Member Mick James has dug up the following story containing details of one of the 1st Reinforcements for 31st Battalion:
STILL, Lieutenant George Alfred MC
Posted May 17, 2017 by Admin
Lieutenant George Alfred Still MC
31st Battalion, AIF
by Robert Simpson
George Alfred Still was born in Reigate, Surrey, England on 4th January 1883 at Montpelier Villa, London Road, Red Hill. His father was listed as a schoolmaster. He was one of eight children to George Ewers Still and Lucy Arnold. George and Lucy were married on 28th December 1880 at West Brompton. In the 1881 census George was living at Hove in Sussex with his parents and Lucy was with her parents in London. He was a graduate of St. Mark’s College. George was listed as a School Master and Lucy was a Fancy Goods Assistant, working in the fancy goods trade with her father and siblings. Their first child Sarah was born in late 1881. George Alfred was the second child. He had 3 brothers and 4 sisters.
In July 1884, the four of them departed Liverpool for Brisbane on the Nevasa, arriving there on the 8th of September. George was one of a batch of teachers brought out from England by the Queensland Government. He took up a position as headmaster of Newtown School in Maryborough (now Maryborough West State School). After arriving in Queensland the rest of the children were born from 1885 to 1901. A younger brother, Kenneth Victor, who was born in 1893, died in Maryborough and was buried in the cemetery there in 1895. In 1895, at the end of year breakup, the headmaster George Still gave a report which included “that Haidee Sunners and George Still obtained Grammar School Scholarships at the last examination, the latter not being twelve years old at the time.” In 1898 a list of passes of the Maryborough candidates for the Junior Public Examinations for the University of Sydney were published and included George, who matriculated with English A, French C, Latin C, Greek B, arithmetic B and algebra B. The youngest brother and family member, Victor, was born in Maryborough in 1897.
The 1903 Electoral Roll shows they were living at Ariadne Street in Maryborough and George Ewers was a Schoolmaster. In December 1905 the Maryborough Chronicle reported the breakup at Maryborough West State School and that that “was the twentieth and last at which Mr. Still would preside.” An address was read to him from the staff and children and he was presented with a parting gift. The family relocated to Boonah where he was a school teacher and they were still there in 1908 and by the 1913 Electoral Roll. He was head teacher of the Boonah State School and then Brassall State School.
By 1905 George Alfred Still had started working and on the 1st October, he was appointed as a Draftsman in the Survey office of the Department of Public Lands. On 26th March 1908 he married Maggie Gilles Smith Gibson in Queensland. Maggie had been born in Queensland on 20th April 1883, a daughter to Andrew Gibson and Margaret Smith. By the 1905 Electoral Roll she was living with a sister in Kelvin Grove Road Brisbane and was doing domestic duties. In the 1908 Electoral Roll they were at Simpson Road, West Paddington, Brisbane and he was listed as a surveyor. On 23rd February 1912 he was listed in the Queensland Gazette as a Professional Class IV, in the Survey Office, Department of Public Lands. The 1913 Roll has them living at Fernberg Road, West Paddington with his occupation as surveyor.
On 27th May 1915 George attested with the 31st Battalion in Brisbane. The 31st Battalion was raised at Enogerra in Brisbane as part of the 8th Brigade in August 1915. He then applied for a Commission on 20th August, as he qualified at an examination for first appointment as 2nd Lieutenant. He was appointed to the AIF on the 30th. His educational qualifications were listed as Grammar School, Public Service Examination and Sydney University Junior, Matriculation and Senior Examinations. He requested that 10 shillings per day was to go to his wife on 29th September, which Maggie signed for.
Group portrait of officers of the 31st Battalion, on board A62 HMAT Wandilla enroute to Egypt. From left, Front row: 2nd Lt George Alfred Still from Brisbane (later awarded MC).
On 5th November 1915, the 31st Battalion (1st Reinforcements) embarked on HMAT Bakara A41 in Melbourne. On the Nominal Roll, George was listed as a Lieutenant of 32 years old, a surveyor of address “Nowra”, Upper Fernberg Road, Ithaca, Brisbane. Oddly his wife’s address is given as Simpson’s Rd, Upper Paddington in Brisbane. His religion was listed as Presbyterian and he was a British subject. The description of his present civil employment was given as computing draftsman and surveyor at the Survey Office Lands Department. His previous military experience was noted as 2 years’ Field Artillery in Brisbane and 6 years Grammar School Cadets where he held the rank of Lieutenant. He was 5 foot 8.75 inches tall, weighed 156 pounds, had a chest measurement of 36.5 to 38.5 inches, and was of fair complexion with blue eyes and fair hair. His vision was 6/6 and 6/12 and had 2 vaccination marks on the right arm and a mole on the right shoulder. His term of service was for the duration of the war and 4 months.
They disembarked at Suez on 7th December 1915. On 2nd March 1916, he was posted to B Company at Tel-el-Kebir and was promoted to Lieutenant on the 21st.
