Local Identities

Allan Bennison Black: His history concentrating on his service in WW1

Story by Shirley O’Donovan, Sydney, 2021.

Allan Bennison Black was born on the 30th January 1886 in Little River, Victoria, the fourth child of William Murray Black and Mary Ann Bennison. William had been born in Scotland and emmigrated to Australia for his health with his mother, Ellen Conyngham Black nee Pratt, soon following. They settled at Glenmaggie, Victoria and were granted several blocks and they purchased further land to establish what is today, Colemans’ Grand View. When the Black family arrived in Victoria they were quite wealthy, but lost all their money through the dishonesty and death of their lawyer and thus lost all control of their land and were forced to sell.[1]

William Black decided to travel to Western Australia to take up land at Cowcowing, via Korrelocking, taking his fourteen year old son, Allan, with him. They farmed this land and took contract work until Allan enlisted. Allan declared that he earned 500 pounds p.a. from these activities.[2]

Allan Black (no. 885) enlisted in the Australian Imperial Form on the 10th September 1914 and was appointed to the 12th Battalion, 3rd Inf. Bde; 1st Aust. Division on the 6th October 1914. Allan was described as 28 years 8 months of age; height 5 feet 11½ inches; weight 180 lbs with a chest measurement of 39 inches. His complexion was medium, eyes hazel, hair dark, and his religious denomination C of E. He was deemed fit for service.

Allan Bennison Black. Photo courtesy of the Lance family

Allan embarked at Fremantle on H.M.A.T. “Medic” on the 2nd November 1914 arriving in Egypt in December 1914. He was obviously a strong man hardened by his years of farming. A period of training in the desert followed to prepare the Australian forces for their eventual transfer to Europe, but in late April they were committed to the Gallipoli Campaign. The Anzac landing force moved to Lemnos, Mudros which was used as a staging post for the assembly of troops and ships to be used in the Gallipoli campaign. It was at Lemnos on board ship that Allan became ill with German measles and caught a severe cold and was hospitalised on Lemnos on the 16th March 1915. Had Allan not contracted measles he would have participated in the initial landing at Gallipoli as the 3rd Brigade was the force to cover the Anzac landing on the 25th April 1915.

Even though Lemnos was close to the proposed conflict, the island, which consisted of harsh terrain and was just a narrow strip of land, lacked suitable medical facilities, so the hospital was intended initially to deal with light cases i.e. those classified as likely to be well within twenty-eight days.

It was on the 17th March 1915 that Allan suffered an incision behind the ear because of the collapse on him of a hospital tent. His face swelled up and after 5 weeks on Lemnos was transferred to 15th General Hospital at Alexandria, unconscious and seriously ill. Upon his recovery Allan was transferred to Machine Gun Instructional School Base, Alexandria and rejointed his Unit on the 7th January 1916.

On the 1st March 1916 Allan was transferred from the 12th Battalion to the 52nd Battalion at Tel El Kebir. The 52nd Battalion was originally raised in Egypt on 1st March 1916 as part of the reorganisation and expansion of the AIF following the Gallipoli campaign. An intense period of training followed, and in the mid 1916 the AIF infantry units were sent to Europe to fight on the Western Front. Sailing on the transport ship H.M.T. “Ivernia”, the battalion landed in Marseilles on the 11th June 1916 and was then moved by rail to northern France where they undertook gas training and received new equipment to prepare them for trench warfare. In August 1916 the battalion arrived in Albert, moving forward near the frontline to Chalk Pit near Pozieres on fatigue duties.  Movement in this area was hazardous due to the constant bombardment, accurate sniper fire and the German machine gunners.  Australian dead littered the area.

The battalion continued to carry out training, awaiting orders to move into the front line. By the end of August, the Battalion had moved again, now positioning itself at La Boisselle.

