AUSTRALIAN RED CROSS WOUNDED AND MISSING ENQUIRY BUREAU
BOY OF MY HEART, GOODNIGHT
AGE 20 YEARS
Wallace Johnstone's parents had read 'Boy of My Heart'; they have to have done. This was the book the popular novelist, Marie Connor Leighton, wrote in memory of her son, Roland Leighton. Roland was a prize-winning scholar from Uppingham School, the apple of his mother's eye, and Vera Brittain's fiance. (I have written more extensively about the book here.)
Roland was killed in December 1915 and the following year Marie published this hugely sentimental and over-the-top book. Under the title 'Boy of My Heart', there's a pencil portrait of Roland drawn by his sister the artist Clare Leighton, under which are the words:
Though life and all take flight
The quotation, actually a purposeful misquotation, comes from WE Henley's poem, 'Echoes'. Henley's words are:
"Good-night, sweet friend, good-night:
Till life and all take flight,
Wallace Johnstone served in the 2nd Australian Light Trench Mortar Battery and was wounded in action on 23 February 1917. He died in hospital on 6 March. A week later, the hospital received an enquiry from the Australian Red Cross, asking if they could provide details of Johnstone's wounds, death and burial for his friends back in Melbourne. The hospital replied:
"From the O/C 18 General Hospital BEF
In reply to your letter of the 12th inst regarding the late No 3312 Pte WR Johnstone 2nd Aust TMB, please note he died at 9.am 6/3/17. He suffered from G.S. [gunshot] wounds in the left thigh which had been amputated, & also wounds of the R. arm. He was buried on the 7th ult at the British Military Cemetery, Etaples & the grave number is Q19."
IN MEMORY OF MY SON
KILLED WHILST RESCUING
A WOUNDED COMRADE
"I met Boyle in Egypt; he and I were in the same Squadron. He came from Nundle or Trundle. He was slim and athletic - standing about 5'9", fair, clean-shaved. He played football well. On 28th March 1918 C & D Troop were lining a ridge at Amman in support of "B" Squadron. Lying in front of our position, 30 yards away, was a wounded B Squadron man. Boyle walked from D Troop to C Troop to get a better look at the wounded man; as he was walking over he said "There should be a good chance of getting him in" - just then he was shot through the head and was killed instantaneously. I recovered all his personal property from his body, including a little round bone identification disc - on it was "Mother-Hundle" (or Trundle). Six months later we came back to Amman and found Boyle's body lying where it had fallen. Sergeant McNair and I buried the body, McNair painted Boyle's name on the cross over the grave. Boyle was a very good fellow."
Informant: No. 571 Corporal NJ Ausburn
Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Files 2869 Trooper Edward Boyle 6th Light Horse
The 6th Light Horse had been ordered to make an attack on Amman but were met by stubborn Turkish resistance. On the 28 March they took up positions on the extreme left flank of the brigade:
"At 14.00 A and B Squadrons made a dismounted attack on Amman from the North with 7th LH Regt on their right. At 1530 they were forced to withdraw owing to the great strength of the enemy on this flank. Casualties 6 officers, 50 O/Ranks killed & missing."
War Diary 6th Australian Light Horse
Edward Boyle was the son of George and Caroline Boyle of Waterloo, New South Wales. He enlisted on 1 February 1916 and embarked from Australia on the 19 September the same year.
HE HEARD THE CALL
HE FELL OPEN EYED
The brothers Stanley and Roy Lambert both had the same inscription. Stanley was killed on 17 February 1918, having only joined his unit in France a month earlier. Roy, who was 21, was killed on 11 July 1918 having been on active service since February 1916.
Soldiers' photographs were often framed in elaborate patriotic frames - especially if they had been killed - and one such frame features 'He heard the call and answered' in a banner across the top of the frame, along with the Australian flag and a vase of foliage that I can't quite make out but is probably made up of oak, laurel and wattle.
The second line of the inscription comes from Laurence Binyon's famous poem, For the Fallen, interestingly, from a verse that is now usually omitted:
They fought, they were terrible, nought could tame them,
Hunger, nor legions, nor shattering cannonade.
They laughed, they sang their melodies of England,
They fell open-eyed and unafraid.
The very next verse begins: 'They shall not grow old, as we that are left grown old'.
The Lambert brothers were both born in Australia. Roy was a poultry farmer when he enlisted in September 1915, and Stanley, who enlisted in November 1916, was an electrician. Stanley spent most of 1917 in England before joining his unit, the 24th Coy Australian Machine Gun Corps, on 26 January 1918.
