Gordon William APPLEYARD 865
9 Battalion DOW 24/8/16
Gordon William Appleyard was one of 6 brothers of the Appleyard family from Alberton who enlisted. Gordon and another brother – Charles Courtney Appleyard MM – were both killed in 1916, Gordon in August and Charles in November. In addition, there was a cousin – Edgar Appleyard, from Alberton – who was also killed, in Egypt in 1917. The names of all three are on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.
Gordon’s mother – Jane Appleyard – recorded the following when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour:
Pte. W. G. Appleyard was one of 6 brothers who enlisted with the A.I.F. My Mother’s Father and only Brother served their time under Queen Victoria. This boy said when very young if war broke out when he was a man he would be a soldier. He proved himself one.
Private Gordon Appleyard enlisted on 3/9/14, just one month after the formal declaration of war (4/8/14). At the time he enlisted he was living and working in Queensland. He enlisted at Rockhampton. But even though he enlisted interstate, he was clearly still regarded as ‘local’. He had been born in Yarram, grew up in the district and attended school at Binginwarri. It is not evident when he moved to Queensland, but it was probably in his early twenties because he had been a member of the South Gippsland Rifle Club. His name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Also, his mother gave Binginwarri as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.
At the time of his enlistment, Gordon was single and 26 yo. His occupation was listed as labourer. Back in Gippsland, the father had a farm at Binginwarri, with at least some of the boys helping out.
Private Gordon Appleyard joined 9 Battalion, one of the very first units of the AIF. It embarked within a couple of months of being formed and reached Egypt in December 1914. It was involved from the very beginning of the Gallipoli campaign.
Private Appleyard was evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsula to a hospital ship in September 1915. He appears to have been suffering from dysentery and rheumatic fever. He was in hospital in Malta before being transferred to England in October 1915. Hospitalisation and treatment continued right through to July 1916. He left England for the front in late July and rejoined his battalion on 8/8/16, nearly a year after being evacuated from Gallipoli. At Pozieres, and less than 2 weeks after rejoining his unit, he was wounded on 20/8/16, and then died from the wounds just 4 days later on 24/8/16, at the 44th Casualty Clearing Station. He was buried in a marked grave at Puchevillers British Cemetery.
In terms of the specific action in which Private Appleyard died, the war diary for 9 Battalion indicates that, as part of the 1 Division, it was involved in heavy fighting at Pozieres, in the vicinity of Mouquet Farm, from August 19 – 23. The fighting was characterised by intense enemy artillery barrages. There was one such barrage on the afternoon of the 20 August. Most likely this was when Private Appleyard was wounded.
Over the course of the 5 days (19-23 August), 9 Battalion suffered 164 casualties. The war diary also offers a telling insight on why the casualty levels from artillery bombardments were so high. Essentially, the shelling was so intense that the front line was being levelled, day after day.
I desire to draw attention to the inadequate arrangements for the improving of the communication trenches to the very forward positions. Owing to the short time a Battalion is in the line it is impossible to secure a continuity of Policy. The main communications should be in the hands of an Officer who has control of Pioneers and salvage men and these trenches should be built in the most concealed position and maintained. Considering the enemy levels them every day, it is difficult work, but it should be done. I consider half my causalities were due to defective communications [trenches].
25th August 1916
Lieut. Col. Commanding 9th Battalion.
The formal Report of Death of a Soldier for Private Appleyard was issued on 30/9/16, five weeks after his death, but it appears that word of the death was passed to the family in mid to late September 1916. The following letter, dated 27 November 1916, again points to the way families were informed via the local clergy. It also clearly reflects the pressing need for as much information as possible in relation to deaths. The letter was written by the father (George Appleyard). It was sent to Senator Hon, G. F Pearce, Minister for Defence.
Will you please give me particulars of the death of my son who died of wounds on the 24th August 1916. That is all the information I received from a telegram sent to the Church of England Clergyman of Alberton. I would like to know where he died. Also particulars of deferred pay and any pay due to him. He sailed from Queensland on 15th Sep.1914 on the troopship Omrah and died on 24th Aug 1916. Hoping you will give this your favourable notice.
