80. Pozieres: Moquet Farm from 10/8/16 – G W APPLEYARD, A REEVES, J NEIL & P J MILLS

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.

References

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:

Dear 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.

References

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.

References

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 17 children. 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.

NOTES.
(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.

References

National Archives file for MILLS Patrick Joseph 4236
Roll of Honour: Patrick Joseph Mills
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Patrick Joseph Mills

 

79. Pozieres: 2 Division, 4-5 August – J E McINTOSH, P J DAVIDSON, G V AUBREY, A G INSEAL & G T MORLEY

James Edward McINTOSH 3897
23 Battalion KIA 4/8/16

James McIntosh was born at Heidelberg. At the time he enlisted in Melbourne (12/8/15) he was 30 yo and single. He had tried to enlist in Yarram earlier but had failed the medical. He was one of the many who were initially rejected by the local doctors but then subsequently passed by army medical staff in Melbourne. At the same time, he did not acknowledge that he had in fact failed an earlier medical. His name was on the electoral roll as a butcher of Alberton. There is no evidence that he owned property at Alberton, or anywhere else in the Shire of Alberton, so as a ‘butcher’ he was most likely to have been an employee rather than the proprietor. His name is recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor but his death is not acknowledged. Nor does his name appear on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

When he completed his enlistment papers he noted that both parents were dead, and as his next-of-kin he gave his brother, John Thomas Macintosh of Clifton Hill. The same brother, with the same address, was also listed as next-of-kin on the embarkation roll. However, the address that Private Macintosh gave for himself on the embarkation roll was Miss Margaret Macintosh, care of J. Dawson, Burgundy Street, Heidelberg. His religion was Roman Catholic.

Private Macintosh embarked for overseas service in early February 1916. He reached France, via the Middle East, at the end of March 1916. His time in the front line was very short. He was admitted to hospital with bronchitis on 13/5/16 and did not rejoin his unit until the end of July 1916. 23 Battalion was involved in the 2 Division attack on the German lines at Pozieres on 4 August from 9.15 PM. The action was rated as more ’successful’ than earlier attacks but 2 Division suffered more that 6,000 casualties in not much more than a week.

At the more personal level, Private Macintosh was one of the many who disappeared at Pozieres. Initially, he was described as ‘wounded and missing’. The status was finally changed to ‘killed in action’, but not until 17/12/17, nearly 18 months later. The cable back to Australia advising of the death was dated 6/1/18.

Incredibly, in September 1916, about 1 month after the battle, the next-of-kin (his brother, John McIntosh) was sent formal advice that Private J E McIntosh had been ‘wounded’. The letter did not specify the nature of the wound. Nor was is it able to give the name of the hospital where he was being treated. However, it did advise that there was no real concern – It [the wound] is not stated as being serious and in the absence of further reports it is to be assumed that all wounded are progressing favourably.

But one year later, In September 1917, the brother was sent the standard form from the AIF asking for any information which the family might have received that could throw some light on what had happened. There was no longer any suggestion that Private Macintosh was recuperating in some unknown hospital somewhere in France or England.

I shall be glad if you will return this letter to me with a statement as to whether you have obtained any news of the soldier from any other source.

If letters or post cards from the soldier have reached you SINCE THE DATE THAT HE WAS POSTED MISSING, the last you have received should be enclosed; it will be returned to you.

If you have received from soldiers or others reports that the soldier is dead or a prisoner of war, you should state the names and addresses of the people who informed you; if they were soldiers you should give their names, numbers, and regiments; if they sent you letters, the letters should be forwarded. Any letters you send will be returned to you in due course.

There was no reply to this request. In fact, it appears that communication with the brother had either already broken down or broke down near the time of this communication. There is no correspondence in the service file from the brother. Also, the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, sent to the brother, was not completed. A few items of person kit – 3 Knives, Belt – were forwarded to the brother in September 1918 but, again, there is no indication that he received them. Certainly, by early 1920, when the authorities were trying to issue medals they were unable to make contact with the brother as next-of-kin. Mail was returned as ‘not at this address’.

It appears that the authorities then placed a notice in the press – December 1921 – calling for relatives to come forward. They also sought to identify if anyone was receiving any war gratuity or pension in relation to Private McIntosh. The Department of Repatriation duly advised that there was no record of anyone submitting a pension claim.

But someone had already come forward claiming to be a family contact. In early 1918 (28/1/18), Miss Margaret McIntosh, care of Mr J Dawson of Burgundy Street Heidelberg – the same person and address identified on the embarkation roll – had written to Base Records, Melbourne stating that she was the mother … of the late No 3897 Private J E McIntosh. Subsequently, on 2 occasions – February 1918 and May 1920 –  Base Records wrote back, noting that Private McIntosh had given his brother as his next-of-kin and that he had also stated that both parents were dead, and requesting that she provide both a statutory declaration and birth certificate to support her claim. There is no evidence in the service file that such documentation was provided.

Like so many others, Private McIntosh disappeared at Pozieres. With no grave, his name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. However, it also appears that his disappearance in France served to magnify family dislocation back in Australia. On the face of it, in the end, for Private McIntosh, there was no real formal link to anyone.

References

National Archives file for McINTOSH James Edward 3897
Roll of Honour: James Edward McIntosh
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Edward McIntosh
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: James Edward McIntosh

 

 

Percy James DAVIDSON 140
22 Battalion KIA 5/8/16

Percy James Davidson was one of the first 20 who enlisted at Yarram on 16/9/14. He was only 18 yo at the time and his mother, as his next-of-kin, who was living at Clifton Hill, had to telegraph her permission for his enlistment. His enlistment form indicated that he was to join the ‘Light Horse Gippsland’ but when he reached Broadmeadows he was appointed to 14 Battalion. His medical report indicated that his teeth had to be ‘attended to’.

Percy Davidson gave his occupation as gardener. He had been born at Auburn in Tasmania. His religion was Church of England.

Private Davidson’s first stint in the AIF did not last long because he was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ on 29/10/14. When his mother completed the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour she explained what happened:

This young lad joined up Sept 1914.  … was injured through over lifting and rendered unfit for duty discharged, four months under medical treatment at home joined up again Feb 1915.

