Rohan Albert Tapfield
1885 – 1917
Service number: 9991
Unit: 1 Brigade Australian Field Artillery, 3rd Battery
Date of death: 16 August 1917
When WW1 was declared in September 1914 Rohan Tapfield was a typewriter salesman living at “Nobbys”, Crown Road Queenscliff. He was also a member of the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club.
Rohan and his wife Rosa were the parents of two young boys, Neil and Neville. The expense of a having wife and young children, then, as now was always a balancing act for a young family man, but the lure of renting so close to Freshwater Beach may have been more expensive but was irresistible.
One of Rohan’s personal items to survive is his 1915 work diary. Not only were his clients and work accounts listed, but he also notes birthdays, household budgets, monies owed and paid back, personal banking etc giving us a window into the life of a family man of that era. There is a feeling, when looking through this diary, that his decision to go to war may have been a last-minute impulse.
He was the sole breadwinner for a wife and two children, he had 2 elderly parents to worry about and 4 sisters, apart from a well-paid job selling office supplies and equipment of the times.
However, as a member of the Freshwater Life Saving Club, he would have seen everyone signing up to go, even hearing from his neighbour’s news of deaths, including Fred Reynolds at Gallipoli.
His brother Roy joined up, as well as Rosa’s three brothers, all bachelors, however, the main push may have come from his oldest and closest friend Howard Harding who had been mates from childhood.
On the 18th October 1915, Rohan enlisted as a Gunner in the Field Artillery Brigade 1, Reinforcement 13. His stated age of 30 years.
Rohan’s service papers show that he allocated three-fifths of his army pay to his wife and 2 children and as an extra precaution had joined the Order of Royal Foresters which was a non-profit organisation set up to provide support to members and their families in times of unemployment, sickness, death, disability and old age. The Foresters played an active role in the lives of members and their families during times of crisis, in this case, WW1. Rohan would have contributed a set regular amount into the Foresters as a precaution against bad times as there was no social security in those days.
R - He embarked at Sydney on the 17 December 1915 for Egypt on H.M.A.T. Berrima arriving in Cairo on the 24 January, 1916 then ‘taken on strength to the D.A.C. (Divisional Ammunition Column) for training. https://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-berrima
Once training was completed on the 26 June, 1916 he was ‘taken on strength’ and proceeded to Alexandria, disembarking Marseilles France April 2, 1916 where he was transferred to the 2nd Field Artillery column. From thereon in he was transferred to different Field Artillery columns until the 29 September 1916 when see he ‘was in the field’ with the 21st Field Artillery Brigade.
Right from the very beginning of his war journey, Rohan started writing postcards to his two boys and they to him. Much of this correspondence was lovingly kept by the family and has passed down through the generations. Ever the perfectionist, Rohan conveniently dated all his correspondence enabling us to track his whereabouts throughout his service.
Most of these cards had amusing themes.
The boys must have loved receiving these in the mail. All with cheery news on the back, when things were not very cheery at all. But he never showed them that side of the war, until nearing the end.
Sometimes he sent them photos and silk patches with flags and symbols of different countries, which Rosa carefully put away.
8/3/15 In Camp. My dear boys, Neil, I received a letter from your dear which was very welcome, also one from Mother. I am writing to her also. Neville and you have been and are very good boys’ Mother tells me, Daddy is glad. We will have good old times boys when I came back. I have written to mother a lot of times from here and hope you have them by now. Give Mother my love and kisses, also to Grandma and Auntie - from Daddy, and plenty of fun to you boys. Xxx
On 7 April 1916, Anzac Corps took up positions at Armentieres, known as the ‘Nursery’ further away from the disastrous first day on the Somme, however, within 3 weeks of arriving at the beginning of the Allied offensive, four divisions of the AIF were committed to the battle of the Somme.
27/6/16 To Dear old Neil from Daddy in France with the best love. This is the smile Daddy has when I get a letter from you and Mummy. He looks very happy. I received your letters enclosed in mummy’s safely old boy and I do enjoy them. It is raining and very miserable. Give my love to Grandma and all your Aunties and a kiss too. Daddy is on guard Neil, writing this card. Ask Mummy if the photos arrived safely.
