by ehistoryadmin on February 17, 2018

Monasterevin soldier cast in bronze

James Durney

On 19 July 1919 a Peace Day Parade took place in London to mark the end of the First World War. A temporary cenotaph war memorial was erected on Whitehall to celebrate what was also called London Victory Parade to mark the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 2 June 1919. After an outpouring of national sentiment the cenotaph was replaced in 1920 by a permanent structure and designated the United Kingdom’s official national war memorial. Sir Edwin Lutyens design has been reproduced elsewhere in the UK and in other countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Bermuda and Hong Kong.

The Sydney Cenotaph is located in Martin Place, Sydney, and was unveiled on 25 April (Anzac Day) 1927. The site chosen, Martin Place, adjacent to the General Post Office, was the location in which the majority of Sydney’s recruits had enlisted in the Australian Army for World War I. The Sydney GPO was also the main channel of news information during the war. On 8 March 1926, the Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, announced that the State Government would commission a project to design and erect a Cenotaph in Sydney. It was designed by Sir Bertam Mackennal, an Australian sculptor and medallist, most famous for designing the coinage and stamps bearing the likeness of King George V.

The Cenotaph is a monolithic stone block in a sepulchral shape with two bronze statues at each end, a sailor and a soldier. The model for the sailor was Leading Seaman John Varco, who had served on the HMAS Pioneer (1914-1916) and the HMAS Parramatta (1917-1919). He was awarded the Commonwealth Distinguished Service Medal in 1918 and died in 1948. The model for the soldier was Private William Pigott Darby from the 15th Infantry Battalion and the 4th Field Ambulance, Australian Imperial Force (Gallipoli and the Western Front). Born in Monasterevin on 25 April 1872, William Pigott Darby died in Brisbane on 15 November 1935.

William Pigott Darby was the son of Martin Darby, medical doctor, and Anne Darby, formerly Pigott. Dr. Darby was a native of Geraldine, Athy, while his wife, Anne, was born in Co. Dublin. He was elected Dispensary Medical Officer for the District of Monasterevin, in 1867, two years after qualifying as a medical practitioner. In the 1901 Census Martin Darby was aged sixty-four and his occupation listed as Physician and Surgeon, and Justice of the Peace. Martin Darby died at his residence, Moore Street, Monasterevin on 1 September 1911. His wife Anne Darby predeceased him; she died, at the same residence, on 6 August 1902, aged fifty-eight.

Their son, William, had emigrated to Australia, probably in the 1890s. On 27 September 1914 at the grand age of forty-two years and eight months William Pigott Darby enlisted in the Australian Army at Toowoomba, Queensland. He gave his age as thirty-eight, his occupation as a ‘traveller’ (possibly an itinerant travelling labourer) and his address as Sydney GPO. His height was recorded as 5′ 9.25″ and his weight as 162 lbs. Next of kin were recorded as his children, Harold and Rita Darby, and their address was also given as Sydney GPO. Private William Pigott Darby was posted to Headquarters Company, 15th Battalion. The 15th Battalion was formed from Queensland and Tasmanian recruits as part of the all-volunteer Australian Imperial Force. Following a short period of training, the battalion embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on the transport ship SS Ceramic on 22 December 1914, bound for Egypt.

After a period of training and acclimatisation in Egypt, the 15th Battalion headed for the Dardanelles peninsula to take part in the assault on Gallipoli. Assigned to the follow-up waves, the 15th Battalion landed at Anzac Cove on the afternoon of 25 April 1915. As the Turkish defenders checked the Australian advance inland, on arrival the 15th Battalion was rushed into the line on the left flank of the beachhead. As the advance inland stalled, the battalion became isolated and threatened with destruction until they withdrew to a more tenable position.  Later, they helped shore up the line before occupying positions around ‘Pope’s Hill’ and ‘Russell’s Top.’ After a period of heavy fighting in May stalemate fell across the peninsula. In early June, the 15th Battalion, its strength having fallen to below 600 men, was withdrawn to recuperate in a quiet sector known as ‘Rest Gully.’ Over the next two months, due to illness and death, the battalion’s personnel were almost completely replaced. It received several drafts of reinforcements and by early August the battalion had reached a strength of 720 men.

Illness continued to take its toll and William Pigott Darby was admitted to No 2 Field Ambulance, on 9 August 1915 with diarrhoea, a common, and sometimes fatal, complaint on the peninsula. He was transferred to No 3 General Hospital, on Lemnos Island, the following day with enteritis. The 15th Battalion were also withdrawn to Lemnos for rest and refitting and Pigott Darby rejoined them in October. The 15th Battalion returned to Gallipoli early in November and remained there until being evacuated on 13 December as part of the main Allied withdrawal from Gallipoli. Pigott Darby was promoted to corporal on 14 March 1916, but illness hit him again, this time gastritis, and he re-joined his battalion on 21 May 1916. His war was not over and he found himself transferred to 4th Australian Field Ambulance and then France, disembarking in Marseilles on 8 June 1916.

Amidst the carnage of the Battle of the Somme which was launched in July, Pigott Darby entered the line around Pozières. A little over a week later, on 12 August 1916, he was admitted to 7th Australian Field Ambulance, suffering from shell-shock. He was evacuated to No 1 Convalescent Depot, Boulogne; discharged to Base Depot, on 18 August 1916. Pigott Darby marched out to England for return to Australia, on 6 January 1918. He commenced his return to Australia as nursing staff on board HT Osterley, on 31 January and disembarked at Sydney, on 15 April 1918. He was discharged as medically unfit, due to deafness, in Brisbane, on 2 July 1918.

William Pigott Darby died on15 November 1935, in Brisbane, Queensland, at the age of sixty-three. Few, if anyone, in his native Monasterevin, knew that the soldier hero was the model for the Sydney Cenotaph.

My thanks to Pat O’Mahony (Newbridge) for bringing this story to my attention and also The AIF Project, UNSW Canberra.

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