The Battalion embarked at Alexandria to join the BEF on the Honorata on 16th June 1916 and disembarked at Marseilles on the 23rd. George was placed as Intelligence Officer under Lieutenant-Colonel Fred Toll, the Commanding Officer of the Battalion and worked closely with him. Prior to the attack, George and other observers gathered information and were praised by Toll who said the “men of this party also deserve praise for their untiring efforts and constant vigilance throughout the period 6th to 19th July.” The 31st Battalion fought its first major battle at Fromelles on 19th July 1916. The assault had been postponed from the 17th, but even then the Battalion had suffer casualties due to enemy shelling. After a 7 hour artillery bombardment, which was ineffective, the attack was mown down by the German machine-gunners with severe losses. After the first two waves were sent off and mauled, Toll, realising the futility of the attack, and George (who had been buried by an artillery shell before the attack) led the third and fourth waves. Some German trenches were taken, but were lost due to no support and fierce counter-attacks. With Lieutenant-Colonel Toll, George had much difficulty in holding the troops, who had seen another Battalion withdraw and began to go back across No-Man’s Land. In his notes on Fromelles, C. E. W. Bean writes “Toll, at 5.45, finding himself alone with Lt. Still and Cpl. Carew, both seriously wounded, strode back across No-Man’s Land, practically the last of his brigade.” Both flanks had been broken and they returned to the original front lines, with very heavy casualties. 544 men of the 31st Battalion were casualties. The 5th Division had over 5000 casualties.
Medals of Lt George Still (Military Cross, 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals).
George was placed on the seconded list as evacuated sick on the 24th July. On 30th July 1916 George was sent from the 30th General Hospital at Calais to England with debility and eye strain (severe) on the HS Brighton. When Lieutenant-Colonel Toll wrote up the War Diary, he nominated twenty Officers and men for distinction in order of merit, with Lieutenant Still being the first name on the list and his name underlined for special consideration. Toll wrote “Lieut. G. A. STILL For gallantry in organising straggling troops and advancing over open country in rear of enemy’s position, also for keeping up communications with Brigade Headq. by means of pigeons, and later runners, and in German main breastworks during the night, assisted in consolidating positions won, and generally devotion to duty.” Army Form W 3121 has George listed in an immediate award list on 3rd August with the entry reading “At PETILLION on 19th/20th July 1916, displayed gallantry in organising straggling troops and advancing over open country in rear of enemies positions, also in keeping up communication with Brigade Headquarters by means of pigeons and later runners. When in the German main breastworks during the night assisted in consolidating the position won and displayed most praiseworthy devotion to duty.” It was stamped awarded M.C. on 28th August. On 31st August 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross in France. It was gazetted in the London Gazette on 26th September 1916 page 9436. The entry reads: – “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He rallied and organised straggling troops, and led them on over open country. During the night, in the enemy’s main breastwork, he ably assisted in consolidating the position won.”
He was the only Queensland officer to be awarded the Military Cross for that battle, the only other one that was awarded to the 31st Battalion was to 2nd Lieutenant L J Trounson from Maryborough Victoria. On 20th September 1916 he was discharged from Brook War Hospital at Woolwich. He was placed on the supernumerary list on 24th October. George was marched in at Weymouth on 26th January 1917, marched out for embarkation to Australia on 10th February and was struck off strength on 13th February. He returned to Australia on HT Ulysses at Plymouth on 13th February. His record originally said gunshot wound to chest and arm, which were crossed out, and then recorded as shell shock and amblyopia of the left eye. In his reference, Bean mentions that George lost sight in one eye, but that is not confirmed in his records.
George was marched in to the Number 2 Command Depot. He was discharged in Queensland on 22nd June 1917. In his statement of service form, Maggie’s original address was given as “Matea” Karella Rd Cremorne Sydney NSW, which was crossed out with the Simpson’s Road address added. He was added to the Reserve of Officers list on 1st July 1920 as a Lieutenant.
From the 1925 to 1943 Electoral Rolls they were living in Flaxton, a tiny village near Nambour and he was an orchardist; very much a change in his occupation. By 1925 his father had retired and was living in Ipswich. He was appointed a returning officer for Fassifern and Bremer electorates. He was admitted to the Ipswich General Hospital in June 1934. George Ewers Still passed away on 20th October 1934 in Queensland. An obituary stated he was head teacher at Maryborough West State School for 20 years, 11 years at Boonah and 8 at Brassall and retired in 1925. He was also a member of the Maryborough and Ipswich District Teachers’ Associations. On 6th November 1947 Lucy (his mother) passed away at Rosalie and was privately cremated. In the 1949 roll they had retired to Tugun on the Gold Coast. They shifted again and by the 1954 Electoral Roll they were living on the corner of North and Bayview Roads at number 121 North Street at Brighton, and were still there in the 1958 Roll. He was still retired. The 1963 roll finds both of them in a retirement village called Iona at Brookfield Road Kenmore, in Brisbane. Maggie passed away on 2nd December 1964 and George passed away in 1968. They had no children.
