Lance Corporal W. M. Oliver EDMONDS
RECENT WEDDINGS AND ENGAGEMENTS (1919, December 21). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954), p. 16. Retrieved April 30, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article222298081

William Morgan Oliver EDMONDS

Regimental Number
Lance Corporal
Known As
War Service
Egypt and Western Front
Prior Military Service
11 Sep 1915 at West Maitland, NSW
16 Feb 1916 from Sydney, NSW, on the HMAT A70 Ballarat
Next of Kin
Mother – Mrs L. M. Nelson, Neath, NSW
Date & Place of Birth
27 Dec 1892, Adamstown, Newcastle, NSW
William Morgan EDMONDS (deceased) and Lilian May (nee WILLIAMS)
Marital Status
Only child, but had three step-siblings when his mother re-married
Physical Description
5 feet 7 inches, 140 pounds (170.2cm, 63.5kg)
Eyes grey, Hair fair, Complexion fair
Church of England
Survived the Battle of Fromelles with minor wounds
Returned to Australia
8 May 1919, aged 26
Fought at Fromelles, survived. Died 22 September 1967, Newcastle, New South Wales - aged 74
Place of Burial
Newcastle, NSW
Positively Identified
Yes, None

Enlisted with mates

Oliver Edmonds was mates with others in the 30th Battalion D company who had joined the AIF from the area around the small mining communities of Neath and Kearsley, in the Hunter Valley of NSW. This included Jack Murphy, Matt Hepple, Jock McKenzie and Wally Graham. Before the war, Oliver was a “fruito” probably with a horse and dray – who commonly sold local produce, house to house.

Oliver got through the war with no record of wounds or illness on his file. His letters home confirm his good fortune though he suffered concussion and minor scrapes during his three years on active service.

Boys from Neath in the Battle of Fromelles – no longer Bloodless

The Newcastle newspaper published letters home from some of the boys from Neath including one from Private 3254 Thomas James who described the charge at Fromelles where he was wounded and said:

”there were a lot of Neath boys in the charge, and they would be lucky if some of them had not gone down….The charge was very hot, and the shot and shells were coming also as thick as hailstones, but the boys carried on as if they were in a great football match”.

NEATH. (1916, October 4). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133837388

In that same article, the paper reported that Private Oliver Edmonds:

“had a narrow escape of death. A shell burst near him and the concussion threw him to the ground, while a piece of shrapnel took the knee out of his trousers without injuring him.”

NEATH. (1916, October 4). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133837388

They also published Oliver’s letter to his mother describing his view of the battle:

“Our brigade cannot be called the 'Bloodless Eighth,' any longer, for they drew blood and spilt blood on the evening of July 19. At 5.55 p.m. we went into battle, leaping over the parapet and after 'Fritz,' who cleared out, so the only ones we saw there were dead and wounded. After a heavy bombardment the signal was given to charge, and no sooner was the order given than our boys were clear out of the trenches into No Man's Land.

I followed over the same ground with ammunition while the place was being swept with shrapnel and machine guns. It was glorious while our blood was up, and our boys had great hearts-not a shirker in our battalion, and we did not want any.

The night wore on as our boys fought bravely, and when morning came we got back into our own trenches. To see the courage of our wounded was great. Some of them crawled out on their hands and knees, and when asked if they wanted a stretcher, they answered ‘Take stretchers to those who need them more.’

At 4 a.m. I was tired out but would not give in. We were bandaging our comrades in the open of 'No Man's Land' and in our own line.

I feel sorry for Mat Hepple. He was last seen in a German dugout in the second line of German trenches with a badly wounded shoulder, and he is missing. I suppose he is a prisoner of war. I posted a few of his things home to his mother yesterday.

Poor John Purcell was the only one of us from Neath 'Called up Yonder'. He had two nasty wounds, one in the throat and the other in the chest, which I suppose you know already through the authorities.

The Germans have awful weapons of war. Some we call coal boxes from big howitzers, and others aerial torpedoes, which are terrible missiles, and their shrapnel. Some of it poisons when it strikes a man, and some it burns. Some of our chaps who were killed by it looked awful, being half burnt away.”

NEATH. (1916, October 4). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133837388

In his letter, Oliver mentions writing to Matt Hepple’s mother and sending home some of Matt’s personal effects. Matt’s story and a copy of Oliver’s letter are included on this website – see Matthew Hepple

A great legacy that Oliver has left is his diary, and that portion relating to Fromelles is reprinted below. These are direct quotes and were supplied by an unknown descendant of Oliver at the 2012 Kearsley meeting of the Fromelles Association of Australia.

July 16th In billets, mail 9 letters, cool wind blowing, rained. Town a pitiful sight, shell holes all around. Carrying ammunition to firing line, some casualties from sniper fire, none serious. Dog tired marched to another billet.

July 17th Fatigue duty cleaning up 2 billets, carrying ammunition all night, under fire. Just fell asleep, awakened by gas alarm. Had helmets on for one four 12am to 1 am. First nights sleep for a while (O’Brien Killed)
July 18th Reveille 6.30am, I went to trenches on fatigue carrying sandbags, wire, stick supports for trenches. Few of our chaps wounded with shrapnel.

July 19th South of Armentieres First nights sleep for 10 days. Expecting to be a big charge tonight, taking part are 2 Australian and 1 Tommy divisions, about 60,000 men, 7 mile front. This may be the last perhaps I shall write in this book. I am looking on the bright side because I am trusting in Jesus Christ. Attack about 6pm, lost good number of men, holding well till 11pm.

