Lance Corporal David Boyle, 14th Battalion, 8 August 1915 – Hill 971

David Boyle was wounded and captured during the attack by Colonel Monash’s 4th Brigade on Hill 971 – during the final, desperate but unsuccessful battle for control of the commanding ridgeline at Gallipoli that commenced on 6 August 1915. It seems that Boyle was left behind in the disorderly retreat by the 4th Brigade from below Hill 971.

His mother Christina wrote an extraordinary letter to the Red Cross Australian Wounded & Missing Bureau in April 1918 – run by the wonderful Vera Deakin, daughter of Alfred Deakin, former Prime Minister of Australia.

Mrs Boyle commended the work of the Bureau, but like all mothers, she wanted to know what was happening to her boy – she feared he was going mad.

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Lance Corporal David William Boyle enlisted in the 14th Battalion on 10 August 1914, no 296. David Boyle was nearly 23, and worked with his father as a carpenter, also David Boyle, in Warrnambool.

He sailed from Australia on 22 December 1914, and disembarked at Alexandria on 2 February 1915.

The 14th landed at Gallipoli on the afternoon of 25 April.

Boyle’ 14th Battalion, part of the 4th Brigade, known as Jacka’s Mob – named for Albert Jacka who was awarded the VC for his action’s at Courtney’s Post on18/19 May.

The 4th Brigade’s task in the 6 August attacks on the Sari Bair ridgeline was to take Hill 971 – while the ‘feints’ at Lone Pine and Helles kept the Turks occupied. The New Zealanders were to (and did) seize Chunuk Bair, and the 4th Brigade the higher feature Hill 971

Harvey Broadbent writes that this attack ‘was as bitter an episode in Australian military history as that of the Nek, though for quite different reasons.’ (Gallipoli: The Fatal Shore, 2005, p 214)

Late into position because of the impossible and confounding terrain, the 14th and 15th Battalions suffered a ferocious Turkish attack at dawn. Thbe 15th lost400 men and nearly all its officers, while the  14th lost 2590 men and 8 officers..

Command had completely broken down, and when ordered to retreat the Australians broke and ran. Broadbent says that this is the only recorded instance of this happening at Gallipoli. Monash was absent from the frontline, and there was confusion and acrimony between the remaining officers of the two battalions.

‘The agonising scenes during the retreat, with the uncharacteristic abandonment by Australian soldiers of their dead and injured comrades, were a potent reminder of the extent of the demoralisation in the 4th Brigade.’ (Peter Pederson, Monash as Military Commander, 1985, p 112).

It appears that Boyle, wounded, was one of those left behind, and taken prisoner on 8 or 9 August.

He was a prisoner at Arion Kara Hissar 1917, acknowledging receipt of a Red Cross parcel and some money.

A letter from his mother Christina Boyle to the Red Cross Wounded & Missing Bureau is an extraordinary stream of consciousness – reproduced here as she wrote it.



Dear Miss Deakin,

I have just received a letter from my son who is in AIF in France   he tells me he as had the pleasure of meeting you & that you went to a great of trouble to give him all the information you possibly could about his brother    I need not go into details about my poor boy for I am sure he as told you all about him   Mr Boyle myself & family cannot express in words our gratitude for your kindness    we people in Australia cannot ever forget what the ladies in London  are doing for the dear Prisoners    may God bless them for their good work   deal   we mothers in Aust are far from our dear ones    now you will quite understand how dear to us are those who are doing all they can for them  Ive just received a letter from my dear boy  he say if he much longer at Ada Pagar he will be quite insane  his cards always cheerful till this one 24.12.17

Their Xmas dinner for 12 cost them £14 to £16 four geese cost £5 would it be asking too much to write him a note he does not receive many of my letters it may cheer him up   oh how dreadful to think he may become insane it will be 3 years next Aug my son says you love your work and give all your time doing deeds of love   he was sorry he called when your staff was off duty and nothing was too much trouble for you  I must again thank you for your kindness  how we watch the news from Turkey  we hoped he may be exchanged  do you think it possible I have 2 nephews in Germany prisoners my husband as 5 brothers in France 3 been wounded we only 2 son in laws one been killed the other been wounded been in hospital & would please excuse this long letter and accept our kindest regards

I remain yours sincerely

C Boyle

David Boyle did not go mad, and returned to Australia on 15 November 1918. He died in 1969.

The brother is Gordon Boyle. Gordon was 21 when he enlisted for the first time in June 1915 as 3025, a 24th Battalion reinforcement. For some reason undisclosed in his record he was discharged in July 1915. He re-enlisted in February 1917, and served in France with the 39th Battalion, where he suffered pyrexia (fever) and the flu. Gordon married Ella Bracher in England in February 1919, returned to Australia and died in 1958.

Miss Deakin is Vera Deakin, daughter of former Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, who founded and headed the Australian Branch of the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau. She said, “What we tried to accomplish as a bureau was to relieve as quickly as possible the anxiety of the relatives in Australia, to make the men realise that we were there to help and assist them in every way on our power, and to shield the authorities from unnecessary and duplicated enquiries.” After 9 months in Cairo from 1914, Vera Deakin and her staff worked tirelessly in London, organising the thousands of enquiries (27,000 in 1917 alone) from concerned families in Australia.

Vera Deakin married Sir Thomas White in 1919. They had corresponded during the war when Captain White was an Australian prisoner of war, and he gave the Bureau valuable information about missing men taken prisoner.

Deakin received an OBE for her work during the war. She continued with the Red Cross for the rest of her life, repeating her work in World War 2 by setting up a bureau of enquiry in Melbourne, and witnessing the same scenes of anxiety and heartache.  (AWM)

Sir Thomas White was T W White, author of the best seller Guests of the Unspeakable  – The Odyssey of an Australian Airman – being a record of Captivity and Escape in Turkey.