Maurice WILDER-NELIGAN CMG, DSO+Bar, DCM, MiD

WILDER-NELIGAN, Maurice

Service Number: 974
Enlisted: 20 August 1914, Townsville, Queensalnd
Last Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Last Unit: 10th Infantry Battalion
Born: Tavistock, Devon, England, 2 October 1882
Home Town: Proserpine, Whitsunday, Queensland
Schooling: Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School and Bedford Grammar School
Occupation: Clerk
Died: Unknown, Ekerapi, Papua New Guinea, 10 January 1923, aged 40 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
Memorials:
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World War 1 Service

20 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 974, Townsville, Queensalnd
23 Sep 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, SN 974, 9th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Omrah, Brisbane
23 Sep 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, SN 974, 9th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 974, 9th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
26 Apr 1915: Honoured Distinguished Conduct Medal, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
28 Apr 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 9th Infantry Battalion
5 Jun 1915: Wounded AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 9th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli, GSW (back)
4 Aug 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 9th Infantry Battalion
12 Mar 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Captain, 9th Infantry Battalion
2 Jul 1916: Wounded AIF WW1, Captain, 9th Infantry Battalion, 2nd occasion - GSW (head)
21 Oct 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Major, 9th Infantry Battalion
3 May 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, 9th Infantry Battalion, Bullecourt (Second)
30 Jun 1917: Transferred AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, 10th Infantry Battalion
30 Mar 1918: Transferred AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, 9th Infantry Battalion
30 Jul 1918: Honoured Companion of the Distinguished Service Order and bar, "Peaceful Penetration - Low-Cost, High-Gain Tactics on the Western Front"
12 Oct 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, 10th Infantry Battalion

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Biography

Extract from “The Fighting 10th”, Adelaide, Webb & Son, 1936 by C.B.L. Lock; kindly supplied courtesy of the 10th Bn AIF Association Committee, April 2015. 

Born 2 October 1882 at Tavistock, Devon, England.

Son of the late Reverend Canon John West Neligan DD, at one time Incumbent of Christ Church, Leeson Park, Dublin, and who for some time resided at Bray Head, Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland.

He was an elder brother of the Right Reverend Moore Richard Neligan BA, MA, DD, who officiated as Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand from 1903 – 1910, and who died on 24 April 1922;

Whilst another brother George Ernest Neligan MC, MA, MB, LRCP, FRCS, was a well-known Harley Street specialist, practicing at 33 Wimpole Street, London West.

Maurice was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Ipswich, England and Bedford Grammar School, and it was generally believe that he had been at school with the late Lieutenant-General Sir H B Walker KCB, KCMG, DSO, Commander of the 1st Australian Division, with the result that both were intimate and lifelong friends.

He had served as a Captain in the exclusive Royal Horse Artillery –

“The right of the line, pride of the regiment and terror of the whole damned army,”

but being a romantic military figure, with a vivid and unique personality, he always more or less defied classification. 

It may be said that at times he was a mass of human contradiction, and concerning him numerous legends were in circulation: 

He was believed to be scion of an influential English family and was highly connected, his blood relations including several eminent Anglican ecclesiastical dignitaries.    He had been brought up in King Edward’s household, had been a page boy to Queen Victoria, and boasted that the old Queen had boxed his ears.  He was once on the Staff of the Egyptian Government, had been connected with the Fijian Constabulary, and had a son in the British Navy who had attained the rank of Submarine Commander.

Undoubtedly some of these things were true, but despite the many performances attributed to him which lacked authoritative verification he was always considered an educated and much-travelled man, possessed with a charming personality.

During the war he possessed a London house at No.10 Mount Street, near Park Lane, where his wife and daughter lavishly entertained, several officers of the 10th Battalion having partaken of their unstinted hospitality.

He served in the Boer War, but for some considerable time after joining the AIF did not wear his South African ribbons.

