Private John Boyle 2234 of Brocagh (1885-1916)

Sausage Valley – the road to Pozières by Australian war artist Frank Crozier

July 1916 – Sausage Valley: the road to Pozières by Australian war artist Frank Crozier

 

William John Boyle was born in the townland of Clintycracken, Mountjoy (now Brocagh), Co Tyrone, on 31 January 1885. He was the second of seven children of James Boyle, a farmer, and Mary Martha Boyle née Watters.

James Boyle was born in 1853, the son of John Boyle and Catherine McGuigan. In 1882 he was living in Magheralamfield when he married Mary Martha Watters from the same townland. Mary Martha was born in Lower Back in 1858, the seventh of eight children of William Watters and Suzanne Hazelton.

James and Mary Martha operated the Boyle farm in Magheralamfield, and seven children – three girls and four boys – were born between 1882 and 1896. James died on 24 January 1897 from pneumonia. He was 41 years old. Mary Martha continued to run the farm and bring up her children. Life was not easy – the 1901 census shows Mary Martha at home with her four youngest children, James, Henry, Joseph and Martha. At the same time John, aged 16, and Kate, aged 14, were working as servants for farmer Francis Macartney of Richhill, Co Armagh.

It is not known when John emigrated to Australia, but Kate emigrated to the United States in 1905, so it is possible that John also emigrated around this time. James died at home in 1910, aged 21 years. He had contracted a lung disease due to his occupation as a brass worker in Belfast. By 1913 Henry, Joe and Martha had followed Kate to America. Margaret, who had worked as a nurse in England, returned home in 1914 and married school teacher Peter O’Neill.

England declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914. Australia, as a member of the British Empire, became automatically involved. There was never any conscription in Australia but even with strict physical fitness guidelines the army had no problem in recruiting tens of thousands of volunteers. By 1 November the 1st Division of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) embarked from Albany, Western Australia, bound for Egypt.

The bloody stalemate in Gallipoli, between the Turkish Army on the one hand and the ANZAC forces (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) on the other, was in its fourth month and was world news when John Boyle enlisted on 29 July 1915. He joined the newly formed 18th Infantry Battalion, which was being raised in Liverpool, New South Wales, some 30 miles west of Sydney. He stated that he was a fireman, and he easily met the stringent physical requirements – it was recorded that he was aged 27 years and 5 months (he was actually 30 years and 5 months), 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 154 pounds, chest measurement 37 inches, expanded 39 inches, good eyesight. His personal description was rounded out by the following details – brown hair, fair complexion, blue eyes, religion Roman Catholic. As next-of-kin he named his mother, Mrs Mary Martha Boyle, Mountjoy, Coalisland, Tyrone, Ireland.

Following initial training with the 4th Reinforcement Regiment of the 18th Battalion of the AIE, Private John Boyle was posted to Tel El Kebir in Egypt. He and the other soldiers of the 4th Reinforcement embarked at Sydney on His Majesty’s Australian Transport A8 Argyllshire on 30 September 1915. The Argyllshire was a passenger and cargo carrying ship which had been leased to the Commonwealth for the duration of the war. The sea route from Sydney to Port Said, via the Suez Canal, was more than 10,000 miles and would have taken 42 days at an average sailing speed of ten knots.

Tel El Kebir was a huge training camp for the Australian Army, a tented city with up to 40,000 troops stationed there at times. At Tel El Kebir on 10 January 1916 Private John Boyle of the 4th Reinforcement, 18th Battalion AIF was taken on strength of C Company of the 18th. He received his orders to proceed to Alexandria, and there, on 18 March 1916 he joined the British Expeditionary Force for embarkation to Marseilles. C Company duly disembarked at Marseilles on 25 March and proceeded to the battle zone in the north of France.

It is not known where Private Boyle’s unit was stationed on Tuesday 4 April 1916, but he was reported by Sergeant Bannon for being absent from parade, and two days later he received his punishment from Captain Kirke – confined to barracks for five days. The next entry in Private Boyle’s record states – “Took part in a raid on enemy’s trenches on night of 26/27th June 1916. Ref 302.1.2.”

The 18th Battalion then took part in its first major battle at Pozières between 25 July and 5 August. On the last day of the battle Private John Boyle was killed in action. The report from the commanding officer of the 18th Battalion states – “4th Rein 18th Bn  A.I.E.  Private BOYLE John  Regimental Number 2234   KILLED IN ACTION   France   5.8.16 ”

The battle for Pozières  is succinctly summarised on Wikipedia –

 The attack was first postponed to 3 August and then to 4 August when the trenches were finally deemed ready. This careful planning and preparation delivered success and the O.G. Lines [Old German or Original German Lines] were captured. South of and astride the Albert–Bapaume Road the O.G. Lines had been so thoroughly obliterated by prolonged shelling that the Australians ended up advancing beyond their objectives. From their vantage in the O.G. Lines on the eastern edge of the Pozières ridge, the Australians now looked over green countryside, the village of Courcelette close by and the woods around Bapaume 5 miles (8.0 km) distant. The German commander ordered “At any price Hill 160 Pozières ridge must be recovered”.

