Henry Victor WILLIS

Poppy

WILLIS, Henry Victor

Service Number: 983
Enlisted: 14 July 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 31st Infantry Battalion
Born: Alberton, Victoria, Australia, 1895
Home Town: Alberton, Wellington, Victoria
Schooling: Alberton State School No 1. Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Farm Labourer
Died: Killed in Action, France, 19 July 1916
Cemetery: Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
Plot II, Row F, Grave No 11,
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Yarram WW1 War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

14 Jul 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 983, 31st Infantry Battalion
9 Nov 1915: Embarked Private, SN 983, 31st Infantry Battalion, HMAT Wandilla, Melbourne
9 Nov 1915: Involvement Private, SN 983, 31st Infantry Battalion
27 Mar 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 31st Infantry Battalion, Duntroon Plateau
9 May 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Private, 31st Infantry Battalion, Reverted to Rank of Private, Ferry Post
16 Jun 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 983, 31st Infantry Battalion, embarked Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force
19 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 983, 31st Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix)
21 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 983, 31st Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix)
21 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 983
Date unknown: Involvement 31st Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix)

Fromelles mass grave

In 2008, Dr Tony Pollard (Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow) led an archaeological team responsible for locating bodies of Australian and British soldiers killed in the Battle of Fromelles. There had been speculation that a mass burial ground for Australian and British soldiers killed in the Battle of Fromelles was located at Pheasant Wood, behind the German lines.

A copper good-luck medallion, dropped by Private Harry Willis and picked up by a metal detector 91 years later, was the first piece of evidence linking a known Australian soldier to the site at Pheasant Wood. This renewed the team’s confidence to further pursue exploration and led to the discovery of the remains of over 250 men.

All of the remains were reburied in the newly created Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery. At the time of the official dedication of the new cemetery on 19 July 2010, ninety-six of the Australians, including Pte Willis, had been identified through a combination of anthropological, archaeological, historical and DNA information. Work is continuing on identifying the other remains relocated from the burial ground and buried in the new cemetery as unknown soldiers.

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Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From AWM and Peter Barnes (Merged)

983 Private (Pte) Henry Victor Willis, 31st Battalion, from Alberton, Victoria.

I have read that many soldiers cry out for their mothers as they lay dying on the battlefield. It is very sobering to think about as many soldiers are young and this came to mind in reading about Private Henry Victor Willis, 31st Battalion, from Alberton, Victoria, Australia.

He had four older brothers who had enlisted to fight after the war broke out, and Henry was given a white feather (a symbol of cowardice) despite being underage.

The Order of the White Feather, founded in August 1914 by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald, encouraged women to give out white feathers to young men who had not joined the British army.

Private Willis forged his mother’s signature and enlisted in July 1915. Private Willis was killed in action on 19-20 July 1916 at the Battle of Fromelles. He had been shot through the jaw during the bloody fighting and his body was not recovered. Around 2,000 other Australians died in the Battle of Fromelles in just 24 hours.

A 20 year old farm labourer prior to enlistment on 14 July 1915, he embarked for overseas with D Company from Melbourne aboard either HMAT Bakara on 5 November 1915 or HMAT Wandilla on 9 November 1915. He was killed in action on 19-20 July 1916 at Fromelles, France. After the war his grave could not be located and he was commemorated on the VC Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles.

His mother, Janet, was overcome by grief. She had also lost her husband before the war broke out.

 

In 2008 a burial ground was located at Pheasant Wood, France containing the bodies of 250 British and Australian soldiers including Pte Willis. All of the remains were reburied in the newly created Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery. At the time of the official dedication of the new cemetery on 19 July 2010, ninety-six of the Australians, including Pte Willis, had been identified through a combination of anthropological, archaeological, historical and DNA information. Work is continuing on identifying the other remains relocated from the burial ground and buried in the new cemetery as unknown soldiers.

His older brother died just two months after Private Willis was killed, and a third brother died shortly after the war ended. Pte David Geoffrey Willis, 62nd Company, died at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne on 26 August 1916.

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