About the project


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.  If you can help, please leave a comment on this blog.

The authors, Craig Tibbitts and Nick Fletcher are both employees of the Australian War Memorial, although this project is being done independently.  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.  Due to increasing work commitments the project is taking far longer to complete than was originally anticipated.  As of 2018 we have still not finished, and unfortunately we cannot give an accurate idea of when it will be, let alone published.

© Original content on this blog is Copyright, Craig Tibbitts and Nick Fletcher.


28 Responses to “About the project”

  1. Glenn Mason Says:

    G’Day Craig & Nick

    It is great to see that you are both taking up the ball and completing another Australian WWI unit history, that is mising from the bookshelf! I look forward to seeing the completed product, and you can put me down for several copies. If I come across anything relating to the 56th, then I will definately forward it onto you both.

    All the best

    An avid military reader!


    Editor’s response: Thanks Glenn.


  2. John Thompson Says:

    My grandfather Cecil Sylvester Thompson 2745A served in this unit. I have no information about where he served and what happened. So I look forward to this book and can you please notify me when it is available.

    Editor’s response: Hi John, thanks for your comment on our blog and for your interest in our project. We don’t expect the book to be finished for at least another year – we’re saying at this stage sometime in the second half of 2009. If you just keep in touch with this blog, when the time draws near we’ll definitely post information of how, when and where a copy can be obtained.

    Thanks also for letting us know about your Grandfather. I checked and we do have him on our nominal roll. You can view his personal service dossier online by clicking on this link. When the page opens, just click on ‘view digitial copy’ link. I had a quick glance and it appears he enlisted in May 1916. After training etc he finally joined the battalion in the field in February 1917. There’s no record of him being wounded or seriously ill during the war, so apart from a few periods of leave, it appears he served with the 56th throughout 1917 and 1918, returning to Australia in 1919.

    Craig Tibbitts

  3. John Thompson Says:

    I would like to add to my previous comments. I am a psychologist who works with trauma survivors including combat veterans. This work has given me a particular interest in my grandfathers experiences and also what this has meant for his decendants. I feel very deeply for these soldiers and can hardly imagine what it was like. The cost of life was significant in terms of those killed and the impact on quality of life for the survivors and their famillies.

    Editor’s response: Yes I agree, the war made a significant impact on those that survived, both soldiers and civilians. The psychological impact was no doubt very heavy on those who’d seen a lot of front line action, particularly the stress of heavy shelling, gas, poor diet and general health and of course the dread of battle. No wonder so many died relatively young men after the war, i.e. in their 30s and 40s. Reading the postwar newsletters etc shocks you when you see how many died prematurely.

    Craig T.

  4. Stuart Curry Says:

    My Grandfather Albert Alfred Curry 4764 fought at Fromelles in the 56th Battalion.
    He just turned 18 years of age and was a private in the Infantry. On this particular
    day they were part of the Reserve Battalions. His brother Henry Ernest Curry 3067 was in the Australian 51st Battery 13th F.A.B firing over his head.

    The 56th was the only Battalion to man the trenches next morning after the battle of Fromelles had finished. This can be confirmed with more details from the 56th Battalion Unit War Diaries which are now online via the AWM website.

  5. Anthony Riordan Says:

    G’Day fella’s

    Thomas James Ford {service no.3308} is my mum’s father & I’m happy
    to say was one of the nicest blokes I have ever known. Tom served in
    the 56th ( with a short stint in the 66th ) from August 1915 till he landed back in Australia in March 1919.

    I downloaded his service file from the AWM site & was astounded to see the number of times he was injured (mainly gassed) only to return to his Battalion – he came close to death with Bronchial Pneumonia in Feb 1919.

    I grew up marching to 1st war songs in the lounge room not knowing anything about the horrors Tom, my dad’s dad, William Edmund Riordan ,who was in the first boats at Gallipoli with the 9th Battalion & countless others had experienced becuase these blokes were special.
    They did their best to leave it all behind.

    My wife and I will be visiting Villiers- Bret. memorial in about 3 weeks time
    to pay our respects. Thanks for honouring the unsung heroes like Sgt T.J.Ford by writing your book. I’ll be sure to aquire one when it is completed.

