Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Major Charles John Holdorf (1869-1954)

The following was written by my father, Ian, about his grandfather, Charles John Holdorf, who I mentioned in the previous blog. It outlines Charles’s military career.

In 1890 he enlisted in the New South Wales Military Forces, and was commissioned in 1896. He had various commands as a Major during his part-time service, initially in Goulburn and then based in Sydney. He was awarded the Volunteer Decoration for his 25 years of part-time military service. He enlisted on the 5th August 1915 in the recently formed Australian Imperial Force, and was appointed Second in Command of the 30th Battalion of the 5th Division.

As second in command, Major Holdorf was responsible for outfitting, equipping, accommodating, feeding and administering the 1000 strong Battalion. Following their preparation, the Battalion embarked on the “Beltana” on 9th of November, 1915, and sailed across the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal. Here they provided part of the protection force for Egypt and continued with training.

Early in 1916, the Battalion, which was part of the 8th Brigade of the AIF 5th Division, travelled by sea to northern France and the Western Front. Their first major engagement was in the infamous Battle of Fromelles near the Belgian border. The main battle was from 19th to 22nd July, and they suffered the heaviest casualties ever recorded by the Australian forces. This was caused by the poor planning of the British generals who unrealistically ordered the Australian troops to charge over 350 metres of no-mans land in the face of deadly German machine gun fire. The British also failed to provide covering artillery fire. There were a total of 519 deaths from the 8th Brigade of which 338 bodies were never recovered. The opposing German force included Corporal Adolf Hitler.

During the battle, the Commanding Officer of the 54 th Battalion (14th Brigade) became a casualty, and Major Holdorf was appointed to command this Battalion on 1st September, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. However his command only lasted until 6th November, when he was evacuated out on medical grounds. H e was subsequently invalided home with suspected emphysema, arriving home on the “Ulysses” on 12th April, 1917. This diagnosis was obviously wrong as he lived another 37 years. His service in the Army terminated on 17th October 1917. The following year he changed the family name to Holford because of anti-German feeling. He later served as a Company commander in the Volunteer Defence Corp in the Mosman area during the second World War.

Troopship Beltana

Troopship Beltana


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