Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sherlock, Wilfred Holden (Bill) (1908–1943)

by P. R. Carey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Wilfred Holden Sherlock (1908-1943), by unknown photographer

Wilfred Holden Sherlock (1908-1943), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 059001

Wilfred Holden (Bill) Sherlock (1908-1943), grazier and soldier, was born on 20 May 1908 at Malvern, Melbourne, elder son of Harold Herbert Sherlock, a public accountant from England, and his Fiji-born wife Olive Ruth, née St Pinnock. Wilfred, who was nicknamed 'Bill', was educated at Lauriston State School, near Kyneton, and at Melbourne and Geelong Church of England Grammar schools. A keen debater and member of the cadet unit, he ran the mile (1.6 km) in 4 minutes 42.5 seconds and rowed in the senior VIII.

In 1928 Sherlock entered the University of Melbourne to study commerce. He stroked the university VIII to victory in the intervarsity championship in 1929. On 26 July that year he was appointed lieutenant in the Melbourne University Rifles. Deciding against a career in accounting, he withdrew from his course, resigned his commission on 22 January 1930 and turned to the land. He joined Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Ltd and worked as a jackeroo in western New South Wales. After several years as an overseer and manager, he bought his own property, Bundilla, near Coleraine, Victoria, in 1937.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 6 November 1939, Sherlock was allotted to the 2nd/6th Battalion and promoted sergeant. On 17 November he was commissioned lieutenant. In April 1940 he sailed for the Middle East, where he saw action in Libya—at Bardia and Tobruk—in January 1941. During the Greek campaign (April) he showed initiative, bravery and leadership while under heavy fire. Made temporary captain in May (substantive 18 September), he was appointed to command 'A' Company of the 2nd/6th. He returned to Melbourne on 4 August 1942. Nine days later, at Christ Church, South Yarra, he married with Anglican rites Elaine Knox-Knight.

Sherlock's battalion was based at Milne Bay, Papua, from October 1942 until January 1943 when it was sent to Wau, New Guinea, to secure the airfield against a possible Japanese thrust from Lae and Salamaua. The troops were flown in and made ready for immediate action. At Wandumi, on the morning of 28 January, Sherlock's under-strength company, bolstered by twenty men of the 2nd/5th Independent Company, was attacked by the main body of a Japanese force which was approaching Wau from the east along a disused track not known to the Australian defenders.

Despite being reinforced during the afternoon, Sherlock's party remained heavily outnumbered, but held its ground until early next morning. When one of his platoons had been overrun at 3 p.m., he had led a counter-attack with fixed bayonets. Forced to withdraw shortly after 3 a.m. on 29 January, he took his troops across a single-log bridge over the swollen Bulolo River. Pursuing Japanese machine-gunners fired on them. Sherlock turned to face the enemy and was heard shouting defiantly above bursts of gunfire until he was killed.

The grim determination, resolution and courage of Sherlock and his men enabled the Australian command to build up sufficient forces at Wau to defeat the Japanese assault over the next two days. Sherlock's leadership accounted in large part for this achievement. Survived by his wife, he was buried in Lae war cemetery. He was posthumously mentioned in dispatches.

Select Bibliography

  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (Canb, 1959)
  • D. Hay, Nothing Over Us (Canb, 1984)
  • S. Trigellis-Smith, All the King's Enemies (Melb, 1988)
  • Australian Army Journal, no 49, June 1953, p 6
  • Parade, Jan 1956, p 12
  • J. Littlewood, Sherlock (manuscript, privately held).

Citation details

P. R. Carey, 'Sherlock, Wilfred Holden (Bill) (1908–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sherlock-wilfred-holden-bill-11680/text20873, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Wilfred Holden Sherlock (1908-1943), by unknown photographer

Wilfred Holden Sherlock (1908-1943), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 059001