Jack's Day fundraising badge : Major General W Holmes, 4 Division, AIF

Place Oceania: Australia
Accession Number RELAWM16180.002
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Badge
Physical description Enamel, Silver-plated brass
Maker Unknown
Date made c 1915-1917
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

A small silver-plated brass badge, containing an anchor surrounded by a wreath and surmounted by the King's Crown. An eyelet has been cast above the crown and has had a stick pin attached. Under the wreath is a blue enamelled scroll, containing the words 'JACK'S DAY'.

History / Summary

Associated with the service of Major General William Holmes CMG, DSO, VD. Holmes was born on 12 September 1862 in Sydney to Captain William Holmes, who at the time was chief clerk at New South Wales Military Forces Headquarters, and his wife Jane.

Holmes grew up in Victoria Barracks, Sydney and was educated at Paddington Public School and following this, at night school. He showed a natural talent for soldiering, having joined the 1st Infantry Regiment, NSW Military Forces as a bugler at the age of 10.

Holmes wanted to become a full-time soldier, but his father believed there were better opportunities in the NSW public service. He remained a citizen soldier but, following the advice of his father, gained employment at the Sydney Mint before joining the Department of Public Works in 1878 as a clerk.

Holmes married Susan Ellen Green, whom he had met while growing up at Victoria Barracks, on 24 August 1887. Green’s father was also in the military and had lived at Victoria Barracks with his family. The pair were married at St Mathias Church, Paddington. Their daughter Dorothy Mabel was born in 1891 and son Basil the following year.

In April 1888, Holmes was appointed as chief clerk and paymaster of the newly formed Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage, Sydney. In 1895, he was appointed sectretary and chief clerk.

During this time, Holmes continued his military service and was comissioned with the rank of second lieutenant in 1886. He was promoted lieutenant in 1890, then captain in 1894. When the war in South Africa began in 1899, Holmes volunteered for service with the NSW Infantry contingent. He accepted a position as a lieutenant so that he could serve.

On arrival in South Africa, the unit was issued with horses and as E Squadron, 1 NSW Mounted Rifles became part of the Australian Mounted Infantry Regiment. Holmes was promoted captain and took command of the NSW squadron.

Holmes saw action at Colesberg and Pretoria and was wounded at Diamond Hill in 1900. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in despatches for his leadership and bravery under fire. Holmes was promoted major in 1900 and then brevet lieutenant colonel and his actions were reported in Australian newspapers.

He was invalided back to Australia in August 1900 and returned to his civillian occupation. He led the returned soldiers in the Federation procession in Sydney in January 1901. Holmes took command of the 1st Australian Infantry Regiment in 1902 remaining in command until 1911, when he was promoted to colonel and sent to command 6 Infantry Brigade. His wife, Ellen, passed away in 1912.

When the First World War was declared in August 1914, Holmes was chosen to command the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF). In only 10 days he managed to recruit and equip a battalion of infantry, to which 500 Naval reservists would later be added, and embarked with them from Sydney aboard HMAT A35 Berrima on 19 August.

When the Berrima passed the coast of Queensland, Holmes was advised of his mission. He was instructed to sieze all German wireless telegraph stations and to occupy German territory and set up temporary administration there.

After the ANMEF’s initial landings at Kabakaul on 11 September, Holmes took the surrender of the German territories at Rabaul the next day. He caused a mild controversy when he had four German colonists flogged for their assault on a British missionary. In early January 1915, he handed over command of the ANMEF, returning to Australia with the initial force aboard SS Eastern.

Holmes was discharged from the ANMEF in February and was promoted to brigadier general and appointed to command 5 Brigade in March. He embarked with the brigade in May and after a brief time in Egypt, landed at Gallipoli in August. Holmes commanded the Russell’s Top – Monash Valley area from September and was temporarily in command of 2 Division during the evacuation of Gallipoli in December.

Following the evacuation, Holmes resumed command of 5 Brigade and in April 1916 took his brigade to France. Holmes led 5 Brigade through the heavy fighting at Pozieres, for which he was created a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, and later in the year at Flers. In January 1917, he was promoted to major general and sent to command the 4th Australian Division.

He led the division during the disasterous battle for Bullecourt in April and in June during the battle for Messines, which was his greatest triumph. On 2 July, Holmes was escorting the NSW Premier William Holman on a tour behind the Messines battlefield when a German shell exploded nearby, mortally wounding Holmes.

He was rushed to a nearby aid station, but died of his wounds on the way. Holmes was buried with full military honours at Les Trois Arbes Cemetery, near Armentieres.