James SULLIVAN MC and Bar, MM

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SULLIVAN, James

Service Number: 126
Enlisted: 15 March 1915
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: 21st Infantry Battalion
Born: Geelong, Victoria, September 1894
Home Town: Geelong, Greater Geelong, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Law Clerk
Died: Killed in action, Montbrehain, France, 5 October 1918
Cemetery: Bellicourt British Cemetery
Plot VI, Row S, Grave No. 7
Memorials: East Geelong War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

15 Mar 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 126, 24th Infantry Battalion
10 May 1915: Involvement Sergeant, SN 126, 24th Infantry Battalion
10 May 1915: Embarked Sergeant, SN 126, 24th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Euripides, Melbourne
11 Oct 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Sergeant, 24th Infantry Battalion
20 Aug 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Company Sergeant Major, 24th Infantry Battalion
19 Oct 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Company Sergeant Major, 21st Infantry Battalion
28 Oct 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 21st Infantry Battalion
23 Feb 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 21st Infantry Battalion
4 May 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Lieutenant, SN 126, 21st Infantry Battalion, Bullecourt (Second), GSW to the right arm
29 Jun 1917: Honoured Military Medal, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli, See Official Letter Attestation It appears that James was recommended for a decoration for some action at Gallipoli. The Military Medal for valour was not instigated until March 1916. It appears that this action at Gallipoli fitted the criteria for a Military Medal. In James’s case this appears to be what happened and it was gazetted in January 1917. What he did at Gallipoli to earn this Medal remains a mystery.
25 May 1918: Wounded AIF WW1, Lieutenant, SN 126, 21st Infantry Battalion, GSW right arm, slight
16 Aug 1918: Promoted AIF WW1, Captain, 21st Infantry Battalion
4 Mar 1919: Honoured Military Cross, "The Last Hundred Days", See official letter, attestation HARCELCAVE near AMIENS during the attack on the 8th August, 1918 this officer was in command of A Company, maintaining liaison with the troops on his right. Seeing that the attack was being held up by very heavy M.G. fire he organised a party of 9 men with two Lewis Guns and led them against the enemy M.G. nest under heavy fire. Despite severe opposition he silenced the enemy guns, rushed them, capturing two M.G’s and 10 prisoners. Lieut. SULLIVAN’S initiative and dash enabled the flank units to advance and so prevented a serious hold up in the operation.
23 May 1919: Honoured Military Cross and bar, "The Last Hundred Days", Originally submitted for VC. In action at Herleville on the 18th August he was recommended for a Bar to his recommendation for a Military Cross. On the morning of the 18th August 1918 near HERLEVILLE, East of AMIENS, the attack was held up by Machine Gun fire. Captain Sullivan immediately reorganised his command into two parties, personally leading one to a commanding position from which he was able to give covering fire to the other party, which was bombing up a trench from the flank. From this position Capt. Sullivan and his party were able to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy when he attempted to retreat. He then went forward, reorganised, disposed his company for defence, so as to secure the ground at the CRUCIFIX, which, was of great tactical importance, and gained touch with the units on both flanks. His initiative and tactical skill cleared the situation at a critical time and enabled the flank troops to attain their objective, which they had previously been prevented from doing by the enemy machine gun fire. He was responsible for the capture of six prisoners, 2 M.G’s and the killing of twenty of the enemy by this operation.

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Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Michael Ganey, Centenary of Montbrehain, 10/2018

Sullivan, James. Service Number 126.

James Sullivan was the second son born to James and Winifred Sullivan in Geelong in 1895. He grew up and schooled in Geelong with his elder and younger brothers. He went on to become a law clerk and was still living with his family when he enlisted in Geelong West on the 15th March 1915. As he was under 21 years of age he required his parents permission, which they gave.

At some time in camp he was made a Corporal and on the 7th May was assigned to ‘A’ company of the 24th Battalion. He embarked the next day on the HMAT A14 Euripides on the 8th of May. He was promoted to Sergeant on the same day and during the voyage, for reasons unknown, he reverted back to the rank of Corporal in early June.