He arrived in Australia a few years before the outbreak of the Great War, and straightway proceeded from Sydney to Queensland, where he subsequently officiated as Clerk, Court of Petty Sessions, at Roma, and later his restless energy and initiative abilities found scope in a large sugar mill at Proserpine, where he was brought into considerable favour with his employers.

At the outbreak of the Great War he was serving as a Mounted Trooper in the Queensland Police.

Shortly after the declaration of war in August 1914, enlisted as a Private in the 9th Battalion at Brisbane, under the name of “Maurice Wilder”, his regimental number being ‘974’.

He often told the story of his enlistment. The Recruiting Clerk asked his name and age, and demanded to know what family ties he possessed.  He declared his name, gave his correct age, and owned to wife and family.  Whereupon he was informed that young and single men were offering in great numbers and he would not be required.

Nothing daunted the whily Wilder, so he rejoined the queue and supplied amended particulars to another Clerk.  This time his age had dropped to 31 and he became a Bachelor with no encumbrance.  He emerged from that Recruiting Office under his second Christian name, which had been accepted as his surname, and as an approved volunteer for the AIF, he proceeded into camp at Enoggera, Brisbane, with the 9th Battalion, Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel H W Lee VD.

He embarked as a Corporal with the 9th Battalion at Brisbane on 23 September 1914, per HMAT A5 Omrah, which the next day sailed for Melbourne, being actually the first Australian transport to leave port with AIF troops.

At Melbourne his battalion was detained nearly a month awaiting the sailing of the First Australian Contingent.  He subsequently accompanied the 9th Battalion to Egypt, where his knowledge of routine soon gained for him the rank of Orderly-Room Sergeant.

He proceeded on the Ionian to the Dardanelles, where as a member of the 3rd Brigade covering force he participated in the historic landing at Anzac on 25 April 1915.

A few hours after the landing he was performing the work of an Adjutant, and for some, with Major A G Salisbury, of A Company of the 9th Battalion, was practically working the 9th Battalion.

For his splendid work the day following the landing he was awarded the DCM, which was promulgated in the London Gazette amongst the King’s Birthday Honours on 3 June 1915, the official citation being:

“For conspicuous gallantry on 26th April 1915, near Gabe Tepe (Dardanelles).  Assisted by another non-commissioned officer, who was subsequently killed, he carried a wounded man into a place of safety under very heavy fire. Later on he was instrumental in collecting stragglers, who he led back into the firing-line.”

At Anzac, on 28 April 1915, he was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, and from the very beginning proved himself an outstandingly dashing leader.

On 19 May 1915, during the Turkish onslaught, he unmistakably showed his capacity to Command at a difficult moment.

On 27 may 1915 he led a party of 63 men of the 9th Battalion on the right flank near Gabe Tepe, and in conjunction with the Rattlesnake completely hoodwinked the Turks who were holding a certain trench.

As a preliminary the destroyer shelled the position by firing twenty rounds, after which he led his party to the trench, where twenty dazed Turks were in occupation.  He ordered his men to use the bayonet, with the result that without firing a single shot six Turks were killed and captured, his party being enabled to return without sustaining a casualty.

He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 11 August 1915, and on 9 November 1915 was promoted to the rank of Temporary Captain.

About this time, for family reasons, he changed his name, the official gazettal being:

“Lieutenant (Temporary Captain) Maurice Wilder, having changed his name will in future be known as Maurice Wilder-Neligan, dated 9 November 1915.”

As a Temporary Captain on the Peninsula it shortly after devolved upon him to temporarily Command his battalion, owing to senior battalion officers being absent either through wounds or sickness. 

After the withdrawal from Gallipoli he proceeded to Egypt with the 9th Battalion, which was subsequently stationed on the Suez Canal Defences.

In February 1916, with the first appearance of Turkish patrols, he asked to be allowed to take out a patrol of camels and cut them off.  He was granted permission, but despite his daring and initiative no enemy were sighted.

In March 1916, he volunteered again to go out, and in conjunction with the Bikanir Camel Corps he made an extensive reconnaissance, and upon returning reported as follows:

“It is quite certain that there have been no enemy patrols or other movements of recent date over any of the area.”

