Service Number: 1691
Enlisted: 17 May 1915, Ballarat
Last Rank: Lance Corporal
Last Unit: 22nd Infantry Battalion
Born: Clunes, Victoria, Australia, 1896
Home Town: Ballarat, Central Highlands, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Gass Fitter
Died: Killed in Action, Pozieres, France, 5 August 1916
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, Picardie, France
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)
Show Relationships

World War 1 Service

17 May 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 1691, 22nd Infantry Battalion, Ballarat
16 Jul 1915: Involvement Private, 1691, 23rd Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières
16 Jul 1915: Embarked Private, 1691, 23rd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Demosthenes, Melbourne
5 Sep 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 1691, 22nd Infantry Battalion, ANZAC / Gallipoli
19 Mar 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 1691, 22nd Infantry Battalion, RMS Llandovery Castle, Alexandria - disembarked Marseilles, France 26 March 1916
30 Jul 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 22nd Infantry Battalion
5 Aug 1916: Involvement Lance Corporal, 1691, 22nd Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières

LCpl William Campbell, 22nd Bn

From Ballarat & District in the Great War

LCpl William Campbell, 22nd Bn

A grieving mother stands, clutching a photograph against her heart. Pride makes her hope that no-one will notice the tears as they trail dismally down her cheeks, but grief will not allow them to stop. She is old now…but, her son, the boy in the photograph that she holds so tightly, is forever young. For he is one of the honoured dead; dead but not forgotten.

Ballarat and district had thousands of grieving mothers, women who carried the pain of loss for the rest of their days. Women like Annie Campbell, whose love for her soldier boy symbolises all those who had their lives shattered by war…
Families are complicated. I personally know that not everything is what it seems.

When a baby boy was born in Clunes on 15 June 1898, his family was well prepared for the social complications his birth brought with it. The baby’s mother, Alice Valentine Campbell, who was the eldest daughter of John Campbell and Annie Valentine, was just 15 years-old. There was never a thought of giving the baby up to strangers, but the social stigma in a small town was also very real. Annie stepped in and became the only mother young William Campbell would ever know.

Soon after Will’s birth, the Campbell family moved into Ballarat East. They eventually settled in a home on the corner of Humffray Street north and Rice Street. It was a lovely area for children – the delights of the nearby Yarrowee Creek were the perfect place for adventurous little boys, and Russell Square was a constant hive of activity with community football and cricket year round.

All through Will’s early years, John Campbell worked hard building up his reputation as a baker in the town. He was a member of the Bakers’ Union and he and his family quickly became highly regarded in the community. But it was Annie that was the hub of the household.

When Will reached school age, he was enrolled at the Queen Street State School. It was just a short walk from home, with the added thrill of crossing the railway bridge and watching for the passing steam trains – getting lost in the smoke as they passed underneath.

While he was a student at Queen Street, Will became part of the compulsory military cadets’ scheme. Ultimately it would lead to him joining the senior cadets of the 70th Infantry Regiment (The Ballarat Regiment). The 70th had a proud reputation and was led by particularly fine officers. It was an excellent training ground for future soldiers. There was also a sense of camaraderie fostered within the unit, something that young men preparing for war were to benefit greatly from.


We've heard our fellows sing of love,
Of boys in navy blue.
We've heard them sing of soldiers of
We've listened while of daring deeds
They've told us tales anew;
Or gave us "I'm a Soldier and a Man."

Let's have a song that's all our own,
A song we all can sing;
A regimental song that's full of go;
A song that will remind us all
Of Country, Flag and King;
Of hearts and homes and friends and
sweethearts, too.
Then sing this song of the good old A. I. R.
Above whose heads Australia's flag unfurls.
Whose battle cry sweeps o'er the hills afar,
For King and Country, and, of course,
the girls.

The Sergeant-Major falls us in,
The Sergeant calls the roll,
The Captain sees that everything is
The Colonel struts out on parade, and
starts at once to poll;
But then his bark is much worse than
his bite.
Slope arms, he roars, and then form
fours, ,

And sling yourselves about.
There's one man in the rear there very
Now, lads, just show what you can do.
Advance in fours, he'll shout,
And for a ten-mile stretch we start to
(We don't think.)
So sing this song, this song. etc.

After finishing his schooling, Will joined the Ballarat Gasworks, where he began learning the trade of a gas-fitter. However, war was soon to intervene and permanently change the direction of the young lad’s life.

Determined to “do his bit, Will began completing his application to join the AIF on 6 May 1915, and his medical examination was conducted four days later, by Doctor F. B. Crawford. Physically, Will had no difficulty meeting the military requirements: he was 5-feet 9¼-inches tall and weighed 135-pounds. His dark complexion, with brown eyes and dark hair are evident in the photos taken of him at this time; Will was indeed a handsome young lad. But he was well underage – even by “aging” rapidly in order to enlist and stating he was a month short of turning 19. He was actually still only 16.

