James William BILHAM


BILHAM, James William

Service Number: 2462
Enlisted: 11 June 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 21st Infantry Battalion
Born: Tatong, Victoria, Australia, 11 June 1915
Home Town: Tatong, Benalla, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Farm Labouer
Died: Killed in Action, Mouquet Farm, France, 26 August 1916, aged 1 year
Cemetery: Pozières British Cemetery
Plot II, Row A, Grave No. 49
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Benalla War Memorial, Peranbin Primary College (Tatong) Pictorial HR
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World War 1 Service

11 Jun 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 2462, 21st Infantry Battalion
29 Sep 1915: Involvement Private, SN 2462, 21st Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières
29 Sep 1915: Embarked Private, SN 2462, 21st Infantry Battalion, RMS Osterley, Melbourne

Help us honour James William Bilham's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Son of Mark Thomas, and Mary Anne BILHAM, Tatong, Victoria

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From François Berthout

Pte 2462 James William Bilham,
21st Australian Infantry Battalion, C Company,
11th Platoon, 6th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division
The Somme, today peaceful and serene, was more than a hundred years ago, for a whole generation of young men, a hell on earth, a nightmare made of blood and mud in which a whole youth was lost through the slaughterhouses of battles which were among the deadliest of the great war and which, in the barbed wire, in the trenches, took the lives, the dreams and the hopes of so many men who did their duty with exceptional bravery and who, in the prime of their young lives, gave their blood and their last breath through the poppies among which stand today, row upon row, eternal and solemn, their thousands of white graves on which are remembered and honored the stories of their lives who was shattered by war, stopped by bullets but who here, on these hallowed grounds of northern France for which they fought and gave their all, will forever be remembered with respect and gratitude for who they were, for what they did and gave for us who will be forever grateful to them and over whom I will always watch with care and love to keep their memories alive, so that their names, in our hearts and throughout history, live forever.

Today, it is with the utmost respect and with the deepest gratitude that I would like to honor the memory of one of these young men, one of my boys of the Somme who gave his today for our tomorrow. I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Private number 2462 James William Bilham who fought in the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, C Company, 11th Platoon, 6th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division, and who was killed in action 106 years ago, on the 26th August 1916 at the age of 19 during the Battle of the Somme.

James William Bilham was born in 1897 in Tatong, Victoria, Australia, and was the son of Mark Thomas Bilham (1851-1929), and Mary Ann Bilham (née Hewson-1862-1942) and married in 1884. He had four brothers, Harry (1888-1975), John (1887-1956), George Methuen, Robert, and four sisters, Mary Anne (1899-1974), Lydia Ellen (1894-1896), Margaret Susannah (1895-1951) and Mare .James was educated at Tatong State School, Victoria, then after graduation, served for six months in the 8th Light Horse and then worked as a farm labourer.

James enlisted on June 25, 1915 in Melbourne, Victoria, in the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, 5th Reinforcement, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Francis Hutchinson, and after a training period of three months at Broadmeadows Camps, north of Melbourne, embarked with his unit and a force of 1000 men from Melbourne, on board RMS Osterley on September 29, 1915 and sailed for Egypt.

On January 7, 1916, James arrived in Egypt and was disembarked at Tel-El-Kebir then, with the 21st Battalion, fought against the Ottoman forces in the defense of the Suez Canal until March 18 and the following day, with the men of his unit, joined the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) in Alexandria from where they embarked and proceeded overseas for France.

