John Richard Cash (MSM)
Serial No. 2875A
55th Battalion & 19th Battalion
John Richard Cash (MSM) - Information
John left for war service on the 25th of October 1916, sailing from Sydney on the HMAT Ascanius. He had joined the AIF on the 18th of February 1916 in Picton, aged 39. At the time, he was living in Thirlmere with his wife Cecilia, and working as a photographer. John had migrated to Australia from England, born in Eastville in Lincolnshire. During training, he was delegated to the 7th Reinforcements, 55th Battalion as a Private.
John arrived in London in late December. In February 1917, he departed Folkestone for the Western Front. At the time, the Germans had withdrawn to a series of defence lines, known as the Hindenburg Line. On the 1st of March, John was appointed Acting Corporal. Later that month, he was transferred to the 19th Battalion. John and his unit then assaulted the Hindenburg Line during the Second Battle of Bullecourt on the 3rd of May. On this day, he was declared missing in action when he failed to appear for muster after the attack. He had actually been shot in the chest, the bullet penetrating the lung. He was bleeding profusely choking on every breath. He was then captured by German soldiers, and carried to their aid station, where the bullet was removed. When he was fit enough to travel, he was interned to a camp in Hanover, Germany to recover. In August, he was interned to Soltan Lager 1 and then Holzminden Prisoner of War Camp in October. While in Holzminden, Richard bribed a guard and local civilians with Red Cross parcels for a camera and photographic equipment. Putting his skills to good use, he took pictures of the camp, other prisoners and even a portrait of the Camp Commandant. While this was going on, some prisoners began digging a tunnel in an attempt to escape. 70 to 140 prisoners commenced an 80 metre tunnel starting in an old wine cellar. It took nine months before it was ready, cleverly hiding the dirt in another cellar and wherever they could. Richard helped the men with their plans. Taking photos of the camp, and also in his scrounging to get his hands on a map of the area and wire cutters. He made 300 copies of the map, which were given to the escapees. On the night of 24th of July 1918, they herded into the tunnel. However, an officer got stuck, and in an attempt to free himself; collapsed the tunnel. Sadly, only 29 made it through. With the commotion the chase was on. Nineteen were recaptured and returned to camp. Thanks to Richard, ten were able to find their way to the Dutch border.
After the war ended, John was repatriated with the other POWs, arriving in London in mid December. For devotion to duty and valuable service rendered whilst a prisoner of war John was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. When he returned to Australia in 1919, he was treated for septic poisoning of his middle finger. He soon reunited with Cecilia. However, his war service had affected his health, he passed away in 1923.