The AIF Project

William Herbert BIRRELL

Regimental number695
Place of birthSydney, New South Wales
SchoolWagga Wagga Public School, New South Wales
AddressSpring Creek, Beechworth, Victoria
Marital statusMarried
Age at embarkation35
Height5' 7.5"
Weight140 lbs
Next of kinWife, Mrs Alice M Birrell, Spring Creek, Beechworth, Victoria
Previous military serviceEnlisted as 'emergency for 3rd New South Wales Contingent, South Africa (Boer War)'; did not embark; member, Rifle Club.
Enlistment date26 August 1914
Place of enlistmentBroadmeadows, Victoria
Rank on enlistmentPrivate
Unit name7th Battalion, F Company
AWM Embarkation Roll number23/24/1
Embarkation detailsUnit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A20 Hororata on 19 October 1914
Rank from Nominal RollCompany Sergeant Major
Unit from Nominal Roll7th Battalion
Recommendations (Medals and Awards)

Distinguished Conduct Medal

Recommendation date: 8 May 1915

FateKilled in Action 4 October 1917
Age at death38
Place of burialNo known grave
Commemoration detailsThe Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 7), Belgium

The Menin Gate Memorial (so named because the road led to the town of Menin) was constructed on the site of a gateway in the eastern walls of the old Flemish town of Ypres, Belgium, where hundreds of thousands of allied troops passed on their way to the front, the Ypres salient, the site from April 1915 to the end of the war of some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

The Memorial was conceived as a monument to the 350,000 men of the British Empire who fought in the campaign. Inside the arch, on tablets of Portland stone, are inscribed the names of 56,000 men, including 6,178 Australians, who served in the Ypres campaign and who have no known grave.

The opening of the Menin Gate Memorial on 24 July 1927 so moved the Australian artist Will Longstaff that he painted 'The Menin Gate at Midnight', which portrays a ghostly army of the dead marching past the Menin Gate. The painting now hangs in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, at the entrance of which are two medieval stone lions presented to the Memorial by the City of Ypres in 1936.

Since the 1930s, with the brief interval of the German occupation in the Second World War, the City of Ypres has conducted a ceremony at the Memorial at dusk each evening to commemorate those who died in the Ypres campaign.

Panel number, Roll of Honour,
  Australian War Memorial

Distinguished Conduct Medal

'On 8th May 1915 during operations near Krithia, for distinguished conduct in collecting and organizing men who had become detached, and leading them to a weak flank of the firing line.'
Source: 'London Gazette' No. 6542
Date: 3 July 1915

Other details

War service: Egypt, Gallipoli, Western Front

Embarked Alexandria to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, Gallipoli, 5 April 1915.

Appointed Lance Corporal, Gallipoli, 26 April 1915.

Promoted Corporal, 29 April 1915.

Wounded in action, 8 May 1915 (bullet wound, right hip); transferred by HS 'Guildford Castle' to Egyptian Government Hospital, Port Said, 18 May 1915; to British Clearing Hospital, Ismailia, 20 May 1915.

Awarded Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Embarked Aexandria, 3 July 1915; rejoined 7th Bn, Gallipoli, 10 July 1915.

Promoted Sergeant, 10 July 1915.

Wounded in action (second occasion), 13 July 1915 (gun shot wound, back and spine: slight); admitted to 1st Australian Stationary Hospital, Mudros, 15 July 1915.

Appointed Acting Company Sergeant Major, 18 August 1915.

Attached to Trench Mortar Battery (Provisional), 24 August 1915.

Tried by District Court Martial, Sarpi Camp, Lemnos, 12 September 1915, on charge of while on Active Service (Anzac) disobeying, in such a manner as to show wilful defiance of authority, a lawful command given personally by his superior Officer in the execution of his duty: reverted to rank of Sergeant and ranked as junior of that rank in the Battalion.

Reverted to permanent rank of Sergeant, 28 December 1915.

Disembarked Alexandria,7 January 1916 (general Gallipoli evacuation).

Embarked Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force, 26 March 1916; disembarked Marseilles, France, 31 Maech 1916.

Wounded in action (third occasion), 23 April 1917 (gun shot wound, left hand); admitted to 47th Casualty Clearing Station, 24 April 1917; transferred to 10th General Hospital, Rouen, 25 April 1917; to England, 28 April 1917, and admitted to 1st London General Hospital, 29 April 1917; transferred to 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford, 16 May 1917; discharged on furlough, 21 May 1917, to report to No 1 Command Depot, Perham Downs, 5 June 1917.

Proceeded overseas to France, 9 July 1917; rejoined 7th Bn, in the field, 29 July 1917.

Killed in action, Belgium, 4 October 1917.

Handwritten note on Form B103: 'Buried'. Grave subsequently lost.

Statement, Red Cross File No 0390606O, 3171 Pte P.J. MINOGUE, D Company, 7th Bn (patient, 3rd Canadian General Hospital, Boulogne), 6 December 1917: 'I knew him well. He was of medium height, rather slight, going grey, and about 40. He was the first Australian to win a decoration in this war (D.C.M.). He was killed on that day while out over the top running out tapes to be used as guides in the "hop over". As we were advancing the man next to me said "Here is poor old Birrell dead here". This was at Anzac Ridge, Ypres.'

Second statement, 2046 Corporal J.L. WALKER, C Company, 7th Bn, 14 December 1917: 'He was killed by a shell just as we were assembling in our own lines in the early morning to go over to the attack at Anzac Ridge, Zonnebeke. Three days later I was in charge of a burial party and helped to bury him in the open near where he fell and a water bottle with his name and number on was put up to mark the grave. We took our objective and held it and his grave was behind our line. He was a machine gunner and a DCM and came from Victoria.'

Third statement, 1661 Pte A.G. LEES, 7th Bn, Stretcher Bearers, 4 January 1918: 'I saw him lying dead between Anzac Ridge and Poelcapelle near Zonnebeke. The Germans were shelling all along the Ridge and I did not know anything about his burial.'

Note on file: 'No trace Germany. Cert. by Capt. Mills. 10.10.19.'

Medals: Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal
SourcesNAA: B2455, BIRRELL William Herbert
Red Cross File No 0390606O

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