Members PLEASE NOTE:- Mick James has advised of this item of Interest about one of our National Treasures and a past Member of the 31st Bn from Ingham – KEITH PAYNE VC AM. (Keith was a member for a brief Period prior to joining the Regular Army) A Documentary on Keith will be broadcast on SBS at 8.30 PM on WED 27th May. The action for which Keith Payne was awarded the Victoria Cross occurred 51 years ago on the 24/5/1969. Keith is our oldest living Victoria Cross recipient.
Mark your Diary’s to tune in. Regards Tony
In this article Association member Mick James tells more of the story Pte William Edward “Billy” Sing DCM Croix de Guerre (Belgium), well known as “The Gallipoli Sniper”. It precedes the story which was previously written by Mick and featured on a post to this website in May 2019 (See “Pte Billy Sing DCM Croix de Guerre (Belgium)” under the “Heroes” menu. Mick takes up the story:
In one of the few detailed letters that Billy Sing wrote home (or had transcribed for him), was a letter he wrote to his mate from the Proserpine Cricket Club, Joe Faust, one of the owners of the General Store in Proserpine.
Billy had suffered a number of illnesses/wounds from his time at Gallipoli (see additional article below). One of them was piles from his extended times at sniping, and he wouldn’t be able to ride a horse any more. He was transferred to 31st Battalion in March 1916. However more sickness (mumps) delayed his transfer until July 1916 when he was sent to England, as the 31st Battalion had left for France in mid June. Billy arrived in England on 22 August 1916 and for 4 months was attached to a training Battalion learning about the different conditions on the Western Front.
For those who are unaware, Billy Sing was at Gallipoli from May to November 1915 as a sniper with 201 confirmed kills, said to be over 300 in total. His DCM citation states “For conspicuous gallantry from May to September 1915, at Anzac, as a sniper. His courage and skill were most marked and he was responsible for a very large number of casualties among the enemy, no risk being too great for him to take”.
At the end of December he travelled to France and joined up with the 31st Battalion just south of Albert. There were small operations going on all the time to try to keep the enemy off-balance or capture a few yards of ground. On 14th March they were fighting in the vicinity of the remains of the villages of Flers and Gueudecourt, near the old main road that led from the Allied town of Albert to the German held town of Bapaume, when Billy was again WIA. He received a gunshot wound in the leg that was later noted to be a shrapnel wound. Initially sent to a General Hospital at Rouen, he sailed from Le Havre on 21st March and was admitted to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield Park House in Middlesex which had 1,000 beds and specialist sections which included Skiagrams – early X-rays. It was a Skiagram that identified shrapnel pieces in Billy’s leg and they operated to remove them. This Hospital also had a number of English women volunteers who attended the Hospital daily to care for the diggers, and one of them may have written the letter as dictated by Billy.
The letter – Quote
Just a few lines to let you know I am still in the land of the living. I wrote to you from France a few weeks ago, just before we went to the front line. Well (they) exploded another one on Wednesday night the 15th. We hopped over from Bapaume and had a bit of a scrap with old Fritz, and about 3 in the morning, a big shell landed just behind me and the piece of brass nose cap hit me in the leg.
It is not dangerous but pretty sore. I don’t suppose I’ll be off my back for a couple of months. I have been under an operation to have two pieces removed, and the other day they had the X-ray on , but there was no more in it.
We had an awful time in France this winter; it was the coldest they’ve had for years. We used to be 4 and 5 nights at a time without any blankets in the trenches, and the ice in the shell holes 2 and 3 feet deep.
If you wanted water you had to take a pick and put in some hard work digging, and then the thaw came and we were bogged like sheep. I have seen cattle and horses bogged before, but not men. I got bogged and had to dig my boots out. Some places you would go down up to your waist, and have to squeal for help to get out. I pulled 4 out of one place and then all day you have to sit down in 5 inches of mud and water well off the road, shivering all the time.
We had no trenches in the place where I was hit, only roadways in two old villages. Worked 24 hours out of 24. Time it ended – they are giving the Australians a good cut at the Somme. I don’t want to see any more of France, I’ve had sufficient. let some of the others that haven’t had any action have a go – do them some good.
It would break your heart to see the dead bodies lying around unburied, all sorts in Delville Wood. There are thousands in other places; in one place there is a big memorial in memory of a division wiped out. I did not have much time to write from France, and the censor is so strict you can’t put anything in. I got a letter from you written just before Xmas, also the card from yourself and wife.
I don’t think there is any chance of us being home for this crushing, although Fritzy fell back a good few miles. He is getting pretty sick of it and most of them have not much fight in them. It is only their artillery that is saving them at all they have plenty of that and so have we. It’s just like listening to a big mob of ducks flying overhead continually for hours, and they are bursting all round. It’s a wonder a man lasts at all.
Well, I don’t think I will write any more this time. I have a few more letters letters to write and the old leg is a wee bit painful. So hoping you are all in the best of health,
I remain your sincere friend
W E Sing
PS Remember me to all the boys.
This letter gives a very apt description of the atrocious conditions of diggers in the front line particularly during the very cold winter of 1916/17.
Below is a follow up article from the one above. It gives a detailed description of the ailments Billy had suffered
prior to his transfer to 31st Battalion AIF and perhaps explains the tone of his letter to his mate in Proserpine
after suffering a serious shell wound in France.
His decision to volunteer to lead a patrol to “mop up” enemy snipers after the Battle of Polygon Wood
demonstrated that he was still keen to do his bit to help out his mates.
It was general policy with the Army to repatriate any digger who had suffered a 3rd Wounding. “
Many people today are only partly aware of the privations endured by the ANZACS, but this was even worse for snipers like Billy. Sniping positions (hides) were usually close to the front line and anywhere from 40 to 400 yards from the enemy front line and in an elevated position, if possible, to more clearly see the enemy if they stood up in their trench. As such, they were mostly exposed positions and Billy (and his spotter) had to be concealed in position before first light and remain there until nightfall. Billy was used to this discipline, as back in Proserpine, he used to cut cane during the crushing season, where they were in the field at dawn and worked till dusk. His movements were severely restricted while in the hide and this played havoc with his bodily functions.
His medical history was extensive –
Sick with Flu 5-11 Aug 1915
Slight wound from bullet ricochet (not admitted to Hospital) 25 Aug 1915
Sick with Rheumatism 22 Nov 1915 evacuated to Malta 29 Nov Rejoined Unit 28 Jan 16
Sick with Parotitis/Mumps to Hospital 13 March 16 Rejoined Unit 29 Mar 16
Sick with Piles to Hospital 21 June 16 Discharged 11 July 16
27 July 16 Transferred to 31st Battalion. Moved to Training Battalion in England
Dec 16/Jan 17 Joined 31st Battalion in France
15 Mar 17 shell wound in leg (as mentioned in previous post)
Rejoined Unit 24 Aug 17
31st Oct 17 Received Army Corp Commander’s appreciation of gallant service during recent operations
ie Battle of Polygon Wood – subsequently awarded Belgian Croix de Guerre-
At Polygon Wood on 26-28th September 1917, after the capture of the final objective and notwithstanding a terrific bombardment by the enemy, this soldier volunteered to take out a fighting patrol to mop up snipers who were causing casualties. By his dash and success in dealing with these, our front line was secured and consolidation continued. During his whole operation, his skill in picking out and dealing with snipers was uncanny
Billy suffered gas poisoning (considered a wound) from Polygon Wood and was also in and out of hospital on a number of occasions with his old leg wound.
