The Story of Ambrose Haley: The World War One Australian Digger Buried in Midleton Graveyard

On 30th December 1918 a party of mourners were led by Canon O’Connor to an open graveside beside the main path at the Church of the Holy Rosary cemetery in Midleton. Those in attendance had walked to the church from the railway station at the other side of town, where they had met and formed a cortège behind a flag-draped coffin. The elm casket had been carried to the church by Timothy Murphy undertakers, who were based on the Main Street. Passers-by would have noted a number of unusual aspects to the funeral; the flag was not the Union Jack, as might be expected, but rather was adorned with the Southern Star. As well as that, the soldiers in attendance wore the slouch hat that marked them not as British troops, but men of the Australian Imperial Force. The young man in the coffin– Ambrose Augustine Haley– was laid to rest in the cemetery following a requiem mass. But he was not a local; indeed he had been born and raised on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away in Tasmania. How was it that he had come to be buried in East Cork? We decided to explore his story. (1)

Gunner Ambrose Haley (Australian War Memorial)

Gunner Ambrose Haley (Australian War Memorial)

Ambrose Augustine Haley was born to Thomas Haley and Mary Ann Haley (née Fox) on 7th December 1892 in Portland, Tasmania. Thomas worked as a clerk, and not long after Ambrose’s birth the family moved along the coast to St. Helens. There Thomas ended up working for J.C. Mac Michael & Co. General Merchants and Importers, who had branches in both St. Helens and Lottah. As Ambrose grew to adulthood he embarked on a career as an accountant, but also found time for more martial pursuits, spending a year in the cadets. (2)

Ambrose was not among the first rush of volunteers for service in the army; indeed he was not the first of his family to join the colours. His younger brother Jack enlisted in the recently formed 40th Battalion at Claremont, Tasmania on 8th March 1916. The 21-year-old shop assistant must have looked forward to heading to the seat of action, but he was to be disappointed. After just over a month Jack was discharged as medically unfit. The reason was the impaired vision he suffered in his left eye, the result of an accident with a whip when he was a child. Ambrose decided to take the plunge only a few months after his brother. On 7th November 1916, at the age of 23 years 11 months, the young accountant entered a Claremont recruiting office; when he emerged he was a gunner in the Australian army. The following year a third brother, Urban, would make the same journey. He enlisted on 23rd March 1917 at the age of 20– as he was under 21 his parents had to sign a permission slip for him to be deployed overseas. Thomas and Mary Ann consented, but his father stipulated that the consent was predicated on the fact that ‘he goes in a clerical position as promised by the Minister of Defence in the case of Military Staff Clerks.’ By this point in the war, everyone was aware of the risks. (3)

Australian artillerymen laying an 18 pounder at Maribyrnong in 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Australian artillerymen laying an 18 pounder at Maribyrnong in 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Ambrose spent the first few weeks of his service in Tasmania, before leaving his island home for what would prove the final time in January 1917. On the 9th of that month he sailed for the mainland, where he joined a pool of artillery reinforcements based at Maribyrnong near Melbourne. Here he waited for his deployment overseas while training continued. On 11th May Ambrose boarded the troop transport Ascanius, bound for Devonport, Plymouth. The young Tasmanian was off to join the Australian Imperial Force in Europe. The arduous journey to the other side of the world took more than two months, and Ambrose didn’t have a good time of it. He had to spend a day in the ship’s hospital en-route, and was no doubt delighted to finally arrive in England on 20th July 1917. (4)

The Ascanius which brought Ambrose to Europe (Australian War Memorial)

The Ascanius which brought Ambrose to Europe (Australian War Memorial)

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the young Tasmanian arriving in England for the first time, but whatever his feelings, Ambrose was given little time to acclimatise. He was immediately whisked off to Larkhill in Wiltshire, home to the School of Instruction for Royal Horse and Field Artillery. For nearly eight weeks he continued his training as a gunner with No. 3 Battery, Reserve Brigade Australian Artillery, before word finally came that he was on the move again– this time to the Western Front. The 18th September 1917 found Ambrose in Southampton, boarding a vessel bound for France. (5)

Australian artillery in action in Passchendaele, October 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Australian artillery in action in Passchendaele, October 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

