Sylvester William BLOMELEY

BLOMELEY, Sylvester William

Service Number: 785
Enlisted: 18 January 1915, Nathalia, Victoria
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 22nd Infantry Battalion
Born: Strathmerton, Victoria, Australia, 19 January 1888
Home Town: Gellibrand, Colac-Otway, Victoria
Schooling: Ulupna State School.Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Labourer
Died: Bacterial Infection, Bacchus Marsh,Victoria, Australia, 30 October 1970, aged 82 years
Cemetery: Maddingly (Bacchus Marsh) General Cemetery
Maddingley Cemetery, Cemetery Road Maddingley, Bacchus Marsh Vic 3340
Memorials: Colac Soldier's Memorial
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World War 1 Service

18 Jan 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Nathalia, Victoria
10 May 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 785, 22nd Infantry Battalion
10 May 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 785, 22nd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ulysses, Melbourne
5 Dec 1917: Discharged AIF WW1

SYLVESTER BLOMELEY

SYLVESTER BLOMELEY
This speech was delivered at Balliang on ANZAC Day 2019 by Sylvester’s grandson Antony Beggs

Sylvester Blomeley grew up on the NSW-VIC border near Tocumwal where he chopped wood for a living but also became renown as a jockey on the local courses (one day riding the card at a meeting near the Murray). During the drought of 1911 the family of 11 children left their home and headed south, looking for green pasture. They settled in Gellibrand in the Otways – one area that we know doesn’t suffer from drought! After Australia committed to the war, he followed his brother George enlisting inside the first 1000 in Australia (his service number #785). It was exciting for a young Australian to answer the call to fight under the flag of the fledging nation of Australia and support the Motherland of England in a distant war, but especially as it meant a trip to the other side of the world – a possibility which was impossible for a country boy.

“Grandpa did you win a Victoria Cross?” Damian Beggs was a young boy interested in his Grandfather’s war history. Sylvester was a very humble man though – he never answered the question. However, Damian did learn a lot about his Grandfather’s time away across to the other side of the world – and it was a time and place very different from today. Teaching Damian and his brother Terry to shoot, if you missed by a distance, their Grandpa would say, “You shot the German in the hand!” After Sylvester died, Grandma gave Damian his Gallipoli Star and she impressed upon him that ‘your Grandpa saw that it was very important’.

Sylvester Blomeley was the only Gallipoli veteran living in Balliang but he and a number of other Balliang men saw action in France after that early ill-fated action in the Dardenelles. Having recently read the book “Somme Mud” and how tough the conditions were in France, I was taken aback talking to Damian when he quoted Sylvester saying - “Gallipoli was a terrible place” which basically stated that his experience in the Somme was much more bearable than the sharp slopes of Gallipoli.

It beggars the question of why was Gallipoli so bad in Sylvester’s memory over his 2 years in France in what has been described as a ‘slow death struggle’ in the mud of the Somme? One would imagine that it was the sheer uselessness of a war facing the Turks up the sheer slope of Gallipoli. It may be that the lack of progress up the slopes and the continual loss of friends to bullets and illness in the trenches wearied all involved. Sylvester spoke though with respect for the Turks – he saw them as honourable soldiers despite the fact that he fought and killed quite a few of them.

Sylvester intended to join the Australian Light Horse (obviously considering he was previously a jockey) however rifle practice in Egypt saw him selected as a sniper and the decision was taken away from him. After arriving in Gallipoli on 5th September 1915 his 22nd battalion was sent to the infamous Lone Pine station. Fortunately, Sylvester arrived a month after the ridiculous charge at Lone Pine (immortalized in the film Gallipoli where so many WA youth died). His duty saw him quickly take up sniping duties. He counted his kills* and detailed one particular shootout with a Turkish sniper that lasted many days. Finally, he outsmarted his adversary during the 4th day of their engagement, waiting 70 metres away from his earlier position to gain a clear shot. Sylvester’s shooting prowess continued after the war as he won many awards at the Bacchus Marsh Rifle Range even into his seventies. When his wife Maggie demanded it, he was known to clean possums off their roof with his 22.
* Damian wanted me to change the terminology that I had previously used which was that he counted his “kills” but Sylvester would have never used that word, but that he “got him”. In actual fact “he got 11” … Sylvester thought that was an accurate enough account.

Sylvester endured the Gallipoli campaign until the last night of the famous evacuation - holding a sniper covering position on the far left of the line. He was told he was one of the last 4 soldiers to be relieved. In fact his partner who was coughing heavily was released to the beach after an officer came to check on them – so he was probably one of the last 3 to leave the trenches. On 19/12/1915 around midnight Sylvester left the trenches and was evacuated from Gallipoli, which officially finished the next morning 20/12/1915.

Before leaving this sphere of the war it is worth noting the story of Lionel Simpson born at Alexandria who settled near Bacchus Marsh after the war and was well known to Sylvester. He was the last survivor of the disastrous charge by the Australian forces at the Nek playing dead as the Turks took the survivors. He would go on to earn a Distinguished Conduct Medal in France later in the war.

