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Sylvester Brassil (1896-1951)

Citation

“Sylvester Brassil (1896-1951),” Wyndham History, accessed June 29, 2017, http://wyndhamhistory.net.au/items/show/2165.
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Title

Sylvester Brassil (1896-1951)

Subject

Brassil, Sylvester

Publisher

Wyndham City Libraries

Date

1915

Contributor

Bill Strong

Format

text

Language

eng

Type

Text

Biographical Text

No. 823  Private Sylvester Brassil

Sylvester Brassil was born at Werribee to Mr John Brassil and Amelia Barrett in 1896.  They had married at Emerald Hill in Melbourne in 1889, and had five children:

  • Patrick Brassil - born 1890 at Werribee
  • John (Jack) Brassil - born 1891 at Werribee
  • Margaret Brassil - born 1893 at Werribee
  • Sylvester Brassil - born 1896 at Werribee
  • Agnes Mary Brassil - born 1897 at Werribee

Amelia Brassil also had two children with Mr Ernest Ord:

  • Leonard Brassil - born1906 at Werribee
  • Gregory Brassil - born1908 at Werribee

In 1903, Mr John Brassil was in the Werribee Police Court for neglecting to send his children to school for the required number of days.  Bacchus Marsh Express, 2 May 1903, p.3.

Mr John Brassil, Sylvester’s father, seems to have died, or left Werribee towards the end of 1903.  In 1904, a concert for the family of the late John Brassil was held in the Mechanic's Institute at Werribee and raised £16. Bacchus Marsh Express, 15 October 1904, p.3.   There are no registered deaths or burials for anyone named Brassil around this time.

Pre War

Up until 1912, Mrs Brassil and her family lived in Deutgam Street Werribee, until their house was sold. Werribee Shire Banner, 4 April 1912, p.2.

The Electoral Rolls between 1915 and 1924 then record that Mrs Brassil and her children lived at Mambourin Street in Werribee.

Sylvester’s mother then had a relationship with Mr Ernest Ord in Werribee, and they had two children together.  Between the years of 1915 and 1937, the Electoral Rolls show that Ernest Alfred Ord's address was at the Metropolitan Farm in Werribee, where he was a labourer.

Prior to enlisting in the A.I.F., Sylvester was exposed to the military when he served for nine months with the Werribee Senior Cadets.  Werribee hosted "D" Company of the 69th Battalion Senior Cadets, and their C.O. was Captain Whitehead.

Then at the age of 19 years and 9 months, Sylvester applied to enlist in the A.I.F. on 5 July 1915, and was accepted.  Perhaps this was an opportunity to leave the district and start a new life.

His mother and step father, Mr Ernest Ord both gave written permission for him to enlist and serve overseas.

War Service

Sylvester Brassil swore his oath at Melbourne on 9 July 1915 and was sent to the Broadmeadows camp for basic training. This was completed on 27 October 1915, and he was then appointed as a Private with the 31st Battalion, who were based at the Flemington Depot.

Aged just 20 years, No. 823, Private Brassol [typo on the Embarkation Roll] embarked from Port Melbourne per HMAT Wandilla A62, with the 8th Infantry Brigade's 31st Infantry Battalion, "D" Company on 9 November 1915.  After a two-day stop at Freemantle, they crossed the Indian Ocean and disembarked at Suez on 7 December 1915.

Their first camp in Egypt was at Zieton, before they moved to Serapeum on the Suez Canal.  All of January 1916 was spent guarding the canal around the Great Bitter Lake, and in late February the 31st Battalion relocated to Tel-el-Kebir.

On 15 March 1916, four officers and 100 men were transferred to the 5th Division.  As part of this move, Private Brassil was taken on strength with the 5th Division Signal Company at Tel-el-Kabir, and reclassified as a Sapper and then as a Driver.

Filling vacancies and training in basic signal work occupied most of March 1916, and on 25 March, two officers and 52 other ranks marched out to Ferry Post where they took over the Signal Office from the N.Z. Signal Company.

The Unit War Diary for March 1916 contains the full Nominal Roll at the Ferry Post Signal Office, and "823, Driver Brassil S." is included.  He was formally appointed as a Driver on 1 April 1916.  Also on the roll was "3647 Sapper Grigg W A", also from Werribee.

All of April 1916, was spent at Ferry Post, maintaining equipment and receiving signal training. Then in early May, the Company relocated to Moascar and took over the Signal Office there.

