Print this page Reduce font size Increase font size

First to Fall

First to Fall – Introduction

First to Fall

See details of the 58 men from the 11th Battalion who were killed in action on 25th April, 1915.

Australians commemorate 25 April 1915 as 'Anzac Day'. It was the day of the 'Landing at Gallipoli' when more than 20,000 Australians and New Zealanders and some servicemen from other countries went ashore at the Gallipoli Peninsula. They fought the soldiers of the Ottoman Army, mainly up on the ridges well beyond the beaches. The first group ashore landed at dawn; they were the so-called 'covering force' whose task was to drive the Turkish defenders into the hills. After that the main force would come ashore.

The dawn 'Landing' was carried out by the four infantry battalions of the 3rd Brigade, First Australian Division. These men came from what Charles Bean, Australia's official historian, called the 'outer states' – Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. The 11th Battalion, from Western Australia, came ashore not at Anzac Cove, but on the beach beneath the slopes leading down from Ari Burnu Point and Plugge's Plateau. Among the first to fall was Captain William Annear, 11th Battalion, of Subiaco, Western Australia. He was shot as he came up onto Plugge's Plateau after the hard climb from the beach. Charles Bean described the scene:

The first Australians clambered out on to the small plateau … heavy fire still met the Australians appearing over the rim of the plateau, and was sufficient to force the first men to take what cover they could on the seaward edge … Captain Annear was hit through the head and lay there, the first Australian officer to be killed.

[Charles Bean, The Story of Anzac, Vol 1, 'The Landing at Gaba Tepe', Sydney, 1941, p.259]

Later, as the men of the 11th Battalion struggled up towards the heights of Chunuk Bair they met strong Turkish opposition around the slopes of a hill called Baby 700. Another young officer was killed there: Second Lieutenant Mordaunt Reid, of Coolgardie, Western Australia. Reid had been sent across the Nek with a small party to assist in the advance up the range:

Lieutenant Mordaunt Reid, who was carefully controlling the fire from the right of [the] line, was severely hit through the thigh. One of his men went to help him crawl to the rear, but Reid was never thereafter seen or heard of by his battalion.

[Charles Bean, The Story of Anzac, Vol 1, 'The Landing at Gaba Tepe', Sydney, 1941, p.290]

Enlargedrawing: see caption below
Group portrait of all the original officers and men of the 11th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, AIF. The group of over 685 soldiers are spread over the side of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) near Mena camp. [AWM P05717.001]

The story of these two men – Annear and Reid – was to be repeated over and over again on 25 April 1915 as the Anzacs battled with determined Turkish resistance and attempts to drive them back into the sea. All told more than 620 Australians died that day, 57 of them from the 11th Battalion. They came from all over the vast state of Western Australia – from rural districts, country towns and city suburbs.

Much can be learnt about the Anzacs from the detailed individual records kept in national archival collections such as those of the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives Australia. Using these, Professor Peter Dennis of ADFA (Australian Defence Force Academy) has put together a database – First to Fall – containing the names of all the Anzacs killed on the first day at Gallipoli. The information in the database sheds some light on the personal stories of the Australians commemorated at Gallipoli and on local war memorials all over Australia.

From the First to Fall, for example, we learn that the bodies of William Annear and Mordaunt Reid were never recovered for burial or, if recovered, were not identifiable. They are commemorated at the Lone Pine Memorial. Of the 57 men of the 11th Battalion who died on the day of the 'Landing' only 13 have known graves. Seven of them are at Baby 700 Cemetery which was constructed after the war at one of the furthest points reached by the Australians on that first day. Details about all 57 are available from the 11th Battalion 'Killed in Action 25 April 1915' page on theFirst to Falldatabase.

First to Fall also identifies William Annear as coming from Subiaco and Mordaunt Reid from Coolgardie. Where, one wonders, are they commemorated locally in those places? As the 100th anniversary of the 'Landing' at Gallipoli approaches, communities could use information inFirst to Falland the much larger associated database, the AIF Project database, to discover who their local original 'Anzacs' are, and to put faces and stories to a group of Australians forever associated with one of the most significant founding legends of modern Australian history.

[A full account of the 11th Battalion's first day on Gallipoli can be found in James Hurst, Game to the Last: The 11th Australian Infantry Battalion at Gallipoli, Melbourne, 2005, Chapter 5, 'Lord , What a Day: The Landing', pp.38-53.]

