Sylvester James GOLLAN
Eyes brown, Hair dark, Complexion dark
The Gollan family
Sylvester James Gollan was born in Muswellbrook New South Wales in 1895, the second child of John and Catherine, nee Dolahenty. It seems that John and Catherine reared a family of seven to adulthood, four girls and three boys.
In mid-1915, Sylvester, known to the family as James or Jim, was living at the “Peoples Palace” in Sydney. At that time, his parents were living in Tighes Hill, an inner suburb of Newcastle, however by 1921 they were living in Victoria St, Taree, from where they penned an inscription for inclusion in the VC Cemetery Register.
No records have been located of Sylvester’s early life and we have not searched for relatives at this time. Thus, we welcome information on this soldier or his family.
Piecing together Jim Gollan’s story - Enlistment under two names
Sylvester James Gollan was accused of and reported as a deserter on 12 January 1916; however this was patently not true as he had already sailed on the 11th of December 1915. A warrant for his arrest was issued, but finally cancelled on the 8th of March.
We may never know the full story behind this administrative misstep, but it is likely to have been exacerbated by Jim’s own actions. It seems he first enlisted – under-age and without parental permission – in July 1915 under the name James Gollan Cook. He enlisted again under his correct name the following month. His records show three different service numbers for him so it is easy to see how the army may have ‘mislaid’ him for a while.
His father, Jack Gollan, may have set the ‘deserter’ ball rolling by way of his letter in November 1915 to the army querying the whereabouts of his son. In his letter, he advised the authorities of his son’s enlistment under a false name and that he was under-age. Jim’s service records show a series of internal queries seeking to clarify exactly where Jim was allocated but it is not clear why someone chose to add his name to the Roll of Deserters.
While communication appears to have been patchy between Jim and his family – perhaps understandable with a young man keen to go to war before he is of age – it seems there was no permanent family breakdown. Jim had gone home to visit the family in October 1915 on his final leave and he had also nominated his father as recipient of his pay allotment while Jim was on active service.
From the records, it is clear that Private Sylvester James Gollan left Australia with the 1st Battalion (12th reinforcements) on 11 December 1915 on board RMS Mooltan. The Mooltan - generally a royal mail and passenger vessel but also a carrier of troops and medical units on occasions - arrived in Port Said in Egypt on 14 January. From there, Jim would have trained with his unit, eventually transferring to the 53rd Battalion in April.
Service records show that Jim still wasn’t always following the rules as he suffered at least two punishments for misdemeanours whilst in Egypt. In June, he left with his Battalion for France and finally to Fromelles.
Sylvester at Fromelles
As described by the Australian War Memorial, the 53rd Battalion “arrived in France on 27 June 1916, entered the front line for the first time on 10 July, and became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front, at Fromelles, on 19 July. The battle of Fromelles was a disaster. The 53rd was part of the initial assault and suffered grievously, incurring 625 casualties, including its commanding officer, amounting to over three-quarters of its attacking strength.”
This bare-bones description of the Battalion’s part in the Battle of Fromelles is challenging but so too is the more personal description of the demise of young Private Gollan and two other men, as told below by eyewitness and comrade, Private John Thomas Black, 3580.
The Gollan Family at Home
The family received several letters from their son while he was in Egypt but on 30th August 1916 Jack Gollan received the dreaded cable advising that their son was posted as missing in France since 19 July. After that, they could glean little further information from authorities despite letters desperately seeking details.
It was clear, however, that some information was trickling in from the Red Cross or from soldiers still abroad as Kate Gollan, Jim’s mother, had written to Private Jack Black (the soldier who gave evidence to the Red Cross about Jim’s death). In her letter, written in pencil, she was asking for ‘any news of her son….…..as she had not heard from him for a long time.’ In April 1917, Private Black’s parents were seeking the Gollans’ address so that they could write to her themselves – though how to word a letter to say their child was ‘blown to pieces’ is almost unimaginable.
It was not until September 1917 that it was officially found that Private S. J. Gollan had been killed in action on 19 July 1916.
Commemorating a lost son
It is a tragedy that we know so little of Sylvester James Gollan, and even the comments regarding his death, obtained by the Red Cross, from his mates are brief. Perhaps these stories are the hardest of all to write, for this young man died, fighting for his country – and yet we know so little of him. But commemorate him – we assuredly do.
As did the Gollan family. Jim was remembered in newspaper Roll of Honour notices and also on his parents’ headstone at the Sandgate cemetery in Newcastle. On the headstone, his details are shown as:
also my dear son Pte James (Gollan), killed at Flerbaix 19th July 1916 aged 21 years.
He is also commemorated on the following war memorials:
- V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France – panel 8
- Australian War Memorial, Canberra – commemorative area, panel 107
- Memorial Wall at Sandgate Cemetery, Newcastle - middle wall, left side.
- Wickham Soldiers’ Memorial, Wickham Park, Albert St, Wickham, Newcastle
For any person undertaking research or who believe they may be related to our soldier – the following detail may be of value.
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Sylvester James GOLLAN 1895-1916
|John J (or A) GOLLAN 1867-1924
|and Catherine Teresa DOLAHENTY / DELAHUNTY 1871-1942
|Both born and died in New South Wales
|(Kit) Catherine E. 1894-1971, married Michael CLEARY
|(Fann) Frances A. 1900-74, married (1) Joseph GRIGG (2) Robert COX
|(Maggie) Margaret 1905-76, married Ernest DOOLEY
|Roderick M. 1910-11
|(Dolly) Elizabeth 1911-?? – no details known
|(Jack) John 1914-89, married Kathleen QUINN
|Colin – no details known but listed in mother’s death notice (1942)
|Roderick GOLLAN 1834-1907 (Scotland) and Catherine CAMPBELL Married in 1865 in New South Wales
|Michael DOLAHENTY / DELAHUNTY 1830-1919 Clare, Ireland and Anne O’BRIEN abt 1840-1912 Tipperary, Ireland Both died at Muswellbrook, NSW
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