They provided signal services there until 16 June, when the Signal Company moved to Alexandria by train as the first step of their move to the Western Front.  At the port they embarked onto H.M.T. Manitour, and she sailed for Marseilles on the afternoon of 18 June 1916.  During the voyage, a mine laying ship accompanied them.  After one weeks sailing, they arrived at Marseilles, and began disembarking before their move to Northern France.

After a three day train trip, they arrived at their first base at Blaringhem (in the Nord department in northern France), where they took over the Signal Office, and arranged phone lines to the Brigade positions.

On 1 July 1916, the Company began making arrangements for the new carrier pigeon service, which was to be included as part of their role.  They then received three new motor cyclists, and their 61 horses arrived on site.

Signal Companies were always on the move, and by 14 July 1916, they had relocated to Croix de Bac, and taken over the Signal Office there.  A lot of their work included burying signal cables under the cover of darkness. Cables were usually buried six or seven feet deep for protection against enemy shelling.

Carrier pigeons from the Signal Company were used with great success during artillery action at Sailly, on 19 July 1916.  Their average flight time back to their loft being 17 minutes, but their use was limited to daylight operations.  The 15 motor cycles were also "...taxed to their utmost...", delivering "priority" despatches between Divisions and headquarters.  On just one day, 505 sealed packets were hand delivered, 228 messages were sent, and 298 messages were received over the telegraph wires.

After the operation had concluded, work was resumed on the burying of signal cables, retrieving disused cables, and selected men were sent for training at Wireless School.

The Nominal Roll at Sailly, (included in the Company’s War Diary for July 1916), includes No 823, Driver Brassil S. and No. 3647, Sapper Grigg W.A.  The war diary also has diagrams of the extensive cable network that their company were supporting.

During the break in fighting, Driver Brassil was able to take a furlough in England between 23 July and 5 August 1917.

Horses and mules played a large role in the signal company. They hauled the heavy cable wagons, and were also used to deliver messages.  In August 1916, all of the animals were inoculated.  Two reacted badly, and were later shot.

In October 1916, the company handed over the Signal Office at Sailly to the N.Z. Division Signal Company, and relocated to Fricourt in the Somme department, in Picardie, northern France.  There they took over the Signal Office from 30th Division Signal Company.  One week later, ten Troopers from the 13th Australian Light Horse reported for duty, to relieve members of the Irish Horse, who had been attached as Mounted Orderlies.  The Mounted Orderlies and the motor cycles both carried despatches on nominated routes each day.

The company next relocated in early November 1916.  They took over the Signal Office in Ribemont on 6 November 1916, and the Signal Office at Vignacourt on the following day.  After several weeks they moved again, this time to Bernafay Wood, where they took over the Office and Communications from the Guard’s Division.  They remained there until 23 December 1916, when they moved back to Ribemont.

January 1917 saw the Company relocate to Vignacort, where they took over the Signal Office from the 4th Australian Division Signal Company.  Number 2 Section were attached to the 8th Infantry Brigade at Rainneville, Number 3 Section were attached to the 14th Infantry Brigade at Franvilliers, and Number 4 Section were attached to the 15th Infantry Brigade at Ribemont.  At the end of the month, the company moved again, and took over the Signal Office at Bernafay Wood.  Here they concentrated on burying cables, and many men were injured when they struck unexploded bombs.

The retreat of the enemy, and subsequent advance by the allied troops caused problems for the company in March 1917. Long sections of new cable had to be laid and maintained, and what was once their front lines were now their back area.  The cable laying wagons were used heavily, and abandoned enemy cables were also utilised by the Company.

At the beginning of April 1917, the Company sections were distributed as follows:

  • No 2 Section was with the 8th Infantry Battalion at Bapaume, and later moved to Fremicourt,
  • No 3 Section was with the 14th Infantry Battalion at Thilloy, and
  • No 4 Section was with the 15th Infantry Battalion at Lucerie near Le Transloy.

On 21 April 1917, the Company handed over the Signal Office at Beaulencourt to the 11th Imperial Division, and moved the H.Q. and No 1 Section to "The Dingle" near Contalmaison for rest.  While here, all members of the Company were given the opportunity to vote in the Commonwealth Elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In May 1917, while the Division were resting, the Signal Company participated in a two day Athletic and Horse Show, and according to the Unit’s Diary, they "...participated in the prize money".

The Company rest break ended on 10 May 1917, when they moved to Monument Commemorative. From 7 to 26 May 1917, the 5th Australian Division was "in the line".  The Signal Company experienced difficulty in maintaining forward communications due to very heavy enemy shellfire, but their deeply buried cable network between Division and Brigade positions performed very well.  It was only cut once by shell fire.

