SERVICE NO: 7340
YEAR OF BIRTH: 1892
PLACE OF BIRTH: Tarnagulla
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 4 February 1916
PLACE OF ENLISTMENT: Melbourne
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 24
UNIT: 23rd Battalion (late 7th Battalion, 24th Reinforcement)
EMBARKED: 19 February 1917
TROOP SHIP: HMAT A70 Ballarat
FATE: Died of Wounds – 1 October 1917 – Belgium
Clifford Williams was born at Tarnagulla in 1892 to William Williams and Laura Heyward. William Williams was a teacher at Simpsons Creek. Clifford attended Wesley College in Melbourne from 1906 where he a member of the college senior cadets. While Clifford was at Wesley College, his parents moved to Bacchus Marsh where William Williams was head teacher at the Bacchus Marsh State School. On completion of his studies at Wesley College, Clifford won a scholarship to Zercho’s Business College. He then started work for New Zealand Loans Mercantile Agency Co. Ltd.
Displaying officer potential, on enlistment on 4 February 1916, Clifford was sent to non-commissioned officer school first at Geelong, then Duntroon. By then, he was one of four nephews of Robert Ernest Williams, the commandment of the military forces in Victoria during WW1, to enlist. In April 1916, Clifford’s parents moved to Hamilton with William Williams taking up the role of headmaster of the Hamilton State School. Their home was in French Street. Although qualifying for a commission while at Duntroon, to go overseas, Clifford had to relinquish his stripes and go as a Private. By that time it was 19 February 1917 and Clifford sailed with the 7th Battalion aboard the HMAT A70 Ballarat.
Clifford was promoted to Sergeant for the voyage only. The photo above was taken at Port Melbourne prior to the Ballarat’s departure. Six sergeants are in the photo and six sergeants were on board the Ballarat, so it is likely Clifford was among the group. Once aboard the Ballarat, he and others who had followed the same path from enlistment were tagged the “Duntroon Sergeants”. They were the brunt of much mirth during the voyage and a satirical magazine, the Ballarat Beacon, was published during the voyage with many “shots” fired at the “Duntroon Sergeants”.
The HMAT Ballarat was torpedoed by a submarine on 25 April 1917 in the English Channel and once safe, Clifford wrote a letter home to his parents about the incident. It was published in The Bacchus Marsh Express of 14 July 1917. You can read the full letter here.
After making it to shore at Plymouth, the 7th Battalion was fed and given a bed for the night before setting off for Salisbury the following day. There, Clifford was given the opportunity to stay in England with a nomination for a military cadetship at Oxford. But Clifford was keen to go ahead to France and he arrived on 31 August 1917. He left for the field to join the 23rd Battalion, arriving on 8 September near Arques, France. On 13 September, the 23rd Battalion moved across the border to Belgium.
On 20 September, the 23rd Battalion was part of the attack on Menin Road. It was in the days after, on 27 September, Clifford wrote home to his parents. He told them he had spent the previous four nights without sleep and he had the task of writing to the mother of one of the men from his battalion killed during the recent battle. While writing, Clifford said the sun was shining and the boys were playing cricket to the accompaniment of big guns booming in the distance. He said he would be back at the front line again in a few days.
Clifford was right. On 1 October 1917, he was in a front line trench at Broodseinde Ridge. A shell hit the trench, wounding and burying Clifford. He was dug out but was found to have severe stomach wounds. Clifford was stretchered to the dressing station but died on the way and was buried nearby. A makeshift cross was placed on his grave. He had been in the field with the 23rd Battalion for only a month. In the days after William and Laura Williams heard the news of Clifford’s death, they received letters from a cheerful Clifford, written on 27 September 1917.
Clifford Williams was remembered in Hamilton on the Hamilton War Memorial and with a tree planted along Hamilton’s Anzac Avenue. Also, a tree was planted along the Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour for Clifford and his name is on the Bacchus Marsh Church of England and Holy Trinity Honour Board and the Bacchus Marsh Shire Honour Roll.