Joseph Eric Piercy

Portrait of Joseph Eric Piercy.

Rank

Private

Roll title

11th Battalion, AIF (later 16th Battalion)

Convoy ship

HMAT Ascanius

Piercy enlisted in the AIF on 2 September 1914 at Blackboy Hill, aged 24.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

Joseph Eric Piercy was born in Magill, South Australia, on 17 September 1890. When he was still a young boy his family moved to Perth and took up residence in James Street, Guildford. Piercy was enrolled at the local primary school, before attending Perth Boys High School in James Street, Perth. After school he was apprenticed for five years as a pattern maker with the locomotive department of the Western Australian Government Railways.

Between 1907 and 1910, Piercy served with the Citizen Forces in the 1st Battalion of the Australian Infantry Regiment, where he attained the rank of sergeant.  He joined the AIF at Blackboy Hill on 2 September 1914, one month shy of his 24th birthday. He was placed with C Company of the 11th Battalion. 

Piercy enlisted in the AIF on 2 September 1914 at Blackboy Hill, aged 24.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

Piercy enlisted in the AIF on 2 September 1914 at Blackboy Hill, aged 24.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

Piercy’s Certificate of Discharge from the 11th Australian Infantry Regiment in 1910.

Courtesy of Glenis Piercy

11th Battalion troops march out of Blackboy Hill Camp on their way to the port of Fremantle in preparation for their embarkation, 31 October 1914.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P08644.002

On 31 October, the 11th Battalion embarked at Fremantle on HMAT Ascanius and HMAT Medic. On board Ascanius, Piercy met men of the 10th Battalion, who had boarded the ship in Adelaide. The ships joined the rest of the First Convoy at sea two days after it had left Albany. They reached Suez on 1 December 1914. Late in the evening of 6 December, Piercy and the 11th boarded trains at Alexandria. The next day they reached Cairo and marched to Mena Camp.

 

HMAT Ascanius.

Courtesy of the Western Australian Museum MHK D1 347

Troops aboard Ascanius in Adelaide, prior to reaching Fremantle.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P00326.019

The Ascanius at Fremantle in November 1914, on its way to join the First Convoy at sea.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H16157

The 11th Battalion on the steps of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, 10 January 1915. Within eight months of the landing, only 69 of these men would still be fighting, the rest having been killed, wounded or evacuated for illness.

Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia 4496B

After landing on 25 April 1915, the 11th Battalion and other units captured Plugge’s Plateau and pushed on to capture the heights of the second ridge to the left, towards Battleship Hill. In the general confusion, the 11th’s men often became separated and fought localised battles in the labyrinth of gullies and on the ridges. Many found themselves under heavy shell-fire from strong Turkish counter-attacks. During this first day of fighting, Piercy suffered a gunshot wound to his leg. He was evacuated to Tigne Hospital in Malta.

Piercy never returned to Gallipoli. He remained in Malta until August 1915, before being transferred to Fulham Military Hospital in England. By the time he returned to his unit in January 1916, they had withdrawn from Gallipoli via Lemnos Island. They were stationed in Egypt, recuperating, undertaking further training and deployed in the defence of the Suez Canal. In March 1916 Piercy was promoted to lance corporal. 

A detail of the Cheops pyramid image showing Piercy. He was identified in the image by his daughter, Glenis.

Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia 4496B

11th Battalion troops and 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, assembled on HMS London, steaming with other Royal Navy ships carrying troops from Lemnos to Gallipoli for the landing. HMS Bacchante is visible ahead, 24 April 1915.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial AO2468

George Lambert, Anzac, the landing, 1915 (c. 1920–22, oil on canvas, 199.8 x 370.2 cm).

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ART02873

A postcard produced c. 1920: ‘The Battle of Polygon Wood From Original Drawing by A. Pearse, War Artist’.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H00563

On 27 March 1916, the 11th Battalion entrained for Alexandria. The troops farewelled Egypt on 30 March with 28 officers and 942 other ranks. They embarked on SS Corsican, which was too small for any drill so the men enjoyed a relatively quiet voyage, with the only excitement resulting from the sighting of a submarine.

After a five day voyage, Corsican berthed in Marseilles, France. The next day the battalion marched to the waiting troop train, through streets thronged with local people chanting, ‘Vive l’Australie! Vivent les Australiens!’

