Harry Shirley
Service Number 2029

Private Harry Shirley was among the reinforcements sent to Gallipoli almost six months after the initial ANZAC landing and was among some 20,000 Australian and New Zealand troops evacuated from the peninsula in December, 1915.

A labourer, Harry was 43 years old and listed as dependents his wife, Sarah, and two daughters, Ethel, 14 and Caroline, 12, living in Beaudesert when he enlisted in July, 1915.

He assigned three fifths of his Army pay – three shillings a day – to his family and embarked for overseas service with his nephews Oliver and William Wease as part of the 3rd reinforcements of the 25th Battalion on August 16.

Harry arrived at Gallipoli on October 12, well after the last offensive had been launched, and spent the next two months manning the trenches before the decision was taken in November for the allied forces to cut their losses and leave the peninsula to the Turks.

It was not before time, as by November the weather had deteriorated to the extent that blizzards killed more than 280 men and there were 16,000 cases of frostbite and exposure across the peninsula.

The allied evacuation of Gallipoli involved taking off more than 93,000 troops, 5000 animals, 200 field guns and tonnes of ammunition and supplies. The operation was possibly the most successful effort of the entire ill-fated campaign, as it was accomplished without alerting the enemy and incurred only minor casualties.

Harry landed in Egypt, via Mudros, on January 9, 1916 and trained for the next two months before embarking at Alexandria for France as part of the British Expeditionary Force on March 14, arriving in Marseilles five days later.

The 25th was the first Australian battalion to arrive in France and fought its first major battle at Pozieres between July 25 and August 7.

However, Harry, who was treated in hospital for debility and rheumatism from mid-June, was not part of the action. He did not rejoin his battalion until September when it was in a ‘quieter’ part of the front in Belgium and saw action at Armentieres.

In October, the battalion moved south to take part in the push into the Somme Valley, where two attacks east of Flers became bogged down in mud.

“Landed at Gallipoli two months before the evacuation.”

He suffered recurrent bouts of illness.

After months of wet and freezing conditions as the Western Front experienced its worst winter in decades, Harry became ill in January 1917 and, suffering rheumatism, was transferred to England where he spent two months in hospital.

He suffered recurrent bouts of illness throughout 1917 and eventually embarked on the HT Benalla for Australia on August 25.

After arriving in Sydney on October 26, Harry travelled to Brisbane and was discharged from the Army as medically unfit, due to bronchitis and rheumatism, the following month.

Harry’s teenage son, Percival Shirley, a blacksmith’s assistant, had enlisted in the AIF in his absence in January, 1916.

After serving with the 31st Battalion, he returned to Australia in late 1919.


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