John William Noel HELLIWELL


HELLIWELL, John William Noel

Service Number: 5626
Enlisted: 1 August 1916
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 21st Infantry Battalion
Born: Lancaster, England, July 1892
Home Town: St Kilda, Port Phillip, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Clerk
Died: Wounds, 45th Casualty Clearing Station in Dernancourt, Somme, France, 26 February 1917
Cemetery: Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension
Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Dernancourt, Picardie, France
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

1 Aug 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 5626, 21st Infantry Battalion
25 Sep 1916: Involvement Private, SN 5626, 22nd Infantry Battalion
25 Sep 1916: Embarked Private, SN 5626, 22nd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Shropshire, Melbourne
26 Feb 1917: Involvement Private, SN 5626, 21st Infantry Battalion

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Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Francois Berthout

Pte 5626 John William Noel Helliwell,
21st Australian Infantry Battalion,
6th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division
In the green and peaceful fields of the Somme, bathed in light and silence, stand row upon row, the white graves of men who, far from home and in the prime of their lives, in the trenches and among the barbed wire, fought together with the greatest courage to defend their ideals, to preserve our humanity and who, united in the most beautiful camaraderie, fought day and night in the name of justice, peace and freedom in which we have the privilege and the chance to live and for which, side by side under a hell of fire and steel they gave their lives.Young forever as they were over a hundred years ago, it is in the silence of brotherhood that these heroes, gone but never forgotten, stand tall and solemn watching over each other as they did in their past lives and on the battlefields where they lived and died in each other's arms with honor and loyalty for their country and for France which will never forget their courage and their sacrifices thanks to which we stand today in front of them with gratitude to honor their memory and over whom I will always watch with all my heart and respect so that they are never forgotten, so that their names live forever beyond the red fields of poppies which, like their memory, will never fade.

Today, it is with the utmost respect and with the deepest gratitude that I would like to honor the memory of one of these young men, of one of my boys of the Somme who gave his today for our tomorrow.I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Private number 5626 John William Noel Helliwell who fought in the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, 6th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division, and who died of his wounds 106 years ago, on February 26, 1917 at the age of 25 on the Somme front.

John William Noel Helliwell was born in 1892 in Wood Green, London, England, and was the son of John and Edith Helliwell, of 10 Outrim Road, Wood Green. He had a happy childhood in England but at the age of 21, emigrated to Australia and settled at 103 Ackland Street, St Kilda, Victoria. Before the outbreak of the war, he worked as a clerk and married Janett Helliwell, had a daughter, Enid Marjorie Helliwell, and lived together in Dillon Grove, South Camberwell, Victoria.

Wanting to do his duty, John answered the call and enlisted on December 17, 1915 in Melbourne, Victoria, in the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, 15th Reinforcement, which was raised at Broadmeadows, north of Melbourne.After a nine-month training period, first at Broadmeadows Camp then at Seymour Camp in Victoria, John embarked with his unit from Melbourne, on board HMAT A9 Shropshire on September 25, 1916 and sailed for England.
On November 10, 1916, John arrived in England, was disembarked at Plymouth and then marched to Salisbury Plain where he joined the 6th Training Battalion for a short period of physical and military exercises, including bayonet fighting and trench attack in order to prepare the men for the front then on December 13, proceeded overseas for France on board "Princess Henrietta".

On December 14, 1916, John arrived in France and was disembarked at the port of Etaples where he joined the 2nd Australian Divisional Base Depot then on December 17, proceeded to join the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion in the Somme, at Edge Hill Camp located in Flesselles, a few miles from Amiens. The following day they left Edge Hill Camp and moved to E Camp at Fricourt and on December 20 joined the front line stretching from Flers to Gueudecourt and occupied several positions known as " Cow Trench, "Blighty Trench" and "Needle trench" from which they relieved the men of the 57th and 59th Australian Infantry Battalion. On this sector of the front, the 21st Battalion led several raids on enemy trenches and captured many prisoners but also had to face the very active German artillery, the snipers, and an extremely difficult climate because at that time the Somme experienced the coldest winter in its history but the Australians held on good with great courage and fought with the support of the 7th Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry Regiment on their right flank and in times of calm were employed in draining water from the trenches and improving them by placing numerous strongpoints protected by machine guns and lines of barbed wire which the men installed during the night to avoid enemy fire and then on December 26, were relieved by the 22nd and 23rd Australian Infantry Battalion and marched for C Camp near Fricourt.

Fortunately John was spared by these first fights in the Somme and on December 19, 1916 he fell ill and was admitted to the 7th Australian Field Ambulance suffering from mumps. A few days later, on December 23, he was transferred to the 18th General Hospital of Camiers (Pas-De-Calais) then after recovering, moved back to the 2nd Australian Divisional Base depot of Etaples on January 10, 1917 and joined the 21st Battalion on January 26 at Ribemont, in the Somme then on January 29, marched into billets at Becourt with an effective strength of 722 men.