On 18 Feb 1918 he received a GSW to his left shoulder (3rd wound) and was sent to Hospital in France. He rejoined 31st Battalion on 10 May 1918
As a result of his 3rd wound he was sent to England and on 21st July 1918 departed for Australia.
He was finally discharged on 29 November 1918 in Brisbane.
He suffered from his wounds, especially the gas poisoning, for the rest of his life and died in his sleep in a boarding house in South Brisbane on 19th May 1943. He is buried at Lutwyche Cemetery in Brisbane and in 2015 a Memorial to him was consecrated near his grave (see below).
LEST WE FORGET
Pte Arthur Edward Adams was an original 31st Bn digger signing up in Brisbane on 15th July 1915. at 18 yrs 6 mths. He had previous service in the Rosewood Infantry and was a clerk. On 16th Sept he was promoted CQMS. of A Coy. He trained at Enoggera before moving to Broadmeadows in Melbourne with A & B Coys to join with C & D Coys formed in Melbourne. They departed from Melbourne for the Suez Canal on 2 ships, HMAT A41 Bakara on 5 Nov 1915 and HMAT A61 Wandilla on 9th Nov 1915 and arrived at Suez on Dec 6th 1915.
They trained and guarded the Suez Canal as part of the 8th Brigade until June 1916 where they, along with the 14th & 15th Brigades, who formed the newly created 5th Division, transhipped from Alexandria to Marseilles in France and then entrained to northern France to a rest area behind the Western Front.
On 6th July Adams at his own request was reduced to Pte. As CQMS he would have been left out of the Battle which was then imminent. (We may presume that Adams wanted to be part of the Battle and that is shown in his later service). Almost 2 weeks later on the 19th July the 5th Division AIF, led by M/Gen James Whiteside McCay, and the British 61st Division commenced a poorly planned attack, under the Orders of English Lt Gen Richard Hacking, on the entrenched German position at Fromelles which overlooked the Allied position, and could watch the Allies forming up for the attack. The Allies suffered a number of casualties from the bombardment prior to the attack which commenced at 6.00 pm (still daylight in mid summer).
I won’t go into the details of the Battle here apart from stating the 5th Division casualties (KIA, WIA, Captured & Missing) totalled 5,532 men. Many were dead in No Mans Land and the Germans offered a truce to retrieve the bodies. The 5th Division Commander, M/Gen McCay, a former Politician and Defence Minister, refused outright to agree to a Truce after he learnt of an unofficial one. Because of this decision, there are many Diggers who will never have a known grave. This from the AWM site about the Battle – https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/44/page18_ekins
“But many remained missing. More than two years after the battle, on the day of the Armistice of 11 November 1918 when the guns of the Western Front finally ceased fire, Charles Bean wandered over the battlefield of Fromelles and observed the grisly aftermath of the battle. “We found the old No-Man’s-Land simply full of our dead,” he recorded. “The skulls and bones and torn uniforms were lying about everywhere.”
Shortly after the war the remains were gathered to construct VC Corner Cemetery. For nearly 80 years this sombre monument remained the only conspicuous reminder of the tragic events of Fromelles, until in July 1998 a new Australian Memorial Park was dedicated there. Situated close to VC Corner Cemetery on a part of the old German front line which was briefly captured and held overnight by the 14th Brigade, the park includes the stark remains of four German blockhouses.”
Of course, thanks to Lambis Englezos and his team, we have now found the 250 diggers’ bodies that were KIA in the German lines and buried by them. They are now in the Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery at Fromelles, with 166 now having named headstones.
Continuing on the Pte Adams history, he was promoted to Sgt a week after the Battle of Fromelles, and then to acting CSM when WO2 Gair was promoted 2Lt on 24 Aug 1916.
He was wounded in action (WIA) on 19 Dec 1916 and was in hospital for a month before returning to the Battalion on 15th Jan 1917.
He distinguished himself in Battle at Bapaume in mid March 1917 and was later awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal. His Citation reads –
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. At Bapaume during action 14-17 March 1917 his work all through was of high merit. On the evening of 14 March with a fighting patrol of 50 men, he attempted to effect an entrance through a strongly-wired position at Till Trench but was held up by machine-gun fire which was causing casualties. This Warrant Officer seized a Lewis Gun, and quickly taking up a position on the enemy’s flank, he engaged the hostile gun at point blank range, silenced it, and thus saved many casualties”
On 27th July 1917 he was then seconded as a supernummary in 8th Training Battalion initially for 3 weeks, before going to the School of Instruction. He instructed there until rejoining 31st Battalion on 18 Dec 1917. On the 19th May 1918 WO2 Adams proceeded to England to the Officers Training Battalion at Oxford for Officer Training.
He qualified and was promoted 2Lt on 18 Dec 1918 and rejoined 31st Battalion in France on 17 Jan 1919. He finally returned to Australia and disembarked in Melbourne on 20 Aug 1919 then returned to Brisbane and had his appointment terminated.on 15 Oct 1919. His head wound received in Dec 1916 was stated to have no on going effects just prior to his termination of appointment in Brisbane.
Sadly however, he died on 10 Feb 1925 at age 28.5 years and is buried at Ipswich Cemetery.
LEST WE FORGET
Tribute to Lt Arthur Adams DCM by member Pierre Seillier
Grave site of Lt Arthur Adams DCM in Ipswich Cemetery
The following story of Pte Billy Sing was written by Association member and regular contributor, Mick James:
W E “Billy” Sing served in the 5th Light Horse Regiment in Egypt and at Gallipoli . He was famed as “The Gallipoli Sniper “ HE was awarded a DCM for his efforts over 6 months on Gallipoli.
He later transferred to the 31st Battalion where he was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre at Polygon Wood.
This citation reads – “At Polygon Wood on 26-28th September 1917, after the capture of the final objective and notwithstanding a terrific bombardment by the enemy, this soldier volunteered to take out a fighting patrol to mop up snipers who were causing casualties. By his dash and success in dealing with these, our front line was secured and consolidation continued. During the whole operation his skill in picking out and dealing with snipers was uncanny”.
He was born in Clermont in 1886 to an English mother and Chinese father and was shooting in the bush from a young age. He was in the Clermont Rifle Club and later, when working in Proserpine, was in that Rifle Club and played cricket there. He was wounded 3 times (including gassing) during his service and had other sickness (mumps) and his health suffered for the rest of his life. He returned to Proserpine after the War but was doing many different jobs, including mining around Clermont, before moving to Brisbane in the 1930s and doing various labouring jobs.
