William Henry Birley
Service number 3707

Private William Birley went to war with a pocket periscope, fountain pen and kit bag attachment presented during a farewell concert at the Tambourine Hotel.

A report in the Beaudesert Times of November 19, 1915, headed A Tambourine Volunteer Farewelled, told of the “smoke concert” where a “large number of his gentlemen friends” turned out to express their appreciation for Mr Birley’s enlistment.

“A popular member of the Tambourine community is Mr W Birley, a son of one of the oldest residents of the district, having offered his services to his King and Empire, and being accepted, a series of farewell gatherings held during last week testified to the respect in which the young soldier is held,” it read.

A dairyman, William Birley was 35 years old when he enlisted on October 26, 1915.

He was single and named his father, Septimus Birley, of Tambourine, as his next of kin.

Initially allotted to the 12th reinforcements of the 9th Battalion, William embarked on the HMAT Itonus in Brisbane on December 30, 1915.

He arrived in Egypt in early 1916 just as the 47th Battalion was being raised as part of the doubling of the AIF, its men mostly Queenslanders and either veterans of Gallipoli or new recruits from Australia.

Hospitalised with a fever on February 25, William was released to “aerodrome duty” in Cairo on March 5 and taken on strength with the 47th in late April.

William left Alexandria on the Caledonia on June 2, as part of the British Expeditionary Force bound for France, and arrived in Marseilles a week later.

The battalion went into the trenches of the Western Front in early July, with its first major action of the war the costly Battle of Pozieres.

“A soldier held in high regard by the local community.”

The road to Pozières, 1 August 1916. The view is north towards the village of Contalmaison which is being shelled by the Germans.

(Image: Australian War Memorial; Public Domain)

Went to war with farewell gifts of a pocket periscope, fountain pen and kit bag attachment.

The heavy casualties during the fighting from July 23 to August 7 moved historian Charles Bean to write that Pozieres Ridge was more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.

William’s service record indicates he was wounded in action, suffering shell shock, on August 11, rejoining his unit three days later.

The 47th Battalion spent the next months divided between duty in the trenches and laboring behind the lines. In November, William reported sick to hospital and, suffering bronchitis, returned to England on the hospital ship St George on November 20.

He did not return to France until April 1917, rejoining his battalion on May 1.

William was not with the 47th Battalion when it played a key role in blunting the German Spring Offensive of early 1918 at Dernancourt in late March and early April.

However, the losses sustained by the battalion in blocking the German offensive and the shortage of new recruits from Australia forced the 47th to disband on May 31 to provide reinforcements for other battalions.

On June 1, William was taken on strength with the 45th Battalion. Two months later, when it captured 400 German prisoners, 30 artillery pieces and 18 machine guns, the Battalion put the Germans to flight, making August 8, 1918 the “black day of the German Army”.

The 45th Battalion’s last action of the war was on September 18 at Le Verguier, but William had already been appointed a Driver with the 12th Australian Infantry Brigade on September 10.

Following the Armistice on November 11, he was allowed two weeks’ furlough from France from December 14.

William returned to England on January 30, 1919 and embarked on the Commonwealth for return to Australia on April 13.

He arrived in Sydney on June 12, and was discharged from the Army in Brisbane.

The remains of German and Australian bayonets recovered from the battlefield at Pozieres.


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