Arthur Mackay Boxshall


boxshall-arthurfrom the AWM HERE

A complex life

Arthur Mackay Boxshall was born on the 8th of August 1884 at Pyremont, Sydney NSW. He was the third child of Charlotte and James Boxshall. He had at least seven sisters and two brothers of whom only he and four of his sisters would survive past infancy.

His father James was a descendant of James Boxshall, a highly regarded early settler of Brighton, in Melbourne (There is a Boxshall St. in Brighton today). James jr. was born in Brighton and married Charlotte Organ in Creswick, Victoria in 1878, where the first of their daughters was born. They spent time in NSW when Arthur was born and later in 1889 when James was a clerk at the Wyrallah sawmill near Lismore, he was sentenced to ‘five years penal servitude’ for forgery. At that time the family returned to Melbourne and when James eventually joined them there were a further three children born from 1897 to 1900.

On 24th November 1905 Arthur married Ann Margaret McLean, the daughter of a grain buyer from Spring Hill in Victoria. Arthur is described as a ‘fellmonger’ living in Balaclava. Ann was a laundress living at the same address. Coincidence maybe, but James Boxshall at this time owned a laundry in Nth Fitzroy.

Arthur and Ann are next to be found in 1908 in Preston where he is employed as a driver.

In July 1912 Arthur’s mother Charlotte dies at the home of her sister in Brighton. At about this time his father James disappears and in 1913 Arthur is listed as a ‘laundry’ owner in Hawthorn (previously owned by James).

We first know of Arthur and Ann at Back Beach Rd. Sorrento in 1914 where he is listed as ‘porter’. We also know from later records that they lived at a property named “Jylland” or “Yylland” and that Arthur was a ‘signalman’ in Sorrento. It is pure supposition, but these professions might imply that Arthur was working on the Sorrento Tram with Harry Watts and several of the Watts family.

Ann had an adopted daughter Daphne from her previous marriage who was born in 1908 and began at Sorrento Primary School in January 1914.


Arthur enlisted on 15th July 1915 initially into the 22nd Infantry Battalion, 6th Reinforcements.

(This was the same day and unit as James Henry Watts and Cecil Stanley Samuel Hibbert enlisted.)



The 6th Infantry Brigade, 22nd Battalion, 6th Reinforcements embarked from Melbourne on H.M.A.T. A38 “Ulysses” on the 27th Oct 1915.

Joining our three boys on the ship was Alfred John Heath Dark from Sorrento who had enlisted two days after the others.


HMAT A38 Ulysses from Flotilla Australia HERE

On an earlier ship RMS “Osterley” which departed Melbourne on 29th September 1915, carrying the 6th Brigade, 22nd Battalion 5th Reinforcements, were two brothers from Rye . . . Robert James Myers and Ernest Samuel Gordon Myers.

Traveling initially to Alexandria then Heliopolis to join the 22nd Battalion, on 12th March 1916 Arthur was transferred to 2nd Australian Pioneer Battalion as a signaler and joined the unit in Moascar (sic), Egypt. The 2nd Pioneers arrived in Marseilles 26th March 1916.

2nd Australian Pioneer Battalion


Patch of 2nd Australian Pioneer Btn from AWM HERE

Each Division was allocated a Pioneer Battalion.  The 2nd Pioneers were the Pioneer Battalion of the 2nd Division as indicated by the diamond-shaped  colour patch.

Pioneer Battalions were essentially light military combat engineers organised like the infantry and located at the very forward edge of the battle area.  They were used to develop and enhance protection and mobility for supported troops and to deny it to the enemy. They constructed defensive positions, command posts and dugouts, prepared barbed wire defences and on occasion breached those of the enemy using devices like the Bangalore Torpedo.

Their skills and capability were broad from building, construction and maintenance to road and track preparation and maintenance. They could also, and did quite often, fight as infantry.

Although they had existed in the Indian Army before 1914, pioneer battalions were used on a large scale by Commonwealth forces on the Western Front during the First World War. Because of its largely static nature, there was a much heavier reliance on field defences and the provision of mobility support to get people weapons ammunition rations and stores up to the front and casualties out.  Roads and railways needed to be built maintained and repaired.

While these were also Engineer tasks, Engineers alone could not meet the heavy demand, while riflemen were always needed at the front. Therefore, pioneer battalions were raised to meet the needs of both and trained to support both engineers and infantry.

The 2nd Pioneers were raised in 1916 and were engaged in every action undertaken by the 2nd Division, starting at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm in mid 1916 through Bullecourt and Third Ypres in 1917, the stemming of the German tide in the Spring Offensive of 1918, the “Peaceful Penetration” phase leading up to and including the Hundred Days campaign in late 1918.