On the 1st September 1916 officers from the battalion moved forward to carry out reconnaissance, inspecting supply dumps, dugouts and SAP trenches in preparation for moving forward into the line for another assault on Mouquet Farm. Mouquet Farm stood in a dominating position on a ridge that extended north-west from the ruined, and much fought over, village of Pozieres. Although the farm buildings themselves were reduced to rubble, strong stone cellars remained below ground which were incorporated into the German defences.

The day was gloriously sunny, with the air filled with aircraft and observation balloons as the diggers prepared the jumping off trenches for the forthcoming offensive. At 10.30 am on 2nd September orders came through for an attack on Mouquet Farm. 52nd Battalion Headquarters moved to a position near Kay Dump, with Allan’s Company moving forward to the jumping off line to be in position by 3.50am on the morning on the 3rd September.

By 5.10am the British launched an assault on Thiepval north of Mouquet Farm with 52nd men over the top with fixed bayonets heading towards their objective, a left section of the German trench named Fabeck Graben as well as a flank attack on Mouquet Farm in support of the 51st Battalion assault.

The barrage lifted, with the battalion charging the enemy trench, a German machine gunner situated behind the barbwire opened fire on the advance with devasting results. Allan’s A Company were in the lead, stumbling forward towards the German’s trench. Casualties were sustained immediately when the German machine gunner opened fire, but somehow the advance continued.

Despite the right flank attack faltering due to the casualties of A and D Company, the attack continued to press forward with the support from a Lewis machine gun by Sergeant Black. A Company had secured the centre of the objective.

For this action Allan was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. “For conspicuous gallantry in action.  He re-organised the left of the line and led them into the enemy’s trench. He showed marked skill with his machine gun, and later repaired and brought into action an enemy gun.  He set a splendid example of courage and determination throughout”.[3]

A report from the Anzac Bulletin, London, September 15, 1916 “Mouquet Farm” by C.E.W. Bean

“That afternoon the Germans attacked the open flank with heavy artillery. For hours shell after shell crashed into the earth around. A heavy battery found the barricade and put its heavy shells systematically round it. The garrison, dwindled to a handful, had to shorten its length of trench bringing in the wounded with it. One of the remaining sergeants – a Lewis gunner – came back from an errand crawling, wounded dangerously through the neck. ‘I don’t want to go away he said. If I can’t work a Lewis gun I can sit by another chap and tell him how.’ In the end, when he was sent away, he was seen crawling on two knees and one hand guiding with the other hand a fellow gunner who had been hit.”

The seriously wounded Allan and his fellow gunner had to find their way through the nightmare of no-mans’-land to their own lines while shrieking, screaming shells of death were falling all around.

During the night the heavy bombardment continued and the garrison was soon annihilated. They began to be forced back and during this retreat the Germans bombed forward. The attack resulted in heavy casualties, with the battalion losing nine officers and 170 other ranks.  (Among these casualties was Private John Milnes of Allan’s A Company).

Allan was wounded by a gunshot wound in the neck during this action and whilst waiting evacuation his trench was bombed causing it to cave in on him. He was initially taken to a casualty clearing station and then transferred to No. 4 General Hospital Camieres. It was on the 11th September 1916 he was admitted to War Hospital, Keighley.

It was on the 13th August 1917 that Allan was discharged from the 2nd North General Hospital to Headquarters and he re-joined his unit on the 10th November 1917 where it had been moved to the Ypres area for the Winter. Allan’s injuries allowed him to carry out his duties as long as he had no bending. It is thought that being an NCO and as a machine gun specialist he was given special consideration in this regard.[4]

On the 28th November 1917 Allan was promoted to Company Sergeant Major and on the 12th January 1918 he was sent to A.C. School re-joining his unit on the 23rd February 1918.

In early 1918, following the collapse of Russia, the Germans launched the Spring Offensive on the Western Front.  As the Allies were pushed back in the direction of Paris, the units of the Australian 4th Division were rushed south from Belgium where they had spent the winter.  Moving in to a hasty defensive line north-west of the Ancre River the 52nd Battalion was ordered to Dernancourt where Allan sustained a gun-shot wound to the leg but remained on duty.

