The Price of Peace

P2020It may be that, on a daily basis, I take our country’s peace for granted rather than give thanks for it. Yes, it has things that could be done better or differently, but overall we are indeed the Lucky Country when it comes to peace. Yes, I am aware that our Indigenous Australians paid a high price when the country was settled and since. However, many people have come to our shores to find peace and safety, escaping persecution or wars. I certainly don’t subscribe to the “if you don’t love it, leave” philosophy. I often wonder whether people with those bumper stickers would immediately leave their spouses/partners the minute they had a disagreement. So, yes, I give thanks that we live on an island continent far from many of the world’s trouble spots.

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The memorial plaque for James Thomas Paterson on Roma’s bottletree planting in honour of its World War I Diggers

Since we became a nation in 1901, and even before, our people have been involved in wars, largely to support the Empire of which we were a part. Many of our people paid a high price: loss of life, incapacity and physical handicaps, loss of family members, post-traumatic stress, domestic violence, loss of human potential. As so many were lost on foreign battlefields with little chance that family members would ever be able to visit their graves (where they even exist), the role of war memorials has played a huge role as a locus of bereavement and recognition of service. Is there a town in the country where one can’t be found? I suspect not.

Maintaining peace can be as strenuous as winning a war. Margaret MacMillan, Canadian Historian.

Ancestors and the Price of Peace

It seems likely that most Australian families have members who volunteered to serve or were enlisted. Perhaps mine is somewhat unusual because with so many railwaymen in protected or essential service, branches of the family tree had little or no representation. It’s for this reason that I’ve been less inclined to engage with Anzac Day ceremonies because I feel like a fraud.

It wasn’t until I lived in Milne Bay in the early 1970s that the full sense of the war in Papua New Guinea became clearer to me despite previously reading books and poetry about it. I wrote about that here. Similarly touring the Western Front in Europe brought the loss to humanity overwhelmingly evident.

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The memorial overlooks Milne Bay: a far more tranquil scene than 77 years ago.

Each year the Australian and New Zealand genealogy bloggers typically post a story about ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day. You can see some of mine by searching in the box in the top right.

The price of peace paid by my families include the deaths of James Paterson[i] (grandson of George and Mary Kunkel) and James Gavin[ii] (grandson of Denis and Ellen Gavin) during World War I. Hugh Moran[iii] was taken Prisoner of War in Italy and Germany during World War II for several years. William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel was Missing in Action in the Korean War and his family never knew what happened beyond the firefight when he was captured.

It’s hard to imagine what their families went through both during the war and afterwards. Letters found in the service records can be heartbreaking.

Personal thoughts

medal3 cropMy paternal grandfather served in World War I, however I have no memory of him ever attending an Anzac Day service, although he was a member of the Returned Servicemen’s League/

As a child, I remember seeing men with war injuries (missing arms or legs), selling newspapers on the street corner. Or men hitting the bottle or drunk – drowning their memories no doubt.  We came to a better understanding of the Bombing of Darwin once we moved to the Northern Territory to live.  Or realising that my husband would have “won” the national service lottery for Vietnam if his official place of abode during university hadn’t been Papua New Guinea.

I remember Dad telling me that he couldn’t attend the Victory in the Pacific celebrations in Brisbane because he was on shift with the railways at the time. Or hearing a (very) little about his knowledge of the Battle of Brisbane.. the conflict between Australian servicemen and the Americans who were based here and thought to be “overpaid, oversexed and over here”. I’ve also realised I need to ask mum what she did on VP day.

VP Day Brisbane

Victory in the Pacific celebrations Brisbane from awm.gov.au. Out of copyright.

It’s also interesting to observe that the practice of having cadet corps in high schools seems to have largely disappeared over the decades. When I was at high school many schools, and I’d suggest all private schools, had their own army or air force cadets.

Those families with serving men and women across the decades will have quite a different experience from mine. It doesn’t change that I am very grateful indeed to live in a peaceful country,  thanks in part to the high price that has been paid.

You can read some of my past posts for Anzac Day or Remembrance Day by using the search bar on the top right of this blog, or the drop down categories box– something else to do in our covid-isolation?

What is your families’ tradition of military service and what price was paid to gain peace?

For some sources to use when searching for Australian Military History and service.

Australian War Memorial

Commonwealth War Graves Commission for deaths and places of burial or memorials.

National Archives of Australia: Attestation documents digitised for WWI service people and some for later conflicts.

Quote from https://www.brainyquote.com

[i] 05 April 1917 Age 28 VILLERS-BRETONNEUX MEMORIAL http://cwgc.org

[ii] 19 July 1916 Age 30 RUE-PETILLON MILITARY CEMETERY, FLEURBAIX I. K. 39.from http://cwgc.org

[iii] https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=4850146&isAv=N

Lest We Forget 2019

For the astounding loss of human life and potential around the world.

For those who served and gave their lives, ally or enemy

For their country’s cause, safety and honour.

For the ANZACs who travelled so far to fight in distant lands.

For the families and communities left behind to wait and mourn,

And the children who suffered a lifetime of loss.

For those who faced cousins and kin across no-man’s-land.

Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby, PNG

For the navy and merchant navy whose lives ended at sea.

For the young airmen whose courage and skill saved others.

For the Prisoners of War who suffered privation, fear and torture.

For the families who would never know the fate of their soldier.

For those who returned damaged in body, mind and spirit

Cobbers’ Memorial, Fromelles

And the families who suffered with them and supported them

Whose lives would never be the same again.

For the women who would never have a partner or loved one

Due to the loss of so many men.

For the animals who gave their lives for love and loyalty, not understanding why else they were there.

For all those who stepped up to the mark in their homeland

In restricted occupations: supporting the troops, feeding the population, and working in factories.

For the railwaymen in my family who ensured the troops got to the battlefields

A German cemetery on the Western Front.

Received their munitions, and were brought home afterwards.

We offer our thanks and prayers and we remember them.

LEST WE FORGET

Fromelles War Cemetery. “My boys, my poor boys, they have killed my poor boys”. WEH Cass

Over the years I’ve written posts for Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, as well as some about the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. For those who are interested you can read them here.

One hundred years 2018

Grandad goes to war

Honouring the Australian born diggers with German ancestry.

William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel (MIA Korea)

Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam James Augustus Gavin 

V is for the Valiant of Villers-Brettoneux including James Paterson

A family Anzac: Pte Hugh Moran (POW)

V is for our Valiant Indigenous Anzacs.

