2141-private-thomas-holland-image6.jpg
Thomas Holland 1884-1916
Known Unto God
Https://www.3squadron.org.au/subpages/Epitaphs_of_War.htm

Thomas HOLLAND

Regimental Number
2141
Rank
Private
War Service
Egypt and the Western Front
Prior Military Service
Nil
Enlistment
18 Sep 1915 at Newcastle, NSW
Embarkation
18 Feb 1916 from Melbourne, VIC, on the HMAT A70 Ballarat
Next of Kin
Mother - Mary Jane Holland, 348a Price Street, Birkenhead, England
Date & Place of Birth
22 Jun 1884, Birkenhead, England
Parents
Mary Jane,nee HEYWOOD, and Thomas (deceased) HOLLAND
Marital Status
Single
Siblings
George, John
Occupation
Marine fireman
Physical Description
5 feet 6 1/2 inches, 146 pounds (168.9cm, 66.2kg)
Eyes brown, Hair dark, Complexion dark
Religion
Roman Catholic
Fate
Killed in Action, 20 Jul 1916, Fromelles, France - aged 32
Place of Burial
No known grave
Commemorated
V.C. Corner, (Panel 3), Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles, France
Positively Identified
No

Thomas Holland

There are few records available for Thomas Holland with the family name appearing in historical records as both Holland and variations on the Irish surname Houlihan (Houlaan, Holihan, Hoolihan, etc.).

He was a “working class” man from the Liverpool area in the north of England who migrated to Australia when he was 27. He never married. In 1915, he joined the Australian Army and he died in the Battle of Fromelles at the age of 32. His body was never found - he remains “Known Unto God”.

The Fromelles Association of Australia would like to find Thomas’ relatives who might be able to add some closure to his life story.

Thomas’ story is best told “in reverse”.

A Prophetic Letter

While not a lot is known about Thomas, he clearly had lived in a loving family. In a rather prophetic last letter to his widowed mother in Birkenhead - which was actually not dispatched until two days after he died - he had written:

  • “Remember me to George and Johnny [brothers]”
  • Mentioned George’s wife’s brother, Bill Callister, who was in the British Army
  • Provided his financial details, but to not worry her he noted, optimistically, “not that there is any danger”
  • “Keep this letter” (it later became recognized as his will)
  • “Your Affectionate Son”
631-Thomas Holland-image2.JPG
A certified copy of Thomas Holland’s last letter home to his mother that was eventually recognized as his will.
source NAA: B2455, HOLLAND, Thomas – First AIF Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920, page 28

His Early Life

Thomas Holland was born in June 1884 in Birkenhead, England. His parents Thomas and Mary (nee Heywood) had two other sons - George, four years older than Thomas, and John, eight years younger.

Thomas lived at 348a Price Street and he went to school at Our Lady's and St Edward’s Elementary School, just down the street.

With the Liverpool docks just across the Mersey River from Birkenhead, Thomas was working as a ‘rivet boy’ at 17 years old. His brother George had spent some time as a stoker for a ship and Thomas later went on to the same job, a ‘marine fireman’ in his words.

Thomas decided to head to Australia when he was 27 and he continued to work on ships as a fireman.

Off to War

War broke out when Thomas was 31 and he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force in Newcastle, NSW on 18 September 1915. He was assigned to the 31st Battalion, 3rd reinforcements. He began his training at the Liverpool New South Wales camp and then at the Broadmeadows camp in Victoria.

On 18 February 1916 he headed for Egypt on the HMAT A70 Ballarat, which docked in Suez on 23 March. With the arrival of the many new recruits, further reorganization was being done and Thomas was assigned to A Company, 1st Platoon. Thomas’ time in Egypt was spent doing further training and guarding the Suez Canal.

On 15 June, the 31st Battalion began to make their way to the Western Front, first by train from Moascar to Alexandria and then aboard the troopship Hororata, sailing to Marseilles. After disembarking on 22 June, they took trains to Steenbeque, 35 kilometres from Fleurbaix, arriving on 26 June 1916.