He did not land at Gallipoli with the battalion on the 6th of September 1915, but joined them there on the 30th. He was promoted back to Sergeant on the 11th of October and served at Gallipoli until the evacuation on the 20th December 1915.

It appears that James was recommended for a decoration for some action at Gallipoli. The Military Medal for valour was not instigated until March 1916. It appears that this action at Gallipoli fitted the criteria for a Military Medal. In James’s case this appears to be what happened and it was gazetted in January 1917. What he did at Gallipoli to earn this Medal remains a mystery.

When he arrived in France, James served with the 24th Battalion during the Somme Offensive in 1916 and was promoted to Company Sergeant Major on the 20th of August 1916. In October 1916 he transferred to the 21st Battalion and was almost immediately promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. In February 1917 he was promoted to full Lieutenant. 

At Bullecourt on the 3rd May 1917, he was hit by shrapnel in the right arm and this saw him evacuated to England. When he recovered he was given English leave and finally returned to the 21st Battalion on the 12th of November 1917.

In February 1918 James had two weeks leave to London and returned to his unit on the 9th of March and took command of ‘A’ company. In early May the battalion was in reserve in Querrieu and A company were billeted in a brewery. From then on the company was referred to as the ‘Brewery Company’ within the battalion.

During the assault on Ville-sur-Ancre on the 19th of May, James was again wounded in the arm but remained in line to lead his company for a number of hours. He was later evacuated and again was sent to England. Although he had a ‘stiff’ elbow, he returned to the battalion on the 22nd July.

His records show that he was finally promoted to Captain on the 8th of August and on this day he was in an action that won him a recommendation for a Military Cross. At HARCELCAVE near AMIENS during the attack on the 8th August, 1918 this officer was in command of A Company, maintaining liaison with the troops on his right. Seeing that the attack was being held up by very heavy M.G. fire he organised a party of 9 men with two Lewis Guns and led them against the enemy M.G. nest under heavy fire. Despite severe opposition he silenced the enemy guns, rushed them, capturing two M.G’s and 10 prisoners.  Lieut. SULLIVAN’S initiative and dash enabled the flank units to advance and so prevented a serious hold up in the operation.

In action at Herleville on the 18th August he was recommended for a Bar to his recommendation for a Military Cross.

On the morning of the 18th August 1918 near HERLEVILLE, East of AMIENS, the attack was held up by Machine Gun fire. Captain Sullivan immediately reorganised his command into two parties, personally leading one to a commanding position from which he was able to give covering fire to the other party, which was bombing up a trench from the flank. From this position Capt. Sullivan and his party were able to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy when he attempted to retreat. He then went forward, reorganised, disposed his company for defence, so as to secure the ground at the CRUCIFIX, which, was of great tactical importance, and gained touch with the units on both flanks. His initiative and tactical skill cleared the situation at a critical time and enabled the flank troops to attain their objective, which they had previously been prevented from doing by the enemy machine gun fire. He was responsible for the capture of six prisoners, 2 M.G’s and the killing of twenty of the enemy by this operation.

James was killed in action at Montbrehain on the 5th October 1918. How he died was incredibly described by Major Ingram VC, of the Base Records department, in a letter he wrote to James’s father in February 1919.

Dear Sir,

With reference to the report of the regrettable loss of your son, the late Captain J.Sullivan, MC MM, 21st Battalion, I am in receipt of advice which shows he was killed by enemy shellfire during operations against Montbrehain, East of Perone, 5.10.18. Early in the attack whilst leading his men forward, Capt. Sullivan encountered a full force of a shell burst. Both his legs were severed and he received other injuries. He died almost immediately. The late Officer was buried near Ramicourt, and a cross has been erected over the site...

Why Major Ingram VC chose to be so graphic in his description of James’s death is totally inexplicable.

James was later buried where he fell, which was reported to be half a mile east of Ramicourt.After the war, James’s body was exhumed and reburied at Bellicourt.

 Captain James Sullivan, MC and Bar, MM lies in the Bellicourt British Cemetery in plot VI. S. 7. His father chose the epitaph that is on his headstone.

 In memory

Of the dearly loved son

Of Mr. & Mrs. Sullivan

Of Geelong.

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