He was promoted to the rank of Captain on 12 March 1916, and subsequently accompanied his battalion to France on the Saxonia.

About this time he was appointed Adjutant of the 9th Battalion, and proudly recounted that he had enlisted as a Private, had officiated to cook, batman, orderly-room corporal, orderly-room sergeant, intelligence officer, adjutant, and had held practically every job which the AIF could offer.

Flanders was undoubtedly a more congenial sphere for him than either Gallipoli or Egypt, for in the main it provided greater dangers and a broader setting for his dash and daring.  It was in France and Belgium that he was destined to become a notable Commander, a tactician and a diplomat.

On the night of 1-2 July 1916, South of Fleurbaix, he conducted a raid, since described by Dr Charles E W Bean as

“perhaps the most brilliant raid that Australians undertook.”

His party consisted of four officers, 144 other ranks, including two telephonists and two messengers.  It was personally organised and led by him, being known as a ‘silent raid’, there being no preliminary bombardment. 

At this time rumours had been circulated that the Germans expected the men of the AIF to be black, so in order to create a most grotesque appearance, as well as strike terror into the heart of the Hun, he and several others of his raiding party had their faces blackened and streaked with phosphorus.

During this raid he was severely wounded in the shoulder by a bomb, and a piece of shell ricocheted off the parapet and grooved his scalp, which mark he bore until his death; but nevertheless by sheer determination and perseverance he carried on and Commanded throughout.  After his raid he recommended that knuckleberries (short, stout sticks headed with bolts or iron) should in future be dispensed with.

For this brilliant and dashing enterprise he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), which was promulgated in the London Gazette on25 August 1916, the official citation being:

“For conspicuous gallantry when Commanding a raid in force.  His careful training and fine leading were responsible for the success attained.  Fifty-three of the enemy were killed and prisoners taken, besides a machine gun, many rifles, and much equipment.  Though wounded in the head he stuck to his Command.”

He was promoted to the rank of Major on 21 October 1916 and in the Bullecourt action of 6 and 7 May 1917, he was in charge of a stubborn attack made by three companies of the 9th Battalion.  On this occasion he was once again in his element, disregarding dangers at every turn. 

He made his first appearance with the 10th Battalion t Bray on 23 June 1917, when he temporarily took over the Command of the Battalion from Lieutenant-Colonel R B Jacob, who had been transferred to England.  At this time he was junior to forty Majors in the AIF, including Major F G Giles DSO, who relieve him of the Command of the 10th Battalion on 30 June 1917.

It was confidently anticipated that as he was well down in the gradation list, Major Giles stood an excellent chance of being the officer selected to permanently Command the 10th Battalion.

To the astonishment of many Brigade and Battalion officers he returned to the 10th Battalion on 15 July 1917, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and retained the Command of the 10th from that day, until 31 December 1918, with the exception of several breaks, with he was temporarily relived by Captain G C Campbell,  Major C Rumball,  Major G D Shaw,  Lieutenant-Colonel R B Jacob,  Major J Newman,  Major W F J McCann, and Captain R K Hurcombe.

He first appeared amongst the officers of the 10th in a somewhat dramatic and sensational manner.

The officers were assembled in the Officers’ Mess, and with frankness and deliberation were discussing the merits and demerits of having to serve under a junior Major from the 9th Battalion.

At this critical moment there was a knock on the door, and the newly-created Lieutenant-Colonel M Wilder-Neligan DSO, DCM, stood before them.   They all appeared nonplussed, and the atmosphere immediately became electrical.  No one ventured to speak until he broke the silence:

“Gentlemen”,  he said.  “Is no one going to offer our Colonel a seat ?”.  Still silence reigned supreme.  He continued  “Has no one anything to say ?”

Then with great presence of mind, and master of an exceedingly awkward situation, he said:

“Then if you have nothing to say, I have a hell of a lot to say.  This Battalion has never been a battalion, but I am now going to make it one.  Cornish ! you will be my Adjutant.  We will start all over again, and the first Battalion Order issued will be No.1  Take this down:

‘The Battalion will move off in the morning for a destination unknown,’ etc.