When he enlisted the second time on 8/2/15 Percy Davidson recorded his previous service and the fact that he had been discharged as ‘medically unfit’. This time he was appointed to 22 Battalion, A company.

22 Battalion left Melbourne on 10/5/15 and joined the campaign at Gallipoli at the end of August 1915. After the evacuation it arrived back in Alexandria at the start of January 1916 and then left for France on 19/3/16 and disembarked at Marseilles on 26/3/16.

In France, Private Davidson was hospitalised with influenza at the end of March and early April. At the end of July he was promoted to temporary Corporal.

On 5/8/16 he was listed as missing and after more than one year, as a result of a court of enquiry held on 26/11/17, he was found to have been killed in action on the day he was first listed as missing.

22 Battalion went to the front line trenches at Pozieres on 27/7/16 and was involved in the attack from 9.15 PM on 4/8/16. The attack was successful but it provoked an intense artillery barrage that was responsible for heavy causalities. The war diary of the battalion shows that the casualties for the period 27 July to 8 August were 650, with 90 killed, nearly 150 missing and over 400 wounded. The war diary also noted that on 10 August, the battalion – or what was left of it – was inspected, en route, with the rest of 6 Brigade, by His Majesty King George V.

There is a Red Cross report for Corporal Davidson but there is only one witness statement:

At Pozieres in the 2nd Line in Reserve he was killed by a shell. It buried three or four but he was the only one killed. We were about [?] yards away from him at the time and word came down about it.

The statement came from Private Waters 278, 22 Battalion on 11/10/16, two months after the fighting. Private Waters was in hospital in England having been wounded in the same action. There is some confusion over the date when Private Waters was wounded and, as a consequence, it is possible that Private Davidson was killed on 4/8/16 rather than 5/8/16.

In mid August 1917, Corporal Davidson’s mother received from the AIF Kit Store in London some of his personal belongings: Photos, and Hair, Cards, Letters, Diary, 3 Note Books, Prayer book, Wallet, Scissors, Alabaster, Strop, 3 Brushes, Pouch, Metal ring, Handkerchief, Pipe.

The inventory list referred to her son as ‘the late 140 Pte Davidson. P. 22 Batt’n. A.I.F.’ She immediately wrote back:

I see per inventory he is spoken of as the late etc. I have never been notified by the defence department of my Son’s death. Would you give me Official information of the same if you have it.

The official reply on 24/8/17 was that there had been a ‘typographical error’ and there was still no official confirmation of the death.

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your communication concerning No. 140 Corporal P. J. Davidson, 22nd Battalion, and have to state that so far no report other than “Missing 5/8/16” has yet come to hand. The endorsement on the inventory which appears to indicate that [he] is no longer alive is evidently a typographical error on the part of one of the clerks in the London Office. It is understood the overseas authorities are endeavouring to obtain all the evidence there is possible with a view to finalizing these unsatisfactory cases at an early date, and any later reports received will be promptly transmitted.

Official confirmation of Corporal Davidson’s death would have reached his mother in late November 1917. His name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

Even though he was one of the first to enlist at Yarram, Percy Davidson’s name is not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Nor is his name on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial; and when his mother supplied the information for the (National) Roll of Honour of Australia she gave North Fitzroy as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

At the same time, there were clear links to Yarram. He was living and working in the district when he first enlisted. As well, he was known to the locals. For example, on 18/4/16 he wrote to the parents of Lance-Corporal Percy Wallace of Goodwood expressing his sympathy at the death of their son and giving an account of the circumstances of his death. He related how close he had been to Percy – I mourn his loss very much , as we have been like brothers to each other – and he closed the letter,

If there is anything I can do to make his last resting place comfortable, be assured I will do it. When I find out where he has been buried, I will write and let you know, also any particulars I get. I shall be glad to hear from you when you have time.

The letter, in its entirety, was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/6/16.

As already indicated Corporal Davidson gave his mother – Mrs Louie M Davidson – as next-of-kin. He also listed her as sole beneficiary of his will. She was the one who communicated with the AIF authorities. However, instructions under the Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act 1918 meant that the mother was not the automatic recipient of her son’s medals. The AIF informed the mother, The provisions of a Will have no bearing upon the distribution of Medals unless they are specifically mentioned therein… and in the required order of distribution, the father took precedence over the mother. In line with this policy, the AIF, on 18 October 1920, requested details of the father’s address.

The mother replied immediately (23/10/20) and explained that she did not have the father’s address. But she also went considerably further and challenged the integrity and decency of the very policy:

… I am unable to give you the information you require [the father’s address]. I held no communication whatsoever with Mr James Davidson for the past eight years and I certainly dispute his rights in anything relative to my Boy.

As you say my Boy left everything to his Mother. I was all He had. He was only eighteen when he enlisted and you will see it was My consent He obtained thereto. And in spite of all laws My Boy’s wishes I consider should be given effect to.

How could such things be mentioned in a will when the poor lads did not possess them or know anything about them.

What funny laws our politicians make, but you Sir are a soldier & I think my claim will meet with approval.

In the end her claim did meet with approval and all medals and memorial items were sent to her.

References

National Archives file for DAVIDSON Percy James 140
Roll of Honour: Percy James Davidson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Percy James Davidson
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Percy James Davidson

 

 

George Victor AUBREY 546
22 Battalion KIA 5/8/16

George Aubrey was born at Heyfield. When he enlisted in Melbourne on 15/2/15 he had been living and working in Gormandale for some time. He had also attended school there. He noted on his enlistment papers that he had been in the Gormandale Rifle Club for 6 years. His mother gave Gormandale as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. In the Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative on 4/6/15 he was named as one of the … Gormandale boys who are on active service or in training.

At the time of enlistment he was 29 yo and single. He gave his occupation as labourer and his religion was Church of England. His mother – Adelaide Jane Aubrey – was listed as his next-of-kin and there are references to the father being dead, but it is not clear when he died; and it could have been after the time of his son’s enlistment. The father was definitely deceased by 1920, and the medals  were returned to the mother.

