No.1728 – William Humphrey Hicks – 28th Battalion AIF
William "Bill” Humphrey Hicks (junior) was 20 years old when he was killed in action on Thursday 4 October 1917 in Belgium in the attack upon Zonnebeke.
Bill was the only son of William "Bill” Humphrey Hicks (senior) and Margaret "Maggie” Hicks of Quarry Street, Fremantle. Bill and Maggie had actually had six children, but only three survived beyond infancy—Bill and two daughters, Elibby and Lilly.
Both William Sr. and Maggie "Gran” Hicks were well known people in the Fremantle community. William Sr. worked with C.Y. O’Connor on the Fremantle Port/Harbour. Later, Erwin Burrell who married Elibby, worked on the harbour and was often told ‘Bill Hicks fixed that’.
While Bill Sr. worked on the wharves, Maggie ran a shop in Quarry Street where the family lived. Gran Hicks was a generous woman and helped many people during the Great Depression.
Bill Jr. enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 16 June 1915. His father also tried to enlist at the age of 37 but was not accepted into the AIF. Before enlisting Bill Jr. was a fitter and turner. During his days at Fremantle Boys School he was in the cadets and, consistent with the nautical environment, continued to serve in the naval cadets after leaving school. He was employed at the State Implement Works at Rocky Bay. After training at the Blackboy Hill Camp, he left on HMAT Demosthenes on 23 July 1915.
He joined the 28th Battalion and landed at Gallipoli on 17 October 1915. In January 1916 he was disembarked to Mudros, Lemnos, where the Allies had a base and hospital on the Greek island that can be seen from Anzac Cove, Turkey.
He seemed to have survived the brief time in Gallipoli without incident. During his next period of service, however, he was wounded in action in France and transferred to a hospital in England. After his hospital treatment he rejoined his unit but returned soon to hospital after he caught "the mumps”.
In January he was fined 33 days pay for being absent without leave for 10 days.
In April 1917, Bill rejoined the 28th Battalion and was sent to France. Despite his earlier misdemeanour he was promoted to Lance Corporal and later Corporal. In The Blue and White Diamond: The History of the 28th Battalion, Neville Browning wrote:
‘As word began to filter through, the remaining troops withdrew quickly to their own lines during respites in German machine gun fire. During the withdrawal Private W.H. Hicks found his "cobber” Private W.H. Hadden lying wounded in a shell hole, in great pain with three abdominal bullet wounds. Hicks made his way to the British lines in search of a stretcher but was unable to return to Hadden that night. Subsequent attempts to recover Hadden were unsuccessful and he was never seen again.’
Perhaps Bill’s promotions were conferred in recognition of this brave act.
Sadly, Bill was killed in action on 4 October 1917 in Belgium. A telegram was not received by his family until late March 1918 reporting this ‘regrettable loss’. Bill was killed during the attack on Zonnebeke.
This would not be the last "regrettable loss” message that the family would receive. Elibby’s husband Erwin James Burrell was the first Western Australian killed in World War Two at Sollum, Egypt.
Bill Hicks rests in the perpetual care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at the Passchendaele New British Cemetery, West Vlaanderen, Flanders, Belgium. His mother, Margaret Hicks, requested that the words ‘Peace Perfect Peace’ be etched on his headstone.
Many thanks to Deborah Hindley, Great Niece of William Humphrey Hicks, for sharing this story.