He died in a Boarding House at 304 Montague Rd South Brisbane on 19th May 1943 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Lutwyche Cemetery . After a story on his War Service in the Courier Mail on ANZAC Day eve in 1993, his grave was identified and a plaque placed on it at Lutwyche Cemetery.
The Brisbane branch of the 31st Battalion Association in conjunction with the Chinese Association, Chermside District Historical Association, and Kedron Wavell Services Club conducted 2 Memorial Services at his graveside from 2012 and then, in conjunction with those Groups, and with a Federal Government grant of $50,000, arranged the construction and dedication of a granite Memorial Column close to his grave. It was dedicated on 19th May 2015, the 72nd anniversary of Billy’s death.
There are now 2 plaques at the address where Billy died (now a Commercial building). These photos are shown below.
On the 76th anniversary of Billy’s death we remember his outstanding service in WW1.
LEST WE FORGET
On this day we honour 2 diggers who had connections to 31st Battalion RQR and were awarded Honours for actions 50 years ago today.
Firstly, WO2 Keith Payne VC AM, who grew up in Ingham and initially joined 31st Battalion before transferring to the Regular Army serving with distinction in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam. he was in the Army Training Team in Vietnam (AATTV) in northern South Vietnam when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.
His Citation reads –
“On 24 May 1969, in Kontum Province, Warrant Officer Payne was commanding 212th Company of 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when the Battalion was attacked by a North Vietnamese force of superior strength.
The enemy isolated the two leading companies, one of which was Warrant Officer Payne’s, and with heavy mortar and rocket support assaulted their position from three directions simultaneously. Under this heavy attack, the indigenous soldiers began to fall back. Directly exposing himself to the enemy’s fire, Warrant Officer Payne, through his own efforts, temporarily held off the assaults by alternatively firing his weapon and running from position to position collecting grenades and throwing them at the assaulting enemy. While doing this, he was wounded in the hands and arms.
Despite his outstanding efforts, the indigenous soldiers gave way under the enemy’s increased pressure and the Battalion Commander, together with several advisors and a few soldiers, withdrew. Paying no attention to his wounds and under extremely heavy enemy fire, Warrant Officer Payne covered this withdrawal by again throwing grenades and firing his own weapon at the enemy who were attempting to follow up.
Still under fire, he then ran across exposed ground to head off his own troops who were withdrawing in disorder. He successfully stopped them and organised the remnants of his and the second company into a temporary defensive perimeter by nightfall. Having achieved this, Warrant Officer Payne of his own accord and at great personal risk, moved out of the perimeter into the darkness alone in an attempt to find the wounded and other indigenous soldiers. Some had been left on the position and others were scattered in the area.
Although the enemy were still occupying the previous position, Warrant Officer Payne, with complete disregard for his own life, crawled back on to it and extricated several wounded soldiers. He then continued to search the area, in which the enemy were also moving and firing, for some three hours. He finally collected forty lost soldiers, some of whom had been wounded, and returned with this group to the temporary defensive perimeter he had left, only to find that the remainder of the battalion had moved back. Undeterred by this setback and personally assisting a seriously wounded American adviser, he led the group through the enemy to the safety of his battalion base.
His sustained and heroic personal efforts in this action were outstanding and undoubtedly saved the lives of a large number of his indigenous soldiers and several of his fellow advisors. Warrant Officer Payne’s repeated acts of exceptional personal bravery and unselfish conduct in this operation were an inspiration to all Vietnamese, United States and Australian soldiers who served with him. His conspicuous gallantry was in the highest traditions of the Australian Army.”
Keith Payne was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth II on the Royal Yacht Britannia in Brisbane on the 13th April 1970. He was awarded the OAM for service to Veterans in 2006 and this was upgraded to AM in 2015. Today Keith lives in Mackay.
In the same Battalion at that time was WO2 Barry Tolley, who following his service in Vietnam, had an ARA post with 31st Battalion RQR. Barry was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions at the same time
His DCM Citation reads –
“Warrant Officer Tolley enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in 1959. After serving the The Royal Australian Regiment in Malaysia and Borneo, he joined the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam in June 1968.
On 22 May 1969, Warrant Officer Tolley was serving as Commander of 211th Mobile Strike Force Company, 5th Special Forces Group on an operation in Kontum Province when it was attacked by a North Vietnamese force. So heavy was the enemy’s initial assault, that the indigenous soldiers of the company began to scatter. Warrant Officer Tolley ran about his troops, exposing himself to heavy enemy small arms, rocket and mortar fire, in an attempt to hold them together. However, under increased enemy pressure, the majority of the soldiers fell back. Showing great courage and despite the overwhelming odds, Warrant Officer Tolley continued to hold his ground. Assisted by only three other soldiers, he held back the assault enemy and covered the withdrawal of the wounded and the remainder of his company. Together with these three soldiers, he finally fought his way back to the Battalion base.
Two days later on 24 May, Warrant Officer’s Tolley’s Company was moving as the rear element of his Battalion in the same area. The leading companies were heavily attacked by a superior North Vietnamese force, which also got between Warrant Officer Tolley’s company and the remainder of the Battalion. He quickly reorganised his company and led an assault on the enemy in an attempt to break through to the forward companies. However, they were driven back with heavy casualties by intense enemy fire. Warrant Officer Tolley rallied his troops and showing outstanding personal bravery, then assaulted the enemy a second time at the head of only 15 of his soldiers. Again he was driven back. The remainder of his company, to the rear of Warrant Officer Tolley, were now under a very heavy mortar and rocket fire and began to withdraw in disorder. Not being in a position to rally them again, Warrant Officer Tolley stayed between his troops and the enemy who were starting to attack. Unselfishly exposing himself to heavy fire, he then personally covered the withdrawal until the wounded and the remainder of his soldiers were clear.
Warrant Officer Tolley’s exceptional bravery and aggressive leadership in these actions and on a number of other occasions during his long tour with the Mobile Strike Force were an outstanding example to those under his command. His professionalism and exemplary conduct reflect great credit on himself, the Australian Army Training Team and the Australian Army.”
Barry was promoted to WO1 and also awarded the OAM for outstanding service to the Australian Army, particularly in the field of training.
Sadly he died in Dec 2016. LEST WE FORGET
Today I visited Keith Payne VC Park in Stafford, Brisbane and took some photos posted here. The various Memorial Plaques honour all Victoria Cross winners who are named on different Plaques. They include our own Paddy Bugden VC from WW1 and Jimmy Gordon VC from WW2.
LEST WE FORGET ALL THESE BRAVE MEN
24th May 2019
Pte James Heather Gordon won the VC in an action that took place on 9th July 1941
against the Vichy French troops just north of the town of Djezzine in Syria. The following is an account written by Brigadier Amies CBE who was adjutant of 2/31Bn at the time that Jimmy Gordon won his VC. It is drawn from the book “Crossed Boomerangs” a history of the 31 Battalions written by the late Bob Burla.