    Editor’s response: Hi Anthony, nice to hear from you and thanks for your positive contribution to the blog. I’ve checked our nominal roll and we certainly have your grandfather’s name on it. I don’t suppose any of his wartime photos, letters, postcards diaries etc have survived?

    Hope you have an enjoyable trip to France; I’m sure you’ll find the places you visit both fascinating and moving. Amiens is a lovely town and a great place to base yourself in when visiting the battlefields in France. It’s also well worth a trip up to Fromelles and Ypres if you have time.


  6. Mick Martin Says:

    Hi Guys,

    Just wondering if you have any idea as to when the book will be out? I’m looking forward to it.

    Is it also being published via the AWM?


    • Craig Tibbitts Says:

      Hi Mick, thanks for contacting us.

      Still no firm idea of exactly when the book will be published. We are still writing, but the plan is that we aim to finish by the end of this year (or perhaps by the end of January). We then would have to go through the editing, proofing and production processes, and I’m not sure how long this will take. I would venture a guess at it being published sometime in the second half of 2010. I really hope so anyway.

      It won’t be published via the AWM, rather it will be part of the Australian Army History Series, which these days goes via Cambridge University Press.


  7. Mick Martin Says:

    Thanks Craig!

  8. Kathryn Says:

    My Great Uncle Ernest William Gibbs was in the 56th and received gun shot wounds in France and survived.

    The link is to his photo

  9. Deslie Northcote Says:

    My Great Uncle, Lionel Duncan Dilworth – 3537, served with the 56th Battalion and died in France on 2nd April, 2011. He was 19 years old.

    Do you still need photos, letters, postcard etc for your unit history?

    If your book has already been published, can you please let me know where it will be available from.

    Many thanks,

    • Craig Tibbitts Says:

      Hi Deslie, no the book has not yet been published and I’d be happy to see whatever material you might have in the way of letters, postcards, photos etc. Could you let me know what you have and then perhaps we can organise some copies for me to look at. If you wish to send me digital copies, you can use either my work email Craig.Tibbitts@awm.gov.au or my personal one which is craig.tibbitts@bigpond.com.

      Cheers and many thanks,
      Craig Tibbitts.

  10. James Says:

    Hi Craig,

    Good to see the progress still going strong.

    Since our email a while back regarding our interest in this book, there have been increasing numbers of people asking about this Units history, so looking forward to the release of your book!

    Good luck with the rest of your work, if we can help in any way, let us know!


  11. kevin ashford Says:

    just started on this journey looking up my granfathers records, Albert Ashford, i noticed he was transfered from the 57th to the 66th in may 1917 to september then back to the 57th, is there any information around that time,
    regards Kevin Ashford

    • Craig Tibbitts Says:

      Hi Kevin,

      Best to look at the 57th Battalion’s war diary. Basically they intended to create some new battalions (61st – 70th or thereabouts), but soon scrapped the idea because of lack of volunteers coming through from Australia, and the need to replenish the existing units with replacements. So your grandfather would have likely gone to the 57th to help build up its strength prior to their big attacks between Ypres and Passchendaele in Belgium in Sept-Oct 1917.


  12. paul jones Says:

    Hi i have bee looking at my grandfarthers cousoine after he found a copy of a gallant company 35years ago i have been givin it. his name was Captian Fred Fanning i would lick to know some more infomation on him (pop was having a look at some old books when he found the referancs to Freds death regards Paul Jones

    • Craig Tibbitts Says:

      Hi Paul, the following is about all I know about Frederick Fanning.

      Captain Frederick Fanning

      Pre war
      Frederick Fanning was born on 27 December 1890 at ‘Wooroowoolgan’, near Casino, NSW, the son of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Grant Fanning (1860-1942), and Mary Fanning, of Coomeragee, Casino. His father was a retired officer of the 5th Light Horse Regiment. His grandfather was also named Frederick Fanning (1821-1905), and was a retired major of the Indian Army, who had migrated to Australia in 1858.

      He attended St Ignatius College, Riverview in Sydney. Frederick’s pre-war service totalled 9 years: 7 years as an ‘other rank’, rising from Private to Colour Sergeant; then 2 years as a 2/Lt for the Great Public Schools Battalion, Sydney.

      According to ROH circular (filled in by his father), Fanning was second cousin to General Birdwood, and first cousin to Major Rupert Fanning, DSO of 2nd Australian Division Artillery.

