259 Sergeant Frank Keith AYLIFFE
Frank Keith AYLIFFE was born in 1894 at Silverton (NSW), the fourth child of Frank Hamilton AYLIFFE and Elizabeth Hamilton AYLIFFE (nee DAVISON). His family had moved to Myponga where his father managed the timber plantation at Mount Jagged for the Zinc Corporation. Frank was a stockman working in the Broken Hill area when he enlisted in the 1st AIF on 20 August 1914. Brother James had enlisted the day before, whilst brother William would later enlist on 15 September 1916.
Frank was posted to ‘B’ Squadron of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment (3LHR), which embarked from Adelaide on 22 October 1914. Brother James was onboard also, having been posted to the Third. The Regiment disembarked in Egypt in the second week of December and joined the 1st and 2nd Light Regiments to form the 1st Light Horse Brigade.
The 1st Light Horse Brigade deployed to Gallipoli without its horses and 3LHR landed there on 9 May 1915, joining the New Zealand and Australian Division. The 3rd Light Horse played a defensive role throughout the campaign and was in reserve when its sister regiments attacked as part of the August offensive. Frank was promoted temporary corporal when one of the Squadron NCO took sick and was evacuated. The Regiment left Gallipoli on 14 December 1915. His rank of corporal became substantive on 29 December.
Back in Egypt, the 3rd Light Horse joined the ANZAC Mounted Division. Between January and May 1916, the Regiment was deployed to protect the Nile Valley from bands of pro-Turkish Senussi Arabs. On 18 May, as part of its parent Brigade, it joined the forces defending the Suez Canal. The 1st Light Horse Brigade played a significant role in turning back the Turkish advance on the canal at the battle of Romani on 4 August. In ensuing days the regiments of the brigade participated in the immediate follow-up of the defeated Turks, but were soon withdrawn to rest.
On 15 January 1916, Frank was promoted to sergeant (temporary). In May 1916 he was transferred to the Details Depot at Tel-e-Kebir for transfer to the 4th Division Artillery. This posting resulted from the ‘doubling if the divisions’ when the AIF was quickly expanded to allow for the movement of divisions to France. At that same time, Frank reverted to his corporal rank.
In mid-May 1916, Frank embarked aboard the HMT Corsica for England, docking at Plymouth on 28 May. His stay in England was short lived, for he was in France by 30 June. That same day he was posted to the 4th Division’s Ammunition Sub-Park, a unit responsible for the delivery of ammunition to the front line units. The unit was not formally established until August when Captain A.H. James took command of the unit. At this time, the 4th Division relieved the Second Division on the Poziere Heights and repulsed a major German counterattack. It then drove north to the outskirts of Mouquet Farm. A second tour of the Somme at Mouquet Farm followed in September and a third at Flers in October.
On 11 April 1917 the division assaulted the Hindenburg Line in the First Battle of Bullecourt. The battle was a disaster and 1,170 Australian prisoners were taken by the Germans. In June 1917, it participated in the Battle of Messines, Belgium. In September, it participated in the Battle of Polygon Wood.
On 7 November 1917, brother James died in Palestine from wounds received in battle.
In March 1918, the division was rushed to the Somme region to stem the German Offensive. The Australian 3rd and 4th Divisions had been ordered to proceed to Amiens to strengthen the retreating British 5th Army. There it repulsed the advancing Germans in hard fought battles at Hebuterne and Dernancourt. The Battle of Dernancourt involved the Australian 12th and 13th Brigades (4th Division) on the railway embankment and cuttings in Dernancourt, just south of Albert. The under strength Australian Brigades (numbering about 4,000) faced four German Divisions totalling about 25,000. Situated on the western side of the Ancre River valley, the Australians formed a defensive line at the railway embankment, from which they held back German attacks. The Australian 48th Battalion soon found itself outflanked by German to its rear. The 48th was ordered to hold at all costs but by midday was facing annihilation and the senior officer ordered a withdrawal. Much like the actions at Bullecourt the previous year, the Australian battalion withdrew successfully and in order. This action costs 12th and 13th Brigades (4th Division) 1,100 casualties.
In April, its 13th Infantry Brigade was involved in the counterattack at Villers-Bretonneux. On April 21, German deserters revealed that German attack preparations were nearing completion. They revealed that the attack would commence early on April 24, with the first two to three hours consisting of gas shelling. British aerial observations revealed German troops massing in trenches less than two kilometres south of Villers-Bretonneux in Hangard Wood.
On the night of 22-23 April 1918, British and Australian artillery shelled German mustering areas. At dawn the infantry was standing ready but no attack eventuated, most of the activity on this day was in air as planes from both sides criss-crossed the battlefield, bombing, strafing and engaging in dogfights.
The division went on to fight in the Battle of Hamel, Battle of Épehy (with distinction), Battle of Amiens and the Hindenburg Line, finally reaching the town of Bellenglise.
Frank’s older brother William was killed in action at Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April 1918 while serving with the 50th Infantry Battalion. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.
On 27 June, Frank was promoted to sergeant and at the same time, transferred to the 5th Australian Mechanical Transport Company, a new unit that had been formed on 13 March.
Frank did not see the end of the war in France; on 8 October he embarked on the ship RMS Kasir a Hind (sic Kaisar I Hind) at Taranto (Italy), for return to Australia; he sailed via Suez and Cairo, docking in Sydney on 2 December 1918. Frank had been granted ‘1914 special leave’ to Australia, a scheme that allowed soldiers who had enlisted in 1914 to return to Australia prior to war’s end. After a stint of leave, Frank was demobilised on 31 January 1919. He married Doris August FRANK in 1922 and there was one child of the marriage.
During the Second World War, Frank enlisted in the army on 7 November 1942, serving as S85348 Private F.K. AYLIFFE, he was living at Henley Beach at the time. He was posted to the 1st Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps and served with that unit until he took his discharge on 20 June 1944.
Frank died on 30 May 1969 and is interred in Centennial Park.
Service record of 239 SGT Frank Keith AYLIFFE held by the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au ).
Australian War Memorial ( www.awm.gov.au ).