Pte Patrick “Paddy” Bugden VC

The following is an address that was delivered by LTCOL Patrick Nunan (Retd) at the AGM of the 31 Bn Association on 7/03/18.  He previously gave an address to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood in September 1917. The commemoration was held at Alstonville NSW near the Bugden family home.  LTCOL Nunan is a relative of Pte Paddy Bugden VC and an associate member of the 31st Bn Association:

President of 31 st Battalion Association, Ray Fogg, secretary Tony Wadeson
members of 31st Battalion Association and distinguished guests.
Firstly, and fore mostly let me pass on to the of 31st Battalion Association the great appreciation and respect that our family being the Bugden, Kelly and Connolly families have for your association. At every notable anniversary and event relating to the deeds and death of Paddy Bugden, the association has always been represented to pass on its respect and condolences and to honor Paddy’s deeds undertaken 100 years ago.

The eldest of four children Patrick Joseph Bugden was born at Gundurimba
(south of Lismore) on 17th March, 1897 – a son of a well-known pioneering
family whose origins date back to the very foundations of Australia. At the age of 6 his father, Thomas Joseph Bugden died. His mother Annie (nee Connolly of Grafton) later re-married and became Mrs. Annie Kelly. She and her husband James (Jim) had a further 4 children.

From the family dairy farm at Tatham, Patrick (Paddy) attended the Tatham
Convent School and later from the Farmers Home Hotel at Gundurimba, he
attended the Gundurimba Public School. From Gundurimba the family moved to the Billinudgel Hotel from where Paddy worked at the Mullumbimby Post Office.
He played cricket and rugby league for Billinudgel. (±1911-1914).
By family, newspaper and military accounts he was. tall, had an excellent
physique and was extremely athletic. Outgoing and popular he excelled at all forms of physical activity.

In 1914 his mother and step-father (with whom Paddy had a close and loving relationship often referring to him in his letters home as “Dada” and signing off as “your son”) bought the Federal Hotel in Alstonville. Paddy moved to Alstonville with them and lived at and worked in this Hotel until his departure to join the army. He had already completed 12 months reservist training (Compulsory Service Obligation Scheme) when he decided to join-up.

As family legend tells it, Paddy in early 1916 then 18 without seeking his
parent’s permission, attempted to catch the train from Lismore to Brisbane to
join the army. The station master knew Paddy probably because of his known
sporting abilities and contacted his mother who immediately went to the Lismore
rail station from Alstonville to bring Paddy back home. I imagine some not so
gentile words were exchanged but in the end Paddy’s determination to join-up
won over his mother and he eventually left Lismore by train some weeks later to
join up in Brisbane. In those days the train journey would have been an
adventure in itself for an 18-year-old lad as he had to travel via Casino to
Wallangarra (to change trains), to Warwick Toowoomba and then to Brisbane.
After arriving in Brisbane, he was sworn into the Army at Thompsons Paddock,
(Enoggera) in Brisbane (25th May, 1916). He as did many other young blokes
at the time said his age was 21 years and I month. Following 4 months initial
training in South East Queensland he sailed for England aboard the troop
transporter “M.V. Seang Choon” on 19 September 1916 with a contingent of
reinforcements (152 in total) for the depleted 31st Battalion.

Arriving in Plymouth on 9 December, 1916. his unit spent 6 weeks in further
training on the Salisbury Plain in southern England. Paddy wrote to his mother
on 16 December 1916 what was for him a long letter describing his experiences
in England. In his letter he described his daily routine as follows:
“You often have to go without a wash all day for the water pipes are generally
frozen. They have cut the seven days a week drill out for the doctors told them
that they were killing the men. So we get Sunday off now. I will tell you a day’s
work. Get up 6.30 (dark) breakfast 7 consisting of tea porridge and bread &
dripping. Fall in eight o’clock, practice bomb throwing. Physical exercises,
squad drill. Dinner 1 o’clock soup, meat, potatoes, one-piece bread. Fall in 2
o’clock. Trench digging and go for a route march. Tea 5 o’clock (dark). Tea
some kind of a pudding and bread and dripping. We sleep in five huts 25 in
each and a good coal stove in the middle. So you can guess we have plenty
toast and tea every night. After we come home from the pictures which are
about half a mile away.”