One of George’s younger brothers, Victor, also served in WW1. Victor was an engine fitter from Boonah. He enlisted as Private 2674 in the 9th Battalion on 26th May 1915, was transferred to the 49th Battalion on 2nd April 1917 in France and was wounded in 1917 with a severe gunshot wound of the back. He was admitted to hospital and died of wounds on 29th October 1917 at 5.25 am. Victor is buried in Mont Houn Military Cemetery, grave number 663B.
A sister, Lucy Elizabeth, married John Mitchell Norris in 1912. John served in WW1 as Sapper 22312 in the Field Company Engineers, but did not embark until March 1918. He returned to Australia in August 1919.
His youngest brother, Arnold born in 1901 in Maryborough, became a Police Constable there. He served in a few places in Queensland, rising to the rank of Senior Sergeant when he was in Brisbane. He passed away there in 1971. Arnold’s son, Leonard Victor Still married Helen Martin Steel, whose brother, Robert Martin Steel, served in WW1 as Sapper 5423 in the Mining and Tunnelling Company. Robert was born in Scotland, was a miner and migrated to Queensland in 1911. His son, James Robert Steel born in 1922 in Ipswich, served in WW2 as Leading Aircraftman 426006 in 114 Air Sea Rescue Flight.
LEST WE FORGET
David Emmet Coyne (1896-1918), soldier and farmer, was born on 14 March 1896 at Ballinrush, near Mackay, Queensland, eighth child of David Emmet Coyne, farmer, and his wife Anne, née Hughes, both of whom were Irish-born. He was educated at Marian State School and then joined his father on the land.
Coyne enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 25 January 1916 and went into training at Fraser’s Hill Camp, Brisbane. While there he showed considerable athletic prowess and figured in an incident which was perhaps a portent of the selfless act which resulted in his death two years later. After the horses of an express wagon had bolted, endangering several soldiers’ lives, Coyne leapt on to the back of one of the horses and managed to bring the wagon to a halt. He embarked for France with reinforcements in May and on 24 December was taken on strength with the 31st Battalion. His unit spent the winter of 1916-17 on the Somme engaged in raiding and patrol work, then in March took part in the advance on Bapaume. On 21 April 1917 he was promoted lance corporal and for the next six months was absent from his unit qualifying as a bombing instructor and serving temporarily with the 67th Battalion. He was promoted sergeant in June and rejoined the 31st Battalion in October.
From November 1917 until March 1918 the battalion served in Flanders in the Messines-Wytschaete sector, then returned to the Somme. On the night of 15 May, while in the line at Vaire-sous-Corbie, Coyne was testing some Mills grenades which he believed had been affected by damp. He threw one of them but it rebounded off the parapet and fell into the trench in which he and several others were standing. Ordering his men out, he tried to find the grenade in the darkness; then, realizing that his companions were not clear, deliberately threw himself over the grenade’s approximate position and received over twenty wounds when it exploded. At first it was thought that Coyne would survive and it was typical of his courageous and genial nature that he joked about the incident as he received preliminary medical attention. His wounds proved worse than expected and he died within hours. He was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal in Gold, the highest class of that decoration: he was the only member of the A.I.F. to gain such a distinction. Sgt Coyne’s grave lies in the Vignacourt British cemetery near Amiens. He was unmarried.
Sgt David Emmet Coyne – Albert Medal Gold
Tribute to Sgt David Emmet Coyne – Albert Medal Gold done by Hon Member Pierre Seillier
Members may be interested to know that David’s father who was also David Emmet Coyne was a director of Marian Sugar Mill (near Mackay) during WW1.
The Albert Medal
The Albert Medal was instituted in 1866 and named after Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861.
Until the institution of the George Cross in 1940 it was Britain’s premier decoration for civilian acts of gallantry in saving life at sea and on land. It became known as ‘the civilian’s Victoria Cross’, although awards were also made to servicemen in non-combatant situations.
There were two classes: the First Class in gold, and the Second Class in bronze.according to the perceived degree of gallantry. The medal was awarded only for the most exceptional bravery, and consequently was very sparingly given.
The medal was terminated in 1971. Subsequently the George Cross was awarded for acts of Gallantry in this category.
It is worth noting that only 45 gold and 290 Bronze Albert Medals were awarded from its inception until it was terminated. It is enlightening to read how many awards were made to military members relating to accidental grenade explosions.
This interesting piece of history which recently came to light, purely by member, Chris Hamilton, based in Longreach, reading an article in the “Barcoo Independant” . Chris followed up to make contact with the author – Ann Kirby who had mentioned about her Grand Father being a member of the 31st Battalion at the Battle of Fromelles. Chris then passed it on to Mick James who got to work with the help of Life Member Peter Nelson, & our French Life Member Pierre Seillier (Fromelles). The Team dug up a fascinating piece of 31st Battalion History. Thanks to Mick, Peter, & Pierre. Refer below, & read the website articles that Mick has provided.
