Like Ernest Ralph Pallot, Charles Samuel Tolley was a volunteer who enlisted in the large Yarram group on 16 September 1914. His rail warrant for the trip to Melbourne was number 23. He was twenty-one when he enlisted and his occupation was recorded as farm labourer. He had been born at Drouin and his mother, listed as next-of-kin, was living at Balook. She was a widow. He appeared in the Electoral Roll (Subdivision of Yarram Yarram) as a ‘farm labourer’ of Yarram. His mother – Mary Ann Tolley – was listed as ‘domestic duties’, Balook. Tolley had attended Balook State School and he had been active in the local Methodist church. He had also been a member of the Yarram Rifle Club.
Tolley was another of the group of enlistments at Yarram who was initially put down for the South Gippsland Light Horse but then, after 3 months at Broadmeadows, was assigned to 6 Battalion.
Also like Pallot, Tolley went ashore on 25 April in the second wave, sometime after about 05:30. However there is a significant difference between the circumstances surrounding each death. Pallot was in a group of men who had pushed well inland – in the direction of the ‘third ridge’ – after the landing. He was shot and killed and then, when his comrades had to fall back, his body was left behind. From that point he effectively ‘disappeared’. But with Tolley the ‘disappearance’ was even more surprising because it appears that he was shot and killed either on the beach or not far from it, just a few minutes after landing. He also then ‘disappeared’, but unlike Pallot his body was never recovered. His name is listed on the Lone Pine Memorial.
It is virtually impossible to establish what happened to an individual soldier in a battle that was so obviously chaotic: orders were imprecise and contradicted, troops from different units became hopelessly inter-mixed and the conventional chains of command broke down. As well, casualties were heavy. The fact that the 6th Battalion’s War Diary was not started until May 1915 – there is therefore no account of the action on 25 April – is also a complication. The only evidence to hand consists of 2 witness statements, made nearly a full year after the event. Both witnesses were in 6 Battalion at the time Tolley was killed.
The first statement was from Pte. William Moller 580. It was dated 21 March 1916.
Tolley was killed near the beach soon after the landing at Anzac had been effected. Bullets were flying everywhere. Tolley dropped suddenly, evidently dead. Witness saw and heard nothing further about him.
The second statement was from Cpl. Edward Trayner 526. It was also dated 21 march 1916.
Witness saw Tolley killed in the landing. They landed together and formed a firing-line. Tolley was killed within five minutes after the formation of the firing-line. A bullet went through his head. He was knocked right out and did not move again. This occurred on the right flank at Anzac. Tolley was a quiet fellow, not too robust as regards general health.
Combining the 2 statements it appears that Tolley was killed within minutes of reaching the beach. He was shot through the head and died instantly. Exactly where the firing line was is unclear, but the suggestion is that it was not far inland from the beach. Yet, remarkably, the body ‘disappeared’. Probably the most likely explanation is that the body, like many others, was just left where it fell until there was the opportunity to collect all the dead and bury them as quickly as possible in some protected place. But if this is what did happen there was, apparently, no attempt to keep a record of the men being buried. Or perhaps there was, but the record was lost. There is a lot of conjecture but the general situation certainly points to the chaotic nature of the Gallipoli landings.
It is also hard to understand why, if Tolley was killed on the beach and this was known by his comrades in the battalion, there was such a protracted process to establish that he had been killed in action. Like Pallot, Tolley was treated as ‘missing’ until the court of enquiry at Erquinghem on 24 April 1916.
Remarkably, the official record shows that Tolley was first recorded as ‘missing’ on 10 June 1915, at least 6 weeks after the event. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – picked up on this report and published it on 23 June 1915.
Amongst the “missing” in the casualty list published yesterday, appears the name of Charles Tolley, son of Mrs. Tolley of Balook. He left Yarram with the first contingent of about fifty.
It seems incredible that it took so long to establish that a member of the battalion was ‘missing’ when he went ‘missing’ on the first day, at the very point of the landing. Moreover, there is not even a record in Tolley’s file of any advice from the AIF to his mother that he was missing; however there is a reference from his mother indicating that she received notice that he was missing ‘about 3 months after the landing.’
Like so many of the others ‘missing’ at Gallipoli, the AIF explored the possibility that Tolley had been captured by the Turks. In May 1916 they advised Mrs Tolley that the possibility had been discounted:
“A communication has been received from the War Office in which it is stated that the American Embassy at Constantinople regrets to report that according to an official communication from the Turkish Foreign Office, under date of February 15th 1916, nothing is known of the fate of Private C. S. Tolley, 6th Battalion.”
One important difference between the cases of Pallot and Tolley was that whereas the entire Pallot family actively pursued the AIF for information about their son and brother, Tolley’s mother appeared reluctant to question the situation or make any demand of the AIF. There is no correspondence from her to the AIF requesting information about her son’s fate. The only correspondence came after he had been formally declared to have been killed in action (24/4/16). On 9 June 1916, Edward Wills – a dairyman of Balook – wrote on her behalf requesting the son’s personal belongings. On 10 July 1916, she wrote herself requesting what amounted to a formal certificate of death. The son had left no will and she needed such documentation to access some funds he held in a bank in Yarram. On 15 September 1916 she made another request for her son’s belongings and any ‘back pay’ due. There was a formal response on the issue of the son’s belongings which reassured her that, should any be located, they would be forwarded to her; but, given the length of time that had elapsed, it was unlikely that any such belongings would be found. No belongings were ever returned.
Tolley’s mother was sent, in June 1921, the formal request for any information she might have that could assist the work of the War Graves Unit. She replied:
The last letter I received from my Son was from Lemnos Island. After leaving there I received no further communication from him. About 3 months after the landing at Gallipoli I was advised that he was missing & 12 months later that the was killed. … Should you gain any further information as to how he met his death I will be very pleased if you will let me know.
News of his death passed through the local community. It was mentioned in the local paper on 18 August 1916 in a small piece on the Yarram Rifle Club where the captain of the club noted the death, with regret. He advised that Tolley had been killed in action at the Gallipoli landing but that official news was only issued a month or two ago. Earlier, in the edition of 9 June 1916 there had been a small piece, based on second and even third-hand reports from men on Gallipoli at the time (25 April 1915) that confirmed and linked the deaths of both Pallot and Tolley.
From 28 January 1916 Mary Ann Tolley was granted a pension as a ‘widowed mother’ of £2 per fortnight. It appears that Charles was the only adult child. His death, quite apart from the personal grief, would have been a serious threat to the mother’s livelihood.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative