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5317 Sapper
WILLIAM THOMAS DRIVER
Royal Engineers

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 2001

1. INTRODUCTION

Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were obtained from the soldier’s service papers obtained from the National Archives of Australia. The narrative is concerned primarily with Driver’s service in the Australian Army during the Great War, although it should be noted that he served for 18 years in the British Army prior to immigrating to Australia. His service in the British Army is not covered in detail in this work [1].

2. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

William Thomas Driver was born in the County of Surrey, near the city of London, England in October of 1874. No additional information about the Driver family was found during this research. The 1881 British Census shows no record of William Thomas Driver, nor does the Australian Vital Index Record, 1788-1905.

Driver joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as a young man and served in the British Army for 18 years. He appears to have been discharged from the Royal Garrison Artillery at his own request. He subsequently attempted to rejoin the Army, but was rejected for further military service "because he could not hop."[2] This sounds like a strange reason for rejection for military service, although Driver’s statement was probably an oversimplification of a medical problem that was the cause of his disqualification. The medical problem could have been the result of a foot or leg injury or it may have been the result of some disease such as arthritis.

At some time after leaving the British Army, Driver left England for Australia. He worked as a labourer while living at East Cannington in Western Australia.

3. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The following is a description of William Thomas Driver at the time he enlisted in the Australian Army in 1916:

Age:

41 years and 5 months

Height:

5 feet 8 inches

Weight:

140 pounds

Chest Measurement (Normal):

35 inches

Chest Measurement (Expanded):

38 inches

Complexion:

Fresh

Eyes:

Blue

Hair:

Brown

Religion:

Wesleyan

4. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

William Thomas Driver enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on the 4th of March 1916 for service in the Great War of 1914 to 1918. He took the Oath of Attestation at Perth in West Australia on that date.

On his attestation papers, Driver indicated that he had never been an Apprentice, that he had never been convicted by civil power, and that he had never been discharged from military service because of disciplinary problems. He did indicate that he had previously served in the Royal Garrison Artillery and further admitted that he had previously been rejected for military service for medical reasons. It is unclear from his service papers whether this rejection was for service in the British Army while he was still in England, or whether he had been rejected for previous service in the Australian Army.

On the 4th of March 1916, Driver was given a preliminary medical examination at Perth by Captain M.B. Watch. Captain Watch found him fit for active service. Apparently, Driver’s inability "to hop" was no longer a concern to His Majesty’s forces since manpower was so badly needed on the Western Front.

Upon completion of his preliminary medical examination, Driver was accepted for enlistment by Lieutenant B. Williams, his Recruiting Officer in Perth. On the 20th of March 1916, Private William Thomas Driver joined 56 Depot of the Australian Imperial Force.

5. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Private Driver served at 56 Depot from the 20th of March to the 10th of May 1916 when he was transferred to the Miners Reinforcement unit at Seymour, Australia. He was subsequently designated 5317 Sapper William Thomas Driver and was posted to the 2nd Tunnelling Company, Australian Engineers. Since the 2nd Tunnelling Company was serving in France at the time, it would be some time before Sapper Driver could join his unit.

Driver embarked at Suffolk in Melbourne on the 30th of September 1916 bound for England. He disembarked at Plymouth on the 2nd of December 1916. On the following day he marched in to No. 3 Camp at Parkhouse.

After almost a month at Parkhouse, Sapper Driver embarked for France from Folkestone aboard S.S. Arundel on the 1st of January 1917. He was subsequently attached to the Tunnelling Company Detachment of the 1st Anzac Entrenching Battalion on the 12th of January. After a short period of service with this unit, presumably for training, he was attached to the 2nd Tunnelling Company, Australian Engineers. This attachment took place on the 29th March 1917 and on the following day he was taken on the strength of the unit from an attached status.

