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O'Callaghan W     Pte    2828

Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 7 years, 7 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


O'Callaghan W     Pte    2828    William             6 Inf Bn    21    Labourer    Single    R C       

Address:    Kensington, Barrett St, 10   

Next of Kin:    O'Callaghan, J, father, 10 Barrett St, Kensington   

Enlisted:    2 Jul 1915       

Embarked:     A16 Star of Victoria 10 Sep 1915   


Date of Death: 11/05/1916




Private William O’Callaghan


Rod Martin


William O’Callaghan was born and raised in Kensington.  At the time when he enlisted in July 1915, he was unmarried and living with his parents at 10 Barrett Street.  He was twenty-one years and six months old, and he was a labourer by trade.  168 centimetres in height, he weighed around seventy kilos. and had grey eyes and light brown hair.


William joined up along with a record number of recruits in July 1915.  At that time, the reported ‘successes’ at Gallipoli and the anger engendered by the April sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland at the cost of approximately 1, 100 mostly civilian lives caused a rush of young men to the recruiting offices.  The figures that month were to mark the high point in enlistments for the war.  After that time, numbers began to dwindle as the casualty lists from Gallipoli continued to grow and disenchantment set in.


Like many others, William may have been caught up in the rush, spurred along by an until then effective recruiting campaign.


1915 recruitment poster Australian War Memorial Collection



William was assigned to 9 Reinforcements of 6 Infantry Battalion and moved to the new Puckapunyal base near Seymour to do his initial training.  He then sailed for Egypt with his compatriots in A16 HMAT Star of Victoria on 10 September.




A16 HMAT Star of Victoria   Source: Desert Column




Troops at Port Melbourne preparing to board Star of Victoria, 10  September 1915

Australian War Memorial Collection http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/PB0539


By the time 9 Reinforcements arrived in Egypt, the decision had been made to evacuate Gallipoli.  As a result, William and his compatriots remained at the Australian base at Tel el Kebir, training for the conflict on the Western Front.  On 26 March, the battalion sailed for Marseilles on A70 HMAT Ballarat, arriving on 2 April.  It was part of the first Australian contingent to go to France.


A70 HMAT Ballarat   Source: State Library of Victoria 


The men entrained and travelled north in covered horse wagons, passing through a varied landscape very alien to the experiences of most of them.  They were headed for the so-called 'nursery sector' near Armentières in the northern part of the country.  The war there was relatively quiet, and it was thought that they would be able to acclimatize themselves to the conditions of a modern industrial war without too much trauma if they were sent there before being inducted into the heat of battle. 


Unfortunately, 6 Battalion’s war diaries for the period March to June 1916 have been lost, so we are unable to get an exact idea of the location of the men during that time.  However, a perusal of the diaries of 5 Battalion may give us a general idea, as both were part of 2 Australian Brigade.  Both battalions arrived at Godewaersvelde, not far from Dunkirk, on 2 April.  5 Battalion moved into reserve trenches at Fort Rompu in the middle of the month and then proceeded to front line trenches near Fleurbaix on the twenty-ninth of the month.  It suffered two men wounded on 2 May and then the forward trenches to the left of its sector were bombarded by German artillery on the fifth.


General records indicate that 6 Battalion was alongside 5 Battalion, and may well have been the subject of that bombardment, for William was wounded that same day, being hit in the leg and a testicle.  He was removed to a field hospital for treatment, and died on 11 May.  Whether he died from the direct impact of the wounds or from a subsequent infection is unknown.


William was buried in Merville Communal Cemetery, not far from Fleurbaix.



Merville Communal Cemetery       (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)   


During June and July, 6 Battalion spent a short time recuperating near Messines in Belgium before moving south again to participate in the Battle of the Somme.  On 25 July, its men ‘hopped the bags’ to begin the battle for the ruins of Pozières village.  The Australian action at Pozières was to see this nation’s largest single loss of men in any battle.  It is likely that many of William’s compatriots fell at that time.





Australian War Memorial

Bean, C. E. W.: The official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918:

                          Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 12 volumes, 1941

National Archives of Australia





War Service Commemorated

Anzac Honoured Dead 11 May 1916

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour DOW

Regimental Register

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