Edgar Muerance PHILLIPS
Eyes blue, Hair light brown, Complexion fresh
Ed - Young and keen to go to war
Edgar (known as Ed) Muerance Phillips enlisted in the 8th Infantry Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces but also served in the 60th, 58th, and finally the 59th Battalions.
He was an 18-year-old labourer when he enlisted on 22nd June 1915 but, at this young age, had already spent 4 years serving with the Senior Cadets in Williamstown. Ed had been previously rejected by the AIF and required parental consent to enlist due to his age.
Ed was born on 19th May 1897 in Williamstown (a suburb of Melbourne) in Victoria, Australia. He was the second of eleven children born to William Robert and Mary Ann Phillips. Ed’s older brother, 20-year-old William George Phillips, quickly followed Ed to the enlistment office signing up just two weeks later on 5th July 1915. In contrast, the youngest sibling, Jack, was born in 1916 when Ed and William were already serving on the Western Front.
Gallipoli and Egypt
On 15th September 1915, Ed embarked with the 8th Battalion reinforcements from Melbourne on HMAT SS Makarini, arriving at Gallipoli on 7th December 1915 just in time to assist with final defensive activities and evacuation to Egypt. During the re-organisation of Australian forces in Egypt post-Gallipoli, Ed transferred to the 60th Battalion in February and then three weeks later to the 58th Battalion on the same day as his brother William. On 19th May 1916 both Ed and William transferred to the 59th Battalion.
While in Egypt, training was constant and difficult but there was also time to enjoy the wonders of being in new and exotic places as the following photos attest.
France and the Western Front – Wounded twice
Ed and William were both wounded in action on 19th July 1916 in the Battle of Fromelles in France. Both had hand injuries but Ed’s was seemingly less serious as he rejoined his Battalion at the end of August 1916. A local news report about Williamstown boys’ involvement at Fromelles makes mention of both Ed and William. See below to read a transcript of the full article.
After medical treatment, Ed was deployed to Grenade School in late September. He then re-joined his Battalion apart from a short detachment to the 15th Infantry Brigade headquarters.
Ed was wounded again on 11 May 1917, sustaining a gunshot wound to the left thigh. Two days later his brother, William, was also injured. Army records show that their father, William Phillips, senior, was sent notification as next of kin on two consecutive days at the end of May that his sons were wounded. It must have been a terrible time for the family as they awaited further news about their two oldest boys.
Back to Blighty – and then home to Australia
Ed was shipped out to England for treatment at the Guildford Hospital and later at the 3rd Auxiliary Hospital. In June 1917, Ed was discharged to Weymouth and then on 8th August 1917, Ed embarked on the hospital ship A71 Nestor from England for return to Australia. He was finally discharged on 26 December 1917, some two and a half years since enlisting and about five months shy of his 21st birthday.
Returning home from the war with a serious leg injury and still such a young man cannot have been easy. The following excerpt is from an interview with Ed’s sister, Dorrie Stanford (nee Phillips), in 1989:
“Any soldier that came back with injuries during the war wasn’t allowed to go into a hotel to drink. I can still see my brother standing outside a hotel that used to be on the corner of Austin Street and Thompson Street, a wooden place that’s just a shop now, and I can still see him standing there on crutches, not allowed to go in. I was only about nine at the time, and I can’t remember why that was so. The first five years of my sister’s life, she got pneumonia every year, and she had to be given a teaspoon of brandy. No one else was home, so I was sent over the bridge to the hotel to buy the brandy, and to this day I can still see my brother standing there on his crutches, because he’d had his knee shot off during the war”.
After the War
Post war Ed married twice, first in 1919 to war widow Ivy Pearl Evelyn Wilkinson (nee Watts). Ed and Ivy had a son Leonard Thomas in 1919 who only survived a day. Leonard was buried in Williamstown Cemetery on 27th December 1919. Sadly, Ivy had already lost an infant son born to her first husband; she died in June 1922 aged just 25 years.
Ed re-married in 1923 to Mary Isabel Caruth, known as Mollie. They had two children - Edgar Albert (known as Bert) and Valda Maureen (known as Maureen), who both served in World War II.
There was a strong tradition of military service in Ed’s family. Apart from his brother William, Edgar’s maternal uncle Edmund John Sambell and two first cousins also served in World War I. Ed’s younger brother Roy served as an Officer with the Royal Australian Navy for twenty-seven years and his youngest brother, Jack, (born during World War I) was killed in action in World War II. In addition to his own two children, Ed also had at least seven first cousins and a nephew who served in World War II.