Two brothers go to war and Postcards to the Front

Those who came home

A Turkish memorial near Gallipoli

War in Papua New Guinea

Erle Victor Weiss

Lest we forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

Flowers for the fallen

Lest we forget and the Bombing of Darwin

War Memorials

One hundred years: Remembrance Day 2018

Today as the sun rises around the country, people will gather to remember the men and women who’ve served in Australia’s wars over the years. However, the particular focus will be on the centenary of the cessation of conflict in the War to end all Wars.  Hand crafted poppies will blanket memorials to represent each life lost to our then-young nation. Churches with bell towers are rarer in Australia than overseas, but at least some will ring out in commemoration, and bugles will play the Last Post.

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The Memorial panel at the Australian War Memorial which includes the name of family member, James Thomas Paterson.

I have a mental image of men on the battlefields sinking to the ground in relief and exhaustion, remembering the daily horrors and the lives of mates lost. At home, it must have been a mix of complex emotions, as families realised that their men-folk may soon be home, yet some would never come home, and their graves never seen. War memorials in every town, large and small, would serve in lieu of graves and a locus of remembrance.

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The Fisher family of Sydney.

With a national population of some 4.9million, about 420,000 or 38.7% of men between 18 and 45 would enlist, over 60,000 died and few would return uninsured in mind or body.

The mantra on Remembrance Day is “Lest We Forget”. Entirely appropriate but let’s also be realistic about what we’re remembering.

* those who would return home devastated in mind and/or body, some with visually horrific injuries. Others would have equally horrific mental injuries, perhaps evident only to their families. What inter-generational impact would this have on the affected families in an era when our knowledge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was unknown and unacknowledged?

* young women who would never marry or have children due to the loss of a sweetheart or the opportunity to have one, with a reduced male population.

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The dedication of the Erina War Memorial.

* the mixed feelings of families who’d lost loved ones. Pride that they had served when called, yet tempered by seeing other young men (and women) return home. The undercurrents of those feelings in a community. No wonder so many bereaved families threw themselves into building memorials.

* the lack of understanding about just how devastating the war had been on the countryside where battles were fought. This is evident as the bereaved begged for their loved ones’ belongings, not realising even their bodies had been destroyed.

”we have lost 2 sons on active service and peace brings with it no hope for the return of our dear ones…we long for something personal from our second son’s effects” (Service record for Erle Victor Weiss #11147. Letter written by father Walter H Weiss, Erina Pubic School)

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The Chinchilla War Memorial.  State Library of Queensland image 4579 copyright expired.

* the pathos of a family asking that their deceased sons be buried together irrespective of where they were killed.

my sons were never parted in life, left Australia together, died together (on 4 Oct 1917).” Letter by father JA Gavin of Longreach about his sons James TB Gavin #6191 and GGB Gavin #6188. Buried Ypres Reservoir Cemetery VII B 1A and 3 respectively. “Lovely in their lives, In death undivided, to awake to Eternal Glory”.

 

 

* the names given to children, streets and towns which memorialise battles or the foreign places where they occurred.

* the hyperbole of war which holds that courage was all, they were never terrified, never left their posts or lost their minds: Empire above all. Valour is surely reflected equally in facing one’s fear.

* the loss to our young nation of so much human potential.

Let us remember them with honesty and compassion and recognise their contribution to our history and culture. May our compassion extend to the families of other nations who also lost loved ones in this horrendous war.

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The Digger memorial at Fromelles, France. P Cass 2014.

Sources:

World War 1 service records digitised on the National Archives of Australia website. Naa.gov.au

Australian War Memorial awm.gov.au

Commonwealth War Graves Commission website cwgc.org

 

 

 

 

Grandad goes to war: Remembrance Day 2017

One hundred years ago today my grandfather, Denis Joseph Kunkel, was at sea en route to England thence  to the war in France.

dinny jim & friend

James Edward (Front left) and Denis Joseph Kunkel (centre) and unidentified friend or relation c 1917.

He had volunteered with his younger brother, James Edward, on 22 October 1917[1] probably as part of a push at the time to recruit qualified railway workers to work on the lines to the front in the north of France. I wrote about his life-long railway career some time ago. Denis would join the 5th Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company and given the rank of Lance Corporal.

We don’t know why Grandad left it until 1917 to enlist, as his much younger brothers had already joined up along with their cousins and he had already lost two cousins in the carnage of France and Flanders (James Gavin and James Paterson). Perhaps he was older and wiser, or perhaps he’d been reluctant to serve in a war against Germany while his Bavarian-born grandfather was still alive. Perhaps it wasn’t until the call for railway expertise that he thought he could contribute. We will never know.

Railway Units 20 Oct 1917 p5 Bris Courier

RAILWAYMEN WANTED. (1917, October 20). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 5. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20193813

At the time of his recruitment Dinny was already living on the Ballymore Estate where I’m told he was renting a room at 33 Bally Street.  His attestation records document that Dinny was aged 37 years and 1 month, 5ft 6inches tall[2], weighed 165lbs, had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. His chest measurement was 36-39 inches. He had a scar on his right thigh and another on his left knee. He was regarded as medically and dentally fit. Denis gave his religious denomination as “None” though a later notation has been made to suggest that on the rolls he had given Church of England as his religion. From a family point of view this is interesting because his parents, and grandparents, were devout Catholics. Family anecdote tells that he had a major falling out with the clergy out west (obviously pre-dating his enlistment) and he never returned to Catholicism.

Denis left Brisbane by train for Melbourne and was accompanied by his brother, James. Gossipy war news was part of the journalism of the day and on 5 November 1917, The Toowoomba Chronicle reported that “On Tuesday’s troop train, Privates James and Denis Kunkle (sic) passed through Toowoomba for the front. They are sons of Mr Geo. Kunkle of Toowomba and well known in this district. They are also nephews of Mr Gavin, of Pechey, who has five sons[3] at the front”.[4]  Their much younger cousin, Anne Kunkel, who was only a child at the time of the war, remembers that the Murphy’s Creek school children would see long trains with “carriages of khaki-clad young men going off to war” as they passed through en route to the south. She also remembered meeting Dinny at some stage when he returned safely from the war.

Port Sydney AWM 4029449

This photograph shows the interest of the men in the Crossing the Line ceremonies. Image by C.W.L Muecke, copyright expired. Image J06289 Australian War Memorial.

