No.1646 – Private Cornelius Townsend – 11th Battalion AIF
Cornelius John Townsend was born in Fremantle WA in 1891 to William and Edith Townsend. He was the second of six children with William (1889); Matilda (1894); Robert (1896); Edward (1898) and Henry (1900). Cornelius was educated at Christian Brothers College Fremantle and after leaving school the family travelled north to Carnarvon and Geraldton and it was here that he served for 12 months in the senior cadets. However Cornelius soon returned to Fremantle to take up employment as a Carpenter. In 1908 his father died in Geraldton and Edith took her family further north to Broome. It is unclear when Cornelius left Fremantle and joined the family in Broome but it was here on the 9th November 1914 that he enlisted in the AIF. Cornelius was found to be fit for service with the medical examiner stating that he was 5 feet 6 & ½ inches tall; weight of 145lbs; chest measurement of 35-37 inches; fair complexion; greyish blue eyes and brown hair. His religious denomination was Roman Catholic.
Upon his successful enlistment Cornelius was sent down from Broome with several others and they made their way to Blackboy Hill Camp on the outskirts of Perth. Upon his arrival in Camp, Cornelius was assigned to the 3rd Reinforcements to the 11th Battalion AIF. He trained with this group in WA for the next couple of months while they waited for their embarkation orders to arrive. These finally came through and on the 22nd February 1915 Cornelius and his group boarded the HMAT Itonus and set sail for Egypt.
After arriving in Egypt in mid March the men were then disembarked and sent into the Reinforcements camps. The 11th Battalion had already left Egypt for Lemnos Island so Cornelius was retained in Egypt for the present time. The landing at Gallipoli went ahead on the 25th April 1915 and the advance stalled along the 2nd Ridge at Anzac with the trenches being dug along this line. Cornelius soon received his departure orders from Egypt and he travelled to the Dardanelles being taken on strength of "D” Company of the 11th Battalion on the 7th May 1915.
The 11th Battalion were then situated in the southern portion of the Anzac battlefield near Bolton’s Ridge. Cornelius served with the 11th battalion for the next two months but on the 6th July 1915 he was wounded when shrapnel struck him in the shoulder and thigh. He was tended to by the Field Ambulance and then sent to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing section. He remained here for a week undergoing treatment and on the 13th July Cornelius was put aboard the transport ship HMT Clan McGillivray which took him to a Military Hospital in Valetta Malta.
Cornelius remained in Malta for over two months but was finally discharged and boarded the transport ship Karoo and taken back to Egypt, disembarking in Alexandria on the 9th October 1915. Cornelius spent the next nine days at the Overseas Training Base but on the 18th October he went aboard the transport ship Borda which took him to Gallipoli where he was taken on strength of the 11th Battalion on the 25th October 1915.
In November the 11th Battalion was withdrawn to Lemnos Island for a rest and as plans were now in place to evacuate the Dardanelles, the 11th Battalion remained on the Island until the evacuation was complete in late December. On the 7th January 1916 the 11th Battalion arrived back in Alexandria Egypt and they set about resuming training as well as holding sections of the Suez Canal defence line.
They would remain in Egypt in the next few months and on the 29th March 1916 the 11th Battalion arrived at Alexandria where they boarded the HMT Corsican and set sail for France, arriving at Marseilles on the 5th April 1916. After being disembarked the men were marched through the city to the railway station where they boarded trains which took them to the Armentieres region of northern France. After being billeted, the 11th Battalion was sent to the Bois Greiner sector near Fleurbaix where they would have their first experience of trench life on the Western Front.
For the next few months Cornelius would undertake duties as a front line infantryman, such as patrolling No Man’s Land, fatigue work such as improving trenches, repairing roads, carrying supplies and being on watch for any German assaults. By the end of June the 1st Division began to move south to the Somme battlefield. The British attack on July 1st had not made as much ground as had been expected and the Australians were soon to be put in the line.
On July 19 1916 the 11th Battalion went into the front line near Contalmaison and they were able to see the remains of Pozieres village which they were to capture in a few days time. On July 23rd 1916 the advance went ahead and Pozieres was successfully captured and the 11th Battalion secured all their objectives. The Germans considered Pozieres as vital ground and they launched a massive bombardment of the terrain for several days and the 11th Battalion had to endure this fire until the 28th July when they were relieved.Many men simply disappeared at Pozieres due to the huge bombardment and it seems that Cornelius was one of these. He was first posted as missing on the 25th July but as no news had come through of his being taken prisoner he was finally declared as being killed in action. Unfortunately his body was never recovered and he is thus commemorated on the Villers-Bretoneux Memorial.
His mother Edith, who had moved with her youngest children to Sinclair Street in South Fremantle in 1914, received news of Cornelius’s death and she would receive his personal effects and medals. After news of Cornelius’s came through, his eldest brother William (3449) would enlist in the AIF and he would serve with the 51st Battalion through 1917/18. He survived the war and came back to WA in 1919.