No.342 and No.2689 Private Ernest William Lewis
Ernest William Lewis was the eldest of four children. He was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire in England in 1892. It’s not known when the Lewis family, including parents John and Elizabeth, came to Australia, but at the time of the 1911 English census they were living in Bristol, Gloucestershire. In the census document, Ernest is described as 18 years old and is working as a leather salesman while his mother was operating her own tobacconist and newsagency.
Ernest's younger brother Alexander Lewis also served in the AIF.
His first attempt to join the AIF in September 1914 was thwarted by ill-health. He had made his way through basic training with the 14th Battalion and was actually aboard ship in Albany in Western Australia as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on his way to Egypt when he was discharged from service.
He reapplied on 5 March 1916 and joined the 5th Reinforcements, 29th Battalion. After a brief spell of basic training he was on board the HMAT Anchises in mid-April bound for Egypt. By August of the same year he was on his way to France as a replacement.
The original 29th Battalion had been raised at the Broadmeadows Camp in August 1915. It arrived in France in June 1916, landing just prior to the Somme offensive that began on 1 July 1916. The Battalion saw its first action at Fromelles on 19 July 1916. The attack was a feint designed to draw German troops away from the main Somme battlefield. The Germans realised that the action was a ruse almost from the outset. None of their troops were diverted to reinforce the Fromelles sector, and this ultimately pointless action had no impact on the Somme offensive that was to continue until mid-November 1916. The battle of Fromelles was all over in 24 hours…at a cost of more than 7,000 allied casualties, including 5,500 Australians killed, wounded or missing.
Private Ernest Lewis was taken on strength with the now weakened 29th Battalion on 2 August 1916. Following the failure at Fromelles, the Battalion was taking its turn in the front line trenches near Flers, around 6.5 kilometres from Bapaume. By November, the Somme offensive was petering out in the rain, mud and cold of an early winter. By then conditions were atrocious. One soldier noted that travelling the eight or nine kilometres from rear camps to the front line would take between nine and 12 hours with the men arriving absolutely worn out. An Australian padre noted that that the Germans were no longer the great enemy. The real enemy was the onset of winter.
It was in these conditions on 2 November 1916, No. 2689 Private Ernest Lewis was killed, aged just 24. There’s no mention in the war diary of a particular event on the day he died, but it does note that the 29th Battalion had suffered 289 casualties that month. Fourteen had been killed, including Private Lewis, but another 210 had been hospitalised through illness. Just two months before he was killed, his father – John Lewis – had died in late September in Werribee aged around 59.
Medals and Entitlements:
[received by his now widowed mother, Elizabeth Ann Lewis]
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
- Memorial Scroll and Plaque
Private Ernest William Lewis is buried and remembered at Bulls Road Cemetery at Flers in France (III, D, 29).
Lest we forget
Service record citation: NAA: B2455, LEWIS ERNEST WILLIAM
29th Battalion war history and diaries - Australian War Memorial