Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Birks, Frederick (1894–1917)

by L. Ward

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Frederick Birks (1894-1917), by unknown photographer from a painting by F. Hornsby

Frederick Birks (1894-1917), by unknown photographer from a painting by F. Hornsby

Australian War Memorial, P01113.001

Frederick Birks (1894-1917), soldier, was born on 16 August 1894 at Buckley, Flintshire, North Wales, son of Samuel Birks, groom, and his wife Mary, née Williams. His father died in a coal-mining accident when he was 8. Educated at the local St Matthew's Anglican parish school he later worked as a labourer and steel-rollerman in the near-by town of Shotton.

In 1913 Birks migrated to Australia and worked as a labourer in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1914, he was posted to the 2nd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, and sailed for Egypt in October. His unit went into action at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, providing medical support for the 2nd Infantry Brigade. On 26 June, while serving as a stretcher-bearer, Birks was wounded by shrapnel; he resumed duty soon afterwards and remained at Anzac until 9 September. He served in Egypt until March 1916 when the 2nd Field Ambulance left for the Western Front, was promoted lance corporal on 21 April and served throughout the first battle of the Somme as a stretcher-bearer. At Pozières in July, for 'constant good services', he was awarded the Military Medal in the field by General Birdwood.

Promoted corporal on 10 August 1916, Birks was selected for officer-training and was commissioned second lieutenant in the 6th Battalion on 4 May 1917; his first major engagement as an infantryman was the third battle of Ypres. On 20 September, while his battalion was advancing on Glencorse Wood, Birks and a corporal rushed a pillbox which was holding up the advance. The corporal was wounded but Birks went on by himself, killed those manning the pillbox and captured a machine-gun. Shortly afterwards he raised a small party and attacked another strong point, capturing sixteen men and killing or wounding nine others. In the consolidation that followed, he reorganized groups from other units which were in disarray. Next day, during an artillery bombardment, he was killed while trying to rescue some of his men who had been buried by a shell. For his 'conspicuous bravery' he was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

Birks was buried in Zillebeke cemetery, Belgium. In 1921 a memorial was erected in his honour in St Matthew's schoolyard, Buckley. His portrait by F. Hornsby hangs in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916, 1917 (Syd, 1929, 1933)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vols 1, 2 (Melb, 1930, Canb, 1940)
  • London Gazette, 16 Nov 1916, 8 Nov 1917
  • Buckley Parish Magazine (Wales), Nov 1917
  • Sydney Mail, 9 Jan 1918
  • R. E. Goode and G. F. Green, 2nd Australian Field Ambulance: A Short History, 1914-16 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

L. Ward, 'Birks, Frederick (1894–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/birks-frederick-5242/text8829, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Frederick Birks (1894-1917), by unknown photographer from a painting by F. Hornsby

Frederick Birks (1894-1917), by unknown photographer from a painting by F. Hornsby

Australian War Memorial, P01113.001

Life Summary [details]

Birth

16 August 1894
Buckley, Flintshire, Wales

Death

21 September 1917
Ypres, Belgium

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation