Herbert Thomas BOLT
Eyes blue, Hair light brown, Complexion fair
Herbert’s war – he was as game as any man
Private Herbert Bolt arrived in Egypt on January 21st, 1916 with the 17th Battalion but was allotted to the 55th Battalion on 18 February 1916 as part of the "doubling" of the AIF with half its recruits Gallipoli veterans and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia. He spent almost six months training in Egypt and was promoted to corporal in May 1916.
He embarked on the SS Caledonia bound for France and on arrival on 30th June he wrote in his diary that he thought it the most beautiful country in the world. Sadly, almost three weeks later on the night of 19-20th July 1916, Herbert was caught in that horrific bloodbath now known as the Battle of Fromelles. A description of that battle by Sergeant Walter H. Downing M.M., 57th Battalion is paraphrased as follows:
“Men were cut in two by streams of bullets …..(that) swept like swirling knives. The air was thick with bullets.……..Hundreds were mown down in the flicker of an eyelid.” Source: THE NINETEENTH OF JULY (1919, July 18). The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 - 1954), p. 10. Retrieved December 26, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242593053
In the middle of it all, Nutsy kept fighting, and was still alive when dawn broke after that terrible night when over 5000 men were killed or wounded; he had even reached the first of the German trenches. Sadly, he was killed that morning. How horrific it must have been for our young soldiers.
His great mate Frank Johnston was with him in the trenches that fateful morning and gave this account to the Red Cross:
“I knew Bolt well. He and I were mates -- we enlisted and left Australia together in the 7th Reinforcements to the 17th Battalion -- his initials were H. T., and he was called Nutsy -- his number was 3009. We joined the 55th Battalion at Tel-el-Kebir.
On the morning of 20.7.16, at about 5a.m., at Fleurbaix, in the communications trench near the first line of German trenches as we were retiring from the 3rd line of German trenches. He and I were close to one another, when we were attacked by the Germans. He got more than 6 of them with his bayonet and the butt of his rifle, when he got a bullet through the head. He fell instantly, being killed outright. He was as game as any man, and was a well-known Newtown footballer”.
Source: AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – Herbert Thomas BOLT, page 5
The Family Story Back Then
Herbert’s only child, Mary Monica Bolt, was just seven months old when he enlisted and just seventeen months old when he was killed. Sadly, she never knew much of her father as her mother never discussed him at all. The only knowledge she had was that he fought in World War 1 and was a very good Rugby League player who played for the Newtown Bluebags. It was with this very scarce information that Herbert’s granddaughter set about researching - and this is his story.
Herbert was born in Newtown, New South Wales on 10th September 1893, the youngest of seven - five sons and two daughters - born to Frederick & Mary (nee Collier) Bolt. He attended Newtown Superior Public School and, when he left school, he worked as a brickmaker at Bedford Steam Brickworks in Newtown.
He loved all sports. He was a very good boxer and excelled at Rugby League having played over fifty games between 1912 and 1915 for the legendary Newtown Bluebags, one of the founding teams of the New South Wales Rugby Football League. Herbert played against greats such as Dally Messenger and he also represented New South Wales twice against Queensland in 1913.
Herbert met and married Irish-born Jennie Hughes in 1914 and their baby daughter Mary Monica was born in February 1915. Herbert always called her his Little Mona.
On the 7th September 1915, just three days before his 22nd birthday and after the end of his football season, Herbert enlisted with the AIF. He sailed for Egypt on 23 December on board the HMAT A29 Suevic, leaving his young wife and ten-month-old baby daughter to have their first Christmas without him.
In August 1916, Jennie received news that her husband had been killed in action in France. Widowed with a young child, Jennie eventually received a small fortnightly pension but was also the recipient of the proceeds of fundraising initiatives by Nutsy’s beloved Newtown Bluebags. The Newtown Leagues Club raised 140 pounds and gave an amount to her each week. This was a significant sum for the era and a testament to the regard in which Nutsy was held and the supportive nature of the football community.
The Roll of Honour notices above were published less than a month after Nutsy’s death which is much earlier than many families heard news of their menfolk’s fate after Fromelles. It is likely that details were sent directly from mates like Frank Johnston who survived the dreadful battle. Note too that the fourth notice (published 19 August 1916) is in the names of Jennie’s two older brothers, Joseph and Harry Hughes. Harry was also serving in the AIF and was killed in action in France just four days after this notice was published. A terrible time of loss for so many families.
The Current Day Family visit to France in 2004
In 2004, Herbert’s granddaughter and her husband visited the beautiful war cemetery at Villers Bretonneux where his name was displayed along with the thousands of other soldiers with no known grave. It was an emotional moment to see his name there and so sad to think that this dreadful war had deprived us of this wonderful brave young grandfather.
Connecting with Lambis Englezos and the Army to find Nutsy
A few years later Lambis Englezos persevered with his determination to find the 400 missing soldiers who he firmly believed were buried at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles, and finally received government approval to investigate and hopefully recover their bodies.
Descendants of Herbert became very interested and hoped that Herbert would be among the soldiers who had remained undiscovered for over ninety years. Various members registered with the Australian Fromelles Relative’s Database, a database set up by the Army for people who think their relative may have lain in the burial site at Pheasant Wood.
