Love and the Law

L2020What the world needs now is love, sweet love[i]… Perhaps that’s more true than usual in these uncertain times of a pandemic. However, we’d probably mostly agree it’s what all of us hope for in our lives, whether it’s platonic, passionate, familial or of friends. Certainly, in my own life one of the key gratitudes I have is for the love I’ve received from Mr Cassmob, my family and my friends. Love makes life so much richer. The rosy glow of early courtship may pass but with luck the love continues and a happy life ensues – not one without its ups and downs, but overall satisfying.

Peter and Pauleen leaving wedding

Love’s young dream, still going strong after 50 years, despite the ring fidgeting.

When researching our family history we often start looking for marriages to follow the ancestral lines of those who begat us. For me, that’s the bare bones of genealogy – the framework on which we pin the names and dates of those who’ve been pivotal to us being on earth. What comes next is building up the stories that we find until we get some sense of them as people. It seems strange in some ways to think of them in that first dizzy dose of love, but one assumes that they probably felt much as we did when it happened to us. Some cases may have been pragmatic decisions of religious or personal compatibility, financial stability, loneliness and distance from family and those factors may have played a part in their relationship. Unfortunately, without a diary or journal we have no way of getting an insight into their love. So, we are left looking at the photographic newspaper records of the wedding and the celebrations by friends and family. Longevity of marriage might be relevant, but not necessarily an indication of love’s endurance.

Wedding at Murphys Creek low

This 1910 wedding of one of George & Mary’s grandchildren was held at their home at Murphy’s Creek. William Kunkel is the young lad on the left. This family had lost both parents within six weeks in late 1901. Photo kindly provided by a family member from this branch.

Love falls apart

Unfortunately, the anticipated happiness and compatibility doesn’t always happen, love disappears, and the marriage falls apart. Desertion, domestic abuse, bigamy or divorce may follow. In the earlier days of “blame game” divorce, the story of a marriage’s disintegration was played out in court and in public through the newspaper coverage. Trove certainly brings all the lurid details to light, but we do have to be careful when researching these stories, especially if you don’t know which of the local newspapers are likely to be scurrilous or salacious. It always pays to read each and every news article to distil the data and the anomalies. Let me give you one example from my extended family.

Agnes Kunkel Truth 13 Jan 1929

DRAMA OF LOVE (1929, January 13). Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954), p. 13.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198312619

Agnes Eileen Cronin[ii] married William Thomas Kunkel on 27 October 1915 at Toowoomba: she was 19 and he was 23. The marriage apparently fell apart and Agnes left the home in 1921, relocated to Brisbane and changed her name to Dorothy Edwards. She subsequently bigamously married a man called David Scott telling him she’d been born in Toronto, Canada (not Queensland), and her father was James Edwards, perhaps to explain why she would have no kin at the marriage. Kunkel filed for divorce in early 1929 and it came before the court in April 1929.

Anyone from Brisbane knows the reputation of the old “Truth” newspaper which definitely falls into the scurrilous category. The reporting was sensational bordering on hysterical. The defendant’s barrister claimed that Agnes had been forced to marry William when she was 15 and that he was 20 years older, as well as making assertions about his character and behaviour[iii].

Other newspapers carried more considered reports of the trial but one of the interesting things, to me, is that William’s photo was used in many of the articles. It was if he was the one under judgement and not his wife being tried for bigamy and desertion. Different reporters focused on some different points or added extra from the trial that had not already been reported. In a strange twist to the tale, Agnes’s mother even defended her son-in-law saying that he’d never known him to strike his wife and that the separation had arisen from money matters.

W T Kunkel divorce Telegraph 30 Juy 1929

Kunkel Divorce (1929, July 30). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 3. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182979161

After much to-ing and fro-ing, including referral to the Attorney General, the divorce was resolved in William’s favour. The couple’s respective ages at marriage were formally recognised by the court and Justice Macrossan acknowledged that William’s reputation had suffered as a result of the mis-reporting[iv]. The decree nisi absolute was confirmed in November 1929 and soon afterwards William remarried. Both Agnes and William must have been relieved to have this behind them and for their “dirty linen” to no longer be broadcast through the news and a general topic of conversation in the community. I can find no reference to Agnes after the divorce under the surnames of Cronin, Kunkel, Edwards or Scott, nor any trees on Ancestry. I wonder what her daughter was called and where they went to live after the divorce. Did Agnes change their name again?