From RSL Virtual War Memorial HERE

Battle of Flers

The village of Flers, in the Somme valley in France, gave its name to a series of attacks launched by 1 ANZAC in November 1916. By this time the Somme battlefield had been deluged with rain and the attacks were made in atrocious conditions. The attacking waves of troops were sucked down by the cloying mud and thus, unable to keep up with their creeping artillery barrage, became easy targets for German machine-gunners and riflemen.

The first Flers attack was launched on 5 November with the 1st Brigade advancing against trenches north of Gueudecourt, and the 7th against a complex of trenches known as “the Maze”. Both attacks managed to capture some of their objectives, but were eventually forced to withdraw. Another attack was launched against the Maze by the 5th and 7th Brigades on the morning of 14 November, it also succeeded in capturing a portion of the German trenches, but a surprise attack two days later returned this to the enemy.

Source: AWM Histories HERE

"The Maze" East of La Sars

“The Maze” East of La Sars

sketch from C.e.w.bean Vol 3 ch xxv p 928 – flers HERE

On the night of the 12th (November), the 19th and 20th came out to Switch and Carlton Trenches expecting a rest; but they had barely settled down after the march when their commanders and, later, the company commanders were called to brigade headquarters and it was explained to them that their battalions must return to the line as soon as night fell-the 19th Battalion to deliver with the 25th and 26th the renewed attack, and the 20th to support.

A convenient ” jumping-off ” trench had been dug by the 2nd Pioneers along the left half of the front. This, the chief labour of the past week, had been well carried out, although Germans had seen the parties and at least once driven them in with machine-gun fire, mortally wounding a Lewis gunners  of the covering party who pluckily fought them shot for shot.

More from Bean . . .

Zero hour was fixed on this occasion at 6.45 a.m.(14th November) The weather had been fine since November 9th, and the ground was certainly not heavier than on the 5th. But the Germans, knowing that an attack was to come, not only laid down their barrage so promptly that it caught the last waves of the attack, but had also a few hours before the attack re-erected some of the battered wire-entanglements at The Maze. The right battalion of the Australians, the 26th (Queensland and Tasmania), attacking that sector, succeeded in crossing certain parts of the front trench and entering the second, but was
quickly repulsed and by 8 o’clock was reported, though uncertainly, to be back in its  original line. The centre and left battalions, 25th (Queensland) and 19th (New South
Wales), were reported to have taken both objectives (Gird and Gird Support Trenches)

from C.e.w.bean Vol 3 ch xxv – flers HERE

Early gains were lost after German counter attacks and for the time being the Somme campaign was over for the Australians.

With winter setting in conditions around Flers were horrendous.the-maze-1917

The Maze in Early 1917 from AWM HERE

“It would be idle to suppose that any force could support without signs of bending the tremendous stresses which-for the Australians-began at Pozieres and reached their climax at Flers. The moraIe of the A.I.F. was never low; even in the worst conditions at Flers the response of the troops often amazed even those who knew them best; but this period represented the bottom of the curve.” – C.E.W. Bean

What happened to Arthur Boxshall?

Arthur’s ‘B’ Company was to support the 19th Infantry Battalion in the attack of the 14th. He was reported ‘Wounded in Action on the 14th’ on the 18th of November, then ‘Wounded and Missing’ on the 30th of December.

A Court of Enquiry was held on the 26th November 1917. There were five witnesses. This is the third of them, Private Prowd of 2nd Pioneer Battalion and is fairly representative.


Court of Enquiry – 3rd Witness


Court of Enquiry – Finding

The full details of the Enquiry are available from The National Archive HERE

Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files

The files were created by the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau of the Australian Red Cross, which was a branch of the British Red Cross. The Bureau, which commenced operation in October 1915, sought to identify, investigate and respond to enquiries made regarding the fate of Australian personnel. It investigated the majority of personnel posted as wounded and missing on official Army lists, as well as written enquiries from concerned relatives and friends.

In addition to the official Court of Enquiry there was an investigation by the Australian Red Cross. . . The report has several more eyewitness reports . . . Some more reliable than others . . . From AWM  HERE


Arthur is buried at the Warlencourt British Cemetery about half a kilometre west of the battle. The cemetery was made late in 1919 when graves were brought in from small cemeteries and the battlefields of Warlencourt and Le Sars.


pic courtesy Peter Munro


Back at Sorrento

Ann wrote to inquire about Arthur, but didn’t receive official confirmation of his death until January 1918 despite hearing from other sources that he had been killed.


from Trove HERE

ps: Ann remarried after the war and lived in Richmond for many years.