      His occupation upon enlistment was recorded as ‘overseer’, but his ROH circular (filled in by his father), says he was a grazier.

      War service
      Enlisted 14 September 1914 in Sydney. Age 23 & 9/12 and standing 5’ 10” tall, he was single when he joined up. Allotted to H Company, 4th Battalion as a second lieutenant and platoon commander. Embarked on Euripides on 20 Oct 1914 in Sydney. With the reorganisation of the battalion on 1 January 1915 he was made commander of 14 Platoon, D Company.

      25 April 1915 landed on Gallipoli and promoted to lieutenant the same day. Continuous service on Gallipoli from the Landing until the end of June. Apparently he led the very first Australian trench raid on Gallipoli (Austin, The Fighting Fourth, p 52).

      In early July he was hospitalised suffering from dysentery and cardiac problems (including feinting). After recovering, on 12 Aug 1915, he was appointed Aide-de-Camp to Major-General Legge (GOC 2nd Aust. Division).

      He then suffered a bout of enteric fever from early September 1915 and took a month to recover, finally rejoining the 4th Battalion on Gallipoli on 10 Oct 1915. Appointed Temporary Captain on 25 November 1915.

      On 16 Feb 1916 Fanning transferred to the newly-raised 56th Battalion (5th Division) and made Officer Commanding A Company. He next suffered a bout of influenza for about two weeks from late February to early March 1916. He was then promoted to the substantive rank of Captain on 12 March 1916.

      Fanning was thrice mentioned in despatches

      Second Lieutenant Frederick Fanning from Casino – MID
      ‘Led his platoon with coolness and judgement, and directed operations in a very difficult situation.’

      Special mention in Hamilton’s Despatches on 6 Feb 1916.

      Captain Frederick Fanning from Casino – MID (his second)
      ‘At Petillon this officer was ordered to take his company into the original front line trench of the brigade area, at 9.15 pm, on the night of the 19/20th July 1916, and held same in case of emergency. He was responsible for organising its defence in the dark. On the morning of the 20th July when part of the 8th Inf Bde were retiring in … disorder from the German trenches, past the original firing line to the support line, Captain Fanning, immediately grasping the situation, organised and sent off a party into the 8th Inf Bde area of the original firing line, and was thus largely instrumental in stemming the disorder of the 8th Bde’s retirement, about 5.15 am on the 20th July1916. Captain Fanning’s reports and messages during the 19/20th July were very clear and most useful.’

      Fanning’s death
      Died of wounds from shelling on 1 November 1916 near Flers on the Somme. He was 25 years old. Fanning is buried at Dartmoor Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, France, which is only a couple of km south east of Albert.

      • Nick Westcott-White Says:

        Craig and Paul,

        Frederick Fanning was also one of my Grand Father’s cousin. His name was Walter Grant Fanning.

        Paul, I would be interested to know where you come in on the family tree. What was your Grand Father’s name?

        Nick Westcott-White

      • Catherine Coburn Says:

        This biography of Captain Fanning is fascinating and very detailed. I hope you’ll be able to give me more details of my uncle Pte William Alfred ROSE # 3245 who was serving witht he 56th and died the same day as Captain Fanning near Flers. I have shivers up my spine thinking about them dying in the same battle on the same day. We are visiting the Somme from June 1st and staying in a B&B that will offer us a personalized tour of the battlefields relevant to my uncle’s service.

  13. paul jones Says:

    Thank you Craig we still had an old arnty that died this year who was Freds cousin the family knew here as Milly but both my mum and arnty still knew here as Mary. My Pops mum was the youngesr child and Mary the oldist. thank you for the infomation it is much aprciated Paul Jones

    • Edward Peacock Says:

      Hello Paul
      H R Williams, who wrote “The Gallant Company”, also wrote “Comrades of the Great Adventure” which contains more about his war service and about Captain Fanning. You might want to track down a copy.
      What a privilege to have such a man as Captain Fanning in your family.
      Best, Edward.

  14. Murray Morrison Says:

    Would be interested in being notified when the book is about to be released.



    • Craig Tibbitts Says:

      Hi Murray,

      Thanks for your interest. I’ll add your email to the list of people to be contacted about publication.