Denis sailed to war on the ship Port Sydney which left Melbourne on 9 November 1917. I was fortunate that there was an enthusiastic photographer on board, documenting some of the sights and events along the way. Today I’ve also discovered a digitised copy of The Limber Log, a souvenir journal on the voyage edited by Lt H Garland. (As it’s under copyright, those who are interested will need to follow the link). It includes references to the joy and pangs of the departure, the sad death of one of the railwayman soon after leaving Colombo, and his burial. Many of the comments will raise eyebrows today with their political-incorrectness and racial slurs, but it’s well worth a read if you had relatives on this voyage. At the end of the journal, they included a Roll of Honour of all the men on board, including one Corporal, Kunkel, D J.

 

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Unidentified soldiers, probably British, grouped around two 12 inch howitzers on Railway Hill used to support the Australian troops. The howitzer in the foreground is mounted on railway tracks, which allowed it to be moved to take up different positions along the railway line. Note a railcar on the right and piles of sandbags in the background. Australian War Memorial image E04615 out of copyright.  While this is an Allied weapon, there would have been similar on the German side.

Railway WWI Goulburn Evening Penny Post 2 Feb 18p4

1918 ‘The Railway Unit.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 2 February, p. 4. (EVENING), viewed 11 Nov 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article99019997

My father recalled that Denis, as part of the ABGROC, was responsible for taking the heavy artillery to the Front along the railway line, unloading heavy weaponry, then quickly re-hitching the engine to make good their escape before the German’s “Big Bertha” gun could get a “line” on them.  The 49th Battalion’s historian tells us that the Australian military had railway lines as extensive as those of the British.[5] The threat may have been very different from that experienced by the front-line troops who had to go over the dugouts, but having heavy weapons taking a line on a large piece of rolling stock would surely have made the heartbeat race! The railways were pivotal to the movement of men and supplies and the railwaymen played their part, however mundane, and largely forgotten.[6] The war diaries provide a surprisingly rich description of life for the members of the ABGROC.

A few years ago we did a tour of the Western Front and I asked if it was possible to visit Poperinghe, near where my grandfather had worked at Peselhoek. At the railway station, I went down the platform looking for someone to speak to. My first reaction was to speak in German (hmm, perhaps not a good idea), and as my French is very poor and my Flemish non-existent I was dithering about what to do. Along came our tour guide and did the obvious: spoke in English to the railway worker we saw.

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Ellarsyde. Broad gauge and light rail tracks and rolling stock at a railway yard near Ypres. On the far left some wagons are standing on the heavy gauge rail tracks; on the adjacent light rail tracks are several sets of flat cars, some loaded with building materials. On the right are some locomotives. The light rail was used to take the men and material closer to the front. Australian War Memorial Image C01384 out of copyright.

In a bizarre Who Do You Think You Are moment, the gentleman went into his office and then handed me about six photographs taken around 1917-1918, as well as talking to me about where the lines went. I was beyond thrilled and quite blown away by it. The guide swore blind he had not organised it, and as he was very chuffed with what I’d got, to this day I don’t know if it was serendipity or pre-arranged. Either way I was extremely happy to have a better sense of where Grandad had been during the war.

Poperinghe 13

Poperinghe Railway Station near the time when my grandfather served there.

Peselhoek Poperinghe

It has to be said, that compared to many, Grandad’s war was a short one, less than one year, although he did not return to Australia until August 1919 on board the transport ship Karmala. It seems the men had a fairly lively time of it on the way home with a wide array of activities. An orchestra was established and dancing took place every night. An on-board newspaper was established called the Karmala Kuts.[7] No doubt Dinny, who liked a good joke, rather enjoyed the railway-based story which appeared in Vol 1 No 2. Sports were held daily and chess, bridge and drafts competitions occurred. The men also had four lectures from the ship’s master who had been a member of Scott’s polar expedition. Education classes were also offered. Yet again the men were given gifts from the Comforts Funds with 1000 pairs of socks distributed. The ship stopped at Cape Town, Fremantle and Adelaide on the way home. “The people of Cape Town were very kind to the men who had a splendid time there with picnics, dances, motor trips etc”.[8] It is difficult to imagine in this day and age how mature men would respond to such simple pleasures. Denis disembarked in Melbourne on 17 August 1919. His military service was at an end.

UPDATE 16 Nov 2018: Grandad and other Queenslanders from the Karmala travelled home on a special train. His return and arrival in Toowoomba was recorded in the Darling Downs Gazette [HOME AGAIN (1919, August 20). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 6] .

 

To the best of my knowledge, Grandad never went to Remembrance Day ceremonies, though he was elderly when I knew him and perhaps did so when he was younger. His service medals and his RSL membership badge have been safely preserved in the family. As far as I know no photographs of him in uniform have survived.

LEST WE FORGET

Check out the treasures to be found at the Australian War Memorial including war diaries, photographs and personal diaries. I wrote about them here.

Are you looking for the service records of your WWI soldier? You can search through this link (select WWI) where they have been digitised.

It’s also worth looking at the digitised collections of the Imperial War Museum, especially for photographs.

There are also often letters/stories home in the local newspapers of the day. Our good friend Trove may have the answers.

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[1] The Courier-Mail, 23 October 1917, p. 8 reports on the previous day’s volunteers including the two brothers. Denis Kunkel’s service number is 2311.

[2] This was atypical of the Kunkel height genes.

[3] Sons were James, Stephen, Patrick Joseph, George and John Joseph. James was killed in action in the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916 and is buried in the War Cemetery at Rue Petillon, near Fleurbaix. He is remembered on the War Memorial in Crows Nest.

[4] Toowoomba Chronicle, 5 November 1917, p. 5.

[5] F Cranston, Always Faithful: The History of the 49th Battalion, Boolarong Publications Brisbane, 1983, p. 18.

[6] “Any activity out of the ordinary, such as …a light railway at work… served as a tonic for the Diggers”. D Winter, Making the Legend: The War writings of CEW Bean. UQ Press, Brisbane, 1992, p. 154.

[7] AWM 31. Karmala 306.

[8] AWM7. Karmala 4. Report on the Karmala 17 August 1919.

Honouring the Fallen of Fromelles

One hundred years ago, Australian soldiers were fighting the desperate battle for their lives near the tiny French hamlet of Fromelles. That 24 hours from the evening of the 19th July 1916 was to be the bloodiest and most disastrous day in Australia’s military history to date (and may it so remain). And yet, when I began my research nearly 30 years ago, this battle was poorly known and rarely mentioned.

