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Colonel Frederick William Toll



Frederick Toll was born in Bowen, Queensland on 18th January 1872. He was the first of 7 children born to Benjamin Toll and Agnes (Annie) nee Richards. With the discovery of gold, the family moved to Charters Towers. Here Ben became a prominent builder, Councillor, and then Mayor. Frederick attended the ‘Normal’ School at Charters Towers before going on to the Brisbane Grammar School. In 1888 he joined the army cadets. On his return to Charters Towers he became an accountant.

Frederick joined the Kennedy Regiment, in which he was commissioned on 2nd February 1892. He married Emma Bone in Townsville on 22nd September 1894. Their first daughter was born at Charters Towers on 11th July 1898. In 1899 he enlisted for service in the South African War.

Readers will know that the Light Horse grew from the Mounted Infantry. Indeed the name Mounted Infantry is preserved in the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regt (Queensland Mounted Infantry) based at Enoggera. The Imperial Bushmen nomenclature was used during the Anglo Boer War, primarily to indicate that the criteria for enlistment in the Bushmen was different from that used for the earlier contingents of Mounted Infantry. Their employment and tactics was not materially changed. Basically the Mounted Infantry, the Bushmen and subsequently the Light Horse rode to the enemy position, dismounted and fought as infantry.

Frederick Toll
Colonel Frederick Wiolliam Toll


One can assume that Toll was a competent horseman, living in the country as he did. With his experience in the Kennedy Regiment he was ideally fitted to be a leader in the 5th Queensland Imperial Bushmen. Hence the inclusion of his story in “Spur”, the journal of the Australian Light Horse Association.

Initially Frederick Toll was appointed a Lieutenant in the 2nd Queensland Contingent. It seems that he was jockeyed out of that position by others with more influence. However he was promoted Captain for duty as one of two Special Service Officers. Major C. D. W. Rankin was the other Special Service Officer. They were to travel with the Contingent to South Africa, embarking at Pinkenba on the transport Maori King on 13th January 1900. Again luck passed him by and there was no room for him on that ship! Fred was resourceful - he travelled to Sydney by train and secured a berth on a North American ‘cattle boat’. It proved to be a third rate ship, and the voyage to South Africa was frightful. He was delighted to disembark in Durban on 15th March 1900, before making his way to Cape Town. The 2nd Queensland Contingent had arrived on the 22nd of the previous month.

Captain Toll was appointed Railway Transport Officer at Cape Town, which would have been a very busy job, with so many men, horses and stores arriving by ship, to be moved to the forward troops. However, after three weeks he joined Lord Robert’s army near Bloemfontein, which by then had been occupied.

Toll’s experiences from this point on are best described by Lt-Col Murray in the Official Records of the Australian Contingents to the War in South Africa. I quote:

“He obtained charge of a company of Infantry—the (44th) Essex Regiment, 18th Brigade, XI Division, commanded by Major-General Pole-Carew; but vacancies subsequently occurred in the Brigade Staff, [he] became field-aide and acting aide-de-camp, and the former duty was carried out until the end of his service. He was in the advance from Bloemfontein, and operations round Leeuwkop and Paardekraal (horse shot under him), and in the vicinity of De Wetsdop. Proceeded in the general advance on 1st May to Johannesburg and Pretoria; present at Vet River, Zand River, Boxburg, Kroonstad, and Elandsfontein. At Boxburg he captured an armed Boer, whose rifle he was permitted to retain. In engagements round Pretoria, Diamond Hill, and Edenvale where he captured three armed Boers within 500 yards of a farm in which were 50 or 60 Boers, about 9 miles from the British outposts. In addition to his other duties he became Officer in Charge of Intelligence and Signallers, and was with the advance upon Belfast and Barberton, including all sorties and engagements. At Belfast he was in charge of 14 sharpshooters selected to hold a dangerous position. Of these, 6 were killed by pom-poms and 2 by bullets; others were wounded. Ammunition became expended, and a man volunteered to go back for some, but was shot dead as soon as he rose. Captain Toll then made the attempt and secured enough to carry on with until dark.

On occupation of Nellspruit, Waterval Onder, he was appointed Provost Marshall, which duty he performed until his service ended. He returned in command of time-expired troops by the transport “Wooloomooloo”, arriving at Brisbane on the 8th December, 1900.”