On March 29, 1916, after a week-long journey on the Mediterranean Sea, James arrived in France and was disembarked at Marseilles from where they embarked by train for Aire, in the north of France where they arrived the next day and began to follow musketry exercises and were inspected by Lord Kitchener then on April 1, marched to Glomenghem (Pas-De-Calais), where the battalion followed a period of training including rifle exercises and on April 5, moved to Haverskerque (Hauts-De-France) then for Sailly-Sur-La-Lys and Fleurbaix the next day where they joined the front line with the support of several sections of machine guns and snipers but also with the support of the artillery which had to face barrages from the very active German artillery in this sector which used high explosive shells and shrapnel. During this time, the front line of the 21st Battalion extended over two positions known as "Jay Post" and "Tin Barn". On 22 April the 21st Battalion was relieved by the 22nd Australian Infantry Battalion and marched into billets at Fleurbaix where the men were mainly employed in fatigue parties but also had a rest period including baths then on April 22, entered the trenches of Fleurbaix, relieved the 22nd Battalion and occupied the position of "Wye Farm" in particularly heavy rain but in a rather calm sector and the men took advantage of this period to repair and improve the parapets and the dugouts which were filled with water and mud and on April 26, moved to Erquinghem-Lys where they were billeted in the "Jesus Farm" until May 31.

On June 1, 1916, James and the 21st Battalion marched to their new billets at Rue Marle, near Bois-Grenier where they were inspected by Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes and were mainly employed in fatigue parties and work to improve their billets then on June 11, took positions in trenches standing in front of Bois-Grenier under the fire of the German artillery which seemed very imprecise and ineffective in this sector but supported by fire from machine guns and very active enemy snipers but dated June 19, was written in the battalion's war diary "everything is normal in no man's land" and was relieved on July 4 by the 2nd New Zealand Brigade.

On July 5, 1916, James and the 21st Battalion marched for Steenwerck where they were billeted in good conditions and were employed in the cleaning of rifles and ammunition then on July 8, moved for St Sauveur via Merris, Ebblinghem and St Omer and on July 12, arrived on the front of the Somme, in the small village of Villers-Bocage.

After Villers-Bocage, the 21st Battalion marched for Puchevillers then for Varennes where they arrived on July 21, 1916 and where they followed a period of training including bayonet fights, Stokes Mortar demonstration then on July 26, left Varennes for Albert and bivouaced at "Brickfields" and on July 28, joined the front line in what was their first major engagement but also the deadliest engagement in the Somme for the Australian Imperial Force, the hell of the battle of Pozieres.

The village of Pozieres was captured initially by the 1st Division on 23 July 1916. The division clung to its gains despite almost continuous artillery fire and repeated German counter-attacks but suffered heavily. By the time it was relieved on 27 July it had suffered 5,285 casualties.

The 2nd Division took over from the 1st and mounted two further attacks,the first, on 29 July, was a costly failure; the second, on 2 August, resulted in the seizure of further German positions beyond the village. Again, the Australians suffered heavily from retaliatory bombardments. They were relieved on 6 August, having suffered 6,848 casualties.

The 4th Division was next into the line at Pozieres. It too endured a massive artillery bombardment, and defeated a German counter-attack on 7 August; this was the last attempt by the Germans to retake Pozieres.

On August 1, 1916, James and the men of the 21st Battalion were employed to dig new positions near the line "Orchard Corner" and joined the 5th Brigade then the next day relieved the 23rd Australian Infantry Battalion in the "Sausage Valley".On August 3, the Battalion received reinforcement from a company of the 46th Australian Infantry Battalion and the next day were engaged in carrying duties between Chalk Pit and the front line then the following day launched a successful attack on OG1 and OG2 Trench and were relieved on August 6 by the 4th Brigade then moved into bivouacs at Tara Hill but between July 28 and August 6, the battalion lost 280 men.

On August 8, 1916, James and the 21st Battalion marched to Warloy-Baillon where they had a brief rest period then on August 12 marched through Vadencourt, Herissart, Rubempre, Talmas, La Vicogne, Canaples, and arrived at Berteaucourt-Les-Dames where they alternated between periods of rest and training including night attack exercises. On August 18 they left Berteaucourt-Les-Dames and moved back to the front line at Pozieres on August 22 and took position in Wire Trench" then on August 24, moved further north, into the trenches standing in front of Mouquet Farm where unfortunately, two days later, James met his fate.

