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Rogers, William Richard (1888–1918)

by Suzanne Welborn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

William Richard Rogers (1888-1918), soldier and sleeper-cutter, was born on 18 June 1888 at East Brighton, Melbourne, son of Charles Hale Rogers, gardener, and his wife Annie Lavinia, née Box, both Victorian born. Nothing is known of his early life. His family may have joined the great exodus of Victorians to Western Australia during the gold rushes of the 1890s. He became a sleeper-cutter in the karri country of the south-west and married Alice Louisa Richardson at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Subiaco, on 12 July 1915. Rogers had enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 19 June after reports of Gallipoli had begun to appear in the newspapers. He reached Gallipoli on 23 October with the 8th Reinforcements for the 16th Battalion, in which fellow timber-cutter Harry Murray and Murray's prospector friend Percy Black were serving.

The fighting abilities and conduct of William Rogers came to official notice during the 1st battle of Bullecourt in France where on 11 April 1917 the 16th Battalion, as part of the 4th Brigade, tore through unbroken barbed wire, across snow-covered country under fierce gunfire, to breach the Hindenburg line. Major Black was killed while leading his troops, including Rogers, through the wire. Later, in front of Riencourt village, after tanks had failed and without artillery support, the attackers were left without ammunition. Rogers, from 'A' Company, many times left trench cover under heavy machine-gun fire to snatch bombs from the pockets of dead soldiers lying in the barbed wire. Only 3 of the battalion's 17 officers and 87 of 630 other ranks were not killed or wounded. Rogers won the Military Medal for his part in the battle and was promoted from private to sergeant on 21 April.

On 26 September the battalion fought in the battle of Polygon Wood, near Passchendaele. When his platoon commander was killed Rogers immediately took command and, 'with fine courage and excellent leadership' under heavy shell-fire, successfully led the platoon through its allotted duties in minimum time. When the rest of the unit lost contact with his position he took personal risks to correct the situation. He was awarded a Bar to his Military Medal and on 3 October was promoted temporary company sergeant major; this rank was confirmed on 3 January 1918. From January to May he attended an officer cadet battalion but resigned to rejoin his unit on 23 May.

Rogers won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry during the battle of Hamel on 4 July. He contributed to his battalion's success by quick appreciation of the situation when the infantry lagged behind the creeping artillery barrage because of the need to deal with enemy machine-gun posts. He repeatedly moved backwards and forwards from the barrage to bring the men up. After the battle he was commissioned second lieutenant. This quiet, self-effacing soldier survived until 8 August 1918 when he was killed by a shell from a German field-gun while leading his men into Morcourt Valley at the start of the great offensive. He was buried in Heath cemetery, Harbonnières, France.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Longmore, The Old Sixteenth (Perth, 1929)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • war diary, 16th Battalion, AIF, and records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Suzanne Welborn, 'Rogers, William Richard (1888–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rogers-william-richard-8260/text14467, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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