The war diary for the battalion has only short entries for 19-20 July 1916 but the reasons for and extent of the casualties are clear:
7pm: 59th Battn. attacked enemy position in four waves, first wave going over parapet at 6.45 p.m. other three waves following at five minute intervals. Attack did not penetrate enemy trenches being held up by intense rifle and machine gun fire approximately 100 yds from enemy front line.
8 am: Enemy shelled heavily during early morning. Battn. relieved by 57 Battn at 8 am. Muster roll called in RUE DE BOIS. 4 officers and 90 other ranks answered. Battn moved to billets.
The next day (21/7/16) near Sailly, there was another muster roll called. This time it was … answered by 8 officers and 202 other ranks.
There was also an appendix (A2) which detailed more precisely the casualties sustained in action of 19th/20 July 1916. It gave 13 killed, 394 wounded, 274 missing and 13 died of wounds. The total casualty figure was 694 or more than two-thirds of the Battalion’s strength.
War Diary 59 Battalion
Herbert GILFOY 2641
Private Herbert Gilfoy was the last of the Shire of Alberton men to die at Fromelles. He died on 26/7/16, one week after the battle, from wounds he received on 19/7/16.
Herbert Gilfoy was another young man from England. He was born at Barton on Humber, Lincolnshire and came to Australia as a nineteen year old. At the time of enlistment he was working as a farm labourer in the Yarram area and had probably been doing so for at least one year, and certainly long enough to be identified as ‘local’. His name is on both the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and the Roll of Honor.
Gilfoy enlisted in Melbourne on 2/8/15 and at the time he was 21 yo. He gave his religion as Methodist. He had had his first medical at Yarram on 29/7/15 and was then re-examined in Melbourne. On enlistment, he was assigned to 23 Battalion. In Egypt, at the time of the AIF reorganisation, he was transferred first to 58 Battalion (23/2/16) and then to 59 Battalion on 15/3/16.
There was one minor charge in Egypt which was related to being improperly dressed on guard duty and destroying government property, for which he was fined 7/6 from his pay.
Private Gilfoy was wounded on the 19 July. He was shot in the head and someone must have managed to get him back to the casualty clearing station on the 20/7/16, most probably in the early morning. The wound was described as GSW [gun shot wound]. Head & Hernia Cerebri (severe). The next day he was transferred to an ambulance train which transported wounded to the 30th General Hospital at Calais, some 100 kilometres from Fromelles. He was admitted to the hospital on the same day so he reached the hospital in Calais within two days of being wounded at the front. He died from the head wound five days later on 26/7/16. He was buried in Calais Cemetery on the same day. The Reverend Maurice R. Harby, the chaplain from the hospital, officiated.
The Report of Death of a Soldier was prepared within less than one month – 23/8/16 – and the parents in Lincolnshire would have received news of his death relatively quickly. It also appears that they were cabled that he was ‘dangerously ill’ when he was admitted to hospital. There is no correspondence from the family in the service file. However, the mother – Mrs Ellen Gilfoy of Lincolnshire – did complete the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour and on this she gave Yarram as the location with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’ She also gave Mr Jeffs as a contact in Australia who might be able to provide further information. This suggests that the son was working for Jeffs before he enlisted. There were several families of Jeffs who were farming in the Carrajung district.
The family received the following personal items: Disc, Letters, Wallet, Note Case, Belt, Pipe, Wooden Cross, Cuff Links, Photos, Pencil Case.
Private Gilfoy was one of the many young British immigrants to Australia who had enlisted in the AIF and returned to Europe via Egypt. But like so many of them, he did not have the chance to reunite with his family in England – or, for the others, Wales or Scotland or Ireland – before he was killed.