On February 1, 1917, John and the 21st Battalion left Becourt and marched for Cinque Ports then on February 5, moved to the Pioneer Camp a few kilometers from Warlencourt and on February 8, joined the front line at Le Sars (Pas-De- Calais) where they relieved the 24th Australian Infantry Battalion and faced heavy German artillery fire which caused heavy casualties but on 13 February were finally relieved by the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion and marched to Scotts Redoubt South Camp and then to the Acid Drop Camp on February 17 where they followed a short period of training then on February 22, moved back to the trenches in the Le Sars sector.

On February 23, 1917, John and the men of the 21st Battalions were heavily bombarded by German artillery posted at Loupart Wood and Little Wood, but the Australian artillery responded with incredible violence and silenced the enemy artillery. Intelligence was received that the Germans were evacuating the trenches facing those of the 21st Battalion so on the morning of February 25, the men of the 21st Battalion received orders to go into no man's land and capture two German trenches known as of "Gallwitz Trench" and "Malt Trench". In the fog they attacked, meeting little resistance and quickly captured the Gallwitz Trench but during their advance to take the Malt Trench, enemy machine guns opened fire and John was mortally wounded in the skull and chest. In critical condition he was immediately evacuated and admitted to the 5th Australian Field Ambulance then the next day, February 26, transfered at the 45th Casualty Clearing Station in Dernancourt, Somme, where John died a few hours later at the age of 25.

Today, John William Noel Helliwell rests in peace alongside his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, and his grave bears the following inscription: "Lest we forget. His wife and child Janet and Enid Helliwell."

John, ready to do your bit for your adopted country, for your wife and daughter, in the prime of your life you took a step forward to answer the call of duty, to stand by your friends and comrades on the battlefields of the great war on the bruised grounds of a distant country overseas and after a last embrace, a last look, a last farewell to your loved ones, to your family, you embarked with a heavy heart but filled with pride and determination and on the ocean, you looked ahead without regret towards the distant horizon, towards a world at war whose fury was unleashed through the dark clouds through which hell rumbled in the flames of the shells that were already pouring down mercilessly bringing death and destruction in their whistles that were like a murderous symphony falling on the shoulders and bodies of a whole generation of men who, in these terrible dark hours, did not find the glory of which they were told during their training but found in the blackened fields of the Somme, only death and desolation, the terrible stench of gunpowder and bodies which, as far as the eye could see on no man's land, formed only open mass graves over which they had to pass to reach the enemy trenches with little hope of survival but without failing, with the utmost bravery, the Diggers came out of the trenches without wondering why, because they knew in their hearts that peace and the future of the world would depend on their courage, because they knew it was the right thing to do and that their fight was the right one, they were not fighting for themselves but for men, friends who stood by their side, for future generations and side by side, under the crossfire of machine guns, under deluges of shrapnel, under tons of shells they valiantly charged bayonets forward alongside their brothers in arms, all united for the same fight, for the same causes and under mortal lead, through fury and chaos, running and staggering, terrified but courageous in spite of everything they did not retreat and saw the death which decimated their friends who, one after the others, after the hell of Gallipoli, of Fromelles, crossed the nightmare of the fields of the Somme and fell under the weight of their bags, riddled with bullets, stunned by artillery, mutilated by the howling metal, swept mercilessly among the poppies who were the silent witnesses of the deadliest battles of the war and saw millions of young men who sacrificed their youth and their innocence in abominable bloodbaths and who killed each other among the cries and howls of pain, among the tears and the sweat with gun butts, with trench shovels and who, until their last breath , did all they could beyond their limits, beyond their courage which our Australian brothers in arms showed, which the whole Australian nation showed and who, in the Somme, were deeply admired by their French brothers who said of the Australian soldiers that they were the bravest men they had ever seen, regardless of the difficulties and what they went through, they always kept their smiles on and were always animated by an invincible good humor.For France, they fought like lions and held their positions fiercely, they fought guided by the finest spirit of courage, by the ANZAC spirit, a spirit of bravery and sacrifice, collective effort, a spirit of unity in the face of adversity and together, for peace and freedom, they gave their today, their lives, their everything for us who have the privilege of living and having a youth.When the Australians left France, we promised them that we will always watch over their friends who did not have the chance to return home and we will keep this promise with care and gratitude but for me it means so much more.To watch over the memory and the graves of these young men who gave their lives is for me an honor and a privilege and I want to dedicate my life to them, to tell who they were, to bring them back to life, to express my respect to them, to say thank you to them and this flame that I have in my heart, will never cease to shine for them and I will always carry it with honor so that their memory, just like the poppies of the Somme, never fades, so that their names live forever.Thank you so much John, for all you have done for us and my country which will be forever grateful to you.At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember him,we will remember them.