On the 23rd March 1918 Allan was ordered to OTC England and placed on Supply List and on the 5th April 1918 he was selected to attend an Infantry Cadet course in England. On the 5th April Allan joined No. 6 Officers Cadet Bn. and was appointed Cadet.

Allan was appointed 2nd Lieutenant on the 4th November 1918 and was posted to General Infantry Forces and was granted 75 days leave from 23/11/1918 to 7/2/1919 and thence he was to report to Overseas Training Brigade, DAAG, England. It appeared that the AIF had plans to utilize to the greatest extent Allan’s leadership capabilities and his intelligence.

Allan was granted leave from 23rd November 1918 to the 7th February with pay in order to attend Leeds University to study Chemical Agriculture and on the 1st March 1919 he was promoted to Lieutenant. Allan was granted leave without pay (for business) from the 24th August 1919 to the 23rd October 1919 and the address given was Dr. Stansfield, 41 Park Street, Leeds.

Allan embarked on the “Ypiranga” to return to Australia after being invalided from the service with honour on the 1st November, 1919. (52nd Battalion, 13th Brigade).  Allan’s discharge address was his father’s farm at Cowcowing although it was likely that due to William Murray Black’s advanced age of 83 years at the time of Allan’s return the farm had to be sold. William Murray Black died at the Claremont Old Men’s Home on the 11th May 1925.

Upon arrival Allan was able to secure a block at Jardup Estate, Harvey on which he hoped to make great improvements and he appointed a Mr. Bennett of Dowerin as Manager. Although Allan was struggling with his war injuries he appeared to be active in the district during the early 1920’s – in 1921 he complained about the condition of the Upper Harvey Road and in 1922 was advertising for the return of strayed or stolen sheep from his property. Allan’s youngest sister, Isabel, had joined him from Victoria to care for him.

It was apparent that by the early 1930’s because of his injuries Allan could not maintain the heavy work which was necessary in running a farm. By 1931 the block at Jardup Estate had been leased and Allan was working for wages in dairying, when he could, as he had no other occupation to fall back on. He was forced to live a rather insular life which was pointed out in a letter dated August 3, 1949 after Allan’s death. Isabel Black wrote “I was his youngest sister and have looked after my brother since WW1 and was dependent on him. I have had to live rather an isolated life as my brother owing to his head wounds could only live a very quiet life”.[5]

Allan lived at Cottesloe, Perth for a short time in the 1940’s but returned to Harvey to the care of his sister before his death. Allan died at the age of 63 on the 17th May 1949 and was buried in the Old Cemetery at Harvey. He left assets of 3 pounds.

Allan’s admiration for the daring and fighting spirit of his Brigade and indeed all Anzacs can be seen in a poem written by him in November 1916


There are plenty of slouch-hatted soldiers in town

Doughty and debonair, stalwart and brown;

Some are from Wrymouth or Salisbury Plain

Others have pushed in the Western Campaign

Call them overseas soldiers or Down-under Men,

Declare them each one as daring as ten

Call them Cornstalks or Fern Leaves – all out for a fight

But don’t call them Anzacs, for that isn’t right.

The Anzacs – their ranks are but scanty all told

Have a separate record, illuminated in gold

Their blood on Gallipoli’s ridges they poured

Their souls with the scars of the struggle are scored

Not many are left and, not many are sound

And thousands be buried in Turkish ground

These are the Anzacs the others may claim

Their zeal and their spirit, but never their name.

At the end of his war service Allan was discharged from the AIF with honour having fought with valour, tenacity and resourcefulness, and although not sound, utilized these same qualities in the struggle of his post-war life.


Relatives of Allan Black and members of the Westralian Great War Living History Association gather around the grave after the commemoration ceremony on 15 October 2022 at the Old Harvey Cemetery. Photo courtesy Jodie Randall.


[1] Maffra: The History of the Shire to 1975 by Doris Kemp.

[2] PP13 Pension File

[3] London Gazette, 14 November 1916.

[4] Allan’s medical file PP2/8.

[5] Allan’s Pension file PP13/1