Monday, April 13, 2015

Alfred Driscoll - A Hero of the Dardenelles

As the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 approaches, we are being encouraged to listen to the personal stories of our ANZACS. This is so that we may be able to understand the sacrifices that they made in answering the call to serve their country, and to pay tribute to their fearlessness, mateship and courage that they displayed in battle.

My great-uncle, Alfred Driscoll (Alf), is our family ANZAC hero. Here is his story.

Alfred Driscoll c 1914
taken from a family photo album

Alfred Alphonsus Driscoll was born in 1882 at Copeland, New South Wales. He was the the fifth child and first son of John and Jane Mary Driscoll.

He was a very adventurous young man who would have a go at almost anything. 

At 17 years of age he went to sea on a sailing ship. His parents were not in favour of this because of the danger, but subsequently allowed him to go when the captain of the ship, a family friend, promised that his wife who was accompanying him would keep an eye on Alf. He joined the ship as a cabin boy. According to my grandmother, Ethel Burns (nee Driscoll), the ship's master said Alf was fearless and very brave. Evidence of Alf's sea journeys around the world survives in the form of several postcards from various places in America, that Alf posted to his sister, Ethel. The postcards were postmarked in both San Francisco and Washington State, over the period July 1905 to October 1906. Prior to this Alf had been in Mexico.

Alf also joined the Irish Rifles of NSW, for a period of 12 months service. The Irish rifles was a military volunteer movement active in New South Wales between 1895 and 1912.
Alf married Mary Madden in Sydney in 1910. Mary was a Tasmanian and was a little older than her husband. During their short married life, they did not have any children. They resided at 438 William Street, West Melbourne. 


With the outbreak of war, Alf lost no time in enlisting. He signed up on 27 October 1914, at the age of 32 years. He was allotted army number 614 and the rank of trooper in the 8th Light Horse Regiment from Victoria. He was a labourer in the Victorian Railways at the time of his enlistment.

Here below are copies of his enlistment papers which show Alf's personal details including his very definitive copperplate signature.

It is interesting to note that the form does not ask for a specific birthdate.

Alf Driscoll's Enlistment form -page 1.
 Source National Archives of Australia
Alf Driscoll's Enlistment form - page 2
Source National Archives of Australia

Alf Driscoll's Enlistment form - page 3
. Source National Archives of Australia
The 8th Light Horse Regiment was formed as part of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade, 3rd contingent and was attached to the Australian Division. It was made up of from  the 3rd Military District (Victoria), and was established at Broadmeadows Training  Camp to the north of Melbourne.

Alf embarked at Melbourne and sailed for the Midle East with the 2nd Reinforcements, 8th Light Horse Regiment, per H.M.A.T. "Armadale" on the 12th February 1915. 

The regiment sailed to Egypt via the ports of Fremantle, Colombo, Aden and Suez and disembarked in March 1915. According to Alf's service record, he went ashore at Colombo without permission (on 19 March) and was given seven days detention.

As the use of horses was not practical in the Gallipoli terrain, the Light Horse Brigade  was dismounted in Egypt and the troops were sent to Gallipoli to operate as infantry. The 8th Light Horse Regiment landed at Gallipoli on 20 May 1915. It was deployed primarily on defensive activities at Russell's Top and Rhododendron Spur.
[8th Light Horse Regiment AIF Outline]*.

Alf Driscoll was killed in action at Gallipoli in the early hours of Saturday 7 August 1915, in the battle of The Nek. 

Alf Driscoll's Service Record..Source National Archives of Australia

This battle was part of the Allied August offensive at Gallipoli which had as its aim the capturing of the high ground of the Sari Bair range and the linking the ANZAC front with a new landing to the north at Suvla Bay.

The Nek was a narrow ridge on the Gallipolli peninsula connecting the ANZAC trenches on Russell's Top to the knoll known as "Baby 700". Turkish defences had been entrenched across the Nek since April 1915.

The plan was for the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, made up of the 8th and 10th Light Horse  Regiments to attack the Nek in the early hours of 7 August, in four charges each of 150 men (as there was no room for more at one time) following each other at several minutes' interval. 

But the logistics of the battle went terribly wrong. Due to an error in timing and bad communication, a tragedy ensued at the Nek.

The official war historian, C.E.W. Bean, in his book entitled "Anzac To Amiens" **, described the battle of the Nek as seeing some of the most concentrated fire that the Australian infantry had to face in the War.

The first line of the 8th Light Horse Regiment went over the parapets at 4.30am. to be met iinstantly by a hail of Turkish machine gun and rifle fire. According to Bean, "The Australian line, now charging, was seen suddenly to grow limp, and then, sink to the earth as though (said an eye-witness) 'The men's limbs had become string'. " [Anzac to Amiens, Chapter X, p155].       

The second line of the 8th charged at 4.33am to be met with the same fate. Out of  the  total 300 men of the 8th Light Horse regiment, there were 234 casualities in a matter of minutes- 154 dead including 12 officers and 142 men; and 4 officers and 76 wounded.

The battle was eventually halted but not before the 10th Light Horse Regiment began their charge at 4.45am resulting in 138 causalities  - 80 dead including 7 officers and 73 men; and 2 officers and 56 men wounded.

Again to quote Bean:
"The flower of the youth of Victoria and Western Australia fell in that attempt." [Anzac to Amiens, Chapter X, p156]       
The story of the Battle of the Nek is also the subject of Peter Weir's 1982 film Gallipoli. 


In the aftermath of Alf's death came the poignant personal tributes and everyday matters that had to be attended to.

