Introductory Post

This blog is intended to support a research project – the writing of a unit history for the 56th Infantry Battalion,  Australian Imperial Force during the First World War.  The authors would be interested to hear from anyone who might have information about men who served in this unit.  We have access to all the official papers, but what we’re really interested in is personal stories, especially things like diaries, letters, postcards or photographs.

The authors, Craig Tibbitts and Nick Fletcher are both employees of the Australian War Memorial.  After working together on an exhibition at the Memorial called To Flanders Fields 1917, we hit on the idea of writing a unit history.  By chance a member of the public mentioned two relatives who died on the same day in 1917, both of whom were in the 56th Battalion.  An article about these men was written and it was realised that they belonged to one of the few Australian infantry battalions that never had a history written or published following the war.  By remarkable coincidence it turned out that both the authors’ grandfathers served in the unit as well.

And so the decision was made to write this wrong and honour the memory of the 56th with a published unit history.  Thanks to the Australian Army History Unit, the book is now underway and will be published sometime probably in late 2009 as part of the Australian Army History Series.


8 Responses to “Introductory Post”

  1. Jim Duffield Says:

    Very interesting, but for another reason. For years as a Vietnam Vet, commissioned from the rank of Sgt in Canungra, I guess I’ve always had that element of “Bolshie” about my thought processes.

    As I understand it it the 56th was one of the Pup Bns that went on strike?

    It is interesting to do a Google on the “AIF Pup Battalion” for one gets almost a nil response other than Pup Tents or Pull Up Point!

    Is the bigger picture of the Pup Bns “officially” recorded? Or is my neurone of AWM cynicism bubbling unnecessarily? …

    … You thoughts about the larger, philosophical Pup Bn issue would be appreciated.

    Editor’s response: Hello Jim, thanks for your comments. No, as far as I know, 56th Battalion wasn’t one that mutinied in September 1918. Fortunately, they weren’t one of those chosen for disbandment, rather it was the 54th Battalion from 14th Brigade. I understand that all the battalions selected for disbandment at this time mutinied to some extent, but I’d have to look at Ross St. Clair’s recent history of the 54th to find out further details. The following month (10 Oct), the 54th was amalgamated with the 56th to form a composite battalion. We haven’t got up to 1918 in our study yet, but if we find any insightful or interesting comments (either official or personal) about the disbandments in general, or the amalgamation with the 54th, I’d say we’d definitely want to include it in our history.

    Regarding histories about ‘pup’ battalions, I believe the stories of these sixteen battalions (45th – 60th), are adequately and equally covered in both official and non-official forms. All the official papers they created during the war are at the Australian War Memorial and freely available to the public. In the Official History, Bean seems to give fair and equivalent coverage to original battalions as well as pups, and he does include a few pages on the disbandment mutinies (Vol. VI, pp 936-940). As for non-official histories, the pup battalions are fairly well covered; after the one we’re doing on the 56th, one by Tim Cook on the 55th and one by Craig Deayton on the 47th, as far as I can see, all pup battalions will have some sort of history published, except for the 58th.


  2. jenniferandersonkillara Says:

    Hi. My name is Jennifer Anderson (nee Austin). Doreen Austin (nee Parker) is my 81 year old mother. Her father, Bill Parker, was a member of the 56th battalion. I know she has postcards sent by him from France. And she has some stories she could retell. Her telephone number is 02 9419 3035. My phone number is 02 9498 3294. We both live in Sydney. My postal address is 4 Springdale Road Killara NSW 2071. Mum’s address is 47 Beaconsfield Road Chatswood NSW 2067. If you provide a postal address perhaps we can send photocopies of the postcards as I know my mother would not want them to leave her possession. I have sent my father your link but they have limited email and computer experience. They seem to receive emails but cannot send them. Dad’s email is

    Editor’s response: Hi Jennifer, thanks very much for contacting us and for your offer of information about your grandfather. The postcards do sound interesting and I would like to obtain photocopies and talk to both you and your mother. I’ll contact you in the near future.

