Courtesy of Xavier College Archives
Lieutenant Theodore Hoddle Wrigley +
Pakenham & District War Memorial
Born: 1895 Geelong
Enlisted: 21 August 1914 aged 19
Unit: 5th Battalion, H Company (SERN: 861)
Served: Egypt, Gallipoli & Western Front
Killed in action: 20 June 1916, Fromelles France
Theodore was the son of Geelong solicitor Richard Sandford Wrigley and Agnes Hoddle, daughter of Victoria’s first Surveyor General Robert Hoddle (who laid out Melbourne’s famous street grid). Theodore was also a great-grandson of Captain Baxter of Frankston (1). After his father’s death, Theodore’s mother married Grant McDonald, who had purchased “Closeburn” at Pakenham from William Close in 1913 (2). Although raised in the Church of England, Theodore attended Xavier College, the prestigious Jesuit school in Melbourne from 1908 to 1910 (3). His nickname at school appears to have been “Humpty Dumpty” (4). Theodore was a keen cricketer, later playing for the St Kilda Cricket Club (5). His sister Frances Hoddle-Wrigley became a well-known championship tennis player.
Theodore was working as a clerk when he enlisted on 21 August 1914, three weeks after the declaration of war. He was not yet 20 years old. Theodore had eight years prior service in the cadets (presumably at Xavier) and two years in the Citizens’ Forces (6). After enlisting, Theodore was assigned to H Company, 5th Battalion AIF as a corporal. Before he left Australia, Theodore was farewelled by his former school mates in the Old Xaverians‘ Association (OXA): “Theo. Hoddle-Wrigley, mildest mannered of boys, developed the martial spirit the moment war loomed up, volunteered, and joined the 5th Battalion. He received his corporal’s stripes in examination .... Theo came out to be farewelled by the O.X.A and only wanted one form of presentation on arrival - a bath. After a day’s field work and a hurried journey he was fearsome and war-grimed enough to stand for a soldier artist’s model” (7).
Theodore left Melbourne on 21 October 1914 on the HMAT Orvieto. In Egypt, he elected to “give up his stripes” when he volunteered to serve with a machine gun unit which subsequently fought at Gallipoli (8). Theodore “took part in and survived that fateful day” (i.e. the Anzacs’ landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915), and endured what he later described as “nineteen weeks of strenuous fighting in the firing-line with the machine gun section” (9). By August 1915, Theodore had contracted enteritis, diarrhoea and dysentery and had to be evacuated to Egypt, where he was hospitalised (10). At some stage, Theodore had been appointed as corporal in the machine gun section because of “his knowledge of the work” and later served as an instructor at the Imperial School of Instruction at Zeitoun, Egypt (11). He was then seconded to the 14 Machine Gun Company in May 1916, and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He was just 21 years old. In June 1916, Theodore’s unit was sent to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front (12). On the night of 19-20 July 1916, less than a month after arriving in France, Theodore was killed in action during the Battle of Fromelles. According to eye-witness reports, he went “over the top” (of the trenches) with his men at 5:45pm. Although they reached their objective in the German trenches, Theodore was killed when he was helping to direct the placement of machine guns. At the time he was shot, Theodore had either left the trench or else was exposed from the parapet (13). According to one eye witness: “A machine gun bullet entered his head and death was instantaneous. Owing to the activity of the operations he was buried in the old German trenches and subsequent recapture of these trenches made it possible to erect a cross over the grave” (14). Another report suggested that Theodore was killed by a bursting shell, and said he was “the relative of an English general” (15). Theodore’s death is even mentioned in Charles Bean’s famous official war history, where it is stated that he was killed crossing “no-man’s land” (16). His grave was not subsequently located. Some time later, a valise owned by Theodore was returned to his mother containing clothes, a fly whisk (presumably obtained in Egypt), a set of spurs and some letters. Later, a trunk of Theodore’s was also returned to his mother containing clothes, as well as his watch, books, photographs, newspaper clippings, religious medals and three sets of rosary beads (17). The latter were perhaps given Theodore by his former school mates when he had left for Egypt. “Many a prayer” was said at the College when news of Theodore’s death reached Australia (18) and he was remembered in The Xaverian for “sacrificing his life for the good of others.” (19).
Aside from the Pakenham & District War Memorial, Theodore’s service and sacrifice is commemorated on the Xavier College Roll of Honour and at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. His name also appears on the Australian Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, but should have been honoured at “VC Corner” at Fromelles instead (20).
The assistance of Catherine Hall, Xavier College archivist is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) Argus 19/8/1916, p. 13
(2) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 22/5/1913, p.5
(3) Information supplied by Catherine Hall, Xavier College Archivist
(4) The Xavierian 1915 p. 53
(5) Leader 23/9/1916, p. 20
(6) (10) (12) & (17) NAA B2455 HODDLE-WRIGLEY T LIEUTENANT
(7) The Xaverian 1914 pp. 45-46
(8) (11) (18) & (19) The Xaverian 1916 p. 68
(9) The Xaverian 1915, p. 27
(13) (14) & (15) AWM Red Cross Wounded & Missing File - 2nd Lieutenant Theodore Hoddle-Wrigley 14th Machine Gun Coy
(16) Bean (1942a) p. 436.
(20) Commonwealth War Graves Commission website - www.cwgc.org