William James WHEELER

WHEELER, William James

Service Number: 3669
Enlisted: 16 August 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 59th Infantry Battalion
Born: Cudgewa, Victoria, Australia, 1894
Home Town: Corryong, Towong, Victoria
Schooling: Berringama State School, Victoria , Australia
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Killed in Action, France, 19 July 1916
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Corryong Wabba & Berringama Districts Pictorial Honour Roll, Corryong War Memorial, Cudgewa War Memorial, V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial
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World War 1 Service

16 Aug 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 3669, Depot Battalion
5 Jan 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 3669, 23rd Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '14' embarkation_place: Melbourne embarkation_ship: HMAT Afric embarkation_ship_number: A19 public_note: ''
5 Jan 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 3669, 23rd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Afric, Melbourne
19 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 3669, 59th Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix), --- :awm_ww1_roll_of_honour_import: awm_service_number: 3669 awm_unit: 59th Australian Infantry Battalion awm_rank: Private awm_died_date: 1916-07-19

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Biography contributed by Stephen Learmonth

Bill was born in 1894 at Cudgewa, in Victoria. He was the second of nine children to Frank Edward and Elizabeth Mary (née Carter) Wheeler. Bill’s youngest brother Allan Henry would be killed in action at Tobruk during the Second World War.

During his early years Bill and his siblings went to school at the Berringama State School (No. 2967). He was also a keen member of the Upper Murray Rifle Club for some years.

Bill enlisted on the 16th of August, 1915, at Melbourne, Victoria. He was allotted the Regimental Number 3669 and given the rank of Private. For the first months of his service, Bill was a member of the 22nd Depot Battalion and then the 5th Depot Battalion based at Seymour. In early December he was transferred to the 8th Reinforcements for the 23rd Battalion which was then based at Broadmeadows, just outside of Melbourne. On the 5th of January, 1916, the 8th Reinforcements embarked on HMAT Afric at the Port of Melbourne.

Upon arriving in Egypt, Bill was sent to the training camp at Zeitoun, on the outskirts of Cairo and was posted to the 6th Training Battalion. About a week later he was admitted to No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital and remained there until the 4th of April. There is no mention in his records as to why he was admitted. Four days after being discharged he was taken on strength with the 59th Battalion, 15th Brigade, 5th Australian Division. 

After further training in desert conditions, the 59th embarked on the Kinfauns Castle and, after eleven days sailing, disembarked at the Port of Marseille on the south coast of France. It took the battalion nine days by rail and foot to reach their final destination of Sailly-sur-la-Lys, 8 kilometres north-east from Armentieres on the France-Belgium border. Ten days later, on the 19th of July, 1916, the battalion took part in their first action; the attack against Fromelles.

The Battalion War Diary describes the encounter;

“12 noon: Heavy bombardment of enemy lines. 60th Battn relieved half our front from PINNEY AVENUE 

7pm: 59th Battn. Attacked enemy position in four waves. First wave going over parapet at 6.45 pm other three waves following at five minute intervals. Attack did not penetrate enemy trenches being held up by intense rifle fire and machine gun fire approximately 100 yards from enemy front line.”

It’s not known what wave Bill was part of. He was initially declared “missing in action” but it was changed to “killed in action” one month later. Although a court of inquiry was held into Bill being declared missing in action, no copy of the report can be found. 

Bill has no known grave. He is remembered on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery in France, the Wabba and Berringama Districts Pictorial Honour Roll, the Corryong War Memorial and the Cudgewa War Memorial. For his service during the First World War, Bill was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Two of Bill’s cousin’s would also be killed during the war, David Williams and James Rookie Wheeler would be killed in action on the 3rd of March, 1917.