Unfortunately for Paddy soon after his arrival he contracted mumps and we
placed in isolation for 14 days meaning that his first Christmas overseas was
spent in hospital. During periods of leave before he contracted the mumps, he
(along with thousands of other Australian servicemen) visited the sights of.

The highly regarded 31st Battalion had already spent long periods in front line
In his letter to his mother dated 16 December 1916 he spoke of his imminent
move to France and joining the 31 st Battalion, He said in his letter:
“They are considered one of the best battalions that ever-left Australia. In their
first great charge they captured four lines of enemy trenches and held them until
relieved. When the roll was called next day only seventy men answered.”
Paddy arrived in France on 18 January 1917 but before he left England he
wrote a letter to his mother that included the following prophetic words:
“We are going into the worst fight of the lot but I am well prepared for it and
have been well prepared ever since I landed in England. Going to my duty
every week and if by chance anything happens to me rest ashored (assured)
that I feel in my heart that I shall gain a place of happiness for I have never did
a deed in my life that I am ashamed of. So I fear nothing”.

The winters in France were ferocious to such an extent that Paddy in a letter to
his mother dated around February 1917 said:
“I am getting accustomed to the severe cold now and think it nothing knocking
about with the glass 30 below. When we want water, we build a fire and melt
the ice”
He went on to say:
“In your next letter you can forward me over some of the N.S.W. sun. I tell you
we can do with it. I think the Fritzys have a mortgage on the one over here.

 Give a good time to all the Returned Infantry for they deserve it a thousand
times more than the other units. They are the men.”

Paddy’s first taste of serious action with the 31 st was in the second battle of
Bullecourt between 3 and 17 May 1917. In a letter to his mother written around
the end of May 1917 Paddy records the battle as follows:
“I suppose you read about our stoush at Ballencourt.(Bullecourt). Fritzy got what
is commonly called hell and we got nearly the same. I would not take twenty to
one on his chance now although he will hold out a year yet.”

Paddy’s prowess in sports was documented in other letters to his siblings in the
summer of 1917 from France. He wrote to his sister Rose:
“I had a funny game of football yesterday. Two of the players got wounded and were carried to hospital. Just as we started one chap happened to kick a bomb which exploded giving the two I mentioned some nasty wounds. We won the game. I was a picture by the time we had finished’
Then a few months later he wrote to his brother Barney to say:
“I have a great name amongst the Batt Boys as a footballer.
They call me the “Tank” and they think there is no one like me as a player.”

Paddy’s letters were mainly seeking information from his family, friends and his home town of Alstonville. He also assured his mother that he was regularly attending mass and going to confession. In his letter to his sister Rose dated 23 June 1917 he reports:
“Church tomorrow.
A French Priest says Mass and delivers the sermon.
The sermon sounds good but I don’t know a word of what he says. I suppose
it’s marked down in the big book to my credit just the same”.
It seems as though he rejoiced in the normality of life back home hearing about normal everyday events particularly what his parents, grandparents and siblings were doing. For example, he received a letter from home saying that his youngest sister Nancy (my mother) was sick his immediate response in his letter to his sister Mon in August 1917 was:“Just fancy poor little Nance being sick. I hope to goodness she soon gets better. I would sooner, oh I don’t know what, than see anything happen to her.”
He goes on to tell Mon:
“I am going strong with a French girl (‘what’s that” you said) we can’t understand one another.
Only sit down and wink at one another. It all helps to pass
the time. She makes a worse attempt at my name than Nance. I’m dashed if I
know whether I am any nearer the mark with regard to hers. I keep my eye on
the old man and whenever I see him approaching with a pitch fork I turn the
steering wheel for the billet.”
Paddy’s letters are fascinating in the way they avoid anything but a few
sentences of what his war was like. Instead he constantly focused on those
near and dear to him. In April 1917 he writes to his mother asking:
“I would love to see Nance now and hear her sing. It makes me think of home
every time I see a child and I always think of little Billy and Nance for you now I love children.”

In September 1917 the 31 st Battalion is located with the 8 th Brigade to Belgium for the next big push being the commencement of what is now known as “the Third Battle of Ypres” and in particular the battle of Polygon Wood that took place between 26 September and 28 September 1917.
On the day before the battle of Polygon Woods was to commence, Paddy wrote his last letter to his maternal grandmother. The letter is remarkable for its simple narrative and displays no fear or apprehension. Paddy after commenting on his maternal grandparents proposed move to settle in Alstonville, describes the tranquil scenes around the billet as follows:
“Everywhere you look about hear they are growing hops for making beer.
I was out helping to pick the hops off the vines today. It didn’t take long to make me tired.
“The reason I am doing so much writing today is that I am on Aeroplane guard.
We have Lewis Machine Guns placed so as we can fire in the air. Four men are on at a time. It is my hour off now.”