National Archives file for Gilfoy Herbert 2641
Roll of Honour: Herbert Gilfoy
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Herbert Gilfoy
portrait of 2 privates, probably 2641 Herbrt Gilfoy (standing) and 5553 John Ernest Mayall. Courtesy of AWM
Vincent GRENVILLE 1811
It is not clear if Vincent Grenville was born in Sale or Alberton. Nor is there not much to tie him directly to the Shire of Alberton. His name does not appear on either the Shire of Alberton War Memorial or Roll of Honor. Nor is his name on any local school honor roll. At the same time he gave his father’s address, as his next-of-kin on enlistment, as Yarram. More importantly, the Gippsland Standard and Albertonshire Representative, on 8/9/15, noted: Private V. Grenville, Yarram, is reported as killed in action.
He enlisted in Melbourne on 29/11/15 and acknowledged that he been rejected earlier on medical grounds (teeth). He was 32 yo and gave his occupation as labourer. His religion was Church of England.
After 59 Battalion had reached France, and only 2 weeks before he was killed, Private Grenville was charged with 2 offences. The first on 7/7/16 was for “not saluting an officer”. The second was on 16/7/16 for being … absent from Billet without leave. For this latter charge he was given 2 days Field Punishment No. 2, which meant that he would have finished this punishment the day before the fighting at Fromelles and the day before he was killed.
Private Grenville was killed in action on 19 July 1916 and his body was recovered at the time. He was buried on 21/7/16 in Rue du Bois Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix, with Rev. D S Brumwell officiating. The Report of Death was issued on 6/9/16. Personal kit was returned in May 1917: Identity Disc, Testament, Handkerchief, Postcards Wrist Watch & Strap.
As indicated, the father – George Robert Grenville – was given as next-of-kin on enlistment but the AIF was unable to trace him after the death of his son. Information about the death, burial were then sent to the mother – Rose Grenville – who lived at Welshpool. The mother also received the relevant medals once it was established that the father could not be traced.
The mother also provided the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, and in this she gave Pozieres as the place of death – evidence at the individual and personal level that Fromelles, for all its unique horror, was incorporated within the bigger picture of the fighting on the Somme.
National Archives file for Grenville Vincent 1811
Roll of Honour: Vincent Grenville
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Vincent Grenville [Greville]
note: 26/7/16 – information from Linda Barraclough confirms that Vincent (de Paul) Grenville’s birth was registered (6360) in Yarram in 1883. Pioneer Index. Victoria 1836-1888
Isaac James LEAR 4130
Isaac James Lear was born in Tarraville. He attended Tarraville State School. At the time he enlisted he 21 yo, single and he gave his occupation as boot maker. His religion was Church of England. He had his first medical in Yarram on 28/7/15, was issued with a railway warrant on the same day and completed the enlistment in Melbourne on 3/8/15. He joined 23 Battalion and left Melbourne on 7/3/1916.
Private Lear’s unit was involved in the re-organisation of the AIF in Egypt prior to moving to the Western Front and in April 1916 he was transferred to the newly formed 59 Battalion.
Private Lear was killed in action less than one month after reaching France. He had not seen service at Gallipoli and had not even been in front line trenches until Fromelles.
As with so many others at Fromelles, Private Lear was initially reported as missing and it was not until 28/8/17, more than a year later, that a court of enquiry determined that he had been killed in action on 19/7/16.
There is no Red Cross report for Private Lear and the paperwork in his file is sketchy. However, it is clear from the limited correspondence that the mother did pursue the circumstances of his death. The following letter from the mother in 1921 – five years after Fromelles – was written in response to the standard request to families for any information that could assist the work of the Graves Services Unit.