The response came from Base Records on 4 December 1916. It was effectively the form letter of the time; and the only additional piece of information offered was the name of the casualty clearing station.
With reference to the report of the regrettable loss of your son, the late No. 865 (1027), Private G. W. Appleyard, 9th Battalion, I am now in receipt of advice which shows that he died at No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station, France, on the 24th August 1916, of wounds received in action.
It is clear from the records that the family continued to try to uncover details of the son’s fate. Even though he was never ‘missing’, it appears that the Red Cross Society (Melbourne) took up the case on behalf of the mother in late 1918 (25/11/18).
The above named soldier is officially reported as died of wounds on the 24th August, 1916 – he is one of five brothers who enlisted and his mother is particularly anxious to get any information that is available concerning his death and burial.
The Red Cross was able to track down the details of the burial – He was buried at Puchevillers Military Cemetery on the 25/8/16 by the Capt. Rev. Knevitt C.E. padre to the Forces.
The Red Cross correspondence of 25/11/18 refers to 5 brothers from the Appleyard family having enlisted. This figure of 5 brothers is one less than previously highlighted. The discrepancy came about because in early October 1916, after word of Private Gordon Appleyard’s death had reached the family, the parents wrote to the Minister of Defence (1/10/16) requesting that the most recent, and the sixth son to enlist, be discharged from the AIF. The request was approved:
I have 6 sons in the A.I.F. The first one [Gordon William] went at the outbreak of the war in Oct 1914. He was in the Dardanelles for 6 months when he was invalided to England. He recovered was sent to France some time ago and was killed on 24th Aug.
Another son was wounded about the same time in France and I cannot hear where he is or any tidings of him. 3 other sons are in the thick of the battle. The 6th son is still here in camp. He was ill and sent to the Base Hospital where he was operated on a month ago. He came home yesterday on sick leave for 14 days. I am writing to ask you to give this son his discharge. He is the only one we have. His Father is too old to look after the farm and I think we have given our share with the 5 boys who we might never see again. Please grant this request and discharge our son. We shall be ever grateful to you. I am yours most respectfully
The son in question, Ernest, enlisted on 26/4/16. He was 30 yo and his occupation was given as farmer. He was assigned to reinforcements for the 46 Battalion but never embarked. He was operated on for ‘varicocele’ in late September 1916 and, as indicated, his recuperation involved being nursed at home for two weeks, from 29/9/16. When he returned to the hospital he was ordered to report to Royal Park, where under instructions from Divisional Headquarters he was discharged, on 20/10/16. Private Appleyard himself recorded as the reason he was requesting his discharge – family circumstances as stated in correspondence already forwarded to D. H. Q. 3rd M.D. The official records show that he was discharged forthwith for family reasons.
Three lots of personal kit for their son – (1) Belt, part of pipe lighter, cigarette holder, Button protector and (2) Identity Disc, Chain, Pipe, Cigarette Lighter, Cards, Photos, Wallet, Note Book, Money belt, Linen Bag and (3) Testament, Fountain pen, letter – were returned to the family over 1917 and 1918.
National Archives file for APPLEYARD Gordon William 865
Roll of Honour: Gordon William Appleyard
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Gordon William Appleyard
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Gordon William Appleyard
Alfred REEVES 3342
24 Battalion DOW 25/8/16
Alfred Reeves was yet another young, English immigrant farm worker who found himself in Gippsland at the outbreak of World War 1. And like so many of them, there is very little detail of his life, both in the Shire of Alberton and in the AIF. His name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton War Memorial or the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Yet he was definitely living and working in the Shire prior to enlistment. He completed his initial medical at Yarram 30/7/15 and was then issued with a railway warrant (No. 190, dated 30/7/15) by the Shire Secretary so that he could travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment. Fish Creek is given as the place of association on the (National) Roll of Honour, but the basis for this association is unclear.