D Coy, 2/31Bn was given the task of capturing a prominent tree covered hill known for the operation as “Green Hill” which dominated the left flank of the Battalion and commanded the one and only road leading North. The enemy was known to be occupying the position in force, with heavy weapons of all types.
To assist D Coy in its task a troop of light tanks and the battalion’s carrier platoon were to advance and attack the enemy’s right flank simultaneously.
The terrain was the toughest imaginable. No previous reconnaissance of any length had been possible. A precipitous wadi 800 feet deep separated D Coy from the objective, which rose another 600 feet on the far side of the wadi in a series of stony terraces four or five feet high every twenty yards or so. To scramble up the hill at any time, let alone having to fight one’s way up at the same time, was no mean feat. It was another instance of the particularly hard going that had faced the battalion ever since it crossed the Syrian frontier thirty three days before.
The company skirted the wadi and attacked from the south east at zero. It was not long before it became apparent that the Battalion was once again up against a fierce, well diciplined foe who would contest every step of the way, and not just hand his line over to the attackers – as had sometimes been stated in press accounts of this campaign.
The attack developed and soon D Coy was fully committed, indeed up against it. To make matters worse the engineers were unable to reconstruct in time , a bridge that the enemy had blown. The bridge spanned a deep wadi which traversed the one and only tank approach. The tanks and carriers were unable to cross as expected. Their crews dismounted and gallantly endeavoured to carry out their role on foot, but naturally made little progress.
Pte Gordon was in the leading platoon of D Coy. When the expected pressure on the enemy flank by tank and carriers did not eventuate, D Coy were faced with staying where they were or going on alone. They went on and very soon found that they were up against superior numbers and a well-laid out fire plan. This did not deter them and the company followed the artillery barrage right up to the last, actually penetrating the enemy’s line.
It was almost dawn and the moonlight was giving way to the first light of day. Gordon and his platoon were pinned down, as were the remaining two platoons, by heavy machine gun fire. Casualties had been heavy, and the platoon commander, Lt Malcolm Davis, realized the urgency of either pushing on or giving up and withdrawing. He decided to endeavour to continue, as the platoon was within sight of its objective. To remain where they were would only court disaster in the long run. Davis died whilst gamely endeavouring to lead his platoon forward and Sgt Birchall took command. Each time any man moved either forward or backward, or to test either flank, he became a casualty. The situation was desparate, and the full light of day would soon bring further disaster. There was but one thing to do – silence the enemy machine gun post.
Gordon had been lying there amongst the dead and dying, when one of his mates heard him say quite calmly, “Blast this, here goes”, and on his own initiative, and with great daring, he commenced to crawl towards that deadly machine gun. He knew only too well what he was up against, the terrible risk he was facing, and that death would be his lot, too, if he failed.
In the pale eerie light of a setting moon and the first light of day, made all the more eerie by the smoke and dust of battle, he slowly but surely reduced the distance between himself and that murderous enemy post. His only weapon was his rifle, affixed to which was the cold steel of his deadly bayonet. He wormed his way up the rocky hillside, his only protection being small scattered boulders and an occasional crumbling terrace or two. The enemy saw him approaching and fired upon him. They also threw hand grenades at the crouching figure, but Gordon seemed to bear a charmed life.
The attention of the survivors of the platoon was drawn to the display of cool courage and determination by their comrade, when suddenly one of them watching Gordon called out in frank admiration, “Gosh, look at Jimmy Gordon!”
There within fifteen feet of the fortified enemy position was Pte Gordon, and inspired by some great call to give nothing but the best, he suddenly rose from his scanty cover and, with a yell, single handed, charged the deadly machine gun. The sight of this suntanned and grim specimen of Australian manhood coming straight at them with cold steel and a blood curdling yell, completely demoralized the enemy. Before they could fire again he was amongst them with his rifle firmly held before him and his bayonet doing the deadly work for which it was designed. Not once did he falter as bayonet and rifle worked swiftly and surely until the four machine gunners lay dead at his feet.
The survivors of the platoon, though temporarily spellbound with admiration were quick to take advantage of their comrade’s gallant action. They rose as one to press home the attack. Throughout, Gordon remained well to the fore, his bayonet taking toll every second. The enemy became demoralized to find the Aussies so close and unexpectedly amongst them, and it was not long before the remainder of D Coy joined the assault and the objective was taken.
Jim Gordon VC at a Reunion of 2/31 Bn members shortly before he passed away.
As a footnote to the above graphic description, Jimmy Gordon was to see further action closer to home in the jungles of New Guinea. After the Syrian Campaign he returned to Australia with his unit and was sent to New Guinea where as Cpl, and Sgt he took part in the fighting in the Ramu and Markham Valley and Lae campaigns.
After the war he returned to Australia to settle in West Australia with his wife Myrtle. He went on to rejoin the Army being promoted to WO11 in 1950.
When the 31st Battalion battalion was based at Jezzine Barracks in Townsville, Queensland, the Jezzine weekend was commemorated each year in July with various military activities and displays. When the unit celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1985, the organizing committee had hoped that arrangements could be made for Jimmy Gordon to fly to Townsville to participte in the centenary occasion. Unfortunately due to failing health he was unable to attend. He passed away in 19 July1986. He was survived by his wife Myrtle and a son.
Lest We Forget.
Jim Gordon VC with a couple of old mates
The following is an address that was delivered by LTCOL Patrick Nunan (Retd) at the AGM of the 31 Bn Association on 7/03/18. He previously delivered an address to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood in September 1917. The commemoration was held at Alstonville NSW near, what was, the Bugden family home. LTCOL Nunan is a decendant of Pte Paddy Bugden’s family and an associate member of the 31st Battalion Association.
PADDY BUGDEN ADDRESS 31 BN ASSOCIATION AGM 07.03.18
President of 31 st Battalion Association, Ray Fogg, secretary Tony Wadeson
members of 31st Battalion Association and distinguished guests.
Firstly, and fore mostly let me pass on to the of 31st Battalion Association the
great appreciation and respect that our family being the Bugden, Kelly and
Connolly families have for your association. At every notable anniversary and
event relating to the deeds and death of Paddy Bugden, the association has
always been represented to pass on its respect and condolences and to honor
Paddy’s deeds undertaken 100 years ago.
The eldest of four children Patrick Joseph Bugden was born at Gundurimba
(south of Lismore) on 17th March, 1897 – a son of a well-known pioneering
family whose origins date back to the very foundations of Australia. At the age
of 6 his father, Thomas Joseph Bugden died. His mother Annie (nee Connolly of
Grafton) later re-married and became Mrs. Annie Kelly. She and her husband
James (Jim) had a further 4 children.
From the family dairy farm at Tatham, Patrick (Paddy) attended the Tatham
Convent School and later from the Farmers Home Hotel at Gundurimba, he
attended the Gundurimba Public School. From Gundurimba the family moved to
the Billinudgel Hotel from where Paddy worked at the Mullumbimby Post Office.
He played cricket and rugby league for Billinudgel. (±1911-1914).
