Prose & Poetry - Private Reynold 'Cleve' Potter

Cover of "Not Theirs The Shame Who Fight" by R. C. Potter R. 'Cleve' Potter was born on 8 March 1888 in Glen Innes, NSW, Australia.  He was the sixth son in a family of nine boys and two girls.  His parents were John and Sarah Potter of Wycliffe, a property of some size in the Emmaville area west of Glen Innes.

John's parents, who lived east of Glen Innes at Red Range, had immigrated from Ireland on the Royal Saxon in June 1844 and had made their way North from Sydney by about 1875.  They were the usual country family of the period and Cleve attended School at a one teacher school three miles from the family property.

He was fortunate in that his teacher realised his abilities and his desire to learn, and consequently encouraged him in his studies, often by the light from the kitchen fire, given that he had his duties on the property to do whilst the daylight lasted.

Some time after the turn of the century he studied at the Teacher's Training College in Waverley (Sydney) and was allocated a one teacher school north east of Tenterfield in northern NSW.  His father died in 1913 and he returned to Sydney to live with his mother and two sisters who had moved to Haberfield (Sydney).

He continued his studies there and became disillusioned with teaching as neither the children nor the establishment were very interested in what he was trying to do.  He then turned to building and carpentry with two of his elder brothers, who had settled in Sydney.

Some time before his father died he was befriended by a Dr. E. Digges La Touche who was the vicar of the Emmaville parish for a short time and was an evangelical Church of England minister and later was transferred to Sydney where he lectured at Moore Theological College.  Cleve renewed the friendship in Sydney and it is thought it was he who helped him with his studies, and influenced him in his deep religious beliefs.

When war was declared in 1914, La Touche declared it a holy war and joined up himself (there being no vacancy for Padres).  He was discharged from the Army as medically unfit and immediately re-enlisted as a private.

By the time he arrived at Gallipoli he was a 2nd Lieutenant and the day after his arrival led his men in an attack with his revolver in one hand and was mortally shot and fell back into the trench where he lay all day until he died.  It is also thought that this was a factor in Cleve's own decision to enlist in August 1916.

After some preliminary training in Cootamundra, he boarded the SS Africa in Sydney and left for England in November.  He arrived at Plymouth on 9 January 1917 and entrained for Amesbury and encamped at Lark Hill for a freezing time such as the Australians had never before experienced.  In April he records in his diary (on the 6th) arriving at Albert and being drafted to the 21st Battalion who had suffered heavy losses in fighting around Pozieres in late 1916 and 1917.

He was allocated to the Lewis gun section and took part in initial fighting prior to the attack on Bullecourt in May 1917, where they incurred heavy losses.  (Two more such victories and the 21st would be no more).   He was moved out of the line to Le Sars and then to Millencourt for regrouping and training and after six months out of the line was moved to the Ypres area for the big autumn 1917 offensive.

There the Australian divisions lost 38,000 men and an estimated half of their infantry.  Cleve was moved down to the Swann area for regrouping and reinforcing and spent the winter of 1917 and 1918 in and out of the line from the catacombs and around Le Basse Ville.  He was in the line at Le Basse Ville for the German Spring Offensive of 1918.

He was then transferred to the Amiens area and into the line along the Albert Road where he was wounded at Lavieville and eventually sent to hospital in England.  He was discharged to the Overseas Training battalion at Sutton Veny, given some furlough, and then re-embarked for France arriving there in time for the final campaigns of the war around Mount St, Quentin , Perrone, the attack on Hindenburg Line at Bellicourt and the final attack on Mountbrehain after which they were relieved by the Americans and returned back to La Chassee and Tirancourt.

The battalion was decimated and could only muster one decent Company for Parade at La Chassee and on 10 October 1918 the remaining veterans were ordered to report to the 24th Battalion and the 21st was disbanded.  The Armistice came in November and Cleve was granted leave to Paris and spent Christmas and New Year in Charleroi and was later transferred to Britain prior to his discharge in late 1919.

He returned to Haberfield to his mother and entered into partnership with his brother Sid as builders.  He was married in 1922 to Victoria May Barrett.  Two sons were born in 1923 and 1924 and a daughter followed in 1933.

A family tragedy occurred with the death of his wife in July 1933.  He died in his own home in November 1970 and it was at this time that his diaries were found and latter transcribed and published by his two sons.

Contributed by Kel Potter

New Year 1918
1 January 1918, Belgium

The Year is dead, the grim, gaunt year
He closed his eyes last night
When all the world was cold and still
And decked in robes of white.
Dull, drear Old Year
You disappear,
Nor could I wish you stay.
So sad you've been
That few, I ween,
Will weep for you today.

Hard, harsh Old Year we're glad you're dead,
Self-drowned in human blood.
Our dearest friends you sacrificed
To swell that crimson flood.
Each cheerless hour.
That was you're dower:
Strife, sorrow, stress and tear
And now you're gone,
And none will mourn
Beside your bier.

Cold, cruel year, you killed my hopes,
And took away my dreams.
You showed me things just as they are,
Not as in youth they seem.
You showed me war,
Hell, horror, more,
With misery deep to crown.
The cup of pain
You made me drain.
You broke my idol down.

Yet, sad old year, was it your fault
That this old world went mad?
You, surely, are not all to blame
That man is wholly bad.
You sent the showers
And gave the flowers,
Where would we let them grow?
Perchance you wept
When virtue slept
And vice was worshipped so.

Old Year, you showed how grand, how great,
A mother's love can be,
Through all your mirthless moments proved
A sister's constancy.
Yes, Old Year, you
Left me the true
And took the insecure.
So as a friend
I'll mourn your end.
Goodbye, goodbye, Old Year.

Not Theirs' The Shame

Still unending, still ascending
Winds war's woeful way
Hearts are drearier, footsteps wearier
With each closing day.
Yet we trust a peace will dawn,
Herald in a warless morn

 Ever going, never knowing,
Where will be the goal?
Spirits drooping, bodies stooping,
Sadness in the soul,
Yet we hope the goal will be
Welcome Home beyond the sea.

Who'll unravel why we travel
Over war's broad barren waste?
Oh for places - green oases -
Life to breathe and taste.
And all night long, hope's lone lone star
Whispers how such places are.

Shells are screaming, bayonets gleaming.
How shall come the end?
Bullets flying, comrades dying,
God protection lend.
For well we know, if
Thou before, 'Gainst us vain the cannons roar.

Big guns booming, victims dooming,
Cain's mark on each brow.
Shrapnel falling, Azrael calling,
Must I answer now?
Oh Death, thou art imperious still,
I only answer at God's will.

Struggling mortals past hell's portals,
Shadows lengthen, none to strengthen,
Plunged in lurid flame,
Till sunless hours are past.
Torn and bleeding, Hell's fires feeding,
No friend near us, none to cheer us.

With carnage, blight and shame
While the tempests last,
Not theirs', Oh God, the shame who fight,
But theirs' who caused this awful blight.
Yea, we thank Thee, Saviour, Friend,
Thou'll strengthen, keep us 'till the end.

The USA suffered 57,476 fatal army casualties during the war.

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Prose & Poetry