Barney William RICKWOOD DCM

RICKWOOD, Barney William

Service Number: 275
Enlisted: 24 March 1916, Brisbane, Queensland
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: 41st Infantry Battalion
Born: Sydney, New South Wales, December 1894
Home Town: Kilcoy, Somerset, Queensland
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Stockman
Died: Killed in Action, France, 29 September 1918
Cemetery: Unicorn Cemetery, Vendhuile
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Brisbane 41st Battalion Roll of Honour, Kilcoy Honour Roll, Swan Bay Roll of Honor
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World War 1 Service

24 Mar 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 275, Brisbane, Queensland
18 May 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 275, 41st Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
18 May 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 275, 41st Infantry Battalion, HMAT Demosthenes, Sydney
31 Jul 1917: Honoured Distinguished Conduct Medal, Warneton
11 Nov 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Corporal, 41st Infantry Battalion
7 Sep 1918: Promoted AIF WW1, Lance Sergeant, 41st Infantry Battalion
29 Sep 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, 275, 41st Infantry Battalion, Breaching the Hindenburg Line - Cambrai / St Quentin Canal


Barney William RICKWOOD DCM #275 41st Battalion

Barney Rickwood was born into a large NSW family of at least three brothers and two sisters. Most of his siblings continued to live and work in NSW but Barney moved to Queensland where he took up work as a stockman/ station hand at Kilcoy.

Barney enlisted in Brisbane on 24th March 1916. He stated his age as 21 years and 3 months and named a sister, Eileen Rickwood, as next of kin. Curiously, Barney did not state his address as Kilcoy but rather C/- T Buller, Swan Bay, Richmond River, NSW. He also disclosed that he had previously been rejected for service because of bad teeth.

In May of 1916, Barney had been allocated to the 41st Battalion and boarded the “Demosthenes” in Sydney, bound for overseas. Four days into the voyage he was charged with “breaking away from quarters” which earned him a fine of several day’s pay. The battalion landed in Plymouth on 20th July and marched into the 3rd Division Base at Larkhill.
The 3rd Division under the command of Major General John Monash continued to train in England until the end of November when the entire division crossed the channel in preparation for their first engagement with the enemy in the sector of the western front near the French / Belgian border to the north of Armentieres.

The authorities had erred spectacularly in the summer of 1916 when the untested Australians were thrown into the Somme battles. Such mistakes would not be repeated. A period of small trench raids and reconnaissance would introduce the battalions to the business of war. During this period of patrolling in no man’s land, Barney began to demonstrate qualities of discipline and initiative in leading many scouting parties.

As a consequence of his gallantry and devotion to duty in leading scouting raids in the Armentieres sector from December 1916 to March 1917 and at Warneton in July of 1917, Barney was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The recommendation was made on 1st October 1917 by the Divisional Commander, John Monash but was promulgated until the middle of 1918. Circumstances would prevent Barney from attending any award ceremony and he did not ever receive the medal, which was presented to his sister after his death.

During 1917, Barney was promoted to lance corporal and then corporal as the Australian forces saw action at Messines, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde and Passchendaele. When the Flanders mud forced a halt to the campaign in Belgium, the Australians enjoyed a period of rest and recuperation. Barney was granted a fortnight’s leave in England in January 1918.

With the coming of spring in 1918, the German commander Ludendorff took advantage of a temporary numerical superiority of troops to launch a surprise offensive against the British on the Somme. Operation Michael began on 21st March and was so successful that in a few days the Germans had retaken all of the ground they had surrendered earlier in the war during 1916 and 1917; and were even threatening the vital communication hub of Amiens.

In response, Haig ordered the 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions to be rushed south. The first units to be mobilized were battalions of the 11th, 12th and 13th Brigades; which included the 41st Battalion. By the end of March, the 11th Brigade found itself defending a front normally held by a whole division in the triangle formed by the confluence of the Ancre and Somme Rivers. This was virgin country that had not previously been touched by war. An aerial photograph included in the Battalion’s war diary shows fields, farm roads and houses, but no trenches.

Eventually the German advance was halted at Villers Bretonneux by two Australian Brigades on 25th April. The threat to Amiens was over and now the British and Dominion Forces began their own offensive. On 27th May, Barney was promoted to Lance Sergeant. He suffered a bout of mustard gas poisoning in June of that year and by the time he returned to his battalion three months later the whole character of the war had changed. Four days after re-joining the 41st, Barney was promoted to Sergeant.

By September of 1918, the Australian Corps under the newly knighted Lieutenant General Sir John Monash had been the spearhead of offensive actions along the Somme as far as the formidable Hindenburg Line. In spite of the fact that his battalions were exhausted, and in some cases close to mutiny, Monash was convinced that one last push against the enemy could bring the German Army in that sector to its knees.

The defences of the Hindenburg Line beyond Peronne incorporated the Saint Quentin Canal. Northeast of Peronne the canal passed through a 5 kilometre long tunnel, creating a kind of land bridge. The 41st would be tasked with an attack across the St Quentin at the land bridge supported by American Infantry and tanks on 29th September. The plan fell apart when the inexperienced Americans became disoriented and failed to take their objective, exposing the Australians to increased machine gun fire. During this attack, Sgt Barney Rickwood DCM was killed in action. On the day that Barney was killed, the 41st Battalion was withdrawn from the line. The whole of the AIF had fought themselves to a standstill and would not go into action again. Forty days later the war would be over.

Barney was buried in the Unicorn British Cemetery at Vendhuile. His headstone carries the personal inscription “HE DIED THAT WE MAY LIVE IN PEACE AND MAY HIS IDEAL BE REALISED.”

Barney was never presented with his DCM and he would never have been able to sign his name with the letters DCM at the end. The medal ( which was second only to the Victoria Cross in terms of awards for valour) was instead sent to his sister Eileen in Adelaide. His eldest brother, Henry, as the oldest family member received Barney’s service medals. Henry wrote to base records on several occasions making a claim for the DCM and Barney’s war gratuity as well but he was informed that they had been dispersed to his sister Eileen.

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Biography contributed by Daryl Jones

Son of Henry and Annie RICKWOOD. Native of Sydney, New South Wales.