Lance Corporal William Wease was wounded in action three times, but it was for family reasons that he was returned to Australia before the war’s end, after a brother and two step-brothers were killed in action.
Of the five sons of Sarah Wease (nee Shirley) to serve in the Great War, William and his brother Victor Wease were the only two to survive the conflict. Their brother, Oliver Wease, and step-brothers Charles Blunt and Joseph Blunt, from their mother’s first marriage to Mark Blunt, were killed in action within six months of each other on the Western Front.
A labourer, William, 22, his brother Oliver, 20, and their uncle Harry Shirley, 43, enlisted together in July 1915 and a month later were headed overseas. With consecutive service numbers, the Canungra contingent left Brisbane on the HMAT Kyarra on August 16 with the 3rd reinforcements of the 25th Battalion, bound for Gallipoli.
They landed at Gallipoli on October 12, two months after the Allies had launched their final failed offensive. By that stage, the role of the 25th Battalion was manning the trenches and holding its precarious positions on the peninsula.
Within a month of arriving at Gallipoli, William was among the thousands of troops to be struck down with dysentery. Throughout the entire campaign, it was only during May and August that there were more men evacuated from the peninsula after being wounded in action than suffering from illness – usually caused by inadequate sanitation.
William was transported to Alexandria in Egypt on the Neuralia on November 13 and admitted to the 1st Australian General Hospital in Heliopolis, where he remained for almost two weeks before being transferred to a convalescent home.
He returned to the Australian base in Cairo on December 14 but was back in hospital by the end of the month, suffering firstly the painful joint inflammation, synovitis, and then jaundice.
William rejoined his battalion at Tel el Kebir at the end of January, after the Australian troops had returned to Egypt following the evacuation of Gallipoli in December.
After further training in Egypt, the battalion left Alexandria on March 14 as part of the British Expeditionary Force bound for the Western Front. Arriving in Marseilles on March 19, the 25th was the first AIF battalion to land in France.
Its first major battle was at Pozieres, which began on July 25, but more than a month earlier, William had been wounded in action and evacuated to England.
His service record indicates he suffered a bomb wound to the hip on June 19, then shows he had a gunshot wound to the right knee, but that he was admitted to hospital in England with a gunshot wound to the thigh.
Whatever the injury, William was out of action for six months and did not rejoin his battalion in France until December 18.
He was wounded in action for a second time on April 30, 1917, during the Battle of Bullecourt, but returned to his unit the same day.
William was appointed Lance Corporal on September 24, during the Battle of Menin Road, when the 25th was among the battalions of two AIF divisions to overcome entrenched German positions at a cost of some 5000 casualties.
A little over a fortnight later, he was wounded in action for the third time, suffering a gunshot wound to the hand on October 9, five days after the capture of Broodseinde Ridge.
After being treated at a casualty clearing station, William was transferred to hospital in England on October 22.
Recovering at a convalescent depot at Sutton Veny, William went absent without leave for three days from December 7. He not only forfeited four days’ pay, but also his Lance Corporal’s stripe.
William did not return to France until February 8, 1918, rejoining his battalion in the field five days later. His brother, Oliver, had been killed in action on New Year’s Day at Ploegsteert, where the 25th and other Australian battalions had spent the winter in mud and snow holding the line.
It was the beginning of a hard year for the battalion, as the 25th helped to turn back the German Spring Offensive, launched in March, and continued the fight at Morlancourt from March to June.
William won back his Lance Corporal’s stripe on June 23, but a week later was returned to England. After a week’s furlough, he reported to AIF headquarters for return to Australia for “family reasons”.
His step-brother, Joseph Blunt had been among the 27 patients and medical personnel killed on the night of July6-7, 1917, after the tent hospital at Bailleul Ambulance Siding, where he was being treated for trench fever, came under repeated attack from enemy aircraft.
Another step-brother, Charles Blunt, had been killed in action on December 22, 1917 and William’s brother, Oliver had been killed on January 1, 1918.
William boarded the HT City of Karachi on August 24 and, after arriving in Melbourne, travelled to Brisbane on October 24.
He was discharged from the Army on November 9, two days before the Armistice.
His brother, Victor Wease, who had also enlisted in July 1915, but had been allotted to the 31st Battalion, was wounded in action twice and returned to Australia in May 1919.
Their uncle, Harry Shirley, had returned to Australia towards the end of 1917 after suffering recurrent bouts of illness.