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Sgt William Wass, MM MiD
(c.1881-1916)
Courtesy of Faithe Jones

William WASS

Regimental Number
239
Rank
Sergeant
War Service
Egypt, Gallipolli and Western Front
Prior Military Service
Private No 6505 in the Derbyshire Regiment (known as the Sherwood, Foresters) - approx. 12 years serving on Reserve (4 years), in Derby and overseas in South Africa, Hong Kong, China, Cairo, Singapore and Malay Straits
Enlistment
17 Aug 1914 at Randwick, NSW
Embarkation
18 Oct 1914 from Sydney, NSW, on the HMAT A23 Suffolk
Next of Kin
(Unknown)
Date & Place of Birth
1881, Derbyshire, England
Parents
Harriet (nee MELLOR) and Germain WASS
Marital Status
Single
Siblings
At least 4 sisters, 4 brothers
Occupation
Fitter
Physical Description
5 feet 5 inches, 126 pounds (165.1cm, 57.2kg)
Eyes brown, Hair black, Complexion dark
Religion
Church of England
Fate
Killed in Action, 19-20 July 1916, Fromelles, France. On German Death List - aged 34
Place of Burial
No known grave
Commemorated
V.C. Corner, (Panel 9), Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles, France
Positively Identified
No
General
Military Medal, Mentioned in Despatches

William at Gallipoli and Lone Pine

After training in Egypt with Headquarter Signals, William embarked with the 2nd Battalion on 5th April 1915 for Gallipoli and just three days later was promoted to Sergeant while on Lemnos.

On 25th April 1915, the 2nd Battalion was part of the second and third waves to land at ANZAC Cove. In May, the Battalion was involved in repulsing a determined Turkish attack with strict fire discipline. The 1st Brigade led the charge at Lone Pine on 6th August, where they gained possession of the main Turkish trenches. They repulsed very determined Turkish counter-attacks over the next three days, but they were costly to the Battalion, having a lot of their strength killed or wounded.

Wounded and mentioned in despatches

William received a head wound on 8th August 1915 at Lone Pine and was eventually shipped out by way of Mudros and Malta before leaving for England on the hospital ship HS Oxfordshire on 18th September 1915. He was to remain there for some months convalescing.

For his part at Gallipoli and Lone Pine, William was recommended for military honours on 25th September 1915 and 8th December 1915. On 17th January 1916, a nominal roll of other ranks recommended for Honours for the 1st Australian Division included 239 Sergeant W Wass, 2nd Battalion, at number 21 in the order of merit. The recommendation, signed by Harry Chauvel, Major-General, Commanding 1st Australian Division, read:

“Date & place of action. Lone Pine, 6 to 10 August.

Took part in the assault and subsequent grenade throwing and repairing parapets under fire, continuing at his post for four days though the back of his skull was fractured by a bullet. He was on the Peninsula from 25-4-15 to 11-8-15.”

Another handwritten record stated:

“Sgt W Wass 25th April to 10th August 1915. For continuous good work while in charge of signal section. This work culminated with the assault on LONE PINE on 6th August when in the assault he was wounded in the head. He did not report the injury but kept to his work, and on one occasion during the evening returned across the open to the old trenches from the captured position to repair a broken telephone wire. His wound was not attended to until four days later, when it was seen that he was suffering badly, and he was ordered to parade before the R.M.O. On examination it was found that the bullet wound received on 6th August had fractured his skull, and he is still in hospital.”

As a result of these recommendations, William was mentioned in despatches:

“for distinguished and gallant services rendered during the period of General Sir Charles Munro’s Command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force”.

This military honour was published in the Fourth Supplement No. 29644 to the London Gazette of 11th July, 1916 and related to the Gallipoli campaign, including the withdrawal of troops from the peninsula.

Missing – KIA at Fromelles

On 20th February 1916, William rejoined his battalion at Alexandria in Egypt and was almost immediately transferred to the 54th Battalion. This was part of extensive troop re-organisations after the ANZAC campaign to meld newly arrived reinforcements with more battle-seasoned personnel.

After some months of training, the 54th Battalion arrived in Marseilles on 29th June 1916. William would then have travelled with his unit by train across France to the western front near the border with Belgium. He was killed in action sometime on the 19th-20th July 1916 in France.

The Red Cross Society have a Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau file for him. In it they have a copy of a German death card, the original of which is in his service record.

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source NAA: B2455, WASS WILLIAM – First AIF Personnel Dossier 1914-1920, page 19
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The official translation of the German Death Voucher says “The Aust. Pte. Wass, W. H.C.S. 54th A.I.F., No 239., fell on 19/7/16 in the neighbourhood of Fromelles.”
source NAA: B2455, WASS WILLIAM – First AIF Personnel Dossier 1914-1920, page 14 and AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – William WASS 239, page 4

The Red Cross file states that there was no enquiry and that 239 Sergeant William Wass 54th Battalion AIF was killed in action on 19-20 July 1916. His name appeared on the German Death List dated 4 November 1916 and his identity disc was received from Germany and despatched to William’s next of kin on 11 May 1917.