It is clear from the foregoing that Captain Toll gained invaluable experience from his year in South Africa. This was put to good use when he returned the following year with the 5th Queensland Imperial Bushmen, and again during his service in WWI.

This, no doubt, was the purpose of sending Special Service officers to the Boer War, and I can do no better than again to quote from Murray:

“A certain number of Officers were sent to the war, with the sanction of the Imperial War Office, not detailed to Contingents, but independently, for the purpose of employment at the theatre of operations, as authorised by the Commander-in-Chief. Thus, either in staff employ, or attached to Columns in the field they would gain valuable experience in the many changes and chances which occur during active service. They would also be afforded opportunity to observe and sustain the vicissitudes and privations of warfare, and to note the value of initiative, and capability to act promptly upon any available resources in each and every emergency.”

A number of these Officers went on to senior appointments in the Australian Army, eg Major-General Sir William Throsby Bridges, who lost his life while commanding the 1st AIF on Gallipoli, and General Sir Cyril Brudenell White who became Chief of the General Staff.

White was recalled to the Colours at the outbreak of WWII, but soon after lost his life in an air crash near Canberra.
The value of service in the Boer War to the newly formed Australian Army by Officers and Soldiers, other than Special Service Officers, was immeasurable. The successes of the 1st AIF owe much to these men—Chauvel, Glasgow, and Pompey-Elliot to name a few.

Captain Toll was not long back in Australia before he re-enlisted for service in South Africa. He was appointed second-in-command of the 5th Queensland Imperial Bushmen (5QIB), and sailed with the Contingent in the transport “Templemore” from Pinkenba on 6th March, 1901. 5QIB also included a Cyclist Company, comprising 51 all ranks, and equipped with Massey cycles. Sadly his wife Emma died on 16th March.
5QIB arrived at Port Elizabeth on 1st April 1901. Toll was promoted to Major on 17th April 1901. The 5th were soon on operations, which took them throughout South Africa, but mainly the western side of the Boer republics. They were often in contact with the enemy, and saw plenty of fighting.

At the end of July, the Commanding Officer, Lt-Col Flewell-Smith was appointed District Commandant in Cape Colony. Command of the 5th now devolved on Major Toll. It is not the place in this account to detail all the actions in which the 5th took part, except one—the Disaster at Onverwacht in the Eastern Transvaal on 4th January 1902. Even then it will only be brief, as a full account was published in the 28th Edition of “Spur”, October 2004.
On this occasion the 5th was part of General Plumer’s Column, which was advancing East from Ermelo to trap the Boers against the Swaziland Border. The 5th were in the van guard, a mixed force comprising men of the Hampshire Mounted Infantry, and the Imperial Yeomanry, under the command of Major Vallentin, an experienced Officer of the Somersetshire Light Infantry.

Vallentin was lured into an ambush by what proved to be an overwhelmingly large force of Boers - several Commandos had got together to deal the Anglo forces a severe blow. He was killed early in the contact, and Major Toll had to take command and try to save the day. Fierce fighting ensued. The Pom-Pom gun was saved, but the 5th were over-run. The casualties were heavy. The 5th lost 11 men KIA, 2 died of wounds soon after, 17 were wounded, and 58 were taken prisoner (including Major Toll). The prisoners were released when the Boers saw the 5th Victorian Bushmen arriving. The English losses were Major Vallentin, 8 Hampshires, and 1 Yeoman.
General Plumer, after his arrival and review of the action, assured Major Toll that he and his men had done all in their power against terrible odds. On 8th January, one of his men wrote: “…he is a splendid officer, never loses his head, and in fact you would think it was a sham-fight to see him moving about the firing line, and the men would do anything for him…”

Their service in South Africa over, 5QIB embarked on the transport “St Andrew” at Cape Town on 27th March 1902, reaching Brisbane on 30th April. 5QIB was disbanded on 5th May, and his appointment terminated in July. While in South Africa, Major Toll had been Mentioned in Despatches, awarded the Queens` SA Medal (5 clasps), and the Kings (2 clasps). His enthusiastic letters to his father in Charters Towers had received wide press coverage, and so the return of the towns` favourite son was feted.