In France Ambrose initially formed part of the 12th Reinforcements of the 15th Field Artillery Brigade, but within a few days he received his permanent assignment. He became a gunner in the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade, which formed part of the artillery compliment of the 1st Division, Australian Imperial Force. When he joined his new unit in Belgium on 5th October, they were in the midst of the bloody slog that was the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendaele. Having spent months in training and traveling, Ambrose was finally at the front. It was not an environment he would experience for very long. (6)

Shell dump for Australian artillery at 'Birr Crossroads', near Ypres in October 1917, the mnth Ambrose was wounded © IWM (E(AUS) 1991)

Shell dump for Australian artillery at ‘Birr Crossroads’, near Ypres in October 1917– the month Ambrose was wounded © IWM (E(AUS) 1991)

Only six days after joining his unit, on 11th October 1917, Ambrose was shot in the left arm. He was rushed to 3rd Australian Field Ambulance at Wippenhoek, which was described as ‘an old and very well designed rest station to accommodate 300 cases.’ Among the facilities were a number of rudimentary buildings, including a hospital nissen hut and a small kitchen. Ambrose was one of 23 men admitted to the Field Ambulance on the 11th, which at the time was caring for 249 patients. (7)

Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele © IWM (E(AUS) 839)

Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele © IWM (E(AUS) 839)

From Wippenhoek, Ambrose was moved to the 17th Casualty Clearing Station. By the 12th October he was a patient in the 7th Canadian General Hospital at Étaples, the major depot area for British and Commonwealth troops in France. His long road to recovery was only just beginning. He was still in hospital in February 1918, four months after he was hit. Shortly thereafter it appears he had recovered sufficiently to be given some leave. It was probably at this time that Ambrose traveled to Ireland, although he may have done so when he initially arrived in Europe. The reason he visited is also the reason that would ultimately see him buried in the town. Midleton had been the home of Ambrose’s grandmother, Mary Josephine Lynch. Mary had apparently been one of the first pupils of Midleton’s Presentation Convent, before she emigrated to Colebrook, Tasmania in the mid-19th century. Ambrose’s mother Mary Ann Fox was her daughter. Apparently no fewer than six of Mary Josephine Lynch’s grandchildren and a son-in-law enlisted in the Australian military during World War One. According to the Irish Examiner, the same Midleton Lynch family also had men serving in the American army in France. Ambrose’s grandmother had lived on William Street (now the New Cork Road), and the young Tasmanian Digger still had Lynch relatives living there. The 1911 Census records them at No. 51, where 79-year-old Margaret Lynch resided with her daughters Helen and Elizabeth, granddaughter Eileen O’Sullivan and boarder Daniel O’Flaherty. Ambrose supposedly stayed in this house during his visit. (8)

Notification that Ambrose had been wounded in 1917 (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Notification that Ambrose had been wounded in 1917 (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Eventually recovered, Ambrose was finally able to rejoin his unit on 31st August 1918. However, the unfortunate young man’s front line service was to again prove brief. He reported sick on 27th September, apparently suffering from slight deafness, no doubt caused by the noise of the guns. On 29th September he was sent to the 1st Australian General Hospital in Rouen, before being shipped back to England aboard the Hospital Ship Essequibo on 2nd October. Ambrose finally ended up in the Graylingwell War Hospital in Chichester, where his condition continued to worsen. His parents, who had initially been informed that his condition was not serious, must have been shocked to receive a communication in Tasmania on 19th November that simply stated: ‘Now reported Gunner Ambrose Haley dangerously ill condition stationary further progress report expected.’ Ambrose’s brother Urban, who was serving as a Warrant Officer at Australian Imperial Force Headquarters on 130 Horseferry Road in London, likely tried to visit his stricken brother. It transpired that Ambrose’s body was ravaged with cancer; the disease had taken control of his pancreas lungs, spleen and ‘other organs.’ The 26-year-old Tasmanian succumbed to the illness on Christmas Day 1918. (9)

Notification of Ambrose's Death (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Notification of Ambrose’s Death (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