Enlistment photo of Photograph of James Gavin in The Queenslander of 2 October 1915, page 24.

Enlistment photo of Photograph of James Gavin in The Queenslander of 2 October 1915, page 24.

In the beginning hours of his first battle, my grandfather’s cousin, James Augustus Gavin, was among the early, and perhaps fortunate, fatalities in this deadly and bloody nursery of war. His would be the first death among my grandfather’s cousins in World War I.

“Not as many lost as first feared…only 5533” wrote Lt Col Walter Edmund Cass. How I fumed as I read those words in the Australian War Memorial back in 1990. How dare this officer be so glib about such horrendous loss!

This number counted the casualties (killed, wounded and missing) but not the mental anguish to the men, who were sacrificed wastefully.

Cass was an experienced officer, a career soldier who’d been on Gallipoli and in the Boer War. He had been in the thick of this battle, in a forward position, so exposed that it was a bulge in the line, surrounded by Germans and exposed to their higher position.

A studio photo of Lt Col Cass perhaps around the time of his posting to France. AWM photograph A01470, copyright expired. The photo is shown as Lt Col ERH Cass CMG so it appears the initials are a mistake.

A studio photo of Lt Col Cass perhaps around the time of his posting to France. AWM photograph A01470, copyright expired.

Despite his experience, or perhaps even because of it, this battle was the last he’d ever fight in war. He was broken by the loss of so many of his men’s lives. “My boys, my boys! They’ve murdered my boys!”.  He was talking about the actions of the more senior “British” officers, not the Germans, and in acts of insubordination that may have seen him shot in the British Army (or perhaps without the medals he already held), he argued fiercely with his superiors.

Fromelles Pheasant Wood

The Pheasant Wood cemetery 2014. The Germans had lookouts in the church tower.

The Germans had offered a short truce so that bodies could be recovered (alive or dead), but knowing the British refusal to accept even this level of accord, McCay had refused. And so the men, who had managed to fall back, could hear their mates calling for help and pleading “don’t forget me, cobber“. How many men might have returned to their families if a different decision was made? How many men might have carried a lesser mental burden had they been permitted to help their mates?

This was how the Germans came to bury some of the Australian fallen in Pheasant Wood, below Fromelles. It would be over 80 years later that the men were found – the farmer’s crops never flourished in that area. The determination of individuals revealed this forgotten burial ground, German records confirmed it, and the modern science of DNA revealed the identities of the men.

Memorial plaque on the Cobbers sculpture.

Memorial plaque on the Cobbers sculpture.

Today, those visiting Fromelles can see the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) memorial with its beautifully maintained war graves. The Cobbers Memorial (do read the link) honours the fallen and the mates they fought with.

Peter stands beside the memorial which stands on the German bunker where his great-uncle WEH Cass fought with his battalion.

Mr Cassmob stands beside the memorial which is where his great-uncle WEH Cass fought with the 54th battalion.

 

And yet, for me, the cemetery at Rue Petillon near Fleurbaix tells the tale more starkly. The gravestones stand like teeth, tight side by side. Surrounding the cemetery are farmhouses and the fields for which the men fought, now so tranquil.

The location of James Gavin's grave in Rue Petillon cemetery November 1992.

The location of James Gavin’s grave in Rue Petillon cemetery November 1992.

L/Cpl James Gavin's gravestone in Rue Petillon cemetery: the family's inscription can be read.

L/Cpl James Gavin’s gravestone in Rue Petillon cemetery includes the family’s inscription.

Among them lies the grave of James Augustus Gavin. It was a privilege to visit him in 1992 and it remains a privilege today to remember him. You have not been forgotten cobber.

Lest We Forget.

You might like to read these earlier posts about Fromelles, Gavin and Cass:

The Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam L/Cpl James Augustus Gavin KIA

Fromelles, Lt Col WEH Cass and family collections

F is for the Fifteen Mile, Fromelles and Fleurbaix

Brigadier General Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass

And a commemoration of military mate ship here.

There are a number of books available now on the battle of Fromelles:

Don’t forget me cobber by Robin Corfield

The Anzacs by Peter Pedersen

Fromelles and Pozieres by Peter Fitzsimons (includes quite a few quotes on Cass drawn from his letters and diaries, now held by State Library Victoria)

Our darkest day: Fromelles by Patrick Lindsay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Death of an ANZAC Lieutenant

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

As we move through the centenary of World War I, it’s time to put Australia’s war history into a more realistic perspective. We do ourselves a disservice, as well as the men who served and those who lost their lives, when we insist they were brave all the time and were immune to the effects of such a confronting war.  This war fundamentally changed how Australian servicemen saw the home country and gave them, and us, a sense of a different identity.

Today’s Remembrance Day post is a story of one man’s death, only two months before that momentous day on 11 November 1918. Like all the thousands of war deaths, it left the world a lesser place with the loss of talent and ability.

My search for a person to write about happened almost entirely by chance, other than I was looking for men who came from, or enlisted at, Toowoomba on the Darling Downs and who died during the World War I.

[?] PERSONAL. (1916, January 18). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 - 1922), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188051959

[?] PERSONAL. (1916, January 18). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188051959

Leslie Samuel Buchanan was a one-person ANZAC when he enlisted in Toowoomba on 17 January 1916. He was born in Ashburton, New Zealand about November 1876[i], son of John Edgar and Mary Elizabeth Saunders Buchanan[ii].  On his enlistment papers[iii] he gave his next of kin as his wife, Alice (aka Alyce[iv]) Buchanan of Eleanor St, Toowoomba and noted he had one child under 16 (actually an infant). He was 6 feet tall with grey eyes and brown hair and stated his occupation was “newspaper editor”. His only experience in the military was four years in the volunteer cadets, possibly at high school or university. Initially Leslie enlisted as a private and was attached to D Company, 41st Battalion with the service number 4732. As a newspaper editor his enlistment was publicised far and wide: Farmer and Settler, Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser, Maryborough Chronicle as well as the more obvious Darling Downs Gazette. Strangely it is the Maryborough article that will become relevant later in the story.Leslie Buchanan article151081572-3-001

PERSONAL. (1916, February 10). Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932), p. 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115305390

PERSONAL. (1916, February 10). Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1932), p. 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115305390 Note: Townsville is an error and should be Toowoomba.

