Harold Boyd Wanliss was born at Ballarat East, 1891 to John Newton Wellesley and Margaret (nee Boyd) Wanliss.
Harold lived in Lorne in 1913/14 planting an orchard. Near the location of his orchard he discovered a falls on the Erskine River which are named in his honour.
After enlisting on April 17 1915, he was selected for officer training at Broadmeadows receiving his commission to second lieutenant on July 16 1915. He embarked with the second reinforcements of the 29th Battalion on December 29 per HMAT Demosthenes from Melbourne. Soon after arriving in Suez he was allotted to and proceeded to join 14th Battalion, on March 4 1916. He was promoted Lieutenant, April 10 1916.
Proceeded from Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force in France June 1 1916. Here he led a raid against the German trenches in the Bois Grenier sector on the night of July 2. The disastrous assault was planned by Brigadier General (Sir) John Monash, – the 89 raiders of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade found the German wire protecting the enemy trenches had not been cut by the mortars and they were caught by German machine-gun and artillery fire. The scouts and some of the wounded threw themselves on the wire and formed a bridge for the assaulting party to cross. The enemy’s trench was entered in spite of fierce opposition. Harold showed exceptional courage and leadership. He received the Distinguished Service Order for his actions – ‘For conspicuous gallantry and determination when leading an attacking party during a raid. He forced the wire which was uncut, entered the trench, inflicted heavy loss on the enemy, and supervised the withdrawal. While forcing the wire he was wounded in the face; later was wounded by a bullet in the neck; and finally, when withdrawing, he was again wounded, and had to be carried in. He set a fine example to all with him.’ Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 176, 30/11/916.
Recovered from his wounds, Harold re-joined his battalion on September 27. He became Battalion Adjutant in January 1917 and a Captain on March 6. During this time he was mentioned in despatches for distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty in the field. He was recognised for his untiring concern for his men, where he began a range of recreational activities for troops out of the line, including a series of lectures and debates on post-war Australia and the Empire. In mid-1917 Harold requested transfer to a fighting company and was made commanding officer of ‘A’ Company on August 13. On September 26 he led it into the battle of Polygon Wood. Just as he reached his battalion’s objective a German machine-gunner shot him through the heart, throat and side. He died instantly, and was buried where he fell.
With concern that his son’s original burial location was not found, Newton Wanliss, Harold’s father, and historian of the 14th Battalion, wrote to Base Records, twice early in 1923 seeking the location and photo of his son’s grave. These letters were followed up on 23 August 1926, seeking further investigation to locate Harold’s grave: ‘ … In order to help you I recently called in the assistance of Captain Albert Jacka V.C. M.C. and bar … who was a personal friend of my late son, and who was in action with him when he was killed, and knows exactly when, how and where he was killed, and where buried. He has given me the following location for my son’s grave … Captain Jacka said that if a trench is dug five (5) yards in each direction from the above point on the map, his remains should be found. As to identification, I am not in a position to say whether his identity disc was taken off before he was buried, but he should have his D.S.O. ribbon on his tunic. If however that has been removed, there is one infallible method by which the remains can be identified without any possible chance of mistake. He was accustomed to wear broad India-rubber strips across the soles of his boots, and Lieut N.C. Aldridge his second in command on the 26th Sept. 1917 who had him buried, told me that he noticed these rubber strips on his boots. My son was buried in a shell hole just near where the Battalion reached its objective. His height in life would be about 5ft 8in. I might add that only two 14th Battalion officers were killed and buried in the front line during that engagement viz. my son and 2/Lieut L H Gill. Gill’s body, according to the local military authorities, seems to have been exhumed, and he appears to have been originally buried as follows … My son was O.C. of A coy, and Gill was in B Coy, of the same Battalion, which advanced alongside, and on the left of A Coy into action. As each Company was supposed to advance on a 62 yards front, my son would probably be buried not far from Gill.’
It appears no further action was taken to locate the original grave of Harold Boyd Wanliss. He has his name on a memorial at Ypres.
- Bill Gammage, ‘Wanliss, Harold Boyd (1891–1917)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wanliss-harold-boyd-8978/text15799, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 8 January 2015.
- Obituary’s Australia http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/wanliss-harold-boyd-8978
- World War I service record, B2455, item Wanliss Harold Boyd (National Archives of Australia)
- 14th Infantry Battalion – https://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11201.asp
How sad no effort was been made to try and locate brave Harold. I wander what is in that exact position now? Here’s a photo I took of the colt service revolver recovered from is body. It’s currently at Australian War Memorial, Canberra. https://flic.kr/p/2fHeWdd
Thanks Sandra for sharing your image.
Given the nature of trench warfare, the burial of Harold Wanliss’ body in a shell hole may have been destroyed by further shelling or that all noticeable forms of identification had been removed so the body couldn’t be definitively identified as Harold’s.
Lieut Aldridge and Albert Jacka provided very similar grid references to the likely location of the body. Jacka mentioned Becelaere which is just SE of Zonnebeke / Broodseinde. Lots of farm land in this area.
I enjooyed reading this
I am pleased that you enjoyed Harold’s story. It reminds me of the Russell Crowe movie The Water Diviner.