Percival Allan Shirley
Service Number 3634

Eighteen-year-old Percival Shirley enlisted in the AIF just as his father, Harry Shirley, was returning to Egypt among the Australian troops evacuated from Gallipoli.

However, it was a full year before Percival was able to join the 31st Battalion in France and then another eight months before he took on a combat role.

Percival enlisted in Brisbane on January 5, 1916 and finally embarked for overseas service from Brisbane in August on the Boorara, arriving at Plymouth on October 13.

He continued training on Salisbury Plain in England but spent two weeks in hospital with influenza from early December.

On December 15, Percival left for France from Folkestone on the Princess Henrietta. He was taken on strength as part of the 8th reinforcements of the 31st Battalion on January 5, 1917.

A blacksmith’s assistant by trade, Percival was detached to the 1st ANZAC engineers workshop a month later. He remained there until early September, rejoining his unit just before the only major battle in which the battalion played a significant role in 1917, Polygon Wood.

The Battle of Polygon Wood was fought near Ypres in Belgium on September 26, and was the ANZAC contribution to the larger allied operation known as the Third Battle of Ypres.

It was during this advance on September 26 that Percival was wounded in action, suffering shrapnel wounds to the face.

Out of action for three months while he recuperated in France, Percival did not rejoin his unit until January 4, 1918.

Within days, he was back in hospital, firstly with an injured left foot and then boils. In May he rejoined the battalion which, kept in reserve, had missed the worst of the German Spring Offensive of 1918.

That all changed in August, when the 31st was part of the Battle of Amiens as the Allies launched their own offensive against the Germans.

The battalion took part in the pursuit of the Germans as they retreated to the Hindenburg Line during August and September, before engaging in its last action of the war, the pivotal Battle of St Quentin Canal which began on September 29.

“Enlisted days after his father had left Gallipoli.”

Percival was in England when the Armistice was declared.

Under the command of Australian General Sir John Monash, Australian troops of the 5th and 3rd Divisions and two American divisions fought side by side, attacking as a single force and overcoming fierce German opposition to punch through the Hindenburg Line on a wide front across the St Quentin Canal tunnel.

This, combined with the allied attacks which followed, convinced the Germans they had no hope of winning the war.

On October 23, Percival went on leave and was in England when the Armistice was declared on November 11.

Three days later, he returned to his battalion, which had been out of the line when the war ended.

The 31st Battalion was disbanded in France on March 21, 1919, and for the next three months Percival was in and out of hospital, firstly in France and then England, plagued by skin conditions including boils and scabies.

On September 3, 1919, he left England on the HT Euripides and arrived in Sydney on October 24 before heading to Brisbane.

It was not until September, 1920 that Percival finally left the Army, discharged as medically unfit with “defective hearing and vision”.

Painting of the Battle of the Hindenburg Line by William Longstaff.

(Image: Public Domain)

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