Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion dark
Looking for William - The search goes on
For over a century, the search to finally know the fate of William Beith has continued. Posted as missing at Fromelles in 1916, for years afterwards, his sister (Emma) and his wife (Amelia) made separate enquiries of the army and the Red Cross. While the Army’s court of inquiry in 1917 found that he had been killed in action, the family could never be entirely sure. In fact, his wife made enquiries of the army in 1918 having been told that he had returned from overseas and was looking for her. This lack of certainty and closure could only have exacerbated the family’s grief.
In more recent years, the army, family and numerous volunteers have tried to locate family members who may be able to provide DNA to help identification. There was great delight when a mitochondrial DNA match was found however the hunt continues across Australia, Scotland and the United States for family members who may share Y DNA and so end the search for the final pieces of the puzzle to identify William and lay him to rest.
So, who was William Beith?
William was born in 1879 in Dunolly, a small rural town just west of Bendigo, Victoria - one of four sons and five daughters born to Daniel Beith (1837-1908) and Emma Blake (1842-95). Emma was born in Australia while his father was born in Glasgow, Scotland. It is not clear how or when Daniel came to Australia, but they married here in Inglewood Victoria in August 1860. His occupation is listed variously as farmer or miner, a likely combination in a rural area of the Grampian goldfields.
Little is known of the Beiths’ family life or of William prior to enlistment. There are listings of a William Beith, miner, in Western Australia in the early 1900s that may be Private Beith but there is insufficient information to be sure; it would certainly fit with his experience growing up on the goldfields. From his inclusion on the NSW Railways and Tramways Honour Roll, it also appears that William was employed in the Tramways branch at one time.
On his enlistment in September 1915, William stated his occupation as labourer. He also stated that he was 34 and single, nominating his older sister, Emma, as next of kin. It seems, however, that this situation changed during his training prior to embarkation. In September 1916, a letter arrived at army headquarters asking that Mrs Amelia Beith be listed as next of kin and seeking information about her husband. Mrs Beith, formerly Miss Amelia Jane Riley, was able to provide evidence that she and William had been married In Sydney on 15 December 1915 just a fortnight before he embarked for Egypt. She also provided evidence that she had a son born on 5th April 1916 in Paddington – registered as William Daniel Beith, but commonly referred to as Daniel William Beith. Accordingly, she was listed as next of kin and awarded a pension for herself and their young son from October 1916.
William’s experience of war
Amongst many other young reinforcements, William trained in Sydney, being allocated to the 20th Battalion and arriving in Egypt where he was re-assigned to the 56th Battalion. By June 1916, his unit was transferred to the Western Front, eventually becoming engaged in the Battle of Fromelles.
From the records at the Court of Inquiry held in July 1917 (Source: AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – William Beith}, we know a little of what happened to William before he went missing on 20th July 1916. Lance Corporal John Somerville (B Company, 56th Battalion) was noted as being a careful witness and he gave evidence about William twice – the first time in October 1916 and then again in June 1917 while a patient in the hospital at Rouen. Somerville said:
I knew Beith……he was bombing at Fromellles on 20.7.16 with Cpl now Sgt Maurice Phillips who got his D.C.M for his work that night. Phillips told us that Beith was bombing right up in the main front line and he did not come back, and he was positive Beith was killed, although he did not actually see it. The German line was 200 odd yards from our line, and if not dead, must be a prisoner……
and later, he stated:
We went over the top at Fromelles on July 20th and he did some splendid work throwing bombs. Sgt. Phillips got the D.C.M. as he himself admits for the work that Beith did and the Sgt. was the last man to see him in the German trench and is quite sure that he was killed. We were driven back so that he was not buried.
Sergeant Morris Phillips (who was awarded the D.C.M. in August 1916 for his actions at Fromelles) stated in relation to William Beith:
No. 3038A Pte Beith W. was in B Coy 56th Bn on 19.7.16. I was his Section Commander. Early in the morning of 20.7.16 while the Bn was in action a call was made for volunteer bombers. He and I went. While bombing the enemy, the supply of bombs ran short and I was sent back with a written message………..On my return with a supply of bombs, the retirement was taking place and there were many dead lying there. I have not seen Pte Beith since.
So, it seems that William was extremely courageous in volunteering as a bomber and gave his all to do his part in the battle. He did not survive and never came home to meet his infant son.
Waiting for closure for Williams family
Back in Australia, the family awaited news of William but it is clear that the change in next of kin caused delays in information about William’s fate being received by his wife and by his siblings, adding to their pain and confusion. And today, the broader family connections still wait as they seek the last DNA evidence needed to be able to finally lay William to rest.
Researchers are still seeking donors who may share YDNA with William. This is most likely to come through his paternal grandparents as we can find no suitable descendants from either William’s brothers or his son.
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|William Beith 1879-1916, born at Dunnolly, Vic
|Daniel Beith (1837-1908) and Emma Blake (1842-95)
|Robert BEITH born 1811, Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland - died 1867, St Louis, Missouri, USA and Elizabeth PRIDE born circa 1811, died before 1851 in Argyll, Scotland
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