Joseph Eric Piercy

Portrait of Joseph Eric Piercy.

Rank

Private

Roll title

11th Battalion, AIF (later 16th Battalion)

Convoy ship

HMAT Ascanius

Piercy enlisted in the AIF on 2 September 1914 at Blackboy Hill, aged 24.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

Joseph Eric Piercy was born in Magill, South Australia, on 17 September 1890. When he was still a young boy his family moved to Perth and took up residence in James Street, Guildford. Piercy was enrolled at the local primary school, before attending Perth Boys High School in James Street, Perth. After school he was apprenticed for five years as a pattern maker with the locomotive department of the Western Australian Government Railways.

Between 1907 and 1910, Piercy served with the Citizen Forces in the 1st Battalion of the Australian Infantry Regiment, where he attained the rank of sergeant.  He joined the AIF at Blackboy Hill on 2 September 1914, one month shy of his 24th birthday. He was placed with C Company of the 11th Battalion. 

Piercy enlisted in the AIF on 2 September 1914 at Blackboy Hill, aged 24.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

Piercy enlisted in the AIF on 2 September 1914 at Blackboy Hill, aged 24.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

Piercy’s Certificate of Discharge from the 11th Australian Infantry Regiment in 1910.

Courtesy of Glenis Piercy

11th Battalion troops march out of Blackboy Hill Camp on their way to the port of Fremantle in preparation for their embarkation, 31 October 1914.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P08644.002

On 31 October, the 11th Battalion embarked at Fremantle on HMAT Ascanius and HMAT Medic. On board Ascanius, Piercy met men of the 10th Battalion, who had boarded the ship in Adelaide. The ships joined the rest of the First Convoy at sea two days after it had left Albany. They reached Suez on 1 December 1914. Late in the evening of 6 December, Piercy and the 11th boarded trains at Alexandria. The next day they reached Cairo and marched to Mena Camp.

 

HMAT Ascanius.

Courtesy of the Western Australian Museum MHK D1 347

Troops aboard Ascanius in Adelaide, prior to reaching Fremantle.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P00326.019

The Ascanius at Fremantle in November 1914, on its way to join the First Convoy at sea.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H16157

The 11th Battalion on the steps of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, 10 January 1915. Within eight months of the landing, only 69 of these men would still be fighting, the rest having been killed, wounded or evacuated for illness.

Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia 4496B

After landing on 25 April 1915, the 11th Battalion and other units captured Plugge’s Plateau and pushed on to capture the heights of the second ridge to the left, towards Battleship Hill. In the general confusion, the 11th’s men often became separated and fought localised battles in the labyrinth of gullies and on the ridges. Many found themselves under heavy shell-fire from strong Turkish counter-attacks. During this first day of fighting, Piercy suffered a gunshot wound to his leg. He was evacuated to Tigne Hospital in Malta.

Piercy never returned to Gallipoli. He remained in Malta until August 1915, before being transferred to Fulham Military Hospital in England. By the time he returned to his unit in January 1916, they had withdrawn from Gallipoli via Lemnos Island. They were stationed in Egypt, recuperating, undertaking further training and deployed in the defence of the Suez Canal. In March 1916 Piercy was promoted to lance corporal. 

A detail of the Cheops pyramid image showing Piercy. He was identified in the image by his daughter, Glenis.

Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia 4496B

11th Battalion troops and 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, assembled on HMS London, steaming with other Royal Navy ships carrying troops from Lemnos to Gallipoli for the landing. HMS Bacchante is visible ahead, 24 April 1915.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial AO2468

George Lambert, Anzac, the landing, 1915 (c. 1920–22, oil on canvas, 199.8 x 370.2 cm).

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ART02873

A postcard produced c. 1920: ‘The Battle of Polygon Wood From Original Drawing by A. Pearse, War Artist’.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H00563

On 27 March 1916, the 11th Battalion entrained for Alexandria. The troops farewelled Egypt on 30 March with 28 officers and 942 other ranks. They embarked on SS Corsican, which was too small for any drill so the men enjoyed a relatively quiet voyage, with the only excitement resulting from the sighting of a submarine.

After a five day voyage, Corsican berthed in Marseilles, France. The next day the battalion marched to the waiting troop train, through streets thronged with local people chanting, ‘Vive l’Australie! Vivent les Australiens!’