In April 2009, Lambis Englezos was giving a speech at Castle Hill RSL on the recovery of these soldiers at Pheasant Wood and Josie Shelley introduced herself as Herbert Bolt’s granddaughter. Lambis - without any hesitation at all - was able to tell her all about “Nutsy” and his football career. It seems that he knew everything about each soldier he believed was buried in that mass grave – such was his incredible knowledge and dedication. Josie shared with Lambis the album of information she had collected on Nutsy, including a copy of the diary that Herbert had begun when he departed Australia and wrote in every day until he arrived in France on 30th June 1916, his last entry. Josie remembers:
“Lambis was impressed with my album and the information I had uncovered. It was a pleasure to meet Lambis, and my family and I will forever be grateful to him for his amazing determination and faith in discovering and exhuming these brave young men.”
Sometime later, the Australian Army Headquarters wrote to advise the family that 3009 Corporal Herbert Bolt was included on their working list. They stressed, however, that this did not confirm that he was buried at Fromelles or that his remains might be successfully identified.
The family however remained hopeful and they offered a treasured lock of ‘little Mona’s’ hair but sadly it was not suitable for DNA identification purposes. Family members however registered for DNA in the hope they could assist.
2010 DNA identification
On the morning of 16th March 2010, Major Jason Kerr rang to advise that Herbert’s remains had been officially identified. Josie Shelley describes it as a very emotional call:
“I cannot tell you the absolute joy and emotion I felt when I received that phone call. I thought it was a miracle! There was much joy and celebration within our family to think Herbert would finally be laid to rest in Hallowed Ground after 94 years buried in a mass grave!”
July 2010 Visiting Fromelles
By 2010, Herbert’s family had grown from one (his little Mona) to twenty-five and eleven of these (nine of them direct descendants) had the privilege to be able to travel to France for the official opening ceremony at Fromelles, arriving on the morning of the 19th July. The Dedication Ceremony began at 12 noon. It was an extremely hot day - almost unbearable -but thinking of what our poor young men endured, it was the least we could do to sit for a few hours in the intense heat.
The ceremony was just beautiful and so very emotional with so many wonderful words spoken, so many tributes to these brave young men. Prince Charles and the Australian Governor General spoke so beautifully, and we were so thrilled to see a video of Herbert played on the big screen. It was a lovely surprise for us and a rather tearful one as well, but happy tears. We were all so pleased we could be there to say goodbye to him and to visit his grave, now lying in this beautiful cemetery with his mates. To see his own headstone was so much nicer than seeing his name on a wall as having no known grave.
After the ceremony, there was a gathering for some family members to meet Prince Charles. Josie Shelley recalls:
“I was lucky to be one of the people to actually meet and speak with Prince Charles. He was amazed that it was my grandfather who was buried there. He said it was mostly known as the “Uncle’s War” as not many of the young men were married, and so they were mostly uncles or brothers. He was most sympathetic on hearing that my mother was a little baby when Herbert was killed and commented that wars were hideous things. I found him most pleasant to speak with.”
She went on to describe other events that highlight the respect and dignity being afforded these young men now buried at Fromelles:
“We also met Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie - a wonderful man. My son, Steve, had taken some soil from the mass grave and some from Anzac Cove in Gallipoli and he asked Lieutenant General Gillespie if he would kindly sprinkle this soil on to Herbert’s grave. He did so very willingly, then he stood to attention, saluted and said “Well done, Corpy” in such a profound and respectful way, it brought tears to all our eyes. It was a beautiful and kind gesture from such an important man.
It was an amazing day, so full of emotion and extremes. We were very sad to leave Herbert but felt glad too that he was lying in such Hallowed Ground now with all his mates; it made our departure just that little bit easier.
We also made some beautiful friends who live in Fromelles, and they very often visit him for us, put flowers on his Grave and send us photos. It is so very kind of them to do that for us”.
Lasting memories of Herbert, our hero, and of Fromelles
In 2012, two of Herbert’s granddaughters were able to make the pilgrimage to Fromelles together with family members, twenty-eight in total. This included Herbert’s oldest grandchild, Mary, and also the youngest of his great-great-grandchildren, Serena, just six months old. It is nice to think that somehow Herbert was up there looking down on his family and feeling proud to know that from his one baby daughter, his “Little Mona”, he now has many descendants with his blood running in their veins – 61 in 2020 and still counting!
Since discovering so much about her grandfather, Josie Shelley commented that she had seen the love and respect her children now had for Herbert and all that he did in his short life. She observed that they all call him their hero and went on to describe how her eldest son, Steve, has had life size bronze statue made of Herbert that stands to attention in a beautiful long room built in the foundations of his home looking out to the water:
“It is amazing and beautiful, so very like him. After the 2015 Anzac Day Dawn Service at Cronulla, about 30 of us went back to Steve’s home for breakfast and, he surprised us all by unveiling this magnificent statue. Steve & his brother, Greg, gave beautiful speeches about Nutsy and there was not a dry eye in the room. It was just a beautiful moment and this statue is now the very focal point of Steve’s home.”
The Bolt family continue to gather at key times to celebrate Herbert’s life and sacrifice, as well as all the other young men who gave their lives for us. They remain immensely thankful and forever grateful to Lambis Englezos for having the faith, determination and perseverance to find our lost boys and give our loved ones back to us.
Herbert ‘Nutsy’ Bolt – our hero, never forgotten
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