The phone links between Brigade and the Battalions were continually being cut, and on 21 May 1917, all forward lines were cut.  Some lines having up to 12 individual breaks in them.

On 13 May 1917, the Brigade Signal Office received a direct hit and was completely destroyed, and many injuries were sustained.  With assistance from the 58th Division Signal Company, the office was able to be rebuilt very quickly.

Company motor cycle despatch riders were used successfully during this action, carrying despatches between the front and the rear. A carrier pigeon service was also established on the front line, but they only carried test messages when they had to be released.  

At the conclusion of this action, two men from the Signal Company were awarded Military Medals, five members were mentioned in despatches and one man was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Between 1 and 17 June 1917, the Signal Company were in reserve with the Division at Bancourt.  Here they re-equipped, and continued operating training courses.  One exercise involved working with Aeroplane Contact patrols, in co-operation with Signal Services, during Infantry attacks.  Nine Wireless Operators and their equipment were taken on strength. Then on 17 June 1917, the Signal Company, with the Division Artillery H.Q., and the French Artillery Brigade, moved to the training area at Rubemare.

On 5 July 1917, an Assault at Arms Competition was held at Henencourt Wood, between sections of the 5th Division Signal Company.  It was to celebrate the visit by King George V, and comprised of rapid communication exercises using various methods of communication; Lucas Lamps, Semaphore, Buzzers, Vibrators and Despatch Riders.

In mid-July 1917, the Signal Company began relocating to Bleringhem in Belgium. The No 2 Section was with the 8th Infantry Brigade at Racquingham,

The No 3 Section was with the 14th Infantry Brigade at Eblingham, and

The No 4 Section was with the 15th Infantry Brigade at the Chateau between Wallen Chapel and Sercus.

They remained there until the middle of September 1917, when the No 2, 3.and 4 Sections travelled to Steenvorde with the 8th, 14th and 15th Brigades.

The Signal Company moved to Dickebusch (Walkers Camp) on 23 September 1917, and active operations commenced on the 26th September 1917.  This included fighting around Polygon Wood.  At the conclusion of the battle, 11 men from the Signal Company were recommended for awards.

On 9 October 1917, preparations began for the Company’s next move; to the Ypres Sector.  At this time no offensive action was taken by the Division and they came under heavy attack.  The priority work was burying and maintaining signal cables in their sector.  This work was done under heavy enemy shell fire, and many of the men were recommended for awards for their courage and dedication.

In November 1917, the Company moved to Bailleul, and began improving the communications network there.

On 1 December 1917, the whole Division with Artillery units were holding a section of the line extending from the La Douve River, north to the Ypres-Comines Canal.

Number 1 sub-section was attached to the 13th Australian Field Artillery Brigade at Regents Dugouts.

Number 2 sub-section was attached to the 14th Australian Field Artillery Brigade forward of Wulverghem.

Number 2 Section were attached to the 8th Infantry Brigade at Midland Farm.

Number 3 Section were attached to the 14th Infantry Brigade, in reserve at Kemmel

Number 4 Section were attached to the 15th Infantry Brigade forward of Mount Kemmel.

They remained in these positions until 11 December 1917, when they withdrew to the rest area at Samer.  The weather at this time was extremely cold, and the motor cyclists were restricted to the main roads, due to the deep snow.  They had to rely on runners to meet them and continue on overland, in order to complete their rounds.

A Nominal Roll of the Company was published at this time, and Driver S. Brassil appears as a Driver with the No1 Section, of the No 1 Cable Section.  During the same month, men from the Company were able to vote in the Australian Conscription Referendum, which took place on 11 December 1917.

Then in the middle of January 1918, the Company moved back into the Messines sector of the line, and remained there until the end of March.  Conditions were severe, and they had to cope with the cold and snow.  Due to the ice on the roads, modified chains had to be designed and fitted to the wheels of the motor cycle despatch rider's machines.  It was so cold that the drive belts to the wheels would slip, and a solution to that problem was also found.

The buried cable network was still the most reliable means for communications within the division.  Wireless Stations continually sent messages back from Company Headquarters in the front line to Divisional H.Q. Visual connection between all units was an essential backup in case if equipment failure.  It was used exclusively for several hours on selected days, but for obvious reasons, only in one direction.

The signal Company remained in the line until the end of March 1918, when they relocated to the area around Vauchelles. During their short stay there they were under orders to be ready to move out with one hours’ notice. On 4 April 1918, the Division received orders to move to the Blangy Tronville area. Once there, the Signal Office set up a new office in the Tronville Chateau, and began installing a new network of cables.  This was made up of over 200 miles of cable.

