137. Oct 6, 1917: D A Hanrahan & R V Whitford

Denis Ambrose HANRAHAN 3762
5 Div. Ammunition Column KiA 6/10/17

Denis Ambrose Hanrahan was born at Welshpool in 1897. There were at least 6 children in the family and one brother – John Hanrahan 3167, 59B – also enlisted. John survived the War. He was wounded and repatriated to Australia in January 1918.

At the time Denis enlisted, his father – John Hanrahan – was dead. The father had had property – 315 acres – at Welshpool in the mid 1880s and Denis gave his occupation as farmer but it is not clear if any family farm still operated.

Denis was only 18 yo when he enlisted and he gave his address as that of his married sister – Nora Florence Butler – of Alberton West/ Binginwarri. When this sister completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she identified Hedley as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Presumably he was living and working in the area that straddled the boundary between the Shire of Alberton and the Shire of South Gippsland. His name appears on the war memorial at Welshpool. It does not appear on any equivalent memorial for the Shire of Alberton. However, as will become apparent, he was certainly known in the local area. Also, his family was well known in the area and, dating back to his father, there were strong links with the Shire of Alberton.

Private Hanrahan enlisted in Melbourne on 12/7/15 and, as indicated, was only 18 yo. He was single and his religion was Roman Catholic. As he was a minor, his mother had provided a note stating that, My son Denis has my consent to serve in the Expeditionary Force.

He enlisted as reinforcements for 7 Battalion and embarked from Melbourne on 23/11/15. In Egypt he transferred to 59 Battalion but then about one month later he transferred again, to the artillery, and was taken on strength of the 5 Divisional Ammunition Column. His unit reached Marseilles in June 1916. He was hospitalised for a short period in January 1917 with dental problems. He was killed in action on 6/10/17.

The cable advising of his death was dated 26/10/17. Strangely, when his death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 31/10/17 the wrong date (16/10/17) was given for his death. The death notice was placed by ‘his loving sisters and brothers’. It appears that by this point the mother had also died.

HANRAHAN – A tribute of love to the memory of our dear brother, Driver Denis Ambrose Hanrahan (Field Artillery), 3rd son of late John and Kate Hanrahan, Hedley. Officially reported killed in action in France on 16th October, 1917.
Greater love hath no man than this, that he laid down his life for his friends. Aged 20 years 7 months.

In the accompanying article in the paper the same day the wrong date was again given:

We regret to have to record the death of Private Denis Hanrahan, killed in action on the 16th last. This young fellow enlisted in the A.I.F. early in 1915 from Welshpool, being a native of Hedley, and only 18 years of age at the time. He served 12 months in Egypt, and volunteered for service in France, where he has been in the firing line for 12 months. His brother John is also serving in France. Denis was a smart pupil in the Hedley school, securing several prizes there under his teacher Mr. J. H. Wood. He leaves many friends and relatives to mourn his loss.

There was another reference to the family’s loss on 12/12/17 when the paper reported that the brother (John Hanrahan) had been wounded:

Mrs. Butler [married sister] received word last week from the Defence Department that her brother, Private John Hanrahan, was reported wounded. He was engaged in the fighting in France. We hope that John will soon recover from his wounds, as it is only a few weeks ago since his brother Denis was killed at the Ypres front.

The older brother John was wounded on 15/1017, 9 days after his brother was killed. As indicated, he was subsequently discharged on medical grounds.

There is a Red Cross report for Driver Denis Hanrahan. He was killed at Hellfire Corner, not far from the Menin Gate at Ypres. At the time, he was driving a team of horses transporting a load of shells to the front line. As indicated earlier, the work of transporting shells was particularly hazardous. The following witness statement from A. Lay, Casterton was completed back in Australia in July 1919:

I knew casualty, he was a well built man, 5’ 10” in height, fair complexion, about 24 years of age, known as Dinny. Casualty was driving along Menin Road with lumber, carrying ammunition to the guns when a high explosive shell landed alongside, he was killed instantly. I was in the lumber behind, about 30 yards away and drove up, dismounted and had a look at his body but he was quite dead. He was buried on the side of the road near C.C.S. There was a cross erected over the grave with his name, number and unit on it. He had volunteered to take a sick man’s place for the trip.

Driver Hanrahan was buried at Birr Cross Roads Cemetery, not far from Hellfire Corner, Ypres.

The personal effects returned to the sister at West Alberton were minimal: 2 Discs, Religious Medallions 3.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for HARRAHAN Denis Ambrose 3762
Roll of Honour: Denis Ambrose Hanrahan
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Denis Ambrose Hanrahan
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Denis Ambrose Hanrahan

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

Driver D A Hanrahan 3762, courtesy AWM

 

Roy Victor WHITFORD 3449
10B KiA 6/10/17

Roy Whitford was born at Won Wron in 1885 and grew up in the Shire of Alberton, attending the state school at Won Wron. However the father who had been a selector and contractor at Won Wron shifted to Western Australia at some point in the late 1890s.