When he enlisted in Melbourne (4/8/15) he gave his age as 18 yo and his occupation as farmer, again reflecting how the descriptors ’farmer’ and ‘farm hand’ or ‘farm labourer’ were often used interchangeably. He would have been younger than 18 yo at the time because he was only recorded as 18 yo when he died one year later (25/8/16) in France. He had been born in Leicester and he gave his father, also of Leicester, as his next-of-kin. His religion was Church of England.
There was some confusion and contradiction in terms of his initial time in the AIF and there is even an incorrect reference to him being a deserter. The very date from which he was said to have been missing – 25/11/15 – was in fact the the day his group of reinforcements for 24 Battalion left Melbourne for the Middle East. To add to the confusion, the same date is also given as the date he ‘re-attested’ or re-enlisted. Perhaps his initial enlistment papers went missing at the point he embarked for overseas service and, back in Australia, the AIF authorities were searching for a soldier who was in fact on his way to Egypt.
He spent a short time in hospital in Egypt and then reached Marseilles on 18/5/16 and was taken on strength with 24 Battalion on 31/7/15.
Less than one month later he was wounded (25/8/16) – shrapnel wound chest and buttocks – and died the same day. He was another killed by the ferocious artillery barrages that characterised the fighting at Pozieres. The war diary for 24 Battalion for that day reported Heavy shelling all day. The other item to feature in the diary for the same day was a reference – one of the very first – to German soldiers carrying flame throwers – One cylinder when struck exploded & blew the man to pieces.
Private Reeves was buried at Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery, Picardie. The family was advised on his death on 21/9/16. A handful of items from his personal kit – Letters, Wallet, Cigarette Cards – were also returned. The mother received a pension of £2 a fortnight from 25/10/16.
There is no correspondence in the service file from the family in England. Nor did the family complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. So there is very little to add to the short life of this largely unknown and unacknowledged young English immigrant. However, there is a transcribed copy of a letter that Private Reeves wrote to his mother in England when he was in training – at the military camp at Flemington – in August 1915. This does at least serve as some acknowledgement that he was probably a naive, and certainly patriotic, very young volunteer. He was also very close to his mother:
Just a few lines to let you know that I am alright and happy hoping this letter will find you the same. You will see by the address [Methodist Soldiers’ Institute. Military Camp, Flemington] where I am, and I am under training. I am getting on alright, and I am very glad I got in. I have been in a fortnight and I have had a good bit of training. I have signed papers that in the event of my being killed all my wages go to you and if I get wounded it will go to you just the same. When you [are] writing your letter write this, A. Reeves, 2 Section, 4th Platoon, and then I will get them alright. I am sending you some photos of me and I hope in three weeks I will send some more. You see, I have not got my pay. We only get paid 1 a month and I will have to go another 14 days before I get my money. I have not had a letter from Ada for about 18 weeks but I don’t care. If she doesn’t want to write she need not bother. I am very sorry to hear such a lot have been killed from Home but we will win. I shall probably be gone to the War by the time you get this letter
Well Dearie. Au Revoir. Ever your loving son. Alfie.
remember me to all.
National Archives file for REEVES Alfred 3342
Roll of Honour: Alfred Reeves
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alfred Reeves
James NEIL 3897
22 Battalion KIA 26/8/16
James Neil was born at Tarraville. His father, as next-of-kin, was Richard Neil who was on the electoral roll as labourer of Tarraville. James grew up in the district and attended state school at both Tarraville and Alberton. He had been in the Port Albert Rifle Club for 6 months prior to enlistment. He gave his occupation on the enlistment papers as labourer. His religion was Church of England and he was 21 yo and single. There was an older brother – William Neil – who had enlisted about one month earlier (29/6/15).
James Neil had his initial medical in Yarram and then completed the enlistment in Melbourne on 29/7/15. He was taken on as reinforcements for 22 Battalion. His group left Melbourne for overseas service in early 1916 (8/2/16) and reached France at the end of March (27/3/16).