The train journey north took the men through the heart of France, passing picturesque villages, blossoming orchards and stately chateaus, and reached Godewaersvelde, near the Belgian border west of Ypres, on 8 April 1916. Their first billets in France were rough barns and outhouses resembling the shearing sheds of Western Australia, familiar to some of the men before the war. The sounds of artillery fire could be heard in the distance.

Ten days later the 11th moved south-west to Sailly-sur-la-Lys, in the Armentières sector, where they spent a month in training and drills. Little touched by the war, the area was dotted with ‘gas schools, bayonet and physical drill schools and bombing schools’. On 25 May, Piercy accidentally wounded his left hand while instructing at the 1st Division Bombing School. The wound was treated in France, but caused him to miss the 11th Battalion’s first foray into the front-line trenches at Fleurbaix.

Piercy re-joined his unit on 11 June 1916, and fought in the bitter battle at Pozières between 22 and 25 July. He sustained gunshot wounds to the face and back and was evacuated to England, where he was admitted to the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol. He was later transferred to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield, England.

An officer with the 16th Battalion

In January 1917, Piercy, now recovered, was selected to attend officer training school. He joined the No. 4 Officer Cadet Battalion, passed and qualified on 25 January, and was commissioned as second lieutenant. Embarking for France on 13 February as part of the pool of general reinforcements, Piercy joined the 4th Australian Division Base Depot. He marched out to join the 16th Battalion a week later, however a dose of influenza in March 1917 put him back into hospital. He was still in a casualty clearing station in early April, when the 16th Battalion took part in the disastrous action at Bullecourt that resulted in heavy losses. Piercy rejoined his unit on 18 April, and over the next couple of months the battalion moved between camps in northern France and Belgium, undertaking training or participating in working parties.

Polygon Wood

In August 1917, the 16th Battalion relieved the 44th in the front line at Messines, subsequently enduring heavy shelling and the loss of 27 men, with a further 40 injured. In September they moved into the Ypres sector, to take up support lines in readiness for the operations to capture the village of Passchendaele. On 26 September they joined the attack at Polygon Wood. Alongside fellow 4th Brigade units, the 16th was to capture the first objective, near Zonnebeke. At 5.50 am on 26 September, it advanced behind a heavy artillery barrage.  Piercy, though twice blown off his feet by shell explosions, bravely led his platoon forward, and helped organise troops to capture the objective. The battalion also took 200 prisoners. Piercy received a Commander-in-Chief’s Congratulatory Card for his gallantry, and in October he was promoted to lieutenant. His Congratulatory Card read:

Is brought to notice for very gallant and courageous behaviour in our operations near Zonnebeke on the 26th September 1917. Before the attack this Officer and his sector of our trenches had received a very thorough shelling from the enemy. He was blown off his feet twice and once buried by shell explosion, however, with characteristic devotion to duty, he insisted on leading his Platoon to the attack, and during the operations and the subsequent consolidation, his demeanour was such as to inspire the greatest confidence. He was the centre directing Officer for the attack, and his general grasp of the situation organising a considerable body of men who had been too far forward in our own barrage, and after re-organisation, he led them forward again to their objective. Subsequent to the consolidation of the Red Line he was instrumental in procuring and taking forward, wire, and other materials to the Blue Line. This was done under heavy Machine gun and shell fire, and in this, as throughout the whole operation, he displayed the greatest gallantry and devotion to duty. He is very strongly recommended for high distinction.

Leave in Paris

Between October 1917 and April 1918, the 16th Battalion spent much of their time in and out of the trenches around the Ypres sector. A brief respite occurred in December 1917 when they entrained for Péronne in northern France, where the ‘originals’ spent their third Christmas overseas. In March 1918 Piercy was granted a month’s leave. It was perhaps during this time that he and two other officers had an amusing run-in with some American YMCA staff in Paris, which formed the basis of an article in Perth’s Western Mail in 1933.

Hébuterne and Hamel, via Villers-Bretonneux

Piercy rejoined his unit in battle on 8 April 1918 near Hébuterne, where they had formed a defensive line in face of the German Spring Offensive. He had missed much of the fighting, including a heavy shell and gas bombardment three days before. The battalion was relieved on 9 April, eventually moving on to Amiens on 27 April.