Get the runners busy immediately and have this order distributed.”

In this extraordinary manner he installed himself amongst the officers of the 10th and ‘became the Commander of the most famous of all the South Australian battalions’, vide Adelaide Mail on 21 April 1927.

He spoke French fluently, and at Chateau Segard, where the Countess gave a dinner to AIF Officers, he surprised all present by responding in French for at least fifteen minutes.

His organising powers as a Commanding Officer were first put to the test in the Polygon Wood action of 19-22 September 1917.

For this engagement he had specially trained the 10th Battalion, organizing it into two special ‘storm companies’.

Before the operation commenced he promised leave to all those who distinguished themselves in the fighting, and, true to his word, a quota of officers and other ranks proceeded on special leave immediately after the Battalion moved out of the line.

His operation in Polygon Wood consisted of 28 folios, and is considered a master-piece of military art.

It is now deposited at Base Records, Melbourne, and is an epitome, par excellence, of his military brilliance and sagacity.

During the fighting at Polygon Wood he was positively brilliant, for whilst the actual fighting was in progress he inspirited all under his command, and whilst certain of his officers were reorganizing and waiting for the barrage to lift before proceeding with the advance he had specially detailed certain men of the 10th as ‘newspaper boys’ to distribute copies of the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, which he had specially procured.

Next day he was billed in London by a certain newspaper as “The Eccentric Colonel”.

At one stage, when he ascertained that Lieutenant Graham Leaver had been shot through the head he described his men as “going mad”.

There was never a greater organsier in the AIF, and his conduct of operations on the field of battle was never surpassed. 

He never went into a battle unless he possessed definite plans to cover the average emergency, and on these lines he always prepared the 10th Battalion as thoroughly as human mind and human energy could contrive.  He undeniably possessed a temperament of many contrasts;  but his self-command, mental efficiency and agility were remarkable, and whether directing operations on the telephone, planning an operation, or writing a dispatch, his remarkable latent capacity always permitted him to rise to the occasion, when his great powers as a Leader were rarely extended.

The 10th Battalion’s long list of success in 1918 was largely due to the brain and personality of this eclectic soldier of fortune.

During his regime no failure ever marred the record of the Battalion.

Many successful operations were achieved which were largely due to his aggressiveness, his initiative, his unconventionality, and his military brilliance.

His scheme for the capture of Merris in June 1918, for which he was awarded a Bar to his DSO, and which was promulgated in the London Gazette on 7 November 1918, provided the 1st Australian Division with what was probably its neatest, and on a small scale, its most brilliant achievement.  The whole operation was daring in the extreme, and typical and symbolical of the officer who propounded it.   It was meticulously carried out according to plan, with the result that the village was isolated from the Germans behind it.

The enemy garrison at Merris were unaware of the envelopment which was occurring, and even the German Commander was tricked, for he confidently sent a message to his headquarters, describing how he had beaten off an attack on his front.

But the “Wilder-Neligan” strategy triumphed and was eulogized by Army, Corps, Divisional, Brigade and Battalion officers, who came in person to inspect the work that had been achieved and to offer their congratulations.

Many British officers considered his attack on Merris to be the greatest one-battalion operation carried out in France.

He was a keen believer in the Napoleonic maxim that  “an army moves on its stomach”, and no battalion was better fed than the 10th.

He was always admired by rank and file alike for the indefatigable efforts he repeatedly made to have the front line rations delivered in suitable quantity and quality 

Sentiment found no place in his complex nature, but he deemed it a crime to see his men go into action without ample supplies.

