Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11 Who are we remembering?

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Armistice to end the First World War was officially signed between the Allies and the Germans in a railway carriage near the Compiegne Forest in France.

In 1919, King George V dedicated the 11th of November as a special Remembrance Day for the members of the armed forces who were killed in World War I.

The war ended 93 years ago and, for many Australians, relates only to the distant but valiant story of Gallipoli.

So who are we to remember?

Here are just a few stories of ordinary young Australian men who never came home.

Alfred Victor Momphlait was a 28 year old clerk from Port Adelaide in South Australia.  He enlisted on 17 July 1915 in the 32nd Battalion and was killed 1 year and 3 days later on 20 July 1916 in the Battle of Fromelles (sometimes known as the Battle of Fleurbaix).

Fromelles was the first major battle the Australians took part in on the Western Front.  It was a terrible annihilation with over 5,533 Australian casualties.  Two battalions, including Alfred's were effectively destroyed.  Out of 887 soldiers in the 60th Battalion, only one officer and 106 men survived.

The area where the battle took place was retaken by the Germans almost immediately and the Australian dead were buried in mass graves behind German lines.  Some of these pits were discovered in the 1920's and the remains re-buried in a war cemetery nearby as unidentified soldiers.

In 2007 an Australian school teacher, Lamis Englezos located a new burial pit near the village of Fromelles.  The remains were exhumed in 2009 and 250 bodies were recovered, 203 of these Australian.  Alfred Victor Momphlait was identified by DNA testing.


Rowland Joseph Hill and Alfred John Hill

Rowland and Alfred Hill were born in Echuca Victoria but the family later moved to Perth.  The brothers enlisted in the Army in 1915.  Alfred, a dentist, enlisted in June, and was sent to Gallipoli.  Following the retreat from Gallipoli in December 1915 he was sent to France in March 1916 as part of the reinforcements for the 28th Battalion, joining his brother Rowland.  Rowland, a railway employee,  enlisted in September and was sent directly to France as part of the 28th Battalion.

The 28th Battalion was engaged on the Somme in the Western Front, near the village of Pozieres, the scene of the worst conditions and worst fighting in all of the war.

Alfred, who had survived Gallipoli, was killed in action on July 29th, 1916.  His brother Rowland was killed in action 2 weeks later on August 14th, 1916.  The bodies of both boys were recovered but they are buried in separate cemeteries.  Their poor mother on receiving the telegrams so close together.


Felix George Buck (known as Sonny) and Alexander Percy Buck 

Sonny Buck was 22 years old when he enlisted in Western Australia in late 1915.  Sonny joined the 12th Battalion in France and in August 1916 was severely wounded.  Sonny was shot by a machine gun numerous times in the back and was then buried alive after a shell exploded nearly.  After 5 days fighting for his life he was evacuated to England.  Sonny was permanently discharged from the Army in 1917, before the end of the war, suffering from shell shock.

In 1920, Sonny died from a gunshot wound while out hunting near his home in WA.  It is not known if this injury was self inflicted.  He was 27 years old.

Alexander Buck was 21 years old when he enlisted in Western Australia in 1916.  He was sent directly to France.  In January 1917 he was wounded in action and sent to hospital in England.  He returned to France in July 1917.  Three months later, in October 1917 he suffered gunshot wounds to the head and a compound fracture to the skull.  He was evacuated to England and sent back to Australia on a hospital ship in May 1918 before the end of the war.

In 1923, he died from his war injuries at home in  Bunbury.  H was 27 years old.

Although these two brothers survived the war, their physical and mental wounds ended up taking both their short lives.


William Henry Bowman, known as Bill

William Henry Bowman is my great uncle, my grandfather's oldest brother.  He enlisted in the AIF in July 1915 at the age of 18 and was sent to France as part of the 52nd Battalion.  Bill enlisted because his father and grandmother were German settlers from South Australia.  This was not looked upon with favour by the small country town in which he lived and so he enlisted to serve in the Army as soon as he was able to, being the only son old enough to fight.

The 52nd Battalion were fighting near the village of Pozieres, where Rowland and Alfred Hill were also killed.  On September 3rd, 1916, the 52nd took part in the Battle of Mouquet Farm.  Bill and over 300 men from his Battalion were killed on that day, he was 19 years old.

As the Germans took over this ground, Bill's body was never recovered.  No one who saw him that day survived the battle and therefore nothing is known of how and when he fell, or where.

His mother never recovered from the shock of losing her firstborn child in such terrible and unknown circumstances.

RIP dear Bill.

These are just some of the stories of the soldiers we remember on this day but there are so many more.

In WWI, Australia had a population of less than 5 million people.  Over 416,000 men (almost all between the ages of 18 and 40) enlisted to serve in WWI.  60,000 were killed in action and 56,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

My great uncle Bill came from a little farming hamlet in WA.  Of the 27 men who enlisted to fight, only 18 came home.  One third of the young men never returned.

This is why we should remember.


  1. beautfully written El. Lest we forget. You have made these few men live again in your words. Thankyou.

  2. Thank you for researching and sharing these stories. It's so important to share stories like these, and never forget.


Thanks for commenting, I appreciate you taking the time xxx

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