I suppose I’m a tad biased myself and feel for William, one of my grandfather’s younger brothers. He lost both parents within six weeks in 1901 when he was only a lad of nine. Later his son Robert would be Missing in Action in Korea, never to know what had happened to him.

While Rod Stewart’s advice on the matter of love and the law is pertinent to this case, perhaps it’s not very wise:

Only a fool permits the letter of the law to override the spirit in the heart. Do not let a piece of paper stand in the way of true love and headlines. Rod Stewart, Scottish musician.

When you discover something like this through Trove, it is worth following up in the official documentation of the court[v] and the judge’s notebooks[vi] where they have survived. I’ve done this with my grandmother’s divorce following the story in the news but more importantly in the trial documents.

The departure of love and the involvement of the law is sad and can be a human tragedy. We need to feel empathy for our family members and treat their misfortunes with respect.

Have you seen examples of great love, or the loss of it, in your ancestral families?

Have you acquired a list for post-isolation research, as I have, while doing your A to Z challenge or reading?

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Quotes from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/

[i] A popular song from 1965 with lyrics by Hal David and music composed by Burt Bacharach. First recorded and made popular by Jackie DeShannon

[ii] Birth and marriage registered as Agnes Lillian Cronin, daughter of James Patrick Cronin and Helen/Ellen Leonard.

[iii] DRAMA OF LOVE (1929, January 13). Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954), p. 13. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198312619

[iv] HEART-BROKEN MOTHER SPEAKS AGAINST DAUGHTER (1929, August 4). Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203921305

Also Kunkel Divorce (1929, July 29). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 6 (5 ‘O CLOCK CITY EDITION). Retrieved April 15, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182975879

[v] Item ID 1669670, Queensland State Archives, Kunkel v Kunkel, Court transcript (Civil), shorthand. Also Item 1669639, Court transcript (Civil) (hopefully not shorthand!) Also Item 1669757.

[vi] Series 18554 at Queensland State Archives. Also Item ID 99975, Judge H Macrossan notebooks 1927-1929.

Lest We Forget: William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel (1930-1952)

Robert and Innes Kunkel on their wedding day

William Rudolph Kunkel, known to his family as Robert Kunkel, was the son of William Thomas (Bill) Kunkel and his wife, Rosetta (Hilda) Kunkel nee Brechbuhl, and great-grandson of George Mathias and Mary Kunkel, the founding couple of the Australian Kunkel family. Bill and Hilda’s other child was Marguerite Elizabeth (Jill) Kunkel. The family moved around as Bill’s job with the Queensland Government Railway (QGR) took him around the state, ultimately settling at Howard, near Maryborough. Anyone wishing to know more about this family should contact me via comment on this post.

William Rudolph Kunkel was born in Brisbane on 14 November 1930 and as a young lad of 16 went to work with Queensland Rail in early 1947 as a nipper in the Maryborough District. Although his railway appointment was confirmed in 1948 he left the railway soon after, and on 18 December 1950 signed up with the Australian Regular Army for a six year period. His service record tells us that he only had “reasonable primary” education. He was a labourer, 5 ft 9.5 ins (176.5cms) with brown hair and brown eyes. On 7 April 1951 he married his wife Innis. The couple had no children. Robert went to Korea with the 1st Battalion, departing on the Devonshire on 3 March 1952, with a few days in Kure, Japan en route (as well as visiting on a later leave).

There is a photo on a website called Memories of Korea by George Hutchinson, the caption for which says “the other lad is Pat Kunkel (Qld)”. I had previously thought this might be Robert, misnamed, but now believe it to be his cousin, Gregory Patrick Kunkel, now listed on the Korean nominal roll. I have tried to contact the author of the website in the past without success in the hope of getting any extra insights or further information about it and to confirm it was Gregory Patrick (usually known as Greg to his family).

