William Christopher Brumby

w brumby banner


An Englishman Abroad

William Christopher Brumby was born in Conisholme, Lincolnshire, England in 1887, the son of Eliza and William Brumby, a farmer. When his father died in 1908 William went to work with James Lowis at “Hedge Ends Farm”, Grimoldby, Lincolnshire, the husband of his older sister, also Eliza.

Farming in Lincolnshire c1905

Farming in Lincolnshire c.1905

We believe William probably arrived in Australia aboard the “Osterley” on 15th June 1814.

A little over a year after arriving in Australia, William enlisted with “C” Coy 31st. Battalion AIF on 12th July 1915. Interestingly, he enlisted on the same day as Albert George Hibbert of Sorrento, who also joined “C” Coy 31st. Battalion AIF. These two joined Ernest George White, also from Sorrento, in “C” Coy, who had enlisted six days earlier. The significance of this will become clear later.


brumby enlistment

The 8th Infantry Brigade, 31st Battalion “C” Coy embarked from Melbourne on H.M.A.T. A62 “Wandilla” on the 9th Nov 1915.

HMAT A62 Wandilla

HMAT A62 Wandilla

31st Australian Infantry Battalion 31st battalion patch

The 31st Battalion was raised as part of the 8th Brigade at Enoggera, on the outskirts of Brisbane, in August 1915. Some of the battalion’s companies, however, were also raised at Broadmeadows Camp in Victoria. In early October, these two elements were united at Broadmeadows, and the battalion sailed from Melbourne the following month.

The 8th Brigade joined the newly raised 5th Australian Division in Egypt, and proceeded to France, destined for the Western Front, in June 1916. The 31st Battalion fought its first major battle at Fromelles on 19 July 1916, having only entered the front-line trenches 3 days previously. The attack was a disastrous introduction to battle for the 31st – it suffered 572 casualties, over half of its strength. Although it still spent periods in the front line, the 31st played no major offensive role for the rest of the year.

Source: AWM Unit Histories. for more go HERE

C Company 31st Battalion

Portrait of C Company, 31st Battalion (OC Major Charles Edward Clements)

Source: AWM DAX0913A. for more go HERE

Battle of Fromelles

Fromelles was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front. Directed against a strong German position known as the Sugar Loaf salient, the attack was intended primarily as a feint to draw German troops away from the Somme offensive then being pursued further to the south.

A seven-hour preparatory bombardment deprived the attack of any hope of surprise, and ultimately proved ineffective in subduing the well-entrenched defenders. When the troops of the 5th Australian and 61st British Divisions attacked at 6 pm on 19 July 1916, they suffered heavily at the hands of German machine-gunners. Small parts of the German trenches were captured by the 8th and 14th Australian Brigades, but, devoid of flanking support and subjected to fierce counter-attacks, they were forced to withdraw. By 8am on 20 July 1916, the battle was over. The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 casualties, rendering it incapable of offensive action for many months; the 61st British Division suffered 1,547. The German casualties were little more than 1,000. The attack was a complete failure as the Germans realised within a few hours it was merely a feint. It therefore had no impact whatsoever upon the progress of the Somme offensive.

Source: AWM Histories HERE


From C.E.W. Bean’s Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918:

By 2 o’clock the battalions from billets were reaching the ‘‘300 yards” line, and some of the companies allotted for the first two waves were continuing on through the communication trenches to the front line, in almost exact accordance with the time-table. At this juncture the enemy’s artillery, which till then had replied only slightly, began to answer the increasing British bombardment by shelling the communication trenches and reserve and support lines of both the attacking divisions.

In the Australian area the ammunition- and bomb-dump of the 31st Battalion was blown up, and the battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Toll, and most of his signallers, messengers, and the medical staff of the battalion were wounded.

fromelles beginning

The Australian Brigades Prior to the Attack

The 8th Brigade, which formed the left of the attack, had while waiting in the front line suffered more severely than the rest of the Australian troops. The reason for this was partly that it lay on the flank, and partly that its front line, running closer to the enemy than that of the other sectors, not only received special attention from him, but also, as has already been stated, caught a number of the shells of its own artillery intended for the enemy’s wire.

During the few minutes immediately preceding the assault, the fire upon this sector, largely from German batteries to the north-east, was intensified. Thus a high proportion of the total casualties of the 31st Battalion occurred before the assault began.

The 31st Battalion’s day is touched upon in C.E.W. Bean’s Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Vol 3 Ch XII “The Battle of Fromelles”. Other Chapters can be found at the Australian War Memorial site HERE.

Of 8th Brigades position (see sketch above), the 32nd Battalion was to the extreme left flank with the 31st on their right.

William Brumby

With the attack to start at 6:00pm, “C” Coy was instructed to attack in the first wave on the left quarter of the 31st Battalion and in the second wave of the quarter to its right. We don’t know if William was killed in the first or second wave or was killed at some other time.

From C.E.W. Bean:

Yet when at 5.53 the first wave of the brigade-31st (Queensland and Victoria) on the right, and 32nd (Western and South Australia) on the left-moved over the parapet towards the enemy’s wire, their fighting spirit was manifestly all that their leaders could wish. The left was met by a vicious fusillade, partly from the front, but mainly from the line farther east, in front of the 60th British Brigade, which was not attacking.

fromelles 31st

31st and 32nd Btn Early Positions

Officers and men of the 8th Brigade were, however, animated, from the brigadier to the last reinforcement, by one chief desire-to show themselves in their first action not inferior to the older troops who had fought at Gallipoli; and both battalions advanced without hesitation. The enemy at first faced this attack, and losses were heavy.

fromelles max

Furthest Gains

Ultimately whilst gains were made over the evening, German counter attacks in the early morning saw the Australians back where they’d started.

“C” Coy of the 31st Battalion at Fromelles

Of the 148 men in the picture above. . .14 killed. . .17 missing. . .105 wounded. . .1died of wounds received. . . Total 137

In addition the CO, Major Clements died later of his wounds.

What happened to William Brumby?

Although we now believe he was almost certainly killed or mortally wounded on the 19th of July, William was eventually recorded as killed on the 21st of July 1916.His body was never recovered.

We now suspect from the research of Lambis Englezos and his subsequent presentation to the NHS in February this year, ‘Finding the missing soldiers from Fromelles’ (See the video HERE), that William Brumby may have been buried by the Germans at Pheasant’s Wood close to Fromelles.

There are currently efforts being made to identify remains from Pheasant’s Wood using DNA. We are making efforts in the UK to find relatives of William.

Back at Sorrento

We have a letter from the archives that states:

“I am informed that Mrs. G. White of Sorrento, shortly after the death of the deceased, forwarded to the Military Authorities, Victoria Barracks, the effects left by the late soldier. . .”

From the NAA HERE

We also know from the Roll of Honour Circular that William’s ‘place of association’ was Sorrento. (HERE)

We mentioned earlier that William enlisted on the same day as “Bert” Hibbert of Sorrento, who also joined “C” Coy 31st. Battalion AIF. These two joined Ernest George White, also from Sorrento, in “C” Coy, who had enlisted six days earlier.

Ernest George “Ernie” White was the son of George and Mary Ann “Minnie” White (nee Dark). As Mary had William’s effects, we can only presume that William was lodging with the Whites and may have been working for George. He certainly must have known Ernest White and Albert Hibbert well enough to enlist with them.

With tragic results.

Then there is this:

brumby memorial argus 1917

From Trove HERE