399 – 1st Tunnelling Company

Born at Carlisle, Cumberland, England, Fred Tiffin was the son of Thomas Tiffin, a Relieving Officer. He had completed a 6-year apprenticeship in England to qualify as a carpenter.

Fred underwent a Medical Examination at the Sydney Town Hall on 25 January 1916 that found him to be fit for active service and he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force for ‘Service Abroad’ at Casula, New South Wales on 31 January 1916. He signed the Oath to ‘well and truly serve’ on the same day and was appointed to the 1st Mining Reinforcements.

Stating that he was a single carpenter of Northumberland Street, Stanmore, New South Wales aged 27 years 6 months, Fred was 5ft 7ins tall, weighed 158lbs, had a fresh complexion with blue eyes and black hair.

He named as his Next of Kin his mother, Mrs Bessie Tiffin of Horne Street, Carlisle, Cumberland, England.

After training at the Miners’ Casula training camp, he marched out of the camp in preparation for embarkation on 20 February 1916 from Sydney on board HMAT A38 Ulysses.

At a civic parade in the Domain, Sydney on Saturday 19 February, a large crowd of relations and friends of the departing Miners lined the four sides of the parade ground. Sixty police and 100 Garrison Military Police were on hand to keep the crowds within bounds. The scene was an inspiriting one. On the extreme right flank, facing the saluting base, were companies of the Rifle Club School; next came a detachment of the 4th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, then the bands of the Light Horse, Liverpool Depot, and the Miners’, and on the left rank upon rank, the Miners’ Battalion.

1,248 members of the Corps boarded Ulysses in Sydney on 20 February and sailed for the European theatre. Arriving in Melbourne on 22 February the Miners camped at Broadmeadows for a stay of 7 days while further cargo was loaded.

Another parade was held at the Broadmeadows camp on 1 March, the Miners’ Corps being inspected by the Governor-General, as Commander-in-Chief of the Commonwealth military forces.

Leaving Melbourne on 1 March, Ulysses arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia on 7 March where a further 53 members were taken on board.

On Wednesday March 8, 1916 the whole force, with their band and equipment, paraded at Fremantle prior to leaving Victoria Quay at 9.30 o’clock.

The ship hit a reef when leaving Fremantle harbour, stripping the plates for 40 feet and, although there was a gap in the outside plate, the inner bilge plates were not punctured. The men on board nicknamed her ‘Useless’. The Miners were off-loaded and sent to the Blackboy Hill Camp where further training was conducted.

Finally departing Fremantle on 1 April, Ulysses voyaged via Suez, Port Said and Alexandria in Egypt. The Captain of the shipwas reluctantto take Ulysses out of the Suez Canal because he felt the weight of the ship made it impossible to manoeuvre in the situation of a submarine attack. The troops were transhipped to HM Transport B.1 Ansonia, then on to Valetta, Malta before disembarking at Marseilles, France on May 5, 1916. As a unit they entrained at Marseilles on 7 May and detrained on 11 May at Hazebrouk.

Fred Tiffin reported sick on 5 July 1916 and was admitted to No.9 Red Cross Hospital at Calais the next day. He was treated at the 1st Canadian Casualty Clearing Station for an accidental injury to his back, suffered due to an accidental fall of earth. Another entry records “Buried shrap (accd)”.

Fred was transferred to 18th Ambulance Train and on 9 July he was transferred to England on the Hospital Ship New Haven with a ‘bruised back’ and admitted to Norfolk War Hospital at Thorpe, Norwich on 10 July 1916. Fred was discharged from Norfolk War Hospital to No.1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield on 20 July. On 26 July his mother was advised that he had been admitted to hospital with ‘shrapnel wound mild’.

On 24 August 1916 he was taken on strength of No.1 Com. Depot, Perham Downs where he was granted furlough from 24 August.

He was then transferred to Tunnelling Reinforcements at Parkhouse on 13 September 1916 and on 1 January 1917 he proceeded overseas to France per SS Arundel, ex Folkestone, and was attached to the 1st Anzac Entrenching Battalion on 2 January, rejoining the 1st Aust. Tunnelling Company on 27 January.

Fred again reported to hospital sick on 4 September 1917, spending 3 days in the 44th Field Ambulance with an abscess to his left eyelid before again rejoining his unit.

On 31 August 1918 Fred proceeded on some well-earned leave, rejoining his unit 13 September.

He left his unit on 12 February 1919 for his return to Australia, spending 12 days at the Australian General Base Depot before being transferred to No.3 Camp, Parkhouse, England on 25 February.

While at Parkhouse Camp No.3, Salisbury, Fred Tiffin married 23-year-old Edith Emily Spenceley (daughter of Ernest Spenceley, soldier, ASC) on 10 March 1919 at St Pancras, London. He returned to Australia, with his wife, leaving England on board Indarra on 12 July and disembarking 9 September 1919.

Frederick Mattinson Tiffin was discharged on 1 November 1919, having served 3 years 276 days in the A.I.F. 3 years 203 days of which had been served on active service.

On 22 October 1930, his medical records were forwarded to the Repatriation Department in Sydney, New South Wales.

On 14 November 1934, Fred wrote to the Base Records, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, requesting that his British War Medal and Victory Medal be forwarded to him at 652 Parramatta Road, Croydon, New South Wales. He signed the release form on 28 November, and his medals were despatched to him on 3 December 1934.

The New South Wales Electoral Rolls record:

TIFFIN, Frederick Mattinson and Edith Emily

1930 Evondale, Lyons Road, Five Dock. Carpenter

1936 439 Lyons Road, Five Dock. Carpenter

A 1934 entry in the Tunnellers association Roll Book records Fred’s address as 439 Lyons Road, Five Dock, New South Wales.

Fred Tiffin died on 11 May 1962.

© Donna Baldey 2009/2012