Headgear to Helmets: Herbert Bolt
Headgear to Helmets is a documentary feature film that provides an insight into rugby league players who enlisted in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and saw active duty during the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign.
The following story is the second in a series of seven.
Herbert Thomas Bolt was an up-and-coming centre when he enlisted in the 17th Battalion in September 1915. Born and raised in Newtown, he had graduated to the Bluebags first grade ranks in 1912, and within twelve months had won selection for New South Wales.
Nicknamed 'Nutsy', Bolt was a rising star in rugby league at a time when there were several other quality three-quarters available. He had made 52 first-grade appearances with Newtown when he signed on for the AIF at the Royal Agricultural Showground. In doing so, he left behind his new bride Jennie and their baby daughter Mona.
Although he missed the action at Gallipoli, Bolt was assigned to the newly-created 55th Battalion in early 1916, and journeyed with them to France. His first night in battle was Australia's first battle on the Western Front - the disastrous battle of Fromelles where, in one night, Australia lost more men killed and wounded than over the entire Gallipoli campaign.
Nutsy Bolt was one of those who perished, as related in this eyewitness account from his mate, Frank Johnston:
"I knew Bolt well. He and I were mates – we enlisted and left Australia together in 7th Reinforcements to the 17th Battalion – his initials were H.T., and he was called 'Nutsy' – his number was 3009. We joined the 55th Battalion at Tel-el-Kebir.
On the morning of 20.7.16 at about 5am at Fleurbaix, in the communication trench near the first line of German trenches as we were retiring from the 3rd line of German trenches, he and I were close to one another, when we were attacked by the Germans. He got more than six of them with his bayonet and the butt of his rifle, when he got a bullet through the head. He fell instantly, being killed outright. He was as game as any man, and was a well-known Newtown footballer."
When the terrible news was received in Australia the Newtown club organised a fancy dress fundraiser for Bolt's widow and child and raised money to assist them. Even before the current Men of League organisation, rugby league had a history of looking after its own in times of trouble.
Although he had no known grave for many decades, the efforts of Melbourne school teacher Lambis Englezos resulted in over 180 lost Australians from Fromelles being found in a mass grave and many, including Bolt, were identified through the DNA of surviving family. As a result, Nutsy Bolt was finally able to be laid to rest in 2010 with the respect and honours he deserved, and his grandchildren and wider family were able to attend and finally gain some closure.
Headgear to Helmets will premiere on Tuesday, July 14 at the National Rugby League's Heroes & Legends Museum.
Heroes & Legends Museum
Rugby League Central
Moore Park 2021
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