It 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.
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.
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.
My 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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)
* 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.
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
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.
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, 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 at the front”. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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”. 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.
 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.
 F Cranston, Always Faithful: The History of the 49th Battalion, Boolarong Publications Brisbane, 1983, p. 18.
 “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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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].
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].
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]
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:
[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?
[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”.
Today’s Remembrance Day is particularly poignant as we honour the fallen from all our wars, but especially from World War I. The intensity of remembrance 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].
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.
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 Forget…those who died, those they left behind and those who lived to rebuild…in all the nations of the war.
[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.
For Remembrance Day 2013, I’m going to share with you the brief story of a man who has no family connection to me whatsoever. He made himself known through a photograph found in my cousin’s extensive photo collection.
My 4th cousin in Sydney is one of those people who has myriad photographs stored in suitcases – probably literally hundreds of them. Some have names on them, but sadly not all. She has been a wealth of information about my own family but there are also hidden gems of no direct relevance to me.
Among her collection is this photograph postcard from a young Australian soldier who was killed in World War I, Erle Victor Weiss. Erle was another of the young men, descendants of German ancestors, who fought for King and country in World War I. You will see from his note to his friend that he did not affiliate with the Germans he fought, referring to them as “Huns” in the vernacular of the time. Given the social attitudes of the era I often wonder whether those with German names felt they had to be more English than others, and whether it provoked them into joining up as soon as possible.
Erle had joined in August 1915 and was a bombardier with the 1st Field Artillery Brigade. He had been severely gassed in November 1917 and it was during this period of hospitalisation in England that he wrote to my cousin’s mother.
This postcard strikes me as a letter to a young woman with whom he was perhaps in love. Whether she was just a friend or reciprocated his love is unknown, though the fact that the postcard has been preserved all these years suggests she was very fond of him.
Erle was killed on 9 August 1918 nine months after this letter was written and is buried in Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres. His brother, Frederick Alfred Weiss, died on 19 July 1916, in the Battle of Fromelles. These two young men were the eldest sons of Walter Henry and Amy Selina Weiss who lived at Erina, New South Wales where it seems Walter was a school teacher.
Erle’s friend, Norah, married another former soldier Leslie Gladstone Fisher in 1925 in Surrey Hills. Were the two men friends? Had they ever met?
It is impossible to read the files for the young men who were killed during the war: there is such pathos in each and every letter written to the authorities by their next of kin. All they had left to hope for were some items of their son’s to treasure, and in Erle’s case this amounted to 2 photos, 1 card, a belt a damaged wallet, a pocket book and a scarf. The significance of the war memorials, especially in Australia, is knowing that a memorial and small personal items were the only tangible reminders of their son’s sacrifice.
Among the photos are two unknown soldiers, I thought I would include it here in case someone else recognises them.
A couple of my family’s fallen Diggers, James Augustus Gavin and William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel, were remembered in earlier posts. Today I want to focus on the service of the Australian Diggers in World War I who were descendants of the mid-19thcentury Dorfprozelten immigrants, five of whom gave their lives and another 17 served in the Australian forces and two earned bravery medals.
Although their families had arrived 60 years earlier, the generally vituperative press must have made it difficult for them on a day-to-day basis. At the time streets and towns around the country were changing their German names to British ones. I’m proud that these men’s families retained their German names with minor spelling variations based on pronunciation. Their service deserves to be recognised and this summary honours some of these Dorfprozelten descendants.[i]
As far as I can tell none of their living parents and grandparents were interned but there was a requirement for them to report to the local police regularly. Interestingly George Kaufline (son of Dorfprozelten couple Vincent and Eva Kauflein) remained Mayor of Cooma during the war despite his German ancestry.
Children of John Zeller (b Brisbane 1858) and his wife Ann Nixon from Chinchilla and grandchildren of Dorfprozelten immigrants, Franz Ignaz and Catharine Zöller. With four sons away overseas John Zeller actively contributed to the war effort by supplying walking canes which he crafted himself by hand from local timbers. He also established a sandbag committee at Chinchilla explaining “as I am too old to go and fight with our boys I feel that I must do something to help those that are fighting for us.”
RIP: Thomas Zeller (29) enlisted 8 March 1916 in the 15th reinforcements of the 26th Battalion. He assured the enlisting officer that he was willing to sign a declaration that both his parents were born in Australia. Thomas was killed on 7 October 1917 in the prelude to the battle of Passchendaele, though his death was not confirmed until 15 April 1918. He was buried in the Tyne Cot cemetery, north-east of Ieper. There is a very evocative letter from John Zeller to the military asking for confirmation of his son’s body being found and buried because “his mother is heartbroken at the thought that no one saw him dead”. The pathos of these letters from families desperate for any small piece of information on their loved ones is heart-tugging even at this distance in time.