Mick takes up the story:
It started a few days ago when Chris Hamilton forwarded to us an article about 31st Bn digger, No 555 Pte JJ Goulding and the sad letter his mother wrote seeking information about his whereabouts as he was missing and then noted as being in German custody following the Battle of Fromelles. The writer (Ann Kirby) noted that he was in the same Battalion & Company as her Grandfather, who was No 525 Sgt Cyril Kirby MM.
I attach Mrs Goulding’s letter to the Army seeking details of her son 3 years after the Battle.
The letter written by Mrs J Goulding seeking details of her Son Pte John Joseph Goulding
Below also is a photo of the statue that was conceived after discussions between Lambis Englezos ,Tim Whitford and sculptor Peter Corlett. Tim was an integral part of Lambis’ team to locate the missing bodies from the Battle of Fromelles. The bodies of our soldiers were buried in 1916, in a mass grave on the German side of the line. A Shire of Alberton badge given to Tim’s ancestor, Pte Harry Willis, was the first indication that there could be Australian bodies buried where Lambis’ group calculated that they were laying. In the past 20 years the bodies have been eventually exhumed and re-interred in the Pheasant Wood Cemetery near Fromelles. Quite a number have now been identified by DNA testing. This is an article on the Statue – https://www.smh.com.au/national/a-mothers-grief-to-cross-the-generations-20120718-22anh.html
The statue of the “Grieving Mother” in Ballarat – L to R Garry Snowden Peter Nelson and Lambis Englezos
A closeup of the Statue of the Grieving Mother Holding Portrait of Her Son
Pte JJ Goulding
The recovery of the Shire of Alberton Badge was the clincher for the team led by Lambis Englazos
“The bodies in the gravesite at Fromelles were definitely Australian”
I was well aware of the JJ Goulding story and subsequent Statue of his mother. This is a link to photos and description of the Statue at the unveiling in 2017 by the Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove AK –
http://lemnosgallipolicc.blogspot.com/2017/02/unveiling-of-grieving-mother-memorial.html . I phoned Chris Hamilton and advised him of these details and found that the writer of the article was a Ann Kirby. I suggested that Chris should invite her to join our Facebook page 31st Battalion AIF Memorial Association (set up by Tim Whitford in 2012). I also attach a photo of JJ Goulding’s grave at Fromelles with Pierre’s Tribute to him that I had laminated and took on my visit in Sept 2017.
Grave of Pte JJ Goulding at Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery – France
Tribute to Pte John Joseph Goulding by Hon Member Pierre Seillier
Ann Kirby subsequently joined the Facebook group and was welcomed and invited to post any photos of her Grandfather. I posted the story of Sgt Cyril Kirby MM below and Ann then posted the group photo (attached) There followed a discussion on Facebook on the details of the group photo between Pierre, Peter Nelson, myself and one other. Ann had stated that Cyril was front row 2nd from right. but there was some doubt as the shoulder flashes didn’t appear to be Gold & Brown and he had CSM badge on his sleeve. I confused the situation by initially stating the incorrect time he was an acting CSM.
Eventually, after I suggested that it may have been in the Summer of 1917 because some wearing shorts and before Cyril had been awarded his MM, Peter Nelson agreed and found in Battalion Routine Orders that A/CSM Cyril Kirby had returned from a 5th Army school course on 9th August 1917. This explained the British soldiers and others from 2nd Div AIF in the photo. It was commented that the photo was of high resolution more than once.
Pierre, after initially posting a Tribute, then used his skill to expand the image of Cyril and place it on a grey background (similar to a studio photo) and produced another Tribute with the enhanced photo (attached).
Tribute to Sgt Cyril Kirby MM done by Hon Member Pierre Seillier
The story I posted to Facebook –
He joined B Coy 31st Bn in
Brisbane in August 1915, trained at Enoggera then moved to Broadmeadows in
Melbourne where BHQ, A & B Coys joined C & D Coys there and the whole
Battalion shipped to the Suez Canal arriving in Dec 1915, where they underwent
further training and also guarded the Canal from the Turks.
In June 1916 they shipped to
Marseilles and entrained up to Northern France to the Nursery, a reserve area
behind the Front Line. They moved into the Front Line at Fleurbaix around the
12th July 1916 and attacked the German front line trenches in front of Fromelles
on the evening (6.00 pm when it was still light) of 19th July.
Cyril was a Pte during the Battle
but a week later (26/7) was promoted Sgt . He relieved as Coy Sgt Major from 8th
April 17, but reverted to Sgt on 23rd Aug 1917.
In the Battle of Polygon Wood in
Belgium on 26th-28th Sept 1917, he was subsequently awarded a Military Medal.
His Citation reads-
“At Polygon Wood on 25th-28th
Sept 1917, early in the operation, his platoon commander was wounded but Sgt
Kirby, displaying great leadership and pluck, restored the confidence of the men
to such an extent that the final objective was captured and consolidated and at
least one enemy MG and crew were put out of action. Heavy hostile shelling did
not prevent his reorganising his platoon nor his giving great assistance in
bandaging the wounded”.
