William Charles BEHAN

BEHAN, William Charles

Service Number: 6033
Enlisted: 11 September 1916, Brisbane, Queensland
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 25th Infantry Battalion
Born: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, July 1881
Home Town: Yeronga, Brisbane, Queensland
Schooling: Yeronga State School, Queensland, Australia
Occupation: Butcher
Died: SW to knee & head, gassed, 20th Casualty Clearing Station in Vignacourt, France, 25 May 1918
Cemetery: Vignacourt British Cemetery
Plot 111, Row A, Grave 13 Rev. L.J. Causton officiated, Vignacourt British Cemetery, Vignacourt, Picardie, France, Jerusalem Memorial, Jerusalem War Cemetery, Israel
Tree Plaque: Yeronga Avenue of Honour
Memorials: Annerley Stephens Shire Council Residents Honour Board 2, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Yeronga War Memorial
Show Relationships

World War 1 Service

11 Sep 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Brisbane, Queensland
27 Oct 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 6033, 25th Infantry Battalion
27 Oct 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 6033, 25th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Marathon, Brisbane
Date unknown: Involvement 25th Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières

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


25 Battalion

Rank - Private

Taken on strength, 25th Battalion, 18 July 1917

Wounded, 23 May 1918.

Medals: British War Medal, Victory Medal


Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Francois Somme

Pte 6033 William Charles Behan
25th Australian Infantry Battalion, D Company,
7th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division
More than a hundred years ago, on the fields of the Somme, red with the blood of a whole generation of heroes and waves of poppies, thousands of young men fought who, shoulder to shoulder, suffered the mournful howls of shells and the cries of their friends who died beside them in the sticky mud of the trenches waiting for the decisive moment, the order to go over the top to do their duty knowing that many of them would not return from the next attack but , not retreating, praying to god, they clenched their teeth in palpable anxiety, in fear of the death that awaited them beyond the parapets but, brave and proud, after a last whistle that broke the silence, they climbed the wooden ladders and charged bayonets forward ready to write the pages of history in the prime of their lives and, through hail of bullets, under tons of shells, they stood tall and brave until the machine guns mow them down through the barbed wire and shattered by the steel, by the screaming metal, in a last breath, called their mothers, looked at their comrades who lay lifeless beside them and on these sacred soils of the Somme, of the north of France,wrote their names which are today remembered and honored with reverence on their eternal graves which stand silently in eternity and in the light of remembrance in which I would watch always with care and love on these young men who gave their lives for us so that the stories and the names of all these heroes live forever.

Today, it is with the utmost respect and with the deepest gratitude that I would like to honor the memory of one of these men, of one of my boys of the Somme who, in the Somme, for Australia and France, gave his life. I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Private number 6033 William Charles Behan who fought in the 25th Australian Infantry Battalion, D Company, 7th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division, and who died of his wounds 105 years ago, on May 25, 1918 at the age of 36 on the Somme front.

William Charles Behan was born in 1881 in Brisbane, Queensland,Australia, and was the son of Michael Behan and Jane Behan (née Glancy). His father Michael was a butcher and manager of Graziers' Butchering Company at Woolloongabba, Brisbane.

William had many siblings and lastly, Agnes Behan Farley (1897-1944). The father Michael had just died (9th December 1896) before she was born. The mother, Mrs Jane Behan died in 1902 (15 August). Their orphaned daughter Agnes was enrolled at Yeronga State School in June 1908 at the age of 11 years.

William followed in his father's footsteps and became a butcher, eventually opening retail butcher shops at Moorooka and Yeronga. He married Prudence Glancy in 1903 and they established themselves at the home "Macclesfield" in Yeronga Street, Yeronga, just over the train line towards the river from Yeronga Park. In 1906 their first child,William James Behan,was born, followed in 1914 by Norman Edwin Behan. Son William James was enrolled at Yeronga State School in 1911 at the age of 5 years. William Charles Behan was a member of the International Order of Oddfellows like his father before him. He attended the Loyal Pride of Rocklea Lodge in the Oddfellows Hall near his butcher shop at Moorooka.

William enlisted on September 11, 1916 in Brisbane, Queensland, in the 25th Australian Infantry Battalion, 17th Reinforcement, already having sold his butcher shops and equipment (and horse and cart) the previous December (1915) and after a training period of a little over a month, embarked with his unit from Brisbane, on board HMAT A75 Marathon on October 27, 1916 and sailed for England.

On January 9, 1917, William arrived in England and was disembarked at Plymouth then marched to Rollestone, where he joined the 7th Training Battalion for a period of extensive training under realistic and difficult war conditions on the Salisbury Plain which prepared the men to the fighting to come in the trenches of northern France. At the end of January, more precisely on January 24, he fell ill and was admitted to the Fargo Military Hospital located near Rollestone, suffering from Laryngitis, was discharged to duty then on February 7, returned to the 7th Training Battalion and four months later,on June 25, 1917, proceeded overseas from Southampton to France.

