2017 Premier’s Anzac Spirit School Prize Essay – Frederick John Schenscher

Source: Abbie Nourse, Nurioopta High School

The experiences of South Australian men and women on the Western Front and Middle East during World War I were horrific. All service men and women in some way displayed the Anzac spirit during World War I. One of the serviceman who experienced life in World War I and displayed Anzac spirit during his time of service was Frederick John Schenscher.

Frederick was born during May 1893 in the Saddleworth/Tothill Belt area, South Australia. He attended Saddleworth Public School. He had three siblings, two brothers and one sister. His brothers Ernest Frederick and Herbert Alfred also served in World War I. He was a son of Mrs Sarah Schenscher. Before enlisting he was a labourer. His religion was Methodist.

There are no records about Schenscher on his daily duties when on active service but he was a part  of the 27th Infantry Battalion. In March 1915, the 27th Infantry Battalion was raised in South Australia. In World War I the 27th Infantry Battalion was the second prominently South  Australian Battalion to be raised. The 27th Infantry Battalion was assigned to the seventh brigade in the Second Division. During World War I, 8000 volunteers served in the 27th Infantry Battalion. Sadly 1169 servicemen of all ranks lost lives in active service. The colour patch of the battalion was brown and blue triangles inside a diamond. On 31 May 1915, the Battalion embarked on the HMAT Geelong. Most of the men would have been feeling uneasy and uncomfortable on the sea waters and inside the ships, as many of them would have probably never seen much of the ocean, like Fred. The 27th Infantry Battalion spent two months of training in Egypt, and landed at Gallipoli on 12 September 1915, and stayed in until the evacuation in December. In April, the Second Division embarked for Marseilles. When the Second Division was travelling to their destinations in France the troops noticed the temperature was a lot colder compared to the scorching temperatures in Egypt and they came across amazing views along their way. On 7 April 1916, the 27th Battalion took it first steps on the ground of the front line at Pozeires. The 27th and 28th Battalion were the first Australian troops to fight on the front line on the battlefield of Somme. During the Western Front the 27th Battalion fought at and in many battles across France. Overall the 27th Battalion experienced the highs, lows, successful and unsuccessful plans of the Great War just like any other unit but had extraordinary men like Fred in their unit.

Schenscher enlisted at Keswick, South Australia between the 12 – 15 February 1915 as a stretcher bearer. He was aged 21 years and 9 months, 5 feet and 9 inches tall, weighed 171 pounds, had a dark complexion, green eyes and dark hair. Imagine yourself at the young age of 21 leaving a small country/ rural area to board a ship and go on this adventure which turned out to be brutally nothing like what was expected. After been a part of the E Coy. Base Depot from the 12 February 1915 to 15 March 1915 he joined the 27th Battalion on the 6 April 1915 and later embarked on the 31 May 1915 on board HMAT A2 Geelong from Adelaide, South Australia.

When leaving Australia, he would have felt excited and nervous, he also would have had adrenaline for this broad experience he was about encounter. Schenscher embarked Alexandria on the 4 September 1915. Schenscher briefly served at Gallipoli. Despite being at Gallipoli for a short time he would have seen horrific scenes, poor hygiene, poor sanitation, serious diseases, dirty trenches and nothing like the smell of country air back at home. Schenscher disembarked Ex Mudros 10 January 1916, proceeded to join British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Alexandria 10 March 1916 and disembarked Marseilles 21 March 1916 France. On the 20 January 1917, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He was transferred regularly most likely due to the stress on his body. He returned home to Australia on the 2 January 1919, having suffered physically and mentally.

Today there is a legacy known as the Anzac Spirit which was developed and shown in the war. The Anzac Spirit is the spirit of past and present servicemen and women; whose qualities live on in Australians still today. The values that make up the Anzac Spirit are courage, larrikinism, ingenuity, good humour, endurance, mateship and bravery. Frederick displayed many of these qualities during his years of active service that reflects upon the Anzac spirit. Two of the qualities he showed during the 27th Battalion’s period of time in Gallipoli was larrikinism and good humour in the famous photo (above) which Charles Bean (a World War I Correspondent) said was staged as many of Ernest Brook’s (a World War I photographer) World War I photos were staged, Fred has a typical cheeky grin/smile on his face as the solider who has never been identified was most probably not injured or wounded and was just a good old mate carrying him on his back to show a photo of a frequently seen event. He was probably also having a joke to the soldier he was carrying as they would have probably felt ridiculous acting for a staged photograph.

Fred would have also been thinking in his head how many more times he would have to repeat this act for an act of survival rather than a photograph. Between the night of the 5 – 6 May 1916 two soldiers were hit in No Man’s Land near German wire at Armentieres. Schenscher alongside another stretcher bearer went out 300 yards and rescued the two casualties, under enemy machine gun fire. At Messines on the night of 29 – 30 June 1916, Schenscher and Young’s stretcher was hit by shellfire but the pair continued carrying wounded all night long under artillery fire. Again, on the night of the 4 – 5 August the pair worked together again at Pozieres Ridge worked nonstop for 18 hours. During these occasions Schenscher displayed eye-catching bravery, built mateship with his stretcher bearer partner Young, ingenuity to continue although their stretcher had been broken, courage and sacrifice to continue to save lives despite heavy fire around them, endurance tolerating the conditions that he was put up against. As a result of his acts of bravery, mateship, ingenuity, courage, sacrifice and endurance he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on the 20 January 1917.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) was introduced in 1854 by Queen Victoria and acknowledges gallantry displayed in the field. He was honoured with the DCM along with another stretcher bearer Private William Young who was also a member of the 27th Battalion. When the news about Schenscher’s DCM was announced the community of Saddleworth couldn’t have been prouder of his achievements, the town/ area was so proud of him. In Fred’s postcard to his sister Helena he mentions that the service men and women will have both whisky and pudding after the war, that he hasn’t had a whisky since last September and leaves a rhetorical question ‘going good don’t you think?’ This proves he kept his spirits alive during the war, did not let the effects of the war dampen his soul and kept positive saying after the war as there was any chance that he could die during service. Not only did he receive a DCM but he also received the 1914/15 Star No. 5991 4, British War Medal 4/4 No. 3847 and Victory Medal 4/4 No. 3806.

Frederick returned home in 1919. Although little is known about him after he returned home. He lived or frequently visited Port Adelaide a lot with other returned soldiers visiting his sister Helena and her husband Private Albert Lukander. Fred never married. Supposedly he died on the 17 July 1957 drowning in the Port River during a fishing boat trip, he was found floating in the Port River. It is believed the accidental death could have happened due to a high intake of alcohol. He could have been heavily affected from war once returning home. According to the RSL Virtual War Memorial Schenscher was buried at the AIF Cemetery, West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide.

Frederick is an amazing man who we should be proud to call Australian. Despite his mysterious death, he went to Gallipoli and the Western Front and survived. What an incredible man?