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O'FARRELL, Vincent (1873-?)

O'FARRELL, Vincent (1873-?)

Vincent O'Farrell was born at Ballarat in 1873, the son of Michael and Edith nee Peevor. In his time at Geelong College he was a great athlete, especially in the football field, playing with both the school team and the Geelong Football Club in the Victorian Football Association competition. He played with Geelong in 1889-90 and 1893-94.

There is no enrolment record for Vincent O'Farrell. He is first listed in the Geelong College Annual Report of 1888 as gaining 2nd prize in History in the 3rd Class.

He served through the Anglo-South African War, initially with the New Zealand Bushmen, then with the 14th Highland Light Infantry, British Expeditionary Force. When the Great War broke out he rejoined that unit.

The 14th Highland Light Infantry formed at Hamilton in July 1915, and as a Bantam Battalion in September 1915. In 1914 the Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, Alfred Bigland, pressed the War Office for permission to form a battalion of men who were under regulation size but otherwise fit for service, to be known as a Bantam Battalion. A few days later, some 3,000 men had volunteered, many of whom had previously been rejected as being under height. The original men were formed into the 1st and 2nd Birkenhead Battalions of the Cheshire Regiment (later redesignated the 15th and 16th Battalions). Other regiments that began to recruit similarly were the Lancashire Fusiliers, West Yorkshires, Royal Scots, and Highland Light Infantry most notably. Many of the recruits were miners. Eventually these units were formed into the 35th Division.

Another, the 40th, had a mixture of bantam and regulation units, although it is generally recognised as a Bantam Division. The bantams were very popular at home, and were often fealured in the press, however, by the end of 1916, it was found that the general fitness and condition of men volunteering as bantams was no longer up to the standard required. Brigades were informed that no more undersized men would be accepted, and the Divisions lost their bantam status as replacements diluted the number of small men in the mix. They ceased to be a Bantam Battalion on 6 May 1918.

O'Farrell wrote to a Geelong friend, a letter published in the Geelong Advertiser, 3 March 1917:
'I always took with a grain of salt the tales I heard about the heavy fighting and mud, but I am satisfied now, I myself have been stuck up to the waist in mud, and had to be pulled out. Quite a number of horses have fallen into mud-filled shell holes and got drowned or smothered. Chill blains (sic) are my chief trouble, I am nearly crippled at times. I am sure we are in for many more months of fearful fighting. I hope my good fortune worries on, although, after all, what does it matter, except to those left behind. They always have to suffer. For women, I think the waiting and suspense must be fearful. I was very sorry and disappointed with Australia's refusal of conscription, I could hardly credit it. There must still be thousands of young men fit to serve, one would think they could scarcely have waited to enlist, but now I am afraid that nothing but force will drive them out of their comfortable billets. I expect Jock Noble1 will go to Salisbury, all the Australians do now. My wife will look him up and look after him. If you write to Bos Reid (OGC) remember me very kindly to him.'

O'Farrell was awarded his captaincy when he transferred to the Remounts.

1 Jock MacMullen Noble (1895-1928), was born at Geeiong, the son of George Cornelius Noble and Fanny Allen nee McMullen, of Connewarre. He was educated at Geelong Grammar School and Dookie Agricultural College. He served in th 4th DAC, and was awarded the Military Medal on 27 May 1917 when he extinguished a fire in a huge ammunition dump at Kandahar Dump, near Hyde Park Corner, Ploegsteert.

Sources: Based on an edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck. p276 (citing The Geelong Advertiser 3 March 1917; The Pegasus; The National Archives (Kew); Chris Baker, The Long Trail: The Story of the British Army in the Great War 1914-1918;
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