Within days of arriving in France, he was hospitalised for two weeks with ‘scabies’. After his discharge from hospital he was finally taken on strength for 22 Battalion on 31/7/16, less than 1 month before he died.
22 Battalion, as part of 2 Division, first saw action at Pozieres on 29/7/16. This attack failed. 2 Division next featured in the attack on 4/8/16. This time there was limited success, but the men were subsequently subjected to a ferocious two day artillery bombardment. By this point, 2 Division had suffered nearly 7,000 casualties. The third appearance was on 26/8/16 and on this occasion it managed to reach Mouquet Farm, one of the key objectives, but was not able to hold it. Private Neil was one of the casualties on 26 August.
The War Diary of 22 Battalion indicates that in the fighting on that day – 26/8/16 – it reinforced its sister battalion, 21 Battalion, at the two locations known as ‘Toms Cut’ and the ‘Quarry’. The actual level of casualties for 22 Battalion was not very high, only approximately 50; and Private Neil would have been one of the 8 reported as ‘missing’. By contrast, 21 Battalion suffered nearly 300 casualties in the same action.
Private Neil was initially reported as ‘missing’ and then at a court of enquiry held 15 months later – 26/11/17 – this was changed to ‘killed in action’ on the same day. His body was never recovered and his name appears on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.
There was only one piece of correspondence from Private Neil’s family in Tarraville over his fate. In October 1916 (15/10/16) another brother – John Neil – wrote:
Please supply me with the information of Private James Neil who was recently reported missing a few weeks back and I have not heard anything since.
The response from Base Records – 21/10/16 – indicated that he was still ‘reported as missing on 26-8-16’ and promised prompt communication should any further information ‘come to hand’.
However, it appears that the family knew of their son’s fate well before the official committee of enquiry determined that he had been killed. The Red Cross report for Private James Neil suggests that news of the death was conveyed to the older brother – Private William Neil – by men from 22 Battalion. Private William Neil was in 14 Battalion (4 Division) and he had been wounded – GSW lower extremities and shell shock – in action at Pozieres on 12/8/16. He was hospitalised first in France and then in England. Presumably, while recovering in hospital, with the very many other casualties from the extended series of battles at Pozieres, he heard first-hand accounts of his brother’s death. He would have then conveyed this information to his family back in Tarraville.
Surprisingly, there is no indication that any personal kit was ever returned to the family.
The information for the (National) Roll of Honour was provided by the brother – William Neil – who identified Tarraville as the place with which his younger brother was ‘chiefly connected’. Strangely, James Neil is listed on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial but his name is not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.
National Archives file for NEIL James 3897
Roll of Honour: James Neil
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Neil
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: James Neil
Patrick Joseph MILLS 4236
7 Battalion DOW 29/8/16
note: Patrick Joseph Mills was the brother of my wife’s grand father (Frederick John Mills).
Patrick Joseph Mills was born at Gordon, about 25 Km from Ballarat. He came from a very large family of 18 children and one foster child. Similar to the Appleyard family above, at least 5 Mills brothers saw service in WW1. Two served in the New Zealand army – John Francis Mills KIA and George Thomas Mills – and at least 3 served in the AIF: Patrick Joseph Mills, William Mills and Gordon Francis Mills. Of the 3 in the AIF, William Mills returned to Australia in 1919 with an English wife – Margaret New – but the other 2 brothers were killed: Gordon Francis Mills 4/10/17 and Patrick Joseph Mills 29/8/16.
The Mills boys grew up at Gordon. They went to St. Patricks, the Catholic primary school in Gordon. When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour for Private Patrick Mills, he even gave Gordon as the location with which his son – Patrick – was ‘chiefly connected’. However, by the outbreak of WW1, three of the Mills brothers – Patrick Joseph Mills, James Patrick Mills and Frederick John Mills – were living and working in the Shire of Alberton.