Captain J G Sinclair, of the 10th Battalion wrote:

“As a ‘wangler’ he was never eclipsed.  He always made a point of owning a staff friend who would loan him a motor car or lorry.  He gave regimental dinners – and his guests all paid their way.  If he was short of wire for a ‘stunt’, the CRE, who controlled wire supplies would be a certain guest.  If he contemplated a special ‘shoot’ by the artillery when next he was to occupy the line, the Commanding Officer of that arm of the service would be sure of a dinner invitation. If his men were getting shabby the requisite officer would receive a pressing request to put aside an evening when he could be entertained by the Battalion.  To make sure that he would obtain good supplies of clothing he adopted a simple yet effectual plan.  He called a parade, and any man whose tunic showed the slightest signs of wear would find his CO’s finger inserted in the slightest hole, and the next instant a tear would be made which would quite disqualify the garment for further wear.  Thus the 10th Battalion was noted for its smart appearance.”

He soon made his personality felt as Commander of the 10th, and though he played several exceptionally brilliant parts he never assumed the role of harbinger of peace and quiet.

To be closely associated with him without paying the price was impossible.

Eventually he quarreled with practically all his closest associates within his Battalion – which was his kingdom.

He was a great disciplinarian, but a law unto himself in respect to his methods of gaining results.

He was the most regimental Commander the Battalion had served under, and quite irrespective of the climatic rigours and the mud and slush of Flanders during the 1917 – 1918 winter, it was a routine matter for him to have the Battalion drawn up for a CO’s inspection, when the slightest defect in equipment, rifle or uniform would never escape his penetrating eye.

He also had an exceedingly strong penchant for battalion drill, and apparently reveled in seeing his Battalion quick-marching, double marching, wheeling, forming, inclining on a large open field.

On the parade ground he was complete master, and delighted in issuing orders which would bewilder his officers, the while he roared out personal remarks through his megaphone to any hapless subaltern whom he detected in error.   In fact, he never supervised battalion drill unless the officers of the 10th were more or less made to suffer with an inferiority complex.    He evidently gained much satisfaction in seeing them puzzled and at a loss to carry out his instructions, when his parade ground remarks would only make things infinitely worse.

At Bleu, early in September 1917, he excelled himself on one of these occasions by completely staggering the Platoon Commanders.  Mounted on his black pony, and with megaphone in hand, he so tangled his officers that in exasperation he finally chased them off the parade ground.    Galloping after them a certain distance, he then returned to the parade ground and handed over the platoons to the Platoon Sergeants.

Despite such eccentricities these interludes were invariably enjoyed by one and all, and within a few days all concerned would be best of friends again.

His renowned brigade parade, when he was Acting-Brigadier, “took the wind out of everybody’s sails”, and astonished officers and bewildered men have retained the memory of this occasion through the years that have followed.

He was a splendid specimen of virile manhood, but never aspired to pose as a paragon of perfection.  Even if he showed unmistakable traits of intense selfishness in his aims and ruthlessness in his methods, he possessed the magic touch with his men, and could invariably get the last ounce out of them.

He was never a staunch believer of military etiquette, and if occasion warranted would not hesitate to reprove or admonish an officer before his men.

On 7 February 1918, at the Aldershot Camp in Belgium, the Battalion Quarter Guard was paraded before him for inspection, but disgusted and dissatisfied with its appearance, he censured one and all responsible.  To the astonishment of many men of the 10th gathered in the vicinity, as well as the guard itself, he ordered that the guard before him be dismounted and a new guard be immediately mounted, consisting of Sergeant-Majors and Sergeants.  This novel guard when mounted was duly paraded before him, much to the interest and amusement of officers and other ranks of the Battalion, who were finally relieved when they discovered he had proceeded on leave at midnight that day.

Through the annals of British regimental traditions it would be difficult to find a precedent for such a unique battalion quarter guard. 

He possessed a quick wit, which held a rapier thrust for the unwary.  In this respect he rarely let an occasion pass where a caustic reply would leave few in doubt as to its reference.

A 10th Corporal and his party were occupying a billet near Neuve Eglise early in 1918, when quite a number of empty bottles were deposited through a window.  When inspecting that billet he seemed to be instinctively drawn towards that window, when his eyes immediately alighted on the ‘empties’, whereupon he enquired of the Corporal why they were there.   The Corporal suavely replied that they were there when his party moved into his billet.  He sardonically replied:  “Well, I have heard some lies in my time, but that is the best damn lie I have yet heard,”   and then passed on his round of inspection without further comment.