By 5 August the brigades of the 2nd Australian Division were exhausted and were to be relieved by the 4th Australian Division. While the relief was underway on the night of 5–6 August the Australians were subjected to an extreme bombardment, because the salient they occupied could be shelled by the Germans from all directions, including from Thiepval which lay to the rear. On the morning of 6 August, a German counter-attack tried to approach the O.G. Lines but was met by machine gun fire and forced to dig in. The bombardment continued through the day, by the end of which most of the 2nd Division had been relieved. From its twelve days in the line, the division had suffered 6,848 casualties. At 4:00 a.m. on 7 August, shortly before dawn, the Germans launched their final counter-attack. On a front of 400 yards (370 m) they overran the thinly occupied O.G. Lines, catching most of the Australians in shelters in the old German dugouts and advanced towards Pozières. For the Australians, the crisis had arrived. At this moment, Lieutenant Albert Jacka, who had won the Victoria Cross at Gallipoli, emerged from a dugout where he and seven men of his platoon had been isolated, and charged the German line from the rear. His example inspired other Australians scattered across the plateau to join the action and a fierce, hand-to-hand fight developed. Jacka was badly wounded but as support arrived from the flanks, the Australians gained the advantage and most of the surviving Germans were captured. No more attempts to retake Pozières were made.

There is no known grave for John Boyle, but his name – Private Boyle, J – appears on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in the Somme Department, France. The memorial is the main memorial to Australian military personnel killed on the Western Front during World War 1. It contains the names of 10,773 soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force with no known grave who were killed between 1916 and the end of the war.

It would appear that a cable was immediately sent to Mary Martha Boyle, informing her of the death of her son in France. The administrators were nothing if not efficient, and soon she was also informed that, as a result of the death of her son, she would receive a pension of £2 per fortnight, commencing 5 October 1916.

The following year, on 26 April 1917, the Australian Imperial Force Kit Store, based in Fulham, London, recorded that it had forwarded the late Private Boyle’s kit to his mother. The kit comprised – “Scarf, 2 Pipes, Purse, Brush, Handkerchief.”

Various service medals and scrolls were also sent to Mary Martha in the next few years, including a memorial plaque and scroll, sent on 19 and 20 April 1922. The bronze memorial plaque, almost five inches in diameter, is still in the possession of the Boyle family.

Mary Martha’s second youngest son, Henry, who was born in 1893 and who emigrated to the United States in 1910, served in France with the American Expeditionary Force from August 1917 but he came through the war unscathed, returning to America in April 1919.

 

Enlistment – 29 July 1915

Enlistment – 29 July 1915

 

Medical examination – 29 July 1915

Medical examination – 29 July 1915

 

Oath – 2 August 1915

Oath – 2 August 1915

 

Troopship Argyllshire

Troopship Argyllshire

 

Australian camp at Tel El Kebir, Egypt

Australian camp at Tel El Kebir, Egypt

 

Embarkation orders

Embarkation orders

 

010a

Pte J Boyle:  Absent at parade – CB 5 days (confined to barracks)

 

Sausage Valley – the road to Pozières by Australian war artist Frank Crozier

July 1916 – Sausage Valley: the road to Pozières by Australian war artist Frank Crozier

 

Casualty form – killed in action 5 August 1915

Casualty form – killed in action 5 August 1915

 

Private John Boyle 2234 – service record

Private John Boyle 2234 – service record

 

Private John Boyle 2234 – service record

Private John Boyle 2234 – service record

 

Field service re pay book – Rouen, France 20 September 1916

Field service re pay book – Rouen, France 20 September 1916

 

War pension award to Mary Martha Boyle, mother, 5 October 1916

War pension award to Mary Martha Boyle, mother, 5 October 1916

 

Mary Martha Boyle née Watters (1858-1933)

Mary Martha Boyle née Watters (1858-1933)

 

Postcard to Kit Store, London Re effects of late Private John Boyle 2234 Signature of Mary Martha Boyle 25 April 1917

Reverse of postcard to from Mary Martha Boyle to Kit Store, London re effects of her son, the late Private John Boyle 2234

Signature of Mary Martha Boyle 25 April 1917

 

Postcard from Mary Martha Boyle to Kit Store, London 26 April 1917

Postcard from Mary Martha Boyle to Kit Store, London 26 April 1917

 

Army record of Private John Boyle’s effects

Army record of Private John Boyle’s effects

 

Private John Boyle’s final record, including award of medals, scrolls, plaque etc

Private John Boyle’s final record, including award of medals, scrolls, plaque etc

 

The memorial plaque for Private John Boyle

The memorial plaque for Private John Boyle. It is still in the possession of the Boyle family

 

Facsimile of the memorial scroll

Facsimile of the memorial scroll

 

The Australian Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux

The Australian Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux

 

Private Boyle J – 4th from bottom in right-hand column. The rank “Private” is further up the column, not in picture

Private Boyle J – 4th from bottom in right-hand column. The rank “Private” is at the top of  the column

 

 

 

 

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