On 28 August 1915, Alf's father, John Driscoll had written to the Officer in Charge, Base Records, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, seeking information about his son.

Letter of John Driscoll dated 28 August 1915,
Source National Archives of Australia
Letter of reply to John Driscoll, dated  5 September 1915
Source National Archives of Australia

He received an official reply to his letter on 5th September 1915 confirming Alf's death.

In the meantime, both Alf's widow, Mary, who was now living in Tasmania, and John Driscoll had received telegrams on Monday 30 August informing them that Alf had been killed in action at Gallipoli on 7 August.

The following articles appeared in the Sydney and Tasmanian newspapers during the  next week. 

In the Sydney Morning Herald of Wednesday, 1 September 1915 under the heading "Heros of the Dardenelles" Alf's photo was published. [SMH Wednesday 1 September 1915 p7]

Photo of Alf Driscoll (fourth row, fourth form left).
The following notice appeared on page 12 under the heading "Men of the Dardenelles".

Trooper A.A. Driscoll
 "Mr. John Driscoll, of 116 Liverpool-street, Paddington, received a cable on Monday last, intimating that his eldest son, Alfred A Driscoll, was killed in action in the Dardenelles on August 7. Trooper   Driscoll was a native of Copeland, in the North Coast District, and 31 years of age. At the time of enlisting he was employed in the Victorian Railway service. He joined the 8th Victorian Light Horse, and left Melbourne with the Third Brigade in February last. His parents last heard from him in July last, when he stated he was in Heliopolis, and in perfect health. He leaves a widow, but no family."

And in the Tasmanian press:

Killed in Action
"News was received by cable yesterday by Mrs. Driscoll (sister of Miss K Madden of Wynyard), that  her husband, Private Alfred Driscoll, had been killed in  action  at  the  Dardenelles. The message conveyed to Mrs.Driscoll the deepest regret and sympathy of Their Majesties the King and Queen and the Commonwealth Government, as well as the State Commandant, on the loss  sustained  by them and the army. Private Driscoll enlisted in Melbourne (Vic), and left for the front in February last. He had previously been in the Irish rifles, and was a native of Sydney, N.S.W. where his parents reside."
[North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Tuesday 31 August 1915, p3]

Family Notices
"DRISCOLL - Killed in action at Gallipoli, on August 7, Alfred Alphonsus Driscoll, the  beloved husband of Mary Driscoll (nee Madden, of Wynyard), and eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. John Driscoll, of Paddington, Sydney, aged 35 years
                                           Greater love than this no Man hath.
                                                 May his soul rest in peace.

A SOLEMN REQUIEM MASS will be celebrated in the Catholic Church, Wynyard, on Friday, 
     at  9 o'clock, for the repose of the soul of
Who gave his life for his country at Gallipoli on August 7."

[North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, Wednesday 1 September 1915 p2   


Alf Driscoll has no known grave. It is likely that his remains are buried in The Nek Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery located near Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This cemetery was constructed in 1919 on the site of the battle of the Nek, when the ground was still covered with the remains of the 8th and 10th Light Horse troopers. 

The Nek Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Gallipoli

Alf's name is commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli. Also his name is located at Panel 6 in the Commemorative Area of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra ACT; and in the daily Book of Remembrance at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, Victoria.

Lone Pine Memorial Gallipoli Peninsula.
Photo taken by Brendan Smith, September 2014

Alf' Driscoll's name on the Lone Pine Memorial. 
Photo taken by Brendan Smith, September 2014

Alf Driscoll's name on the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, ACT

Alf Driscoll's name in the Book of Remembrance at the
Shrine of  Remembrance, Melbourne, Victoria.
 Photo taken September 1992

Medals issued for Alf's war service are shown in the photo below. They are:

1914-15 Star - a campaign medal of the British Empire awarded to officers and men of the British and Imperial forces who served in any theatre of war against the Central European Powers during 1914 and 1915.

1914-1915 Star

1914-15 Star inscribed
Pte. A Driscoll
8L./.H.Regt. A.I.F.

British War Medal a campaign medal of the British Empire awarded to officers and men of the British and Imperial forces for service in World War I.


    Victory Medal - a World War I campaign medal of Britain and her then dominions (eg Canada, Australia, New Zealand)

    The medals were awarded as a threesome and not singly.

    Service medals in the First World War were inscribed with the recipient's name. This practice did not continue in the Second World War.

    Alf's 1914-1915 Star is inscribed on the back of the medal as shown in the above photo. His British War Medal and the Victory Medal have his name inscribed around the rim

    Memorial Plaque

    One further momento is an impressive Memorial Plaque presented to next-of-kin of all servicemen killed in action the First World War. 

     Vale Alf Driscoll

         At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember you. 
    Lest We Forget

    * Australian Light Studies Centre, 8th Light Horse Regiment AIF Outline, 11 October 2009

    **C E W Bean, Anzac to Amiens (1983 reprint). Chapter X. The Climax of Anzac 

    All documents are sourced from Service Records World War I  webpage of the National Archives of Australia

    All newspapers articles are source from Trove's  newspaper  collection  which  includes digitised historic and modern newspapers which are accessible on line, as well as newspapers in microform and paper formats. Go to the website:

    Blog prepared and written by Kevin (grand nephew of Alf) and Mary McGuinness, 
    April 2015.

    If you are interested in researching Australian history go to our website at :

    1 comment:

    1. I enjoyed reading this blog about my Great, great uncle - a timely piece read after my family visited the War Memorial and found Alf's name on the Wall of Rememberance. Lest we Forget