He rarely indulged in conversation with his men, who invariably stood somewhat aloof, fearing he would maintain his reputation by finding fault with their appearance.  In fact, very few men of the Battalion, whether in camps, billets, or the line had spoken to him, other than to receive orders or censure.

He had a unique and inspiriting manner of getting the best of his officers in the field, and the following is a copy of a letter addressed by him to one of his officers during the Merris operation in June 1918:

“Dear Hurcombe, Best of good luck in your patrols.  Don’t place too much reliance on artillery to start with, as I won’t be able to fix a new line until you have yours.  The low-flying bird can be got, but read my memo first, perhaps it may alter your idea about that for a bit.  As you may not know yet, the 11th have boned Gerbendon Farm, which should help you a lot as a jump off.  Allah be with you.  You’re too good to lose.  Yours, M. Wilder-Neligan.”  

(The low-flying bird mentioned was an aeroplane which he had instructed to fly low and drop results of observations to the officer of his patrol).

He was noted for his periodical outbursts of anger, and on occasions of this nature his language knew no bounds.

At Messines, early in January 1918, when the AIF Artillery was inadvertently killing some of the 10th in the forward trenches, he telephoned the Officer Commanding the offending battery as follows:

“You murderer!  You hound of hell fire let loose ! Man alive, your shells are dropping in my trenches and killing my men.  If you don’t increase your range, by the powers of Hades I’ll come over and fix the damn lot of you.”

At Merris, on 23 July 1918, when he received instructions that Merris was not to be entered, he gave vent to his feelings, but with rage and disappointment tactfully worded his despatch to Brigade Headquarters:

“and the ultimate withdrawal in obedience to the order of the Divisional Commander in no way mitigated its success (the operation).”

At Lihons, on 12 August 1918, he was frantic at the non-arrival of certain tanks delegated to assist him in the advance; but when they arrived, and contrary to expectations, his anger melted, and he accepted the explanation offered by the Officer-In-Charge.

Woe betide the officers or men who overstayed their leave, when he would not hesitate to heap coals of fire on the heads of the delinquents.

As a technician he would concentrate on preparing the 10th Battalion for anticipated action.   A model or map of the particular sector in which the fighting was likely to occur would be exhibited and demonstrations staged for the guidance of both officers and men.    Officers would be posted to relative positions in accordance with his plans and expectation, and then excluding officers he would lecture to each platoon in sequence,  constantly referring to positions and details as outlined on the model or map before them.

He was an effective speaker and a brilliant conversationalist, and was never at a loss to instil confidence into his men, who would leave one of his lectures feeling that the impending attack in which they were to participate would be quite an ordinary manoeuvre, in which chances of failure had been considerably eliminated by the master mind of the Commanding Officer (CO) behind the scenes.

He always maintained a high opinion of the Australian soldier, and though he professed more confidence in the men than in their leaders, yet he was always the first to recognise and praise the initiative of the troops under his command. 

A Devonian by birth, he undoubtedly inherited in no small measure much of the traditional dash, fire, and brilliance common amongst such Elizabethan prototypes as Hawkins, Raleigh, Drake and other men of Devon famous in history.

With these rare gifts he stood out as

“the most picturesque figure of South Australia’s most picturesque battalion. vide Adelaide Mail on 21 April 1927.

He was wounded on three separate occasions and Mentioned In Despatches (MID) on four occasions,  the first whilst serving with the 9th Battalion and the latter three whilst serving with the 10th Battalion, vide London Gazette on 2 January 1917, 5 December 1917, 28 May 1918 and 31 December 1918.

He was affectionately known to men of the 10th as “Mad Wilder”, and amongst divisional and brigade officers was referred to as “Neligan of the 10th”.