By family, newspaper and military accounts he was. tall, had an excellent
physique and was extremely athletic. Outgoing and popular he excelled at all
forms of physical activity.
In 1914 his mother and step-father (with whom Paddy had a close and loving
relationship often referring to him in his letters home as “Dada” and signing off
as “your son”) bought the Federal Hotel in Alstonville. Paddy moved to
Alstonville with them and lived at and worked in this Hotel until his departure to
join the army. He had already completed 12 months reservist training
(Compulsory Service Obligation Scheme) when he decided to join-up.
As family legend tells it, Paddy in early 1916 then 18 without seeking his
parent’s permission, attempted to catch the train from Lismore to Brisbane to
join the army. The station master knew Paddy probably because of his known
sporting abilities and contacted his mother who immediately went to the Lismore
rail station from Alstonville to bring Paddy back home. I imagine some not so
gentile words were exchanged but in the end Paddy’s determination to join-up
won over his mother and he eventually left Lismore by train some weeks later to
join up in Brisbane. In those days the train journey would have been an
adventure in itself for an 18-year-old lad as he had to travel via Casino to
Wallangarra (to change trains), to Warwick Toowoomba and then to Brisbane.
After arriving in Brisbane, he was sworn into the Army at Thompsons Paddock,
(Enoggera) in Brisbane (25th May, 1916). He as did many other young blokes
at the time said his age was 21 years and I month. Following 4 months initial
training in South East Queensland he sailed for England aboard the troop
transporter “M.V. Seang Choon” on 19 September 1916 with a contingent of
reinforcements (152 in total) for the depleted 31st Battalion.
Arriving in Plymouth on 9 December, 1916. his unit spent 6 weeks in further
training on the Salisbury Plain in southern England. Paddy wrote to his mother
on 16 December 1916 what was for him a long letter describing his experiences
in England. In his letter he described his daily routine as follows:
“You often have to go without a wash all day for the water pipes are generally
frozen. They have cut the seven days a week drill out for the doctors told them
that they were killing the men. So we get Sunday off now. I will tell you a day’s
work. Get up 6.30 (dark) breakfast 7 consisting of tea porridge and bread &
dripping. Fall in eight o’clock, practice bomb throwing. Physical exercises,
squad drill. Dinner 1 o’clock soup, meat, potatoes, one-piece bread. Fall in 2
o’clock. Trench digging and go for a route march. Tea 5 o’clock (dark). Tea
some kind of a pudding and bread and dripping. We sleep in five huts 25 in
each and a good coal stove in the middle. So you can guess we have plenty
toast and tea every night.
After we come home from the pictures which are
about half a mile away.”
Unfortunately for Paddy soon after his arrival he contracted mumps and we
placed in isolation for 14 days meaning that his first Christmas overseas was
spent in hospital. During periods of leave before he contracted the mumps, he
(along with thousands of other Australian servicemen) visited the sights of.
The highly regarded 31st Battalion had already spent long periods in front line
In his letter to his mother dated 16 December 1916 he spoke of his imminent
move to France and joining the 31 st Battalion, He said in his letter:
“They are considered one of the best battalions that ever-left Australia. In their
first great charge they captured four lines of enemy trenches and held them until
relieved. When the roll was called next day only seventy men answered.”
Paddy arrived in France on 18 January 1917 but before he left England he
wrote a letter to his mother that included the following prophetic words:
“We are going into the worst fight of the lot but I am well prepared for it and
have been well prepared ever since I landed in England. Going to my duty
every week and if by chance anything happens to me rest ashored (assured)
that I feel in my heart that I shall gain a place of happiness for I have never did
a deed in my life that I am ashamed of. So I fear nothing”.
The winters in France were ferocious to such an extent that Paddy in a letter to
his mother dated around February 1917 said:
“I am getting accustomed to the severe cold now and think it nothing knocking
about with the glass 30 below. When we want water, we build a fire and melt
He went on to say:
“In your next letter you can forward me over some of the N.S.W. sun. I tell you
we can do with it. I think the Fritzys have a mortgage on the one over here.
Give a good time to all the Returned Infantry for they deserve it a thousand
times more than the other units. They are the men.”
Paddy’s first taste of serious action with the 31 st was in the second battle of
Bullecourt between 3 and 17 May 1917. In a letter to his mother written around
the end of May 1917 Paddy records the battle as follows:
“I suppose you read about our stoush at Ballencourt.(Bullecourt). Fritzy got what
is commonly called hell and we got nearly the same. I would not take twenty to
one on his chance now although he will hold out a year yet.”
Paddy’s prowess in sports was documented in other letters to his siblings in the
summer of 1917 from France. He wrote to his sister Rose:
“I had a funny game of football yesterday. Two of the players got wounded and
were carried to hospital. Just as we started one chap happened to kick a bomb
which exploded giving the two I mentioned some nasty wounds. We won the
game. I was a picture by the time we had finished’
Then a few months later he wrote to his brother Barney to say:
“I have a great name amongst the Batt Boys as a footballer.
They call me
the “Tank” and they think there is no one like me as a player.”
Paddy’s letters were mainly seeking information from his family, friends and his
home town of Alstonville. He also assured his mother that he was regularly
attending mass and going to confession. In his letter to his sister Rose dated 23
June 1917 he reports:
A French Priest says Mass and delivers the sermon.
The sermon sounds good but I don’t know a word of what he says. I suppose
it’s marked down in the big book to my credit just the same”.
It seems as though he rejoiced in the normality of life back home hearing about
normal everyday events particularly what his parents, grandparents and siblings
were doing. For example, he received a letter from home saying that his
youngest sister Nancy (my mother) was sick his immediate response in his
letter to his sister Mon in August 1917 was:
“Just fancy poor little Nance being sick.
I hope to goodness she soon gets
better. I would sooner, oh I don’t know what, than see anything happen to her.”
He goes on to tell Mon:
“I am going strong with a French girl (‘what’s that” you said) we can’t understand
Only sit down and wink at one another. It all helps to pass
the time. She makes a worse attempt at my name than Nance. I’m dashed if I
know whether I am any nearer the mark with regard to hers. I keep my eye on
the old man and whenever I see him approaching with a pitch fork I turn the
steering wheel for the billet.”
Paddy’s letters are fascinating in the way they avoid anything but a few
sentences of what his war was like. Instead he constantly focused on those
near and dear to him. In April 1917 he writes to his mother asking:
“I would love to see Nance now and hear her sing. It makes me think of home
every time I see a child and I always think of little Billy and Nance for you now I
In September 1917 the 31 st Battalion is located with the 8 th Brigade to Belgium
for the next big push being the commencement of what is now known as “the
Third Battle of Ypres” and in particular the battle of Polygon Wood that took
place between 26 September and 28 September 1917.
On the day before the battle of Polygon Woods was to commence, Paddy wrote
his last letter to his maternal grandmother. The letter is remarkable for its simple
narrative and displays no fear or apprehension. Paddy after commenting on his
maternal grandparents proposed move to settle in Alstonville, describes the
tranquil scenes around the billet as follows:
“Everywhere you look about hear they are growing hops for making beer.
