William Roy HARBURN MC and Bar

HARBURN, William Roy

Service Numbers: 961, W242805, WX11048
Enlisted: 10 September 1914, Blackboy Hill, Western Australia
Last Rank: Major
Last Unit: 10 Garrison Battalion
Born: Auburn, New South Wales, Australia, 28 September 1895
Home Town: Cottesloe, Peppermint Grove, Western Australia
Schooling: Cottesloe State School, Western Australia
Occupation: Bank Clerk
Died: Natural causes, Rockingham, Western Australia, 2 November 1971, aged 76 years
Cemetery: Karrakatta Cemetery & Crematorium, Perth, W.A.
Memorials: Fremantle National Bank of Western Australasia Ltd.
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World War 1 Service

10 Sep 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 961, Blackboy Hill, Western Australia
2 Nov 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 961, 11th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ascanius, Fremantle
2 Nov 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 961, 11th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 961, 11th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
29 Feb 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Company Quartermaster Sergeant, 51st Infantry Battalion
12 Mar 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 51st Infantry Battalion
9 Sep 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 51st Infantry Battalion
2 Apr 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 51st Infantry Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages, GSW (head)
5 Jan 1918: Promoted AIF WW1, Captain, 51st Infantry Battalion
25 Apr 1918: Honoured Military Cross, Villers-Bretonneux
13 Aug 1918: Honoured Military Cross and bar
13 Apr 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Captain, 51st Infantry Battalion

World War 2 Service

6 Oct 1939: Enlisted Captain, SN W242805, 10 Garrison Battalion, Perth, Western Australia
23 Mar 1941: Involvement Captain, SN WX11048, Lines of Communication Units
3 Jan 1946: Discharged Major, SN W242805, 10 Garrison Battalion

Summary Captain Roy Harburn

Roy William Harburn was born at Auburn, Sydney, New South Wales in 1895. He was 20 years of age when he enlisted into the AIF in September 1914 at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia where he was attached to 11th Battalion.

Prior to enlistment he was working as a bank clerk at the National Bank Kellerberrin Western Australia, where he recorded his next of kin as his father in Marmion Avenue Cottesloe.

He embarked from Fremantle aboard the HMAT Ascanius on 31st October 1914 with the ship anchoring off Fremantle before sailing on 2nd November 1914 for Egypt. By March 1915 he had embarked for the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Whilst at Gallipoli, Harburn was appointed to Lance Corporal in May 1915, by August 1915 he was promoted to Sergeant and by November 1915 he was a Company Quartermaster Sergeant.

He was evacuated from Gallipoli arriving in Alexandra, Egypt in January 1916. In February 1916 he was transferred to 51st Battalion where he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in February 1916.

In June 1916 Harburn was sailing for the Western Front, France with his new battalion arriving in Marseilles. In September 1916 he was promoted to Lieutenant. Records show in November 1916 he was transferred to hospital in Havre for a period of time before re-joining his battalion in March 1917.

By the end of March 1917, 51st Battalion marched to Vaulx-Vraucourt to relieve 25th Battalion who were in the trenches near Lagnicourt, for preparation of an advance towards the defended village of Noreuil where the advance was due to commence on 1st April 1917. At 3.40am 2nd April 1917 the battalion moved forwarded to the jumping off tapes, with the battalion’s objective to capture the high ground north east of the road Noreuil to Longatte.

It was in this action that Harburn was wounded receiving a gunshot wound to the head. He was transferred to Boulonge, embarking for England on 8th April to receive treatment and recuperation of his wound. By June 1917 he was discharged, embarking for France before been declared fit for duty to re-join the battalion in August 1917. In January 1918 Harburn was promoted to Captain and again returned to England on leave, returning to France in the February to re-join his battalion.

By the 31st March 1918, the battalion was in positions in the front line at Buire - Dernancourt, with the Germans pushing towards a ridge that would give them an excellent view of Amiens. The 51st Battalion was involved in the defence of the German advance and by 11th April 1918 the battalion headed to Vaux-sur-Somme, relieved from frontline duties.

By the 23rd April 1918, 51st Battalion companies were reorganised, brought up to strength with additional Lewis machine guns issued to the companies. During that night a message was received from Brigade HQ advising the battalion, there were indicators of a German attack on a large scale, all troops will be ready to move at short notice.

By the 24th April 1918 the Germans had launched their attack, capturing the village of Villers Bretonneux on their planned advance towards Amiens. The 51st Battalion with Captain Harburn in charge of C Company, along with Charlie Stokes where hastily sent forward to be involved in a counter attack to re capture the village of Villers Bretonneux from the Germans. The attack was planned to be at night time, a bold move by the commanders.

