William O'Neill TOMLINSON

TOMLINSON, William O'Neill

Service Number: 4287
Enlisted: 16 August 1915, Enlisted at Adelaide, SA
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 50th Infantry Battalion
Born: Kent Town, South Australia, 1 July 1892
Home Town: Grange, City of Charles Sturt / Henley and Grange, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Warehouseman
Died: Killed in Action, Mouquet Farm, France, 16 August 1916, aged 24 years
Cemetery: Courcelette British Cemetery
Plot V11, Row D, Grave 11,
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Adelaide Royal Oak Lodge Honor Roll, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Grange Public School Roll of Honor, Henley Beach Council Fallen WW1 & WW2 Honour Board, Henley Beach Council WW1 Service Roll, Norwood Primary School Honour Board
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World War 1 Service

16 Aug 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 4287, 10th Infantry Battalion, Enlisted at Adelaide, SA
11 Jan 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 4287, 10th Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières , --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '10' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Borda embarkation_ship_number: A30 public_note: ''
11 Jan 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 4287, 10th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Borda, Adelaide
26 Feb 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 50th Infantry Battalion, Transferred from the 10th Battalion to the 50th Battalion at Tel-el-Kebir
16 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 4287, 50th Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières , --- :awm_ww1_roll_of_honour_import: awm_service_number: 4287 awm_unit: 50 Battalion awm_rank: Private awm_died_date: 1916-08-16

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

Biography contributed by Carol Foster

Son of Alfred James Tomlinson and Margaret Tomlinson nee O'Neill of Grange, SA. Brother of Eugenie Agnes Tomlinson, Alfred James Tomlinson and Jane Tomlinson

Medals: British War Medal, Victory Medal

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From François Berthout

Pte 4287 William O'Neill Tomlinson 
50th Australian Infantry Battalion,
13th Brigade, 4th Australian Division 
Through the fields of red poppies of the Somme which sway under the light of remembrance, stand silent and eternal, row upon row the white graves of thousands of young men, of a whole generation of heroes who in the prime of their young lives answered the call of duty and fought together for peace and freedom in the darkness of the trenches, in the mud and blood of battlefields whose infamous names claimed so many lives in the fury and tears that were shed in the barbed wire, on these sacred grounds through which whole waves of young boys were mowed down under storms of bullets poured on them by enraged machine guns whose mouths spat flames like steel monsters tinged with inhumanity preceded by steel walls, by tons of shells which mutilated and pulverized a whole youth who volunteered to fight in this hell and who far from home, for their country and for France gave their lives which are today remembered and honored in the stones of their graves and memorials which stand in what were once killing fields but which, among the roses and poppies of northern France, remind us of the bravery and the sacrifices that so many men paid so that we could live.Gone but not and never forgotten, I will always watch with gratitude and respect over these exceptional men to keep their memory alive so that their names live forever.

Today, it is with the deepest gratitude and with the utmost respect that I would like to honor the memory of one of these men, one of my boys of the Somme who gave his today for our tomorrow. I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Private number 4287 William O'Neill Tomlinson who fought in the 50th Australian Infantry Battalion, 13th Brigade, 4th Australian Division, and who was killed in action 106 years ago, on August 16, 1916 at the age of 24 during the Battle of the Somme.

William O'Neill Tomlinson was born on July 1, 1892 in Kent Town, South Australia, and was the son of Alfred James Tomlinson (1860-1944) and Margaret Tomlinson (née O'Neill, 1864-1914), of Grange, City Of Charles Sturt/Henley And Grange, South Australia. He had two sisters, Eugenie Agnes, Jane, and a brother, Alfred James, and before the outbreak of the war worked as a warehouseman.

William enlisted on August 16, 1915 in Adelaide, South Australia, in the 10th Australian Infantry Battalion, 13th Reinforcement, and after a training period of just over four months at Morphettville Racecourse, South Australia, he embarked with his unit from Adelaide, on board HMAT A30 Borda on January 11, 1916 and sailed for Egypt.