It’s likely it was Leslie’s professional career rather than the cadets that made him a candidate for officer training and the Darling Downs Gazette tells of his committed study to gain entrance to Duntroon Military College where he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant, gazetted on 1 October 1916. At this point, on 29 December 1916, Leslie was attached to the 13th reinforcements of the 31st Battalion. Gaining his commission had delayed his departure to France by nearly a year and may have saved him from the slaughter at Fromelles – a bloodbath for the 31st.

It wasn’t until 7 February 1917, that Leslie joined the rest of the 13th reinforcements of the 31st Battalion on troop ship A18 Wiltshire ex Sydney en route for England. He landed at Devonport (Plymouth), England on 11 April 1917 and marched into the 8th Training Battalion at Hurdcott, Salisbury, England.

Unidentified (1917). Page 22 of the Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 17 February, 1917. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Unidentified (1917). Page 22 of the Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 17 February, 1917. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Is Leslie Buchanan one of the two officers in the front row, centre?

Lt Buchanan was taken on strength with the 31st Battalion on 13 July 1917 and sent to France via Havre. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 11 August 1917 and on 7 August was sent to the 1st ANZAC Corps School in the field.  Less than a week later, on 17 August, he was taken to hospital sick with malaria (and later anaemia), then transferred to the 1st General Hospital at Etretat on 31 August. He remained there until 24 September when he was discharged to the 5th Division Base Depot, fit for active duty.  (I confess that so far I remain confused about these movements and the medical facilities to which he was sent).

From here, on 9 October he re-joined his unit. Less than three weeks later he was taken by the Field Ambulance back to hospital and didn’t re-join his unit, as best I can tell, until 8 December 1917. Leslie had been in France for five months but in hospital for much of this time, and on active service in the field only about four weeks by my estimate. It begs the question why he felt he needed to enlist if his health was not great. Nevertheless he is photographed with his fellow officers from the 31st over Christmas 1917, an image which made its way to an Australian newspaper.

OFFICERS OF THE 31st BATTALION, CHRISTKIAS DAY, 1917. (1918, March 28). The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 - 1934), p. 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188923487

OFFICERS OF THE 31st BATTALION, CHRISTMAS DAY, 1917. (1918, March 28). The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), p. 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article188923487 Lt L Buchanan is third from the left in the row standing behind the kneeling men.

AN APPRECIATION FROM BELGIUM. (1918, April 22). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 - 1922), p. 3. Retrieved http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171753664

AN APPRECIATION FROM BELGIUM. (1918, April 22). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 3. Retrieved http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171753664

News of his activities in the coming months is discovered through letters home and published in various papers:

Lieutenant Leslie Buchanan, well known in journalistic circles and formerly editor of the ‘D. D. Gazette’ writes to ‘Sirdar’ of the ‘Daily Mail’, as follows: ‘The dawn is just breaking, and Fritz had left us comparatively alone, so I am taking a short spell in my very insecure dugout, having so far dodged the scrap-iron which the Hun heaves at us with very little intermission. Our division has been pretty heavily engaged for the last month, and I have been in the front line practically since the middle of January, but so far we have stopped the Boche on this sector at any rate— and the sector at present, is the most important in France. I’ve had one shave and one wash in a month. We look a queer crew, but that doesn’t matter much when things are as they are. We live in hopes and are still hammering the Hun.’[v] It’s difficult to know when the letter was written as the publication date was August 1918.

Leslie was trained at the gas school in the field on 15 March 1918 and newspaper reports reveal he had taken on additional responsibilities.

 Lieut. L. Buchanan, formerly editor of the “D. D. Gazette,” and now at the front In France, has been appointed by General Sir W. R. Birdwood, editor for the 6th Australian Division of the new magazine, “Aussie” a military official production. The duties will not take Lieut. Buchanan from active service, where he has been for several months past.[vi] 

A MIRACULOUS' ESCAPE. (1918, August 6). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183226447

A MIRACULOUS’ ESCAPE. (1918, August 6). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183226447

He also found time to report home: Lieut. Buchanan, in which he reports himself as being well and fortunate enough to come through a big engagement without hurt[vii].

Based on unit war diaries Lt Buchanan undertook regular patrols with his men, often in the middle of the night throughout May 1918[viii]. During this period, the Battalion was stationed in the field at Vaire-Hamel for 53 days without relief, said by the CO to be a record for the British units in France. It was during this time that Leslie had an uncanny brush with death, described in the papers as a “miraculous escape”. The story is appended for you and linked here, but the essence is that the only thing which saved him from death was that the bullet, which hit him centre chest, had struck the button on his clothing, stopping it from killing him. Hence the annotation on his file, and also in the message to his wife, that he was “wounded but remaining on duty”.  While he makes light of it in his letter home to his wife Alice, I can’t help wondering if this near miss affected him in the coming months.

There are no notations I’ve found which make adverse comment about Leslie in the war diaries, yet on 3 July 1918 he was court martialled[ix] on two counts: (1) for being AWOL on 4 June 1918 until 7 June when he was apprehended and (2) for being drunk at Cobie on 11 April 1918. Although his plea to both counts was “not guilty” the enquiry found him not guilty of the first count, but guilty of the second. He was demoted and given a strong reprimand. His service seniority was also reduced to 16 January 1917 (not 1916). What is interesting, though, is that the Battalion had arrived on 2 June in Rivery, on relief after their 53 day stint on the front. The Battalion also received congratulations from Brigadier General Tivey for their work on holding an important sector of the line and consolidating it while keeping the German troops contained.

On 23 July 1918, there is a report on a Lt Leslie Buchanan interleaved with “our” Leslie’s file, but the age and unit number are inaccurate. However I can find no other serving officer with this name so perhaps it was him. The findings were that he was suffering from overwork but that “there were no signs of Subuale (??) and no bacilli were found. His temperature was normal. He is gaining weight and in good condition.”[x] The condition had been caused by military service but he was fit to return to duty. If this is indeed him, then perhaps it explains what was to happen.

Leslie was admitted to the 41st Stationary Hospital on 23 August 1918 and sent to the 4th Army Convalescent Depot on 30 August with gastroenteritis. On the evening of 4 September he was seen, by a private from the Royal Hussars, near the villa where he was quartered and taken to his room by two Australian soldiers. They took him to his room around 8:45pm, and removed his tunic, collar and boots before covering him over on the bed. Later, about 10:30pm, a Capt Barclay of the RAF had looked into the room and seen Leslie sleeping[xi].