In 1934 the late Sir H B Walker, KCB, KCMG, DSO, in a message of greeting to survivors of the 10th Battalion, referred to him as the “Gallant Wilder-Neligan.”

Dr Charles E W Bean in his ‘Official History of the AIF’, had referred to him as a

“dashing leader,”

“a restless, daredevil officer, but free from the carelessness with which these qualities are often associated,”

“a gay, wild young Englishman, clever soldier, and inevitably a leader wherever he was,”  and

“a mercurial Commander.”

He led the 10th in several major actions during 1917 – 1918, and subsequently through the final phase of the epic struggle.

His career in the AIF was phenomenal, inasmuch as he was one of a very select band who would claim the distinction of having enlisted as a Private and attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding a Battalion on active service for the best part of eighteen months.

On 30 March 1918, he temporarily Commanded the 9th Battalion, in which he first commenced his meritorious AIF career. On 3 June 1918 he was awarded the CMG, and on 10 October 1918, was the recipient of the French Croix de Guerre.

He was awarded more decorations than any other officer who Commanded the 10th Battalion, and his CMG was the highest decoration bestowed on a 10th Commanding Officer.

His name, with its long string of decorations, is a self-explanatory way of illustrating the romantic nature of his career, and more remarkable still is the fact that no courtesy honours were included in his awards.

After handing over the Command of the Battalion to Major W F J McCann, DSO, MC and Bar, he remained in France on Brigade and other duties until 20 May 1919.

On this day, with the final 10th Battalion details, including the band, he left Chatelet and proceeded to Le Havre, and subsequently to Sandhill Camp, near Warminster, England.

On 18 July 1919, with the final 10th Battalion detachment, he embarked at Devonport on the Takada, which arrived at the Outer Harbour, South Australia on 5 September 1919.

Continuing its journey to the Eastern States, the Takada arrived at Brisbane on 9 September 1919, but he had previously disembarked at Sydney, and consequently did not reach the Queensland capital until 15 September 1919.

Upon his arrival in that city about fifty officers of the 9th and 49th Battalions assembled in his honour, and gave him an enthusiastic welcome.

Major A R Knightley MC (later Secretary of the Randwick Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney), stressed the fact that Lieutenant-Colonel Wilder-Neligan had started his AIF career as a Private, and had risen to his present rank in his own unit.

During his five years’ service with the AIF he had made a success of every job he had undertaken, and had made a name, not only for himself, but for his old battalion.  His wonderful progress was largely due to his personality, tact, and a unique manner of handling men.   From the ‘brass hat’ to the Private he was not only admired but loved.

Leaving Australia in 1914 a Corporal with nothing on the breast of his tunic, he had returned to them a Lieutenant-Colonel with a double row of magnificent decorations, which were not only well earned, but thoroughly deserved.

It was to be sincerely hoped that he would bring those sterling soldierly qualities to bear in respect of the civil life of the soldiers.

He had won his rank and honours by sheet skill and bravery the two characteristics which stood for most in the soldier.

Captain McIntyre MC said his record wanted no  “boosting.”

“Australia wanted many more men of his callibre – men who knew what they wanted and then went and got it.

In Queensland the “diggers” sadly lacked a forceful, virile leader, and no one was more admirably suited for that leadership than the man whose wonderful force had been a power in the AIF.

The hope of the Queensland returned soldiers lay in their becoming a united force, and if Lieutenant-0Colonel Wilder-Neligan would make his influence felt in civil life, as he had done in the army, that force would ultimately become an established fact.”

In reply, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilder-Neligan said  that the returned officers should really try to do something for the returned “digger”.

Many of the returned soldiers did not appear to realise that they had their officers to fall back upon.  It was the officers’ duty to look after the men as they came back, especially those men who did not just know where to turn to find employment.

“Let us try to make it a bit easier for the chap who comes back and doesn’t quite know his way about.”

His services in the AIF terminated on 12 October 1919, when his address was quoted: “Athenaeum Club, Melbourne”.