It is virtually impossible to articulate the brutality of a battle such as the battle of Polygon Wood. The noise, the smell, the dust and smoke as well as the heat and the force of exploding artillery shrapnel shells assaulted all of the soldier’s senses. Then there was the confusion, the pain and the sights of comrades’ dead or wounded. The involvement of the 31 st Battalion in the battle of Polygon Wood is fortuitous as it is tragic and in so far as conspicuous battles fought by Australian infantry battalions are concerned it is a story of heroic endeavour of the highest possible displays of bravery and dedication to achieve a difficult if not near impossible objective. The 31 st involvement in the battle of Polygon Wood ranks with the 3 rd battalion RAR’s role in the battle of Kapyong, Korea and B company, 6 th battalion RAR’s role at Long Tan, Vietnam.

The official reports record that as a result of the 3 rd Battle of Ypres the British suffered 15,375 dead and wounded with the Australian 4 th Division suffering 1,717 casualties and the Australian 5 th Division 5,471 dead, wounded or captured. The official German records list the German casualties as 13,500. For those who fought in such battles their lives would never be the same. It was during 3 chaotic days of absolute mayhem that Paddy Bugden displayed such heroism that is best summarised by Roland Perry who is General Sir John Monash’s biographer. Perry had direct access to Monash’s extensive letter and diary archives.

Monash was the commanding officer of the Australian 3rd Division that had
been only days before relieved form its task in the Third Battle of Ypres or “the Third Ypres” as it became known. Monash kept a keen interest in what was happening although back from the frontline.

Monash described Paddy Bugden’s acts of bravery as:-
“While the 14th recovered, the 31st Battalion’s Private Patrick Bugden led a
small party against the damaging machine-gun post. Bugden almost single-
handily changed the outcome of the battle of Polygon Wood, leading several
successful attacks with grenades and bayonets. He also emulated Simpson on
Gallipoli, risking his life to save wounded soldiers. Like Simpson, his fortune
didn’t last. There were just so many times a brave man could gamble with his
life in the open battle field. After three days of heroic activity, Bugden was

Monash is arguably Australia’s greatest ever soldier and to really understand his lavish praise for the heroic deeds of Paddy Bugden and how those deeds were so important to the successful outcome of the battle, it is important to provide some background as to how the battle for Polygon Wood unfolded.

Even this brief commentary does not do justice to what the men of the 31 st
Battalion and Paddy Bugden endured over a three-day period during this epic battle.

The Belgium landmark of Polygon Wood is just 8 kilometers east of ancient
cloth city of Ypres. In 1914, Ypres was a city with a population of 18,000. Over the next three years, Ypres was totally destroyed and demolished in two major battles. All of its population had fled the city or had died. The imposing and beautiful Cloth Hall and St Martin’s Cathedral lay in ruins.

Polygon Wood had been occupied by the German Army since October 1914
and was located on a small plateau. In late September 1917, the forest had
been flattened with the only vegetation being a spindly bush of 1 meter in height and the moon like landscape was littered by shell holes and the detritus of war such as discarder barbed wire, destroyed vehicles and unexploded artillery shells. In the north east of the once verdant woods was a butte or small hill.

With all the vegetation in the woods flattened, the butte had a commanding vista of the surrounding rural countryside that extended for many kilometers. It was therefore a highly strategic position and was, understandably, heavily fortified by the Germans with heavy machine guns placed on top of the butte and in concrete bunkers known as pill boxes strewn throughout Polygon Wood and to its south. Polygon Wood was just to the east of what was known as the Ypres salient used in military parlance for a small but important incursion by the British front line into the German’s defensive front line.



“In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row
That marked our place;
and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.
Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw the torch: for yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep,
though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”
The 31 st battalion caught that torch many years ago and has since that time has
always held it high and has never broken faith with those of its numbers that
died in battle.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row
That marked our place;
and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.
Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw the torch: for yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep,
though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”

The 31 st battalion caught that torch many years ago and has since that time has
always held it high and has never broken faith with those of its numbers that

Pte Patrick “Paddy” Bugden VC