Iwas out helping to pick the hops off the vines today. It didn’t take long to make
“The reason I am doing so much writing today is that I am on Aeroplane guard.
We have Lewis Machine Guns placed so as we can fire in the air. Four men are
on at a time. It is my hour off now.”
It is virtually impossible to articulate the brutality of a battle such as the battle of
Polygon Wood. The noise, the smell, the dust and smoke as well as the heat
and the force of exploding artillery shrapnel shells assaulted all of the soldier’s
senses. Then there was the confusion, the pain and the sights of comrades’
dead or wounded. The involvement of the 31 st Battalion in the battle of Polygon
Wood is fortuitous as it is tragic and in so far as conspicuous battles fought by
Australian infantry battalions are concerned it is a story of heroic endeavour of
the highest possible displays of bravery and dedication to achieve a difficult if
not near impossible objective. The 31 st involvement in the battle of Polygon
Wood ranks with the 3 rd battalion RAR’s role in the battle of Kapyong, Korea
and B company, 6 th battalion RAR’s role at Long Tan, Vietnam
The official reports record that as a result of the 3 rd Battle of Ypres the British
suffered 15,375 dead and wounded with the Australian 4 th Division suffering
1,717 casualties and the Australian 5 th Division 5,471 dead, wounded or
captured. The official German records list the German casualties as 13,500.
For those who fought in such battles their lives would never be the same. It was
during 3 chaotic days of absolute mayhem that Paddy Bugden displayed such
heroism that is best summarised by Roland Perry who is General Sir John
Monash’s biographer. Perry had direct access to Monash’s extensive letter and
Monash was the commanding officer of the Australian 3rd Division that had
been only days before relieved form its task in the Third Battle of Ypres or “the
Third Ypres” as it became known. Monash kept a keen interest in what was
happening although back from the frontline.
Monash described Paddy Bugden’s acts of bravery as:-
“While the 14th recovered, the 31st Battalion’s Private Patrick Bugden led a
small party against the damaging machine-gun post. Bugden almost single-
handily changed the outcome of the battle of Polygon Wood, leading several
successful attacks with grenades and bayonets. He also emulated Simpson on
Gallipoli, risking his life to save wounded soldiers. Like Simpson, his fortune
didn’t last. There were just so many times a brave man could gamble with his
life in the open battle field. After three days of heroic activity, Bugden was
Monash is arguably Australia’s greatest ever soldier and to really understand
his lavish praise for the heroic deeds of Paddy Bugden and how those deeds
were so important to the successful outcome of the battle, it is important to
provide some background as to how the battle for Polygon Wood unfolded.
Even this brief commentary does not do justice to what the men of the 31 st
Battalion and Paddy Bugden endured over a three-day period during this epic
The Belgium landmark of Polygon Wood is just 8 kilometers east of ancient
cloth city of Ypres. In 1914, Ypres was a city with a population of 18,000. Over
the next three years, Ypres was totally destroyed and demolished in two major
battles. All of its population had fled the city or had died. The imposing and
beautiful Cloth Hall and St Martin’s Cathedral lay in ruins.
Polygon Wood had been occupied by the German Army since October 1914
and was located on a small plateau. In late September 1917, the forest had
been flattened with the only vegetation being a spindly bush of 1 meter in height
and the moon like landscape was littered by shell holes and the detritus of war
such as discarder barbed wire, destroyed vehicles and unexploded artillery
shells. In the north east of the once verdant woods was a butte or small hill.
With all the vegetation in the woods flattened, the butte had a commanding vista
of the surrounding rural countryside that extended for many kilometers. It was
therefore a highly strategic position and was, understandably, heavily fortified
by the Germans with heavy machine guns placed on top of the butte and in
concrete bunkers known as pill boxes strewn throughout Polygon Wood and to
its south. Polygon Wood was just to the east of what was known as the Ypres
salient used in military parlance for a small but important incursion by the British
front line into the German’s defensive front line.
Third Ypres commenced officially in July of 1917. On 20 September 1917 the
nearby battle for Menin Road had commenced and was still being fought when
the Battle of Polygon Wood was to commence on 26 September 1917. The plan
was for the Australian 4 th and 5 th Divisions as their objective to drive the
Germans out of Polygon Wood and then secure a position to the east of
Polygon Wood. The two Australian divisions were in the center of the advance
with 5 British Divisions to the north and south.
The 31 st battalion was part of the 8 th Brigade that was decreed to be a reserve
brigade in the battle of Polygon Wood and designated to be mainly involved in
the secondary objectives after the attack on Polygon Wood. Fate now started to
play a hand in Paddy Bugden’s extraordinary 3 days of heroic endeavors.
The 33 rd British Division to the south of the Australian 5 th Division had on the
25 th of September been driven back from its position by accurate and heavy
German artillery fire and ground attacks and an attempt by the British battalions
of that division on the night of the 25 th of September had failed to regain the
territory lost and was 800 yards short of its start off point for the attack on 26
September. More importantly, the Germans had retaken the pill boxes in the
British sector that were no more than 400 yards from the Australian’s start off
The Australian 15 th Brigade had suffered heavy casualties from the German
shelling earlier in the evening of 25 September and the 5 th Division commander
ordered up 2 battalions from the reserve 8 th Brigade to join the attack set for
early the following day. The 31 st Battalion was one of those battalions. The 31 st
Battalion was given the task of protecting the 5 th Division’s southern flank now
exposed by the British 33 rd Division’s failure to re-occupy the ground it had lost
the day before.
The 31 st Battalion was camped some 6 miles from the front line and was
ordered late in the evening of 25 September 1917, to move to the start off point
for the attack. It is of interest that this change in plans fits perfectly with the
demeanor of Paddy’s letter to his Grandmother written earlier in the day as he
had not inkling of any forthcoming involvement attack the following day.
The 31 st Battalion had 7 hours to march on congested mule tracks in total
darkness under heavy artillery fire to the start off point. Each man was allocated
220 rounds of ammunition, 2 Mills bombs, 48 hours rations and 2 sandbags.
According to standing orders, the battalion was required to retain a nucleus
being one third of its strength in camp for rebuilding purposes if the battalion
was destroyed in battle. The 31 st battalion’s strength for the attack was 21
officers and 689 other ranks.
The weather had been kind to the British and Australian Divisions. The rain that
had fallen in bucket fulls in the previous month had stayed away during
September leaving the terrain in front of the Australians dry and dusty with a
daytime temperature of a mild 20° C and a night temperature of a not so mild
10° C. Even so, the Australian soldiers were not issued with blankets or tents
and were expected to grab what little sleep they could get in the shell craters or
deserted trenches that littered no-man’s land. Sleep was all but impossible
because of the continual artillery bombardment from both sides.
The 31 st battalion arrived at its start off point 10 minutes before the attack was
to commence and was positioned behind the Australian 59 th battalion.