The train journey north took the men through the heart of France, passing picturesque villages, blossoming orchards and stately chateaus, and reached Godewaersvelde, near the Belgian border west of Ypres, on 8 April 1916. Their first billets in France were rough barns and outhouses resembling the shearing sheds of Western Australia, familiar to some of the men before the war. The sounds of artillery fire could be heard in the distance.

Ten days later the 11th moved south-west to Sailly-sur-la-Lys, in the Armentières sector, where they spent a month in training and drills. Little touched by the war, the area was dotted with ‘gas schools, bayonet and physical drill schools and bombing schools’. On 25 May, Piercy accidentally wounded his left hand while instructing at the 1st Division Bombing School. The wound was treated in France, but caused him to miss the 11th Battalion’s first foray into the front-line trenches at Fleurbaix.

Piercy re-joined his unit on 11 June 1916, and fought in the bitter battle at Pozières between 22 and 25 July. He sustained gunshot wounds to the face and back and was evacuated to England, where he was admitted to the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol. He was later transferred to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield, England.

An officer with the 16th Battalion

In January 1917, Piercy, now recovered, was selected to attend officer training school. He joined the No. 4 Officer Cadet Battalion, passed and qualified on 25 January, and was commissioned as second lieutenant. Embarking for France on 13 February as part of the pool of general reinforcements, Piercy joined the 4th Australian Division Base Depot. He marched out to join the 16th Battalion a week later, however a dose of influenza in March 1917 put him back into hospital. He was still in a casualty clearing station in early April, when the 16th Battalion took part in the disastrous action at Bullecourt that resulted in heavy losses. Piercy rejoined his unit on 18 April, and over the next couple of months the battalion moved between camps in northern France and Belgium, undertaking training or participating in working parties.

Polygon Wood

In August 1917, the 16th Battalion relieved the 44th in the front line at Messines, subsequently enduring heavy shelling and the loss of 27 men, with a further 40 injured. In September they moved into the Ypres sector, to take up support lines in readiness for the operations to capture the village of Passchendaele. On 26 September they joined the attack at Polygon Wood. Alongside fellow 4th Brigade units, the 16th was to capture the first objective, near Zonnebeke. At 5.50 am on 26 September, it advanced behind a heavy artillery barrage.  Piercy, though twice blown off his feet by shell explosions, bravely led his platoon forward, and helped organise troops to capture the objective. The battalion also took 200 prisoners. Piercy received a Commander-in-Chief’s Congratulatory Card for his gallantry, and in October he was promoted to lieutenant. His Congratulatory Card read:

Is brought to notice for very gallant and courageous behaviour in our operations near Zonnebeke on the 26th September 1917. Before the attack this Officer and his sector of our trenches had received a very thorough shelling from the enemy. He was blown off his feet twice and once buried by shell explosion, however, with characteristic devotion to duty, he insisted on leading his Platoon to the attack, and during the operations and the subsequent consolidation, his demeanour was such as to inspire the greatest confidence. He was the centre directing Officer for the attack, and his general grasp of the situation organising a considerable body of men who had been too far forward in our own barrage, and after re-organisation, he led them forward again to their objective. Subsequent to the consolidation of the Red Line he was instrumental in procuring and taking forward, wire, and other materials to the Blue Line. This was done under heavy Machine gun and shell fire, and in this, as throughout the whole operation, he displayed the greatest gallantry and devotion to duty. He is very strongly recommended for high distinction.

Leave in Paris

Between October 1917 and April 1918, the 16th Battalion spent much of their time in and out of the trenches around the Ypres sector. A brief respite occurred in December 1917 when they entrained for Péronne in northern France, where the ‘originals’ spent their third Christmas overseas. In March 1918 Piercy was granted a month’s leave. It was perhaps during this time that he and two other officers had an amusing run-in with some American YMCA staff in Paris, which formed the basis of an article in Perth’s Western Mail in 1933.

Hébuterne and Hamel, via Villers-Bretonneux

Piercy rejoined his unit in battle on 8 April 1918 near Hébuterne, where they had formed a defensive line in face of the German Spring Offensive. He had missed much of the fighting, including a heavy shell and gas bombardment three days before. The battalion was relieved on 9 April, eventually moving on to Amiens on 27 April.