He attended Musketry schools and
Training Battalions as an instructor both prior to Nov 18 and after. He returned
home in early 1919 and finally discharged in Oct 1919.
LEST WE FORGET
Sgt Kirby on the left of Picture
On Sunday 19th July, the 31st Bn Assoc (Brisbane Branch) held a Commemoration Service to Honour the Casualties sustained at the Battle of Fromelles. The Battle took place on the 19th/20th July 1916. This Battle, planned and organised by the British High Command, was the first battle in which Australian troops took part on the Western Front. It proved to be a disaster and was responsible for 5533 casualties, the highest sustained over a 24 hour period in the British Army, in WW1. The 31st Bn, took a major part in the Battle and we commemorate this day as most important in our history. We again draw your attention to the fact that the 31st Bn is the only battalion from the 5th Div. AIF on strength in the ADF today.
The Service was held in Ipswich, at the Graveside of Lt. Arthur Adams DCM, – 31st Bn. Lt Adams came from Rosewood, fought in the Battle & survived, later to become the Rosewood Shire Clerk and the First President of the Rosewood RSL. We were honoured to have COL Mark Plath (Ret’d) as our Guest Speaker. Mark is a descendant of Col Fred Toll DSO & Bar MBE VD, the CO of the 31st Bn in WW1, and who led the Bn into Battle at Fromelles.
We were also honoured to again have in attendance, LTCOL Damien Green & WO1 John Stafford, the CO & RSM of the 31st/42nd Battalion RQR. – LTCOL Green has stated that in his Opinion – “The Battle of Fromelles is the most significant war time action in our history, worthy of remembering to encourage our younger generation, so we never forget. To be a member of the current embodiment of a Battalion involved in that Battle puts increased emphasis and responsibility on us to ensure that happens”.
We were greatly supported by both the Rosewood & Ipswich RSL Sub Branch’s. Five of our friends from the 49th Bn Assoc attended, and joined us for the lunch afterwards at the CSI Club.
Thank you all who attended, and a special thanks to Mick James who was our chief organiser of the Event.
There was also a private Wreath Laying Service held in Fromelles France, organised by the Aust. Dept of Veteran Affairs & the Fromelles Council. Due to the Corona Virus Situation in France it was closed to the Public. A wreath was laid on our behalf by our Honorary Member Pierre Seillier.
Our special thanks go to Pierre, who also designed & produced the Tributes that we presented to COL Mark Plath & to the Presidents of Rosewood & Ipswich RSL’s.
Colonel Mark Plath (Rtd), Descendent of Colonel Frederick William Toll, DSO and Bar, MBE, VD
Address of Commemoration – ‘Service Above Self’
Before we commence the Commemoration of the 104 th Anniversary of the Battle of
Fromelles, let me take this opportunity to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the
Land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and
Let me also gratefully acknowledge the following distinguished guests:
- Mr Ray Fogg, President, 31 st Infantry Battalion Association, Brisbane Branch
- Mr Tony Wadeson, Secretary, 31 st Infantry Battalion Association, Brisbane Branch
- Mr Rob Wadley, President, Ipswich RSL Sub-branch
- Padre Peter Woodward, Ipswich RSL Sub-branch
- Mr Ken Savage, President, Rosewood RSL Sub-branch
- Mr Shane Walker, Vice President, Rosewood RSL Sub-branch
- Mr Brad Strong, Bugler, Rosewood RSL Sub-branch
- LTCOL Damien Green, current Commanding Officer, 31 st /42 nd Battalion, Royal
- WO1 John Stafford, Regimental Sergeant Major, 31 st /42 nd Battalion, Royal
- Mr Mick James, Liaison Officer for my part in this important service
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and welcome to this important commemorative
service. Tony Wadeson advised a while ago that due to the COVID-19 pandemic
limitations in France, the annual commemorative ceremony at Fromelles is unlikely to
proceed, so today’s service is perhaps the only such recognition anywhere in the world
Thank you for being here today to honour the memory of those who so gallantly served
our nation. We remember especially those in the 31 st Battalion, Australian Imperial
Force during The Great War in general, and at the Battle of Fromelles in particular.
Moreover, thank you for the invitation to address this morning’s service which I
consider to be both an honour and a privilege. In titling my address, I have borrowed
the motto of Rotary International, ‘Service Above Self’, which epitomises the
sacrifices made by our forebears.
We stand here this morning at the graveside of Lieutenant Arthur Edward Adams, DCM
a clerk from Rosewood, who enlisted on 15 July 1915, nearly 19 years old, and despite
surviving the war, died at the tender age of just 28 years and 6 months. Not only did
Arthur Adams serve his Unit and country during conflict, but he was also the Founder
and President of the Rosewood RSL Sub-branch, hence that particular connection.