At 10.10pm of 24th April 1918 the 51st Battalion assembled near the jumping off tapes, between Bois d Aquenne Woods and the village of Cachy.
Here Captain Harburn addressed the men of C Company, “Monument is our objective and that nothing will stop us from getting there. That was our goal. In his own words he said kill every bloody German you see, we don’t want any prisoners and "God Bless you all”

With these words spoken the counter attack on Villers Bretonneux was under way. Harburn’s company was closet to the woods and immediately came under enfilding machine gun fire. It was here that Sergeant Charles Stokes with Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier rushed the woods, silencing the German machine gunners, allowing the attack to continue. The men of 51st Battalion had reached the wire at the Cachy switch where the advance begun to stall again. Machine gun fire still racked the advancing Australians, who were taking little cover they could find on the open fields.

Captain Harburn realised that the assault was about to fail, so he rallied what troops he could, along with Captain Cooke from A Company organising his men to rush the wire entanglement at the known as the Cachy Switch. Harburn blew his whistle signalling to his men, who leaped from their cover charging the wire. It was from this charge, initiated by Harburn that the men found gaps within the wire, forcing their way through continuing their advance. It was on the wire that the 51st battalion had its heaviest casualties.

Harburn continued to lead the remnants of C Company to the high ground, towards a German outpost, where his men over ran this outpost. The German soldiers quickly threw down their rifles and surrendered. It was here that Harburn shouted “no prisoners!” with the enemy soldiers shot from a burst from a Lewis gun. Harburn returned to the wire entanglement to find Captain Frank Smith who was leading B Company to assist Harburn’s left flank. Harburn returned to his company gathering all the stray men he could on his way back to his position.
With the extra men, Harburn was able to secure an area near the road from Domart to Villers Bretonneux but came under fire from German who had advanced from the woods hitting the rear of Harburn’s men who returned fire. Men from 50th Battalion who came up behind the Germans attacking them where who immediately withdrew back towards the Villers Bretonneux. Harburn ordered Lieutenant Earl’s men to cut off the German stragglers off who retreating back into Villers Bretonneux.

Harburn continued with his men to pushed beyond the left flank of their objective of Monument Wood, but again his men came under machine gun fire, they continued to probe capturing a German field gun and field kitchen. Harburn ordered his men to clear Monument Wood, then set about to locate men from 52nd Battalion to strengthen his companies position which was just now located dug in, in front of Monument Wood still taking machine gun fire.

Harburn sent a report back to Lieutenant Colonel Christie updating his situation, “at daybreak we were in command of the position looking into Villers Bretonneux on my left flank and Monument Wood straight in front of me. My left flank was still in the air. We did not get in touch with the 15th brigade nor did I know what became of them.

Harburn had led his men through the night reaching their objective. Instructions were to link up with battalions from 15th Brigade behind Monument Wood, however they missed their starting times commencing their attack late.
Captain Harburn was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in the counter attack on Villers Bretonneux which reads;

On the night 24/25th April 1918 during a counter-attack by his Battalion on a strong enemy position South of Villers-Bretonneux this Officer under very heavy rifle and machine gun fire led his Company against successive strong enemy positions and machine gun posts and succeeded in capturing 40 prisoners and 6 machine guns. On gaining the final position, he organised his own Company and the men of two other Coys of which their Company Commanders and most of the Officers were casualties and took command of the line, consolidating and placing it in a good state of defence. His ever-cheerful manner and coolness under extremely heavy fire were inspiring to all and it was largely due to his splendid work that the attack was a brilliant success.

Captain Harburn was to go on and further receive a bar to his Military Cross for his actions in August 1918.

On night 12th/13th August, 1918, during an attack on enemy position East of Etinehem near Bray-sur-Somme this officer, who was in command of the Right Company, deployed his Company well out in front of our line and did splendid work in leading his men under hostile shell and Machine Gun fire to the attack on enemy trenches. On gaining the objective he organized and consolidated the new position and at once established touch on the flanks. His excellent work and splendid initiative greatly assisted in the success of the operation. Two companies of the 51st Bn made this attack and in consequence of the determined and skilful manner in which they were led an advance of 2000 yards was made, and 183 prisoners captured at the cost of only five men wounded.

Captain Harburn returned to Australia on 21st December 1918, terminating his appointment in April 1919. He again went on to serve during World War 2 ceasing service in January 1942.

Captain Roy William Harburn died on 2nd November 1971, he is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery with his wife.

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