It would seem that Frederick may have found it difficult to settle into civilian life after his adventures of the previous two years [not uncommon amongst men returning from active service in any war], and so, later in 1902 we find him back in South Africa. This time to join the South African Constabulary in a command position. However this did not eventuate, and he spent the next 12 months seeking diamonds and big game hunting. Home again in Chaters Towers he married Maria Louisa Berry on 31st October 1904.

In his civilian life he managed the sawmill at Mt Malloy, but found time for service in the militia (probably the Kennedy Regiment), and with cadets. He received the Volunteer Officers Decoration in 1913. On 7th November 1914 he enlisted again for overseas service, and was appointed Major to command the 3rd Battalion of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF).

The following quote is from “The Australian Army—a brief history”, published by Army Office in 2000: “Before the AIF sailed (for the Middle East) however, another all volunteers force had already been in action. The strategic importance of the German wireless stations in New Guinea and the surrounding Islands led the British authorities to ask the Australian Government to destroy them as a matter of urgency. To carry out this task, the Australian Government raised an expeditionary force of 1500 men under command of Colonel W. Holmes-the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. This mixed force of Naval Reservists and Soldiers had, by October 1914, forced the surrender of the garrison and taken possession of German New Guinea and the neighbouring Islands of the Bismarck Archipelago. (Subsequently, on the 17th December 1920, the Australian mandate over this territory was granted by the League of Nations.)”

The organising, and dispatch of such a force was no mean achievement, given that Army Headquarters was also raising the AIF. Co-ordination with the Navy was also necessary, particularly as many ships were involved, such as HMAS “Sydney”, “Melbourne”, “Parramatta”, and “Australia” took part. Australia’s first submarines, AE1, and AE2 also took part, with the AE1 being lost whilst on patrol.

The initial force was to be augmented by the 3rd Battalion of the AM & MEF, known as Tropical Force under the overall command of Colonel Sir Samuel Petherbridge. The call for volunteers “for service in the tropics” was answered in a few days by 4 or 5 times the number required, and many wore the ribbons of the Boer War. By 13th November full quotas from the States had been assembled at Liverpool Army Camp outside Sydney. Major Toll immediately took their training in hand.

By 8th January 1915 Petherbridge took command of the Expeditionary Force and control of the Administration. Holmes left the following day to join the AIF, where he commanded the 5th Brigade in 1915. [Later promoted Major General to Command the 4th Australian Division. He was killed by shellfire at Messines, 2nd July 1917].
The occupation and subsequent administration of the German Colonies was more complex than it might at first seem—its success a credit to all concerned.

On 1st March 1915, Toll was promoted Lt-Col commanding all the military personnel. Twice he was acting Administrator, in the absence of Colonel Petherbridge. On 22nd July, after this service in the tropics, he was appointed to command the 31st Battalion, 8th Brigade, AIF in Egypt with the rank of Lt-Col. [In the meantime his son, Frederick Vivian, serving with the 15th Battalion was killed in action at Gallipoli. He was 20 years old.]
In June 1916, after 6 months in the Middle East, his Battalion embarked for France.

The 31st Battalion was in action at Fromelles in July. Toll was awarded the DSO for his “distinguished service in the field” in this action, where the Australian losses were horrendous. 1917 saw his battalion in action at Bapaume in March, and Polygon Wood in September. Toll was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order for his action on one of these occasions. The statement of service for which this honour was conferred reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was ordered at short notice to take part in an attack with his battalion on the following morning. Notwithstanding the limited time available, he made all the necessary arrangements and led his battalion through a heavy barrage to the assembly position. During the attack the unit on his right was held up, his flank became exposed, and heavy casualties were caused by enemy machine guns in numerous strong points. He organised an attack on the strong points in a most able manner, capturing or killing the entire garrison, and taking fourteen enemy machine guns. By his prompt and gallant action the advance was continued and the final objective was captured.”

>From 28th October until 14th November 1917 Toll was in temporary command of 8th Brigade. During his service in France he was twice mentioned in Despatches by General Haig.

In January 1918 he was seriously wounded and gassed at Polygon Wood, and evacuated to England. After discharge from hospital he served with AIF Administration Headquarters in London, before returning to Australia in March 1919.

