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Dadswell Family

World War One Crisis for Dadswell Soldier

Sapper Henry Dadswell

Just on 100 years ago, as allied forces were gaining the upper hand in the World War One conflict, one soldier who was to later become a Red Cliffs soldier settler in Victoria's northwest, found himself in deep trouble.

It was in the second half of 1918, after surviving three years of army life and war, that Henry Dadswell found himself almost executed by his own troops in France.

The signaller soldier had fallen out of favour with his unit officer and they were not getting along well.

For reasons that are unclear, the officer instructed Dadswell to check a phone line from the front line back to Villers-Bretonneux, an area still being heavily fought over. He was told to do the check at night, and alone – contrary to the usual practice of working with the buddy system.

The phone line had been run along the ground. Between bursts from falling shells, the 24-year-old Dadswell ran the line through his hand as he moved into an area he did not know was forbidden territory – it had been booby trapped and mined to deter German attacks and was guarded by Australian troops with bayonetted rifles ready to repulse any invaders.

Through good fortune he avoided the traps and mines but suddenly found himself confronted by three Australian soldiers rushing at him ready to use their bayonets.

Instinctively he dived into a shell hole and began shouting in English, to identify himself.

His would-be attackers were amazed and subsequently their sergeant identified Dadswell as ‘Bluey the Sig’, the only name that the Australian infantry knew him by.

The incident, along with many other extraordinary events, is recounted in Diary of a Sapper, written by Henry Dadswell in the years following the war by which time he was growing grapes at a Red Cliffs East property.
'Diary of a Sapper' cover
He moved there as a soldier settler when he received a property lease in 1922, planting grape vines and citrus trees on what became known as Block 65a. He remained on the land for 55 years, living in his self-built home until a year before he died in 1978.

Diary of a Sapper took many years to write – some of the memories were painful, some were horrific, and often they carried the sadness of lost comrades.

It was after his death that his diary, still in manuscript form, was published by his family in book form. It is thought to be one of the few publications available which details the life of the pre-wireless era signallers of World War One.

As well as the war-life story of this Australian soldier, the book includes photographs from the author’s collection, battlefield maps and extracts of letters written to those back home.


Diary of a Sapper, with the original text, additional background material, photographs and an index, has been published by the family of Henry Dadswell. It is available from Harley Dadswell, PO Box 519, Curtin ACT 2605, for $20 plus $5 postage (within Australia). Enquiries: .

See also:
   Henry Dadswell — The Quiet Times between WW1 Battles
   Diary of a Sapper — World War One Reflections of Sapper Henry W Dadswell
   Generation 9, Henry William Dadswell

- Information compiled September 2018

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