So it was that five days later Ambrose’s brother Urban (who would soon receive the Meritorious Service Medal for devotion to duty during the period from September-November 1918) joined Australian Imperial Force representative Sergeant C.E. Hunkin in Holy Rosary cemetery, Midleton. The Haley’s Midleton relatives had offered their family grave as a final resting for their Tasmanian Digger cousin. One of those relatives– Timothy Christopher O’Sullivan– was of an age with Ambrose and probably attended the funeral. Less than three years later he would be the next person remembered at the plot, when he was killed while serving with the I.R.A. at the Clonmult Ambush on 20th February 1921, at the aged of 28. Military tragedy had not steered clear of the family for long. It is unlikely that Ambrose’s parents ever made it from Tasmania to Midleton to visit their son’s grave, but it must have given them some comfort to know that he rested with family. The story of their son, and that of the Lynches and O’Sullivans, is just one of thousands preserved in stone in the Midleton cemetery. (10)

The grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

The grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

Close up of inscription on the grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

Close up of inscription on the grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

(1) Irish Examiner, Haley Service Record; (2) Tasmanian Births, Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (3) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, John Marshall Haley Service Record, Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Service Record; (4) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (5) Larkhill Camp, Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (6) Ibid.; (7) Ibid., 3rd Australian Field Ambulance War Diary; (8) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, Irish Examiner, 1911 Census of Ireland; (9) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (10) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Service Record;


Irish Examiner 2nd January 1919. Southern Items

1414 John Marshall Haley Australian War Service Record

34423 Ambrose Augustine Haley Australian War Service Record

3441 Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Australian War Service Record

3rd Australian Field Ambulance War Diary, October 1917

Diggers History: Larkhill Camp

Tasmanian Births in the District of Portland, 1892

1911 Census of Ireland, 51 William Street Midleton

Categories: 20th Century, World War One | Tags: , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “The Story of Ambrose Haley: The World War One Australian Digger Buried in Midleton Graveyard

  1. Very interest well researched

  2. Excellent Damien! I think there are one or two graves marked RN in Ballinacorra graveyard, but I don’t think they are war graves.

    • Hey Tony,

      You are right there are a couple of very interesting naval ones in there- but just the one Commonwealth Wargrave. There are quite a few other military in Midleton too, I got some more material for a few more posts 🙂

  3. Christina Coombe

    Thankyou for this wonderful story. i am currently sharing it with extended family distant cousins who i know will really enjoy it. Ambrose was my Grandmothers first cousin. Thomas who married Mary Anne was one of three surviving children of Peter Haley (Healy…the spelling changed in the next generation) a convict from Rosscommon and his wife Catherine nee Gallagher( a number of spellings ) who came out to join him in Tasmania once he was pardoned, with the now 5 year old son who had just been born when he was sentenced (for White Boys offenses I believe though he said he was innocent), Peter junior was Thomas older brother and a third son William also grew to Adulthood. James died at 16 months old and is buried with Peter senior on the Isle of the Dead, spring bay, Triabunna, tasmania. Catherine lived till her 90s and is buried at St.Helens General cemetery. Ambrose, Urban and John are all first cousins to my Grandmother (one of Peter junior and and Maria Wooley’s large family. Her name was Mae Coombe nee Haley (Melvina Leiticia) and I have forwarded your article to descendants of some of her brothers Clement, Julian (who also served in WW1 and died later of wounds inflicted by the war), and Victor.Sadly “Uncle” Bruce Haley John’s son and Ambroses nephew passed only at the beginning of the year and hope that some may pass your terrific article to descendants at St.Helens and other members of Thomas Mary Anne Haley’s extended family.

    • Hi Christina,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I am really glad you found the article and are able to share it with family. I am actually just back from speaking in Roscommon so there is a certain symmetry there with the family origins! Have any of the extended family ever made it back to visit Ireland in the years since?

      Kind Regards,


    • John Raymond Shaw

      Thank you Christina. It is a wonderful story. I have visited Peter Haley’s grave at Triabunna and have taken many photos. I often called on your parents at St Columba. I met you at your father’s funeral. I live in Canberra.

      • Brilliant story, I am not too sure but I think the O’Connor may have been a relation on the Healy side? As with Christine, I am also a descendant of the same line. Unfortunately a signed book to Thomas Haley (Peters Jr. brother) from the archbishop John Healy is the only evidence we have that John actually was a cousin to Thomas making Peter Snr brothers with Micheal Healy of Sligo (both families married into the Gallagher family lines). Damian if you do come across anything please be sure to keep in touch. Trevrox ‘at’

      • Christina Coombe

        Lovely to hear from you John. I remember your parents visiting St. Columba to see my grandmother and great uncles well. i am in melbourne.