631-Thomas Holland-image3.jpg
Scene of the Battle of Fromelles 19th / 20th July 1916
source FFFAIF Background to the Battle of Fromelles Part 2: 1916 and the Battle of the Somme » Fromelles Map 8_sml The Battle of Fromelles

After settling in and continuing their training, they were into the trenches for the first time on 11 July. The battalion strength was 979 soldiers.

For the next few days, they were in and out of the trenches. The original plan was for an attack on the 17th, but bad weather caused it to be postponed.

Thomas was then back into the front line on the 19th and at 4.00 pm they were in position for their attack. Their assault began at 5.58 pm, with four waves of men going over the parapet:

“Just prior to launching the attack, the enemy bombardment was hellish, and it seemed as if they knew accurately the time set”

AWM War Diaries

The pre battle bombardment did have a big impact on German first line trenches and the 31st quickly advanced to the second line, which was mostly ditches filled with water. Even with the initial support, they remained under heavy artillery from both sides.

631-Thomas Holland-image4.png
source AWM War Diaries 31st Battalion, July 1916

Unfortunately, with the speed of their advances, ‘friendly’ artillery fire caused a large number of Australian casualties. They were able to take out a German machine gun, but they were being “seriously enfiladed” from their left flank. Fighting continued throughout the night with heavy firing from concealed machine guns from Delangre Farm and houses.

631-Thomas Holland-image5.png
source AWM War Diaries 31st Battalion, July 1916

At 5.30 am the Germans attacked from both flanks in force and with bombing parties. Having only a few grenades left, the only resistance the 31st could offer was with rifles:

“The enemy swarmed in and the retirement across no mans’ land resembled shambles, the enemy artillery and machine guns doing deadly damage.”

AWM War Diaries

The 31st were out of the trenches by the end of the day on the 20th. The headcount was just 512 soldiers of the 979 who began the battle.

Thomas was one of the casualties.

The bravery of the soldiers of the 31st was well recognised by their own Battalion commanders and Lt. General Haking.

631-Thomas Holland-image6.png
source AWM War Diaries 31st Battalion, July 1916
631-Thomas Holland-image7.JPG
source AWM War Diaries 31st Battalion, July 1916

Missing

Thomas’ body was not recovered from the battle and his name was not among the list of soldiers that the Germans recovered. Lance Corporal William Reid (1058) confirmed that he saw Thomas lying dead in a trench as the 31st were nearing the Germans’ lines.

Thomas was formally declared as killed in action at a Court of Inquiry on 1 August 1917 but his place of burial remains unknown.

After the War, Thomas was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal, a Memorial Scroll and a Memorial Plaque. He is commemorated on Panel 3, VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles and the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial Panel 118.

A number of soldiers’ remains found in a German grave at Fromelles that was discovered in 2008 have yet to be identified. DNA testing from relatives that have been able to be located has been successful for the identification of many of these soldiers. Soldier identification efforts are still going on.

DNA is still being sought for family connections to

Note Surname over generations shown as Holland, Houlihan, Houlaan, etc

SoldierThomas HOLLAND 1884 - 1916
ParentsEdward Thomas HOLLAND / HOLIHAN 1856–1903, Birkenhead, Eng
and Mary Jane HEYWOOD 1857 – 1946, Liverpool / Birkenhead, Eng.
Grandparents
PaternalGeorge HOULIHAN b. 1826 Ire. d. 1875 Birkenhead and Maria MADAN / MADDEN b. 1830, Ireland
MaternalWilliam HEYWOOD 1833–1897 Birkenhead, Cheshire and Margaret MYERS 1830-1898 Birkenhead, Cheshire.

Seeking DNA Donors

Fromelles Association of Australia

Contacts

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).

Donations

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 ).