Their bodies are buried in peace; but their names liveth for evermore.
Their Duty Done
A tribute to the men and women of the East Gippsland Region who Died as a result of their participation in World War One : 1914 -1919
734 Temporary Sergeant Joseph Henry Birrell - Paynesville Killed in Action 24 November 1916
On 12 August 1915, Joe Birrell stood in front of a hall full of Paynesville locals at the farewell that had been arranged for him and eight other local lads. He had just been presented with a token representing the best wishes of the community and on behalf of the group of volunteers, thanked those gathered for their kindness of the gifts. He said that he did not feel they were making a sacrifice, but doing their duty to their country. He wished that what little they might do would help to the desired object – the freedom of the world from such unscrupulous power as Germany. He felt sure when they got into the trenches that whatever they did it would be their utmost. This was meet with rousing applause and the promise of a hearty home-coming when they all returned. But the promise of a hearty home-coming was not to be for Joseph Birrell. Birrell was a Lewis gunner with the 29 th  Battalion near the village of Ginchy in France on 24 November 1916 when he was killed by barrage of fire from the enemy when on his way to the front line. The Germans knew what time the men relieved each other on the front line and regularly sent over their barrage fire on them every evening. Joe Birrell was hit and is believed to have died almost instantly. In the dark he was heard to call out but he could not be seen. As dawn broke the outline of his body could be seen out in the open in no-man’s land and it was quite impossible for any of his mates to get up to him. Throughout the day he was closely watched for any signs of movement but none were detected. They could see him lying there, knowing well who it was, but could not get to him to positively identify him and were not able to bring him in the daylight and waited for the cover of darkness. In the evening it was the intention of the men to retrieve Sgt Birrell, but relief came before this could be done. It was the general opinion of his mates that he had been killed almost instantly. His mates were not able to bury him and so he lay where he fall. The Australians held that line for another ten days and while his mates knew he was dead, officially Joe remained “missing”. It was not until the new year that enquiries were made that determined that he had “officially” been killed that night. At the end of April 1917, the Bairnsdale Advertiser carried the news of his death with the closing line, another gallant Australian gone.
….. in the dark he was heard to call out but he could not be seen