I am very sorry to have kept you so long waiting my reply, [the request for information was made on 27/7/21 and this reply was dated 3/9/21] but I have been trying to locate a returned Soldier (Private Long) who knows all concerning the death of my Son. But I cannot trace him. He is a South Richmond man but went to Wonthaggi to work. He was with my son advancing with fixed bayonets; after abandoning the Lewis Gun, which they were carrying and were tired of, they crossed a gully only to get on the level ground and my Son was shot in the throat. Private Long could give the exact place should we be able to find him, as he lost his leg a few minutes after he saw my son fall. This is the only information I can give, with the exception of a few articles that I am sure would be on his person should he be recovered without an identification disc. 1 shire medallion medal blue enamel presented by Alberton Shire (Gippsland) for duty done, a brooch made out of two sixpences, a blue enamel wristlet watch parcelled up and pinned in tunic pouch. The medal was initialled I. J. L on back.
I am sorry this is all the information I can give but hope it will be of some use.
Thanking you so much for all the trouble you have taken.
The Private Long referred to in the mother’s letter appears to have been William Joseph Long (4823) 59 Battalion who was seriously wounded – ‘GSW L Hip and R Knee severe’ – on 19/7/16 and who, after an extended period of hospitalisation in England, was returned to Australia on 4/8/17. He was discharged early 1918. Interestingly, information to families in relation to the wounded was reasonably prompt. Private Long’s family was advised by cable on 30/7/16 – ten days after Fromelles – that he was in hospital ‘seriously ill shell wound hip arm’ (sic).
As indicated, the court of enquiry that determined Private Lear had been killed in action on 19/7/16 was held more than one year later on 29/8/17. It is not possible to determine exactly when this information was conveyed to the family, but a letter of 6/11/17 suggests it was late October or early November 1917. The letter is also interesting in that it gives an insight on how clergy were employed to deliver the fateful news when it finally came.
I was absent from my home when the clergyman called and left the message with my daughter that her brother was killed in action. I have had nothing from the Defence department to confirm this message. If you would let me know the particulars I would be very much obliged.
The response from Base Records on 12/11/17 was not able to add any ‘particulars’.
In reply to your communication of 6th inst., I have to state the only information available at this Office to date regarding your son, No. 4130 Private I.J. Lear, 59th Battalion, is that contained in the brief cable message – Previously reported missing, now reported killed in action on 19/7/16. It is confidently anticipated however, that further particulars will come to hand by Mail, and these on receipt will be promptly transmitted to you.
However it is clear that no further details on the particulars of the death did emerge. Moreover, there was no kit returned to the family. This was unusual, because no matter how limited the personal belongings of soldiers were, there was generally something returned to the family. The mother wrote several times, and as late as February 1919, asking for the return of her son’s personal effects but to no avail. A formal response from Base Records on 12/7/18 – some two years after the Battle of Fromelles – is interesting for the directness of the explanation if offers.
As this soldier was posted missing for about fourteen months, it is probable his body was never recovered and anything he had with him at the time of his death would have disappeared. In the circumstances it is not likely that any effects will now come to hand.
However, the response is disingenuous because it does not address the issue of the soldier’s kit that was routinely handed in to the Company Quarter Master Sergeant before the troops went in to battle. As already noted, kit was returned to family even in cases where the soldier was listed as missing and there had not yet been any formal determination of his fate. Overall, in the case of Private Lear, after Fromelles there was literally no trace whatsoever. His name at least is recorded on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and Roll of Honor and also at VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles.
National Archives file for Lear Isaac James 4130
Roll of Honour: Isaac James Lear
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Isaac James Lear
Aubrey LIDDELOW Captain
Aubrey Liddelow appears on the roll of honor for Tarraville State School, as does his brother, Roy Liddelow. He was born at Tarraville in 1877 and his father was a school inspector with the Education Department. When his wife – Fannie T Liddelow – completed the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, she noted that he had been a student of Scotch College and also South Melbourne College [closed in 1917]. She gave his ‘calling’ as school master and also noted he had attended Melbourne University.
The embarkation roll recorded that 2Lt. Liddelow’s occupation was state school teacher. It also gave his age as 38 yo. The wife at the time was living at East Malvern. His religion was Church of England.
