No.2657 Charles Peter Henry Hildebrand
Charles Peter Henry Hildebrand was born at Yan Yean, around 40kms north of Melbourne, in January 1893.
At the outbreak of WWI his mother, Mrs Elizabeth Hildebrand, was living at Mortimer Street, Werribee and Charles was working as a painter.
He was still single when he joined up at Werribee on 16 July 1915 aged 22. Initially, he was assigned to the 6th Reinforcements, 23rd Battalion. After basic training he and his mates joined the HMAT Ulysses on 27 October and sailed from Melbourne bound for Egypt.
By February 1916, he had joined the newly formed 58th Battalion that consisted of veterans from the Gallipoli campaign with the balance made up of new recruits like Charles…most of whom came from Victoria. During the same month, he was promoted to Lance-Corporal.
The 58th Battalion arrived in France on 23 June 1916. They were rushed to the Somme as the British Expeditionary Force prepared for the Somme offensive that started on 1 July.
Although not involved in the initial assault, the 58th Battalion was called into action on 19 July at Fromelles. Half the battalion worked as carrying parties moving supplies to the frontline while the remainder waited in reserve to step into the breach.
The action was a disaster. The Australian War Memorial website says that the 58th Battalion 'was virtually annihilated' by machine gun fire. In its first action, the attacking soldiers lost a third of its strength, but still managed to man the defensive line at Fromelles until the end of October.
For the dreadful winter of 1916 and up until the spring of 1917, the 58th Battalion was based largely in the Somme region, spending time in the frontline, recuperating at specially prepared billets, undergoing further training and providing manpower for working parties.
By early May, the battalion was based at Mametz, around 30 kilometres north-east of Amiens. Their destination – Bullecourt – was a further 30kms to the north-east.
The battalion was in position facing Bullecourt by 10 May. The assault – called the second battle of Bullecourt – was designed to create a salient in the German-held defensive position that became known as the Hindenburg Line.
It was a disaster from the outset. Not only did the men of the 58th Battalion suffer severe shelling from the Germans, but ill-directed 'friendly' 18 pounder artillery fire caused many casualties.
As the troops advanced towards the German positions, they were forced to by-pass the remains of many Australians who had fallen at the first battle of Bullecourt the previous month.
Despite the horrors, the war diary of the day reports that the men of the 58th battalion "had gone towards their objectives showing splendid dash when jumping off".
The battle raged between 9 May and 12 May. Little was achieved, other than Australian troops suffering another 2,250 casualties.
Among them was Lance-Corporal Charles Peter Henry Hildebrand.
It wasn't until November that a court of enquiry determined that Lance-Corporal Hildebrand had been killed on 12 May 1917, aged 24.
Sadly, his body was never recovered, but his sacrifice is remembered on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial 16kms east of Amiens.
His name joins those of more than 10,700 Australian servicemen who were killed on the Western Front and who are officially commemorated at the site.
Medals & Entitlements:
[received by his mother]
- 1914/15 Star
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
- King's Message
- Memorial scroll and plaque
Lest we forget
NAA: B2455 HILDEBRAND C 2657