Both Roy and his younger brother – Lewis Edmund Whitford – enlisted in Western Australia. The names of the brothers are included on the honor roll for Won Wron State School, but that is the only memorial in the Shire of Alberton where their names are recorded. The names on the Won Wron roll were read out at the ceremony to unveil the roll held in August 1918. It was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7/8/18. Even though they were living in Western Australia, there were still strong family links back to Gippsland and the memory of the Whitford family was still strong at the time of the War. There is a picture of the brother included in the set of memorial photographs held by the Yarram & District Historical Society. The brother rose to the rank of lieutenant and was awarded the Military Cross.

Private Roy Whitford enlisted in Perth on 6/10/16. He was 31 yo and single at that time and he gave his occupation as farmer. He gave his address as that of his father – Narrogin – and his father was listed as his next-of-kin. Presumably he was working on the family farm. His religion was Church of England.

Private Whitford enlisted as reinforcements for 5 Pioneer Battalion. He reached the UK in February 1917 and after several months in the 3rd Training Battalion he transferred to 10 Battalion and reached France on 22/8/17. Less than 2 months later he was dead.

Initially Private Whitford was reported as ‘missing’ from 6/10/17 and then ‘wounded and missing’. Surprisingly, it was not until 16/5/18 that he was confirmed as killed in action on 6/10/17. Correspondence in the service file indicates that, as late as March 1918, the brother – Lieut. L E Whitford – was trying to uncover his brother’s fate. The family had not received any communication from their missing son and would most likely have assumed the worst. There is a witness statement dated 26/3/18 which indicates that at least one of his mates wrote to the family advising them that he had been killed. But it is not clear when this happened. The cable confirming his death was dated 20/5/18. The official date of his death – 6/10/17 – was exactly one year after he enlisted in Perth. However, as will become clear, the official date is probably not accurate.

No personal kit was ever returned, and the body was never recovered. Private Whitford’s name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial.

Piecing together details from the war diary of 10 Battalion and witness statements from the Red Cross report it appears that Private Whitford was a member of a raiding party when he was killed. It appears that the raid took place on the early morning of 9/10/17 and that in fact he was killed on 9/10/17 not 6/10/17. The raid itself was a failure. Lack of artillery support was cited as the main cause of the failure. The report of the raid in the battalion war diary states that the raiding party consisted of 5 officers and 80 other ranks. The following summary from the report gives an indication of the extent of the failure and it shows how men could go ‘missing’. The fighting in the raid came down to a desperate hand-to-hand struggle. The report is also an example of how the worst failure could still be glossed as some sort of success.

6. In this operation I regret to say that Lieut. Scott, and 2/Lt. Rae were killed, Lieut. James and 2/Lt. Laurie were wounded, and 2/Lt. Wilson missing [the 5 officers leading the raiding party] ; also the greater part of the other ranks concerned were either killed or wounded.
A few wounded have passed through dressing stations but up to the present I am only able to account for 14 unwounded members of the party [of a strength of 85].
7. It is quite possible that a certain number of the missing are wounded and prisoners of war, and others may yet come in or be accounted for definitely.
8. Some of the wounded crawled back into shell holes on the Western edge of the wood [Celtic Wood]. Every effort was made to get these men. Stretcher bearers with white flags were attempted, but the bearers were shot. After nightfall those that could be found were brought in.
9. Results. Heavy casualties were undoubtedly inflicted on the enemy. The Trench Mortar personnel successfully threw Stokes Mortar Bombs into two or three dugouts. Heavy enemy artillery and machine gun fire was drawn into the Divisional Sector, which could have been employed elsewhere, as there is no doubt from his constant barrages the enemy thought an attack on that sector was intended.
10. The demonstration would have produced extremely good results and probably many prisoners had our artillery preparation been even moderately good – with far less casualties to our men.
11. The episode has in no way lowered the morale of our men, but has if anything, brightened it, owing to the fact that it is the first hand to hand struggle against great odds with no great artillery preparation in which they had taken part. The survivors are each now satisfied that he is the equal to any number of Germans.
Also the remainder of the Battalion were able to see, as lookers on during the early stages of the fight, what pluck and good leadership can do.

The following extract from the witness statement by Private D [?] Rhodes (3882), dated 4/4/18, explains the fate of Private Whitford:

I was only a few yards from him when I saw him killed during a raid we made on Celtic Wood on the early morning of the 8th Oct (sic). He was killed by a shell which blew his left leg off and he died almost immediately.

Another statement by F Wilson (1841) dated 28/5/18 gives the date of his death as the 9th October:

I saw Pte. R. Whitford die on 9th Oct. He had his left leg blown off, and died a few minutes later.

Lastly, another earlier statement by the same Wilson, dated 26/3/18, indicates how the family back in Western Australia most likely learned the news.

Passchendaele – out in the open on a raid, he was killed by shell, left leg blown off. His body was left there. I saw him killed and brought his pay book back, gave it to Lieut. Ingles. I knew him well. Comes from W.A. I wrote and told his father about it.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WHITFORD Roy Victor 3449
Roll of Honour: Roy Victor Whitford
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Roy Victor Whitford
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Roy Victor Whitford

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

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