In loving memory of my dear friend.
William James Heathcote Brook,
who was killed in action November 10, 1916.
Ever will I remember thee.
Inserted by his friend, Elsie.
The above notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 11 November 1936, twenty years after William was killed in action on the Western Front. Elsie, clearly, had not forgotten her friend.
William James Heathcote Brook was born in Orange in 1885, the sixth of seven children born to Edward George Brook and Helena Booth Heathcote.
Edward and Helena had married in 1878 in Goulburn, where Edward was the landlord of the Great Southern Hotel. The couple travelled around the state somewhat; their children were born in Windsor, Berrima, Bathurst, Orange and Goulburn. They later settled in Waverley in Sydney.
William attended Bondi Superior Public School and later served a six-year plumbing apprenticeship with Alex Hart in Kensington. He also completed two years with the Citizen Military Forces, in the Machine Gun Corps, Eastern Suburbs Infantry. It was here that William obtained the highest score in the winning team of the first Rifle Shooting Competition held by the Commonwealth Militia Forces.
William and his older brother, Edward George Heathcote Brook, enlisted together on 11 February 1916. William joined the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company as a sapper, embarking from Sydney on 20 February and arriving in France on 5 May 1916. The following month he spent a week in the 2nd New Zealand Field Ambulance receiving treatment for scabies.
On 10 November 1916 the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company was conducting operations at Berlin Shaft, Hill 60, near Ypres in Belgium. It was here that William was killed in action. The circumstances surrounding his death are unclear. Ironically, William’s brother, Edward, embarked for overseas service on 11 November 1916 – the day after William’s death.
On 18 December 1916 William’s father wrote a letter to the Minister of Defence requesting that Edward be advised of his William’s death before disembarking. He was informed that that this was impossible, and was advised to send a cable that he would receive upon arrival.
William’s father died just eight days later, on 26 December 1916. According to the Goulburn Evening Penny Post:
For the last few years Mr. Brook had suffered from a weak heart.
His end was hastened by the death of Sapper Brook.
In August 1917 Helena Brook received her son’s personal effects: his identity disc, mirror, diary, purse, pocket wallet, Testament, handkerchief, metal ring, swastika charm, photographs, cards, six coins and a letter.
William James Heathcote Brook is commemorated on Waverley Soldier’s Memorial 1914-1918 in Waverley Park and on panel number 26 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.