There are missing papers in Captain Aubrey’s service file but it is likely that he was involved in the Citizens Forces in his role as a state school teacher because he was appointed as a second lieutenant when he joined 8 Battalion on 11/11/14. Subsequently, in 7 Battalion, he was made full lieutenant at Gallipoli and then promoted to the rank of captain in February 1916. He transferred to the newly created 59 Battalion in March 1916. At Gallipoli he had been wounded twice: bullet wound left ankle and injury to eye.
Captain Liddelow was posted as missing as of 19/7/16 until a court of enquiry held on 21/7/17 found him killed in action on the same date. To this point no remains have been identified and his name is recorded at VC Corner, Fromelles.
The Red Cross file for Captain Liddelow is extensive with no less that 13 witness statements. There are inconsistencies, as was common, There was a question over whether he was shot and killed outright or died shortly after being wounded. There was also inconsistency over how far into the attack he was killed. However, there is no doubt that he was killed in the attack on the enemy lines.
The witness statements also reveal that Captain Liddelow was well-regarded by his men. Pte. J E Rice 59 Battalion was reported as stating that, Capt. Liddelowwas killed on July 19th. I was not an eye-witness but as I lay wounded several of my chums who passed me said “Poor old Liddelow is gone”. There was a similar sentiment evident in the witness statement by Pte. C H Saunders:
Saunders C. H. No. 4588, Ward 18. states he saw Capt. Liddelow wounded at Fleurbaix. Mr.[sic] Liddelow had been over to German trenches, and was coming back, he was severely wounded in forehead. Saunders tried to help Mr. Liddelow back, but being badly wounded himself Mr. Liddelow ordered him back., this was between one and two in morning of 19th & 20th. That is the last seen of Mr. Liddelow, who was nearer the German trenches than his Battalion … Saunders says it was a bad job, as Mr. Liddelow was very popular and much liked by his Company.
There is correspondence from family members seeking a final determination of Captain Liddelow’s fate so that his estate could be finalised. The family had accepted that he was dead long before the formal notification came. Indeed, whereas the formal notification took 12 months, personal items were despatched to the wife within 6 months of the point he was declared missing.
The amount of kit returned to the family in Australia for Capt. Liddelow, as an officer, was far greater than for ‘other ranks’. It was far too extensive to itemise but it included the likes of : 2 Revolvers, 3 Ancient Pistols, 2 holdalls, Civilian Suit, 9 prs. socks, slippers, pr. boots, 5 collars, Cane, 1 Fur Cardigan Jacket, 1 Tunic, 1 Khaki Drill Uniform, 1 pr. Khaki Drill Riding Breeches, 1 Pr. White Trousers … and items such as Brushes in Case, Metal Mirror, 1 Spirit Flask and polishing outfit. Clearly, commissioned officers, even in the AIF, represented, and were treated as, a higher ‘class’ of person.
National Archives file for Liddelow Aubrey
Roll of Honour: Aubrey Liddelow
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Aubrey Liddelow
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Aubrey Liddelow
Officers 59 Btn. Egypt. Capt. Aubrey Liddelow fourth from left, front. Courtesy AWM.
Archie Fred LIDGETT 4832
Archie Fred Lidgett enlisted in Melbourne on 3/11/15 and embarked for overseas service on 7/3/16. Initially he joined 7 Battalion but was transferred to 59 Battalion when its was formed in Egypt early in 1916. With the rest of the battalion he reached Marseilles on 29/6/16.
Archie Lidgett was another immigrant rural farm worker. He came from a small village, Springthorpe, near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. His attestation papers indicate that his father, as next-of-kin, was still living in England and his mother was dead. At the time of enlistment he was 20 yo and therefore required the signed permission of his guardian to enlist. His papers are annotated with the comment ‘Father in England. Mother Dead. No Guardianship Available’ which is signed by him. His religion was given as Church of England.