Private Aubrey embarked for overseas service on 10/5/15 and saw action on Gallipoli. He was medically evacuated from the Peninsula in mid December – Cellulitis (legs) – not long before the complete evacuation of Australian troops. He had been promoted to lance corporal in August 1915 but then in France in May 1916 had ‘reverted to the ranks’ at his own request.

He was initially reported as ‘missing’ on 5/8/16 and then, one year later, following a court of enquiry convened on 11/8/17, the status was changed to ‘killed in action’ on the same day. The following extracts from witness statements from the Red Cross report, some of which were included at the court of enquiry, make it clear that he was killed, notwithstanding some significant differences in the specific circumstances.

… a shell burst and I saw him struck over the heart by a piece that killed him instantly.

He [my brother] told me that he saw Aubrey blown to pieces. We both knew George Aubrey well.

I was at Pozieres on Aug. 5th.1916 when Pte. Aubrey 546 was killed. The Germans made a counter attack. A bullet struck him in the head. He was not buried as far as I know, but left in the trench.

He was killed at Pozieres on August 5th. according to information given to me by Pte. Hoye… . I believe Hoye was near him when he was killed and buried by a shell. When he was dug out he was dead.

McDonald, Machine Gunner told me Aubrey was on a stretcher wounded and was being brought in by Sergt. Williams when a shell killed both of them, blew them both up.

The body was never recovered and his name is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. In terms of the Shire of Alberton, his name is recorded on the Roll of Honor but he is not marked as ‘killed’ and he is not included on the War Memorial. His name is also listed on the honor roll for Gormandale SS and the war memorial in Gormandale, and in both instances his death on active service is acknowledged.

The mother received his kit – Diary, Cards, Letters, 2 Religious Books, Mirror, Dictionary, Brush, Knife, 3 Handkerchiefs – in October 1917. Even though the court of enquiry in August 1917 – 2 months earlier – had determined that he had been killed in action, the inventory list for the personal kit still referred to him as ‘reported missing’.

The mother applied for a pension but the claim was apparently rejected, on the basis that … claimant [mother] was not dependent on the earnings of deceased 12 months prior to enlistment. Possibly he had not been living with his mother at Gormandale for one or more years before he enlisted. Or, more likely, the mother’s financial position prior to enlistment was such that she had not had to rely on support from her son. In relation to this scenario, the timing of the father’s death could have been a consideration.

References

National Archives file for AUBREY George Victor 546
Roll of Honour: George Victor Aubrey
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Victor Aubrey
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Victor Aubrey

 

 

Arthur George INSEAL 1914
22 Battalion KIA 5/8/16

Arthur Inseal was born 23/1/1891 at Felton, near Hereford, England. He migrated to Australia and prior to enlisting he was working as a farm labourer in Carrajung. He must have been in the district for some time because his name is recorded in the 1915 electoral roll for the sub division of Yarram. On the (National) Roll of Honour, Carrajung is given as the ‘place of association’.

He enlisted in Melbourne on 16/6/15 and gave his age as 25 yo. He was single and his religion was stated to be Church of England. He gave his mother – Emma Inseal – as next-of-kin. She was living near Worcester, England.

Private Inseal embarked from Melbourne on 26/8/15 and served with 22 Battalion at Gallipoli. He was repatriated to Australia in early January 1916 for 3 months after having contracted enteric fever. He returned to duty on 21/3/16, re-embarked on 29/3/16 and eventually rejoined 22 Battalion in early July 1916. He was killed one month later.

As for so many at Pozieres, he was initially listed as ‘missing’ on 5/8/16. A court of enquiry held on 26/11/17, more than one year later, changed this to ‘killed in action’.

There is an extensive Red Cross report for Private Inseal. The eye witness accounts date from November 1916. From the start it was evident that men who had been with him had seen him killed.

Informant states the “Inseal was about 2 yards from me when he was hit right through the head by a machine gun and killed on the spot. He had only joined us about a month before. He was a short man and hump-backed.  December 1916.

He was killed outright just in front of me at Moquet Farm on August 4th [sic]. I was following him up in the same wave. He was killed by Machine Gun fire. His body had to be left there as we went on in the charge.   January 1917

Inseal was killed in action at Pozieres alongside me on the 4th Aug [sic]. He was hit by machine gun fire in the open. He fell beside me but I do not know whether he was picked up. We held the ground. He was short, stout, fair hair, clean shaven and about 28. He went to Australia from England some years ago.   January 1917

There were more eye-witness accounts, with most giving the date he was killed as 4 August rather than 5 August. There was no doubt that the witnesses knew Private Inseal and had observed his death at close hand.

Casualty was well known to me, called “Arthur”. He returned to Australia with enteric fever in 1915, and rejoined us on the 4th July, 1916, at Armentieres, and then went out to the charge at Pozieres on the Ridge on August 4th where I saw his dead body. He was not buried so far as I know, but I think he was bound to have been as the body was easily obtainable.  June 1917

As these witness statements were collected, the (Australian) Red Cross provided updates to the mother. She had made a formal request to the Red Cross in January 1917. The Red Cross always emphasised that the information was ‘unofficial’, but with every additional batch of witness statements they become more direct in their assessment of his fate. For example, in February 1917 they wrote,

We deeply regret to have to send you this information and if any further reports come to hand we shall at once inform you. In the meantime we can only offer you our sincere sympathy.

However, by October 1917 – this was still prior to the formal court of enquiry (26/11/17) – the outcome, as far as the Red Cross was concerned, was far more definite:

You will realise that this report is surely unofficial although we greatly fear that there is very little chance that your son is alive as more than a year has passed since his casualty occurred.

There is no correspondence from the mother in Private Inseal’s service file and she did not complete the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour. Kit was returned to her in February 1918 but there is no record in his service file of what personal items were in fact returned.

There is no grave and Private Inseal’s name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. Even though he was obviously living and working in the local area, Private Inseal’s name is not included on any Shire of Alberton memorial, with the single exception that his name is listed – spelled incorrectly – as Ensil – on a memorial to residents of the Carrajung district. On this list he is marked as having been killed.