April 1918 was not a good month for Driver Brassil.  He and a fellow Driver were charged with being drunk while on Active Service, on 10 April 1918.  At a hearing of the charge they were both awarded a loss of seven days Field Pay No.2.  At the time of the incident there were a lot of movements and relocations of allied forces occurring in the area around Tronville Chateau and Bussy-les-Daors, which would have required their services.

A Company Routine Order was issued in May 1918, forbidding men to use explosives to obtain fish from the River Somme. The bed of the river had been used for laying signal cables, and the explosions created by troops fishing were causing interruptions to service.

Driver Brassil faced another disciplinary hearing in May 1918 when he and two other Drivers was charged with being absent without leave between 9am and 5.30pm on 15 May 1918. Their punishments were three days loss of Field Pay No 2, each. The Signal Company at the time were providing communications to units in action around Ayer.

June 1918 was quiet with no major operations in their area. Over 200 men were engaged in the ongoing work of burying signal cables.  The Nominal Roll for the Signal Company shows that Driver S Brassil was with the Number 1 Section's Right Wing.  It comprised of 1 Lieut, 1 T/Sgt, 1 Sgt, 2 Cpls, 1 2/Cpl, 2 L/Cpl, 16 Sappers, and 12 Drivers.

During July 1918, all units remained in their previous positions. On 5 July, the Division was involved in a large successful raid and attack, and valuable ground was won from the enemy. Special Signal communications were provided in support of the operation.  Some messages were sent by rockets, and Carrier Pigeons were used in daylight hours.  The new "T" Popham Signalling Panel was also used to communicate with aircraft.

The enemy counter attacked on 9 July using Yellow Cross Gas (Mustard Gas), but they were unsuccessful.  In another operation on 28 July, important high ground in the enemy’s lines was captured.  The Signal Company again were able to provide excellent communications to the Brigades involved.

[This battle was a turning point of the war. General John Monash went on the offensive on 4 July 1918, using a change of tactics, in an effort to break the stalemate in the trench war. He introduced the Tank Advance - the Germans had very few tanks available - a close cooperation between troops on the ground with aircraft, and the Creeping Artillery Barrage, which allowed troops to advance behind a moving baggage of their own artillery fire.  Monash first tested his new ideas at the village of Hamel, near Villers Bretonneux.  Included in his force were four American Companies, and this was the first time that American troops had fought under a non-American leader.  In the Battle for Hamel, the 11th Brigade attacked the village of Hamel, the 4th Brigade attacked Pear Trench, and the 6th Brigade attacked the Vaire Wood.]

In August 1918, the four Australian Divisions began working together under one Australian Corps.  Their operations were successful and the enemy lost a lot of ground.  The fighting became more mobile and rapid, and this put a great strain on the Signal Services in their role of supporting the battalions. There was extensive pressure placed on the cable layers, while the visual signallers, despatch riders and runners were heavily relied on for their services.  In one instance a cable of 23,000 yards was run out to the 15th Australian Infantry Brigade.

On 8 August 1918, the Signal Company moved to the area around Bayonvillers, in preparation for a large attack on the enemy. The fighting began on the following day, and the enemy fell back quickly, leaving many items of their communication equipment behind. A large selection of these were later forwarded to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The Brigade moved out of the line on 10 August 1918, and the Signal Company began salvaging cables and repairing equipment.

In early September 1918, the Division was engaged in fighting on the Somme River and in St Denis Wood.  It was proposed to move the Brigade Headquarters across the Somme, which required that a signal cable be laid across the river. On 29 September 1918, the Australian Corps along with two American Divisions commenced operations against the Hindenburg Line.  This was the most important action that the Division had participated in, and required extensive preparation with regard to signal communications.

Driver Brassil did not participate in the early part of this campaign as he had been granted leave in England between 14 September and 2 October 1918.    

On 8 October 1918, the Australian Corps were moved out of the line, and went to the rest area Oisemont in Northern France.  Here they undertook the usual overhauling and cleaning duties of their signalling equipment and their personal clothing

One week after returning from England, Driver Brassil reported to Hospital as sick.  Apparently he had caught epididymitis (V.D.) while enjoying his break.  He was treated by the 15th Australian Field Ambulance and then transferred to the 3rd Australia General Hospital at Abbeville, France.

In his absence, the Signal Company were still in the resting area on 11 November 1918, when rumours of an Armistice began circulating.  These were confirmed in the afternoon when the church bells in Oisemont began ringing and the local residents put up bunting.  The unit's lorries were decorated, and one bore a sign saying Wanted, a reliable town mayor for Berlin.  Preparations were then made for a march by the Signal Company into Germany, but it never eventuated.  Instead, the Signal Company relocated to Favril after a trip lasting several days.

