Private Horace Alfred Ault: 41st BATTALION

Guest Blogger: Ian Lang, researcher, Coorparoo Methodist Church Roll of Honour

Private Horace Ault, photograph from the Queenslander, 12 August 1916.

Horace Ault was born at Highgate Hill, Brisbane. He attended Coorparoo State School as a boy. At the time of his enlistment on 5th October 1915, Horrie stated he was a builder and lived with his widowed mother and younger brother and sister at Wolsley Street, Ipswich Road, South Brisbane. His name appears on the Roll of Honour of the Coorparoo Methodist Church.

After a brief stay in a depot battalion, Horrie was drafted into the 41st Battalion which at that time was being raised at Enoggera as part of the 11th Brigade of the 3rd Division AIF.

Crowds watching the procession of the 41st Battalion through Brisbane on Anzac Day, 25 April 1916. John Oxley Library Negative No. 39805

Crowds watching the procession of the 41st Battalion through Brisbane on Anzac Day, 25 April 1916. John Oxley Library Negative No. 39805

The battalion embarked in Sydney on 18th May 1916. The Transport “Demosthenes” sailed via Capetown to avoid the threat of enemy submarines in the Mediterranean. Whilst anchored in the roads off Capetown Harbour, Horrie broke away from his quarters. Troops were not allowed ashore in foreign ports as there was too much likelihood of them failing to return to the ship. Perhaps he did get ashore after all as he was fined 20 days pay (quite a severe punishment by the standards) and had to make restitution of three shillings for damage caused.

Australian troopship 164 HMAT 'Demosthenes'. John Oxley Library, Negative No: 65250.

Australian troopship 164 HMAT 'Demosthenes'. John Oxley Library, Negative No: 65250.

Finally the battalion arrived in Portsmouth on 20th July 1916 and the 41st joined the other battalions that were to make up the 3rd division under Divisional Commander Major General John Monash. Monash conducted extensive training of the division over the ensuing six months, making them the best trained of all the Australian divisions, On Christmas Eve 1916, the 41st entered the line for the first time in the Armentieres sector close to the Belgian border.

During a night trench raid on 11th February 1917, Horrie Ault received a severe gunshot wound to the head. The battalion diary records that the raiding party were to approach the enemy wire under an artillery barrage and destroy any machine gun posts they came across as well as gather intelligence on the enemy generally. The raid was not a success as the enemy wire had not been cut by the artillery. While held up at the wire, Horrie Ault received a burst of machine gun fire to the face.

He was evacuated to the nearby 1st Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. His mother was cabled with the news that he was dangerously ill, after base records thoughtfully amended the telegram to omit the words “brain protruding.” Horrie succumbed to his wounds two days later and was buried at the nearby Bailleul Communal Cemetery.

View of Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, France, ca. 1916. Photograph from Australian War Memorial, ID Number: P06440.003

View of Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, France, ca. 1916. Photograph from Australian War Memorial, ID Number: P06440.003

There are extensive reports into Horrie’s demise in the Red Cross Wounded and Missing files responding to enquiries by a Miss Fanny Sutton in England ( a relative of Elizabeth Ault), variously reporting that he was killed instantly, was wounded by shell fragments or that the wounds were caused by a bomb (hand grenade). The Roll of Honour Circular completed by his mother also has a version “ Shell landed between him and Lieutenant Douglas on a night raid. A Belgian spy had betrayed them.” Lieutenant Douglas certainly was wounded on that raid as recorded in the battalion diary, but the story about the spy is rather fanciful.

Eventually, Elizabeth Ault received the few personal possessions of her son; prayer book, cards, ring and watch and a knife. The name of Horace Alfred Ault appears on the Coorparoo Shire Honour Board but is absent from the names on the Memorial Gates at Langlands Park.

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