References

National Archives file for INSEAL Athur George 1914
Roll of Honour: Arthur George Inseal
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur George Inseal (1915)
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur George Inseal (1916)
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Arthur George Inseal

 

 

George Thomas MORLEY 4479
26 Battalion 5/8/16

George Morley was born at Gormandale and grew up in the local district, attending Gormandale State School.

However, by the time he enlisted (6/12/15) he was living and working in Queensland at Coalstoun Lakes via Biggenden. He was another of the many young men from the Shire of Alberton who had moved to Queensland prior to the outbreak of WW1. On his enlistment papers he gave his occupation as farmer but it is difficult to establish for this group of locals who went to Queensland whether they specifically held land or worked as farm labourers. Given that a lawyer from Brisbane acted in the execution of Private Morley’s will, it is likely that he did hold land.

When he enlisted Private Morley was 29 yo and single. He gave his religion as Church of England. He listed his mother – Sarah Ellen Morley of Gormandale – as next-of-kin. His father was dead.

Private George Morley was taken on in reinforcements for 26 Battalion and his unit embarked for overseas on 30/3/16. His service record indicates that his particular group of reinforcements only joined 26 Battalion in France, via Egypt, in early August 1916. The 2 Division attack at Pozieres on 4/8/16 would have been the very first, and last, action Private Morley saw. The fact that he had only recently joined 26 Battalion in France possibly explains why the Red Cross file for him is so scant. He would have been relatively unknown to others in his unit. The report has nothing more than the inclusion that he was reported missing as of 5/8/16 and that the status was changed to killed in action on 31/7/17, one year later. The actual date for the court of enquiry that determined this status was 29/6/17.

There is not much commentary provided in the war diary of 26 Battalion for the attack on 4/8/16. Casualty figures for the period 31 July to 31 August 1916 show 32 killed, 203 wounded and 148 missing. However the diary does reveal how difficult it was to retrieve wounded from the battle field and, presumably, why those dead had to left where they fell. It was this latter group who then became ‘missing’. The diary talks about the ‘great difficulty’ faced in evacuating the wounded. It argues that the allocation of ’8 stretchers and 16 bearers per battalion’ was ‘totally inadequate’.  This limitation was made much worse at Pozieres by the great distance the bearers had to cross – up to 2,300 yards – to get the wounded to the aid posts. On this particular occasion, 26 Battalion more than doubled the number of stretchers and bearers, and made extraordinary efforts over 2 days to make sure that all wounded had been removed from the battle field before the unit was relieved. The priority was obviously on the wounded, not the dead. Recollections of Pozieres always focused on the dead: those quickly or only partially buried and those not buried; and those buried but then uncovered by artillery fire.

The mother in Gormandale must have followed up the issue of kit because there is correspondence in the file stating that the personal items – 4 Brushes, Gladstone Bag – were returned to a Mr. H Driver of Coalstoun Lakes, near Biggenden, as per the provisions of her son’s will. All medals – including the Memorial Scroll and Memorial Plaque – were sent to the mother in 1922, after she had advised Base Records in Melbourne that there was no ’nearer relation’ than herself. She also noted that her husband had been dead for ‘many years’.

There is also extended correspondence in the service file from Miss J Marshall of Dundarrah via Biggenden. She was keen to hear any news of Pte. G. T. Morely of Coalstoun Lakes and her brother Pte. John Marshall of Cessnock, NSW. In response to her first letter of 8/9/16 she was informed (21/9/16) … No. 4479 Private G. T. Morley, 26 Battalion, reported missing since 5/8/16. Her brother was wounded and in hospital.

She wrote back on 2/10/16 seeking more information on Private Morley:

Dear Sir, the last letter I had from Pte. G. T. Morley No 4479 was dated 23rd July so he was not at the front then so could you please give me any information about Pte G. T. Morley if he has been to the Front since that date & will you kindly let me know, if you receive any later Information about the Missing Soldier
Anxiously awaiting the latest Report

But the letter she received from Base Records (16/10/16) made it very clear that there would be no further information:

In acknowledging receipt of your letter dated 2nd instant, I have to state since he was reported missing 5/8/16, no further particulars have been received concerning No. 4479 Private G. T. Morley, 26th Battalion. It is evident that this soldier went to the firing line after 23rd July.

As you are not shown as next-of-kin to above soldier, and as this Branch undertakes to advise the person so nominated only, your request that you also be advised of any later reports cannot be complied with.

When the mother supplied the information for the (National) Roll of Honour after the War, she gave Traralgon as the location with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. She also noted that 3 of her sons had died in the fighting:

George Thomas Morely KIA 5/8/16
Ernest Edward Morley DOW 14/5/27
Robert Herbert Morley KIA 31/10/17

While George Thomas Morley is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or War Memorial, the fate of the Morley brothers from Gormandale was well known in the district and was highlighted at the unveiling of the honor roll for Gormandale State School in late 1918, as reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 4/12/18:

The honor list of the Gormandale school contains 45 names of old scholars who enlisted, and two teachers, and of these six have been killed; and it is remarkable that three of these were members of the Morley family.

The body of Private George Thomas Morley was never recovered. His name is included on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

References

National Archives file for MORLEY George Thomas 4479
Roll of Honour: George Thomas Morley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Thomas Morley
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Thomas Morley

78. Pozieres: 2 Division, 28 July- early August – H C HOW & R H NEBBITT

Harold Christopher HOW 367
24 Battalion KIA 28/7/16

Harold Christopher How was born in Greenwich, England. When his father (George How) supplied the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he wrote that his son came to Australia at the age of twenty. However, at the time of enlistment in the AIF, the son’s age was recorded as 19 yo. Accepting the inconsistency, Harold How could not have been in Australia very long before enlisting.

Even though Harold How enlisted at Yarram – 19/2/15 – and his father identified Alberton West as the town in Australia with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’, the name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. Yet Harold How was definitely one of the many young, single, English immigrants working in the local area who enlisted when the War broke out.

Harold How’s occupation was given as ‘farm laborer’ on his enlistment papers, ‘labourer’ on the embarkation roll and his father described his work as ‘land worker’. Interestingly, the father recorded that Harold had attended ‘higher grade’ schooling in England and that his ‘calling’ before coming to Australia was ‘printers reader’. The father was the Divisional Inspector of the Tilbury Docks Police, London.

