Private Russell George Bosisto, 27th Battalion AIF,
Killed in Action 4th August 1916, buried 5th July, 1998

Russell George Bosisto was born on 18th April, 1893 at Hindmarsh, South Australia, the second child and only son of Ernest and Annie Bosisto.  His five sisters were Gertrude, Dorothy, Evelyn, Marjory and Flora. The family later moved to Medindie, a suburb of Adelaide.

Russell was 21 years old and employed as a baker when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Beachport on 15th March, 1915. He was posted to "A" Company of the 27th Battalion and served in Egypt and Gallipoli before arriving in France on 21st March, 1916.

At 9.00 p.m. on 4th August, 1916, the 2nd Australian Division launched an attack astride the Albert-Bapaume Road, as part of the continued push forward from the direction of Thiepval and Mouquet Farm. The 27th Battalion was on the extreme left of this attack, north of the road, and between the road and the track to Courcelette.

This was the part of the attack which was aimed at capturing the ruins of the windmill at Pozieres, beneath which the Germans had built a very strong machine-gun position.  In front of the windmill were the Germans' two lines of trenches. The attack was successful, apart from the fact that one stubborn machine-gun post still held out some way to the North and was not captured until the next day. During the night, the Australians had to fight off many counter-attacks but they held on.

This area around Pozieres is of great national interest to Australians, because in this small area of France, between Pozieres and the site of Mouquet Farm just outside Thiepval, Australians fell more thickly than in any other battlefield of the war. The night attack of 4th August was not without casualties - among them Pte. Russell Bosisto.

Russell's body was not found after the battle or after the war, and so in due course his name was included on the Australian Memorial to the Missing at Villers-Bretonneux. He was one of many who had come from the other side of the world, to die an unknown death just outside Pozieres, a village so small, and in such a remote part of France, that it would be a fair bet that not one person in Australia had ever heard of it before the war.

Those left behind
BACK: from left to right: Ernest (father), Gertrude, Evelyn, Dorothy, Annie (mother)
FRONT: Marjory and Flora

Russell Bosisto, just one among thousands of missing Australians, was remembered by his parents and sisters and, after their deaths, by their children. One among thousands. Yet events were to make Russell's name known throughout the world, and make him, for many people, a symbol of Australia in France, on the Somme, in 1916.

In that now-peaceful field between Pozieres and Courcelette, there is an area of stiff clay, different from the soil in the surrounding land.  In the 1920s there was quite a deal of excavation in this area, as clay was removed to provide bricks for the rebuilding of Pozieres. Since then, the clay has been moved only little by little, with each year's ploughing. It was during the winter ploughing, in January 1998, that a farmer from Pozieres removed the last few centimetres of earth which had been covering Russell Bosisto's body for these last eighty years, about 50 metres from the village of Courcelette and 250 metres from the memorial to the Australian 2nd Division, to which Russell's 27th Battalion belonged. The farmer contacted the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who made arrangements for the remains to be removed and, if possible identified.

 The farmer did not consider that he had done anything remarkable.  He has described his actions as :

"A very modest contribution to keeping the memoirs and respect in regard to all soldiers on every continent dead or lost for a cause they believed was right."

Identification was easy, because Russell's remains were found with all equipment  and personal posessions still in place. There was his rifle and bayonet, his ammunition, the remains of his pipe, his gas-mask, perished except for the glass eye-pieces, his penknife and razor. But most important of all there was his identity disc - still legible. Before long, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was ready to change the lives of Russell's surviving relatives for ever, by telling them that their uncle's body had been found.

This is where I came into the story, because some of Russell's relatives contacted me via my web-site to ask if I could tell them what the 27th Battalion was doing on the day Russell was killed. My guess was that Russell must have been buried by shellfire, having been killed earlier in the battle or perhaps by the shell which buried him. He would not have been buried by his comrades, who would have removed his equipment and identity disc.

