2662 Private William George Jacob, 36th Infantry Battalion AIF
William Jacob was born at Kootingal in 1896, the son of George and Mary Jacob. The second eldest of eight children, William received his education at the local Tanglewood Public School where he enjoyed participating in sport. Jacob went on to follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming a farmer.
He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 21 August 1916 when he was 19 years old. He was assigned to the 36th Battalion and embarked aboard the troopship Benalla on 9 November. Jacob arrived in England in January 1917 and was initially admitted to hospital, having fallen ill on the journey to Europe. After recovering, he spent several months training before joining his unit on the Western Front in late April.
In June, Jacob’s unit took part in its first major action at the battle of Messines. The allied objective was to capture the German-occupied high ground along Messines Ridge which had been fortified with multiple defensive positions. The high ground also gave the enemy a strategic vantage point from which to observe allied lines. In the early hours of the morning of 7 June, 19 mines laid in tunnels dug beneath the German positions were detonated, signalling the beginning of the battle.
The advancing troops were heavily shelled and were targeted by fierce machine-gun fire, but were successful in taking their objectives. By the 14th of June allied forces had taken control of the ridge, but its capture came at an enormous cost, with the allies sustaining more than 25,000 casualties. The 36th Battalion alone had more than 400 killed, missing or wounded – among them was Private William Jacob.
Jacob’s parents were informed of their son’s death some days later, but did not receive any further details. This news was a hard blow – Jacob was the only one of their eight children to have reached adulthood. His father wrote to base records to plead for further details.
“We as his parents would be greatly comforted if you could supply us with any circumstances which would give us some knowledge as to the condition under which his great sacrifice was made.”
Further enquiries into the young private’s death were made through the Red Cross, which discovered that Jacob had been killed during the 36th’s advance on La Potterie Farm on 10 June. A letter from a sergeant in his battalion read:
“He was killed on the 10th of June by an explosion of an enemy’s shell. He was brought back to our front line trench but died a few minutes after being carried in.”
Private William George Jacob was buried at Messines Ridge British Cemetery near where he fell. He was just 20 years old.
The Tamworth Daily Observer noted his passing the following month:
“The young soldier, who was not quite 21 years of age, was a fine stamp of young Australian manhood, and his many friends and chums will be deeply grieved to learn that he has made the great sacrifice.”
KIA 10th June 1917
- Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1023048