Australians on the Western Front

French Say First Australian to Die in WW1 was Sydney’s Lieutenant William Malcolm Chisholm

Story by Charles Miranda Forever young … Lt William Chisholm is buried in France. Source: News Corp Australia French authorities believe they have identified the first Australian to have died during World War I as they prepare to honour the sacrifice made by the then young national from the other side of the world.

Forever young…Lt William Chisholm is buried in France – Source: News Corp Australia

The Australian War Memorial has long listed the first Australian fatalities of the Great War as being sailors from the Australian Navy and Military Expeditionary Force during the landing on German New Guinea in September 1914.

But officials in France tasked with WWI commemorations say the first Australian to die in theGreat War was Sydney man Lieutenant William Malcolm Chisholm who died some weeks earlier in the Battle of Le Cateau — the first clash of Allied soldiers on French soil.

The finding of his name and grave in a civilian cemetery came after researching the battle and found a street in the northern French town of Ligny en Cambresis named “Chisholm” which piqued their interest.

They found it was named after the family including the soldier’s mother Emma Isabel Chisholm Mitchell who died in Sydney in 1928, but whose ashes were reinterred by her husband, respected Macquarie Street doctor William Chisholm, so she could rest next to their son.

“We are pretty sure this is now the first Australian to die in World War I, certainly the first to die in the campaign here in France,” said Delphine Bartier from France’s northern district tasked with WWI commemoration promotion.

“We were quite excited when we put it altogether and realised he was possibly the first. We were interested in the Le Cateau battle of 1914 and we popped into a small cemetery and realised this was the first battle of the war that an Australian took part we thought he must be the first Australian to die in the Great War. So for us it was exciting to find that some Australians were here in France before 1916.”

Ms Bartier said if it had been known at the time it had largely been forgot over the years but they would single it out now for commemoration.

The former Sydney Grammer boy was an army cadet in Sydney and also a lieutenant of the NSW Scottish Rifles. The family moved to the UK when the father got a job at a London hospital and William joined Sandhurst military college in 1911 and joined the Lancashire Regiment a year later.

On August 26, 1914 with the British troops in retreat from the battle of Mons in Belgium they faced the German artillery at Cateau Cambresis. In a matter of hours from the 40,000 British troops that took part, 9000 were listed as dead or wounded with 2500 taken prisoner. Lt Chisholm had only arrived at Le Cateau at 5pm on the 25th and took action from 4am but by 3pm had been shot in the stomach and died the next day. He died at the age of 22.

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