On August 26, 1916 at dawn, the 6th Brigade headed by the 21st and 24th Battalions with B Company from the 22nd Battalion protecting their left flank began their attack on Mouquet Farm. B Company moved forward at the zero hour of 4.45am under a good barrage, with the four Platoons dropped off one after another to take up positions on the left in shell holes, but soon a nest of German gunners and machine guns caused heavy casualties. It was now becoming apparent that the farm was protected by a system of cleverly constructed tunnels, precursors of those to be later seen on the Hindenburg Line, of which the attackers knew nothing until the enemy appeared in positions and molested the flanks.

Unfortunately, it was during this attack that James was killed in action, he was 19 years old and his body was found four days later on the battlefield.

After James'death, one of his comrades said:
"I saw Bilham buried by his pals at Mouquet Farm 3 or 4 days after we had charged and been forced back.He was killed in the charge.The burial was in a shell hole,and as much soil as possible was put upon the body,in case a shell should burst upon the spot.The men assisting in the burial were from various companies of the battalion."
Today, James William Bilham rests in peace alongside his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Pozieres British cemetery, Ovillers-La-Boisselle, Somme, and his grave bears the following inscription: "May the Lord let his perpetual light shine upon him."

James William Bilham had a cousin who fought with courage during the great war. He was Private number 5474 James Robert Wakefield who served in the 8th Australian Infantry Battalion but was unfortunately killed in action on October 4, 1917 in Belgium at the age of 20 His body, sadly, was never found and his name is now remembered and honored on the walls of the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.

James, it was in the prime of your life and with the finest spirit of courage that for the peace and freedom of the world you took a step forward to answer the call of your country and the call of duty to do what was right, to do your part alongside your comrades on the battlefields of the great war where in endless lines, alongside horses, in dust and mud, behind bagpipes and drums, gathered and walked a whole generation of young men who, in the ardor of youth, went towards their destiny without knowing what hell awaited them but proud and determined, guided by their courage and the deep desire to fight, they joined the trenches and the front line with the infallible conviction that they would fight to end all war, for causes that gave them the strength to face the horrors and the pains of a war in which they gave their today under hail of bullets and tons of shells which fell all around them in terrifying howls and which, in deflagrations , in terrible explosions, forever changed the face of the world and the hearts of men who threw themselves on each other in terrible attacks that ended in the fury of hand-to-hand combat, of bayonets penetrating the flesh of men innocent people who died in terrible agonies and drowned in blood, in shell holes in which friends and enemies lay and whose bodies, under the summer sun, were pulverized by incessant bombardments which destroyed thousands of men who, on these sacred grounds in the north of France, did not find the glory of which they had been told but a death towards which they were sent and which they faced with exceptional bravery without ever taking a single step back.In this unspeakable hell, they had to live each day as if it were the last, in the terrifying expectation that a bullet or a shrapnel could end their existence in a slow and painful death in a deep mud and red with blood that they had to dig to try to find shelter but only discovered legs, arms, the emaciated faces of their brothers in arms who died during previous assaults.In this nightmare, the living and the dead had to live together, in an open tomb on which death waited, sly and implacable but in this chaos, through these slaughterhouses of blood and flesh, in these execution fields, these young men who came from so far to save our country remained strong and united in the mateship, they kept their smile and a sense of humor that nothing broke, they kept an unfailing courage that the brutality of the war could not do bend and find in each other, the will, the strength and the bravery to climb the wooden ladders to cross the no man's land and go with confidence and resolution towards their destinies but thousands of them were mowed down in the barbed wire and fell among the poppies on which stood their white graves which remind us today of what so many of them did and gave for us who are free and who live in peace without being afraid of tomorrow thanks to them who rest in peace in the white and eternal cities among which they always stand young and proud and over whom I will always watch with the utmost respect to honor the memory of these heroes who gave their lives in France so that their sacrifices and their lives are never forgotten, so that their names, in our hearts and through the light of remembrance live forever.Thank you so much James,for everything.At the going down of the sun and in the morning,we will remember him, will remember them.