RIP: George Herbert Zeller (22) enlisted on 28 June 1915 in the 3rd reinforcements of the 25th Battalion. George was killed on the Western Front on 9 April 1918. He was “very smart and a good soldier. Won his corporal stripes with his Lewis Gun in which he was highly proficient.”George was buried in the Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery extension, north-east of Amiens.
Alfred Zeller (27) enlisted with the AIF on 14 November 1916 in Toowoomba. Originally with the 19th reinforcements of the 25th Battalion, he was later attached to the Engineers.
Richard Zeller (32) enlisted on 14 November 1916 in the 12th Machine Gun Company and was later transferred to the 47th and then the 42nd Battalions.
Children of Joseph and Caroline Worland, grandchildren of Vincenz and Eva Kauflein(aka Kaufline) from Dorfprozelten.
RIP: Robert Charles Clyde Worland (20), from the Cooma/Monaro area, enlisted on 7 August 1916 and served with the 35th Battalion. He was killed in action on 10 June 1917. He is remembered on the Ieper/Ypres (Menin Gate) memorial.
RIP: Lt Edward John Worland MC (31) enlisted on 24 November 1915 and served with the 35th Battalion . He was twice recommended for the Military Cross (July and August 1918) which was awarded 1919. He was killed in action on 30 August 1918 and is buried in Daours Communal Cemetery Extension, about 10km east of Amiens.
The youngest son and a grandson of Heinrich Volp[ii] and Anna Günzer (aka Ganzer). Anna was only a young woman of 14 when she emigrated from Dorfprozelten.
George Volp MM (son of the above, 22), enlisted in February 1917 and was with the 25th reinforcements of the 2nd Light Horse. George was recommended for the Military Medal in November 1917 and awarded it in January 1918.
Henry Ernest Volp(23) was the grandson of Heinrich and Anna and the son of their eldest son Johann Jacob. He also enlisted with the 25th reinforcements of the 2nd Light Horse in February 1917. It seems likely these two men, born in the same year, were more like brothers than uncle and nephew.
Son of Christopher Ganzer and his wife Ellen Gollogly and grandson of Dorfprozelten immigrants George Günzer (aka Ganzer) and his wife Hildegardis Hock. George Günzer was the father of Anna Günzer above, so even though he was deceased well before WWI he had at least 3 grandsons serving.
Terence Joseph Ganzer (21 ) enlisted on 17 November 1916 and served with the 24th reinforcements of the 5th Light Horse.
Grandchildren of Bavarian-born George Mathias Kunkel and his Irish-born wife, Mary O’Brien, from Murphy’s Creek and sons of George Michael Kunkel and his wife Julia Gavin.
RIP: James Thomas Paterson (28) enlisted on 31 August 1915. He had previously served with the Roma Commonwealth Light Horse. Initially James was posted to the 9th reinforcements of the 25th Battalion but on arrival in Egypt he was absorbed into the 49th and later attached to the 50th. James served on the Western Front and on 5 April 1917 he was killed during an assault on a railway crossing near Noreuil. His body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Villers-Brettoneux memorial near Amiens. James left behind a wife and infant daughter.
Daniel Joseph Paterson[iii](24) enlisted on 25 February 1917 and initially attached to the Machine Gun Company then subsequently the 31st and 41st Battalions. He served in France but was repatriated to England in mid-1918 with trench fever. He must have been quite sick as he did not return to France for over two months. According to family anecdote, Dan had a lifelong aversion to war.
Young brothers Matthew David John Kunkel (22) and Kenneth Norman Kunkel (20) had already enlisted in January and February 1917. Two of their Gavin cousins left on the same ship with them and one had already given his life at Fromelles. John’s file is annotated with the comment “I have examined papers in every respect”.
John and Ken’s older brothersDenis Joseph Kunkel (37), my grandfather, and his brother James Edward Kunkel (26) enlisted on 22 October 1917 when the call went out for experienced railwaymen to work on the lines in western France. James Edward was subsequently rejected on the grounds of ill health, but Denis Joseph Kunkel joined the Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company in north-west France and Belgium. His service file carries a muddle of papers including those of two of his brothers. Despite a view that being in the railway unit was an easy life, it’s unlikely it seemed so when the German heavy guns got a line on the trains delivering replacement armoury.
 On 2 July 1918, Boulogne, LHA Giles 25th Battalion.
[i] It’s possible there may be more descendants of these families who served as it’s some years since I followed them in detail. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who can add to this list.
[ii] The children of this family are on the Qld BDM indexes with the surname Folp, reflecting the German pronunciation. Anna was only a young girl when she arrived from Germany and she had many children.