On June 26, 1917, after a last moment of peace on the English Channel, William finally arrived in France and was disembarked in Le Havre where he joined the 2nd Australian Divisional Base Depot, proceeded to join unit on July 16 and was taken on strength on July 18 in the 25th Battalion and served as D Company cook, given his extensive knowledge and skills in butchering.

On July 18, 1917, William joined his unit in Bapaume, in the Somme, in a tent camp and alongside his comrades, followed a period of training including tactical exercises in open warfare, small attacks with live ammunition on field firing range, deployments and attacks in darkness then on July 29, marched for Miraumont and embarked by train for Bavinchove from where they marched into billets in Renescure and the following day, moved to Coin Perdu, near St Omer where they remained until September 11.

On September 12, 1917, William and the 25th Battalion left Coin Perdu and moved to Steenvoorde and the next day to Winnipeg Camp at Reninghelst, near Poperinge, in the Ypres Salient where on September 20, the 25th took part in the Battle of Menin Road.

The Battle of Menin Road was the third of seven major British attacks during the Third Battle of Ypres. It was the first one to involve the Australian infantry, although Australian artillery had been firing in support of British attacks since the campaign began on 31 July.

On September 20, 1917, the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions moved forward on a 3km front, with Menin road on their right, capturing the western half of Polygon Wood.

Three British Corps advanced on both flanks of the Anzacs. The infantry had to overcome formidable entrenched German positions, including concrete pillbox strongpoints.

When the battle began at 5:40am, the battalions of the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions lay spread out along a 1.8km line. Protected by an intensive artillery screen, they were to advance about 1.3km in three stages to seize the German defensive positions. These were mainly concrete pillboxes where the enemy machine gunners and bombers took shelter during the British bombardments. By 10.15am, the Australians had seized all their objectives along the entire front.

The Australians had been helped by the covering artillery barrage, and the softening up bombardments on the days leading up to the attack. The artillery also crushed German counterattacks when their soldiers were seen assembling later that day beyond the captured Australian positions.

Official war historian, Charles Bean wrote:
"The advancing barrage won the ground; the infantry merely occupied it, pouncing on any points at which resistance survived."

The Anzacs sustained 5013 casualties and the Germans reported 4200 soldiers either killed, wounded or captured.

Shortly after the Battle of the Menin Road, on October 4, 1917, the 25th Battalion took part in the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge.

Broodseinde was a large operation, involving 12 divisions attacking simultaneously along a 10km front. In the centre, the 1st and 2nd Anzac Corps, composed of three Australian divisions and the New Zealand Division, went forward side by side capturing the village of Broodseinde. The attack was executed in the same manner as Menin Road and Polygon Wood. The troops' objectives were only 1 to 2km from the start line and the advance was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment.

The infantry then followed a creeping barrage tactic, which was timed to arrive at the German trenches just before the infantry did. Concrete pillboxes, such as those captured by the Tasmanian 40th Battalion at Tyne Cot, delayed but did not stop the advance.

For the men of the AIF, the Battle of Broodseinde had always been regarded as one of their greatest victories. For the only time in the war, four Anzac divisions,1st, 2nd and 3rd Australian and the New Zealand Division,fought side by side that day. It was a boost to morale described by Charles Bean:
"But this night (3 October) four Anzac divisions were marching to the line together. There were indications that the British command had caught some glimpse of the true reason lying behind the constant importunings of the Australian authorities that their troops should be kept together, but it certainly had no conception of all that this meant to the troops then making their way through the dark."

Despite the victory at Broodseinde Ridge, the Australian divisions suffered 6,500 casualties here.

On October 10, 1917, after the battle of Broodseinde Ridge, William and the 25th Battalion moved back to Steenvoorde for reorganization, rest and training then on October 26, embarked by bus for Ypres and took up position at "ANZAC Ridge" where they were employed in the improvement of their shelters and positions and in supplying carrying parties for the front line then on November 1, took up positions between Broodseinde Ridge and Westhoek Ridge where they suffered heavy bombardment from the German artillery including gas shells which caused many casualties but two days later were relieved by the 18th Australian Infantry Battalion and moved back to Winnipeg Camp where William and his comrades enjoyed hot baths and on 4 November moved into billets in tents in the Dickebush area where they stayed until November 9.

On November 9, 1917, the 25th Battalion was relieved by the 5th West Riding Regiment and left the Dickebush sector for Steenvoorde, which they reached on November 11 and underwent a period of training. A week later, on November 17, they marched for Neuve-Eglise, in very comfortable and rather warm billets but all damaged by shells and here, took part in tactical and sports exercises including an inter-battalion football and rugby competition won by the Australian Machine Gun Corps.