In early May, the 16th Battalion relieved the 13th in the recently captured village of Villers-Bretonneux, where they spent a week before moving back into the support line near Blangy. By the end of the month the 16th were relocated to the front line on a ridge overlooking Hamel. There, on the night of 15–16 June, they conducted a trench raid. Piercy was officer in charge of wire-cutting operations. After leading his party across nearly 400 metres of no man’s land, he successfully directed the use of Bangalore torpedoes to blow through two sections of German wire, despite enemy bombing. He then led his men into a German trench and established two blocks in a communication trench. For his actions he was awarded the Military Cross.

The battle of Amiens

By August 1918, the 16th Battalion had moved into position along the Somme River and were preparing for the battle of Amiens. On 8 August, using a combination of aircraft, artillery and tanks, a mass of assembled allied forces launched an offensive to push through the German front lines. By mid-afternoon the allies, advancing behind a creeping barrage, had reached and captured the second objective. Under heavy German artillery fire, Piercy led his company forward in the attack. Organising a special flanking party to subdue a German battery, he enabled the left flank’s advance. The 16th Battalion suffered a heavy toll from enemy machine-guns and artillery, but, aided by the 13th Battalion, reached and held their third objective. As he led his men to this objective, Piercy suffered a severe gunshot wound to the leg.

Piercy’s gallantry earned him a bar to his Military Cross, though the recommendation was for the Distinguished Service Order. He was initially treated in the field before being evacuated, via a hospital in Wimereux, to England. His war was over.

Listen to the citation that describes Piercy’s gallantry and cool leadership at Amiens.

I have the honour to bring the above-named Officer to notice for very great gallantry and cool leadership during the operations on the Somme on the 8th August 1918. Despite the fire of German Light Artillery at close ranges he formed his Company up on the Red Line, and by personally inspecting the ground, obtained cover for nearly the whole of his men, thereby saving many casualties. Immediately the advance began, Lieutenant Piercy threw out a special flanking party to locate and subdue the enemy battery … (and)… as a result of his foresight and presence of mind … this gallant Officer paved the way for the advance of the left flank, which the Tanks were unable to support… (W)hen the infantry leap-frogged the Tanks, Lieutenant Piercy led the attack in the most dashing manner right on to the limits of objective, the Blue Line and at once superintended the work of consolidation and re-organisation. During this interval he was badly wounded but continued to direct operations until he had made all arrangements and handed over to the next Officer. It was entirely due to his personal bravery and magnificent example that the Company reached the limits of its objective and maintained itself there under heavy machine gun and point blank battery fire.

Piercy’s recommendation for an award for his gallantry near Zonnebeke in September 1917.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial R1627574

Dead German soldiers at a concrete pillbox near Polygon Wood, 21 September 1917.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E00777

A letter to Piercy’s father, Frederick, advising him that his son had been awarded the Military Cross.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

A letter from Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood congratulating Piercy on his Military Cross.

Courtesy of Glenis Piercy

A letter from Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood congratulating Piercy on his Military Cross.

Courtesy of Glenis Piercy

Unidentified members of a 16th Battalion raiding party, Hébuterne, April 1918.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial A00816

A map indicating the Green, Red and Blue Line objectives at Amiens, August 1918.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial AWM4 26/50/30 – August 1918

Australian troops resting behind the hill that marked their first objective on 8 August 1918.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E04923

A letter from the AIF Base Records Office detailing Piercy’s bar to the Military Cross.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B884, W244159

Piercy remained in England until early 1919, pursuing undisclosed business interests. He returned to Australia aboard the Nevassa, disembarking at Fremantle on 13 April 1919. His appointment with the AIF was terminated on 5 May 1919.

On his return to civilian life, Piercy did not return to his trade as a pattern maker due to the many injuries that he had received. From 1920 he worked for varying engineering companies in the Perth area, as well as trying his hand as a wine and spirit traveller for White Horse Whiskey. In 1937 he took over the licence of the Vasse Hotel in Busselton, and married Phylis Enid Pearl Cook a year later. The couple had a daughter, Glenis, in 1944.

In the Second World War, Piercy served again as a lieutenant in the Australian Military Forces. He was promoted to captain in 1942. He later joined the Intelligence Corps at Headquarters, Western Command. From 1948 until his retirement in 1960, he worked for War Service Land Settlement, and became known for his knowledge of the farm machinery required by soldier-settlers. He died on 27 September 1967 at the Hollywood Repatriation Hospital in Nedlands, aged 77.

