Alfred Harold O'Brien

Information about birth

Year of birth:
Place of birth:
Windsor, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

General information

Last known residence:
117 Wells Street, Redfern, New South Wales, Australia
Church of England

Army information

Australian Imperial Force
Service number:
Enlistment date:
Enlistment place:
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
 —  Australian Infantry, 21st Bn. (Victoria)  (Last known unit)

Information about death

Date of death:
Place of death:
Tokio, Zonnebeke, Belgium
Cause of death:
Killed in action (K.I.A.)


Buttes New British Cemetery, Polygon Wood
Row: A
Grave: 16

Distinctions and medals 2

Points of interest 4

#1 Place of birth
#2 Last known residence
#3 Enlistment place
#4 ‘Place of death’

My story

Alfred Harold O’Brien, a former labourer, was born in 1895 in Windsor, Hawkesbury, New South Wales, Australia. He was the son of John Michael O'Brien. On August 28, 1916 he enlisted in Sydney. He embarked from Sydney with the 17th reinforcement of the 21st Battalion, on board HMAT A19 Afric on November 3, 1916.

On the 4th of October 1917 the 2nd Australian Division participated in the Battle of Broodseinde, a phase in the Third Battle of Ypres. The 21st Battalion was part of the 6th Brigade, which attacked on the right of the divisional front. The 22nd Battalion would take the first objective, the red line. Once they had taken this line, the 24th would pass through the 22nd on the right and the 21st would do the same on the left. The Battalion assembled before the attack at the jumping-off positions in front of Tokio, but soon moved closer to the road leading to Tokio on account of German artillery fire on and around Albania. They made use of shell holes and old trench systems to form a line.

At 5.35 a.m. moments before the Battalion would attack, the German artillery, including minenwerfers, started shelling the jump-off line, causing heavy casualties. The Germans were about to attack themselves in the hope of recapturing Zonnebeke. The heavy shell fire was very destructive.

At 6 a.m. the British and Australian artillery opened fire on the German positions and the troops started to advance. The 22nd led off, followed by the 21st and 24th. Zonnebeke Lake was on the jumping-off line on the left. The three battalions had to storm the front over 3oo yards right of the lake. Once they had passed the lake the units on the left had to change direction to cover the ground allotted to them.

The German infantry was utterly surprised by the allied barrage. They were quickly dispersed, killed or taken prisoner by the advancing Australians. Docile Trench and De Knoet Farm fell without much opposition and the 22nd Battalion reached their objective by 6.50 a.m. On the right flank of the 24th Battalion the troops met resistance in Romulus Wood, but the Germans were eventually overpowered. At 7.30 a.m. the 21st and 24th moved up behind the protective barrage, reaching the second objective, the blue line at 8.10 a.m., where the dug in and prepared for eventual counterattacks. The 21st Battalion captured the hamlet of Broodseinde and consolidated a line on the Broodseinde Ridge.

Alfred, aged 23, was killed in action on October 4, 1917 in the early hours of the attack, due to shellfire. It is highly possible that he was killed near the onset of the attack when the Germans shelled the jump-off lines. Private O’Brien was initially buried close to where he fell, near Brick Kiln & Yard (28.D.28.c.30.70). After the war, his remains were exhumed and reinterred at Buttes New British Cemetery, Plot 28, Row A, Grave 16.

Files 1

Sources 6

21st Infantry Battalion (Australian War Memorial, Campbell (AWM), AWM4 23/38/26).
Sources used
Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau (Australian War Memorial, Campbell (AWM), RCDIG1064166).
Sources used
First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920 (National Archives of Australia, Canberra (NAA), B2455).
Sources used
McCarthy Chris, "Passchendaele: The Day-by-Day Account" (London: Arms and Armour, s.d.), 99.
Sources used
NSW Servicemen Portraits, 1918-19 - Alfred O'Brien, 1918. Trove (National Library of Australia (NLA) & partner organisations).
Sources used
Unit embarkation nominal rolls, 1914-18 War (Australian War Memorial, Campbell (AWM), AWM8).
Sources used

More information 4