PERSONAL. (1918, October 14). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 - 1922), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176352463

PERSONAL. (1918, October 14). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176352463

However early in the morning of 5 September 1918, a body was seen lying on the ground outside the building. Captain Ironside was called in around 7:15 – 7:30am and found it was Lt Buchanan. It was estimated that he had died about six hours previous. The body was then sent to 3 General Hospital for pathology testing. It appeared he had fallen out of a window on the second floor[xii].

A Court of Enquiry[xiii] was convened and witness statements taken including that of Capt Ironside. Pte Edwards of the 10th Royal Hussars had seen the two Australians helping Buchanan where he was collapsed on the ground near the villa. When asked if Buchanan was drunk the Hussar said “he was in a collapsed condition”. What did he mean? Was Leslie drunk, or suffering from the effects of gastro? When the court asked whether he thought Buchanan was drunk, another witness, L/Cpl Dover, also said “he was in a collapsed condition” but that “he was a very moderate drinker taking only one drink with each meal”. Capt Ironside was asked further questions and confirmed he had checked Buchanan’s room that morning after finding his body. The “bed had been slept in, the window was open and one pane had been broken. There was nothing to indicate why this officer had climbed out the window[xiv]. There was no blood in the room and he considered the blood on the body had been incurred when landing on trees below the window. The opinion of the Court was that death had occurred by accidentally falling from the window[xv].

Image from http://cwgc.org

Image from http://cwgc.org

Lieutenant Leslie Samuel Buchanan was buried with full military honours at Mont Huon Military Cemetery, Le Treport, France (Plot 7, Row F, Grave 13).

Unsurprisingly his former newspaper, the Darling Downs Gazette, published an extensive obituary on 12 September 1918 which can be read here as it’s too long to include with this story. However these extracts deserve to be highlighted: ”

“He was a man possessing a big nature, and nothing mean or petty could find countenance with him. His decision to enlist came as a surprise to his friends owing to his having family obligations and holding a position such as he did. His decision once formed, however, was final, his chief   reason being the call of conscience and duty. He stated that he could not from the editorial chair urge the eligible to enlist while he himself was eligible, and he hoped that by his example others would be induced to act similarly“….

“But it was those only who had the fortune to work with him who could value the man at his true worth. His big, generous heart never failed to respond and he was ever ready to extend a helping hand to those needing it . His kindly advice in his professional work was of valuable aid to those on his staff and his experience was always at the disposal of all when the need arose”.

These comments are very similar to those expressed by Cpl HT Hill in his response to Alice’s Red Cross enquiries: “he was very, very popular, keenly musical, well educated and a good soldier and very good hearted“. Cpl Hill, from Bundaberg, had travelled with Leslie on the Wiltshire to England. He said that Lt Buchanan had “gone well back behind Amiens to a school and no more was heard of him. The contention is that he fell from a train“.

 Leslie had served his country and his battle was over, but it was just beginning for his wife Alice. It was to take her several years as she tried to find out more about her husband’s death. Having first been told he died of illness (gastroenteritis), then that he had died from an accidental fall, she was understandably bewildered. By January 1919 she still hadn’t heard “the real cause” of her husband’s death. Somewhat strangely her mother-in-law, living in Windsor, England, seemed to be getting more up to date information that Alice, even though his wife was Leslie’s next of kin.

It didn’t help that Alice’s appeal to the Red Cross only brought more confusion, with one report suggesting Leslie had fallen 1000 feet off a cliff, and another that he may have fallen from a train. The official response was that these reports were “garbled versions based on hearsay”[xvi]. However she says “as you can imagine it has upset me very much[xvii]. She even tried to write to the mayor of Le Treport but the letter had been returned as having insufficient address[xviii].

Like so many other wives, mothers and daughters her pathos is evident even at this distance of time. Here are some extracts from her letters to the Army:

if I should hear from someone who had been with him it might bring me a ray of comfort. I am quite alone here as all my people live very far away[xix]. (Sept 23, 1918)

“All these dreadful weary days of anxiety” … “Since then (Leslie’s death) I have heard nothing from the military department”…”I fully realise the enormous work it must be for you people answering the large number of letters like mine”…”Don’t you think I should have heard from someone from the hospital or his Battalion”. [xx]

“All these differing accounts of his death has (sic) been so terrible”… “I had waited over four long weary months in the most dreadful suspense”.(dated Jan 16, 1918 but certainly 1919) [xxi]

“I have never received any account of the real cause of how he died.” (January 15, 1919)[xxii].

Eventually she received a letter from the Army giving her a synopsis of the findings of the Court of Enquiry, dated 26 March 1919. Whether she gained any consolation, or more anxiety, from hearing Leslie “had (apparently) fallen from a window on the second floor”[xxiii] is something to ponder.

I would give much to hear from someone who was with him toward the end[xxiv] she says when she receives the official memorial scroll and the field glasses she had been chasing up. They had caused her angst because the army assumed they were official issue and would be returned to stores whereas she informed them they were “his own property and a gift from the Darling Downs Gazette of which he was the editor[xxv]. While she eventually received the field glasses, there is no indication that his watch was every returned. Among his belongings were his chess set and the soldier’s friend, the housewife (a simple sewing kit), as well as letters, photos and 11 notebooks[xxvi]. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what was in the latter?

She regularly asks for photos of his grave “Have you received any word re Lt Leslie Buchanan’s grave? I am so tired of waiting[xxvii] (19 Jan 1920)

When they come (at a cost to her of 3 pence a copy), she is again saddened because “it looks so fearfully neglected. Can you please tell me if in time it will be cared for?”[xxviii]

Death of Mrs. Alyce Buchanan. (1930, July 23). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), p. 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21544807

Death of Mrs. Alyce Buchanan. (1930, July 23). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21544807

Over the years Alice received the Memorial scroll and King’s message (29 October 1921, three years after his death), the British War Medal (16 June 1921), the Victory Medal (8 May 1923) and the memorial plaque (19 December 1922).

While she stayed with her family in Sydney for a while after Leslie’s death, she returned to Toowoomba where she died on 22 July 1930, aged only 48 years. Alyce and Leslie’s only child, daughter Joyce, was just 16 years old. She had been active in fund-raising throughout the war and very much involved in the cultural life of the city. Alyce Buchanan is buried in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery.

