William Malcolm Harwood: First Casualty of the 42nd Infantry Battalion

William Malcolm Harwood enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces on 29 December 1915 in Brisbane.  He was the son of Jonathon and Mary Harwood from Pialba in the Morten Bay Region and was one of 10 siblings. At the time of his enlistment, he was 28 years old, single and working as a butcher.  He was assigned to the 42nd Infantry Battalion, B Company, which was established at Enoggera in December 1915, forming part of the 11th Brigade in the 3rd Division.  

William had attempted to enlist in the AIF earlier in the war, however, had been rejected for being “under standard”.  This was not uncommon with 33 percent of all volunteers rejected in the first year of the war. Initially there were strict standards for age, height, chest measurements, sight, dental health and medical conditions.  Standards were soon relaxed when the need for volunteers grew as fighting continued and casualty rates increased.

On 5 June 1916 William and his unit embarked overseas from Sydney, on board the HMAT A30 Borda.  William would see no active service, rather death would find him during this voyage to the Western Front. While aboard the Borda he become seriously ill with pneumonia, which lead to complications with his heart. At 6:15am on 5 July 1916, only one month after leaving Australia William died of disease. He was the first casualty suffered by the 42nd Battalion during WWI. Major William Foster Simmon, the Senior Medical Officer on the Borda listed the primary cause of death as lobar pneumonia, and the secondary as cardiac arrest. William was one of 3,300 Australian soldiers who lost their lives to influenza or pneumonia during this conflict. He was buried at sea with full military honours. The service was attended by soldiers on board.

The tragedy of William’s untimely death was reported in several local newspapers.  A memorial notice was published in The Maryborough Chronicle, with his family's grief conveyed in a poem;                                         

No loved ones stood around him,

To catch his last faint sighs;

Or whisper one loving word,

Before he closed his eyes.  (Thu 5 July 1917, p.4)

Another article lamented that the news of William’s death had been received “with great regret” by the local community and that “it seems hard for a young fellow to be called away under such circumstances”.  A memorial service was also organised in his honour at the local Methodist Church in Pialba (The Maryborough Chronicle, Fri 21 July 1916, pg.4).

There were many different experiences of World War One for Australian soldiers. Some saw years of action, other were awarded medals for bravery and some like William Malcolm Harwood never made it to the Front. When examining our military past, it is important to consider these diverse experiences. While William’s service was short, less than 7 months, his bravery to enlist deserves to be commemorated. As we approach Anzac Day 2021 let us take a moment to remember all those who have served, whether they saw action or not.

Visit Anzac Square Memorial Galleries to learn more about the 42nd Infantry Battalion and those who served in this unit. Open 10-4 Sunday to Friday. More information can be found here: https://www.anzacsquare.qld.gov.au/


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