Being one of the oldest soldiers and having a height in excess of six foot, and possibly DNA matches with relatives, contributed to the identification of the remains recovered from the burial pits at Pheasant Wood as No. 258, Private John Morley of the A Coy., 31st Battalion. But it is possibly because Recruitment Officers were lenient in interpreting minimum and maximum recruiting criteria that William John Howard was able to enlist, train, embark, fight and die within a period of 1 year and 5 days.
Photo: William John Howard enlisted as No. 258, Private John Morley
FFFAIF Member Anne Betts and her sister Helen have contributed the following information on the soldier recorded as No. 258, Private John Morley of the A Coy., 31st Battalion, who was their great great uncle.
William John Howard was born in Yambuk, Victoria on December 11th 1868. He was the first son of John & Sarah Howard to survive infancy. He had seven sisters & later one brother. His father abandoned his family, after he lost his job as Yambuk Station manager, and was never heard of again. The family moved from Colac to Echuca for a time, where their mother took on work as a teacher & a midwife.
Knowledge of William’s early adult years are very sketchy. He worked in Melbourne as a painter for 5 years before travelling through New South Wales & Queensland, working on farms and droving. He enlisted in the Army, in Brisbane, on 15th July 1915 although he was living at South Woodburn on the Richmond River in northern N.S.W.
As William was already 46 years old and the cut off age for enlistment was under 45, he needed to hide his true identity. So Jack Morley aged 44, from Calcutta went to war! He sailed on the HMAT Wandilla from Brisbane to Melbourne where they gathered more troops & supplies. It was here that William had a studio portrait taken and sent a copy to his nephew. The back of the card read; “Dear Lewis, With luck, From your Uncle. Jack Morley, No. 258. A Coy, 31st. Batt.” It was dated Oct. 31st.
Photo: William’s postcard to his nephew Lewis.
The Wandilla left Melbourne on 9th Nov. 1915 & arrived in Suez 7th Dec. On 23rd April 1916 William was ‘awarded an extra duty’ by Capt. G. Robertson for ‘being improperly dressed on parade. Unshaven.’ The troops left Alexandria on 16th June & arrived in Marseilles on 23rd June, where they proceeded to the Western Front.
William and his 31st Batt. took part in the Battle of Fromelles . He was killed in action on 20th July 1916. For 93 years William had no known grave. We now know that he, along with many more of his Digger mates, were buried in mass pits by the Germans at Pheasant Wood. They have, at last, been given the proper, dignified burial that they all deserved. Shortly, William, or “Uncle Jack Morley” will have a headstone bearing his name. May he and his colleagues now all Rest In Peace.