Archie Lidgett was working in the Yarram area – most likely at Darriman – at the time of enlistment and had his first medical in Yarram on 18/10/15. He was re-examined in Melbourne on 3/11/15, the date of his formal enlistment. His occupation was listed as labourer. It is not clear how long he had been working in the district before his enlistment. However, the fact that he is on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial suggests that he was certainly known. Oddly, his name is not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.
The record on Private Lidgett is very brief. Even though he was initially reported as ‘missing’ on 19/7/16, there is no Red Cross report. There is no family correspondence in his service file. Nor did the family in Lincolnshire complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Yet, oddly, there is a picture of Private A Lidgett.
A court of enquiry held in the field in France on 29/8/17 finally determined that he had been killed on action on 19/7/16. His name is recorded on the memorial at VC Corner, Fromelles. To this point no remains have been found. He is another of the very many who effectively disappeared from history at Fromelles. It is also worth noting that, like other British farm workers who came to Australia pre WW1 and enlisted in the AIF, he was killed on the Western Front well before there was the possibility of leave to reunite with his family in Lincolnshire.
National Archives file for Lidgett Archie Fred 4832
Roll of Honour: Archie Fred Lidgett
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Archie Fred Lidgett
Studio portrait Pte. Archie Fred Lidgett 4832. Courtesy AWM
Leonard John James NEIL 2406
Leonard John James Neil was born at Port Albert and attended the state school there. His name is included on the honor roll for the school.
Neil enlisted at Foster on 28/4/15. At the time he was 21 yo and single. He gave his father – William Neil – as next-of-kin, and he gave his father’s address – Oakleigh – as his own. However, his occupation was given as fisherman, and it appears that he was living and working at Port Franklin. He was single and his religion was Church of England.
He left Australia in 7 Battalion and served at Gallipoli. He was evacuated from there on 19/10/15 suffering from dysentery.
In 59 Battalion in France, he was appointed lance corporal on 6/7/16. He was first listed as missing (19/7/16); but the Report of Death was issued relatively soon after on 13/9/16, with missing changed to killed in action. There was no body recovered and on one of the forms there is a reference to the fact that he was ‘presumed buried in No Man’s Land.’ There was no Red Cross report but, judging by the promptness of the Report of Death, there must have been strong evidence that he had been killed. His name is recorded at VC Corner, Fromelles.
A small number of personal items were returned to the family in April 1917: Identity Disc, Wallet, Photos, 3 Coins and in July 1917: Scarfs 3, Cap Comforter, Kit Bag Handle, Belt, Handkerchief.
In the service file there is a letter from the father to Base Records in Melbourne in which he asks for the address of the sergeant of the company – C Company 59 Battalion – in which his son served. It shows yet another way families pursued the quest to find out what had happened to their sons. This letter was written not much more than a week after the family would have been informed that L/Cpl Neil had been killed. The father is keen to learn the precise details of his son’s death.
Could you let me no (sic) the sergeants name of the C Coy 59th Battalion 15 Inf. Brigade. I received word my son LCpl L J J Neil was killed on the 19th of July in France but have not had any particulars. I would like to no how he met his death.
In response, Base Records forwarded the address of the Officer Commanding,”C” Company, 59 Battalion and suggested that the parent contact him. It also noted – and it would have been an unintended irony – that it was unable to … furnish the name of the officer acting in that capacity. Change in personnel was a constant on the Western Front.
National Archives file for Neil Leonard John James 2406
Roll of Honour: Leonard John James Neil
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Leonard John James Neil
Stephen SLEIGH 3244
None of the usual sources of evidence links Stephen Sleigh to the Shire of Alberton. His name does not appear on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or War Memorial. Nor does it appear on any local school or other community honor roll. His name is not on the electoral roll for the subdivision of Yarram Yarram.
