Philip Michael ORMSBY (2562)

Details of Philip Michael Ormsby’s life prior to his enlistment  on 12/8/15 come from comments his mother wrote for the (National) Roll of Honour and his personal entry in The Education Department’s [Victoria] record of war service 1914-1919. He was born at Ballangeich in rural Victoria in 1892. He was a very successful student at the local state school but when he left school he worked with his father on the family farm. Then at 18 yo he returned to his studies, supported by the local Presbyterian clergyman, and managed to win a place at Teachers’ College (short course) in 1914. His actual teaching career was short but in his one year of service he taught at Tyrendarra, Madalya and 2 schools near Apollo Bay (Skene’s Creek and Wongarra). All the schools were isolated and small.

It was the time he spent at Madalya school that ties Philip Ormsby to the Shire of Alberton. He is included – as a teacher – on the Madalya School & District Roll of Honor 1914-1919. His name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. The omission of his name is significant because he was certainly known in the district. For example, when he left to take up the appointment at Apollo Bay, he was given a formal farewell from the Devon Football Club. The report of the event in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (2/7/15) makes it clear that he was well known:

The Devon football team and supporters met at Smethurst’s Hotel on Saturday night to bid farewell to one of their players, Mr. P. M. Ormsby, school teacher at Madalya, who has received notice of transfer to the Western District, near Apollo Bay, and proposed a toast to the health of the departing guest. Pleasing reference was made to the good qualities of Mr. Ormsby as a sport and a man, and he was assured of their good wishes wherever he might go.

There are other newspaper reports which reveal that he served on the committee of the Devon Football Club (14/4/15) and that he played in the local competition.

The transfer to Apollo Bay could not have lasted long because he enlisted, in Melbourne, on 12/8/15, just a month after his farewell from Madalya. At the time he enlisted he was 23 yo and single. His religion was Presbyterian.

Private Ormsby enlisted as reinforcements for 29 Battalion. His group left Melbourne in March 1915, spent time in the Middle East and then trained in the UK. He did not join the battalion in France until 22/9/16, and he died of wounds, not much more than one month later, on 2/11/16.

29 Battalion had moved to the front lines at Flers on 22/10/16. The war diary of the battalion gives an indication of the appalling conditions that would come to characterise the Flers campaign when it began on 4/11/16. For example, the entry of 22/10/16 stated:

Rain continues and the trenches were in an awful condition. The communication trench (FISH ALLEY) will long be remembered, as it was knee deep in mud and it took the front line Coys. 5 hours to reach the front line.

The weather was not the only problem. The entry for the next day (23/10/16) described a wretched scene:

At dawn signs of recent heavy fighting were plainly to be seen as enemy dead, as well as English, were thickly scattered over the whole area.

On the day that Private Ormsby was wounded – GSW chest, penet. – the diary stated (29/10/16), Enemy artillery fire was almost continuous while we held this position and our casualties were numerous. Another reference to Private Ormsby’s wounds stated that he had been wounded in the chest and lungs, and given the artillery bombardment on the day it is likely that the wounds were caused by shrapnel rather than a bullet. In either case, he was taken to 36 Casualty Clearing Station where he died of his wound on 2/11/16. He had been in the AIF just short of 15 months and he lasted less than 2 weeks on the front line.

Private Ormsby was buried the day he died at Heilly-sur-Ancre cemetery (Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe). The family was advised of the death within a week.

Within a few weeks, the family was writing asking for any personal items. As the mother put it in correspondence (20/5/17), No doubt you will understand how we would value the few momentoes left by our dear son.

In due course (30/7/17), the personal kit was returned: 2 Identity discs, Metal wrist watch and strap, 8 Coins, 2 sets of Chevrons, Belt, Testament, 4 Military books, Diary, Letters, Fly net, 1 Mitten. However the mother was particularly keen to recover another wristlet watch which a friend had given to her son before he embarked for overseas. This second watch never appeared, despite assurances from the Commanding Officer of 29 Battalion itself that Full enquiries have been made regarding the watch and I regret no information is available as to its whereabouts. Realistically, at the time the chances of recovering or finding out what had happened to a small personal possession such as a watch were negligible. However, for the family, the loss would have been a cruel blow and they would have been left with doubt and suspicion. Presumably, the CO of the battalion became personally involved because he recognised the need to reassure the parents that proper process had been followed.

The mother gave Ballangeich – the location where Philip Ormsby was born and grew up – as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. However, as indicated, he was certainly living and working – and known – in the Shire of Alberton before he enlisted.

The mother also noted that her son … was one of eleven cousins who enlisted, five of whom made the supreme sacrifice. 1 on Gallipoli 4 in France.


Victoria. Education Department, 1921, The Education Department’s record of war service 1914-1919, Government Printer.

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for Ormsby Philip Michael 2562
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Philip Michael Ormsby
Roll of Honour: Philip Michael Ormsby
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Philip Michael Ormsby

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