3020 Sergeant Albert Wilkinson BATTYE MM – died of wounds on 5 October 1917
Albert Wilkinson Battye was born at Encounter Bay on 24 June 1889, the third of six children on Albert Battye (born 1852 in Yorkshire, England) and Ruth Battye (nee Battye, born 1858 at Waitpinga, South Australia). He was educated at the local public school and prior to his enlistment in the AIF on 24 July 1915, Bert, as he was known, was 26 years old and was working as a bank accountant in Victoria. His next of kin was shown as his sister, Miss Emily Turner Battye of Victor Harbor. Their mother had died in 1906 and their father in 1915. Bert’s brother Tom enlisted on 6 September and sailed with the 32nd Battalion on 11 November.
After his initial training, Bert, as he was known, was posted to the 7th Reinforcement Unit, 24th Battalion, Australian Infantry. This Victorian battalion had been hurriedly formed in early May 1915 and had left within a week of its formation and later went ashore at Gallipoli in early September 1915. Heavy casualties and evacuations saw a continual stream of reinforcements and Pte Battye and his fellow soldiers embarked from Melbourne aboard the HMAT A73 Commonwealth on 26 November 1915.
In February 1916, during the “doubling of the AIF divisions”, Pte Battye was transferred to the 8th Battalion; he and his fellow soldiers later sailed from Egypt aboard HMT Megantic from Alexandria on 27 March 1916; the convoy sailed along the North African coastline to avoid enemy submarines known to be operating in the Mediterreanan Sea. They disembarked in Marseilles on 31 March.
The train journey across France took 65 hours; the men were had no comfort at all as the carriages werein fact wagons designed to transport horses. They arrived at Godewarede and the men marched weight miles to billets located between Steenwerck and Bailleul; by 6 April 1916, training had commenced in earnest. On 30 April, the men moved into billets at Fleuraix only to be shelled by the enemy in their first introduction to life on the Western Front.
The Battalion’s first action was in the Battle of Pozière in early July 1916. This engagement proved disastrous for the Australians and heavy casualties were suffered. On 30 July 1916, Bert was promoted to Lance corporal, a position held by men who were 2IC of a platoon section. After Pozières, the Battalion travelled to Flanders and fought at Ypres, returning to the Somme for winter. In 1917, the Battalion participated in the operations that followed-up the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, and then returned to Belgium to join the great offensive launched to the east of Ypres. On the night of 6-7 May, the Battalion moved up to the front where it relieved the 2nd Battalion and a company of the 9th Battalion in the Hindenberg Line to the eats of Bullecourt. The relief was particularly slow, not being completed until 0100H, due to enemy shell-fire and one of the communications trenches leading up to the front line, became very congested. The tardy relief was reflected in the casualty figures – 15 men wounded. Bert was one of the wounded with a shrapnel wound to the left hand and was evacuated; he eventually rejoined his unit on 8 June after an absence of a month.
On 18 July 1917, Bert was promoted to corporal and following a stint of leave, he was rejoined the Battalion on 4 August. By this time the Battalion was in Belgium, near Steenvoorde.
During the attack on Polygon Wood on 20 September, Cpl Battye led his platoon against the enemy’s strong point in the face of heavy machine gun fire and captured the emplacement. He then consolidated their position and led an advanced bombing party and although heavily shelled by the enemy, managed to hold their position. For this action Cpl Battye was promoted to sergeant on 20 September and recommended for, and later awarded, the Military Medal. Two days later , Bert was wounded again, this time in the head. The wound did not prove too serious and after treatment at the 6th Field Ambulance, Bert rejoined his unit the next day.
Two weeks later, on 4 October 1917, the Battalion was again engaged in battle in the fight for Broodseinde. Shortly after midnight, the Battalion was deluged by an enemy artillery barrage, and a number of casualties were sustained, all of whom were evacuated before dawn to the 3rd Field Ambulance. Bert received serious stomach wounds and he was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. He died of those wounds the next day, 5 October 1917. Sgt Battye was buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.
The Routine Order No 84 that confirmed the award of the Military Medal to Sgt Battye was issued on 28 September, one week before Bert’s death. The Medal itself was not sent to his family until October 1918.
Bert had bequeathed his estate to be distributed to his sisters, Florence May Battye and Emily Turner Battye, along with his older brother, Harry Beaumont Battye. His estate was administered by William (Bill) Henderson, a solicitor and former soldier, of Victor Harbor who was father of Anthony (Tony) Alick HENDERSON. Tony was a World War Two veteran, who became a prisoner of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in February 1942.
Service file of 3020 SGT Albert Wilkinson BATTYE MM from the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au ).
Australian War Memorial database ( www.awm.gov.au ).
R.J. AUSTIN, Cobbers in khaki: the history of the 8th Battalion, 1914-1919 (McCrae: Slouch Hat Publications, 1997).