Private Patrick Mills (4236) enlisted on 7/8/15 in Melbourne. At the time he was 26 yo and single. He gave his occupation as labourer. He was Roman Catholic.
The records suggest that Private Mills was initially in 10 Battalion but was transferred to 7 Battalion on 25/11/15. He embarked for overseas service at the end of December 1915 (29/12/15). He was not involved in the Gallipoli campaign and his unit reached Marseilles from Alexandria at the end of March 1916.
He was hospitalised in France at the end of June 1916 and rejoined his battalion one month later (29/7/16). He was wounded in action at Pozieres on 18/8/16 and died 2 weeks later on 29/8/16. The wound was described as ‘Shell wound Abdomen and Thigh’. Like Private George Appleyard, he died at the 44th Casualty Clearing Station and, also like Private Appleyard, he was buried in the Puchevillers British (Military) Cemetery.
The war diary for 7 Battalion gives details of the background fighting at the time Private Mills was wounded. On 17 August, 7 Battalion was ordered to relieve 5 Battalion and take over the front line from ‘Tramway to Bapaume Road’. This was completed by 0700 on 18 August and, generally, that day itself passed reasonably quietly with only 3 casualties recorded. However, the Diary also indicates that beginning that night, 7 Battalion was involved in a major attack which involved a far higher level of casualties.
The ‘notes’ reproduced below, are taken from operational orders for 7 Battalion, issued at 5.20 PM on 18th August 1916. They detail the perilous nature of such attacks, particularly when they involved advancing towards the enemy positions as their own side’s artillery barrage was in progress, ‘creeping forward’. All this needs to seen against the background reality that the Australians’ own artillery could fall short and hit the advancing troops. It was certainly not an exact science. Also evident is the need to prevent the troops from panicking and falling back to their own lines at the nearest suggestion of any order to withdraw. Doubtless the last claim [(d)] would have been seen as exceptionally gratuitous advice, presuming of course that the men survived the enemy’s bombardment. There were 164 casualties in this particular action.
(a) Men should be warned to follow barrage closely but not to run into it.
(b) When objective is reached, not to pursue small groups of men, but to follow with fire. If our men rush past the object they will run into our own barrage of artillery and M. Gun fire.
(c) Impress on all ranks that the words RETIRE and EVACUATE are not to be obeyed and no excuse will be accepted for troops withdrawing on such commands. N.C.Os. should particularly be warned that they must not take such orders from anyone, but until received from a known superior they must stick and keep their men with them.
(d) Men who have stood through an enemy bombardment have nothing to fear from his infantry attack when his artillery lifts.
Because Private Mills died at a casualty clearing station, the formalities associated with recording the death and informing the family were discharged relatively quickly. The Report of Death of a Soldier was issued on 20/9/16, about 3 weeks after his death; and in the normal course of events the family would have been notified by either late September or early October, 1916.
However, whenever the notification of death did arrive it would have been a truly cruel blow, because earlier, on 13 September, some 2 weeks after Private Mills had died from his wounds, the family was in fact advised that their son had been wounded. Worse, the letter to the father assured him that the wound was … not stated as being serious and in the absence of further reports it is to be assumed all wounded are progressing satisfactorily. As seen in earlier cases, the father was then given an address for writing to his wounded son, who was, unfortunately, already dead. When the formal confirmation of death came it would have been a brutal reversal in fortune for the family.
The father wrote in March 1917 asking if any of his son’s kit or other effects had ‘come to hand’. Several months later (August 1917) a small number of personal items – Discs (2). Coins (2). Purse. Belt with buttons attached – were returned to the family. After the War, the medals went to the ‘eldest surviving brother’ – Kenneth Gordon Mills, born 1866 – because by that point both parents had died. The mother died in early 1915 (24/2/15) and the father in late 1920 (29/10/20).
Private Mills’ name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.
National Archives file for MILLS Patrick Joseph 4236
Roll of Honour: Patrick Joseph Mills
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Patrick Joseph Mills