In early May, the 16th Battalion relieved the 13th in the recently captured village of Villers-Bretonneux, where they spent a week before moving back into the support line near Blangy. By the end of the month the 16th were relocated to the front line on a ridge overlooking Hamel. There, on the night of 15–16 June, they conducted a trench raid. Piercy was officer in charge of wire-cutting operations. After leading his party across nearly 400 metres of no man’s land, he successfully directed the use of Bangalore torpedoes to blow through two sections of German wire, despite enemy bombing. He then led his men into a German trench and established two blocks in a communication trench. For his actions he was awarded the Military Cross.

The battle of Amiens

By August 1918, the 16th Battalion had moved into position along the Somme River and were preparing for the battle of Amiens. On 8 August, using a combination of aircraft, artillery and tanks, a mass of assembled allied forces launched an offensive to push through the German front lines. By mid-afternoon the allies, advancing behind a creeping barrage, had reached and captured the second objective. Under heavy German artillery fire, Piercy led his company forward in the attack. Organising a special flanking party to subdue a German battery, he enabled the left flank’s advance. The 16th Battalion suffered a heavy toll from enemy machine-guns and artillery, but, aided by the 13th Battalion, reached and held their third objective. As he led his men to this objective, Piercy suffered a severe gunshot wound to the leg.

Piercy’s gallantry earned him a bar to his Military Cross, though the recommendation was for the Distinguished Service Order. He was initially treated in the field before being evacuated, via a hospital in Wimereux, to England. His war was over.

Listen to the citation that describes Piercy’s gallantry and cool leadership at Amiens.

I have the honour to bring the above-named Officer to notice for very great gallantry and cool leadership during the operations on the Somme on the 8th August 1918. Despite the fire of German Light Artillery at close ranges he formed his Company up on the Red Line, and by personally inspecting the ground, obtained cover for nearly the whole of his men, thereby saving many casualties. Immediately the advance began, Lieutenant Piercy threw out a special flanking party to locate and subdue the enemy battery … (and)… as a result of his foresight and presence of mind … this gallant Officer paved the way for the advance of the left flank, which the Tanks were unable to support… (W)hen the infantry leap-frogged the Tanks, Lieutenant Piercy led the attack in the most dashing manner right on to the limits of objective, the Blue Line and at once superintended the work of consolidation and re-organisation. During this interval he was badly wounded but continued to direct operations until he had made all arrangements and handed over to the next Officer. It was entirely due to his personal bravery and magnificent example that the Company reached the limits of its objective and maintained itself there under heavy machine gun and point blank battery fire.

Piercy’s recommendation for an award for his gallantry near Zonnebeke in September 1917.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial R1627574

Dead German soldiers at a concrete pillbox near Polygon Wood, 21 September 1917.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E00777

A letter to Piercy’s father, Frederick, advising him that his son had been awarded the Military Cross.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

A letter from Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood congratulating Piercy on his Military Cross.

Courtesy of Glenis Piercy

A letter from Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood congratulating Piercy on his Military Cross.

Courtesy of Glenis Piercy

Unidentified members of a 16th Battalion raiding party, Hébuterne, April 1918.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial A00816

A map indicating the Green, Red and Blue Line objectives at Amiens, August 1918.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial AWM4 26/50/30 – August 1918

Australian troops resting behind the hill that marked their first objective on 8 August 1918.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E04923

A letter from the AIF Base Records Office detailing Piercy’s bar to the Military Cross.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

Piercy remained in England until early 1919, pursuing undisclosed business interests. He returned to Australia aboard the Nevassa, disembarking at Fremantle on 13 April 1919. His appointment with the AIF was terminated on 5 May 1919.

On his return to civilian life, Piercy did not return to his trade as a pattern maker due to the many injuries that he had received. From 1920 he worked for varying engineering companies in the Perth area, as well as trying his hand as a wine and spirit traveller for White Horse Whiskey. In 1937 he took over the licence of the Vasse Hotel in Busselton, and married Phylis Enid Pearl Cook a year later. The couple had a daughter, Glenis, in 1944.

In the Second World War, Piercy served again as a lieutenant in the Australian Military Forces. He was promoted to captain in 1942. He later joined the Intelligence Corps at Headquarters, Western Command. From 1948 until his retirement in 1960, he worked for War Service Land Settlement, and became known for his knowledge of the farm machinery required by soldier-settlers. He died on 27 September 1967 at the Hollywood Repatriation Hospital in Nedlands, aged 77.