However, there was a strong link. Stephen Sleigh does appear in the 1915 Rate Book for the Shire with land at Binginwarri. Further, on the embarkation roll his address appears as ‘c/o Bank of Australasia, Yarram’. Lastly, throughout his service file there is correspondence from B P Johnson, solicitor of Yarram, requesting relevant documentation from the AIF so that he (Johnson) can settle the estate of the late private S Sleigh. Johnson complained, repeatedly, about the length of time it was taking the authorities to issue the death certificate. He argued that this delay was costing the estate considerable amounts in interest and, worse, as Johnson put it, the land itself, with no one to manage it, was ’going back’. Finally in late December 1918, the property was able to be offered for sale. The advertisement appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 24/12/18. The property was described as … the Estate of the late Stephen Sleigh, who was killed on active service. The ad continued:
100 acres of very rich grey soil, situate 12 miles from Gelliondale Station, with two-roomed hardwood house. Carrying capacity, 30 cows.
On the embarkation roll, Sleigh’s occupation was given as ’shunter’ and elsewhere there was a reference to him being a ‘railway employee’. His mother described his calling – on the (National) Roll of Honour – as ‘civil servant’. This occupational background does not, on the face of it, appear to line up with his land holding and dairy farming activity. However, it is definitely the same person. At the time he enlisted (16/7/15) in Melbourne, he was 28 yo and single. His religion was Church of England. He gave his mother – Mrs Mary Jane Sleigh – as his next-of-kin and her address was first Bunyip and then Koo Wee Rup.
Private Sleigh left Australia (26/11/15) in 23 Battalion. He shifted to 59 Battalion via 58 Battalion. He was reported as ‘missing’ as of 19 July 1916 and then ‘killed in action’, as of the same date, by a court of enquiry held 29/8/17. He was another soldier … presumed buried in No Man’s Land. His name is recorded at VC Corner, Fromelles. When the mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave the place of her son’s death as either Fleurbaix or Pozieres. There was no Red Cross report for Private Sleigh.
There are 2 pieces of correspondence is the service file which give additional insights into how attempts were made to uncover details of those missing. The first was the standard form sent to families by the AIF asking if they had received any additional letters or other communication … that contain any reference to the circumstances surrounding his death, particularly the exact location at which it occurred, or where he was last seen alive. This was sent to the mother in July 1921. Her reply, dated 3/8/21, noted that she had not received any letters – from mates or officers or the chaplain in the same unit – ’surrounding his death or burial’. She was unable to contribute any information, but she did add a postscript to the effect that she believed that the death occurred at Fleurbaix.
The second piece of correspondence was a letter from Johnson, the Yarram solicitor, to Base Records in Melbourne. It was sent 17/9/17 – after the court of enquiry in France held on 29/8/17 that had found Private Sleigh ‘killed in action’ on 19/7/16 – and stands as an example of how locals back home carried out their own investigations, trying to uncover what had happened:
No 3244 Pte S. Sleigh 59th Battalion
Referring to previous correspondence as to this missing soldier I have received information that may be of use to a Court of Inquiry. There is a returned man (Pte. Lithgow) who is now living with his father Mr J W Lithgow of Hiawatha via West Alberton & who says he was in the same Battn. as Sleigh & about 20 yds from him when crossing a creek full of liquid mud & that if a man got hit there he was sure to fall in & get smothered. Lithgow says he never saw Sleigh afterwards & feels sure he came to his end in that creek.
In the case of Johnson, it is not clear if he was being paid for his service in trying to settle the affairs of Sleigh or if in fact it was pro bono work. The latter possibility relates to an agreement made by those on the Yarram Recruiting Committee in 1916 whereby the local professionals would assist men from the Shire who enlisted. For example, local doctors were to treat the families of enlisted for free. Under this arrangement Johnson had undertaken to represent the legal interests of enlisted men. There were qualifications but it was a genuine attempt to support recruitment in the Shire.
National Archives file for Sleigh Stephen 3244
Roll of Honour: Stephen Sleigh
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Stephen Sleigh