But my duty this morning is to remember and pay tribute to another member of the
31 st Battalion.
You see my mother’s maiden name was TOLL indicating my family relationship with
then Lieutenant Colonel, later, Colonel Frederick William Toll, DSO and Bar, MBE, VD.
At 43 years of age, LTCOL Toll as the inaugural Commanding Officer of the newly raised
31 st and LT Adams as initially a Quartermaster Sergeant, joined together, served
together and successfully survived the war together, although I have not discovered if
they were especially well known to each other. But the unifying theme today for these
two great men and soldiers, was the attack at ‘Fleurbaix’ or sometimes referred to as
‘Petillon’, which would later become known as the Battle of Fromelles.
The attack was the début of the Australian Imperial Forces on the Western Front. The
British high command devised the attack as a feint to hold German reserves from
moving south to the Somme where the large allied offensive had begun on the 1 st of
The Australian War Memorial described it as, ‘the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire
history.’ Of 7,080 British Expeditionary Force casualties, 5,533 were suffered by the
5th Australian Division (of which the 31 st was part); while the Germans lost 1,600–
2,000 men and 150 prisoners. This was perhaps the greatest loss by a single division in
24 hours during the entire war. Indeed, many historians consider Fromelles the most
tragic event in Australia’s history.
To the soldiers who fought at Fleurbaix, the Battle of Fromelles, was to quote, ‘an
unmitigated military disaster, the dismal culmination of muddled planning and reckless
decision-making by both British and Australian commanders and staff.’ Moreover, the
attack had little to no effect on the Somme battles, and even became cynically
dismissed by surviving soldiers as ‘that Fleurbaix stunt’.
In an official field record dated 27 July 1916 and titled ‘Total Casualties – Fleurbaix –
19 th /20 th July 1916, the 31 st Battalion reported 576 casualties, more than 50% of its
Almost 12 months prior, the 31 st Battalion was raised as part of the 8 th Brigade at
Enoggera Camp, then on the outskirts of Brisbane, in August 1915. As an aside,
Corporal Frederick Vivian Toll, son of the 31 st Commanding Officer was tragically killed
in action at Gallipoli on the 8 th of August 1915.
‘A’ and ‘B’ companies were formed of Queenslanders while ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies were
raised at Broadmeadows Camp in Victoria. In early October 1915, all elements were
united at Broadmeadows, and on the 5 th of November 1915, the battalion sailed
aboard His Majesty’s Australian Transport ‘Wandilla’ (A62) from Melbourne.
The 8 th Brigade joined the newly raised 5 th Australian Division in Egypt, and in June
1916 proceeded to France, destined for the Western Front. The 31 st Battalion fought
its first major battle at Fromelles on 19 th & 20 th of July 1916, having only entered the
front-line trenches three days previously.
But what of the man LTCOL Frederick William Toll or Fred Toll, as he was often called.
I distinctly recall my grandmother, who sadly passed many years ago now, talking
enthusiastically and respectfully about ‘Uncle Fred Toll’. From her reflections and
recollections, I always formed a clear view that Fred Toll was certainly a man’s man,
who went to great lengths to ensure the welfare of his men, right up until his passing
in Greenslopes Hospital on 6 November 1955. My grandmother recalled ANZAC Day
marches including the 31 st Battalion AIF Association being led by Fred Toll, with the
parade commentator proudly announcing, ‘here comes the men of the 31 st , the pride
and joy of Colonel Toll’ or words to that effect.
Frederick William Toll’s military service commenced well before The Great War,
initially when he joined military cadets in 1888 whilst undertaking his secondary
education at Brisbane Grammar School. After graduating, he returned north and
amongst other things, was commissioned in the Kennedy Regiment on 2 February 1892
and promoted captain in 1897.
Toll then volunteered for service in the South African War. He sailed with the 2 nd
Queensland Contingent as a special service officer in January 1900, and from Cape
Town, joined Lord Roberts’ army in the occupation of Bloemfontein, commanding an
infantry company of the 44 th Essex Regiment. Toll saw action during the advance to
Kroonstad, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Belfast and after the capture of Nellspruit, was
appointed provost-marshal and commanded troops who then returned to Australia.
He returned to South Africa in March 1901, this time as Second-In-Command of the 5 th
Queensland Imperial Bushmen and was soon after promoted to Major. Toll
commanded the contingent from 1 August in actions in the Cape and Orange River
colonies and the Transvaal. In January 1902, he was captured briefly by Boers. Noting
the extensive number of major operations and lesser skirmishes in which the 5 th was
involved, Toll gained the reputation amongst this men as ‘the Fighting Major’.
Ultimately, Toll arrived in Brisbane aboard the transport ‘St Andrew’ in April 1902 and
his appointment was routinely terminated in July of that year. During his service in
South Africa, he had been Mentioned-in-Dispatches and of the eight clasps possible,
was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with five clasps and the King’s South
Africa Medal with two. Toll’s South African service is often remembered at the
commemorative services for the Battle of Onverwacht.