References

Australian War Memorial, First World War Embarkation Rolls – Joseph Eric Piercy

Australian War Memorial, Honours and Awards – Joseph Eric Piercy

Belford, W 2010, Legs Eleven: Being the story of the 11th Battalion AIF in the Great War, The Naval & Military Press, Uckfield, The Imperial War Museum, London

Gill, I 2008, Bloody Angle Bullecourt & Beyond: 16th Battalion A.I.F. 1914-19, Ian Gill, Perth

Longmore, C Captain 2007, The Old Sixteenth: Being a record of the 16th Battalion, A.I.F., during the Great War, 1914-1918, Hesperian Press, Carlisle

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, Joseph Eric Piercy’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; PIERCY, J E LIEUTENANT, W244159, 1914-1920

Western Mail, Perth, ‘Old Nap and JJ’, p 2, 23 March 1933; accessed via National Library of Australia, Trove

 

john

Amazing bravery over a number of years. A hero.

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you for risking your life for all of us to be free. It is such a little thing for me to say to you, but it is heart felt. I'm glad you made it back, well done.

Reply

lois

Thank you for your bravery.

Reply

Vincent

Thank you so much for helping my ancestors in FRANCE.

Reply

BRUCE

Thank you for your bravery, you deserved the accolades you received.

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you.

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you for your tremendous efforts in & out of war times. Australia is lucky to have had such a brave & couragous man to defend our way of life.

Reply

Anonymous

Such a full life after so much war.

Reply

Anonymous

Dear Piercy, I just want to say thanks for your service to all Australians.

Reply

emily

Thank you for saving our lives. Thank you for letting us see what happened to you.

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you for being brave.

Reply

Anonymous

THANK YOU FOR YOUR GALLANT EFFORTS.

Reply

big benno

Good luck mate.

Reply

brodie

Thank you for figting for our country. You helped Australia have the freedom and safety it has today. Thank you.

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you for being brave and courageous and fighting for our country to give us the freedom we have today. THANK YOU.

Reply

Lochie Sisson

I think it is cool how you started the AIF and thank you for serving Australia.

Reply

Sandi Hunter

A time when country and mateship meant everything. We will be forever grateful for the sacrifices made.

Reply

Anonymous

Thankyou for your services and our freedom. I AM AWESOME LIKE YOU.

Reply

Maureen

Thank you for your sacrifices. We would not have the freedoms we have except for what you and all the servicemen did for us.

Reply

Charlotte

Thank you for every thing you have done for Australia. Thank you with all my heart!

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you so much for supporting our country to make Australia the safe and free place it is now. THANK YOU!

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you for all your hard work and taking the risk of losing your life for us.

Reply

Anonymous

I am very humbled to be able to follow your journey, the journey of a true Anzac.

Reply

marcus

RIP

Reply

Anonymous

I respect your services to our nation.Thank you for your contribution to the war and how different our futures may have been without you or the ANZACs.

Reply

a person

RIP

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you Eric.

Reply

lauren and chris

A true hero, thank you.

Reply

Anonymous

a true hero

Reply

Mim

Thank you for your service. You will be remembered.

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you

Reply

Anonymous

Well done. You probably survived the worst thing you can bump into in life. Lest we forget.

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you for looking after our people

Reply

Anonymous

You were very brave and were not a coward.

Reply

Joseph Kelly

THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID IN THE WAR.

Reply

Anonymous

Never forgotten.

Reply

euan

You were a hero and a helpful soldier.

Reply

anonynous

Thank you for your service. Rest in peace.

Reply

Anonymous

Joseph Piercy, you are what I would consider a true Australian Hero. God Bless you and lest we forget.

Reply

zoe

Thank you for your sacrifice.

Reply

charlie shannon

rip buddy

Reply

darcy

Good job

Reply

KATONA family


Proud to have a ANZAC connection via Trooper Harry Dann, 10th Light Horse, who came home. Lest we forget xoxo

Reply

Anonymous

Thank you for fighting for AUSTRALIA.

Reply

Danielle

Thank you for serving our country. LEST WE FORGET

Reply

KYM

BECAUSE FOR YOUR BRAVERY AND SACRIFICE WE HAVE THE FREEDOM

Reply

Anonymous

I am very proud to be a part of your bloodline! You are the greatest!

Reply

wo1 Ian BORLAND...

Rest in Peace: you did your bit.

Reply

Anonymous

RIP, Sir

Reply

Anonymous

ALL OF YOU, THANK YOU. IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE FOR A MINUTE HOW YOU WOULD FEEL OR THINK.

Reply

Pages

Add your voice