The Australian War Memorial website lists William Rudolph Kunkel on the Australian Roll of Honour as wounded and missing in action, presumed dead, on 16 November 1952. The roll includes his official service photograph. Robert’s service record indicates that his status was missing in action until 12 February 1953 when his status was updated to “now reported missing in action, wounded and believed prisoner of war”. His wife became his next of kin after their marriage, and her younger sister remembered the day the message came to say he was missing.

Cousin Greg Kunkel also tried to find out more about what happened to Robert while he too was serving in Korea. On Robert’s file is a statement from Greg that an RC Chaplain, Captain Shine,[i] had heard a Chinese radio announcement mentioning Robert’s name but investigation by the Army indicated this had been incorrect. Nonetheless his parents continued to be convinced that a propaganda broadcast had been heard on 18 November 1952 which mentioned their son’s name and his Rockhampton address. It appears that Bill and Hilda had managed to talk to some of Robert’s colleagues on their return from Korea. Their advice was that he had been badly wounded above both knees by a burst of machine gun fire and was last seen “surrounded by Mongolians and being well and truly tortured”. It seems hard to reconcile this with the findings of the Court of Inquiry which investigated the incident and strange that servicemen would relay this level of detail to their colleague’s parents. It’s apparent  that Hilda was desperately trying to get the Army to focus on her missing son and help her to find out more about his fate.

The official War Diaries for 1 Battalion RAR are now digitised and available online and are invaluable in learning more about a battle or event. Having encountered enemy patrols on the night of 15 November 1952, two fighting patrols were sent out on the night of 16 November. The diary states that in addition there was a nightly standing patrol at the position code-named Calgary which “had a sharp clash with a strong enemy patrol” that night. Casualties from the action amounted to: Own tps (troops) 3 KIA, 1 MIA (wounded and believed PW) and 4 WIA. Enemy: 5 KIA counted.

A fighting patrol from B Company was sent out at 0130 on 17 November to Calgary and was subjected to “intense enemy arty (artillery) and mor (mortar) fire” and it was assumed that “the enemy action was designed to prevent reinforcements moving to Calgary while the enemy was making a strong bid to take that post and capture a PW (my note-Pte Kunkel)”. At first light, and under heavy mist, the bodies of the three Australian men killed in the “sharp clash” were recovered but “no sign was found of Pte Kunkel, the missing member”.[ii] Another patrol was similarly unsuccessful.

Amidst the serious military reports over the next few days, a glimpse of the person behind the reports is seen. Deep penetration bombing of a light machine gun placement missed its target but landed in a Chinese cooking fire from which the Australian troops took pleasure, thinking of the “fried rice added to the enemy’s morning menu”: a flash of Aussie humour.

MIA and POW must be among the hardest of war casualties for families to come to terms with – there would always be the glimmer of hope that the loved one might return, or more learned about his fate. Robert’s Army file includes many letters from his mother to the authorities and his parents plainly left no stone unturned trying to find out more about their son, including travelling to Melbourne to meet Army officials, and appealing to the Red Cross, United Nations Forces, and their parliamentary representatives. Similarly Robert’s wife wrote many letters trying to find out more of her husband’s fate. During Robert’s parents’ visit to Melbourne in September 1953 they were in a “very distressed state of mind believing their son to be alive and a prisoner of war”.[iii] They were possibly also partly frustrated that all official correspondence was sent to Robert’s wife as next of kin. The political situation at the time was difficult and letters to POWs were not being accepted by the North Korean authorities but despite reassurance from various officials the family continued to feel that their case was not being given due consideration.

