77. Pozieres: 1 Division, 23-27 July 1916 -L NOONAN, H I GEORGE, J H MANDERS & A B ELLIOTT

Leonard NOONAN 217
1 Light Trench Mortar Battery KIA 25/7/16

Leonard Noonan was born in Tarraville in 1881. His father was the town’s police constable. He attended the local state school and his name is recorded on the school (Tarraville) honor roll. When he enlisted in Sydney very early in the War (21/8/14) he was 33 yo. He also stated that he was single. His father – John Noonan – whom he gave as his next-of-kin, was living at Moonee Ponds. Noonan gave his occupation as salesman. His religion was Roman Catholic.

Private Noonan was wounded – shrapnel wound to the head – on Gallipoli in early May 1915. After several months in hospital, he rejoined his unit – 4 Battalion – on Gallipoli at the end of October 1915. There was another brief stay in hospital – deafness – in February 1916. In France in April 1916 he was promoted to sergeant, and in the same month he transferred from 4 Battalion to 1 Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery.

Sergeant Noonan was killed in action on 25/7/16. Even though his body was never recovered there was no doubt that he had been killed and the cable advising of his death was dated 9/8/16.

There is no war diary for 1 Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery for July 1916. However, witness statements in the Red Cross report were definite about what happened to him:

I was alongside him when he was killed by a big shell (instantaneously) probably from concussion as he was not visibly wounded. I helped to bury him in the trench. There was no time to mark his grave.  A C Dunlop 3299, 1st Battery Light Trench Mortars.

Noonan was killed while sitting in a dug-out, a shell went right through the dug-out and he was killed by shock. Another shell followed which blew his body away and buried him at Pozieres on the 25th July.
H Willand 3360 1st A.F.A. Light Trench M. Battery.

I was with him when he was killed and collected his identity disc and other private belongings and returned them to Headquarters. … He was killed in action and buried in the field and as it was in one of the stiff fights during the “push” there was no opportunity to bury him in a Soldiers Cemetery.
Cpl J Fraser 1st A.L.T.M.B.

I knew Sergeant Noonan, who was in a Trench Mortar Battery. About 26th July, 1916, I was in Pozieres and saw his body. He had been killed by a shell. I knew him well.
de Carteret A. W. 765

All these witness statements were not collected until early 1917 but it is clear that his death on 25/7/16 would have been known. The statements also explain why the body was never recovered. Sergeant Noonan’s name appears on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

The death of a soldier overseas could bring to light some uncomfortable truths. As indicated, when he enlisted Leonard Noonan described himself as single. However he was in fact living in a de facto relationship and there was one child. All this came to light because of the need to settle Noonan’s affairs – his will, the return of his belongings, the distribution of medals, the provision of pensions and so on. The key concern of the wife was that Noonan’s parents did not know that they were not married. She was in fact still formally married to the first husband.

In 1921 the AIF – Provost Marshall’s Office, Victoria Barracks, Sydney – carried out an investigation of the case. The report indicated that Noonan’s partner had been living with him for about 17 years before he enlisted. She had left her husband in Queensland to live with Noonan. The child had been born in 1911. The report added,

She still has custody of the deceased soldier’s child and is at present living with the deceased soldier’s parents who are ignorant of the fact that she was not legally married to their son and she does not want that information made known to them as they are very old [the father was then 86 yo] and it may upset their domestic harmony.

In this particular instance it appears that the confidence was maintained. The son’s medals went to the father, John Noonan.  Sergeant Noonan’s wife and child received pensions.

There was another little twist with the returned kit. The wife wrote to Base Records in December 1917 asking for further information on the return of the personal effects. She had previously been advised that no personal items had yet been located. This time, supported by the correspondence she had had from the Red Cross, she was able to refer specifically to the witness statement above by Corporal J Fraser ,which noted that personal items had been collected from the body, including the identity disc. The reply from Base Records again stated that nothing had yet been returned to Australia but it did acknowledge that the lack of shipping was causing a problem with the return of soldiers’ belongings. In due course – March 1918 – a handful of personal items were returned – Photos, Field Glasses, Belt, Flash lamp – but there was no identity disc.

References

National Archives file for Noonan Leonard 217
Roll of Honour: Leonard Noonan
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Leonard Noonan
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Leonard Noonan

 

Herbert Ilott GEORGE 408
5 Battalion KIA 25/7/16

Herbert Il(l)ott George was born at Port Albert in 1884. He came from a large family and his father, like Leonard Noonan’s, had been the local police constable. Herbert attended both Alberton State School and Port Albert State School and his name and death are recorded on the 2 school honor rolls. It is not clear when he left the district, but there is a  newspaper report (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 12/5/15)  that refers to him as having worked in a store in Yarram. This report also noted that he had been wounded at Gallipoli. The local paper also published (16/12/14) extracts from a letter he wrote en route to Egypt. He was certainly known in the local area.

