Navy 'Bridgers' commemorated

This article has photo gallery Published on CMDR Greg Swinden (author), POIS Phil Cullinan (photographer)

Location(s): Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Family members of Able Seaman Charles Shenke who died aged 19 on the 8th September 1915 and Chief Petty Officer Edward Charles Perkins, a senior sailor with the Bridging Train, who was killed on 6th September at the Australian War Memorial for the commemeration service. (photo: POIS Phil Cullinan)
Family members of Able Seaman Charles Shenke who died aged 19 on the 8th September 1915 and Chief Petty Officer Edward Charles Perkins, a senior sailor with the Bridging Train, who was killed on 6th September at the Australian War Memorial for the commemeration service.

On 8 September, a service was held at the Australian War Memorial for a little known but highly decorated Royal Australian Navy unit from the First World War.   The Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train was formed in Melbourne in March 1915, from naval reservists, for service as horse drawn bridging and engineering unit on the Western Front. 

The Bridging Train actually went on to serve at Gallipoli  and Able Seaman Driver Charles Schenke was one of those men and was only 19 when he died from wounds on 8 September 1915.   His story formed part of the service held 100 years on.

Born is Spotswood in 1896 he was a member of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve and trained as a fitter and turner.  

Charles had to obtain his mother’s permission to enlist and joined the unit on 20 April 1915 and embarked for active service in the troopship Port Macquarie on 3 June 1915.  

On arrival in Egypt, in July 1915, the unit was attached to the British Royal Engineers and diverted to the Gallipoli Peninsula.  They landed at Suvla Bay (just to the north of Anzac Cove) on 8 August 1915 and were soon hard at work building wharves to help with the unloading of stores, food, water and ammunition and for the evacuation of wounded.  All of this was done under heavy Turkish shell fire.

On 5 September Able Seaman Schenke was badly wounded in the head by shell fragments and, despite being evacuated to a hospital ship for treatment, he died from his wounds three days later and was buried at sea.  His name is now recorded on the Lone Pine Memorial to the Missing.   His mate, Chief Petty Officer Edward Perkins, from Essendon, was killed in action on 6 September 1915 when his dugout took a direct hit from a Turkish shell and he was later buried at Hill 10 Cemetery at Suvla Bay.    

There at the Australian War Memorial a century later, to commemorate their service and sacrifice were relatives of Charlie Schenke and Edward Perkins.

The families attended a presentation about the unit, and the Last Post Ceremony where wreaths for both men were laid by family members.  

Mrs Yvonne Knipe (Grand Niece of Charlie Schenke) said she was please to be able to attend.

"We were very honoured to be invited to this wonderful event where we had the chance to remember Charles' death 100 years ago," she said.

"From my earliest days we were told stories of Charles from my Nana about her brother so we felt that affinity for him dying so young - only 19."

The Bridging Train was at Gallipoli until the evacuation in December 1915 and were the last Australians to leave the peninsula in the early hours of 20 December 1915.  Twenty awards for bravery and devotion to duty were later awarded to the unit for their service there.

Lest we Forget.