On February 29, 1916, William arrived in Egypt and was disembarked at Zeitoun where he was allocated and proceeded to join the 50th Australian Infantry Battalion, whose nickname was "The Barrier Battalion" and under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Hurcombe. William was taken on strength at Tel-El-Kebir and fought during the campaign to defend the Suez Canal against the Ottoman forces who led several raids against the Australian forces then on June 5, 1916, with his unit joined the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) in Alexandria and proceeded overseas for France on board "Arcadian".

On June 12, 1916, William and the 50th Battalion arrived in France and were disembarked in Marseilles then marched for Fleurbaix where they fought until July 10 and moved the next day to Estaires then to Rouge-Croix, reached Bailleul on July 13 where they were billeted until the following day then marched for the Somme front and arrived in the village of Pernois on July 15 where they underwent a period of training including road march brigade exercises and on July 30 marched for Herissart where they bivouacked until August 1.

On August 2, 1916, William and the 50th Battalion left Herissart for Vadencourt where the men followed physical exercises while waiting for orders to join the front line then on August 6, they marched for "Brickfields", near the town of Albert and on August 12, were thrown into the hell of the terrible battle of Mouquet Farm in Pozieres.

Known to the British soldiers as "Mucky Farm" and to the Australians as "Moo-Cow Farm", this was a heavily fortified position on the German’s second line of defence in July 1916. This line ran from Pozières to Grandcourt around the rear of the Schwaben Redoubt in a system of strong points: the Goat and Stuff redoubts. Mouquet Farm was connected through to the Schwaben Redoubt via a system of trenches known as "The Mouquet Switch".The original plan for Fourth Army called for this second line of defences to be taken within hours of the initial attack at 07:30am on the 1st July.For a moment that day a party of men from 13th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles managed to get within half a kilometre of Mouquet Farm, but the inability of their own Division (The 36th Ulster) to reinforce them and the failure of 32nd Division to capture Thiepval village, rendered their position untenable and they were forced to retire.By the final weeks of August 1916 any possible advantage that had been gained by the French and British to the east of Pozières was being severely hampered by the fact that Thiepval continued to hold out.

The key to Thiepval was Mouquet Farm. If the British could take it then Thiepval would become isolated.However, before Mouquet Farm could be taken it would be necessary to capture the village of Pozières on the main road to its right.Once Pozières had fallen a renewed attempt could be made to capture Mouquet Farm. The attack was set for the evening of 8th August with the British 12th Division attacking on the left and the 15th Battalion from 4th Australian Division on the right.The Australians made good progress but the 12th Division faltered. Things got worse when 12th Division realised that they had actually missed one of the German emplacements in their advance and were now being attacked on all sides.By daylight they had withdrawn leaving the Australians in a captured forward line. In the confusion the Australians found themselves being shelled by the allied guns and were forced to retire.The following night at 00:05 hours the 16th Battalion AIF advanced up past the trenches taken the night before (which the 15th Battalion promptly reoccupied). Over the next couple of days there was a period of consolidating the ground they had taken, before the attack could be pressed on towards Mouquet Farm.

On the morning of 11th August the Germans began a bombardment of the Australians’ front line which went on into the afternoon.The farm garrison made a sortie which was broken up by a mixture of machine gun fire from the 13th and 16th Battalions AIF and an artillery bombardment. Unfortunately the 16th was paying a heavy price in casualties of its own and had to be removed from the line on the 12th August,still being hit by shellfire.The Australians had by now managed to get up close to the farm and taken the points that had eluded the 12th Division earlier in the week. Their next objective was to reach the quarry which would necessitate an attack over 300 metres of open territory directly in front of the farm. The edge of the quarry was reached by 50th Battalion and further preparations were made with a view to capturing the farm. As a frontal assault was likely to prove impossible given the strength of the fortifications, the Australians decided that they would drive on past the right of the farm into a trench system called the Fabeck Graben (This was named after the local German commander: Major von Fabeck, who had been responsible for fortifying the entire area around Thiepval.)

