Brothers in arms: Polhill family’s second sad wartime sacrifice

Edwardian bliss: a middle-class Croydon family around 1910. Father (centre back), mother (second right, front) and their four sons and four daughters. These were the Polhills: three of the sons would be dead by 1918

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM: What is often chilling about the Roll of Honour at Croydon Minster is how the same family name recurs. In the second instalment of this latest research, DAVID MORGAN tells of the loss of a second Polhill brother

Herbert Polhill, we have learned, met a tragic end half a world away from his family home in Croydon, and all before he had left the training camp in Australia for the battlefields of Europe.

William Henry Polhill was Herbert’s brother, and his name appears on the Roll of Honour of the war dead at Croydon Minster alongside that of his brother.

Just as his brother did when signing up, William gave his father, Arthur, living in St John’s Grove in Croydon, just across the road from what was then called the Parish Church, as his next of kin.

Information on William’s attestation papers show that he was 24 years and 10 months old when he signed up on September 2, 1915. He was employed as a shop assistant and lived in digs with a landlady, Mrs Hardiman, on Allingham Street, Armidale, New South Wales.

Dire news: the official notification of William Polhill’s death

William had emigrated to Australia in 1912. There, he had spent seven months in the Australian Rifle Reserves at Edgecliffe, Sydney. A hand-written note on the papers said that he had resigned from this volunteer unit.

The town of Holsworthy was where he had to go to sign up for his full military service. William was part of the 12th Reinforcement for the 13th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force.

On his service record, it informs us that he embarked from Sydney on the Suevic in December 1915. The 12th Reinforcement spent six months in Egypt before embarking from Alexandria on June 1, 1916. They reached Marseilles exactly one week later.

William was made a temporary corporal on August 19, his promotion made permanent on September 3.

Paperwork: Polhill’s solicitor required ‘proof of death’ before he could execute the soldier’s last will and testament

Towards the end of 1916, William suffered bouts of ill-health. He was taken out of line on November 20 with what must have been a severe case of tonsillitis. After his throat healed, he caught scabies and it wasn’t until February 24, 1917, that he was able to rejoin his unit.

On August 12, he was shot in the stomach. He died later that day.

William Polhill was buried in the small Bapaume Australian Cemetery, close to where the 3rd Australian Clearing Station was stationed.

In the 1914-1918 war, each soldier in the British and Empire forces was required to make a will before they went into active service.

The appointed executor of William Polhill’s will was Joseph Young of Rose Hill, Yarramalong. A paragraph in the local paper informed anyone who believed they were owed money by the deceased to contact the executor in order that their claim might be considered.

For the parents of William Polhill, living in St John’s Grove, the information they received about his death would have hit them hard. It would also have had a huge impact on his brother, with whom he had emigrated.

Struggling to pass the medical and needing an operation on his eyes, how much did the death of his brother, William, prey on Herbert’s mind?

Read more: Wartime tragedy that devastated one Croydon family
Read more: How Corporal Luff’s cross became a symbol for all Croydon
Read more: ‘For gallantry’: Croydon hero who died at Passchendaele
Read more: Until the daybreak Mother: Four-fold tragedy of Croydon family

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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