Post war Ed worked as a boilermaker and lived in Newport, a suburb of Melbourne near Williamstown. Family recall that Ed adapted his slouch hat to civilian use by replacing the strap with a string and a penny. He wore it until the 1950s and it is now in the custody of his grandson, Kevin Phillips.
Ed died on 16th November 1963 at the age of 66 years. His ashes were scattered in the sea off his hometown of Williamstown by his son Bert.
Ed's name is in the Books of Remembrance at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and on the World War I Honour Boards at Williamstown Primary School, the Newport Railway Workshops (Boiler Room) and St Andrew's Church in Williamstown.
In January 2018, his great niece, Catherine Westerland, was fortunate enough to travel to the Western Front for the second time to visit places where family members served and died in World War I. One of the places she visited was Fromelles, where Ed and his brother William were both wounded. It was a memorable and moving experience to have the opportunity to honour their service.
Williamstown Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), Saturday 14 October 1916, page 3
TOWN BOYS IN ACTION A FINE DESCRIPTION
Transcript of Article
On July 19th our artillery started a bombardment of the German trenches at twelve o'clock noon. All the infantry were given orders at seven o'clock to charge the German trenches which are 500 yards from our brigade at this point. We had lost a large number of men before the charge started. We leapt over our parapet. As soon as we did, we were met with rifle, machine-gun and shell fire from the Germans, as thick as rain, in the air. Hundreds of our men dropped every few yards as we charged along. We had to cross two creeks about 200 yards in front of our line, jumping in and wading across to the other side. The water was up to our waist and we sank up to our knees in mud. There were dozens shot before we got across. Those of us who managed to cross kept on going. By the time we had got within 50 yards of the German trenches, there was not a man standing. We were given orders to retire the best way we could, back to our trenches. The Germans kept up a murderous fire all the night and all the next day, sniping all the wounded and stretcher bearers off. We lay in shell holes. Willie Phillips, Tom Phillips and myself secreted ourselves amongst crops till twelve next day. Tom Phillips was shot through the right leg and right arm and Willie was shot in the fingers of which he may lose one. I got a bullet through the sleeve of my right arm. Willie Phillips and I tried to help Tom along. He was helpless. We lay on our backs and dragged him along up to the creek, where we had to leave him. Willie and I crawled along on our chests, taking cover in all the shell holes and hollows we could find until we got back to our old lines. Neither the stretcher-bearers nor the army medical corps could go out as the Germans shot everyone down. A lot of the wounded managed to crawl back to the lines. Now and then some of the stretcher-bearers managed to go out at night time; and in that way they got a lot in. The Germans took prisoner a lot of our lads who fell near their lines, and we captured a lot of German prisoners.
I suppose you know Edgar Phillips was wounded. The last I saw of him was when we were jumping over our parapet to charge. Out of about 20 lads in our company, there were only three of us returned unhit. A lad named Sutton, a chap named Sammy Gammon and myself had to report to the clearing Hospital. Of the three Brothers Magennis from Williamstown, Rob, Norman and Don, the first two are wounded and Don is missing. We had a lot of reinforcements, and as the wounded get better they will rejoin their battalions.
They reckon this is the worst charge that the Australians have been in -worse than the Peninsula. All our division were in it, but our brigade suffered most casualties. The German trenches were further away than else-where along the line. We lost our company commanders; also our Colonel, who was blown up with a shell. Another battalion suffered the same losses. The dead and wounded were lying all over the place. The Germans paid no respect for anyone. They shot everyone they saw. The stretcher-bearers wore the Red Cross band round their arms, but the Germans took no notice of it, so they had to give up all hope of going out to bring in the wounded. Dozens of lads risked their lives now and then by helping to get the wounded in. The Germans never left their trenches, A lot of them came to where I was lying and to within 50 feet of our trenches, but we were hidden in a crop waist deep. The Germans must have had heavy losses from our artillery, which blew their trenches to pieces. They had snipers all over the place - up trees, amongst the crops and in the shell holes. To where we were lying bullets would fly every time one of us moved, and I could not tell the direction of the firing. Whenever they think you have an idea of their fire they stop firing. You forget everything when you are in a charge. Star shells are in the air and aeroplanes and search lights are overhead, and the sound of the artillery is like deafening claps of thunder. Two bullets struck the butt of my rifle. Give my sympathy to Mr and Mrs Phillips.
Source - TOWN BOYS IN ACTION (1916, October 14). Williamstown Advertiser (Vic.: 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved April 9, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87750906
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