Leslie’s name will be projected on the Australian War Memorial during the WWI centenary on these dates:

  • Mon 29 February, 2016 at 11:39 pm
  • Thu 21 April, 2016 at 8:14 pm
  • Sat 4 June, 2016 at 11:53 pm
  • Sat 16 July, 2016 at 9:56 pm
  • Wed 31 August, 2016 at 4:14 am
  • Sun 23 October, 2016 at 11:30 pm
  • Tue 27 December, 2016 at 1:44 am
  • Tue 28 February, 2017 at 2:08 am

[i] An Ancestry tree states his birth date as 17 November 1876. http://person.ancestry.com/tree/76510328/person/46344469213/story. His service record (page 144) states it as 20 November 1876.

[ii] Commonwealth War Graves Commission website http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/468645/BUCHANAN,%20LESLIE

[iii] National Archives of Australia Item barcode 3152469,  Service record Lt Leslie Buchanan (148pp)

[iv] She regularly signs her name as Alice, but by the end of her life it is consistently Alyce.

[v] PERSONAL (1918, August 29). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld: 1881-1922) p4.http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183228294

[vi] SOCIAL AND PERSONAL (1918, April 25) Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld: 1909-1954) page 3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119924600. Also reported in other newspapers (one of the advantages of Leslie having been a newspaperman). Interestingly there is no indication in the records that Leslie was the editor of this magazine, rather the AWM and other references indicate it was a Philip L Harris. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/LIB18425/. Perhaps an interesting project for someone to follow up?

[vii] SOCIAL (1918, May 22) Darling Downs Gazette (Qld 1881-1922) p3  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183229216

[viii] Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000618/

[ix] Buchanan, Lt Leslie service record, page 145. There are summary figures for courts martial at the end of each month’s war diary for the battalion – a far from uncommon incident. You can also search the National Archives of Australia for the term “Court Martial”.

[x] Ibid, page 14.

[xi] Ibid, page 18.

[xii] Ibid, page 16.

[xiii] Ibid, pages 16-26.

[xiv] Ibid page 18.

[xv] Ibid page 23.

The Red Cross reports may be found at https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RCDIG1034775–1-.pdf

[xvi] Ibid, page 79.

[xvii] Ibid, page 82.

[xviii] Ibid, page 69.

[xix] Ibid, page 126.

[xx] Ibid, page 57.

[xxi] Ibid, page 82.

[xxii] Ibid, page 54.

[xxiii] Ibid, page 100.

[xxiv] Ibid, page 78.

[xxv] Ibid, page 94.

[xxvi] Ibid, page 91.

[xxvii] Ibid, page 73.

[xxviii] Ibid, page 125.

William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel: Always missed

A few years back I wrote in detail about my father’s cousin, William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel, who went missing in Korea. Dad always said that Robert’s parents never gave up hope of finding him. Like so many families whose sons went missing in action during battle, there must have been a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty…perhaps one day he’d turn up.

Recently I was searching Trove and came up with another news story about Robert Kunkel. It was a very big entry on page 4 of Brisbane’s Sunday Mail on 12 December 1954[i]. Robert’s mother, Hilda, plainly believed that it was her son seen in the march-past at the City Hall of the 3rd Battalion, recently returned from Korea, even though he’d served with the 1st Battalion. As a child I always heard that Robert had never returned so it’s plain that the man marked didn’t turn out to be her son. What a sad loss it was for Robert’s parents, Hilda and Bill, who never stopped missing their son.

I had hoped to hear from one of Robert’s mates after my previous post, but would still welcome contact from them or a descendant if they inherited a story about Robert’s capture by the North Koreans. The surviving men from the patrol were Corporal William Crotty, Brian Ransfield Mau from Hamilton, New Zealand and S Brent (Sidney Henry Brent?). Crotty and Kunkel were apparently good mates.

Robert Kunkel from Sunday Mail top of pic

Robert Kunkel from Cour Sunday Mail 12 Dec 1954

[i] Mother seeks her son. (1954, December 12). Sunday Mail(Brisbane) (Qld. : 1926 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97951154

Lest We Forget… those who came home

Anzac Cove DSC_0389_edited-1Today’s Remembrance Day is particularly poignant as we honour the fallen from all our wars, but especially from World War I. The intensity of reAWM wallmembrance over the next four years may almost become overwhelming. It is impossible to imagine the reality of the horrors and terrors those men suffered through the long months and years of the war.

Each year at ceremonies around the country we are reminded “they do not grow old as we who are left grow old”. We honour and recognise the sacrifice that was made by these men who gave their lives far young or old, single or married, bushies or city slickers.

The men who died overseas have contributed to our sense of ourselves as a nation, a people who could be relied on when in a tight corner, who would fight to the bitter end. Where did their courage come from when they could be told “Boys you have ten minutes to live and I am going to lead you[i].

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.[ii]

DSC_0412 edit

Such evocative words. Buried at Beach Cemetery, Gallipoli.

However there’s another aspect which I think we have sometimes neglected as family historians and one which will challenge us even more than documenting the history of our family members who died in action.

To what extent do we consider the lives of those left behind? The impact of loss on families, friends and communities? How is that documented in the official record? And how did they respond to never knowing exactly where their loved one was buried, let alone understand why there might no keepsake to treasure for themselves or their children?

I haven’t received nothing belonging to him.  I don’t even know of his burial place.[iii]

And what of the men who returned, some horrifically injured physically and no longer able to continue in their former occupations? It seems almost impossible that any man who returned, or indeed the nurses who cared for them, would return the same person mentally or emotionally. What of the guilt they may have carried at the loss of close family, brothers or friends?

What do we know of how this affected their family life?  Each returning soldier’s emotional responses to his wife and children? The general view is that they kept the horrors locked down inside them until each Anzac Day or Remembrance Day but surely the trauma must have seeped out from time to time. How did the women cope with the return of husbands, fathers, sons, brothers or sweethearts who were no longer the same men they had farewelled? At least those who married after the war would have had some idea of what they were “buying into”.  Perhaps the men felt slightly more reconciled since they knew they’d gone to war voluntarily and were not conscripted like almost all the other nations.

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles 2014.

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles 2014.

Bill Gammage’s book The Broken Years is increasingly difficult to find but is a useful starting point for our research into the returned soldier’s attitudes at the time.

These returned soldiers are the men who helped to build our then-new nation despite the traumas they’d experienced. They grew old but had to fight on in daily life. They deserve our attention as much as those who were lost and it seems to me that there is a great deal still ahead for us to research.

Lest We Forgetthose who died, those they left behind and those who lived to rebuild…in all the nations of the war.

