GOURLAY, William

Service Numbers: 5138, 6003
Enlisted: 6 March 1916, Rockhampton, Queensland
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 26th Infantry Battalion
Born: Leith, Midlothian, Scotland, 20 September 1880
Home Town: Rockhampton, Rockhampton, Queensland
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Carter & Dockside worker
Died: Killed in Action, France, 14 November 1916, aged 36 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Panel 107 at the AWM Canberra and Roll of Honour, Rockhampton's Old St Andrew's Church
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Gracemere Roll of Honour, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)
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World War 1 Service

6 Mar 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 5138, 26th Infantry Battalion, Rockhampton, Queensland
4 May 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 5138, 26th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '15' embarkation_place: Brisbane embarkation_ship: HMAT Seang Choon embarkation_ship_number: A49 public_note: ''
4 May 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 5138, 26th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Seang Choon, Brisbane
14 Nov 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 6003, 26th Infantry Battalion, 'The Winter Offensive' - Flers/Gueudecourt winter of 1916/17, --- :awm_ww1_roll_of_honour_import: awm_service_number: 6003 awm_unit: 26th Australian Infantry Battalion awm_rank: Private awm_died_date: 1916-11-14

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


William had come to Australia from his Native Scotland in 1911 to establish a home, intending to then send for his sweetheart, Alison Simpson, so they could be married.  

Alison arrived just after Christmas 1913 and the couple were married on 5th January 1914 before setting up a home in Rockhampton.

Their only child, Ann Hall Gourlay was born at their residence in East Street, Rockhampton on 30th January 1915.

With the war delicately in the balance and the call for reinforcements growing greater, William decided he must do his duty and enlisted on 6th March 1916.  He was shipped off to the Enoggera Army Base in Brisbane to undergo training before embarking on overseas service aboard the "Seang Choon" on 4th May 1916.

Further training was carried out in Egypt before departing Alexandria for the UK and the Western Front on 2nd August 1916.

Prior to joining his unit, William had leave in the UK and used it to visit his family in Leith.  After an absence of 5 years, it must have been quite an occassion to spend time with his mother, sisters and their families regardless of the prospects to be faced.

William joined the 26th Battalion in the Ypres area and they spent a short time in the front line there before heading off to the Somme on 18th October 1916.

After covering the distance by foot, in filthy railway horse boxes and finally motor buses, they arrived in the Flers sector. The area had been inundated by heavy rains and the conditions were appalling with mud knee to waist deep in some parts. The 26th battalion was called upon to be part of an attack on the German held Maze Trenches on 14th November 1916.

The supporting barrage was largely ineffectual with the advancing troops not being able to keep pace with the creeping barrage due to the state of the ground to be crossed.  Also it did not cause the expected number of enemy casualties nor did it clear the field of barbed wire obstacles. As a result, the enemy was able to re-establish their machine gun positions and this caused fearful losses.  

William Gourlay did not survive the day and was listed as "Killed in Action".

News of his demise was relayed to his widow on 13th December 1916 by the Mayor of Rockhampton.

Physically, William could be described as being of slight build.  He was 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm) tall and weighed 10 stone (64kg).  His complection was fair and he had greyish eyes. William's personality, character traits and other attributes are clearly set out in a reference supplied by his employer and future father-in-law John Simpson, Carting Contractor of Leith, Scotland.  This shows him as being a sober, clean living man with high morals and principles.