When he enlisted in early 1915 Private How joined 23 Battalion, B Company. The unit left Melbourne for Egypt on 10/5/15 and was engaged at Gallipoli, from late August until the end of 1915. 23 Battalion left Alexandria for the Western Front on 19/3/16 and disembarked in Marseilles on 26/3/16.

Prior to Pozieres, Private How’s service file shows that he … took part in a raid on enemy’s trenches on night of 29/30 June 1916.  The war diary for 23 Battalion for the same action gives some idea of how violent such raids were. It was a raiding party of 252 men drawn from 4 battalions, including 23 Battalion. The raiding party was only in the enemy trenches for 8 minutes but in that time 80 enemy soldiers were killed and 5 were taken prisoner.

23 Battalion was in the line at Pozieres from 26/7/16. B Company, Private How’s company, was in the first wave of the second major offensive at Pozieres that began just after midnight on the morning of the 29 July. Private How was listed as missing on 28/7/16 but, presumably, he went missing in the early morning of 29/7/16. The war diary of 23 Battalion reveals the level of casualties sustained over the period of late July at Pozieres. The Battalion’s strength at the start of the fighting on 28/7/16 was 36 officers and 968 other ranks but just 3 days later (31/7/16) it had been reduced to 32 officers and 645 other ranks. This amounted to more than 300 casualties.

Even though he was listed as missing on 28/7/16, it was not until 17/12/17, nearly seventeen months later, that Private How was determined to have been killed in the same action; and the formal Report of Death of a Soldier was only issued on 15/1/1918. The length of time involved was greater than for others missing at Pozieres, and this particular case certainly highlighted the degree of confusion that could apply. The correspondence in the relevant Red Cross Society file is extensive and it is clear that the family, and others acting on behalf of the family, pursued the case vigorously. However it is also clear that several of the ‘leads’ pursued involved confusion over names: Private CH Howell 2798 was from the same battalion and there was also Private WJ Howe 3148 of 28 Battalion who was taken prisoner by the Germans at Pozieres on 29 July 1916.

The most significant complication was the conviction by officers in 24 Battalion that Private How had been taken prisoner. The following two letters set out this scenario. The first was written to Private How’s father on 10/9/16 by then current commanding officer of B Company, Captain J. Briscoe. The original CO of B Company – Major Brind – had also been reported as missing after 28/7/16. The typed letter did not come via the Red Cross but was sent directly to the father. It is in Private How’s service file. It appears to have been dictated in haste.

I regret to say I can but give you very little information concerning your son. On the date referred to Major Brind was O.C. B Copy, and unfortunately he is missing together with your son and several others. …. From circumstances Sir I am led to hope that your son may be a prisoner. This is borne out from the fact that your sons pay-book was found in a dead Huns pocket, who was shot just outside our trench. We think this same Hun lost his way and walked towards our trenches. As the shell fire at the time was intense, we think your son and others lost their way and wandered towards the enemy lines. To a certain extent to find your sons pay-book so soon afterwards on a German justifies the belief that he was taken prisoner and at once searched for papers etc, and sent to the rear of the enemy trenches.

Beyond this Sir I am sorry to say I cannot enlighten you further, other than we know for certain that a Officer who was on his left on that night is reported a prisoner. …  I understand how you feel as his parents. He is well spoken of by his Officers and his platoon feel that they have lost a comrade and a pal.

I am pleased to say Sir that your Sons Battalion and Company were not forced back, they gained their objective and held it, and from there further successes have been gained.

Major Brind (Eric T.) the former CO of B Company referred to in the statement was in fact killed at Pozieres, as is graphically evident from the following witness statement supplied on 5/9/16 by one of his men, Private Chalmers 3798.

This officer was an exceedingly brave man. He was missing on the 28th July during the attack at Pozieres, on the other side of the Cemetery which was where we were at the time. Since that [time] a body has been found without a head and with no mark of identity except a crown on the shoulder to mark his rank. I did not see the body myself but everyone was full of it at the time. They thought it must be his body because it was lying very near where he was last seen and it is therefore generally believed that Major Brind is dead. Another Regiment found the body and notified us. He was one of the best men in the world and we were very sorry to lose him.

The second letter – also in the service file of Private How – to support the claim that Private How had been taken prisoner was written by the Chaplain of 23 Battalion, Percy Bladen. He wrote it on 19/9/16 and it was addressed to a J W Dowdeswell of London who was, presumably, a relative or family friend of Private How. The letter was probably written under pressure and there are some contradictions evident.

Your letter… reached me today. I am the Chaplain attached to the 23rd Batt. … I wish I could send you some good news about private How, he was reported missing on July 28th too often that means that the one so reported will not return, in the case of private How, however there is some hope that he may still be living as a wounded prisoner in the hand of the Germans; that hope is based upon the fact that his identity disc was found on a German whom we took as a prisoner. The German said that the man to whom the disc belonged and he remembered him because of his extraordinary height was wounded and taken prisoner, that is all that we know. it would perhaps be unwise to conclude that the statement is quite correct and that private How is safe, and in the absence of any evidence of his death it certainly gives ground for some hope. I deeply sympathise with his people who must suffer terribly while they do not know their boy’s fate. he was a good lad and a fine brave Soldier and all the better Soldier because he was an earnest Christian. I very earnestly hope that it may yet be found that he is alive and that he will ultimately be restored to his loved ones. Again please convey to them my sincere sympathy and my wish, one thing we do know that whether he is in Germany or whether he died he is in the safe keeping of the good Father of all whose love will never let him go.

