Eyes blue, Hair light brown, Complexion fair
John Toole – Served Two Countries and in Three Major Battles
John Toole served for two countries and in three major battles. Aged 29 years, he was killed at Fromelles on 19 July 1916. John’s body was recovered by the Germans after the battle, but there are no records of his burial. There is still a chance he might be identified, but we need help.
Can you help to identify John?
A mass grave was found in 2008 that the Germans had dug for 250 bodies they had recovered after the battle. 166 of these soldiers have been identified and given proper burials and recognition through finding family DNA donors. 84 soldiers remain and some identifications are highly likely. We just need to find DNA donors.
John did not have any family in Australia that we know of, but it is clear that he had strong ties to his family back in the Everton area of Liverpool in the UK. If you know anything of John’s contacts here in Australia or his relatives in England, we would like to hear from you.
See the DNA box at the end of the story for what we do know about his family.
Early Life - UK Military & Migration to Australia
John Toole was born in 1887 in the Everton area of Liverpool, England to George Henry and Margaret (nee Stock) Toole. He was the sixth of their nine children, seven boys and two girls.
George and his sons were labourers, fitters and dock workers but George died in June 1902 when their youngest child was 7 leaving Margaret (known as Martha) to raise the family alone. As a youth, John did his schooling at the Roscommon Street Council School in Liverpool.
When John was about 17, he began his military career, which, unknown to him at the time, would ultimately span the UK, Australia, Turkey, Egypt and France.
He first joined the 1st Kings Liverpool Regiment, Territorial Force. The King’s Regiment (Liverpool) is one of the oldest infantry regiments of the British Army. The Territorial Force was a part-time volunteer component of the British Army, created in 1908 to augment British land forces. Recruits were required to attend numerous drill periods throughout the year and annual training camps. During John’s time of service, they remained in the UK. John’s younger brother Edward also served in the military in WWI; he was a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps of the Cheshire Regiment.
After John completed his tour of service in the Territorial Force, he emigrated to Sydney Australia as an unassisted immigrant. He was the only one of his large family to leave the UK, sailing to Australia on the “Somerset”, arriving in January 1911. He then settled in the Waverley / Bondi area of Sydney and worked as a storeman.
The Military Calls Again – Anzac Cove, Gallipoli
When the War broke out, John was quick to put his hand up to serve again, joining the Australian Imperial Force in Randwick, NSW on 19 August 1914. He was assigned to the newly formed 2nd Battalion and began training with the rest of his mates. Just a month after John joined, they left Sydney on transport ship HMAT A23 “Suffolk” on 18 October 1914.
The troops arrived in Alexandria, Egypt on 5 December 1914. They settled at the camp in Mena for training until early April, preparing for the upcoming battle in Turkey.
On 4 April, they began boarding the “Derfflinger” and sailed to Port Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos. Here they underwent disembarkation practice for the landings at Gallipoli.
At mid-day on 24 April, they departed Mudros and by 6 AM the next day the landings in Anzac Cove began. The 2nd Battalion were in the second and third waves of the attack. As the fighting was fierce, there were immediate casualties. By 7.15 AM, the 2nd Battalion had joined up with the 3rd Brigade, who had gained a footing on shore. The Aussies were able to repel several counter attacks and it took until 7 AM on the 26th until the 2nd Battalion was well dug in. Further attacks, extremely heavy enemy firing, shrapnel and sniping continued through the next several days. On 29 April, the 2nd Battalion were relieved in the trenches – but 1,683 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion were killed, wounded or missing.
John Toole was among the wounded, with a gunshot wound to his arm and required hospitalisation. He was among the first convoy of 600 badly wounded soldiers who reached the hospitals on Malta on 4 May 1915. John was treated in the Valletta Hospital.
Dr Alice Hutchison, chief medical officer of the Second Unit of the Scottish Women's Hospital to Serbia commented in her travel diary June to September 1915:
“This was a day of waiting. The past preparations were made, beds made, dressing tables ready, dressings cut up, the wards bright with flowers and sunshine.”… “Until late in the evening they came; one by one the beds were filled while doctors and nurses dressed wounds many of which had remained untouched since first-aid was given at Gallipoli ten days ago”
Back to Gallipoli / Lone Pine
John’s wounds were well treated, and he left Malta on 26 July 1915 three months after the Anzac landing. He rejoined his unit, via Egypt, on 8 August 1915. While he was back in a major battlefront again, he was luckier with his timing, having just missed the start of the main assault on Lone Pine on the 6th and arriving just after the Australian forces had been repelled.
Following this major battle, a stalemate returned to the peninsula during September and October, although small skirmishes continued.
