France, was the only son of Mr. and Mrs. C. Anstey, of Tregeagle, for whom much sympathy is expressed. He was 24 years of age, and received his education at the Sydney Grammar School. He joined the colors in August, 1915, left Enoggera for Egypt two months later, and in March, 1916, his company was transferred, to the Western front. The late private was a familiar figure in social circles, his bright presence and attractive personality making him a general favorite. He took a prominent part in every branch of sport, his ability, manly and sportsmanlike characteristics gaining for him the respect and esteem of all sportsmen with whom he came in contact. While a member of the Lismore Tennis Club, he held with another the doubles championship of the Richmond River, and was one of the players who represented the district at the Country Tournament held in Sydney two years ago. For many years he held the secretaryship of the Tregeagle Cricket Club and the clubs prominent position in competition matches was to a great extent due to his enthusiasm and capabilities as a player and organiser. At the in memoriam service held at St Peter’s Church of England (where the late private for some time held the position of minister’s warden), the Ven. Archdeacon Tress eloquently referred to the nobility of character of the late young soldier and to the inspiring and elevating influence of such a noble life and death as that of the brave young hero. In pointing out the duty of those present, his impressively spoken words, “dont forget him” deeply moved the congregation

The ‘1914-15 Star’, ‘British War’ and ‘Victory’ Medals were received by Raby’s father Charles Anstey in 1923 on his behalf. Charles is also mentioned on the family gravestone at Macquarie Park Cemetery near Sydney, Australia (see the Tywardreath page), where the inscription reads “his son. Killed in France“.

In the 28 July 1920 edition of the ‘Northern Star (Lismore)‘, the newspaper reported that Raby’s father Charles Anstey had commented “In referring to their son, the late Private Raby Anstey, he said a braver or nobler young man never left Australia. Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friends, and that was what Raby had done. Those present had doubtless heard of his act of sacrifice for a wonderful comrade which had cost Raby his life. All who had known him personally knew him to he a true gentleman and a fair and square sport.

Anybody who would like to add anything to this biography, please contact us at research@theansteystory.com.

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