My earlier posts on Remembrance Day are:

2013: Erle Victor Weiss

2012: Lest we forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

2011: Honouring the Australian born diggers with German ancestry.

Anzac Day:

2014: Two brothers go to war and Postcards to the Front

2013: V is for our Valiant Indigenous ANZACs

2012: V is for the Valiant of Villers-Brettoneux (my most-read post)

2011: Lest we forget: William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel (MIA Korea)

Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam James Augustus Gavin

DSC_0438

[i] Lt Col Alexander White, Commander of the 8th Light Horse at the charge of The Nek, Gallipoli

[ii] Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth from the War Poetry Website.

[iii] Elizabeth Maud Paterson writing to the Army on 1 September 1921 about James Thomas Paterson of the 49th Battalion who died 5 April 1917. His body was never recovered and his name is among those on the memorial at Villers-Brettoneux.

100 years ago: Declaration of War

BRITAIN AT WAR. INVASION OF BELGIUM. (1914, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795

BRITAIN AT WAR. INVASION OF BELGIUM. (1914, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795

One hundred years ago Australians woke to the news that the Britain had declared war on Germany. In 2014 it’s difficult to appreciate how enmeshed Australia’s politics and life was with Britain’s, but the summary on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald gives us a retrospective glimpse:

“An unparalleled scene in the history of the State Parliament took place in the Assembly yesterday…..Members sprang to their feet and sang the National Anthem (which was then God Save the King) and “Rule Britannia” and gave cheers for the King”. [i]

In the “home country”, the navy was already mobilised and the army was to be mobilised by midnight on 4 August, just an hour of the declaration of war (then the next morning Australian time).

Last night (UK time) many in Britain commemorated the start of this long tragic war by turning their lights out and lighting a candle in remembrance (see twitter #lightsout). In 1914 the declaration of war must truly have seemed a terrifying prospect despite assertions it would all be over before Christmas, but it was not to be in 1914, or 1915, rather more than four long years later.

Already on this first day, in Australia, motor cycle clubs were volunteering members as despatch riders, immigrants of German and Austrian descent rushed to take up Australian citizenship, the St John Ambulance had been placed at the disposal of the Defence Department and men were offering to enlist. The 8th Infantry Brigade had also been mobilised for coastal defence, along with the citizen naval forces. [ii]

Nothing would remain the same in society for decades to come, not least the impact of the loss of the talents, skills and love of the men killed in this battle for freedom. The loss of life, the impact on families, communities, and not least the men who returned was to be incalculable at a local, national and international level. Women would remain single for lack of men to marry, married women would not recognise their husbands as they returned with ferocious injuries to the bodies, and even more inexplicably to those at home, their minds. It astonishes me that more men on the Western Front didn’t lose their minds listening to the repeated noise of guns, artillery and bombs combined with the fear of imminent death or terrible injury. Mercifully the Australian Expeditionary Force, comprised of volunteers, prohibited the execution of a soldier for shell-shock, more often called cowardice.

The World War I memorial in the Darling Downs town of Crows Nest, Qld.

The World War I memorial in the Darling Downs town of Crows Nest, Qld.

Those who had lost loved sons, brothers or husbands erected memorials throughout the country to have a tangible reminder of those who had died in foreign lands, often with no known grave. Forlorn and tragically pleading letters from families can be read in the military files of the men, begging for any small item of their loved one’s belongings with no understanding that often they’d been blown to pieces, just like the person who’d owned them. These heart-wrenching letters begged for some small memento to give a child left behind, perhaps one whose father had never even seen them, when men rushed to marry before they left for war.

The names on this wall of the Menin Gate are only a fraction of the total listed.

The names on this wall of the Menin Gate are only a fraction of the total listed.

The walls of the Menin Gate evocatively lists 54,000 men from the British and Commonwealth forces[iii] whose lives were lost on the Ypres/Ieper salient during WWI and who have no known grave. It is sobering to think this is only a part of the losses to the British Empire during this horrendous period.

The ideals of war are the fight for freedom, justice, humanity and home soil and yet “the war to end all wars” with such a fierce loss of life was only to be a precursor to another greater social cataclysm a bare 20 years later with even greater losses of life, both civilian and military, and the massacre of whole communities.

Lest We Forget

Menin gatee

[i] SUMMARY. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW 1842-1954) 5 August 1914 page 1. http://nla.gov.au/news-article 15527541.

[ii] ibid and also http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795 page 7, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 1914.

[iii] http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/91800/YPRES%20(MENIN%20GATE)%20MEMORIAL

Postcards to the Front 1917

Fred Fisher sent this photo to his brother Les from Etaples in September 1917. At the time Les

Fred Fisher sent this photo to his brother Les from Etaples in September 1917. At the time Les was in hospital in Dartford, Kent.

We first met Frederick Charles Fisher in my previous post for the Trans-Tasman Anzac Day Blog Challenge. Fred was a handsome, imposing young man, tall and strong, and no doubt cut a fine figure in his uniform.

1497 Rosary postcard two front low  - Copy

1496 Rosary Card 2 rear low  - Copy

This postcard, from “Ena”, is dated 22 November 1917 and posted in Swindon, England.

While he was serving with the 19th Battalion during the War, Fred obviously had an impact on this young lady. Was she his sweetheart or just a friend? With the rosary theme to each card, it seems likely she was also a Catholic herself.  It seems to me she was desperate to hear from him and perhaps never did. Did he break her heart?  Perhaps he just never got round to writing in the demands of battle and then it was too late.

1531 rosary back low

Postcard dated 12 December 1917.

1530 Rosary front low

 

Postcard sent 22 December 1917.

Postcard sent 22 December 1917.

1494 Rosary postcard  - Copy

 

 

 

 

 

The tone of the letters makes it obvious she kept waiting for his reply, but it seems naive that you couldn’t understand why he didn’t write. Even allowing for the level of censorship it would seem obvious that many things might interrupt his ability to write back, or to receive letters, though plainly he did get these cards.

Had they met while Fred was in England on a furlough or while he was involved with the Championship of England run at Salisbury in September 1917?

His Aussie family know no more about Ena than is shown on these postcards to the Front.

1518 Fred Fisher left low

 

1519 Fred Fisher and others 1917 low

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there’s this “ring-in” among the Fisher family collection. Who was writing to Gaston Duhamel? Had that person promised Gaston to post him a letter while they were on furlough? Did the card never get sent?

1502 Versailles front  low1503 Postcard to Gaston low