Sapper Driver served with the 2nd Tunnelling Company throughout the remainder of 1917 and all through 1918. During this period Sapper Driver was extremely busy on the front lines, as the 2nd Tunnelling Company saw action in the following battles:

Major Headquarters

Battles or Campaigns

Dates

British X Corps

Messines

7-14 Jun 1917

British V Corps

St. Quentin

21-23 Mar 1918

British V Corps

Bapaume

24-25 Mar 1918

British V Corps

Arras

28 Mar 1918

British VII Corps

Ancre

5 Apr 1918

Australian Corps

Amiens

8-11 Aug 1918

Australian Corps

Albert

21-23 Aug 1918

Australian Corps

Bapaume

31 Aug – 3 Sep 1918

Australian Corps

Epehy

18 Sep 1918

Australian Corps

St. Quentin Canal

29 Sep – 2 Oct 1918

Australian Corps

Beaurevoir

3-5 Oct 1918

II U.S. Corps

Cambrai

8-9 Oct 1918

Driver served with the 2nd Tunnelling Company right up to the Armistice on the 11th of November 1918 and beyond. He was granted leave in Paris on the 10th of January 1919 and returned to his unit on the 14th of January. Following a bout with influenza in the 7th Stationary Hospital, Driver was discharged to the Reinforcements Base Depot on the 4th of April 1919. He left the Depot on the 8th of April and rejoined the 2nd Tunnelling Company on the 11th of April 1919.

Driver left his unit and departed for England on the 26th of April 1919, arriving there on the following day. He remained in England for another seven weeks until he embarked for Australia on board H.T. Ormonde on the 16th of June 1919. His next of kin was advised of his return to Australia on the 10th of July while Sapper Driver was still at sea. Driver disembarked in Australia on the 24th of July 1919 and was immediately posted to the 5th Military District.

6. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: William Thomas Driver received the following promotions or changes in rank during his time in service:

Date of Promotion or Appointment

Rank or Position

4 March 1916

Enlisted as a Private

10 May 1916

Rank changed to Sapper

b. Conduct: There is no indication anywhere in Sapper Driver’s service papers regarding his conduct during his time in service.

7. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: The are no entries in Sapper Driver’s service papers regarding his education in
civil life or in the Army.

b. Qualifications: The are no entries in Sapper Driver’s service papers regarding any special qualifications as a result of his military service. One can assume that he received some training as a Miner or Tunneller in order for him to serve in the unit to which he was assigned.

8. MEDICAL INFORMATION

The following medical information was taken from Sapper Driver’s service records during his time in service:

Location

Date of
Admission

Ailment

Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment

France

4 April 1917

Unknown

10 days in hospital

France

25 March 1919

Sick

Transported by Australian Field Ambulance to 20th Casualty Clearance Station (6 days)

France

30 March 1919

Sick

Transported to
7th Stationary Hospital (1 day)

France

31 March 1919

Influenza

4 days in hospital

 9. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

After arriving in Australia from England, William Thomas Driver lived with his wife Kathleen May at East Cannington, Western Australia. It is not known whether Driver was married in England or whether he married after he arrived in Australia.

10. DISCHARGE

William Thomas Driver was discharged from the Australian Imperial Force at the 5th Military District on the 31st of August 1919. His total service was reckoned as shown in the table below:

Location

Period of Service

Home

4 March 1916 to 30 September 1916

England

1 October 1916 to 1 January 1917

France and Flanders

2 January 1917 to 26 April 1919

England

27 April 1919 to 16 June 1919

Home

17 June 1919 to 31 August 1919

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

284 days

Service Abroad

2 years and 261 days

Total Service

3 years and 180 days

For his service during the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Sapper William Thomas Driver was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal [3].

11. POST SERVICE LIFE

No information was uncovered during the course of this research with regard to William Thomas Driver’s life after leaving the Australian Army.

ENDNOTES

[1] Subsequent research may uncover his service papers in the Public Record Office at Kew. This research may uncover details of this previous service.

[2] Driver made this statement on his attestation papers for service in the Australian Army during the Great War.

[3] The British War Medal is the only medal in the author’s collection.

REFERENCES

Documents

1. The service papers of Sapper William Thomas Driver, including the following documents:

a. Application to Enlist in the Australian Imperial Force.

b. Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad.

c. Description on Enlistment.

d. Statement of Service.

e. Casualty Form – Active Service.

2. First World War Nominal Roll Database, National Archives of Australia.

Periodicals

Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers Journal. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1925-1932.