References

Australian War Memorial, First World War Embarkation Rolls – Joseph Eric Piercy

Australian War Memorial, Honours and Awards – Joseph Eric Piercy

Belford, W 2010, Legs Eleven: Being the story of the 11th Battalion AIF in the Great War, The Naval & Military Press, Uckfield, The Imperial War Museum, London

Gill, I 2008, Bloody Angle Bullecourt & Beyond: 16th Battalion A.I.F. 1914-19, Ian Gill, Perth

Longmore, C Captain 2007, The Old Sixteenth: Being a record of the 16th Battalion, A.I.F., during the Great War, 1914-1918, Hesperian Press, Carlisle

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, Joseph Eric Piercy’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; PIERCY, J E LIEUTENANT, W244159, 1914-1920

Western Mail, Perth, ‘Old Nap and JJ’, p 2, 23 March 1933; accessed via National Library of Australia, Trove

 

Anonymous

MUST"HAVE"BEEN"BLOODY"AWFUL.

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KENT PIERCY

WELL DONE UNCLE.

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Anonymous

You fought bravely for our country and now we owe you a debt we will never be able to repay. Thank you.

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Anonymous

Such a brave man!

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Anonymous

Thank you so very very much for my safe and peaceful life. You did your country a great service and you were a very brave man.

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Anonymous

To Joseph Piercy, I would just like to thank you for your courage and bravery throughout the war. You should be very proud. You served this country well. Thank You.

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Anonymous

Dear Joseph, You seem like you are good at fighting in the war.

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Kate.M

Today I learned the story of Joseph Eric Piercy, thank you.

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Anonymous

Thank you for sharing your story with me. I am honoured.

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Anonymous

Your courage was amazing and I would like to be you one day.

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Anonymous

Inspirational. Great job.

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Anonymous

You are so brave and strong. If you were still alive you could tell the story.

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Anonymous

Thank you. You will not be forgotten.

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Glenis Piercy

I am just proud of you Dad.

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lou natale

To serve in two wars was an amazing sacrifice. We thank you.

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AB CRAWCOUR K ...

RIP. THANKS, YOU ARE A GOOD BLOKE AND WILL BE MISSED.

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Isaac E

Thank you for your service.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your courage.

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Anonymous

So I see you become a engineer, same with my Dad.

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Anonymous

Thank you for saving our country.

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ELIJAH

Thank you ERIC FOR YOUR BRAVE ACTIONS.

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a future genera...

We, the Australians well into your future, acknowledge and appreciate your personal sacrifice toward the defence of our country. My thanks go to you and your fellow mates.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your great courage in the war.

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Cara

Thank you so much for helping us live in peace - your story is amazing. Congratulations in receiving the Military Cross. Lest We Forget.

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Anonymous

I have been following your history. And have enjoyed it very much. Thank you so much for fighting in both WW1 and WW2. Also congratulations for getting the Military Cross.

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Anonymous

So glad you made it back. You are one of my heroes.

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Anonymous

Dear Joseph, God let you survive.

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lizzy

You did a great job. Thank You. LEST WE FORGET.

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batman

Your story is pretty awesome.

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Anonymous

Thanks for everything you did. I'm glad you survived the war. From Holly ;]

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bob

Hello there. Missing you.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your service and contribution to our way of life. We are forever grateful.

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Brooke

Thank you for your service.

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Anonymous

Thank you for trying your best and rest in peace.

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isobella

Thank you for sacrificing yourself for us. From Bella#(;

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Tayla

To Eric, Thank you for risking your life to save ours and making it better. I hated hearing you getting hurt and conditions of war. Rest in peace thank you from Tayla. xx

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Anonymous

To Eric. Thank you for risking you life to save us and make our life better. You are very brave and I liked hearing about you. It was very sad to hear you got hurt. From Tayla.

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anon

What a wonderful brave man. I loved following his journey.

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jimmy henderson

Thank you for all your help.

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Anonymous

What a hero. We will be forever indebted to you.

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Hayley

What you did was amazing!

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Anonymous

Thank you for your contribution to the war and fighting for our freedom.

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Bob Baile THORN...

WELL DONE MATE!

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luke moyser

Dear Piercy, Thank you for risking your life for us to live and be free to live in peace. Our country wouldn't be like it is now without you and your friends.

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jacob

Thank you very much.

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Anonymous

I live close to Nedlands and share his name.

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Anonymous

So very brave. Rest in peace.

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Ian Frith

Proud to be Australian.

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Anonymous

For all the battles you fought and the hardships you endured you will be remembered for ever more.

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jeff

Thank you to you and all others who helped set us free.

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