When he enlisted at Melbourne in late August 1914 (24/8/14), he was 30 yo and single. He gave his occupation as grocer. The address he gave was his mother’s – she was listed as next-of-kin – at Murumbeena.  Murrumbeena was also given by the mother as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. The mother – Amelia George – was also named as the sole beneficiary in his will. His religion was Church of England.

Private Herbert George was wounded – gun shot wound to right leg – at the Gallipoli landing (25/4/15) and was evacuated. He rejoined his battalion in late May 1915 but was then wounded a second time (10/8/15) – blast wound to right eye – and again evacuated. He did not rejoin his unit until January 1916, about 2 months before it left for the Western Front.

Private George was killed in action on 25/7/16. The war diary for 5 Battalion describes the attack at 0200 hours that day. Following an intense artillery bombardment, the battalion rushed forward and managed to capture its 2 objectives but a strong counter attack forced the men to give up their most forward gains and fall back to hold and consolidate the first objective. The diary noted casualties:

Our casualties were heavy being 6 officers & 39 other ranks killed, 6 officers & 242 ORanks wounded, 1 officer and 158 ORanks missing.

There is no Red Cross file for Private George so the details of his death are unknown. However, his death was always reported as ‘killed in action’. He was never referred to as ‘missing’. Moreover, a description of where the body was buried – Peake Woods on the Fricourt Contalmaison Chateau, 3 3/4 miles E. N. E. of Albert – was included in the official report of his death issued on 2/10/16. But for all this, the body was never recovered and his name is included on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

Personal items – Wallet, Photos, Letters, Card, Metal Watch, Letters, Note Book, 2 Arabic Books, 2 Military Books, Tabloid First Aid, Boot Brush, 4 Handkerchiefs, Mirror, Forage Cap, Muffler, Bag. – were returned to the mother in June the following year , 1917.

Word of Private George’s death reached Australia quickly. The following appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/8/16, just one month after his death:

The death is announced of Private Bert George. He was wounded in the famous April landing, and again at Lonesome Pine, and after weeks of fighting in France died a soldier’s death. Bert was well known at Port Albert, Yarram and Foster.

For all his links to the Shire of Alberton, George Herbert’s name is only recalled on the honor rolls of 2 local schools.

References

National Archives file for George Herbert Ilott 408
Roll of Honour: Herbet Ilott George
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Herbet Ilott George

 

John Henry MANDERS 2865
5 Battalion KIA 25/7/16

John Henry Manders was another English, immigrant farm worker who was working in the Shire of Alberton when War broke out. When he enlisted in Melbourne (28/6/15) he was only 19 yo. and single. His religion was given as Church of England. He  declared on his enlistment papers that his father was dead and his mother – Alice Manders – as his next-of-kin was living in Islington, London. His mother, when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour indicated that he had come to Australia in 1913, when he was just 17 yo. She gave Gormandale as the place in Australia with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. He would have been working as a farm hand in the area round Gormandale, and also possibly Traralgon. His name is recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor; but he is not recorded on this memorial as having been killed. Nor is his name on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial; but it is included on the local war memorial at Gormandale.

The young Private Manders saw no action until the Western Front. He died the same day as Private Herbert George, also 5 Battalion. A significant difference between the 2 men was that Private Manders was one of the 158 other ranks reported as ‘missing’ on 25/7/16.  It was not until 26/11/17 that this was changed to ‘killed in action’ by a court of enquiry.

Whereas Private George’s body was buried in a known location and then lost, that of Private Manders was first lost and then found. The body of Private Manders was recovered after the War, in the ‘vicinity of Pozieres’ – presumably by his identification disc – and buried at Serre Road Cemetery No. 2, Beaumont Hamel.

At some point in the year after his death, when his status was still referred to as ‘missing’, the mother in London received the following personal items: Small Bag, Tin of Letters, Postcards, Devotional Book, Strop, Purse, Balaclava, Handkerchief, 4 badges, 1 Tie, Body Belt, Scarf.

There is a Red Cross report for Private Manders. In November 1916, Mr J Thurnell from Harlesden, London wrote to the British Red Cross Society asking if they could pursue the case of Private Jack Manders:

We are very much worried about Pte. Jack Manders No 2865 5th Batt. 2nd Infantry Brigade A. Compny Australian I. F. who has been reported missing since July 25 of this year. We should be very thankful and esteem it a great favour if you could furnish us with any particulars concerning him or his whereabouts.
P.S. Returned letters are marked Missing, Wounded.

