Frederick Henry (Fred) HUGHES


HUGHES, Frederick Henry

Service Number: 4523
Enlisted: 25 October 1915, Ballarat, Victoria
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 58th Infantry Battalion
Born: Geelong, Victoria, Australia, 22 May 1893
Home Town: Ballarat, Central Highlands, Victoria
Schooling: Berringa State School, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Miner
Died: Killed by shell, Polygon Wood, Belgium, 27 September 1917, aged 24 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 29), Belgium
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Menin Gate Memorial (Commonwealth Memorial to the Missing of the Ypres Salient)
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World War 1 Service

25 Oct 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 4523, Ballarat, Victoria
28 Jan 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 4523, 8th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
28 Jan 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 4523, 8th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Themistocles, Melbourne
1 Apr 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 58th Infantry Battalion
19 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 4523, 58th Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix)
27 Sep 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 4523, 58th Infantry Battalion, Polygon Wood

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

Biography contributed by Deb Robinson

"...4523 Private Frederick Henry Hughes, 8th Battalion (later 58th Battalion), of Ballarat, Victoria. Pte Hughes enlisted on 2 November 1915 and embarked aboard HMAT Themistocles (A32) on 28 January 1916. He was killed in action on 27 September 1917." - SOURCE (

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Ballarat & District in the Great War

On the eve of Remembrance Day, I wanted to take the opportunity to share the story of a young soldier from Berringa – and the multiple effects his life had on those around him.

Frederick Henry Hughes was born at Geelong on 22 May 1893. He was the second of three sons born to William Morgan “Willie” Hughes and Ada Louisa Harris. His parents both had links to the district – William was born at Steiglitz and Ada at Clunes. Ancestrally, Fred’s lineage was Welsh, English and Cornish; his paternal line had come from the small village of Tymbl in Carmarthenshire in Wales, whilst his maternal grandfather was a native of Truro in Cornwall.

For Fred’s father, this was a second marriage – his first wife, Margaret Minnie Smith, had died on 20 June 1891 – on her 23rd birthday – leaving him with two small sons to raise. His marriage to Ada Harris provided a mother for Alf and Bill, and produced a further six children.

The family moved to the mining district of Berringa when Fred was just a small boy. When he reached school-age, he was enrolled at the newly refurbished Berringa State School. His first major influence came in the form of head teacher, Robert Craig, who was noted for efficient and painstaking teaching, plus a kindly way that made him very popular with his students.

Childhood in the early 1900’s was fraught with dangers we find difficult to comprehend now – in July 1901, the Berringa State School was closed for two weeks owing to ‘a general epidemic of measles.’ This effected a larger number of students than would have been expected – the mining district had a substantial population at that time – by September the following year, there were 170 children enrolled at Berringa.
It was a natural progression for young Fred, after completing his schooling, to go to work in the local mines. Berringa had produced good quantities of gold since the rush of the 1850’s, but during the late 1890’s the town experienced a boom period. This continued through to 1917, and Fred worked in two of the most well-known of Berringa’s mines – the William’s Fancy and Birthday Tunnel.

The small township of Berringa as we now know it differs considerably from the times experienced by Fred Hughes and his family – not only did Berringa have its own brass band, it supported two football teams – the Birthday Tunnel and Kangaroo Football Club and the Berringa Football Club. The locals even had access to their own newspaper: the Berringa Herald. Indeed, it was a rich time for those living in the town – shops of all sorts, dressmakers, bootmakers, and boarding houses abounded, there was even a coffee palace! Locals could enjoy football, cricket and horseracing, whilst their spiritual needs were cared for by the two churches.

When Fred wasn’t working in the mines, he enjoyed taking part in local sport and was well known in the sporting fraternity. He was involved with the Berringa Football Club, both on the field (alongside Oscar Bridson and “Boxer” Causon, two other Great War soldiers from Berringa) and at a committee level. As a rover for Berringa, Fred was always in the midst of the play. His name appeared regularly in district match reports.

