Phillip Joseph FOULSER
Eyes hazel, Hair brown, Complexion fair
Phillip Joseph Foulser
Can you help us identify Joseph?
Joseph was killed in Action at Fromelles. As part of the 53rd Battalion he was positioned near where the Germans collected soldiers who were later buried at Pheasant Wood. There is a chance he might be identified, but we need help. We are still searching for suitable family DNA donors.
In 2008 a mass grave was found at Fromelles, a grave the Germans dug for 250 (Australian) bodies they recovered after the battle.
If you know anything of contacts here in Australia or his relatives from England, please contact the Fromelles Association.
See the DNA box at the end of the story for what we do know about his family.
Phillip Joseph Foulser (Joseph) was born on 28 Dec 1892 in Bethnal Green, London, England to Joseph George and Sarah Lucy (nee Faber) Foulser. He had an older sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1890. His father worked as a cooper and general labourer but, unfortunately, passed away in 1903 when Joseph was 10 years old. Sarah later had another daughter, Ivy, born in 1909. After her husband Joseph’s death, Sarah worked as a seamstress.
Joseph attended the Tower Hamlets Somerford Street School and later the House Boys Brigade, High Street, Kensington, a charity devoted to training boys to be servants. After his schooling, Joseph worked as a shop assistant in a china and glass warehouse. His sister Elizabeth became a typist.
In early 1914, the 21 year old Joseph left England for Australia, working as a deck hand on the Geelong, which arrived in Sydney on 4 April, 1914. He found work in Sydney as a wharfer for Sydney Ferries and lived at 102 Cathedral St Woolloomooloo Sydney, not far from the docks.
Off To War
With the War recruitment effort in full swing in mid-1915, Joseph enlisted and Sydney Ferries was proud of their volunteers.
Joseph had answered the call to support King and Country on 31 July 1915 at Warwick Farm, New South Wales. He was initially assigned to the 11th Reinforcements for the 2nd Battalion. After a few months of training, he embarked for the month-long trip to Egypt on 2 November 1915 from Sydney, New South Wales aboard HMAT A14 Euripides.
Training continued in earnest after his arrival in Egypt. At the end of December Joseph’s Reinforcements were joined by the returning 2nd Battalion Gallipoli veterans. With the large number of new recruits coming in from Australia and the return of soldiers from Gallipoli there was a major reorganization that saw the AIF expand from two infantry divisions to five.
The 53rd Battalion was formed on 16 February 1916. It was made up from Gallipoli experienced soldiers from the 1st Battalion and new recruits from Australia. Joseph was assigned to C Company and given a revised service number of 3530A. The Gallipoli soldiers were not slow in pointing out to whoever would listen that they were the “Dinkums” and the new recruits were the “War Babies”.
Source: AWM4 23/70/1, 53rd Battalion War Diaries, Feb-July 1916, page 3
Training for all continued. In March they were sent to Ferry Post, on foot, a trip of about 60 km that took three days. It was a significant challenge, walking over the soft sand in the 38°C heat with each man carrying their own possessions and 120 rounds of ammunition. Many of the men suffered heat stroke. Once there, they were guarding the Suez Canal and they remained at Ferry Post until 16 June when they began the move to the Western Front.
32 officers and 958 soldiers of the 53rd left Alexandria on 19 June on the Royal George, bound for Marseilles, France.
After arrived on 28 June they were put on trains for a 62 hour ride to Hazebrouck then marching into the camp at nearby Thiennes. During their trip it was noted that their ‘reputation had evidently preceded them’, as they were well received by the French at the towns all along the route.
Source: AWM4 23/70/2 53rd Battalion War Diaries July 1916 page 4
On 8 July they began a 30 km march to Fleurbaix and were settled into billets there on 16 July. Then, early the next morning, the 53rd were moved straight into the front lines for an attack, but it was cancelled due to bad weather. They remained in the trenches in relief of the 54th. On the 19th, heavy bombardment was underway from both armies by 11:00 AM. At 4:00 PM the 54th rejoined on their left. All were now back in position for battle.