A form from the Post Office Saving Bank in London on 13th September 1916 about “William Wass deceased” asked if details could be filled in and forwarded to the War Office as a claim by his father for money in his bank account could not be processed until they received information on his will.. It was signed German Wass, Moor End Farm Chellaston Derby on 16th September 1916 so it is clear that family had been kept informed about William’s fate.

Probate for William reads:

“WASS William of Moor End Farm Chellaston Derbyshire sergeant of the Australian Imperial Force who was killed in action on 19 July 1916 in France Administration Derby 7 September to German Wass farmer. Effects £50 4s. 2d.”

Military Medal

On 24th May 1917, Army Base Records in Melbourne sent a letter to William’s father in Chellaston Derbyshire officially advising him that William had been mentioned in despatches in relation to his services at Gallipoli (details were noted earlier about this gazettal on 11 July 1916 – coincidentally just more than a week prior to his death). The letter also advised that:

“HIS MAJESTY THE KING has been graciously pleased to award the Military Medal for bravery in the Field to the undermentioned non-commissioned officer: – No. 239, Sergeant WILLIAM WASS.”

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The 1917 article from the Sydney Mail incorrectly records William as being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal when he was actually awarded the Military Medal.

The letter also included copies of the extracts from the relevant London Gazettes (namely, Fourth Supplement No. 29644 published 11th July 1916 and Second Supplement No. 29794 published 20th October 1916).

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Medals awarded to Sgt William Wass, MM (from left): 1. Military Medal; 2. Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal (pictured is a replacement not the original); 3. King’s South Africa Medal with clasps South African 1901 and South Africa 1902; 4. 1914-15 Star; 5. British War Medal; and 6. Victory Medal with oak leaf. The bronze oak leaf signifies Mentioned in Despatches; a certificate for the honour was also sent to the family.
source Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum, Queensland

In addition to V.C. Corner of the Australian Cemetery Memorial at Fromelles, William’s name is also located at panel 160 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial and on the Pelaw Main Public School First World War Memorial Gates (left pillar, Citizen’s Roll of Honour).

William’s family looking for DNA

Researchers have traced William’s family in England. While some of his siblings had no offspring, they have found a mitochondrial DNA donor amongst his sisters’ descendants. The search for more donors to help positively identify William continues.

Sergeant William Wass MM, MiD

Principally based, with permission, on material published on the ANZAC Biographies website page for the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum, Queensland.

239 Sergeant William Wass MM, MiD

1st Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment UK)

2nd and 54th Battalions AIF

William, from Derbyshire farm boy to experienced soldier

William was a son to Germain Wass and Harriett Mellor - one of ten children born to them. Germain and Harriett were married in 1869 in Derby. Both were of Derbyshire stock with Germain born in 1849 in Windley and Harriett in Wirksworth in about 1852.

In the 1881 English census, the Wass family were living at Yew Tree farm in Windley, Derbyshire and Germain was a farm labourer. William is listed in that census as aged one which suggests that he was born around 1880-81. We do not have a definitive birthdate for William and his age fluctuates by a few years in various military records. By the 1891 census, the family had moved to Ambaston, Elvaston, Derbyshire, England, where Germain was an agricultural labourer and William was a scholar. In about half of the records, Germain’s name is spelt German. The family (without William) were still there in the 1901 census, but Germain’s occupation was Waggoner for farm.

In 1900 aged about 18, William had signed up as a private in the Derbyshire regiment (known as the Sherwood Foresters) for seven years plus five years in reserve. His record shows extensive service both at home in England and abroad including in South Africa, Egypt and various places across Asia. His medical history shows that he became subject to frequent dysentery in the tropical climes and was invalided home at one stage. He was appointed Lance Corporal in 1904 but later reverted to Private at his own request.

In the 1911 census, William was living back at home with his parents and three siblings. William was listed as a single 30-year-old male, a labourer at the general railway carriage works. The record shows Germain and Harriet were both 60, had been married 41 years, and they had 10 children, of which 8 were still alive. By then, Germain was a farmer, owning his own property at Moore Bridge Farm, Linden Lane, Chellaston.

To Australia 1912

On 26th July 1912, William departed London on the Rangatira in 3rd class, bound for Sydney. He was listed as ticket number 154, a 30-year-old male labourer from England who intended to make his future permanent residence in New South Wales. The ship arrived in Sydney on 11th September 1912.

At some time, William moved to Pelaw Main which is a few kilometres from Kurri-Kurri in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. There he worked as a fitter, presumably in the coal mine as the Pelaw Main Colliery was a major concern and large employer.

William enlisted as Private 239 in the 2nd Battalion on 17th August 1914, just weeks after the commencement of World War 1. In his Attestation Papers, he stated he was 30 years and 10 months old – most likely an understatement as he also claimed to be 30 on his immigration just two years earlier. Based on British military records and the 1881 census, he was more likely 33 or 34 years of age. William listed his parents as next of kin and gave details of his extensive prior military service. Within a month of enlistment, he was promoted to Signalling Corporal in September 1914 and on 18th October embarked with the 2nd Battalion from Sydney on the HMAT A23 Suffolk.

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 ).