58 Percy Frederick HIRST – MM
Percy Hirst was born in January 1892 in Bundaberg Queensland. His parents were James Hirst and Diana Harriet Hirst (nee Druce).
His father James was originally from Burnley, England and accompanied his parents to Auckland New Zealand around 1860 and later as a young man came to Sydney Australia and served his time as an apprentice mechanical and electrical engineer.
In 1879, while in Sydney James had met and married Diana Druce and they had two daughters, Diana and Edith.
Opportunities arose in Queensland and the young Hirst family moved to Queensland. For about eight years James Hirst was a consulting engineer to the many sugar mills in and around Bundaberg Queensland. Later he became the chief engineer at the electrical power station of the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company.
During these years in Bundaberg the Hirst family grew in number and prospered owing much to the successful career of Percy’s father James.
James and Diana had three more sons William Bramley born 1889, William Henry born 1886, Arthur Havelock born 1894, and two more daughters, Elizabeth Ann born 1896 and Ethel Hannah born 1887.
The Hirst family were on the move and in 1904 Percy and family had moved back to New South Wales and settled in Newcastle, Percy attending school at Cooks Hill Superior Public school Newcastle and later Technical College.
In October 1905 Percy’s mother passed away suddenly at age 44 from heart failure. This came as an enormous shock to the family, with eldest daughter also named Diana only recently married and still living at Mount Morgan Queensland and only just having her first child, having shared a visit to her mother just weeks before.
After technical college Percy was employed in Newcastle with the English Company, Sulphide Corporation, specialists in zinc plating. Percy remained there for three years and then moved to Sydney and while living at Annandale worked at the Mort Docks Engineering Co. in Balmain were he served out his apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer.
Percy then enlisted on the 19th August 1914. His younger brother Arthur Havelock also enlisted later on the 12th February 1915.
“Landed at ANZAC on the 25th April 1915 and has been with his unit since that date. He had charge of very responsible work and displayed great courage and coolness under heavy shellfire on several occasions” – Major Richard John Dyer 1st FCE
There are very few references to particular men in the 1st Field Co. unit diaries during the Gallipoli campaign, however June 14th 1915, Percy Hirst and fellow sapper William Davis (Cohen) were both mentioned as being actively involved in sapping nightly against constant enemy fire. Around the same time Lieut. Richard Dyer was also deep underground preparing mines and making his own mark on the landscape of Gallipoli.
It was also believed that Percy Hirst had managed to secure plans of Turkish trenches for his commanding officer.
Percy Hirst received a special mention in Divisional orders 161/881 for acts of gallantry or valuable services during period May 6th to June 28th 1915.
1916 The Western Front
When Percy arrived in France he had already been promoted to Corporal and on June 6th along with fellow original 26 Roland King he was recommended for the Military Medal.
“Landed at ANZAC on the 25th April 1915 and has been with his unit since that date. He had charge of very responsible work and displayed great courage and coolness under heavy shellfire on several occasions” . He has been working in the trenches continually since this unit has been in France and has carried out his duties in a most satisfactory and efficient manner.”
The Military Medal was awarded to Percy Hirst on the 7th November 1916 following his recommendation on the 6th June. Percy may never have known that his recommendation was gazetted as he was killed in action on the 25th July 1916 at the “Battle Of Pozieres”.
The Battle of Pozieres
The village of Pozières, is located in the Somme Valley, France. The main road running along the ridge, in the middle of what was the British sector of the Somme battlefields ran from the towns of Albert to Bapaume and close by stood the village of Pozieres, the highest point on the battlefield.
On the 19th July 1916 the men of the 1st FCE had bivouacked just outside of Albert, approximately 3 miles from the front lines. On the 21st July they marched into Albert and commenced helping to dig a communications trench that same night. The heavy bombardments from the Germans had already commenced and continued.
By Sunday the 23rd July the company had moved in closer to the front lines at Pozieres and commenced construction of a strong point for a machine gun placement.
Original 233 Cpl Thomas Arkinstall reported that the section was in front of Pozieres about 100 yards past the village , and were digging an advanced Machine Gun position overlooking two roads leading to Pozieres and Bapaume.
For four days, Pozieres would be pure hell for the men of the 1st Field Company Engineers.
Major Richard John Dyer was the young officer in charge of the 1st Field Company Engineers during the Battle of Pozieres.
Major Richard Dyer remarkably not quite 23 years old was the very able and hardened Gallipoli veteran, famous for his single handed efforts at Gallipoli and his bravery at the German Officers Trench, creating his own landmark at what became known as “Dyers Crater”.