The family was able to worship at the Berringa Methodist Church, or they could travel to nearby Linton, the biggest town in the Grenville Shire, where the Methodist community flourished.
The impact of war was being felt throughout the Ballarat district even before the beginning of the Gallipoli Campaign. Fred Hughes considered everything carefully before he enlisted at Ballarat on 2 November 1915. Doctor A. B. Campbell was responsible for conducting Fred’s medical examination, recording his vital information – he was 5-feet 6-inches tall, and weighed 9-stone 10-pounds. He had a good chest measurement of 33 to 35½-inches, with the fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair synonymous with those of Anglo-Saxon ancestry.
By this time, Fred’s parents had removed to Kennedy’s Creek, 12-miles from Laver’s Hill, where William Hughes had taken up farming. Fred chose to name his mother as his next-of-kin.

After being accepted into the Australian Imperial Force, Fred was posted for training with D Company of the 14th Training Battalion at the Ballarat Showgrounds Camp. He was in Ballarat for just over a month and it seems likely that it was during this time that he met 18-year-old Elsie Westbury. They quickly became close and Fred asked Elsie to marry him. Their engagement was kept private at the time.
On 9 December, Fred was transferred to the Williamstown Camp; a week later he was assigned to the 14th reinforcements destined for the 8th Infantry Battalion.

Before sailing on 28 January 1916, it is safe to assume that Fred had the opportunity for final goodbyes to both his family and Elsie. However, he didn’t have the opportunity to receive a proper farewell at Berringa – when the Berringa branch of the Federated Mining Employees’ Association realised the oversight, they arranged a special presentation for his father in April.

As the Themistocles made her way along the Victorian coast, a group of the boys onboard decided to participate in what was becoming almost a time-honoured tradition – they placed a note with their names attached into a bottle and tossed it overboard into the water. Mr J. Murnane, of Panmure near Warrnambool, was out beachcombing at Buckley’s Bay in early October when he discovered the bottle wedged into the rocks about 14-feet above the low water mark. The paper had survived its dunking in the water, but the writing had become very faint and difficult to read. It was noted that the initials of Private Hughes were particularly difficult to read, so a guess was made.

‘…Troopship Themistocles, 31/1/1916 – Sgt J. L. Harrison, Ptes J. Lumsden, S. Bray, O. C. A. Laidler, E. A. Taylor, G. A. Jenkins, H. L. Sims, A. C. Coad, J. G. Coad, T. W. (?) Hughes, F. G. Coglan, R. Turnbull, Cpl A. Robertson, Pte G. Templeton. All well. Will finder please publish in “The Ballarat Courier” and oblige the above mentioned, all residents of Ballarat district, Victoria…’

In reality the Private Hughes was actually Fred – all the other names were members of the 14/8th Battalion, and there was only one soldier in that list of reinforcements bearing the surname of Hughes.

After thirty-one days at sea, the Themistocles docked at Port Suez on 28 February. The new reinforcements were immediately assigned to the 2nd Training Battalion at Zeitoun. Fred, who had not received military training before the war, was to benefit from the few weeks spent in Egypt.

With the continued re-organisation and expansion of the AIF following the Gallipoli Campaign, many of the 14/8th Battalion were transferred to the newly raised 58th Infantry Battalion. Fred Hughes joined his new unit on 1 April 1916.

The 58th embarked onboard the transport Transylvania from Alexandria on 17 June. Their crossing was uneventful and they landed safely in Marseilles six days later.

For the AIF, the first major engagement on the Western Front came during the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July. The men of the 58th Battalion had barely acclimatised to the new conditions when they were ordered into the line in dual roles supplying carrying parties and as a reserve force, which comprised approximately half the battalion. When they were ordered into the attack late in the battle, the German machine-gunners cut them down without mercy. In total the battalion suffered 237 casualties – nearly a third of their strength. Despite the losses, the 58th remained in the line until the end of July and continued to man positions opposite Fromelles throughout August.