The possibility that both letters hold out is that Private How had been taken prisoner. The problem is that the items claimed to have been recovered from German soldiers could just as easily have been removed from the body of a dead Private How. Further, it is possible, given that a Private Howe of 28 Battalion was taken prisoner in the same general area at the same time, that the items recovered from German soldiers did not even belong to Private How. The reference to Private How being, according to the German prisoner, of ‘extraordinary height’ does not really help: Private Harold How (23 Battalion) was described as 6’ on his enlistment papers and Private William Howe (28 Battalion) was described as 5’10¼” on his. The case for mistaken identity was definitely put by the AIF’s Wounded and Missing Department in response to inquiries from the British Red Cross Society. The following was written on 12/10/16,

…we beg to inform you that we have no information respecting No. 367. Pte Harold Christopher How, 23rd Battn, A.I.F than that he is officially missing since July 28th. Yours is the first intimation that we have had that he may be a prisoner as his name has not appeared on any lists of prisoners. We have on our list of prisoners No. 3148 Pte. William John Howe, 28th Battn. A.I.F. who was captured on July 29th and we think that possibly it may have been his pay-book and disc that were found and in some way confused with those of Pte. H.C.How.

One witness statement sets the scene for what most likely did happen to Private How early in the morning of the 29th July. It was provided by Corporal Jack Ritchie who was in the same B Company platoon as Private How. Corporal Ritchie had been asked if he knew what had happened to Private How and another soldier, Private A Sparks 3944. He wrote on 15/6/17,

I am sorry to say I cannot give any information about Pte. How or Pte. Sparks, they were both with us in the advance 28.7.16, but a lot of us went too far and in the morning both were missing. 367 Pte. H.C. How was tall and slim, 6 feet high and of dark complexion. Age 24 years, disposition rather reserved.

The likely version of Private How’s fate is that having gone too far ahead of his unit, he was cut off and killed. The three definite points are that his body was never recovered, and his name never appeared on any German list of prisoners or separate German list of the dead.

[The fate of the other Private Howe – the one from 28 Battalion who was definitely taken as a POW – was equally dire. He died as a POW on 17/10/17 from wounds received at Pozieres. The German death certificate states that he died of … gunshot wounds in 11th and 12th vertebrae – spine and general weakness.]

The following letter written by Private Harold How’s father on 26/5/17, ten months after he was reported as missing, indicates that the family was resigned to his fate. He was responding to the Australian Red Cross Society.

I beg to thank you for your letter of the 25th inst. respecting my missing son, Pte H.C. How. 367. 23rd Battalion and your kind expression of sympathy. As he has been missing so long I am afraid there is little hope, but any definite information about the “end” would at least be very gratifying and comforting to all, it is the uncertainty that is so trying.

The following personal items were returned to the mother in London: Devotional Book, Medallion, Letters, Scarf, Cap Comforter, Mitten.

The final, sad twist in the narrative of this young Englishman, who died as an Australian soldier, is that after the War, in 1919, the father wrote requesting the return of his son’s ‘pre-military effects’ that had been left at the ‘Luggage Office railway station, Flinders Street, Melbourne’, presumably at the time he enlisted. Subsequent checking uncovered a trunk and portmanteau in the ‘Lost Property Office, Victoria Railways’. The property was eventually returned to the father. Finally, at that point, the young man’s Australian adventure came to an end.

Private How’s name, as an Australian soldier, appears on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

References

National Archives file for How Harold Christopher 367
Roll of Honour: Harold Christopher How
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Harold Christopher How
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold Christopher How

 

Roy Harry NEBBITT 2720
24 Battalion KIA 29/7/16

Ray Harry Nebbitt was born in Balloong and grew up in North Devon. He attended the state school there and it appears that his mother Mrs Annie Nebbitt was a teacher in the school. At the time of his enlistment both parents were still living in North Devon. The father died not long after his son enlisted.

On enlistment in Melbourne (2/8/15) Ray Nebbitt was single, 21 yo and his occupation was listed as farm labourer. He had had his initial medical in Yarram on 23/7/15. He joined 24 Battalion.

His unit of reinforcements for 24 Battalion left Melbourne on 27/10/15. He did not see service at Gallipoli. 24 Battalion left Alexandria on 20/3/16 and disembarked at Marseilles on 26/3/16.

Private Nebbitt was killed in action on 29/7/16 at Pozieres. The details of his death are very sparse. There is no Red Cross report. There is also limited information on the actual fighting involving 24 Battalion in its war diary. However, the diary states that the battalion was in the front line at the time of the second attack at Pozieres in the very early morning of 29/7/16, the day that Private Nebbitt was killed. The diary reports that from 27 July to 30 July, the battalion suffered 199 casualties, with 43 killed and 156 wounded.

There is an entry in Private Nebbitt’s file that states that he was ‘buried in the vicinity of Pozieres’ and there is a map reference. However when the Report of Death of a Soldier was issued there was no identification of any grave site or burial details, and his name is recorded on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. Possibly, after he had been killed his unit buried him in a temporary grave and subsequently this grave site was lost and never relocated, despite the availability of the general map reference. The fact that there is no Red Cross Society report tends to support this scenario. It suggests that he was never ‘missing’ in the sense that no one knew what had happened to him. His unit knew he had been killed and they had buried the body; but the grave itself had become lost. Other strong evidence to suggest that he had been killed in action and was not missing comes from the promptness of the completion of the Report of Death of a Soldier. The necessary corroborating evidence was supplied on 5/8/16, just a week after the death, and the form itself was completed on 4/1/16. The family was advised by cable on 29/8/16 and the confirmation by mail was sent from London on 4/9/16.

Even though the processing of Private Nebbitt’s death, incorporating the transmission of information to the family, was discharged promptly there was still confusion, anxiety and a dearth of vital information for the family back in Gippsland. Incredibly, on August 14, 1916 the mother wrote the following letter to the Defence Department. This was just 2 weeks after her son’s death, not, of course, that she knew he had been killed.

I got no official word but I have been told that my son is returning wounded so I am writing to know if it is true he is
No 2720 Pte R. H. Nebbitt D Company 24th Battalion 6th Inf. Brigade. France

There is no indication as to the source of the information or when or how it was received and no other details about the nature or severity of the wound(s) or where in France her son was wounded and so on. Base Records responded immediately – 16/8/16 – and, given that it was still some two weeks before they were to receive the cable of Private Nebbitt’s death, they obviously denied the claim. They were also keen to know the source of the information:

In reply to your inquiry dated 14th instant, I beg to inform you no official report that he is wounded, or to any other effect, has been received here concerning your son No. 2720 Private R. H. Nebbitt, 24th Battalion.