With the outbreak of war in 1914, Toll enlisted again for overseas service. He embarked
for New Guinea in January 1915, leading the 3 rd Battalion, Australian Naval and Military
Expeditionary Force, with the rank of Major. As Lieutenant Colonel from 1 March and
Officer Commanding the troops in Rabaul, he was twice acting administrator of New
Guinea in the absence of Colonel Sir Samuel Pethebridge. At his urgent request for
active service in 1915, he was given command of the 31 st Battalion, which he formed
and trained, leaving later that year for Egypt.
As a result of the 31 st Battalion’s actions at Fromelles, Toll was recommended by his
Brigade Commander, Brigadier-General Edwin Tivey, and was subsequently awarded
the Distinguished Service Order or DSO. The citation for this award Gazetted on 12 th
October 1916, reads as follows:
‘This officer has been with the Brigade since its formation and has always done his duty
in a most conscientious and efficient manner.
During the operations in the Suez Canal Zone he was untiring in his efforts to obtain a
high standard of efficiency and has always been an example to his Officers and men.
Lt.Colonel Toll displayed great gallantry all through the operations of 19/20 th July 1916,
at PETILLON. He was slightly wounded at the commencement of the action and before
the assault was made and (sic) he lost heavily in Officers and men. He led the 3 rd and
4 th waves over the parapet himself. Before reaching the enemy trenches 13 Officers
has (sic) been killed or wounded, including three Company Commanders. Lt.Colonel
Toll personally took charge and pushed on, making vigorous efforts to consolidate the
position won, reconnoit-ring (sic) the enemy’s defences and taking prisoners. On the
retirement he organised the troops on our original front line.’
During the Battle of Polygon Wood, Frederick William Toll was again decorated with a
Bar to the Distinguished Service Order for his, ‘… conspicuous gallantry and devotion
to duty .’ Seriously injured and gassed at Polygon Wood he was evacuated to Britain in
January 1918. In addition to his two Distinguished Service Orders, he was also twice
Mentioned In Dispatches by General Haig.
After The Great War, Toll became commissioner for war service homes. He initiated
and led the establishment of the 31 st Battalion Social Club and took an enduring
interest in the welfare of his former charges. He was also a foundation member of the
Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia, its Brisbane vice-president
1924-27 and Mackay president in 1928-30. Toll was also the Government
representative on the Mackay Hospitals Board, Director of the Mackay Rotary Club,
President of the Mackay Rifle Union, and Commandant’s representative on the North
Queensland Rifle Association.
For his services to returned servicemen, Toll was made a Member of the Order of the
British Empire in 1939. Not content with retirement, during World War II he was
district manpower officer, then services liaison officer.
Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, let me reprise the notable and distinguished
service in war and in peace of Lieutenant Arthur Edward Adams, DCM and the
distinguished service and post service career of Colonel Frederick William Toll, DSO
and Bar, MBE, VD, a competent accountant and successful business manager,
marksman, athlete and Rugby footballer, in my mind certainly and I now hope in yours
too, both of whom epitomised the ethos of ‘Service Above Self.’
Lest We Forget
Battle of Fromelles Address by Col Mark Plath (Rtd)
Presentation to Col Mark Plath by Brisbane Sub Branch President Ray Fogg
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
The Battles of Bullecourt, on 11 April 1917 and 3 May 1917, involved huge losses and invoked a sense of distrust between Australian troops and British commanders.
Some of the heaviest criticism came from General John Monash who wrote:
‘Our men are being put into the hottest fighting and are being sacrificed in hair-brained ventures, like Bullecourt and Passchendaele …’
In 1917, the village in northern France was heavily fortified by the Germans and absorbed into the Hindenburg Line, with machine guns, belts of barbed wire, and frontline trenches.
Australian commanders were apprehensive about the British level of planning for the attack, believing it would leave their men hemmed in and vulnerable on three sides. They were also concerned there was not enough ammunition for artillery, which was still an experimental technology.
The attack was planned for 10 April but the Australians did not proceed because their 12 tanks did not arrive on time.
Communication within the Allied forces broke down and the British 62nd Division began the attack as planned, but were not told until later that the Australians had been stood down. Nonetheless, the British managed to get through the first belt of entanglements and close to the Hindenburg Line.
The next day, the Australian troops were subjected to withering machine-gun fire, and nearly a third were killed or wounded.
They broke through the German line but at terrible cost, and they fought ferociously until – as suspected – they were hemmed in and forced to retreat.
In addition, the tanks failed to be a decisive breakthrough weapon and left many bitterly disappointed. Despite this, they had sown confusion and terror among many German defenders, with the German 124th Regiment record noting:
‘The men in the trench stood there, defenceless, not knowing how they could beat the monster back. It was completely impossible to attack it from the trench …’
Association member Mick James came across a photo on a Facebook page entitled “On This Day”
The explanatory preamble is as follows:
On 30th Sept. 1970, – Members of the Aust. Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) were presented with a – “United States Meritorious Unit Citation” for its outstanding performance in Vietnam. For 5 Members of the Training Team this was a special Occasion as previously in 1951, whilst serving with 3rd Bn Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), they received a United States – “Presidential Unit Citation” for holding & repelling an Overwhelming Force of the Chinese Army at the Battle of Kapyong. Thus saving the the Capital of Seoul from certain capture.