  15. Robyn Brown Says:

    I had 2 uncles in the 56th.
    Therir surname was Sackett.
    I am interested in the book and posibly could supply a photo.
    R. Brown,

  16. Geoff Watson Says:

    I am a second cousin, twice removed, of Field Marshall William Birdwood. Frederick Fanning, William Birdwood and I have common grandparents. They were the Rev. Joseph Taylor, a misionary in India and his wife Emelia Van Someren. One of their daughters married a Fanning, another married a Birdwood and another a Grant. Each of their spouses was a military officer in colonial India. My great great grandfather , Lt Gregor Grant was killed at the Seige of Lucknow and his wife and youngest daughter died of cholera during the seige. My great grandfather, Gregor Ironside Grant and his sister Mary were orphaned and went to live with their maternal aunt, and raised with the younger William Birdwood. I am writing a family history and am grateful for any information.

  17. Geoff Watson Says:

    Frederick Fanning and Gregor Grant were fellow regimental officers in the Indian Army. Gregor and Frederick were also brothers in law. their wives were sisters and the daughters of the Rev Joseph Taylor, LMS, and Emelia Van Someren. Lt. Gregor Grant was killed during the Indian Mutiny at Lucknow. He was the officer in charge of section of the defensive perimeter of the Residency. His arm was blown off when he attempted to throw back a grenade that had lobbed into the bastion he was defending. He died in July 1857, a few days after he sustained his injuries. A plaque dedicated to Gregor in the grounds where the Residency once stood is called Grant’s Bastion. His fellow officers had a plaque erected in the foyer of St Thomas Cathedral in Mumbai. His wife, Eliza and daughter, Lucy both died of Cholera during the seige shortly before Gregor’s death. Gregor and Eliza Grant were my maternal Great Great Grandparents. There were two surviving children, Gregor Ironside Grant and his sister, MaryAntoinette. They were initially cared for by Dr Gubbins and his wife. After the relief of Lucknow they were repatriated to England and brought up by their aunt Lydia who was the eldest child of Rev Taylor. Lydia’s husband was General Christopher Birdwood, grandfather of Field Marshall William Birdwood. Gregor Ironside Grant and the young William Birdwood were schooled together at Clifton College.

    Gregor Ironside Grant, my Great grandfather, had two daughters, Nina Geraldine Ogilvey Grant and Edna Ironside Grant. Nina is my maternal grandmother. Her daughter, Edna Margaret Evans dec. married Stanley Donald Watson dec. and I am their eldest child and only son. William Birdwood is my second cousin and Frederick Fanning also a second cousin. I will be in France during June 2014 and will be visiting Dartmoor Cemetry in Becordel-Becourt. Captain Fanning’s father was right in stating that Frederick and William Birdwood were cousins. Capt. Fanning is also related to Gonville Bromhead VC, Rorkes Drift, 1879. He was the English officer, Lt. Bromhead, second in command, immortalised in the movie Zulu. His character was played by Michael Caine. Field Marshall William Birdwood’s wife was Jeanetta Hope Gonville Bromhead, obviously named after her uncle Gonville. The christian names, Grant, in the Fanning family were used in memory of my G. G. Grandfather, killed during the defence of Lucknow.

    Thankyou for the information on Capt. Fanning’ military service. I am writing a family history and will include information about the 56th Battalion and Frederick’s citations.

    Geoff Watson

  18. Pam Shadie Says:

    Hi All

    Regarding Captain Fred Fanning … My father John George Coles Jameson served with the 56th and was wounded in the same battle Fred Fanning was mortally wounded.

    In an extract from a letter my father sent home to his Mother in December 1916 he wrote …

    “My Dear Mother … Today I heard from one of the boys here that our O.C. Captain Fanning who was wounded with us on the 1.11.16 died coming down on the Hospital train. I was on the same train as he was. All the boys in the Coy will be sorry to hear as he was a great favourite with all.”

    On another matter …

    Hi Craig Tibbets,

    Some time has passed since I’ve had an update on how the Unit history book is progressing I have sent you a couple of emails but had no reply, would really appreciate hearing how it’s going and when we can expect publication.

    Thanks and regards,

    Pam Shadie

  19. micheal smith Says:

    Has anyone herd of john henry patterson from the 56 battalion thanks

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