His AIF appointment was terminated in May of that year. His service with the Australian Military Forces finally ended with his retirement on 18th January 1932, with the honorary rank of Colonel.

Fred Toll was clearly destined to be a soldier, and leader of men. His service both in war and peace was exemplary, and gallant. He carried these traits into his civilian life after the war.

He became a Commissioner of War Service Homes, then managed timber businesses in Brisbane and Mackay. He was a foundation member of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League of Australia, its Brisbane Vice-President 1924-27, and its Mackay President 1928-30. His health deteriorated, and he returned to Brisbane in 1930 for medical treatment, and settled at Woody Point. In 1939 he was awarded the MBE in the King’s Honours, for his service to his country with the Cadets, the Reserve and the Army. During World War II he was a Manpower Officer, and then a Services Liaison Officer.

He died in the Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital, Brisbane on 6th November 1955, and was cremated. He was predeceased by both his wives, his son, and daughter.Thus ended a full life of service to his country.
Lt Col Miles W Farmer OAM (retd) (Commanding Officer of 2nd/14th Queensland Mounted Infantry 1973-1976)

  • The Australian Army-a brief history: Produced by the Directorate of Public Information – Army, January 2000.
  • Letters from the Veldt, by Len Harvey.
  • Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa 1899-1902, Edited by Lt Col PL Murray
  • The 5th Contingent, Queensland Imperial Bushmen in South Africa 1901-1902, By Alan L Fogg MBE
  • 28th Edition of “Spur”, October 2004 [Journal of the Australian Light Horse Association]—article page 8, titled Onverwacht, by Robin Smith
  • The Australians at Rabaul, the Official History of Australia in the war of 1914-18, Vol X by SS Mackenzie, Sydney, 1938
  • The Queensland Digger [the journal of the RSL Qld] December 1933—March 1935
  • Family information provided by Mrs Merle Carlisle of Townsville

Date of birth18 January 1872
ReligionChurch of England
AddressCairns, Queensland
Marital statusMarried
Age at embarkation43
Next of kinWife, Mrs Maria Louisa Toll, G.P.O., Brisbane, Queensland
Enlistment date7 November 1914
Rank on enlistmentLieutenant-Colonel
Unit name31st Battalion, Headquarters
AWM Embarkation Roll number23/48/1
Embarkation detailsUnit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A62 Wandilla on 9 November 1915
 From Embarkation Records it is not possible to distinguish exactly which ship an individual in the Headquarters embarked. Two ships left Melbourne carrying men from the 31st Battalion: HMAT A62 Wandilla on 9 November 1915 and HMAT A41 Bakara on 5 November 1915
Embarkation detailsUnit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A41 Bakara on 5 November 1915
 From Embarkation Records it is not possible to distinguish exactly which ship an individual in the Headquarters embarked. Two ships left Melbourne carrying men from the 31st Battalion: HMAT A62 Wandilla on 9 November 1915 and HMAT A41 Bakara on 5 November 1915
Rank from Nominal RollLieutenant-Colonel
Unit from Nominal Roll31st Battalion

Lt Col (late Lt Col ANMEF)

Unit: General List
Promotion date: 22 July 1915


Recommendations (Medals and Awards)

Mention in Despatches

Awarded, and Gazetted, 'London Gazette', second Supplement, No. 30448 (28 December 1917); 'Commonwealth Gazette' No. 57 (18 April 1918).


Mention in Despatches

Awarded, and promulgated, 'London Gazette', second Supplement, No. 29890 (2 January 1917); 'Commonwealth Gazette' No. 103 (29 June 1917).


 Returned to Australia

Distinguished Service Order

Source: 'Commonwealth Gazette' No. 103
Date: 29 June 1917


DSO and Bar

'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was ordered at very short notice to take part in an attack with his battalion on the followig morning. Notwithstanding the limited time available, he made all the necessary arrangements and led his battalion through a heavy barrage to the assembly position. During the attack the unit on his right was held up, his flank became exposed, and heavy casualties were caused by enemy machine guns in numerous strong points. He organized an attack on the strong points in a most able manner capturing or killing the entire garrison, and taking fourteen enemy machine guns. By his prompt and gallant action the advance was continued and the final objective was captured.'
Source: 'Commonwealth Gazette' No. 137
Date: 30 August 1918


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