Introducing the address by Brigadier Bill Date is a report on the Fromelles Commemoration at Ipswich by Mick James:
The 31st Infantry Battalion Association (Brisbane Branch) in conjunction with Ipswich RSL sub branch and President Rob Wadley held a Commemoration on the 105th Anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles at the Ipswich General Cemetery at 11.00 am on the 19th July 2021.
This was our 3rd Commemoration and we planned it to be bigger than previous years, in part by inviting local schools to participate. Four schools agreed to participate and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that 16 Ipswich Grammar Old Boys had joined 31st Battalion in WW1, with 5 having fought at Fromelles, including Cpl ER Kent MM
Other schools to participate were Bremer High School and St Edmunds & St Marys Colleges. The Deputy Mayor of Ipswich, Cr Nicole Jonic and Federal Member for Blair & Shadow Minister for Vet Affairs, Hon Shayne Neumann MP were in attendance and laid Wreaths.
Brigadier Bill Date ADC gave the official address with an outline of the Battle and also detailed descriptions of the actions of a few of the 31st Battalion Officers, Lt Col Toll who was awarded a DSO for his role at Fromelles, 2IC Major Eckersley and Lt Still. A student from Ipswich Grammar also gave a short address on their Old Boy, Cpl ER Kent MM, wounded at Fromelles , later awarded a MM in the Battle of Polygon Wood, and returned from the War and lived until 1951. He is buried adjacent to the Cenotaph where the Commemoration was held.
We again had the services of Padre Peter Woodward (a former Chief Padre of the Australian Army) and Bugler Brad Strong. Additionally this year we had a Piper Major Rolly McCartney from the National Service Pipes & Drums to play the Lament during the Wreath laying & our National Anthem . Also we had 2 representatives from the French Army Association.
I list the relatives of those diggers WIA or KIA in the Battle who attended and laid wreaths –
Jon & Lukas Kent – Grand and Great Grand nephews of Cpl ER Kent MM 31st Battalion
Ken & Tim Spreadborough – Grand & Great Grand nephews of Lt EW Spreadborough 31st Battalion KIA at Fromelles
Bettina Newham – Great Grand niece of Pte George Jones 60th Battalion KIA at Fromelles
We presented Tributes of these soldiers to their relatives. Also theTribute of Cpl Kent MM was presented to Presidents of Ipswich & Rosewood RSL and Ipswich Grammar School. The other schools were presented with a poster of the “Cobbers” statue, the iconic image of the Battle of Fromelles.
We also had representatives from other Army Organisations including 2 serving members from the 31st/42nd Infantry Battalion. The CO, Lt Col Dave Gandy, sent his apologies as he is heavily involved in Exercise Talisman Sabre currently.
A very successful Commemoration and some of us adjourned to the CSI Club for lunch and fellowship.
LEST WE FORGET
Brigadier Bill Date’s Address:
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls
I am honoured to be invited by the 31 st Battalion Association
to offer today’s address.
This means a lot to me personally…
• My father-in-law – SGT Tex McGrath MM served in the
2 nd /31 st Battalion in WW2.
• The present day 31 st Battalion – known as 31/42 Royal
Queensland Regiment is a Battalion in the 11 th Brigade. I had
the honour to command 11 th Brigade in 2015/2016 – I
always saw hardworking men and women in 31/42 RQR
• Members of the 31/42 RQR are providing operational
service on OP Covid Assist, a large group in participating in
the upcoming Ex Talisman Sabre – still serving their country.
I know many friends and families gathered here today are
descendants of the officers and soldiers from 2 nd /31 st Battalion
and I applaud you for today important service here in Ipswich
Today (19 th July 2021) is the 105th Anniversary of the Battle of
Fromelles on the Western Front.
My address today will talk about the main attack but every
war is a human tragedy…..so I will also focus on several
officers / soldiers who fought at Fromelles.
Fromelles is in France near the Belgian Border just south of
Ypres and North of the Somme River Valley.
It was the First battle undertaken by Australian Troops on the
Western Front – WW1.
Fromelles was planned by the British High Command as a
Diversionary Attack to convince the Germans not to move
troops south to the Somme where the British & French had
started the disastrous Somme offensive on 1st July.
Fromelles was a military disaster – needless deaths of
thousands – casualties on a scale that characterised much of
WW1 and certainly the 1916 Somme offensive (July-Nov)
The main attack at Fromelles by the Australians and British
was undertaken by British 61 st Division and Australian 5 th
Division, the Australian effort is where I will focus my remarks
In terms of Army structures (for those less familiar with the Army)
• Division – approx. 20,000 men
• Infantry Brigade – approx. 4,000 men
• Infantry Battalion – approx. 800-900 men
Australian 5 th Division structure:
• 8 Brigade
• 14 Brigade
• 15 Brigade
(8 th Brigade is on the Aust Army ORBAT – is now a NSW Army Reserve
8 th Brigade comprised of four Infantry Battalions –
• 29 th , 30 th Battalion, 31 st Battalion and 32 nd Battalion
• 31 st and 32 nd would be the lead Battalions for 8 th Brigade
for the main attack on 19 July
Now a Focus on 31 st Battalion
Commanding Officer of the 31 st Battalion was LTCOL Fred Toll.
a Queenslander (born Bowen)
Boer War veteran
Son killed at Gallipoli
later gassed at Polygon Wood in 1917
post-war life Toll served as Commissioner for War Service
Homes, Foundation member of the RSL
• died in 1955 aged 83yo at Greenslopes RGH
• Ground had low water table
• In the days leading up to the main assault, there was wet
weather which made the ground very soft under foot.