Russell's relatives also asked me if I could think of a way to locate the farmer who found the body, so that the family could thank him personally for his kindness.  This was a fairly easy task.  I wrote to the Mayor of Pozieres and he was able to help me.

With the farmer found, and accomodation arranged for the family, all that remained was to wait for the day and attend the funeral myself.

Sunday, 5th July dawned slightly cloudy, but dry and warm.  The funeral had been arranged for 9.00 a.m. to fit in with other arrangements which were taking place that weekend - the dedication of two new Australian Memorials at Fromelles and Hamel.  After an early breakfast, I went to the cemetery along with my daughter, Lucy and my friends Pat Raftery, Paulette Pecourt and her son Jean-Philippe.  We drove from Mailly-Maillet through Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval and into the area which had cost the Australians so dear in August, 1916 - the now-peaceful fields between Mouquet Farm and Pozieres. In Pozieres we turned onto the Albert-Bapaume road and shortly afterwards, passed the site of Pozieres windmill, now an Australian memorial. There were a few visitors there even at 8.15 a.m. on this special day.  Beyond the windmill, lying in slightly lower ground, was the British Cemetery at Courcelette, where the funeral was to take place.

Parking in the village was still relatively easy as we were early arrivals ands we set off on the half-mile walk to the cemetery. On that quiet morning, among friends, the walk was an excellent start to the day. We had rushed to France to attend the funeral, and we would be rushing home afterwards.  This unhurried walk through the countryside was one of the most relaxing parts of the visit.

We could see where the road from the village had been widened. The fields are slightly higher than the road and the road-widening had exposed some of the land which had been below the surface until now. In August of 1916 the Germans had fortified this road and turned it into a trench - the "Fabeck Graben" - and there were quite a few battlefield relics lying around, including a clutch of extremely large shells. (More shells, smaller this time, were laid out against the cemetery wall, awaiting collection.)

Lucy and the shells - mostly shrapnel

At a juction between two farm tracks, just outside the village, the United Mineworkers' Federation of Australia Pipe Band was warming up, and they made an unusually picturesque scene - Australians dressed in Scottish uniform, playing among the fields of Northern France.

We walked on to the cemetery.

The Cemetery at Courcelette has an open frontage, facing the village.  It was begun in the Autumn of 1916, at the end of the Somme Battles, and originally contained 74 graves. After the war, the cemetery was extended by the concentration of bodies from the surrounding battlefields and there are now 1,957 graves there (including that of Pte. Bosisto) of which 1,177 are unidentified. It's a good example of a cemetery which was originally used as a battlefield cemetery, where the survivors of a successful attack buried the bodies of their fallen comrades, and the small group of original burials is recognisable, as is usually the case in this type of cemetery, by being referred to as Plot 1.
On this morning, the cemetery was a busy place, as a couple of hundred people waited for the funeral to begin. There were lots of Australians, of course, but there were also French and English voices, plus at least two American soldiers. Apart from one section of the cemetery, reserved for press and TV, there was no restriction on where visitors might stand and we stood to the side of the prepared grave, where we waited for the ceremony to begin.

One of the cemetery benches had been moved near to the grave and seated on it were four Australian Great War veterans, each of them over 100 years old. We had seen them on French Television the previous evening, at the dedication of the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles, and noted how active they still were despite their years.

The funeral began with a procession, at the slow march, led by a detachment of the 10th/27th Battalion the Royal South Australian Regiment, the "direct descendants" of Russell Bosisto's 27th Battalion, AIF. Behind them came the pipe band and behind them, the hearse carrying the coffin. The band played the theme from Dvorak's "New World" symphony to begin with, but as the procession neared the cemetery there was just the beat of the bass drum to keep the marchers in step.  The leading Company took up its position on the road, outside the cemetery, while the firing-party marched to the far end of the cemetery.  Standard bearers, a piper and a bugler stood near the Cross of Sacrifice at the top of the cemetery and the relatives of Pte. Bosisto arrived and stood before the grave.

