Wednesday, 20 August 2014

William Henry French (1885-1972)

William Henry French (1885-1972) was one of the first men from Avoca to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1914. He was a miner, 29 years 10 months old, and unmarried.  Born in Avoca, French had never served in the military.

He was assigned to the 8th battalion and given the number 670.

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920; French William Henry : SERN 670 : POB Avoca VIC : POE Surrey Hills VIC : NOK French James Henry. Page 1

William French was five foot six inches tall and weighed ten stone six pounds. He had blue eyes and his hair and complexion were described as "between".  He had a scar on the back of his head.

On 19 October 1914 he embarked for Egypt on HMAT Benalla at Melbourne. He had the rank of Lance Corporal.

Men of the 2nd Australian Infantry Brigade walking down the Port Melbourne pier to embark on HMAT Benalla (A24) (right), and HMAT Hororata (A20) (left), for service overseas. 19 October 1914. Australian War Memorial ID number C02793 retrieved from

On 10 November 1914, less than a month later, he was discharged as medically unfit. On 28 November 1914 he was admitted to the 2nd Australian General Hospital at Mena House Cairo with the cause listed as "accident knee".

The front entrance to the Mena House Hotel at Mena, ten miles from Cairo, which was taken over for use as 2 Australian General Hospital (2 AGH) photographed early in 1915. Retrieved from
The accident to his knee happened while he was on board the Benalla; a board of inquiry found he was "skylarking" on deck.

Two soldiers wrestling on board a ship. (World War 1) Australian War Memorial ID number  PS0089 retrieved from
The cause of hospitalisation is later described as "synovitis of knee". French was discharged from hospital on 1 February 1915, and spent three days with the Number 1 Australian Field Ambulance Hospital at the Pyramids at Mena.

NAA, B2455, French WH, page 25

French returned to Australia on the Kyarra from 5 February 1915. He disembarked at Melbourne on 11 March and was discharged as permanently unfit on 1 April 1915.

In 1923 ex-Cpl French was issued with the Victory medal and the British War medal.

On 10 July 1915 the Avoca Free Press reported that  French was present at a recruiting meeting at Avoca. Although he had been severely injured "at camp in Egypt", he stated he wished to return to his comrades at the front.

The name William Henry French is listed on the Avoca Soldiers' Memorial.