Rohan’s 1st Division entered the line on the 23 July 1916, taking part in the assault on Pozieres during which the Germans directed an intense artillery barrage on the town resulting in horrendous losses. By the time the 1st Division was relieved by the 2nd Division on 27 July, they had suffered 5,286 casualties.
26/7/16 To my darling boys. I sent you an Anzac book, hope you will enjoy it and I am also sending you a little book to learn French from. With best love and kisses from Daddy.
Following the attack on Pozieres, the Australians were called upon to attack Mouquet Farm in August. All three divisions of 1 Anzac Corps were committed to forcing a breach in the German lines near Pozieres. As the battle of the Somme dragged on the AIF had suffered almost 23,000 casualties in the 45 days they had been involved.
7/11/16 My dear old Neil, I hope you and Neville got the books for Xmas safely, also sent cards. This picture shows how the Belges (Belgians) use dogs to draw their guns. Well, old chap thanks for the nice letter you wrote to me. I am glad to hear you’re doing well at school. That’s right lad – learn all you can, so I can be more proud of you still. It’s very wet and cold here now Neil. I think I would like to be with you on Freshwater Beach. It must be nice and warm there. I suppose you will look after little Neville when he goes to school. Give my love and kisses to dear old Mummy, Nev and many to you, from your Daddy.
During 1916 and 1917 the Australian divisions were fighting battles at Pozieres, advancing on the Hindenburg Line, Bullecourt, Menin Road, Broodeseinde, Passchendaele, and Amiens, where Rohan saw action at the times he was in the field.
The last card Rohan wrote to the boys was:
5/8/17 Sunday. In the field. Dear Old Neil. Wishing you many happy returns old boy on the 11th next month. You will be 11 years of age. I can hardly believe it, and don’t forget son, be a man in all things. The guns are roaring and making plenty of noise. Love from Daddy.
During this offensive, over 6,800 Australians were killed, including Rohan, on the 16th August, 1917.
Of course, his closest friend from childhood, Howard Harding, was with him to the end and wrote one of the most beautiful letters to Rosie, informing her of Rohan’s passing.
Above - This photo of Freshwater was found among his possessions and sent home to Rosa
R - Photo of his solemn faced sons taken just after Rohan died.
Rohan is Buried at the Perth China Wall Cemetery, Zillebeke, Belgium but his spirit still lives on in Freshwater.
On Sunday 10th November 1919, a footpath plaque commemorating the life of Rohan Tapfield was placed alongside a new Queensland Brush Box Tree planted in Soldiers Avenue Freshwater.
The plaque on the new tree guard reads:-
This Queensland Brush Box tree was planted by Her Excellency, The Honourable Margaret Beazley A.O. Q.C., Governor of N.S.W. to mark the Centenary since the establishment of the Soldiers Avenue of Honour, 10 November 2019.
Her Excellency , The Honourable Margaret Beazley A.O. Q.C. at the planting of the Queensland Brush Box tree with a Member of Rohan Tapfield's Family.
Her Excellency, The Honourable Margaret Beazley, A.O. Q.C. consoling Rohan Tapfield's Family Member during the Service.
All photos, papers and stories, unless specified are from the private papers and interviews with Larry Tapfield, great nephew of Rohan Tapfield, grandson of his brother Roy Tapfield, son of James Tapfield and grandfather of Rhys Telfer who took part in the 100th Anniversary event in Jacka Park, Freshwater 11th November 2019.
Photos and information of WW1 Memorials, from Soldiers Avenue Stakeholders’ Group Collection 2017. Photos of Rohan’s grave and cemetery 2017 from the collection of Phil Curry’s tour of WW1 cemeteries France & Belgium (Friends of Freshwater).
All Information throughout document regarding Harry Harding, Rohan, Roy, Neil, Neville and James Tapfield’s war records sourced from WW1 & 2 Attestation Papers held with the National Archives of Australia.
Information regarding Military History https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Australia_during_World_War_I
Written and researched by Wendy Mazoudier Machon for the Soldiers Avenue of Honour Stakeholders Group