The AIF Project

Thomas Henry BILLS

Regimental number605
Place of birthMelbourne, Victoria
ReligionChurch of England
OccupationBottle-blower
Address71 Tarrangower Street, Yarraville, Melbourne, Victoria
Marital statusSingle
Age at embarkation24
Height5' 8.5"
Weight146 lbs
Next of kinBrother, William J. Bills, 71 Tarrangower Street, Yarraville, Melbourne, Victoria
Enlistment date12 July 1915
Date of enlistment from Nominal Roll10 July 1915
Place of enlistmentMelbourne, Victoria
Rank on enlistmentPrivate
Unit name31st Battalion, C Company
AWM Embarkation Roll number23/48/1
Embarkation detailsUnit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A62 Wandilla on 9 November 1915
31st Battalion Headquarters and Companies A, B, C and D sailed on two ships, HMAT A62 Wandilla, 9th November 1915 from Melbourne, and HMAT A41 Bakara, 5 November 1915, from Melbourne. It is not possible to tell from the Embarkation Roll on which ship an individual embarked.
Rank from Nominal RollPrivate
Unit from Nominal Roll31st Battalion
Other details from Roll of Honour CircularEnlisted 10 July 1915. Taken on strength, 31st Bn, 19 October 1915.
FateKilled in Action 21 August 1916
Place of death or woundingFleurbaix, France (Battle of Fromelles)
Date of death21 July 1916
Age at death24
Place of burialNo known grave
Commemoration detailsAustralian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France

Villers-Bretonneux is a village about 15 km east of Amiens. The Memorial stands on the high ground ('Hill 104') behind the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Fouilloy, which is about 2 km north of Villers-Bretonneux on the east side of the road to Fouilloy.

The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux is approached through the Military Cemetery, at the end of which is an open grass lawn which leads into a three-sided court. The two pavilions on the left and right are linked by the north and south walls to the back (east) wall, from which rises the focal point of the Memorial, a 105 foot tall tower, of fine ashlar. A staircase leads to an observation platform, 64 feet above the ground, from which further staircases lead to an observation room. This room contains a circular stone tablet with bronze pointers indicating the Somme villages whose names have become synonymous with battles of the Great War; other battle fields in France and Belgium in which Australians fought; and far beyond, Gallipoli and Canberra.

On the three walls, which are faced with Portland stone, are the names of 10,885 Australians who were killed in France and who have no known grave. The 'blocking course' above them bears the names of the Australian Battle Honours.

After the war an appeal in Australia raised £22,700, of which £12,500 came from Victorian school children, with the request that the majority of the funds be used to build a new school in Villers-Bretonneux. The boys' school opened in May 1927, and contains an inscription stating that the school was the gift of Victorian schoolchildren, twelve hundred of whose fathers are buried in the Villers-Bretonneux cemetery, with the names of many more recorded on the Memorial. Villers-Bretonneux is now twinned with Robinvale, Victoria, which has in its main square a memorial to the links between the two towns.

Panel number, Roll of Honour,
  Australian War Memorial
118
Other details

War service: Egypt, Western Front

Embarked Melbourne, 9 November 1915; disembarked Suez, 7 December 1915.

Admitted to No 1 Casualty Clearing Station, Serapeum, 24 February 1916 (tonsillitis); discharged to duty, 6 March 1916; rejoined 31st Bn, Serapeum, 7 March 1916.

Embarked Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force, 17 June 1916; disembarked Marseilles, France, 25 June 1916.

Posted missing, 21 July 1916.

German report, 2 August 1916, 'austr. Sold. Bills, T. H. Erk.Mek. 605.C.31.A.I. am 19.7 in Gegend Fromelles gefallen'.

On 8 August 1916, Private C Holmes, 711, wrote a letter to 'Bob' which stated 'burley bills [sic] is getting on alright[,] he has been in the hospital also.' In a series of official handwritten notes by various anonymous authors, but most likely Base Records' staff, it is evident the 'burley bills' is Private Bills and that Private Holmes who was from the same unit, believes Bills is in 'Hospital Colchester'. The conclusion of round of official notes is a decision to write to Mrs Thompson, the sister of Private Bills and the person who brought the letter to attention of Army officials. This letter, dated 16 October 1916 and from the Officer in Charge of Base Records, states 'that the portion of a letter you left here does not contain sufficient evidence to warrant inquiries being instituted. If you will forward a letter or evidence that he is in the Hospital Colchester, upon receipt of same and if it is decided such action is warranted inquiries will be instituted, and the result communicated to next-of-kin.'

