Irwin Ernest (Ernie) PHILLIS


PHILLIS, Irwin Ernest

Service Number: 5444
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 7th Light Trench Mortar Battery
Born: Snow Town SA, 21 April 1885
Home Town: Tumby Bay, Tumby Bay, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Killed in Action, Broodseinde Ridge, West Vlaanderen, Flanders, Belgium, 20 September 1917, aged 32 years
Cemetery: Hooge Crater Cemetery
Hooge Crater Cemetery, Passchendaele, West-Vlaanderen, Flanders, Belgium
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Butler WW1 Memorial, Glenelg and District WW1 & WW2 Honour Board, Tumby Bay RSL Portrait Memorials, Tumby Bay War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

12 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 5444, 27th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
12 Aug 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 5444, 27th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ballarat, Adelaide
31 Jul 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Third Ypres
20 Sep 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 5444, 7th Light Trench Mortar Battery, Third Ypres
Date unknown: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 5444, 7th Light Trench Mortar Battery, Third Ypres

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Place of death: Belgium

Cause of death: Killed in action

Age at death: 32

Place of association: Tumby Bay, Australia


Biography contributed by Geoffrey Stewart

Irwin (Ernie) was born on 21 April 1885 at Snow Town (SA) to George James Phillis and Florence Elizabeth Phillis (nee Hiscock).  He was the eldest of  9 children in the family, 5 boys and 4 girls.  His father was a farmer at “Updown” farm at Snow Town, before moving to Warradale, Adelaide.

Ernie came to the Butler area in 1906 with his 2 younger brothers; they came by boat from Yorke Peninsula with their horses and his piano – he was an excellent pianist.  On their first night in the bush their horses disappeared. The boys finally tracked the horses back to the beach where they (the horses) were standing in line gazing out across the gulf.  The 3 boys worked and lived on Section 18 in the Hundred of Butler (3000 acres – 1200Ha) until his enlistment.

He enlisted on 11 March 1916 at Tumby Bay (spelt Tumley Bay on the enlistment form).  He went to Adelaide for processing and was posted to 2nd Depot Battalion at Mitcham for training.  At the completion of 12 weeks training he was allocated to 14th Reinforcements/ 27th Battalion.  His unit was the second of the predominantly SA manned Battalions to be raised and was known as “Unley’s Own”.  Raised in March 1915 it saw action in Gallipoli before being withdrawn back to Egypt and then sent to France, first entering the front line at the Somme in April 1916 as part of the first Australian troops in this area.  On 4 August 1916, the 27th Battalion was on the left flank of the 2nd Division attack aimed at capturing the heights above Pozieres.   The 27th Battalion's axis of advance took it through the Windmill, or rather the ruins of the 17th Century windmill, which had the dominant view of the surrounding area.  They captured it, and held it in the face of unrelenting artillery fire and counter attacks.

The 2nd Division was relieved in place by the 4th Division, two nights later. By coincidence, the 27th Bn was relieved by the 48th, also drawn mainly from S A.  When the 48th took over they reported that there was no one left alive in the forward positions.  The 48th suffered similarly high casualties and indeed the area around the windmill is said to contain more South Australian DNA than any other piece of ground anywhere in the world save for metropolitan cemeteries in South Australia.

 Ernie embarked at Adelaide on 18 August 1916 aboard HMAT “Ballarat” bound for Plymouth (UK), arriving on 30 September 1916.  He then undertook a further 2 months training at 7th Training Battalion at Folkstone (UK), before travelling to Etaples (France) where he was immediately placed into an isolation “camp” with mumps.

On 21 January 1917 he was eventually taken on strength by his unit (27th Battalion); he must have been an effective soldier because he was then promoted to Lance Corporal within 3 weeks of joining.  His Battalion at this time was involved in minor, but costly, attacks during the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line.   

On 22 June 1917, Ernie was transferred to 7th Light Trench Mortar (LTM) Battery and reverted to his substantive rank of Private.  These Mortar batteries were armed with 8 x 3inch Stokes Mortars and were manned by Infantry soldiers, not Artillery men.  They suffered very high casualty rates because they became the prime targets for retaliation by the enemy counter bombardment units; the casualty rates were so high that married men were not permitted to serve in many of the batteries.  The 7th LTM Battery was part of the 2nd Division and was often in support of 27th Battalion, his old unit.

The 27th Battalion did not carry out a major attack again until 20 Sep 1917. On this occasion, it was part of the 2nd Division’s first wave at the battle of Menin Road, which was part of the Third Battle of Ypres. The Bn was victorious, but unfortunately this was not seen by Ernie who was killed in action (KIA) on the first day of the battle.

He is buried at Hooge Crater Military Cemetery, Zillebeke, Belgium


Medals and Decorations

British War Medal                                                                                        

Victory Medal