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Galbraith-A-G-F-Sapper-3648 (redirected from Galbraith A G F Sapper 3648)

Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 6 hours, 6 minutes ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


Sapper Alfred George Finlay Galbraith.  Source:  Museum Victoria Collection


Galbraith A G F     Sapper    3648    Alfred George Findlay     2 Div Sig Co    20    Electrician    Single    Pres

Address:    Essendon, Mackay St, 5    

Next of Kin:    Galbraith, C, father, “Aberlady” 5 Mackay St, Essendon    

Enlisted:    15 Jul 1915        

Embarked:     A40 Ceramic 23 Nov 1915    


Hand-written on back in ink (now browned): 'Sapper A.G.L. Galbraith / 3rd Sec.

5th Div. Sig. Coy / A.L.G.F. [?] / 21/11/15'. Stamped on front of image, barely

visible: 'La...ghton Studi.o / OPP. STATION [?] / MOONEE PONDS'.

Source: Museum Victoria collection No 450897.


Relatives on Active Service:

Galbraith A D Driver 10854 cousin DOW

Galbraith A V Lt cousin

Galbraith W J 2 Lt cousin


Date of Death: 15/07/1916

CWGC: " Son of Alfred and Amy C. Galbraith, of W.R. Institute, Flinders Street, Station Buildings, Melbourne, Australia. Native of Maryborough".





Sapper Alfred George Finley Galbraith


Rod Martin


When the First World War broke out in August 1914, there was a mad rush to enlist across the length and breadth of Australia.  Young men were eager to fight for the mother country and the empire – especially in a conflict that many predicted would be over by Christmas.  Many of them had a sense of adventure.  Others grabbed at the chance to go overseas and see the world.  With such enthusiasm, the military authorities were embarrassed by their riches.  They were able to pick and choose from thousands of potential recruits – so they did.  They wanted the cream of the crop: fit, robust young men of between eighteen and thirty-five years, with a minimum height of five feet six inches, good teeth and a minimum chest measurement of thirty-four inches.  Thirty-three per cent of all volunteers were rejected on one or more of these grounds, or for other reasons.  One of them was nineteen year-old electrician Alfred Galbraith of McKay Street in Essendon.  Despite the fact that he had experience in the militia, first in 26 Signal Engineers and then in the infantry, his minimum chest measurement of thirty-two inches did not meet the standard.  As a result, the army said no.  He had to wait another year and a reduction in minimum requirements after news of casualties at Gallipoli adversely affected recruitment rates before he could sign up.


Accordingly, on 15 July 1915, with his father’s permission, the now twenty year-old took his oath and was posted to 2 Division Signals Company – then a part of the Australian Engineer Corps.  Hence Alfred’s rank of ‘sapper’.  The job of signallers is to install, maintain and operate all types of telecommunications equipment and information systems.  In the First World War, this mainly involved the laying of telephone posts, lines and cables.  On and near the front line this was often done – and re-done thanks to constant damage – while under heavy shellfire, aerial bombardment and strafing, and sniper attack.  It was a very dangerous task.


Alfred sailed from Melbourne on A40 HMAT Ceramic on 23 November 1915, ostensibly headed for training in Egypt and then deployment at Gallipoli.


A40 HMAT Ceramic (18, 481 tons)             (AWM PB0284B)


By the time he arrived in Egypt, however, the decision had been made to evacuate the peninsula and, after training in the desert, Alfred and his compatriots headed for Marseilles. Having been transferred in March to 5 Division Signals Company, he accompanied that group to the Western Front in late June 1916.


After Alfred arrived in Marseilles, he travelled north by train to the area of the Somme Valley. Upon reaching the Western Front, 5 division and other units of 1 Anzac Corps were concentrated along the River Lys, between Armentières and Fromelles.  Their task was to hold that part of the front while the more seasoned British and French forces launched their major attack on the Somme on 1 July.  The Australians had a double-edged task: to repair and rebuild the Allied line in the Armentières area and carry out a series of raids that would force the Germans to maintain and concentrate forces in an area that hitherto had been rather quiet.  Charles Bean tells us that the Australians’ actions increased the tensions – and therefore casualties – along their part of the front.  This is the scenario that Alfred and his compatriots confronted when they arrived on the Western Front.


The first day of the Battle of the Somme saw Britain suffer the heaviest loss ever experienced in a single day by a British army or by any army in the First World War - 60 000 casualties, 20 000 of them deaths.  The great expectations of British generals were cruelly blighted.  The battle’s aim of drawing German forces away from the fortress of Verdun in the south and thus relieving the beleaguered French forces there was not achieved.  Instead, the British found themselves under pressure and looked for some relief in turn. British General Sir Richard Haking proposed a British-Australian feint for this purpose at a spot between the towns of Fleurbaix and Fromelles, to be launched on 19 July.  1 Anzac Corps would play a major part in what would be the Australians’ first major battle on the Western Front.  Alfred and his fellow signallers had the task of laying surface lines and underground cables to facilitate communications between various headquarters and the front lines.


On 15 July, at approximately 8 pm, Alfred and another sapper were on line duty at Fleurbaix when they were killed in action.  Alfred’s wounds were described in official reports as a compound fracture of the leg and a penetrating wound to the neck.  This would suggest that the two men were killed by a shell exploding nearby.


Alfred died a year to the day after he enlisted. He was twenty-one years old.


Alfred was buried in the cemetery of Sailly-sur-la-Lys, Lavrentie, France.  At the Battle of Fromelles, launched four days after he died, Australia suffered 5 553 casualties: the largest single number of Australian casualties in one day of battle.  The attack was a poorly planned, unmitigated disaster.  It was a bloody baptism of fire for the Australian forces on the Western Front. 





Australian War Memorial

National Archives Australia

Bean, C. E. W.: The official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918, Sydney, Angus  and Robertson, 1941

Taylor, A. J. P.: The First World War: an illustrated history, Harmondsworth, Penguin,  1966



www.aamme.com.au/histRAE.htm  [link broken at 4/10/2016]


Mentioned in this publication:

Sparkies at War, 1914-1918, by Ken Purdham, pp 45, 121.


War Service Commemorated  

Essendon Town Hall F-L     

St John's Presbyterian Church*

Anzac Honoured Dead

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour killed

Regimental Register


In Memoriam


GALBRAITH. —In loving memory of our cousin,
Sapper A G T [sic] Galbraith, died of wounds, in France,
15th July, 1916.
Little we thought when you wished us good bye,
It was the last parting of you and I
-(Inserted by his cousins Les, Essendon, Albert
on active service ) 

GALBRAITH. —In affectionate remembrance of     
Sapper Alfred Galbraith, killed in action in France,
July 15, 1916 (Inserted by C. M. Fraser, on active service).


The Argus Monday 15 July 1918


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