After 64 days of treatment in hospital, Driver Brassil was discharged to the 1st Australian Convalescent Depot at Le Havre, on 12 December 1918.  While at the base, he took 1½ hours of unauthorised leave on the night of 18 December, and for this, he was awarded five days loss of Field Pay.

Driver Brassil re-joined his unit on 8 January 1919, when they were at the Solre Le Chateau, preparing to disband.  The first step on his return home was when he passed through the Australian General Base Depot at Le Havre between 6 and 14 March 1919, before crossing to England.

Back in 'Blighty' he caught influenza, which required him to be admitted to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital (2AAH) at Southall in Middlesex, between 30 March and 5 April 1919.

On 8 May 1919, Driver Brassil embarked per HMT Devanha and sailed home.  He disembarked at Melbourne on 23 June 1919, and was discharged from the A.I.F.s 3.M.D. on 15 August 1919.

Post War

After returning to Werribee, Sylvester Brassil possibly returned to his mother's house.  Mrs Amelia Ord lived in Mambourin Street Werribee between 1915 and 1924, when she moved to Watton Street in Werribee.

At a welcome home ceremony held in the Werribee Mechanic's Institute on 6 July 1920, Sylvester Brassil was one of twenty returned personnel who were presented with Gold Medals by Mr G.T. Chirnside, on behalf of the Werribee Returned Soldiers' Committee. Werribee Shire Banner, 8 July 1920, p.3.

Sylvester applied for a Soldier Settlement Block at Werribee South, and this was approved on 20 February 1920.  He received a five-acre block in the Deutgam Allotment 12 (Section 12) which included a water right from the local irrigation scheme.  For an undisclosed reason Sylvester transferred the lease on his block to James Jermyn on 30 June 1927. Werribee Shire Banner, 26 February 1920, p.2.

He remained in the Werribee area until at least 1929, when he was charged in the Werribee Petty Sessions Court with riding his bicycle without a light on the Geelong Road. Werribee Shire Banner, 19 December 1929, p.7.

The Electoral Roll for 1931 records that Sylvester had moved away from Werribee, and was living with Millicent Muriel Brassil at 36 Cecil Street in Yarraville.  He was employed as a labourer.

They last appear in the 1937 Electoral Roll living at Green Street in Spotswood.  In the same year, Sylvester was charged in the local court with allowing his cow to wander.  Williamstown Chronicle, 28 August 1937, p.8.

By 1948 he had returned to Werribee, where he was charged in the local court.  Sylvester faced a series of serious charges including drunkenness, and assaulting a Police Officer on 4 July 1949.  In his defence, he stated that he could not remember anything that had happened. Werribee Shire Banner, 7 July 1949, p.2.

Sylvester Leonard (Sue) Brassil died on 16 December 1950. His brother Jack inserted a In Memoriam notice one year later, Werribee Shire Banner, 13 December 1951, p.2.

Sylvester Brassil is buried in an unmarked grave in the Roman Catholic section of the Werribee Cemetery.

Notes

The name "Brassil, S. of Werribee" first appeared in the Roll of Honor published in the Werribee Shire Banner, 9 September 1915, p.3.

The name "S. Brassil" appears on the State School Honor Board

Obituary of his mother – Mrs Amelia Ord – Werribee Shire Banner, 29 September 1938, p.5.

Two sections of the 31st Battalion were combined at the Broadmeadows Camp in early October 1915, and comprised of men from Brisbane and Melbourne. It was part of the 8th Brigade, and joined the newly raised 5th Australian Division in Egypt, before going to the Western Front.

Electoral Rolls

  • 1915 - 1924 Electoral Roll - Amelia Ord, Mambourine St, Werribee, H.D.
  • 1931 - 1937 Electoral Roll -  Amelia Ord, Watton St, Werribee, H.D.
  • 1915 - 1937 Electoral Roll Ernest Alfred Ord, Metropolitan Farm, labourer,

Medals & Entitlements:

  • 1914/15 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal

Bibliography

Battle for Hamel – The Last Fifty Miles by Adam Wakeling, Penguin/Viking.
Federation Index CD – 1889-1901
Edwardian Index CD – 1902-1913
Embarkation - https://www.awm.gov.au/people/rolls/
Unit War Diary - https://www.awm.gov.au/collection
Soldier Settlement Block - http://soldiersettlement.prov.vic.gov.au/?s=Brassil#viewmap
Service Record – http://www.naa.gov.au/

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