If you are in possession of a letter, or other documentary evidence to the contrary, upon receipt of same if such action is warranted, inquiries will be instituted, and the result communicated to you.

If your informant is a member of the Australian Imperial Force it will be necessary to furnish his name, regimental number and rank, together with the unit to which he is attached.

There is no indication that the mother responded and the episode does not appear to have been pursued. It is a curious episode because while no doubt there were those in the 24th Battalion who had connections with friends and family back in Gippsland and who did know at that point that Private Nebbitt was, at the very least, missing, it was simply not possible for them to have communicated, within such a short period of time, with people back home. Only a cable could have provided information within that time frame.

As indicated, the official cable to Australia advising of the death came on 29/8/16, roughly two weeks after the false report. The following letter from the mother, written nearly a year later on 28/5/17 indicates that she received the news in September 1916. It also shows how the Post Master could act in the place of the local clergyman in delivering the sad news. However, most pointedly, it reveals the despair that weighed on parents when they did not know how their son had died. And even in death there was no fairness, because while some families were able to find out details of their son’s death, other families, like hers, were left with nothing, other than the knowledge he was dead.

I am writing to ask if you could tell me how my son’s death occurred, if he was killed outright or wounded and died or anything about it. … All that I was told was that he was killed in action on the 29th of July. I was told by the post master. I did not even get a telegram or anything. I was told last Sept. and I have been thinking I would hear particulars any time [?] neighbours get particulars of their friends causalities that have taken place since then, and I know nothing and have heard nothing of an only son that was my great comfort.

The obviously heartfelt letter elicited only a formal, detached reply,

In reply to your communication of 28th ultimo, I have to state the only information received at this Office [Base Records, Melbourne] to date regarding your son … is that he was killed in action, in France, on 29/7/16. The report of burial has not yet come to hand, but on receipt, will be promptly communicated to next-of-kin, and will be made available to you on application.

But there was never to be any ‘report of burial’.

References

National Archives file for Nebbitt Roy Harry 2720
Roll of Honour: Roy Harry Nebbitt
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Roy Harry Nebbitt (Nebbit)

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

76. Pozieres July-September 1916

The fighting at Pozieres, as part of the broader Battle of the Somme, involved the infantry battalions from 1, 2 and 4 Division. It covered a period of more than forty days, from 23 July to 5 September 1916,  with the 3 divisions being rotated through the front line to mount an extended series of attacks on the German positions: the village of Pozieres itself, the so-called Old German Lines north of the village – including the Windmill – and finally Mouquet Farm.  For an overview of the fighting see Beaumont (2013. pp 200-212).

There was tension between the British Army HQ and officers in the AIF. Pozieres was when Haig mocked Birdwood about the Western Front being the place where the AIF was up against a real enemy in a real war.

The losses for the 3 Australian divisions came to 24,000, with 5,500 killed and nearly 17,000 wounded. A distinctive feature of the fighting was the ferocious artillery bombardment, with a corresponding incidence of ‘shell shock’ experienced by the soldiers. In only 7 weeks over July and August 1916, the AIF suffered roughly the same number of casualties as it had in 8 months on Gallipoli. The Western Front was different, principally in terms of how little the life of the individual soldier counted. Entire battalions could be sacrificed for no military gain. From Verdun to the Somme and Pozieres it was a war of attrition. The AIF’s shocking casualty figures were set to play out in Australia’s conscription referendum.

There were 15 men linked to Shire of Alberton who died at Pozieres. They have been grouped according to the various phases of the fighting at Pozieres.

The fighting at Pozieres was exceptionally brutal – principally because of the overwhelming use of artillery – and this is evident in the case of the 15 men below. Three of them died of wounds. This meant that they were evacuated from the line, treated in at least a casualty clearing station behind the main action and then, when they died, buried in a near-by military cemetery. This leaves 12 men. Of this number, only 1 was buried in a recorded grave. Eleven of our small sample have no known grave. They disappeared at Pozieres. Their names are inscribed on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

1 Division initial attack (23/7/16)

Leonard NOONAN 217
Herbert Ilott GEORGE 408
John Henry MANDERS 2865
Angelus Basil ELLIOTT 3741

2 Division relieves 1 Division and attacks (27/7/16)

Harold Christopher HOW 367
Roy Harry NEBBITT 2720

2 Division attacks again (4-5/8/16)

James Edward McINTOSH 3897
Percy James DAVIDSON 140
George Victor AUBREY 546
Arthur George INSEAL 1914
George Thomas MORLEY 4479

from 10/8/16 all three divisions (1,2 and 4) rotate in attempts to seize Mouquet Farm

Gordon William APPLEYARD 865
Alfred REEVES 3342
James NEIL 3897
Patrick Joseph MILLS 4236

References

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW.

page revised – to include Arthur George INSEAL – on 2/8/16.
page revised – to remove James Noble ROBINSON – on 16/8/16
page revised – to remove Arthur MORGAN – on 17/8/16

75. Fromelles: 60 Battalion – C CLAYTON

60 Battalion

60 Battalion suffered approximately 750 casualties from a nominal strength of 1,000. The entry in the war diary for 19 July 1916 reads, in part:

…Battalion scaled parapet and advanced in four waves, the first wave leaving at 6.45 [pm], the last at 7. Each wave advanced under very heavy artillery, machine gun and rifle fire, suffering very heavy casualties. Advance continued to within 90 yards of enemy trenches. The attack was held up, although it is believed some few of the battalion entered enemy trenches. During the night 19/20 a few stragglers, wounded and surrounded, returned to our trenches.

The entry for the next day provides the grim casualty figures:

60th Battalion relieved by 57th at 7 am and survivors returned to former billets. Roll call held at 9.30 am, 4 officers and 61 other ranks being present.

Charles John CLAYTON 850

Charles Clayton was born in South Melbourne. At the time of his enlistment both parents were dead and his next-of-kin was his oldest brother who was living at Yarram. There were 2 sisters, both of whom were also living in the Yarram. As he was only 19 yo at the time of enlistment, his brother gave the written approval for him to join the AIF. Charles Clayton was single and his occupation was given as labourer. He gave his religion as Roman Catholic.