Brisbane Branch Association Secretary, Tony Wadeson, gives us a brief background:
The second Man from the Left in the Photo, – is our very own – WO1 Ray “Dasher” Deed BEM, – quite a handsome bloke, who scrubbed up pretty well, for the occasion. Dasher has had a few Health issues of late, but is still going strong at 93 Years, living at Corinda, & conveniently close to the Sherwood Services Club. He is still an active Member of the 31st Bn Assoc. Brisbane Branch. And as you can all appreciate, we are extremely honoured, to have such a distinguished soldier as our Member. At one stage of his career, Dasher was a Regular WO2 Cadre Staff attached to 31st Bn Townsville, & later the RSM of 51Bn – Cairns. After retirement as RSM Northern Command, Dasher was seconded by one of Brisbane’s most prestigious Colleges – “The Anglican Church Grammer School – (Churchie), as a Disciplinary Master for many years. They still bring him back each year to Churchie for their ANZAC Day Service.
The 31st Battalion Association Reunion Lunch was held at the Sherwood Services Club at Corinda on Thursday 24th October. The Secretary of the Brisbane Branch of our Association, Tony Wadeson, briefly covers the meeting:
This year we were honoured to have a special guest, Alf Cumberland who, at 102 years old, is one of the few surviving members of the wartime 2/31st Battalion. A number of the descendants of members of the 2/31st Battalion were also present.
The photos (below) were taken at the lunch meeting by our one & only 51st Battalion member Wendy Seymour. Wendy is of Papua Newguinea Heritage but was living in Cairns when she was with 51st Battalion. She now lives in Brisbane. She is pictured below with Alf Cumberland. The Lunch was very successful with 42 Attending – Biggest we have ever had. The Townsville based President of the Association, Greg Stokie was in attendance.
Guest Speaker – WO1 Peter Thatcher provided an excellent talk on the Kokoda Track & the battles that took place – His DVD display – Illustration was brilliant, best I’ve seen. There’s a good photo of him with Alf Cumberland. Great day & we have moved a step closer in working together with 2/31st descendants to ensure the 2/31st Bn History will be forever preserved.
Report on Battle for Australia Commemoration on Wed 4th Sept 2019
For those who don’t know, The Battle for Australia Commemoration is for all those who served between 1942-45 in the north of Australia and to our north/ it includes the Fall of Singapore, Bombing of Darwin, Battles of Milne Bay & Coral Sea, 2 Campaigns in New Guinea and Borneo. We honour & remember all those who fought and especially those who died.
It is dedicated by the Australian Govt as the 1st Wednesday in Sept each year and ranks 3rd in Commemorations after ANZAC Day & Remembrance Day.
This year we held the 3rd Commemoration at our new home at the Chermside Historical Precinct at 61 Kittyhawk Dr Chermside, just north of KWRSL Club car park with the Qld Governor & his wife again in attendance. The Official Address was by Commander Gerald Savvakis RAN ADC on behalf of the Chief of Navy Vice Admiral MJ Noonan AO.
This year we also had a student presentation from Aspley High School on Cpl JA French VC. This student presentation will be an annual one and part of our commitment to involve young people in learning and remembering about our Battle for Australia history and those who participated.
Morning tea was provided after the Commemoration and those present were invited to enter the Milne Bay Library & Research Centre adjacent and peruse the exhibits.
Our Assoc continues to be represented on the Battle for Aust Committee with Merv Hazell re elected as Sec and myself as Vice President at our AGM on 30th Sept.
I urge all Members & Guests to consider attending next year (Wed 2nd Sept) and I have a number of this year’s programmes that you can take. They explain the Battle for Australia in more detail. There are also 2 photos of this year’s Commemoration in the montage on the screen.
Finally I have a limited number of “Battle for Australia New Guinea” pins available for sale at $5 each. If you’d like one please see me after the meeting. If I haven’t enough, you may be able to buy one in the lead up to Remembrance Day.
Video of 2019 Commem – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDeWrfQEjp8
The following series of pictures of 31st Battalion have been unearthed by Geoff Barlow. They were taken in the date range between 1959 and 1964. Note the change from Khaki uniforms to Jungle Green uniforms. The uniform changeover took place for most of us in 1961. Our Brisbane Branch Secretary Tony Wadeson remembers that Geoff was a Sergeant in 31st Battalion in those years. Geoff qualified as a Pharmacist and subsequently joined the regular Army Medical Corps. He served in Viet Nam during the conflict and finally retired with the rank of LtCol.
Tony also appears in the photos as a young Second Leiutenant carrying the colours on the Anzac Day Parade.