To the left of the Australians ran a trench named the Constance Trench which ran down the lane from the farm. Standing at the AIF Plaque looking towards today’s farm the Australians were attacking from the right.The attack was launched on the 14th August with mixed results. In the centre the 13th Battalion managed to make progress but either side of them the attacks were turned back by machine gun fire, and by the end of the day they had been forced to retire.The 4th Division had suffered over 4,600 casualties in the space of ten days and were now relieved by the 1st Australian Division who had played an important part in the capture of Pozières in the preceding weeks.The commanders immediately set about trying to sort out just where the front line was and getting proper coordinates for the positions of their men. Despite this update on the 18th August, as the Australians were about to begin another attack, their forward line was hit by allied shellfire.3rd Brigade AIF attacked three days later and managed to get into the ruins of the farm before being forced to withdraw. Looking at the farm today it is difficult to think of a pile of rubble and shell holes, but it is just as important to realise that the cellars and dug-outs underneath it provided the German defenders with plenty of protection.

By the time they were relieved by 2nd Division AIF, on the 22nd August, 1st Division had taken another 2,600 casualties on top of those they had suffered at Pozières.On 26th August the 6th Brigade tried to outflank the farm on the left but the attack was not a success. The only high point was that a German counter attack was also beaten back. Australian casualties continued to run high and two days later their 4th Division was brought back into the firing line.Then it began to rain. The moonscape became a quagmire. Passchendael in the summer of 1917 has made an impact in history as the battle of mud, but many witnesses stated that the Somme was worse. At 11:00pm on 29th August a night attack was launched across the mud resulting in units getting lost in the shell holes and battered trench systems. The attack was a complete failure. Almost 500 more casualties were suffered by the two battalions that had made the attack.On 3rd September 1916 the Australian troops were given their final chance to take the farm. 4th Division AIF had been reinforced by 1st Canadian Brigade, but it was to be the Australian’s own 13th Brigade that would make their attack on the farm.At 05:10am,the 49th Battalion began their assault on the trench systems to the far right of the farm, the 51st Battalion assaulted the farm itself and the 52nd battalion covered the Fabeck Graben.

The 49th made good progress in the face of stiff opposition linking up with the 52nd who had managed to get up past the farm whilst the 51st clawed their way into the pile of rubble that Mouquet Farm had become.Unfortunately a counter attack by the Germans at 08:00am was driven home under the cover of a heavy barrage and the Australians were once more forced out of the farm and many of the captured trenches. The leading units of the 51st Battalion were never seen again.The Canadians were pushed into the line to halt the Germans and the Allied front line was secured on the right to include part of the gains made by the 49th Battalion.At the end of the days fighting, men from 1st Canadian Division relieved the very weary men of the 4th Australian Division. The last few days had cost the 4th Division another 1, 300 casualties. For the Canadians their first few days in the area were those of almost constant bombardment and German counter attacks trying to dislodge them from the ground captured by the Australians. Almost a fortnight after they had arrived in the area, on 15th September 1916 Tanks made their first appearance on the battlefield during the battle for Flers and Courcelette. This battle was on a wide front which incorporated yet another attempt to take Mouquet Farm.

The 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles were given the task of taking the farm and a German strong point in the Fabeck Graben. The attack on the farm was beaten off by the defenders and the attack on the strong point came under bombardment from Allied guns whilst they were waiting out in no man’s land. To add insult to injury the German machine gunners were then able to fire with impunity until the Canadians own machine gunners were able to retaliate. Having taken almost fifty per cent casualties the Canadians were forced to withdraw to their own trenches.Further advances over the next twenty-four hours resulted in the Canadians announcing that the remains of the farm were finally taken and that the front line had been pushed beyond it. This was nearly true but what they didn’t realise was that the German’s had tunnels running under the ruins that came up behind the new Canadian line.On 16th September the Canadians were replaced by 34th Brigade from the British 11th Division. Ten days later a mixture of units and a tank finally managed to drive the German defenders from their last remaining dug-out. Photographs from the time show that Mouquet Farm had been totally levelled. A few piles of rubble were all that remained of a once sizeable group of buildings.