The young Major was no stranger to putting himself at great risk. However as Major and commanding officer, he was now placing his men at great risk and his diary entries show his hesitance in despatching the sections whilst under extremely heavy bombardment from the Germans.
Link to the full 1st FCE Unit diary July 1916 –July 1916 RCDIG1008590-1
The drawings above from the unit diaries showing the detailed plans for the construction of the “Strong Point” and machine gun placement.
Original 29 Bob Lundy recorded in his diary on the 23rd July the casualties and the devastation of the day, noting that there were dead laying all along the track and every inch of ground was just shell holes.
Within the first four days of the operations the return lists for the engineers prepared by original Lieut. Robert Osborne Earle for Major Richard Dyer outlined the devastation to the men of the 1st Field Company..
The casualties list recorded the men who were either killed, wounded, missing , gassed or suffering shell shock, between the 22nd and 26th July 1916.
Fourteen of the originals were included on this list of casualties…..58 Percy Hirst was listed as killed, 215 William Allan (Whelan) was listed as missing, 234 Archibald Bland and 50 Lionel Burton-Fuller were all badly wounded.
Also wounded was 88 George Casburn, a gun shot wound to the right hand and shoulder and 163 William Rice also a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
123 William Goodwin, 76 James Hamilton, 184 Donald Clark, 237 Evelyn Lloyd.. all wounded.
336 Alfred Girdler and 157 Frederick Newson were gassed, and 242 Thomas Cook and 26 Roland King were both listed suffering from shell shock.
Interestingly the brothers of fellow originals 14 Edmund Banks and 139 James Pasfield were also on the same casualty list.
Pozieres Main street 1914 Pozieres Main street 1916
On the 23rd July 234 Archie Bland died from his wounds, two days later on the 25th July both 58 Percy Hirst and 50 Lionel Fuller Burton also died from their wounds.
Above Left to Right – 234 Archie Bland, 50 Lionel Fuller Burton, 58 Percy Hirst
Australian official historian Charles Bean declared that the Pozières Ridge ..” is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”- Charles Bean
The family of Percy were obviously deeply affected by their loss and concerns also for the continued safety of Percy’s brother Arthur Havelock Hirst who was now with the 54th Battalion and had been wounded at the front on the 19th July, a few days before Percy was killed.
Percy’s sisters were anxious to recover whatever personal effects of Percy that remained. The youngest Elizabeth wrote a touching letter….
“Naturally his next of kin regard such belongings as invaluable…. a couple of letters is all that have been forwarded…but it is known that there are curios, a fountain pen..which were highly valued by my brother and are consequently esteemed of greater value by his relatives” …. Elizabeth Hirst
In May 1917 Elizabeth took delivery of his Military Medal and later that month his personal effects were returned , however the fountain pen she mentioned was not among the treasured items.
In 1924 The Hirst family received advise from the military office of Percy’s final resting place.
Pozieres British Cemetery Ovillers-la-Boisselle Somme France
Percy Hirst was a rare individual , his bravery at Gallipoli affording him a special mention and later further recognition whilst continuing his great work in the trenches in France, and later being awarded the Military Medal .
Percy’s older brother Arthur returned safely after the war after having served in the Australian Imperial Forces and later a commission in the Indian Army.
Link to Arthur Havelock Hirst war record….http://www.discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/person/210202
Story ©Vance Kelly 2016
Location on the Roll of Honour
Percy Frederick Hirst’s name is located at 24 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial .
Roll of Honour name projection
Percy Frederick Hirst’s name will be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory on:
- Wed 13 July, 2016 at 4:52 am
- Sat 27 August, 2016 at 7:49 pm
- Wed 19 October, 2016 at 2:42 am
- Wed 21 December, 2016 at 11:16 pm
- Thu 23 February, 2017 at 4:00 am
- Mon 17 April, 2017 at 3:07 am
- Thu 1 June, 2017 at 3:01 am
- Thu 13 July, 2017 at 1:49 am
- Sun 27 August, 2017 at 2:53 am
- Wed 18 October, 2017 at 10:18 pm
- Thu 21 December, 2017 at 2:28 am
- Fri 23 February, 2018 at 1:01 am
Sources: AWM, NLA, NAA, Manly Library
Manly Library image – 234 Archie Bland
Percy Fredrick Hirst War record – http://www.discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/person/212308
There is photo of Percy Hirst getting his haircut in the Evans Jones book
http://trees.ancestry.com.au/tree/33047765/person/20088123400 link to other family members and great nephews and nieces etc.
Niece Mrs A.H Adkins – daughter of Arthur.
Great Niece Helen Murray