Despite successfully passing his medical, Will realised that without parental consent he had no chance of being accepted.

After discussing his intentions with his parents, Will managed to secure their permission to join the AIF. He returned to the Ballarat Recruitment Depot on 17 May and swore his oath to serve King and country.

His first weeks of training were spent in the Showgrounds Camp at Ballarat, before being transferred to Seymour and posted to the 2nd allocation of reinforcements for the 23rd Infantry Battalion. He sailed from Port Melbourne with these reinforcements onboard HMAT Demosthenes on 16 July. He had celebrated his 17th birthday while still in camp.

Shortly after he left Australia, Annie Campbell wrote to Base Records with obvious misgivings about allowing the boy to go to war. She informed them that he was underage – possibly hoping that he would be kept from the firing line – and admitted that financial pressure had persuaded her to give her consent. Nevertheless, there was no apparent effort to keep young Will out of the fighting…

Soon after arriving in Egypt, Will took time to write home:

‘…Dear Mother,
Just a line to let you know that I am well hoping you are the same. We landed at Port Suez and went straight out to Heloplies (sic) Camp and is very hot here about 120 in the shade. I have been into Cairo and it is a very pretty place in the white part of the town but in the black slums it is very dirty. I don’t know when we will be going to the front but it won’t be long the sooner the better as I want to get at them. When we were coming across we called only at Fremantle and then at Suez. We had a month on the water we left on 16 July and landed 16 August. We had a fine trip and I hope it will not be long before I get a good home again. Our boys are getting on well as far as I know…

He was very aware of how dependent his parents were on the money he could provide for them and was at great pains to let Annie know that he would be forwarding more as soon as his pay came through.

Thoughts of home seemed to be hanging heavily with Will when he wrote his next letter, but he was also keen to share the excitement of new adventures with his family.

‘…I am sending a photo of our getting on the boat and another when we got at Freemantle (sic). My arm has been pretty bad but is nearly allright. [Possibly a reaction to vaccination]. The black people will do anything for money they are very dirty but they work hard they run about without boots on the burning hot sand it would burn our feet off if we tried to do it. They will do any thing for the soldiers. I have been expecting a letter from you but I have not received one yet but I hope it will not be long. I will send a couple of presents when I get my pay because they are cheap here. Tell Doll [his sister, Florence] I send her my love and that I shant forget her as they will be very nice for Australia. Some of them are beauts. I want you to tell Col [his brother] that I am well and I am standing it all right. We are going to see the Pyramids & Sphinx on Sunday if we get paid. I have met a lot of Ballarat boys here…Frank Duggan he came on the same [boat] as me and Charley Wade and I am now for Ted Hawkins as he is in the Camp. Dozens of others that I know…’

On 27 August, Will was transferred to the 22nd Infantry Battalion and posted to C Company in preparation for embarkation to the Dardanelles. He sailed from Alexandria on 30 August onboard the transport Scotian. Their days were filled with typical duties and ship board routines – examining of arms, lectures, the ominous sharpening of bayonets, and boat station drill watching out for the ever-present threat of German submarines. News that the transport Southland had been torpedoed made the troops even more apprehensive.

Will arrived at ANZAC Cove on 5 September and with the 22nd Battalion, marched into the frontline trenches, where they were immediately confronted by the sight of dead bodies lying unburied everywhere – with skulls visible, and the ‘stench and flies awful.’ Will was to serve in these dreadful conditions without a break right through until the evacuation in December.

The 22nd Battalion was only back in Egypt for less than three months before they embarked for France on 19 March. The voyage from Alexandria to Marseilles took seven long, fraught days, once again attempting to avoid detection by the enemy U-boats.

Soon after arriving in Northern France, Will took the time to write again to his family,

‘…Dear Mother,
Just a line to let you know that I am in the best of health hoping you are the same. I received your letter dated March 6th and was very glad to get it also to hear every thing was allright. We are now in France doing our little bit and it is not so bad as the peninsular thank goodness. I hope you have received your parcel by this time as it was sent the same time as Edna’s. France will do me it is a very pretty place and the people are very nice but I have not struck any place as good as Australia yet though. We have seen some of the results of the German pigs doings and it is shameful it is no wonder that the Frenchmen fight so fiercely. They call them the Blue Devils owing to their blue uniforms and the way they fight. We have been seeing all the heads lately we have been inspected by the prince of wales before we left Egypt he looks just like a girl & we were inspected by Lord Kitchner (sic) in France he is a fine big man & he looks very fierce he has very funny eyes he seems to look right through you. I was in the first line so he passed about two yards from me.

You were saying Cecil Bennett has left & about time to (sic) but I suppose he has got a cold footed job on a hospital ship but perhaps he will be able to do a bit of good.