• front line between the Aussies/Germans ranged from 100-
• Germans trenches and above ground fortifications were
zig-zagged not in straight-lines – reinforced with barb wire
Defence in DEPTH
• 4-5 rows of fighting trenches to provide layer depth
• Supporting trenches – HQ and supplies
• Germans fortified their defences with concrete shelters,
tunnels that offered the defenders some overhead
protection from British Artillery.
• Clear view in places of the Australian Front line and an
observation of the battlefield from the Church Spire in the
Village of Fromelles.
• The Germans also had the Australian Front line & supporting
areas well ranged by their Artillery & Mortars – been in this
loc for some 15 months
19 th July – The Attack
• Artillery fire commenced at 1100hrs – 7hrs but there was
counter-fire by German heavy artillery.
• German artillery fire impacted the Australian and Brit
• H-hour for the Attack was 1800hrs or 6pm (in daylight as its
summertime in Europe) the troops climbed out their
trenches and commenced to advance.
• As the men advanced into No-Man’s land they were
attacked by German MG fire, artillery and rifle fire and in
many places the wire was undamaged by the artillery fire
• 8th Bde – 31st & 32nd Bn’s leading the attack on the left
with the infantry battalions of 14th Bde on their right.
• 14 th Brigade captured their objectives and advanced beyond
• However, 14 th Brigade forward elements were very much
isolated as Australian forces on their right flank were not
able to capture German trenches.
• uneven positioning of forces enabled the Germans to attack
the rear of 14 th Brigade forward elements.
• Let me focus on 8 th Brigade and the 31 st & 32nd Battalion –
although taking heavy casualties, over ran the German front
• LTCOL Toll CO 31 st BN proceeded forward Approx. 400 M
looking for the 3rd & 4th Line German Trenches, but found
only muddy ditches.
• The CO and his team (incl LT George Still) returned back to a
dry ditch about 200 m & started to dig in as their defensive
• They managed to hold it against German Artillery & Counter
Attacks until about 6.30 AM on the following morning when
they were forced to retire due to lack of ammunition &
• The main attack was over in 18 Hours but wounded were
still trying to crawl back & diggers going out to try to rescue
them for many hours after.
• By mid-morning on 20 th July – German estimates were of
approx. 2,000 corpses on no-man’s land across the Fromelles
• Refer to CO 31 st BN War Diary – EXTRACT
LT George Still MC
As the CO 31st Battalion mentions in his War Diary….“I wish to
mention for special consideration” LT G.Still……
• LT Still was a draftsmen in Lands Department
• Enlisted in May 1915
• Appointed as Intelligence Officer under LTCOL Toll
• Fought at Fromelles
• Toll wrote in his write up for Gallantry AWARD…
For gallantry in organising struggling troops and advancing
over open country in rear of the enemy’s position, for
keeping up communication with Brig HQ by means of pigeon
and later runners and in German main breastworks during
the night, assisted with consolidating positions won, and
generally devotion to duty”.
• LT Still suffered eye wound and was discharged in June 1917.
• Lived until 1968 passed away 85yo at Iona Retirement
• George Still father was school-teacher Maryborough West
State School and lived in Ariadne St, Maryborough
• The Battle achieved nothing, and was a disaster. There were
no more attacks at Fromelles for the rest of the war.
• The awful casualty toll
- 5 th Australian Division – over 5500 men
- 31 st Battalion War Diary – 544 men (Killed, Wounded,
• This was the highest casualties sustained by any Div. within
a 24hr period in Australian Military History but this
disastrous AUS casualty figure was to be exceeded in other
actions as part of the Somme offensive.
• one the German Divisions opposing the Aussie attack was
the 16 th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Division, a runner in the
List Regiment of the 16 th Bavarian was a LCPL ADOLF HITLER
Fromelles Post Script – IMPORTANT LAMBIS ENGLEZOS AM
• The remains of these Aussie soldiers were buried by the
Germans in Mass Graves behind their Lines in Pheasant
Wood after the main attack
• This mass burials incl diggers from 31 st Battalion.
• Melbourne School Teacher, “Lambis Englezos” realized that
the Graves of Unidentified bodies from the Battle, fell far
short of the number of Missing.
• Lambis set out to find the whereabouts of these remains.
After years of research & then having to convince the govt
authorities that the bodies were buried by the Germans at
Pheasant Wood, 250 bodies were recovered in 2009.
• These Aust diggers were reburied with full military honours
at Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery.
• Modern DNA supplied by relatives approximately 166
Bodies have so far been identified.
• YouTube video project – St Clare’s College Sydney “Lost
Diggers of Fromelles” – fantastic overview
• In conclusion – I congratulate the 31 st Battalion Association
• This is very fitting tribute to commemorate the deeds of the
officers and diggers of 31 st Battalion at Fromelles…..the
tragedy, their bravery, their spirit and and mateship.
LEST WE FORGET