CONSTRUCTING FIRST TO FALL

Individual entries on FIRST TO FALL have been drawn from The AIF Project database which records details of the 332 000 men and women from Australia who served overseas in the First World War.

Please note that the original First to Fall database on CD Rom is no longer available. The AIF Database is currently being upgraded and will, in the future, allow date searches such as 25 April 1915.

SOURCES USED IN CONSTRUCTING First to Fall

drawing: see caption below
Portrait of Private Leslie John Langdon, 11th Battalion, killed in action 25 April, 1915. [AWM H06395]

(Entries on FIRST TO FALL do not draw on all of these sources.)

Embarkation Rolls

The Embarkation Rolls draw together the information given on the Attestation Forms, signed by each member of the AIF at the time of enlistment. At the end of the war, the individual Attestation Forms were conflated into unit lists, and then published.

From the Embarkation Rolls the following information can be derived: name, address, age, religion, occupation, rank, number and unit on enlistment, date of enlistment, previous military service, next of kin as designated by the enlistee, next of kin's address, relationship of next of kin to the enlistee, date of embarkation from Australia, ship and place of embarkation. Note that the Army did not ask for the date of birth, but only the stated age. Thus many men were able to provide a false age, sometimes because they were too young, more often because they were too old.

Go to the Embarkation Rolls website.

Nominal Roll

The Nominal Roll updates the information provided on the Embarkation Rolls in that it gives us details of each member of the AIF at the end of the war. Thus it tells us the number and rank of each person, and their unit, any decorations they might have received, their ultimate fate in the war (killed in action, died of wounds/disease/illness, returned to Australia) and the date of the fate. Unlike the 2nd AIF, an individual's number could change in the course of the war. For example, a soldier who was wounded at Gallipoli, sent back to Australia in 1915 and discharged, might have reenlisted in 1916, at which time he would normally have been issued with a new number. Units could often change, especially with the Light Horse, much of which after 1915 was converted into other arms. Privates were sometimes promoted to non-commissioned rank, and the Nominal Roll provides the only comprehensive listing of such promotions.

Go to the Nominal Rolls website.

Promotions

Details of promotions at the commissioned level are drawn from the Army Lists, and include the date of promotion. No such consolidated list exists for non-commissioned officers: minimal details are drawn from the Nominal Roll, supplemented in some cases by information from the Roll of Honour circulars (see below).

Roll of Honour circulars

In the 1920s and early 1930s questionnaires were sent to the next of kin of those members of the AIF who had died during the war or whose death up to the end of 1921 was deemed to be the result of war service. Information was sought partly for the writing of the official history under the direction of C.E.W. Bean and also for the drawing up of the official Roll of Honour, the bronze tablets of which now line the colonnades of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Inevitably not all the forms were returned: next of kin had died or could not be traced, in which case the Records Section filled in what details it could from the individual's AIF dossier. These entries, written in a distinctive clerical script, do not contain much of the background information that was sought, but they usually list in outline form the movements and any promotions (at officer or NCO rank), together with the appropriate dates, which in the case of NCOs could only be obtained otherwise from the individual's dossier, since promotions at non-commissioned level were not centrally recorded in, for example, the Army List.

The quality of the forms that were returned varies enormously. Questions, such as 'Place where killed or wounded', are often unanswered, or left with the poignant comment 'I have never been told and would dearly like to know', or answered incorrectly: 'Battle of Messines, France' instead of 'Messines, Belgium'. Where the answer is simply given as 'France', this is recorded, but is open to correction. Where a place and country is given (Messines, France), this is corrected before being entered on the database. 'What was his calling' produces a range of responses, from the expected statement of occupation to 'King and Country', and even 'John Smith'. The request for additional biographical details that might have been of interest to the official historian brought enormous amounts of information, from accounts of pre-war achievements to wartime acts of bravery, often accompanied by letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs. The request for details of relatives killed or who distinguished themselves in the AIF usually brought a much less selective response: records of relations who served in the Napoleonic and Crimean wars, and lists of brothers, uncles, cousins and brothers-in-law who served in the AIF, whether or not they fitted into the criteria specified on the form. These details of relatives enable us to cross reference extended family networks, as does the computer generated identification of brothers, fathers and sons from the Embarkation Rolls.

Go to the Roll of Honour circulars website.

First to Fall

See details of the 58 men from the 11th Battalion who were killed in action on 25th April, 1915.