On August 14, 1916, as the 4th Australian Division prepared to attack Mouquet Farm, William and the men of the 50th Battalion were pounded by "horrific German artillery fire all day" pulverizing several trenches and causing terrible losses. For this day, the 50th battalion lost 150 men of which 45 were killed.The next day, the German artillery again spat a rain of shells and the 50th again suffered catastrophic losses and lost 510 men, 110 of whom were killed.
Unfortunately, it was the following day, on August 16, 1916, when the 50th Battalion was relieved from the trenches that the German artillery opened fire and William was killed in action by a shell, he was 24 years old.

Today, William O'Neill Tomlinson rests in peace alongside his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Courcelette British Cemetery, Somme.

William, It is with a determined heart and your head held high that under the dark clouds of a world at war you answered the call of duty to serve your country, to make Australia proud, to do your part alongside of your friends and brothers in arms who together, under the same uniform moved forward and fought with the most extreme bravery among the mud fields of northern France, a country they knew little about but which they loved deeply and which adopted them in the admiration and love of the French people who saw in these young men from the other side of the world, the courage, the hope and the conviction of a whole young and strong nation which, despite the oceans and the miles between us volunteered to help us, to free us from the darkness of a world gone mad. Pushed by the deep desire to fight, they arrived in our towns and villages of the Somme in ruins and through their smiles, we understood that freedom would come from the heart and the will of these young Australians who were welcomed with so much love and tears of hope and were very quickly adopted and loved with infinite tenderness and admiration that never disappeared.With an expression of conviction and faith in victory on their young faces, they were greeted by men and women who expressed their love and admiration for these men who became our brothers, our friends and before they joined the front line, to show them our eternal gratitude, the children, on the walls of the schools wrote a message which remained engraved in the heart of the French "Do not forget Australia".No, we will never forget what these young men, our Diggers, did and endured for us in the trenches and on the blood-red battlefields of the Somme which bear through the poppies the traces of the lives and the courage of these heroes who suffered day and night the terrible bombardments of the artillery which never ceased to rain down death and madness through the flames and the funereal howl of the shells which fell at an insane rate and which, in terrible deflagrations, pulverized the lives of so many men who were buried alive and who, in this nightmare, had nowhere to hide and whose legs refused to move under this onslaught of brutality.In the face of death they stood and fought hard for every inch of French ground and in courageous assaults carried out with heroism they moved forward without ever retreating despite the enemy fire which was opposed to them and charged bayonets forward in the face of machine guns and rifles under the admiring eyes of their French brothers in arms who fought and died with them in bloodbaths,friends and enemies throwing themselves furiously on each other with avenging rage in their hearts.In the mud they killed each other through howls of terror with butts, trench shovels until the battlefield became silent, until no movement was observable then others waves of men were thrown into this cauldron of hell as were Pozieres and Mouquet Farm, they charged like a stormy sea upon which the waves crashed through fire and bullets that left open slaughterhouses behind, fields of death on which thousands of wooden crosses were erected and on which is kept alive the memory of thousands of men who, for Australia and for France, gave their youth, their lives, their everything and who, for humanity sacrificed the most beautiful years of their lives which they left behind and who, after so much suffering and tears, found through the poppies, the peace and silence of their last resting places which will be forever bathed in in the eternal light of remembrance and over which I would always watch with benevolence, respect and love to bring these men back to life by telling who they were so that their memory never fades so that their names live on forever. Thank you so much William, for everything.At the going down of the sun and in the morning,we will remember him,we will remember them.