He subsequently interested himself in the formation in Queensland of a soldiers’ parliamentary party, and toured the country delivering brilliant speeches from the back of a lorry.

He was appointed a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Australian Military Forces on 1 January 1920, and on 26 March 1920 was transferred to the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force to New Guinea with rank of Lieutenant.

For some time afterwards he lived a quiet life on the north coast of Queensland and then returned to Brisbane on 1 May 1920, in order to take part with the returned men in the welcome accorded to Field-Marshall Sir William Birdwood on his first visit to Australia.

On 2 May 1920, at an investiture conducted by Sir William Birdwood, he received his French Croix de Guerre.

Later in 1920 he proceeded to Rabaul, New Guinea, where he was subsequently appointed a District Officer at Talasea, with Honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

He was vested with Police and Magisterial powers, and travelled extensively through the wilds of the district.

He died under tragic circumstances on 10 January 1923.

With his faithful native servants Yami and Kubik, to whom he was known as the “Kiap”, he was proceeding to headquarters at Rabaul, and passing through the villages of Eurango and Pera Pera whilst on patrol duty, arrived at Ekerapi on 6 January 1923.  He there directed his Chinese cook to convey his surplus belongings to Rabaul, and then divulged his intention of remaining at the Government Rest House for a few days.

On the night of 9 January 1923, before finally retiring, he told both his native servants that he did not wish to rise early next morning.

At 9am next day Yami made tea and went to rouse him, but upon calling him twice and grasping his hand discovered that he was dead.

The natives of Ekerapi were then instructed to prepare a canoe, on which the body of the deceased was conveyed to the Government Rest Station at Garua.

Threatening weather compelled the native sin the canoe to follow the coast instead of taking a more direct route, the journey taking twenty-six hours. 

The Medical Assistant (Francis John Giles) subsequently examined the body, and reported, inter alia, that the body was in a natural position of res, the left hand quietly clasping the right wrist, and there were no external causes of death visible.

At an inquisition held in the District Court at Talasea on 11 January 1923, Edward Taylor, the Acting District Officer, who officiated as Coroner, certified that the cause of his death was unknown, and that there were no suspicious circumstances to suppose that death was due to other than natural causes.

Lieutenant C R Allanson, MC, MSM, of the 10Battalion, of Sydney, possessed certain copies of the depositions taken at the inquest in connection with his death.

He was buried close to the sea on the hillside of a lonely island in New Guinea, and his isolated grave was marked by an elaborate monument impressive to his memory.

The 10th Battalion AIF Club was anxious that his remains, if possible, should be reinterred in the AIF Cemetery, West Terrace, Adelaide, and with this object in view an expression of opinion was sought from his widow, who courteously replied that, whilst appreciating the great interest manifested by her late husband’s comrades, she thought that if he had a say in the matter he would undoubtedly prefer that his grave should remain in the lonely outpost of Empire where his death had occurred.

The 9th and 10th Battalion AIF Clubs were willing to contribute to his monument, but Mrs Neligan reluctantly declined such offers, and defrayed the cost herself.

He will never be forgotten while any man of the 10th Battalion who served under him survives.

For bravery, initiative, and military brilliance he was unrivalled.

Despite his many eccentricities, he was every inch a born soldier, and no one could be associated with him for any length of time without perceiving that there was that indefinable “something” about him which invariably removed him so far from his contemporaries. 

Captain J G Sinclair, of the 10th Battalion AIF, in his article “The Colonel”, published in the Express and Journal on 28 February 1923 wrote:

“The Colonel is dead.  Some very glowing drawbacks existed in his character, but as a soldier he was wonderfully endowed by Nature and training.  It is safe to say that for years to come, whenever any of the old Battalion foregather, and throwing back their minds to the days of the war, let their tongues tell of the march, of camp, of trench, or of the battle-field, so long will his men bring to mind the words, and the ways, and the wisdom in war, of their old leader, the Colonel.”

“He sleeps his last sleep, he has fought his last battle;

No sound can awake him to glory again.”

                                    Leonard Heath.

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