John was obviously a valued soldier and during this period was appointed Lance Corporal on 10 October 1915 and then promoted to Corporal on 28 November 1915.
On 8 December, the order to begin the evacuation at Gallipoli was given and was completed just before dawn on 20 December. The remaining soldiers of the 2nd Battalion arrived in Alexandria, Egypt on 28 December.
On to the Western Front – Fromelles
With the withdrawal from Gallipoli, fresh troops arriving from Australia and the needs for the Western Front, the forces were being reorganised. John was transferred to the newly formed 54th Battalion on 14 February 1916 in Tel el Kebir. They then undertook a period of intense training culminating in a desert march to Moascar, before undertaking defensive duties along the Suez Canal.
On 16 June, the 31 officers and 951 infantry soldiers headed for Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force. They disembarked in Marseilles, France on 29 June 1916.
By 2 July, according to the AIF intelligence reports, the Battalion was billeted in barns, stables and private houses in Hazelbruk (Thiennes) for a week of training. This included use of gas masks, in case gas was used by the Germans, and shells. It was hoped that these tests would “inspire the men with great confidence”.
By 11 July, the troops were moved about 25 kilometres to the trenches in Sailly. The health and spirit of the troops was reported as good. On the 14th, they were moved from the trenches to Bac-St-Maur and were making preparations for an attack.
They returned to the trenches on the 17th for a day, when they were relieved by the 53rd Battalion, but were moved back to the front trenches at 2 PM on 19 July.
After being in place just a short while, they began their attack at 5.50 PM with two lines of two waves each. They were able to occupy the German trenches by 6.00 PM. Along with the 53rd Battalion, they successfully captured the German front line from Rouges Banc to near Delangre Farm, ready to press forward in an attempt to locate the key objective, the German second line.
Fighting continued during the night, but they eventually had to retreat and had pulled back to Bac-St-Maur by 7.30 AM on the 20th. In this very short period of time, about 250 Australian soldiers of the 54th were killed or missing.
Corporal John Toole was among the missing.
The 54th Battalion remained in Bac-St-Maur/Fleurbaix until early August, but they were not engaged in further fighting. There is no mention of finding the many missing soldiers.
Honoured, but Not Found
A cable was sent from London on 6 August 1916 and his family back in Liverpool were notified promptly. They placed an obituary in the local paper, the Liverpool Echo, on Wednesday 9 August 1916.
In October, a telex from Berlin confirmed that John died at Fromelles on 19 July 1916 and his identity disc was returned to the family. His final resting place, however, remained unknown.
A mass grave near Fromelles had been dug by the Germans that contained the remains for about 250 soldiers, but this had only been discovered in 2008. Efforts by the Australian Defence Force and the Fromelles Association of Australia have been underway since this time and DNA matching has been able to confirm the identity of many of the soldiers in the grave and give them a proper final resting place. Unfortunately, John has not yet been identified.
For his valour in these key battles of World War I, John received the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He was a true patriot, gallantly serving two countries and in three major battles.
He is commemorated at: V.C. Corner (Panel No 10), Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France; the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour Panel number 160; the Waverley Soldiers’ War Memorial, Bondi; and the Merseyside Roll of Honour, Liverpool Town Hall, panel 38.
As noted at the beginning of this story, we are keen for any assistance that may assist in helping to identify John Toole’s final burial place through suitable DNA donors. Information about his family in England is included below. As to his contacts here in Australia, little is yet known but we note that his mother listed a contact on the Roll of Honour Circular – a Mr John Toole c/- 218½ Sussex Street, Sydney. The address appears to have been used by a firm of engineers for some years into the 1920s. Was John Toole a cousin, uncle or other family connection?
Can you help to identify John?
DNA samples are still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||John TOOLE 1887 - 1916|
|Parents||George Henry TOOLE 1856 – 1902 Liverpool, England and Margaret (Martha) STOCK 1857 - 1924 Liverpool, England|
|Siblings||Richard 1877 – 1952 (m. Eleanor HARVEY) Liverpool|
|George 1879 – 1936 (m. Evelyn Annie MAWDESLEY) Liverpool|
|Elizabeth 1881 – 1962 (m. William Robert KIRKHAM)|
|Susannah 1883 – 1973 (m. John HATCHARD)|
|Alfred 1885 -|
|David 1890 – 1896|
|William 1892- 1940 (m. Mary E Thompson)|
|Edward 1895 – 1941 (m. Catherine Jane MARKS)|
|Paternal||George TOOLE – Liverpool, England and Elizabeth Henrietta CONN 1832 – Liverpool, England|
|Maternal||Richard STOCK 1837 – 1909 – Liverpool, England and Susannah SAMPSON 1831-1911 – Liverpool, England|
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