July 20th Close call, knocked down by a shell hardly a mark our men driven back, a number wounded, came through without a scratch so far. Out for spell 11am. Matt Hepple missing and wounded; shoulder shattered, I did not see him. With our stunt on 19th and 20th July we had a great part of Germany’s troops and artillery as our attack was advertised although we are still in our own lines, there was an advance of 6 miles on a 42 mile front elsewhere.

Another of Oliver’s letters was published in November 1917 – by this time he had been promoted to Lance Corporal. After describing his experiences in Egypt, he again mentioned briefly the Battle of Fromelles:

“You know by my previous letter of our three days' train journey, and our first attack on the 19th July, 1916, at Fromelles, where we had 9000 casualties out of a division of 12,000 men.”

NEATH. (1917, November 16). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 6. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138747915

The letter goes on to mention many of the significant battles on the Western Front - Armentieres, the Somme, Bullecorte and Bapaume. He also notes with the regret the deaths of fellow Neath boys, Jim Colgate and Dudley Parker before reassuring his mother by collating his list of relatively minor injuries and passing on his love to all at home:

“I was hit slightly on the knee once, and the shoulder and thumb of right hand another time, and in the right side another time, but my equipment saved me from a nasty hit. I had a touch of trench feet during the winter….”

NEATH. (1917, November 16). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 6. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138747915

He was indeed a lucky man.

Returning home to Neath

Lance Corporal Oliver Edmonds returned home to Australia on HMAT Devanha in June 1919, aged 27. He took over as manager of the Neath Post Office previously managed by his mother, Mrs Lilian Nelson – a task that was not limited to telegrams, mail collection and delivery but also included banking, payments for pension, endowment, and the news agency and mixed local store. Oliver was an only child, his father having died before Oliver’s first birthday. His mother re-married in 1897 to Andrew Nelson, a widower with three young children.

Less than six months after arriving home from the war, Oliver was married. On 16 November 1919, Oliver married an employee of the Post Office 22-year-old Freda Wilson in the Neath Methodist Church. The local Newcastle paper described the wedding in detail noting that the bride’s bouquet was decorated with gold and purple streamers, the bridegroom’s battalion colours. They went on to note other military touches in the celebrations:

“The breakfast was held in the Neath Hall, Messrs. Pendlebury and R. Whitson presiding at the tables, which were gaily decorated, battalion colours being a special feature. The wedding cake was of patriotic design, showing. tank, soldiers, machine guns, rifles, and doves. As a tribute to the bride for her war work and to the bridegroom for his war service, the breakfast was arranged by the Patriotic Committee…..”

SOCIAL NEWS. (1919, December 13). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 10. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from <a href="http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140075355
797-Enlisted with mates-image1png
The Sydney papers also included a report on the wedding of Oliver Edmonds and Freda Wilson. The young couple went on to raise a family of four children.

There is a gem of a recording made in 1983 available on the Newcastle Living Histories website where Freda Edmonds, then widowed and in her mid-80s, describes her life in and around Neath. While it is not directly relevant to our Fromelles soldier story it is a wonderful oral history of the area and its people – see University of Newcastle, Living Histories, Voices of the Hunter, Mrs Freda Edmonds, 1983

One who did not return home to Neath

As another aside, we feel we must add the story of another Neath local lad who did not return home but nevertheless left an enduring and poignant legacy for the mining town and its local pub – Harry Littlefair and his miner’s lamp.

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An earlier display in the Grand Neath Hotel focused on Harry Littlefair’s lamp.
source University of Newcastle Special Collections, Barry Howard Collection – reproduced with permission

The hub and centre of the township is still the Neath Hotel, an icon in every mining town. This hotel carries a tradition that has continued with great reverence – and acknowledges all who served in WW1 and subsequent wars. The tradition began in April 1919 when they first lit the miner’s lamp that had been left at the pub by local lad, Harry Littlefair, before he went off to war. It was described in a 1954 news article based on interviews with returned soldiers who had first-hand memories of Harry, “a happy devil-may-care young fellow”:

“A lighthearted gesture by the young miner and the few words accompanying it have created something of a legend for the younger generation of the little township of Neath, which is a few miles from Cessnock, and kept his memory fresh and sweet in the minds of his contemporaries. The day's work being done he had strolled into the pub with a mate for his black pint and yarn before continuing on his way home for the evening meal. Presently he beckoned the landlady to him and in the noisy buzz of conversation which flowed round the bar said, "Put these upon the top shelf; we'll collect them when we come back." He handed her a small brass oil lamp, the old-fashioned naked light lamp we never see these days —the electric lamp and battery has long since replaced it—and a small brass oil container. It was late 1915.”

The Old Soldiers Of Neath (1954, November 20). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 5. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from <a href="http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134091424

Private 4506 Joseph Henry (Harry) Littlefair did not make it home, killed in action on 15 April 1918 during the battle of Lys in France.

That lamp he’d left behind was lit for many years on the anniversary of Harry’s death but the ritual has since been incorporated as part of the Anzac Day commemorations and continues to this day. A copy of a video of the lighting of the lamp in 2020 during the Covid closure is available on the hotel’s Facebook page – see Grand Neath Hotel post 25 April 2020.

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Lighting of the lamp at the Grand Neath Hotel on Anzac Day 2021.
source Facebook, Grand Neath Hotel page, post 9 April 2021

Private Oliver Edmonds and his mates from Neath did their bit and they will be remembered.

The Fromelles Association would love to hear from you

Fromelles Association of Australia


The Fromelles Association welcomes all contact regarding this soldier.
(Contact: royce@fromelles.info or geoffrey@fromelles.info).
We also urge any family members to contact and register with the Australian Army
(Contact: army.uwc@defence.gov.au or phone 1800 019 090).


The Fromelles Association maintains this web site, purely by donations received.
If you are able, please contribute to the upkeep of this resource.
(Contact: bill@fromelles.info ).