The belief that Pte Bills was in hospital continued and on 30 August 1918 the Administrative Headquarters, AIF, sent a letter to Base Records outlining a search for Private Bills. This search was promoted by Miss S. Murphy, Park Pinner, Middlesex, and the extract of her letter dated 24 August 1917 that was quoted in the Administrative Headquarters AIF letter states: 'Could you possibly give me any account of Pte. Tom BILLS, No 605, 31st Bn. He is missing since July, 1916. His friends in Australia have asked me to try and find out where he is, if possible. The last they heard of him was, he was being sent to Harefield, suffering from loss of memory, through shell-shock. His people are very worried about him.'

The first response to the investigation was from 3rd Echelon that stated, 'The following is an extract of a letter received by No. 3893 Cpl. POOLEY W.O. of this section from S. HOLMES of 61, Blackwood Street, Yarraville, Victoria, which refers to the above mentioned soldier [Pte Bills]. 'You will be very much surprised to hear that poor old Burley Bill is still living and in a hospital or asylum in Harefield, England, out of his mind. Something seemed to tell me all along that he was safe and alive and I am real glad he is alright.' In response to this information ADMINAUST send a cablegram to Defence Melbourne on 18 May 1918 requesting they 'interrogate S. HOLMES, 61 Blackwood Street, Yarraville, Victoria, regarding source of information that 605, Pte. T.H. BILLS, 31st Battalion was in hospital, Harefield.' On the same day, 18 May 1918, AIF Headquarters enquired of 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital Harefield as to whether 'investigations [could] be made and this Office advised, if the above named soldier [Pte Bills] has ever been admitted to your hospital. If so, please state date of admission to and discharge from the hospital and any further particulars you may have in your possession.' The 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital replied on 21 May 1918 that 'we can find no trace of admission of above named soldier to this hospital at any time.' On 27 June 1918 Defence Melbourne replied to ADMINAUST and stated '711 Pte. Clarence HOLMES, 5th Pioneer Battalion has written several people saying he has seen BILLS who was insane when both in hospital, England. Name [of] hospital not stated AAA. S. HOLMES informed by man named WALLERS that he has seen BILLS on a vessel leaving France for England. Suggest Pte. HOLMES should be interviewed regarding matter.' AIF Headquarters followed this advice by sending a letter to 3rd Echelon, France on 3 July 1918 and requested 'as records show No. 711 Pte HOLMES, 5th Pioneer Bn. Late 31st Battalion to be at present B.E.F. could a statement be obtained from him as to what he knows of the movements of Pte. BILLS.' On 20 July 1918 3rd Echelon, France replied to this request with a statement from Private Holmes which stated: 'I lived quite near above soldier [Pte Bills] in Yarraville, Victoria, and knew him well. My brother Stanley, who lives in Yarraville, Victoria, and was during last year on a transport troopship for bringing reinforcements from Australia to England ... About the middle of last year I received a letter from my brother that when on one of his voyages to England he met a mate of his - a seaman on board - who also knew Pte. Bills, and who told him "that he had met Pte. BILLS on a transport troopship last year going from France to England and said that at that time Pte BILLS was insane and being taken to England in custody." This is all I know of the matter.' Defence Melbourne also subsequently cabled ADMINAUST on 22 July 1918 and noted: 'further ascertained 1679 Pte. William COSTELLO, 59th Battalion stated BILLS in an observing home in England insane AAA.'

On receipt of this information AIF Headquarters tried one last avenue and ask 3rd Echelon, France, on 25 July 1918 that since 'since records show 1679, Pte. W. COSTELLO, 59th Battalion to be with his unit, could a statement be obtained from him as to what he knows of the movements of Pte. BILLS.' 3rd Echelon, France, replied to AIF Headquarters on 4 August 1918 and noted: 'No. 1679 Pte. William COSTELLO states that he knows absolutely nothing about No. 605 Pte T. H. BILLS.'

AIF Headquarters concluded 'from the foregoing it will be seen that every likely avenue has now been exploited without avail. Consequently the finding of the Court of Inquiry, "Killed in Action, 21.7.16" must stand.'

German list received by Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau, Australian Branch, British Red Cross Society, 4 November 1916, show that 'identification marks found on the Prisoner of War are inspected by the General War Bureau and shown in the lists as under:- DEAD.'

'Identification Disc received from Germany. No particulars afforded except the soldier is deceased. To be reported as KILLED IN ACTION, FRANCE 21.7.16.' on the authority of Assistant Adjutant General, ANZAC Section from War Office.

Handwritten note at bottom of B.103 notes, 'buried at Fleurbuix, VR 13 (sh 1)'.

Note on Red Cross File No 380601: 'The above name appeared on German death list dated 4-11-16.'

Note on Red Cross file: 'Buried Fleurbaix. Cert. by Captain Spedding's list.'

Medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal
Miscellaneous detailsBrother's subsequent address: 68 Francis Street, Yarraville, Melbourne, Victoria
SourcesNAA: B2455, BILLS Thomas Henry
Red Cross file 380601

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