The main objective for the 53rd was to take the trenches to the left of a heavily armed, elevated German defensive position, the ‘Sugar Loaf’, which dominated the front lines. If the Sugar Loaf could not be taken, the 53rd and the other battalions would be subjected to murderous enfiled fire from the machine guns and counterattacks from that direction. As they advanced, they were to link up with the 60th and 54th Battalions on their flanks.
The Australians went on the offensive at 5:43 PM. They moved forward in four waves – half of A & B Companies in each of the first two waves and half of C & D in the third and fourth. Joseph was in these later waves. They did not immediately charge the German lines, but went out into No-Man’s-Land and laid down, waiting for the British bombardment to lift.
At 6:00 PM the German lines were rushed. The 53rd were under heavy artillery, machine gun and rifle fire, but were able to advance rapidly. Corporal J.T. James of C Company (3550) reported:
“At Fleurbaix on the 19th July we were attacking at 6 p.m. We took three lines of German trenches”
While the 14th Brigade War Diary notes that the artillery had been successful and “very few living Germans were found in the first and second line trenches”, BUT within the first 20 minutes the 53rd lost ALL their company commanders, ALL their seconds in command and six junior officers.
Source: AWM C E W Bean, The AIF in France, Vol 3, Chapter XII, pg 369
Joseph was part of this initial devastation, being killed at about 6:00 PM. He was about 150 yards from the Australian lines and was hit by a bullet (one report said in the shoulder, another in the head).
As in these witness statements, as sad as it is, his mates had to leave him and carry on. Some of the advanced trenches were just water filled ditches, which needed to be fortified by the 53rd to be able to hold their advanced position against future attacks. They were able to link up with the 54th on their left and, with the 31st and 32nd, occupy a line from Rouges Bancs to near Delangre Farm, but the 60th on their right had been unable to advance due to the devastation from the machine gun emplacement at the Sugar Loaf.
They held their lines through the night against “violent” attacks from the Germans from the front, but their exposed right flank had allowed the Germans access to the first line trench BEHIND the 53rd, requiring the Australians to later have to fight their way back to their own lines.
By 9:00 AM on the 20th, the 53rd received orders to retreat from positions won and by 9:30 AM they had “retired with very heavy loss”.
Source: AWM4 23/70/2 53rd Battalion War Diaries July 1916 page 7
Of the 990 men who had left Alexandria just weeks before, the initial count at roll call was 36 killed, 353 wounded and 236 missing. “Many heroic actions were performed.”
Source: AWM4 23/70/2 53rd Battalion War Diaries July 1916 page 8
The final impact of the battle was that 244 soldiers were killed or died from their wounds and of this, 190 were not able to be identified. One thing to note is that the Army had recorded Joseph’s date of death as 2 August 1916, but the reasons for this are unknown. The Red Cross witness statements clearly state he was killed on 19 July, but these were likely obtained after he had been formally declared as Killed in Action.
Joseph was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. His mother in England was also sent a Memorial Scroll and a Memorial Plaque.
He is commemorated at:
Can Joseph be Found?
In 2008 a mass grave dug by the Germans was discovered that contained 250 bodies. As of 2023, 173 of these soldiers have been able to be identified through DNA matching from family members. This includes 15 of the originally 190 unidentified soldiers from the 53rd. With others from the 53rd in the grave, one of the remaining soldiers from the grave could be Joseph, we just need to know who the family members are to be able to donate DNA for testing.
DNA samples are being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||Phillip Joseph Foulser (1892-1916)|
|Parents||Joseph George Foulser (1859-1903) b-Shoreditch, England, d-Bethnal Green, England and Sarah Lucy Faber (1867-1938) b-Bethnal Green, England d-Southampton, England|
|Siblings||Elizabeth Ada (1890-1976) b-Bethnal Green, England d-St. Pancras, England|
|Ivy Kathleen (1909-1987) half-sister b–Mile End, England d-Southampton, England|
|Paternal||Joseph Foulser (1840-1891) b-Bethnal Green, England, d-Middlesex, England and Priscilla Howsham (1842-?) b-Bethnal Green, England|
|Maternal||George Faber (1834-?) b-Whitechapel, England and Sarah Rands Dowden (1830-1881) b-Lambeth, England d-Bethnal Green, England|
Note. Elizabeth did not marry
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