My father remembered his cousin Robert going to Korea, said to be a gunner and radio operator, and that he never came back. Dad said his Uncle Bill never recovered from the loss of his son and from not knowing what happened to him. Dad also mentioned that over the years Army officers kept coming back to interview Bill & Hilda. Now my father was usually a cynic so perhaps he overstated the case, but if this is correct, you would have to ask why they harboured questions. Did they think he had defected voluntarily? Perhaps an inadvertent comment by Robert’s mother Hilda in a 1954 letter seeking help had triggered this question. She had said that “no personal belongings returned (WHY), his best friends were Chinese right from 16 months of age” and there is a question mark against this comment by the official reading it, perhaps because it seems such a non sequitur.

The Army lists his effects including a framed photograph, crucifix, wallet, smoker’s pipe, ring and a receipt for registered letter. Also among his effects was a tin containing film negatives and 87 photographs as well as 120 films and a Welmy camera – he was obviously something of a photographer and perhaps he’d bought the camera and the film while on a recent leave in Japan or in transit to Korea. In mid-1953 his belongings were still being held in Japan pending news of his fate and in 1954 had not been received by his wife. It’s unknown whether his family ever received his effects but his photographs would have been fascinating.

The Army file for William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel is comprehensive, detailing the Court of Inquiry which commenced “in the field, Korea” on 12 January 1953 to “investigate the circumstances appertaining to the disappearance of 1/1641 Pte Kunkel W R on the night of 16 November 1952”. There were 10 points to investigate in relation to the event including why the wounded soldier was not brought back to the base, what efforts had been made to retrieve him subsequently, and whether there was any negligence involved. The results of this inquiry resulted in the revised description of his status as wounded, believed taken prisoner.

William Rudolph (aka Robert) Kunkel’s name is listed on the Australian War Memorial’s “in Memoriam” listing for Korea.

It’s likely that the terms of reference explain why some parties were interviewed and others weren’t. Certainly some were away from the area but I found it strange that some people weren’t interviewed by the court, although of course there was a war going on at the same time. The patrol leader, Corporal W Crotty was interviewed and one other member of the patrol, two others were away, one on a course (B R Mau[iv]) and one in hospital (S Brent), and three of the patrol were killed in this action (Reisener, Head, Castle). A Private M Pollard had been replaced on the patrol by Robert Kunkel because the latter wanted to stick with Crotty as they usually did patrols together and the changeover was approved by the Sgt Kavanagh – a fatal and fateful decision by Robert. Pte Kunkel was wounded in a grenade attack around 22:30 and was heard to call out “I’m hit, Mau, I’m hit….” and later moaning and “leave me alone you bastards, let me die”. Both Pte B R Mau and Cpl Crotty were close friends[v] of Kunkel’s and Crotty recognised his voice when he called out. A report by Sgt E J McNulty of 5 Platoon also heard a similar statement. Fearful this was a Chinese trick, they were not drawn out of cover, but a Pte Westcott, also in that patrol, recognised Kunkel’s voice as he knew him well. When searching Calgary they found the deceased members of the patrol but could not find Robert Kunkel although there were signs of track marks from bodies being dragged away. While the military-speak is considered and technical, there is certainly enough detail to distress any close family member or friend. We can only hope that Robert died quickly of his wounds before the enemy interrogation as assumed by the Court of Inquiry. After the cessation of the war, interviews with returned Australian POWs shed no light on the fate of Pte W R Kunkel.

In February 1955, over two years after he was wounded, the Army wrote to Robert’s wife to say officially he was missing, presumed deceased, on or after 16 November 1952. His name is inscribed on the Korean War Honour Board at the Australian War Memorial. In a quirk of fate, a William Marion Kunkel of the USA Army was also MIA, presumed dead in Korea. Meanwhile determined veterans and their relations are working tirelessly to try to identify any remains recovered from Korea and to raise the profile of MIA cases with the Australian government.

Robert’s memory, and that of 43 others Missing in Action in Korea, deserves to live on and it is for this reason that I’ve written this commorative post. Lest we forget.


[ii]  War Diary, 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, 16 and 17 November 1952 on http://www.awm.gov.au

[iii] Service Record Pte W R Kunkel.

[iv] Brian Ransfield Mau was from Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand.

[v] Per Corporal Crotty during the Court of Inquiry.

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