William Nelson


Service Number: 23/249

Rank: Company Sergeant Major

Units Served: 23rd   Battalion  Northumberland Fusiliers (4th Tyneside Scottish)

Personal Details: William Bernard Nelson was born 5th June, 1888 at Petersburg, South Australia to William James and Elizabeth (nee O’Dea) Nelson. He was the eldest of seven children.

Enlistment Details: William enlisted in Bedlington, Northumberland

Details about his role in the war: From Australians at War 1914-1918 ‘The Road to Pozieres’ On 1 July 1916 the German lines stretched from north to south across this countryside, the front line lying in front of the fortified villages of La Boisselle and Ovillers La Boisselle. La Boisselle was the objective of the Northumberland Fusilier battalions that morning, along with four other battalions of the 34th British Division. This was the centre of the whole British assault where a gap needed to be opened and held to allow British cavalry units to break through and roam all the way to Bapaume. The attack on La Boisselle was a disaster. The British artillery had not been effective in destroying the front–line enemy positions and half an hour before the attack the heavy guns were taken off these positions and directed on strong points further back to assist the later cavalry breakthrough, should it ever occur. A large mine placed under a German forward trench called ‘Y Sap’ had exploded at 7.28 am but the Germans had earlier learnt about the mine’s existence and pulled their soldiers back. Moreover, the distance between the British and enemy lines was in places more than 750 metres. The first wave to attack La Boisselle consisted of the four battalions of the Tyneside Scottish (20th to 23rd Battalions, Northumberland Fusiliers) to the north and centre, and four other British battalions to the south of the village.
One who the memorial commemorates is Sergeant Major William Nelson, 23rd Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, who was killed on 1 July 1916 in the battalion’s attack on La Boisselle. Nelson was one of the missing and his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial. Five weeks later his brother, Lance Corporal John Nelson, 16th Battalion AIF, of Wilmington, South Australia, followed William’s footsteps onto the Somme battlefield to fight at Mouquet Farm. He was killed on 10 August. His body was also never identified for burial and he is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial at Villers–Bretonneux.
A third Nelson brother, Frederick Vincent, joined the AIF in May 1916 and served in France with the 3rd Machine Gun Battalion. Not surprisingly after the death of his brothers, his mother, Elizabeth Nelson, in Keswick, South Australia, made representation to the AIF that he be sent back to Australia for home service. Despite being gassed in August 1918, Frederick Nelson survived the war and returned home in 1919.

Date of Death: 1st July 1916

Memorial Details: Thiepval Memorial Pier & Face 10B, 11B & 12B

The following article was publsihed in the "Observer" on 30th September 1916



Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Nelson, of Wilmington, have been advised by the Defence Department that their eldest son, Sgt.-Major W. B. Nelson (who was previously reported as missing), -was killed in action in France on July 1. The deceased enlisted in England in the latter part of 1914, and served with the Northumberland Fusiliers, with which regiment he was connected at the time-of his death. He has left a widow and two children, who reside in Northumberland."

Image from the "Observer" 30th September 1916 sourced through Trove.


Commemorated by


Bethany Jurgs

3rd December 2008