Then the coffin was carried into the cemetery and laid over the grave, and the service began. There were prayers and scripture readings and an address on behalf of the next-of-kin, delivered by the Honorary Colonel of the Royal South Australia Regiment, Sir Eric Neal, AC, CVO, Governor of South Australia:

"Today you stand united in reverence to a fallen brother in arms. We thank you for the great tribute you bestow on him.  But let us remember he is but one who served, and thus honour them all.

Private Russell Bosisto's family is a tree with many branches. As a result of his discovery he will now be honoured by thousands, however, long before this there were several descendants who knew him, loved him and were very proud of the sacrifice he had made.  Three generations of family members in Australia, who sadly, are unable to be here today, wish to honour "their" Russell and to bring some of  "his home" to this final resting place.

(Here one of the Great War veterans sprinkled soil into the grave.)

Rest in peace, Russell - with much love and pride from your family and home in Adelaide."

There was then the Blessing of the Grave - the Chaplain sprinking the grave with holy water held in an upturned Great War steel helmet - and the piper standing near the Cross of Sacrifice sounded a lament as the flag, hat and bayonet were removed from the coffin before it was lowered.

Then there were floral tributes and the last part of the ceremony.  Eighteen members of the Regiment fired volleys and the bugler sounded "Last Post" followed by "Reveille" after a period of silence, during which I looked up from the grave-site and saw the site of Pozieres windmill - the object of the attack in which Russell was killed - on the skyline at the highest point of the road from Bapaume to Albert.

This was the end of the formal burial.  The last time I attended such a burial, the weather was foul, and everyone was quick to get away at the end, but at Courcelette, after having watched the pipers and soldiers form up and march away, no-one seemed in any hurry to leave. There was an Australian dressed in the uniform of the Great War, and he attracted a lot of attention after the burial. My friend Paulette added an extra air of authenticity when she tried to relieve him of one of his shoulder or collar badges, to add to the large collection which her mother had built up as a young girl during the war, but he was having none of it.

Someone had taken a large white basket and filled it with poppies growing at the edges of the cornfields surrounding the cemetery, and anyone who wanted to could drop one of these blood-red flowers into the grave.

They say that the Australians enraged the "establishment" British officers during the war, because of their lax military discipline.  The often did not seem to see the importance of saluting a superior, and officers and men often had a habit of calling each other by their first names. The Australian saved their discipline until it was needed - when they were in action. This casual approach to military life and this sense of equality has often been commented on and it still lives on, in a way...........

My friend Pat was standing in the cemetery before the ceremony began when an Australian dressed in a suit walked towards him.  They caught each other's eye and the Australian said, "All right, Mate?" They exchanged a few words and both moved on. Later, during the burial, the same man stepped out from the crowd to recite the scripture reading, and a quick look at the order of service revealed that he was the Honourable Ian McLachlan, MP, the Australian Minister for Defence. He had arrived early and waited for the service to begin just like the rest of us.

I felt that I had come to know a lot about Russell Bosisto since I received that first email many months before. I was glad that I had been able to get "over there" for the final act - the "Closing of the Circle."


The sun shone bright, on hearts young and brave,
Who marched into glory, with a world to save,
Then the sun grew dim, and nights grew cold.
Yet those valiant men, were ever more bold,
The men of the 27th.

With thunder roaring both left and right,
On they fought, with all their might,
Victory was gained, but the price was paid,
Tragedy and sacrifice, their lives they gave,
The men of the 27th.

One who perished in the relentless fight,
Lost in time, forever in night,
A fallen warrior, within the ground,
A new day dawned, and he was found.
A man of the 27th.

"He's one of ours" was cried with pride,
And was heard in places far and wide,
Now they honour him, for the life he gave,
And lay him gently in a Christian grave.
The men of the 10th/27th.

Rick James McLaren - June, 1998

Copyright © Tom Morgan, July, 1998.

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