    Craig Tibbitts

  3. Greg Rogers Says:

    I have two Grt-Uncles who were members of the 56th Battalion, brothers Hector and Roy Goldsbrough.

    Hector was a Lewis Machine Gunner in “A” Company, mortally wounded in the chest by a german sniper in the early morning Louverval offensive of 2nd April 1917. Died of wounds at Baupame 4th April, buried at Pozieres.

    Then 5 weeks later, about 5 miles distant, Roy a Signaller in the same “A” Company took a direct hit from incoming artillery ordinance on thre 16th of may during the Second Battle of Bullecourt in the trenches at Queant, in front of Noreuil. Buried on the spot, no known grave……..Panel 26 Villers Bretonneux “Missing”

    I have a selection of the usual cabinet-card portaits for both men. They came from Manly – NSW

    Their father William Frederick Goldsbrough served with the NSW Permanent Artillery until about 1893. Discharged with the rank of Articifer Sgt. I have a studio photo of him present with a group of Senior NCO’s in their Artillery Field regalia.

    Over the past couple of years I’ve been compiling a history (still very much in draft mode) of the Goldsborough family since emigration in the early 1850’s, and of course researching the service history of these uncles has proved most rewarding.

    From all the accesible to date on-line resources I have managed to compose a small narrative of their final moments on ths earth, more especially for Hector as there was more data available. If you are interested I can edit my notes and forward what I have for your perusal.

    You are quite welcome to copies of the photos. Advise me of the format and size so I can e-mail or post to you on CD!

    This link below (don’t know if will active hyperlink) should take you to my family web album where you can view the images of those mentioned here-in.

    The Goldsbrough's in Australia

    You can phone me on mob: 0418 341 671
    or write
    185 Barrenjoey Road, NEWPORT, NSW 2106


    SVN RA Sigs 1969-70 & 71-72

    Editor’s comment: Hi Greg, wonderful to hear from you. What a coincidence! Over the past few weeks I’ve been researching and writing particularly about April and May 1917, of course including Louverval and Bullecourt. Through this I had actually become aware of the loss of your great uncles, Hector and Roy. Very sad indeed, especially when a family loses multiple family members within a short period. But this was also a dreadfully common. When preparing the To Flanders Fields exhibition last year, several other cases of brothers and cousins being lost came to our attention. See the To Flanders Fields blog for examples such as the Seabrook and Bartram brothers. There was also the case of Hubert Thompson, Raymond Single and Wilfred Single (all related), and all lost at Passchendaele. Two of them were also in the 56th Battalion. You can read a short article of this here.

    I had a quick look at your website, it looks very impressive – nice photos of Roy, Hector and Milton. I’ll have more of a look when I get to work tomorrow. Many thanks for your offer of copies of the photos and your research on your great uncles. They will be most welcome. Can’t make any promises at this early stage of what content will make it into the book, but we do also plan to have an online supplement for the book, as a recent post on this blog mentioned.

    Anyway, I’ll be in contact with you in the near future to arrange something. Would love to meet with you if you’re planning a trip to Canberra any time soon. Otherwise, we’ll no doubt have to make a few trips to Sydney for research, so perhaps then…

    Thanks again and regards,
    Craig Tibbitts.

  4. Vivienne Szakacs Says:

    Hi Craig,

    My grandfather’s uncle fought with the 56th battalion and was “killed in action” on 2nd April 1917 in France. Apparently as he died he gave a photo of my mother as a little girl to another soldier who sent it to his own relatives in Sydney. It was published in the newspaper in Sydney in a bid to identify the dead soldier, and my mother’s aunt saw it and the family were then officially notified. I have the original photograph still with the Flanders mud on it (can scan it if you want it) and I also have the original newspaper clipping.