I hope you like the scarf it is a good one & that dolly likes her handkerchiefs don’t forget to send your and dads photo as I want one. The lads reckon I have altered since I left home so I may get my photo taken here so you can see for yourself. Give my best love to Dolly and all the rest of them and I hope it will not be long before I will be home to see you all soon so mother I will have to ring off. I remain your loving son….’

It certainly wasn’t all “beer and skittles” as Will was soon to find out – if you managed to lose any equipment – no matter the circumstances – the military would deduct the cost from your pay. When Will lost his rifle pull thro, mess tin, field dressing and disc, he was debited 2.82 French francs!

On 26 July the 22nd Battalion arrived in the battered French town of Albert. They immediately proceeded through to Sausage Valley where they were issued with picks and shovels, two Mills bombs each and two sandbags. Continuing to move on they arrived in the frontline trenches at Pozieres in the early hours of 27 July, where they relieved the Australian 6th Battalion.

They were still in the trenches at Pozieres when Will was appointed lance-corporal on 30 July. Throughout this period the men had not only been subjected to an incredibly intense and constant bombardment, but also to a gas attack that necessitated the frantic scrambling for gas masks.

Even in relief, the men were not far from the guns – resting in Sausage Valley for a few days before returning once again to the battered remnants of Pozieres shortly after midnight on 5 August. The men were almost immediately forced to deal with a dawn counterattack – that was successfully repulsed – and continuous small bombing attacks. Areas of the line were also under terrible pressure from enfilading shellfire that made the situation almost untenable. Despite this, the 22nd successfully held the position throughout the day. The casualties, however, were very heavy – mostly due to enemy shelling.

When the roll was called the next day, young Will Campbell was found to be amongst those who were missing.

News, it seems, was very slow to reach the Campbell family. They finally received a telegram on Tuesday 19 September. This was to be the beginning of a long, painful, and ultimately fruitless fight for information. Letter after letter from the family pleading with the authorities for news – always with the same response, and yet they clung to the hope that Will would somehow turn up as a prisoner of war.

‘…We received a telegram Tuesday which stated that … is missing since the 5th Aug & we are very anxious about him so we thought you may have more news of him…we know he was alright on the 2nd August as his mate wrote home & said they went in the trenches & came out came out together on the 2nd August…’

Will’s brother (his actual uncle), Colin Campbell, wrote to Base Records on 17 October 1916, and included a letter that had been written by his mate Pte C. V. Bunting 4219 of the 23rd Battalion, that purported to give an account of the death of Will Campbell. It stated that he was ‘wounded in the hand and gone to the hospital…’ and seems likely to have implied that he was killed by shellfire as he made his way back. They were informed that this letter was ‘hearsay only and constituted no actual proof.’

After being approached by Annie Campbell, ‘…who is waiting anxiously for tidings…’, Senator Andrew McKissock wrote to Base Records on 12 March 1917. He was informed that their instructions precluded any investigations being made from this end without the production of some authentic evidence at variance with the official report as it is useless worrying the Overseas Authorities without giving them something to work upon, as we know they are doing their utmost to finalise these unsatisfactory cases…’

The cruelty of the wording – ‘unsatisfactory cases’ – was callous beyond belief.

A year after Will had been reported missing in action, Annie Campbell wrote yet again, pleading for information. Not only had she been living with the constant anxiety of not knowing what had become of her boy, the meagre pittance from his pay that she relied so heavily upon, had been stopped. This was common practice – if the soldier was missing, he was no longer to be paid. Annie was caught in a terrible web of grief and anxiety.

On 22 November 1917, she tried again…

‘…it is 5 months since I wrote last, hoping to hear as it is 16 months since reported missing and that is all I have heard…’

Annie was not to know that a Court of Enquiry was scheduled to be convened only four days later. The finding was that Will Campbell, previously reported Missing, was now reported Killed in Action on 5 August 1916. Despite this a communication from Base Records to Annie indicated that the finding of the Court left a number of officers and men of the 22nd, including her son, covered by the statement ‘…the remainder we consider it best to still report missing…’

To compound the situation, it appears that the Defence Department discovered that Annie Campbell was actually young Will’s grandmother. As a consequence, her pension was reduced from 14-shillings to just 7-shillings a fortnight. And because they deemed her to have been “overpaid” her payments were stopped until 28 March 1918. The heartlessness of bureaucracy to this woman must have been devastating. From a baby she had raised Will as her own son; she had cared for his every need, patched up his boyhood scrapes, and watched with pride as he grew all-too quickly into premature manhood – and this was the treatment she received?

The only memento of Will to be returned to Annie Campbell was his damaged watch. His body was never found – and to this day he has no known grave.

‘…There's not a day goes by but what we think of you,
Our dear Will, our soldier boy…’

So, when next you pass the statue of the Grieving Mother adjacent to Ballarat’s Arch of Victory, remember that she represents women like Annie Campbell, who gave the very best of herself to a seemingly ungrateful nation.

Showing 1 of 1 story