The Australian artillery barrage started at 5.50 am and was designed to creep
forward 100 yards every 6 minutes with the troops to follow at the same pace.
Charles Bean, the Australian war historian observed:
“The barrage which descended at 5.50 am on September 26 just as the
Polygon plateau became visible was the most perfect that ever protected
Australian troops. It seemed to break out as every report emphasises, with a
single crash. The ground was dry, and the shell-bursts raised a wall of dust and
smoke which appeared almost to be solid. So dense was the cloud that
individual bursts, except the white bursts of shrapnel above its near edge could
not be distinguished. Roaring, deafening, it rolled ahead of the troops ‘like a
Gippsland bushfire’. Its very density carried one disadvantage; in such a fog it
was difficult to discern where the actual line of shell bursts lay except by running
into them. Direction had to be kept by officers with compass in hand’
Once again fate was to play a hand in how the battle unfolded. The 15 th Brigade
commander (brigadier Pompey Elliott) had failed to inform the commanding
officers of the two 8 th Brigade battalions that had been bought up to support his
brigade to keep a space between the front battalions as they followed the
Australian artillery barrage and shortly after the start-off the 31 st Battalion
soldiers had caught up with and intermingled with the 59 th Battalion’s soldiers.
The British 33 rd Division on the Australian’s right flank had not been able to
move off at the 5.50am start time leaving the 5 th Division’s right flank exposed.
Also, the creeping barrage had failed to destroy the German pill boxes in the
British Division sector as they were located too far forward of the barrage that
simply sailed over the top of the pill boxes that were left intact and able to
unleash the deadly machine fire side on into the advancing Australians from the
31 st and 59 th Battalions inflicting heavy casualties on the two battalions.
The main German fire came from pill boxes located near the two houses to the
south of the Australians known as Jerk House and Cameron House.
The Australian attack was faltering because it not only faced the enemy directly
in front but was also subjected to side-on or enfilade enemy fire. The situation
was now desperate as the momentum forward was stalling and companies from
the 31 st Battalion now had to cross into the British sector to its south to counter
the deadly German fire and the probable counter attacks through its right flank.
Captain Hicks of A Company, 31 st Battalion, led small parties to protect the right
flank and then led a frontal attack on the pill boxes at Jerk House. Hicks was
soon killed and the remnants of A Company had to take cover in shell holes.
Meanwhile the Australian forward advance continued with mounting casualties
from the German enfilade fire.
The Germans defenders around Jerk House counter attacked and captured a
number of Australians from the 31 st Battalion. They then retreated back to Jerk
House with their prisoners.
One of the prisoners taken by the Germans was Corporal Alexander Thomson
of Brisbane. He was famously rescued by Paddy Bugden who then went on to
lead small groups of soldiers to knock out the offending pill boxes with hand
thrown bombs, rifle fire and bayonet, which he did with devastating effect so
much so that the German soldiers occupying nearby pill boxes surrendered and
were marched out at bayonet point.
By midday on 26 September, the forward advancing companies of the British
33 rd Division had reached the decimated remnants of the 31st Battalion and dug
in beside them. The German garrison at Jerk House without its protection from
the machine guns in the now destroyed pill boxes pulled back to the east to
another strong point at Cameron House that like Jerk House was strongly
protected by pill boxes and entrenched German soldiers. Fierce resistance was
experienced by the Australian and Welsh troops who were now starting to run
out of ammunition. The Germans again counter attacked and the Australians,
after scavenging for ammunition and using the captured German machine guns,
fought off the German counter-attack. Typically, Paddy Bugden was heavily
Australian artillery supporting the 15 th Brigade kept the Germans quiet on the
evening of the 26 th of September. Spasmodic fighting took place during that
night however that did not prevent the Australians from capturing Cameron
House during the night and moving its line forward to that captured position.
On the morning of 27 September 1917, the remnants of 31 st Battalion moved
forward in fog but without supporting artillery fire and reached its objective. The
rest of the day was occupied fighting off numerous German counter attacks,
resupplying with ammunition and rations and evacuating casualties. Once
again, the German artillery barrage and counter attacks were ferocious.
Fortunately, on the evening of 27 September, the 31 st Battalion was relieved by
the 30 th Battalion and moved back to the start off point that was completed by
11.30 pm that night. During the 28 th of September, the 31 st Battalion was
consolidated and reorganized and teams went out into no man’s land to find
and evacuate wounded soldiers. On at least five occasions Paddy Bugden
undertook that duty carrying back wounded men under heavy enemy fire. He
was evacuating a wounded soldier when killed by an enemy shell burst. Such
was the respect and adoration of the surviving soldiers from the 31 st Battalion
for Paddy Bugden that a small party was organised to evacuate Paddy’s body
from no man’s land and to bring it back to the Battalion’s Headquarters then at
Glencross Wood where he was initially buried.
The 31 st Battalion casualties were 15 officers and 418 other ranks killed
wounded or captured. The battalion had lost 70% of its officers from the
attacking battalion and 60% of its other ranks in the battle.
What motivated Paddy Bugden, the young country lad from Alstonville, to carry
out such heroic acts over a three-day period?
I have returned many, many times to that question and am still perplexed and
mystified by the many answers to that question. Was it because of a deep faith
to help those wounded and dying? Was it a commitment to his fellow comrades
to protect them and keep them safe? Was it a commitment to a way of life free
from oppression and domination? Was it to protect the Australian sense of a fair
go for all? Maybe it was all of the above. God only knows.
John Elliott’s Paddy’s oldest nephew and Rose’s eldest son then a Family Court
Judge comments at Paddy’s monument unveiling 20 years ago at Alstonville
provide another prospective. John said: “Paddy Bugden’s unmarked soul leaves
it mark on all of us even today. His life and deeds are still a guide, a role model,
a shining beacon, a guiding light, an example of virtue truly being its own
reward, lingering long after a life has ended. Paddy has truly overcome the
enemy. In the words of the Apostle Paul: Grave, where is thy victory? Death
where is thy sting?””
Paddy Bugden is buried in what is a “Flanders Field”. LtCol John McCrae, a
Canadian Military Doctor, wrote the poem “In Flanders Field” in May 1915 in
memory of a colleague killed by a German shell. This is a poignant and
reflective poem and it is most appropriate that it be remembered today.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row
That marked our place;
and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.
Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw the torch: for yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep,
though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”
The 31 st battalion caught that torch many years ago and has since that time has
always held it high and has never broken faith with those of its numbers that
died in battle.
Lest We Forget.
Some years ago our friend and fellow 31st Battalion Association member, Bruce Lees, was discussing WW1 Battles on the Western Front with a new friend, Eric Munro. Bruce, whose Great Grandfather, Lt James Benson (of 32nd Bn AIF) was KIA in the Battle of Fromelles and only identified at the Centenary Commemorations of the Battle of Fromelles in 2016 has been a student of the Western Front Battles for over 30 years. He has visited these Battlefields each year for the last 17 years.
