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Edmund Robert Howard LIDDELL

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Pte 642 12 Aug 1889 26y2m 10 Oct 1916 4 May 1919 3

Private Edmund Robert Howard Liddell (1890—1975)


Family Background

Private Edmund Robert Howard Liddell was born on 12 August 1890 son of Robert and Annie (Fannie) (née Wilson) in Brisbane.  His father Robert was born in Rutherglen, Lanarkshire on 17 March 1857.  He died in Brisbane on 22 November 1930 and is buried in the Toowong Cemetery.

The family appears to have lived for many years at 25 Stephens Street, South Brisbane.  In the Telegraph of 13 July 1900 there is a lost dog notice with R. or H. Liddill the contact person at the same address.  It is not clear whether this is merely a typo and thus a relative or another occupant or previous owner.

Edmund enlisted on 10 October 1916 in the 11/1 Machine Gun Company.  At the time he was 26 years and 2 months old, and a locomotive fireman with NSW Railways.  He was married to Gwladys Irene (sometimes Gladys Irene) (née Griffith) and their address was Cathkin, 25 Stephens Road South Brisbane.  He requested that 2/5 of his pay go to his wife.  In 1922 they were divorced and in 1924, in Newcastle, he married Kathleen Marie Fraser.  They were divorced in 1934 and a reference to custody suggests that there was at least one child.


His attestation paper indicates that he had served in the State School cadets for 7 years since he left school, that he was 5ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, weighed 167lbs (76 kg) and had a dark complexion, brown eyes, and dark brown hair.  His religious denomination was Presbyterian.

Edmund served the first night at the Showgrounds Camp in Sydney before going to Seymour in Victoria from where on May 11 he embarked on HMAT Shropshire A9 in Melbourne.

In July 1917 Liddell marched in to the 1st Training Battalion at Durrington, a camp located in Wiltshire on the South Coast of England. 

“Durrington Camp is only a small portion of the military camps on Salisbury, and although this is a large camp of about 300 or 400 huts, there are many other camps larger still, and we can see huts for miles around on each side.” (Transcripts: The World War 1 Letters of Norman Leonard and Victor Bird Teede).

Service France

In January 1918 his unit went to France from Folkestone, and he was attached to the 47th Battalion.  On 6 April after the Battalion was involved in a major battle at Dernancourt it was unofficially reported that he was a Prisoner of War in German hands.

In Red Cross Wounded and Missing: Edmund Robert Liddell #642 it was recorded that:

“the following were reported as missing in action in The British Australasian on 6 June 1918 … ERH Liddell 642… They were all captured on 6 May 1918 at Dernancourt...”

Liddell’s service record reported that he had been OFFICIALLY in German hands. But the next line on his service record notes his having committed the crimes of “failing to report to headquarters on the expiration of furlough and of  being absent without leave from 11 to 13 January 1919 for which he was awarded forfeiture of 4 days pay giving him a total forfeiture of 6 days pay”.

Unfortunately for the 47th, the numerically weakest battalion in the line, it would bear the full force of the heaviest attack ever made against Australian troops during the First World War. (Battle Scarred by Deayton p 217)   ‘The dead and wounded of the 47th lay everywhere underfoot’. With these words Charles Bean, Australia’s Official War Historian, described the battlefield of Dernancourt on the morning of the 5 April, 1918, strewn with the bodies of the Australian dead. It was the final tragic chapter in the story of the 47th Australian Infantry Battalion in the First World War. (History of the 47th Battalion.)

Following the defeat at Dernancourt, there was an enquiry which heard that “the machine guns had been captured without firing a shot”, despite Lt Colonel Murray VC’s assertion citing a report by Major Hinton that his gunners had fought to the last.  The truth emerged when two of his men escaped from the Germans a few days later.  The commanders of the units involved in the action seemed to be unaware of the true situation and gave conflicting reports.

The siting of the guns in the quarry and on the forward slope of the hill had been a mistake very soon apparent to the crews.  In the words of Pte Edmund Liddell to the enquiry ‘The chalk pit we were occupying proved to be a veritable death trap ... It provided no field of fire and was approached by a sunken road which led into it.  The German infantry broke through our front line on the right and the Germans got right round us’   (Battle Scarred: The 47th Battalion in the first World War by  Craig Deayton).

In response to his wife’s enquiry of 22 May about sending him some money, she was advised that it would be unwise to do so until it was confirmed that he was in German hands.   Liddell’s service folder contains the POW report completed by the German forces showing that he was at Kriegslazarett Hospital in Valenciennes where despite being gassed, he was assessed as ‘not wounded’.  This report is notable for its extremely neat hand writing.  Liddell was repatriated to England arriving on 6 December 1918.

Liddell returned to Australia on the Ascanius.  On the voyage he was hospitalised with urethritis on 2 March.  His discharge from the AIF was dated 4 May 1919 ‘in consequence of medical unfitness’.  He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Post War

In February 1966, Liddell living at the time at Sully Street Randwick NSW, made application for the replacement of his service medals and discharge papers, making a statutory declaration attesting to their having been lost or stolen. He received a letter advised that there was a payment of one pound fifteen shillings and eight pence due. His response is historically significant. It was written on 14 February 1966, the date of our conversion to decimal currency, and he enclosed a money order for $3.57.

He died in 1975 at Randwick, New South Wales.

Reference List 
• Red Cross Wounded and Missing: Edmund Robert Liddell #642
• Transcripts The World War 1 Letters of Norman Leonard and Victor Bird Teede;
The Telegraph. (Brisbane) 13 July 1900
Truth. (Brisbane) 16 September 1934
• Deayton, Craig. Battle Scarred: The 47th Battalion in the first World War. (2011); Big Sky Publishing.
• NSW Births marriages and deaths

Compiled by Bob Warrick, Brisbane.  May 2017 © 



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