On 29 August, Fred reported sick to the 15th Field Ambulance suffering from tonsillitis. He was transferred to the 5th Divisional Rest Station on 2 September. After two weeks rest, he was able to rejoin his unit, which was still manning the line near Fromelles.
After a harrowing six months in the trenches, Fred was granted leave to the United Kingdom. He arrived in England shortly before Christmas 1916 and was able to celebrate the festive season in style. Unfortunately, he enjoyed himself just a little too much and the results landed him in the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital at Bulford. This was a very common occurrence – especially in England – and Fred was far from being alone. However, he was to be under treatment for an extended period and it was over six months before he was discharged to the Convalescent Training Depot.

Fred spent just over two weeks stationed at the No1 Command Depot at Perham Downs, before, on 10 August 1917 he joined the Overseas Training Brigade. A month later he was shipped back to France to rejoin the 58th Battalion at Dominion Camp near Reninghelst, southwest of Ypres on 21 September. The battalion was in the midst of full training for the forthcoming Battle of Polygon Wood.

At 10pm on 23 September, the 58th Battalion completed the relief of the 56th Battalion in the frontline trenches at Polygon Wood. The projected battle – the second of the “bite and hold” battles of the Third Battle of Ypres – was to begin on 26 September.

On 27 September 1917, the battalion was in the assembly trench waiting to be relieved when the enemy put down a heavy bombardment. Fred was going forward with rations when he was blown up by a shell. Private James Hart, who had been with Fred in C Company, saw his body soon after and said, ‘I meant to search it for effects [that his] relatives might like, but I couldn’t force myself to do so…’ Hart was wounded the same day and did not see Fred buried, but he believed that he was buried where he fell. The battlefield grave was not registered and its position was lost during the continued fighting. Officially it was noted that he had been ‘buried in trenches (exact location unknown) [at] Polygon Wood, east of Ypres.’
Back in Ballarat, Elsie Westbury received word that her young fiancé had been killed in action, but when no further news was forthcoming, she began to doubt the accuracy of the report. On 3 April 1918, she wrote to the Defence Department asking if there had been any news and querying if it was possible Fred had been either wounded or taken prisoner. It was a last desperate hope that she was clinging to. Sadly, the department could only confirm her worst fears.

The wheels of process continued to turn ever so slowly – eventually Fred’s few meagre possessions – his wallet, pocket book and a few photos – were returned to his mother. She also received the War Gratuity on his behalf.

For Elsie, the sadness was pulpable. ‘There is a link death cannot sever,’ she wrote, ‘Love and remembrance last forever,’ signing her message ‘his sorrowing fiancée.’ It took her many years to find happiness once again – she married James Augustine Kierce in 1929.

When combing of the battlefields in the Ypres Salient failed to locate Fred’s remains, his name was added to the growing list for commemoration on the Menin Gate memorial.

Neither Fred’s brother, Leslie, or his half-brother, Alf, faired much better. Whilst Alf survived the war, including two years on the Western Front with the 46th Infantry Battalion, and returned home to his wife and children, illness was to supervene and he died on 21 June 1933, aged just 43 years.

Leslie’s story was far more complicated. He had been in Valparaiso in Chile, South America, when war was declared and he enlisted at the British Consulate there. He travelled to England, where he joined the Royal Navy. He served throughout the conflict as a stoker and returned to Australia at the cessation of hostilities. In 1922, he applied for a traineeship at the Janefield Convalescent Farm. At the time he was an inmate of the MacLeod Sanitorium. According to the Department of Repatriation and the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, Leslie was not eligible for support and was ‘the responsibility of the Imperial Government.’ His claim for a pension had also been rejected.

After full consideration, it was eventually recommended by the State Board that Leslie be passed as eligible.

However, according to Leslie’s family, he was suffering from what we now know as post traumatic stress disorder. There was virtually no constructive help available for those experiencing mental health issues during that era. His struggle continued for the rest of his life. He died at the beginning of 1962 and was buried at Springvale Cemetery on 3 January.
For Leslie there was always a lasting memory of the brother he lost to war – for him, Fred was never forgotten.

‘…When we see the boys returning
Our hearts they throb with pain
That you are not there, dear Fred,
And will never come back again.
Could we have raised your dying head,
Or heard your last farewell;
The blow would not have been so hard
For us who loved you well…’