Lionel and Sylvester with others planted a Gallipoli lone pine near the Bacchus Marsh Hospital in 1969 and despite it being moved to the corner of Grant and Turner Streets, it still bears testament to the bravery of all our local servicemen who have fought overseas but especially those who fought at Gallipoli.
The 22nd battalion returned to Egypt but were the first Australians to land at Marseilles to continue the Australian involvement – now in the European theatre of war and headed towards the battlefields of France, Belgium and the Somme.
Sylvester continued sniping duties when on the front lines in France but was also involved in two historical battles involving the Australian forces. After wounds to his jaw at Pozieres he was transferred to a light mortar division.

I would now like to quote from the Colac Herald Wed 30 Jan 1918
GELLIBRAND. A WELCOME HOME. A welcome home and presentation was tendered to Private S. Blomeley at the local hall last Friday evening, the crowded house showing the popularity and esteem in which the young soldier is held … Sylvester then went to France and was at Pozieres, where he was wounded. He was in the great charge on the Hindenburg line at Bullecourt in May, 1917. Whilst returning from that fight he found a comrade of his wounded and decided to rescue him. Private Blomeley stayed with his comrade, Private Garrett Swanson, for three days in a shell hole without food until he had breathed his last. Then he buried him. Whilst there Private Blomeley received his wounds. If that was not a case for a V.C. there never was one. Mr Sexton then handed Private Blomeley a gold medal as a simple little token of the high esteem of the people. The medal was embossed with a coat of arms with hands across the sun and inscribed "Presented to Private S. W. Blomeley by the residents of Gellibrand River, 23/1/18." Mr Sexton also handed Private Blomeley a silver watch and chain from the parents of Private Garret Swanson, inscribed "From Uncle George and Aunt Bab in appreciation for succour to Garret at Bullecourt." Private Blomeley said he considered he only did what anybody else would have done. He thanked the people for their gifts, which he would value very highly.

On returning from the attack at Bullecourt, Sylvester sought out his cousin Garrett and on finding him, cared for him even though he had received grievous wounds and was dying. While in the shell hole, Sylvester received wounds to his bowel and hip and was unable to walk. Lying in the open he also developed septicemia from his wounds and was unable to return to his lines. “I felt that I only had one more night left in me“. During the third night he was picked up by a tall and powerful soldier in a trench coat who delivered him to the allied lines. He did not speak and Sylvester forever wondered if it was not a German showing great compassion to a fallen soldier.

After many months in a hospital in Bristol Sylvester returned to Australia, arriving in Melbourne September 4th 1917 and discharged on medical grounds receiving a full repatriation pension. Sylvester accessed a soldier settlement loan to purchase a Balliang closer settlement property but was unable to complete all farming roles so he undertook the role of postmaster. The land he worked (240 acres) surrounds this particular site we are on (sic. that is north surrounding the area of hall to teacher house).

He married Margaret Lacey from Mathoura and had two daughters, the eldest Mary marrying Cecil Beggs (himself a returned WWII soldier from New Guinea) and they reared six children who all attended Balliang State School.
Sylvester died in 1970 at the age of 82.

His daughter Mary spoke of his fondness for the Balliang returned soldiers mentioning members from the Beggs, Wilson, Sharkey, Simpson, Cashmore families, many whom Sylvester would join every ANZAC Day.

Damian wanted to add one other facet to Sylvester’s story. Setting up his farm, Sylvester could only walk with the aid of a walking stick due to his war injuries. From a neighbour Mrs McDougall, “Your Grandmother worked like a man; after the war your Grandfather was on a stick and your Grandmother would lift the grain onto the dray by herself”. His wife Margaret did much of the heavy lifting of seed and hitching the equipment to the horses that was required for the harvests during those first two years until he managed his injuries. Hence, Sylvester became a very astute fisherman working the Little River and his own dams to advantage. The family enjoyed many meals of redfin that he had caught.

Sylvester Blomeley was always a cheerful person and well respected in the district. He regularly captained Balliang teams on the carpet bowls in the hall and district and was a cheerful card player although he was not a match for his wife Maggie.
He offered his services to the district as postmaster and in many other ways and was never known to complain about his injuries and the limp that always accompanied him. I finish with a story of his early years after the war.

Many times in the middle of the night on the chime of one o’clock, Sylvester would get up and walk down the path from his house towards where the hall is today – perhaps getting ready for his regular turn of sentry duty.

BLOMELEY, Sylvester William
Service number 785, Private, 22nd Infantry Battalion, AIF WW1,
Born 19 Jan 1888, Died 30 Oct 1970.


