HEAD, William Walter James

NAME: William Walter James HEAD                                                        Poppy



PLACE OF BIRTH: Upper Ferntree Gully

DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 17 August 1914



UNIT:  7th Battalion, B Company

EMBARKED: 19 October 1914


FATE: Killed in Action-25 April 1915-Gallipoli

William Head, a son of Rowland Henry Head and Isabella Dinsdale, was born at Upper Ferntree Gully, south-east of Melbourne in 1894 and attended Upper Ferntree Gully State School. His older brother Rowland was working for the postal service, and William followed him, gaining employment at the Oakleigh Post Office. He also studied intermediate accountancy.

Around 1912, William received a promotion to the Hamilton Post Office (below).

He settled in the community by joining the Hamilton YMCA located half a block from the post office. He later sat the postal clerical examination, and in November 1912, received news he had passed. With that he left Hamilton, taking a transfer to a clerical position in the accounts department at the Melbourne General Post Office (GPO) below.

Melbourne GPO

MELBOURNE GPO c1912. Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/383800

Once in Melbourne, William joined the Citizen Forces at the 60th (Prince’s Hill) Infantry based out of a drill hall in Gratton Street, North Carlton, and received a promotion to the rank of Sergeant. War with Germany was declared and on Friday 14 August 1914, a Government notice in The Age announced volunteers were needed and applications would be received from members of the 60th Infantry. They were instructed to go to the drill hall in Gratton Street between 9.00 to 4.30 pm daily (with extended hours on five nights from 8.00 pm to 10.00 pm) and report to Lieutenant Adjutant Herbert Layh. Herbert Layh coincidentally was born in Hamilton.

William heard the call and made his way to the drill hall on Monday 17 August where Herbert Layh as the attesting officer, signed William’s papers. His medical was the following day and then he was off to camp at Broadmeadows. 

Once in camp, William rapidly received promoted to Corporal and in October, to Sergeant of B Company of the 7th Battalion. The battalion left Melbourne on 19 October and on arrival in Egypt, they set up camp at Mena (below).


7th BATTALION IN CAMP AT MENA, EGYPT. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C40494

In the early hours of 25 April 1915, the 7th Battalion was on the troopship Galeka, preparing for a landing at Gallipoli as part of a second wave.


GALLIPOLI PENISULLA 25 APRIL 1915. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C57142

Around 5.00 am, about 140 men from B Company boarded small boats and headed to shore. William Head was among them, as was Captain Herbert Layh. 

Gallipoli landing

TROOPS LEAVING A SHIP FOR THE LANDING BOATS, 25 APRIL 1915. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

They were instructed to land near Fisherman’s Hut on North Beach, to the left of the 3rd Brigade’s position and to the left of the photo below. They headed in that direction, but there had been a mistake with their instructions.

Anzac Cove

LOOKING TOWARDS ARI BURNU POINT. Image courtesy of the Australia War Memorial: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C194644 

The company was around 200 yards from shore when the enemy fire started. They continued forward but only thirty-eight men from B Company made it ashore. The others were dead or wounded in the boats. Once on the beach, those who remained took up a position near the Fisherman’s Hut. The barrage was too heavy to advance further, so they remained where they were and returned fire. The company’s lieutenant was wounded and Captain Layh had taken charge. Amid the barrage, there were brave attempts to retrieve the wounded men from the boats. A small boat eventually picked up the remaining men of B Company and took them along the coast to The Beach from where they proceeded to Shrapnel Gully. 

The rest of 7th Battalion followed B Company off the Galeka, landing further south at Gaba Tepe with further losses. The following day the 7th Battalion established a headquarters and there was an opportunity to take stock of the immense loss of the landing. Muster was called, but only seventy of its number came forward. The 7th Battalion Unit Diary told part of the story stating that after the landing “men and units of the battalion soon became mixed with units of other battalions.”. The rest were dead or wounded. A further thirty-five men were located the following day. On 2 May, William Head was listed as wounded. A tally on 22 May for the 7th Battalion found 535 men were killed, wounded or missing during the landing.

A cable sent to Rowland Head, then living in Mont Albert, on 15 June advised him William had received wounds but “not reported seriously. No further particulars available…”.  After an enquiry, William’s service record was updated on 15 August with “the only information is that he was wounded…Gallipoli Peninsula…25/04/1915”. Rowland Head received that news on 3 September. William’s family waited to hear news of his injuries, most likely assuming he was receiving hospital care, but on 13 October 1915, they learned that wasn’t the case. William died on 25 April.

Once they knew William was not coming home, the Head family at least wanted something to remember him, and enquires began as to the whereabouts of William’s belongings. A year after they heard of William’s death, the Head family had still not received his belongings and Rowland was becoming anxious about their whereabouts.

William Head

LETTER FROM ROWLAND HEAD, 6 NOVEMBER 1916. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia https://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/records/184204/27

Finally, in December 1916, William’s belongings returned home, but there was still so much unknown. Rowland made enquires as to William’s place of burial. On 23 June 1921, the brutal truth about William’s end came to light. It’s likely William was one of those killed or wounded on the boats before landing and retrieved by his fellow battalion members.  

William Head

RECORD OF BURIAL OF WILLIAM HEAD, 23 JUNE 1921. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia https://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/records/184204/37

Less than five months after that most recent news came through, William’s mother Isabella died suddenly at home at Mont Albert. She was sixty-one.  Rowland Head died in 1949 at Elsternwick.  

William was remembered in Hamilton on the YMCA Honour Roll.


Australian War Memorial – 7th Australian Infantry Battalion war diary

Australian War Memorial – Roll of Honour – William Walter James Head

Australian War Memorial – WW1 Embarkation Roll – William Walter James Head

Commonwealth War Graves Commission-Lone Pine Memorial, Gallipoli, Turkey-William Walter James Head

Discovering Anzacs – WW1 Service Record – William Walter James Head

Newspaper Articles from Trove – William Walter James Head

The AIF Project – William Walter James Head

The 7th Battalion AIF, Dean and Gutteridge, 1933