    Tonight I got onto the internet and checked out my relative’s service record. His name was Arthur Robert Williams. I would very much like to be able to find out where he died. After reading the last couple of postings, maybe it was at Louverval? I also looked up the records of the soldier who found him. Apparently that soldier was courtmartialed for desertion and sentenced to death only 11 days before he found my relative. His sentence was commuted to 5 years and was suspended. He deserted again later in 1917 and was again captured and sentenced to serve his suspended sentence and another.

    That is all I have found out in one night of research. Not sure how I can find out any more or if this is any use to you. Maybe you are able to give me some more info?


    Editor’s response: Hi Vivienne, many thanks for your post on our blog. I would be interested to see a copy of the photo, so if you don’t mind, could you please scan and send via email. Your great-uncle’s death on 2 April 1917 definitely puts him at Louverval. You’ve already seen his service record, and I can’t think of anything else that we might have on him other than just his name appearing on various rolls.

    Craig Tibbitts

    • Anne Stafford Says:

      I have just read the above post by Vivienne and if possible would like to get in touch.
      I also have a copy of the newspaper article about Trixie the little girl in the photo.
      From the information I have, the little girl would have been my grandfather’s brothers daughter on the Smith side, and the soldier my great grandmothers brother on the Williams side..
      Not sure if Vivienne will read this or my message could be passed on to her.
      I have also been trying to find the actual death place of Arthur Robert Williams

    • Anne Stafford Says:

      Hi Craig,
      I Would like to get in touch with Vivienne. I am also interested in Arthur Robert Williams.
      I have a copy of the newspaper article showing the photo of trixie which was forwarded to me by a member of the Williams family.
      My great grandmother Emma was Arthur Williams sister and my grandfather was Trixie’s fathers brother.
      I have also been trying to find exactly where Arthur died.
      Anne Stafford

  5. Stephen Hopkins Says:

    Hello Craig

    Could you post an update please as I am wondering how you guys are going on the project.


    Stephen Hopkins

  6. Noni Brown Says:

    My first cousin twice removed – Private Frederick Fardell, Service Number 1652. Enlisted on the 17th February 1916 at Bathurst and joined 53rd Infantry Battalion – 2 to 5 Reinfts (Apr-Sep 1916) which amalgamated later in 1918 with the 56th Battalion.

    He embarked from Australia on the 14th May 1916 on the “Ceramic”. Frederick was born in 1885 in Orange NSW. He was taken into foster care when he was 3, after he was abandoned. He was 29 yes 5mths when he enlisted. HIs occupation was Hairdresser. He was 5.7″ with dark complexion, blue eyes and black hair.

    On the 31st August 1918, Frederick, along with men of the 56th, by 7 am, had gained the village of Mont St Quentin and the slope and summit of the hill, by working in small groups. The five German divisions were confused and dispersed, and many had fled. By midnight on 31 August, Monash’s troops had captured 14,500 prisoners and 170 guns since 8 August.

    1918 Sep 1: Allied troops also broke through lines to Péronne by 8.20 am. However, the Germans quickly regrouped and launched a counter-attack, and the first day of September saw fierce fighting and heavy losses. Germans attacked and heavily shelled Péronne. Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand combat.

    On this day, Private Frederick Fardell, near a little wood (Anvil Wood) outside Peronne, was killed instantly by machine gun bullet through the head. . According to a Red Cross Witness, Fred stood up to talk to a mate and was shot through the head and died instantly. Frederick was buried on the 3rd September 1918 thirty yards in the scrub on left of the Peronne to Clery road, France. He left behind his wife Ethel May nee Uptin, three sons and two daughters.

    His cousin, Edwin Hercules Fardell of the 2nd Battalion, died from wounds received on the 7th August 1915 at Lone Pine, Gallipolli. His cousin Sergeant Farrier George Fardell served with 4th Field Ambulance at Gallipolli, he and two Fardell nephews, who served with the 45th battalion, all returned home to Australia.

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