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Welcome Home to Gellibrand

Article from

Colac Herald Wed 30 Jan 1918

GELLIBRAND. A WELCOME HOME. A welcome home and presentation was tendered to Private S. Blomley at the local hall last Friday evening, the crowded house showing the popularity and esteem in which the young soldier is held. Mr Gurrie acted as chairman. Mr Sexton, in making the ire , satation, said it gave him great pleasure to be able to welcome Private Blomley back among them. Since the war started quite a number had heard the call from Gellibrand. On May 8, 1915, Private Blomley enlisted. He did not hear the drum's beat and speeches made to be carried away by :mbniont, for iae.was down in the bush, yet he heard the call and went to help his comrades in the great struggle. He saw service at Gallipoli till the evacuation. He then went to France and was at Pozieres, where he was wounded. He was in the great charge on the Hindenburg line at Bullecourt in May, 1917. Whilst returning from that fight he found a comrade of his cvt wounded and decided to rescue him. Private Blomley stayed with his comrade, Private G. Swanson, for three days in a shell hole without food until he had breathed his last. Then he buried him. Whilst there Private Blomley received his wounds. If that was not a case for a V.C. there never was one. Mr Sexton then handed Private Blomley a gold medal as a simple little token of the high esteem of the people. The medal was em- bossed with a coat of arms with hands across the san and inscribed "Presented to Private S. W. Blomley by the residents of Gellibrand River, 23/1/18." Mr Sexton also handed Private Blomely a silver watch and chain from the parents of Private Garret Swanson, inscribed "From Uncle George and Aunt Bab in appreciation for succour to Garret at Bullecourt." Private Blomley said he considered he only did what anybody else would have done. He thanked the people for their gifts, which he would value very highly. Mr Sexton then welcomed Sgt. Gordon Ross, who was present at the invitation of the secretary. Mr Sexton went on to say that Sgt. Ross had seen a great deal of fighting and had not come out of the battle unscathed. They all had the same feeling for him as they had shown towards Private Blomley. Sgt. Ross thanked the people deeply for their welcome and also the secretary for his invitation to be present. The singing of "They are Jolly Good Fellows," and three lusty cheers for the returned brave, were given. During the evening items were given by Mrs McTaggart and Mr Watt, Messrs Foley Bros. had the supper arrangements and Mr D. Vesey carried out the secretarial duties in a very capable manner. Dancing was indulged in until the small hours of the morning, the music being supplied by the Mallinson Bros. in their usual good style.

Submitted by Owen & Pauline Beggs

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Sylvester William Blomeley

22nd Australian Infantry Battalion (6th Light Trench Mortar brigade)

From stories passed onto family and cross referenced with military records.

Sylvester had been a successful jockey around the Murray River race tracks (riding the card at one meet). The family moved south during the 1905 drought and settled at Gellibrand in the Otways.

18/1/1915 Sylvester Enlisted at Beech Forest

Joined the 22nd Battalion AIF at Broadmeadows made up of mostly Victorian country enlistment

9/5/1915 Departed on Ulysses for Egypt.

25/5/1915 Arrived Colombo then Alexandria Egypt

Sylvester aimed to join light horse division but was chosen as a sniper due to his shooting ability.

5/9/1915 Landed on Gallipoli and 22nd relieved 7th/8th battalions at Lone Pine station.

Battalion did a tour of duty building defences near Lone Pine and front line duties until evacuation from Anzac Cove.

Sylvester originally was employed on beachhead and worked as a cook.

When he joined his battalion he carried out numerous successful assignments as a sniper.

On the night of the final evacuation Sylvester was holding a sniper covering position on the far left of line when his partner who was coughing was released to the beach after an officer came to check on them.

19/12/1915 around midnight Sylvester was among the last to leave trenches and evacuate from Gallipoli. Disembarked at Alexandria 7/1/1916.

22nd Battalion had suffered 60 dead, 285 wounded, 271 evacuated sick at Gallipoli.

26/3/1916 Arrived Marseilles and took a 3 day train ride after being first AIF division to land in France, headed for the front.

7/4/1916 Fleurbaix – first relief action in France

4/8/1916 Sylvester was involved in first massive offensive in the Somme at Pozières where he was shot in the jaw and hospitalised to the 11th Field Hospital France until released 16/8/1916.

19/8/1916 Rejoined 22nd Battalion.
Transferred to 6th Light Trench Mortar brigade 1/9/1916

17/3/1917 22nd Battalion were involved in successful battle of Bapaume

4/5/1917 Sylvester was shot in the upper thighs in the battle of Bullecourt. Reportedly, he was caring for his cousin Garrett Swanton who had been critically shot when he was himself wounded. Unable to move, he lay in a shell hole for over 2 days until he was picked up under the cover of darkness by a large man in a trench coat (who never spoke to him) and delivered him into the Allied trench lines.

7/5/1917 Admitted to Ambulance Train 16 suffering GSW right buttocks.

13/5/1917 Suffering from septicaemia and wounds to his upper thighs his poor condition saw him transferred to Bristol Hospital England where his recovery took months.

He was sent home to Australia on 25/8/1917 arriving in Melbourne 4/9/1917 and discharged on medical grounds 5/12/1917 receiving a full repatriation pension.

Sylvester gained a soldier settlement property at Balliang and undertook the role of postmaster.

He married Margaret Lacey from Sydney and had two daughters, the eldest Mary marrying Cecil Beggs (VX136010 New Guinea) after World War II and they reared six children who all attended Balliang State School. Sylvester was a leading shot at the Bacchus Marsh rifle range well into his seventies and often attended local horse racing events at Bacchus Marsh & Werribee. He died in 1970 at the age of 82.

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Biography

Maddingley Cemetery, Cemetery Road Maddingley, Bacchus Marsh, Victoria