Private Clayton enlisted in 24 Battalion, left Melbourne on 10/5/15 and joined the Gallipoli campaign on 30/8/15. In the divisional reorganisation that occurred before the Australian troops were sent to the Western Front, Private Clayton found himself from April 1916 in the newly formed 60 Battalion.

While still in Alexandria, Private Clayton was hospitalised with enteric fever and pneumonia. He was in hospital for 3 months and was on the ‘dangerously ill’ list. In fact, he was taken off the list only to be put back on it again. The convalescence was long. There is a series of 6 telegrams (20/1/16 – 29/2/16) sent to the older brother (HR Clayton of the Yarram Club) from Base Records in Melbourne, revealing the effort made to keep him informed of his younger brother’s condition. The episode suggests that away from the confusion of battle, where there was a regular supply of accurate information relevant to the family, every effort was made to keep them informed.

Private Clayton was finally discharged from hospital on 5/4/16 and his battalion left Alexandria on 18/6/16 to disembark at Marseilles on 29/6/16. He was one of the hundreds listed as ‘missing’ after Fromelles and it was not determined that he was ‘killed in action’ until a court of enquiry was held one year later on 4/8/17.

Witness statements from the Red Cross report on Private Clayton’s death were unequivocal:

Casualty went over the parapet on the 19th July, 1916 at Fleurbaix. I passed his dead body in No Man’s Land on my return to the trench. He was lying face upwards. I am positive about my identification. I knew him well. I was one of the 64 who came through unscathed on that memorable occasion.
A.R. Heaney, 4520 60th Battalion.

However, the problem is that the statement is dated 14/11/17, some three months after the court of enquiry. Presumably, in cases such as Fromelles, where so many had been killed but the bodies never recovered, the policy was to wait for an extended period of time to establish if the missing soldier had been taken prisoner – nearly 500 were taken prisoner at Fromelles – before then determining that he had been killed in action. In the interim, and as a separate activity, the Red Cross Society, working on behalf of the missing soldier’s family, continued to record witness statements. In this particular case, the authorities had determined by the time of the court of enquiry that Private Clayton had not been taken prisoner and must therefore have been killed in action. The eye-witness confirmation of the soldier’s fate – or, more correctly, eye witness statements recorded by the Red Cross – came after the court of enquiry.

Pointedly, in the above witness statement, Private Heaney refers to himself as … one of the 64 who came through unscathed on that memorable occasion. This figure supports the muster roll call, referred to above, from the battalion war diary: Roll call held at 9.30 am, 4 officers and 61 other ranks being present.

There is a letter written to Base Records, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne by the older brother in late July 1917, a full year after Fromelles, which reveals the tension associated with the uncertainty of the status of ‘missing’. Without the formal Report of Death of a Soldier (Army Form 2090A), issues associated with wills, deferred pay, pensions, life assurance and such could not be resolved.

The brother began his letter pointing out that he had had no further official news from the Defence Department. However, he also noted that he had just received a parcel containing the effects of his brother, with a label attached describing it as ‘Deceased Soldier’s Kit’, with his brother’s name and unit details shown. This was similar to cases where the family received returned mail with ‘KIA’ written across the envelope, even though the soldier’s official fate had yet to be determined. To add to the uncertainty, the brother also pointed out that the latest communication he had had from the Red Cross – this was July 1917 – indicated that they still could not be definite about Pte. Clayton’s fate.  Faced with the conflicting information, he closed the letter with what seems a understated plea,

If you would only clear up what has happened to my brother all that long time [ago] I would be happy.

The letter (2/8/17) in response from Base Records is interesting on several counts. It opened with the official statement that …no further report has been received concerning your brother, No. 850, Private C.J. Clayton, 60th Battalion, since he was reported as missing, 19.7.16.

It then sought to explain the return of the kit; but it did not address the real issue of the label that described the kit as that of a dead soldier:

Personal effects of missing soldiers are returned after a certain period, if no definite information can be obtained concerning them.

Lastly, it pointed out the normal process that applied in such cases and requested a copy of the Red Cross correspondence. It stated that if the Red Cross information was deemed relevant it would be forwarded overseas. This arrangement highlighted how the Red Cross operated as an independent agency. Its records could assist the AIF but they were generated within a separate organisation. The AIF did not have, as a matter of course, access to all Red Cross records.

A Court of Inquiry is held in due course with a view to finalising these unsatisfactory cases, and it is suggested you forward to this Office, for perusal, the Red Cross communication received by you. If the information contained therein is of a definite nature it will be referred to the overseas authorities to facilitate their investigations.

The brother on 20/8/17 duly sent off the Red Cross report. However, such information was by then redundant because a cable from London on 21/8/17 conveyed the outcome of the court of enquiry, which had been held on 4/8/17. The brother was duly informed, and from 5/9/17 he began a series of letters requesting additional information so that he could attend to his late brother’s estate. As tragic as the final outcome was, there was now at least certainty, after more than a year of confusion and doubt.

Private Clayton’s body was never – has not been – recovered. His name is recorded at VC Corner, Fromelles. It also appears on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial, in the main street of Yarram, and on the Shire Roll of Honor.

References

National Archives file for Clayton Charles John 850
Roll of Honour: Charles John Clayton
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Charles John Clayton
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Charles John Clayton

74. Fromelles: 59 Battalion – H GILFOY, V GRENVILLE, I J LEAR, A LIDDELOW, F A LIDGETT, L J NEIL & S SLEIGH

59 Battalion

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:

19/7/16
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.
20/7/16
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.

References

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.

References

National Archives file for Gilfoy Herbert 2641
Roll of Honour: Herbert Gilfoy
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Herbert Gilfoy

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.

References

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.

References

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.

References

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

 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.

References

National Archives file for Lidgett Archie Fred 4832
Roll of Honour: Archie Fred Lidgett
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Archie Fred Lidgett

 

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.

References

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.

References

National Archives file for Sleigh Stephen 3244
Roll of Honour: Stephen Sleigh
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Stephen Sleigh