Eric mentioned that he had an ancestor who was in WW1 but he didn’t know much about his war service. Bruce asked his name and said he would investigate his War history. And what a history it is !! Eric’s ancestor was Lt Albert Hill of 31st Battalion AIF.
Bruce researched Albert Hill’s history and advised Eric. This is a summary –
Bert (he signed his application “B Hill”) joined the 2nd Light Horse Regt on 30 June 1915 in Brisbane. He was a shearer and his NOK was his wife who was living in Hornsby NSW.
Embarked for Egypt 4th Oct 15-
Promoted T/Sgt 20th Nov 15-
Transferred to 1 LHR and revert to Pte 8th Feb 16 –
Transferred to 5th Div Arty Bde 21st Apr 16 –
Promoted Sgt 1st May 16-
Landed Marseilles and moved to Western Front 25th June 16.
Joined Officer Cadet Bn Cambridge Eng 5th May 17-
Appointed 2Lt 1st Sept 17 –
Promoted Lt & posted to 31st Bn 1st Dec 17 as a Pl Commander.
In the space of 6 months after joining 31st Bn, Bert featured in 2 actions which resulted in the following Citations and Awards –
Military Cross Citation for actions on 21st March
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He together with another Officer and one man, took up a position near the enemy’s wire, intending to remain there during the day to observe. When 60 of the enemy were observed advancing in 2 parties, realising that an attack on our picquet line was imminent , he decided to resist the attack and opened fire with his revolver. The enemy were at first thrown into confusion, but immediately afterwards commenced to bomb the party, all 3 being wounded. Despite this they continued to fight until all their ammunition and bombs had been expended and finally succeeded in routing the enemy. On the journey back to our lines, he helped to extricate another officer, from some wire. His magnificent courage and determination undoubtedly broke up the enemy’s attack and cannot be too highly praised.
Bar to Military Cross Citation for actions on 10th May 1918
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When one
of our aeroplanes crashed in the enemy lines, he called for a volunteer and
stretcher, and walked out of his trenches 600 yards under enemy fire to see if
the pilot lived. Finding the pilot only dazed ,they assisted him from the plane,
placed him on a stretcher and carried him back to our lines. By his gallant
disregard for his own life, Lt Hill saved the pilot from almost certain capture,
and set a splendid example to his men.
The volunteer, Pte Harry Boughton, was awarded a Military Medal.
Notwithstanding these brave actions, the crux of this story occurred some days later. On May 15th 1918 a RAF Bomber, flown by Capt Francis Mond & Lt Edgar Martyn, had bombed German Ammunition Dumps at Bapaume and was subsequently shot down by a German plane. It crashed in No Mans Land just south of the Somme River in front of the 31st Battalion lines. The aerial fight and crash was witnessed by Lt Bert Hill and he ventured out under enemy fire and extricated and identified the bodies and arranged for them to be transported back to BHQ.
Lt Hill arranged for the personal effects to be sent to Capt Mond’s parents, a wealthy English couple. The parents were very thankful that Lt Hill had retrieved the bodies so they could be properly buried (another story refer – http://www.webmatters.net/txtpat/?id=495) The parents arranged for a memorial to be erected overlooking the crash site and a statue of St George (English Patron) commissioned in bronze and presented to Lt Hill.This statue now resides in the Australian War Memorial There was another statue commissioned and this now resides in the Imperial War Museum in London.
Lt Bert Hill was wounded for the 3rd time on 29th Aug
with a GSW to the chest and was evacuated to England and subsequently to
Australia. A most distinguished 31st Bn Officer. Bert Hill lived to age 86 and
died on 28 Dec 1974. He is buried at Binnaway Cemetery NSW.
LEST WE FORGET
On my trip with Bruce in Sept 2017 , he was able to show me the Memorial, and the 31st Battalion lines beyond (see photo). Please note- there are a number of references to these events in Nev Browning’s book “Fromelles to Nauroy” and also a photo of the St George statue. htt//www.awm.gov.au/collection/C157079 – says Statue of St. George given to Lt. Albert Harold Hill (service no. 1428), 31st Battalion A.I.F to commemorate his recovering of the body of British airman Lt. Francis L. Mond. The statue was given to Lt. Hill by Mond’s parents. St. George holds aloft a flag that bears the AIF Rising Sun insignia. The sculpture appears to be a copy (in miniature) of the Maidstone Memorial by Sir George Frampton, located in England.
Words Compiled by Association Member Mick James.
“In discussion about the role of 31st Battalion during the Battle of Polygon Wood, where Paddy Bugden was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Battle, some have suggested that another should also have been awarded a Victoria Cross.
In fact, there was another 31st Battalion digger recommended for a Victoria Cross as listed in the attached page of the Bn War Diary. He was Pte William Overend WILSON. He was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and then the Belgium Award “The Decoration Militaire” . His Distinguished Conduct Medal citation reads – “Polygon Wood 26th-28th Sept 1917: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in an attack. When the leading troops were subjected to heavy enfilade fire from a pillbox he led his section on his own initiative and attacked and captured it, putting the whole garrison out of action and taking 4 enemy machine guns. His courage and devotion to duty were an inspiration to his comrades.”
His Decoration Militaire citation reads – “At Polygon Wood east of Ypres during the period 25th-28th Sept 1917 this soldier displayed the greatest coolness, initiative and deliberation. When an enemy MG in the “Pill Boxes” at Jerk House commenced a murderous enfilade fire on the first and second waves, he, notwithstanding that his officer and NCOs had been killed, saw the situation at a glance, and calling on his section to follow, gallantly led the way. By his vigorous example and action, the section surrounded the Pill Box, capturing and killing all the occupants in addition to seizing four machine guns, thereby saving the right flank from entire annihilation. At all times and under all circumstances his cheerfulness and devotion to duty inspired his comrades. He acted as a guide to relieving troops and was always the first to volunteer for dangerous tasks.”
A number of people with detailed knowledge of the Battle of Polygon Wood and of conventions in awarding various Honours at that time, consider that the Aussie Commanders thought his actions were deserving of a VC but the overall Commanders (ie Birdwood & Haigh) wished to limit VCs to one per unit per action. So they arranged for a Belgian Award in addition to the DCM. It is most unusual to be awarded 2 decorations for the one action.
L/Cpl WILSON was KIA on 25th May 1918 and is buried at Adelaide Cemetery in France.
In August 2018, while no photo of L/Cpl Wilson had been found, a photo of his grave had been obtained. It had also been ascertained that a Street in West End Townsville had been named in his honour in the 1920s (not far from his parents’ home in Flinders St West End.) It was therefore thought appropriate this little known Townsville man be recognized for his outstanding efforts at the Church Service on Sunday 19 August 2018. Apart from the special prayer for L/Cpl Wiliiam O Wilson as detailed in the Programme, we arranged for one of Pierre Seillier’s (our Honorary French Member) magnificent Tributes to be donated to the Cathedral and will be displayed in the Cathedral. The family motto has also been added to the gravestone. See photos below –
LEST WE FORGET
Commemorative Service Townsville