On December 14, 1917, the 25th Battalion left Neuve-Eglise for Romarin Camp and then relieved the 27th Australian Infantry Battalion near St Yves. On January 1, 1918, they moved to the front line opposite Warneton where they were mainly employed to improve their positions, to build fortified points and to place lines of barbed wire, to connect each position by lines of communication then on January 3, without particular enemy activities, moved into dugouts at "Red Lodge". A week later they returned to the front line in the positions they had previously occupied and launched several patrols across no man's land but things were described as "very quiet". However, sporadic German artillery fire, including Minnenwerfers caused some casualties among the ranks of the 25th.

On January 13, 1918, William and his battalion were relieved by the 27th Australian Infantry Battalion and were sent by train to Kortepyp Camp, Belgium, where they were billeted until January 26 and then the next day, marched to Locre and were billeted at " Birr Barracks". Three days later, on January 29, they moved between Escœilles and Surques for reorganization and training then on March 8, moved back to Kortepyp but two weeks later, on March 21, the German army, with force and determination, launched its final offensive in a final and desperate attempt to break through the Allied lines between Arras and Amiens, in the Somme, which the Kaiser wanted to capture to cut off any convoy of Allied reinforcements and ammunition and to rush on Paris but now under the command of Sir John Monash, Australian troops, including the 25th Battalion, rushed to the Somme to stop the Germans.

Shortly before the start of the German offensive, William was granted leave in England on March 10 and returned to his unit on March 27. Shortly after, the 25th Battalion was sent to the Somme, arriving in Amiens on April 5, marched through Longpre, Poulainville, Allonville, Daours, and arrived at Bresle, into billets called "St Lawrence Farm" where they remained until May 1.

On May 2, 1918, William and his unit marched to Rivery, near Amiens for rest and training and then two weeks later, entered the front line at Maricourt where unfortunately, on May 23, William met his fate.

In the evening of May 23,during 4 hours of bombardment of the battalion’s trenches by the Germans, William had taken refuge in a cellar of an abandoned house in Maricourt. His cooker was outside the building and he was able to wait in safety ready to feed his men. However, two gas shells fell directly on the house and exploded in the cellar. Behan was half buried with dirt and severely gassed. A shell fragment penetrated just above his knee and he had a slight wound on his head. He dug himself out and made it back to the cooker where he was immediately picked up and carried by stretcher bearers back to the Regimental Aid Post. From here he was taken to the 20th Casualty Clearing Station in Vignacourt, but died two days later, on May 25,1918 at the age of 36.

Today, William Charles Behan rests in peace alongside his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Vignacourt British Cemetery, Somme.

William, brave and in the prime of your life, it is with loyalty, honor, determination and courage that you answered the call of duty and of your country to do your bit on the battlefields of the great war, on the soils of a friendly country which asked for help from its Australian brothers in arms and who, without hesitation, to free us from the darkness of war, came from the other side of the world and, with God on their side, with their weapons in their hands, they marched and fought together after volunteering, sometimes adding a few additional years to their files to be at the side of their friends, to follow their convictions and their hearts which guided them through the poppies of the Somme, to sacred fields strewn with shell holes and scarred by endless lines of trenches and barbed wire in which lived and fell a whole generation of men who, standing proud, did what was right and together, in the name of peace and freedom, in blood and chaos, gave their today to allow us to have a tomorrow, to defend and preserve our humanity, what defines us and brings us together and which, in the hell of battles, in fire and screams, was swept away mercilessly through storms of bullets, hurricanes of steel that fell endlessly on the bodies and souls of these boys who came to fight with in their hearts an invincible ardor, with the hope of living the greatest adventure of their lives but in this hell on earth that was Pozieres, Flers, Amiens, Gueudecourt, they thought that they were only food for the guns and saw their brothers, their fathers, their mates who, one after the other, were consumed by this madness, by the brutality of the war. They saw them falling riddled with bullets, crushed by shells, disfigured, mutilated by shrapnel, taken too early in the blasts of deadly artillery that rained down despair and chaos under the bruised skies of this world at war under which took place unimaginable bloodbaths through which friends and foes killed each other in a fury never seen before that pushed the world in a bottomless abyss and under fire, in this burning cauldron, the voices of these young boys were heard who, in pain, in tears, alongside their brothers in arms, called their mothers to escape at this apocalypse and after a last breath, after a final act of bravery, closed their eyes forever but, beyond their deaths, their sacrifices, after counting their days to zero, they rose again in the light remembrance, in the arms of god, alongside friends, men who fought and fell by their side and saw silently, like eternal ghosts, children, women, men, their families come to pray on their white graves which still stand today, in eternal silence, on the sacred fields of the Somme where they paid the supreme sacrifice and saw, still see today, every day, the gratitude and love of the French and Australian people who, united in the most beautiful of friendships, watch together over the memory of these heroes to whom we owe so much and on whom I will watch over forever with love, with respect and gratitude to honor their memory, so that their names live forever. Thank you so much William, for all you did for my country which will never forget you.At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember him, we will remember them.