Albert Chalmers Borella VC MM

b. 07/08/1881 Borung, Australia. d. 07/02/1968 NSW, Australia.

Albert Chalmers Borella (1881-1968) was born on 7th August 1881 at Borung, Victoria, son of Louis Borella, farmer, and his wife Annie, née Chalmers, both native-born. His mother died when he was 4 and his father remarried. Educated at Borung and Wychitella state schools, he later farmed in the Borung and Echuca districts; he also served for eighteen months with a volunteer infantry regiment, the Victorian Rangers.

Albert C Borella VC MM

From April 1910 Borella was employed by the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board, Melbourne. He resigned in January 1913 and took up a pastoral lease, drawn by ballot, on the Daly River, Northern Territory. With the help of Aboriginal boys he built a house and ring-barked and partly fenced his holding before mounting costs forced him to abandon it early in 1915. At the outbreak of World War I the military authorities were not accepting volunteers from the Northern Territory. Borella accepted a job as a cook for a survey party in Tennant Creek and in January 1915 Borella set out for Darwin to volunteer for active service. With Charlie, an Aboriginal man, he walked 88 miles (140 km) and swam across flooded rivers. After borrowing a horse at Powell Creek, just north of Renner Springs, Northern Territory, he rode to Katherine where he caught the mail coach to the railhead at Pine Creek. He sailed from Darwin to Townsville on 8 March 1915 with four other men who were among the first 15 volunteers for active service from the Northern Territory. On 15th March he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a private and was posted to ‘B’ Company, 26th Battalion, on 24th May. After training in Egypt his unit landed at Gallipoli on 12th September and Borella, who was promoted corporal later that month, served there until November.

The 26th Battalion sailed for the Western Front in March 1916; Borella was wounded in the battle of Pozières Heights on 29th July and was evacuated for four months. He was promoted sergeant in January 1917, and in March was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous bravery at Malt Trench, Warlencourt. Commissioned second lieutenant on 7 April, he was mentioned in dispatches soon afterwards and in August was sent to England for officer training and promoted lieutenant. In the early months of 1918 the 26th Battalion held the line at Dernancourt, where Borella was mainly engaged in patrolling and raids. He fought at Morlancourt and Hamel and on 17th July, for ‘most conspicuous bravery in attack’ at Villers-Bretonneux, earned the Victoria Cross. While leading his platoon in an assault on an enemy support-trench, he noticed a machine-gun firing through the Australian barrage; he ran out ahead of his men into the barrage, shot the gunners with his revolver and captured the gun. He then led a small party against the strongly held trench, bombed two dug-outs and took thirty prisoners. Only weeks after this incident he was invalided to Australia owing to wounds and illness.

In 1920-39 Borella farmed on a soldier-settlement block near Hamilton, Victoria. He was National Party candidate for Dundas in the 1924 Legislative Assembly election and was only narrowly defeated. He married Elsie Jane Love at Wesley Church, Hamilton, on 16th August 1928; from September 1939, when he changed his name by deed-poll, he and his family used the surname Chalmers-Borella. On the outbreak of World War II Borella was appointed lieutenant in the 12th Australian Garrison Battalion with which he served until 1941 when he was attached to the Prisoner of War Group at Rushworth. Promoted captain on 1st September 1942, he served with the 51st Garrison Company at Myrtleford until discharged in 1945. He then moved to Albury, New South Wales, joined the Commonwealth Department of Supply and Shipping, and was an inspector of dangerous cargoes until his retirement in 1956. Survived by his wife and two of his four sons, he died on 7th February 1968 and was buried with full military honours in the Pioneer Presbyterian Cemetery, Albury, New South Wales.

‘A big tough-looking bloke, the image we conjure up of the digger’, Borella was yet a humane, quietly spoken and unostentatious man, ever ready to assist a worthy cause. Streets in Albury and Canberra are named after him. His medals which include the VC, MM, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, War Medal 1939-45, Australia Service Medal 1939-45, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Gallipoli Star, Medal for the Battle of the Somme, and Federation of Veterans of King Albert I Cross (Belgium) were held for a number of years in the family, before in June 2017, his son Rowan donated them to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.