      • Hi Chrustina. I am a great niece of Ambrose. I often visited family in Pyengana and spent a lot of time at Brookside especially. I have erase arched and written a family history including the Haley line from Peter Healy to my mother Margaret Haley. Would love to be in touch. You were at Marisn College I believe. I was a teacher at City Campus. Hope to be in touch.

  4. Christina Coombe

    Ambrose Augustine Haley is also remembered on the War memorial at St.Helens, tasmania. the town of his birth.

  5. Reblogged this on Midleton with 1 'd' and commented:
    This is a wonderful example of a local historian putting some flesh on the bones of history – in this case World War I and a Midleton/Australia connection. Damian Shiels is a ‘digger’ in a different manner from the men who joined up in 1914-1918.

  6. eugene power

    excellent research and story, delighted to eventualy see a photo of Augistine Haley

  7. John Raymond Shaw

    This is very interesting family history forwarded to me by my brother Patrick Shaw from Hobart Tasmania.Our mother was Connie Haley,daughter of Victor Haley, son of Peter Haley and a cousin to Ambrose.

  8. Christina Coombe

    Hi Cynthia,I did go to St. Thomas Mores and then Marian College when it combined with sacret heartand my siblings went to the new combination with St Pats.
    I would love to be in touch and hear of your history. I visited Brookside often my self as a child we had second cousins there and Des was my Dad’s first cousin, Uncle Joe lived there too for a while before he moved to St Columba and Dad, Brian Coombe stayed there for periods before my existence when Aunty Imelda ran the post office. Were you from the Thomas Haley , St. Helens branch? Aunty Marge? at the St.Helens Haley’s shop I remember vaguely. I am on Facebook under my name and my email Would love to hear from you. I remember John Raymond Shaw and Patrick Shaw’s parents well both Connie and Vince would visit my Grandparents and I would sit in their Lounge ..all ears. hope to hear from you Christina.

  9. Mary Vanderfeen

    Loved the story. A special effort to have an Australian Flag in 1918, Australians fought under the Union Jack, No Foreigh affairs powers until after WWII. Privy Council retained powers long after that.

    You may be interested how Ambrose’s Lynch relation got to Tassie.

    Patrick and Mary Ann Lynch and family, originally from Middleton, County Cork, Ireland, left Plymouth on the immigrant ship, ‘Columbus,’ and arrived in Hobart October 1854 as assisted immigrants.

    Patrick was a carpenter who took work as a Clerk of Works on building projects and is listed as the carpenter [builder] in charge of the construction of a Pugin design church, St Patricks, Jerusalem, [now Colebrook, Tasmania]. Lynch granddaughter, Mary Ann Fox, Ambrose Haley’s mum, was the first baby baptised in the church, the blackwood timber coming from a Fox property. The Lynches lived at Oatlands in the Southern Midlands, Tasmania. The Fox’s at Jerusalem, along the rail-line.

    Lynch family members on the ‘Columbus’:

    Mary Josephine, [grandmother of Ambrose Haley, married Francis Fox, son of Irish Convict, Bernard Fox, ‘Minerva’ 1818, son of Maria [born McShane] daughter of Hugh McShane, Irish Convict, ‘Minerva’ 1818]
    Ellen [aka Helen, teacher then postmistress]
    Eliza [Elizabeth Mary Joseph, married William Ryan, sons and a daughter]
    Honora [married solicitor Robert FitzGerald, one son]
    Frances and Margaret [single, worked in the Post and Telegraph office]

    Mary Ann Lynch died in 1879, Patrick in 1885.

    1. Interested in [any] documentary proof of Mary Ann and Patricks marriage and locations of the births of the daughters. Many trees identify them from England and in non conformist counties.
    2. Bernard Fox descendants may be interested in reunion in June 2018 Pontville, Tasmania see McShane Reunion on facebook Bernard and Maria’s other son, James, married a grand daugher of Michael McShane Minerva 1818, brother of Hugh.

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