Several months later on 12/3/17, the Red Cross replied. This was eight months before the finding of the court of enquiry held on 26/11/17. As for many other cases, the family received an eye-witness account of the death long before there was official confirmation:

In the course of our inquiries for information about No. 2865. Pte. J. H. Manders, 5th Battalion A. I F. we received an unofficial report which we regret is of a sad and distressing nature.

No. 3433 Pte. A. Watson, 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth, saw Pte. Sanders killed by a shell at Pozieres on July 25th 1916. They were going over the parapet at the time and had to leave him. [Private Watson, from Mornington, was wounded – ‘shell shock’ – at Pozieres on 25/7/16. He rejoined his unit in August 1916 but was wounded again 2/11/16 and had his right leg amputated. He was returned to Australia for medical discharge in November 1917. The witness statement would have been written during his second stint in hospital in the UK].

We must emphasise the purely unofficial character of this report and are making further inquiries in the hope of learning further particulars which we shall immediately forward to you.

The service file also contains a letter written by Miss Gladys Coulson of Traralgon in March 1917. She too was asking for information on Pte. J H Manders ‘reported missing since the 25th July 1916’.  There is no record in the service of the response sent by Base records but presumably if would have been that the official status was ‘missing’.

References

National Archives file for Manders John Henry 2865
Roll of Honour: John Henry Manders
First World War Nominal Rolls: John Henry Manders
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: John Henry Manders

note: there is no Embarkation Roll for John Henry Manders 2865.

Angelus Basil ELLIOTT 3741
8 Battalion KIA 26/7/16

On enlistment, Angelus Elliott was a 24 yo farm hand working in the Hiawatha district who had been born in Carnarvon, Western Australia.  Yarram is given as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ on the (National) Roll of Honour.  His name is listed on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

On enlistment, his mother was dead and the address of his father, Reverend Robert Elliott, was given as Marrickville, NSW. He was single and his religion was Church of England.

He had his initial medical at Yarram on 3/7/15 and was re-examined in Melbourne on 15/7/15, the date of his enlistment. His papers also indicate that he had tried to enlist before but had been rejected as unfit for military service because of ‘defective teeth’.

He joined 8 Battalion (C Company) and embarked for Egypt on 23/11/1915. 8 Battalion left Alexandria on 29/3/16 and disembarked in Marseilles on 4/4/16. Private Elliott was hospitalised in France with influenza for 10 days in May 1916.

8 Battalion saw action at Pozieres on 23/7/16 and remained in the fierce fighting – and in particular the intense artillery bombardment – until it was relieved at 3 AM on 27/7/16 by a battalion from 2 Division. Private Elliott is listed as killed in action on 26/7/16 and 8 Battalion’s War Diary records that on that day,

All this day Bn Hqrts & trenches were subjected to a terrific bombardment which completely destroyed our trenches. It was a great strain on all ranks but they stood it unflinchingly.

The diary also records the casualty level for the period 23 – 27 July as 363, with 81 killed, 266 wounded and 16 missing.

Notification of the death of Private Elliott was prompt. On 2/8/16, about one week after the battle, the commanding officer of C Company recorded Private Elliott as killed in action on 26/7/16. This enabled the Report of Death of a Soldier to be issued on 25/9/16, two months after the death; and the father was advised by the end of the same month, August 1916. There is also a reference in the file that records that the body of Private Elliott was ‘buried in the vicinity of Pozieres N of Albert Bapaume Road’. However, if he was buried in a temporary grave, all trace must have been lost because there is no recorded grave. His name appears on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

To complicate matters, there is a Red Cross file for Private Elliott which suggests that even though his army file had him ‘killed in action’ and, in fact, ‘buried’, he must have appeared on a list of those ‘missing’. The witness statement was provided more than a year after the death by Second lieutenant Dillow (1730) of  8 Battalion. Lt Dillow himself survived Pozieres before being seriously wounded and returned to Australia in July 1917. He wrote the witness statement in Australia and, as indicated, it seems strange that such a witness statement – dated 18/9/17 – was provided for someone whom the authorities had already declared killed in action. Moreover, as the sole witness statement in the Red Cross file, it suggests that identification would have been difficult.

I was passing along the trench on the 26th July, 1916 at Pozieres, and I saw casualty. Just as I passed him I heard a burst of fire, and on my return I passed the place where the shell had burst and found two bodies, one of which I believed to be casualty. The remains were unrecognisable.

References

National Archives file for Elliott Angelus Basil 3741
Roll of Honour: Angelus Basil Elliott
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Angelus Basil Elliott
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Angelus Basil Elliott

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