21471 Private James Walter DEPLEDGE
James Depledge was born at Encounter Bay on 10 June 1886, the sixth child of William Depledge and Charlotte Eliza Depledge (nee Stimson). He was educated at Victor Harbor Public School. James was a 31-year old commercial traveller for G & R Wills when he enlisted in the AIF at Adelaide on 24 March 1917. His older brother George had been serving in the AIF since 1914, later rising to the rank of Captain in the Australian Field Artillery.
Following initial training at Mitcham Camp, James was assigned to the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) with duties at this Camp’s Hospital beginning on 12 June 1917. In February 1918 he was briefly allocated to AAMC October 1917 reinforcements for overseas, but almost immediately was returned to camp duties. During his 13 months of service at Mitcham he received formal AAMC training as well as practical medical experience. Seeking a change from Army life at Mitcham, he was attached to the AIF 5th Sea Transport Section on 26 July 1918. Prior to his departure from Mitcham for sea, James was given a favourable report by the Senior Medical Officer of the 7th Australian General Hospital. He was assessed as “a good all round man, good clerk and hospital orderly, very reliable”.
Sea Transport Sections were most unusual Army medical units. Beginning in March 1916, ten of these units were raised to provide medical services to troops being transported by ship. Each Sea Transport Section comprised 29 personnel commanded by a medical officer, with nurses, medical orderlies and administrative personnel. No. 5 Section, which James joined in 1918, made five round voyages during the war. Specialised hospital ships carried many more medical personnel to tend the badly wounded and seriously ill patients. Prior to March 1916, medical support on troop transports was provided by the medical staff of those AIF units being carried.
James embarked on HMAT Gaika from Sydney on 30 July 1918, carrying 410 AIF reinforcement personnel. In its holds it was also carrying much needed cargo for Britain that included frozen meat and other foods. Gaika arrived at London on 13 October 1918, where the Sea Transport Section was disembarked and sent to the AAMC Training Depot at Fovant Camp, Wiltshire. With the Armistice declared while they were at Fovant, James was no longer required and was soon listed for return to Australia.
Unfortunately for him, the homeward voyage was interrupted at Port Said for six weeks while he was treated ashore at 14 Australian General Hospital for diarrhoea, until discharged on 29 December 1918. There was always a high risk of contracting communicable diseases when living among large numbers persons in the cramped accommodation of troop ships.
When James stepped ashore at Melbourne from the chartered passenger liner SS Suevic on 6 January 1919, he had been overseas for 160 days. He was demobilised from the AIF on 27 January 1919 and later awarded the British War Medal.
James returned to work for G & R Wills until taking early retirement to establish his own lending library in Adelaide. In 1926 he married Alice Isobella Rudd and they lived at 25 Bevington Road, Glenunga. James died suddenly on 17 September 1942 whilst visiting his brother Alfred for his birthday at Encounter Bay; he was age 56. James is buried in Victor Harbor Cemetery.
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, March 2009.