According to a witness to the Australian Red Cross, Lambert was killed at a place called Sherwood Dump on Hill 60:
"He had been caught by a shell, pieces of which hit him about the head and side. He was badly hit and I think death must have been instantaneous."
Roy Lambert was similarly a casualty of shell fire. Sergeant Lewis reported to the Red Cross:
"On July 11th at night time, he was in charge of a ration party and passing a dangerous gully, was, I understand, killed instantly, owing to heavy enemy barrage; there was no wound and death was from concussion. I did not see the body but was told by C/S/M A King 82, of A Co. that he had seen it and there was no mark whatever on it."
Roy Lambert had done well in the army and was promoted to sergeant in December 1917. However, there is a curious incident on his record sheet, which relates that, whilst at Codford Camp, a large ANZAC training and transfer camp, he was seriously reprimanded and docked three days pay for being absent without leave from midnight on 19 February 1918 to 3 pm on the 22nd. What day had his brother been killed? The 17 February. It sounds to me as though Roy went on a 'blinder'. Interestingly, the reprimand had no effect on his rank.
I SAW THE POWERS OF DARKNESS
PUT TO FLIGHT
I SAW THE MORNING BREAK
These lines come from a poem called Between Midnight and Morning, which is often said to have been found on the body of an Australian soldier killed at Gallipoli; the implication being that the soldier wrote it. Well, a copy of the poem could easily have been found on the body of an Australian soldier but he most definitely didn't write it because it was written by Owen Seaman, the editor of Punch, and published in December 1914 in King Albert's Book. However, the Australian story gave the poem great traction and it became known all over the world.
You that have faith to look with fearless eyes
Beyond the tragedy of a world at strife,
And trust that out of night and death shall rise
The dawn of ampler life:
Rejoice, whatever anguish rend your heart,
That God has given you, for a priceless dower,
To live in these great times and have your part
In Freedom's crowning hour.
That you may tell your sons who see the light
High in the heavens, their heritage to take: -
"I saw the powers of darkness put to flight!
I saw the morning break!"
Thomson was born and raised in Kapunda, South Australia. He began his career as an accountant but enlisted in November 1914 soon after the outbreak of war. He served with the 3rd Field Ambulance in Gallipoli from June to December 1915 and then transferred to France in March 1916. In January 1918 he returned to England and in May 1918 was gazetted Flying Officer (Observer) in No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. The squadron flew RE8s on reconnaissance, bombing and artillery spotting duties.
At 6 am on the morning of the 3 October 1918, Lieut Thomson and Lieut Gould Taylor took off from the airfield at Bouvincourt and never returned. Three days later a machine was found crashed at Folemprise Farm, 1,000 yards NW of Estrees. Beside the plane were two graves marked with the information that these were the graves of two unidentified Australian airmen. The plane could be identified by its number as Thomson and Gould-Taylor's and the bodies identified as their's. A year later their bodies were exhumed and buried in adjacent graves in Prospect Hill British Cemetery.
Thomson's father chose his inscription.
Rejoice, whatever anguish rend your heart,
That God has given you, for a priceless dower,
To live in these great times and have your part
In Freedom's crowning hour.
NOR ENGLAND DID I KNOW
WHAT LOVE I BORE TO THEE
This is a rather poignant inscription for an Australian soldier who was born in England in 1888 and only went to Australia in 1912 when he was 24. It was chosen by his wife Phyllis. She too was born in England although the couple married in Australia in 1913.
Browning volunteered in January 1918. There was no conscription in Australia; he must have wanted to go. However, January 1918 is quite late to be enlisting if you were someone who was keen to get to the war. This could be explained by his answer to the question on the attestation form - Have you ever been rejected for military service? Browning's answer is 'Yes - made fit by operation'. He had wanted to go, but he needed to undergo an operation before he could be considered fit enough.
Browning's inscription comes from Wordsworth's 'I Travelled Among Unknown Men' of which this is the first verse:
I travelled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.
I don't think Browning regretted going to Australia. He must have liked it since he persuaded his older brother, James, with his wife and two children, to join him in the country in 1913. But when England was in danger he realised what he felt for the old country.
Browning was killed in action at Beaurevoir on 3 October 1918, six weeks before the end of the war. The news went to his wife in Australia and his family in England only learnt of his death through friends. His sister therefore wrote to the Australian Red Cross to ask if they could tell her how he had died and whether he had been buried. They were able to assure her that he had been killed instantly and buried properly but spared her the full details, which they had learnt from the stretcher bearer who was first on the scene:
"I saw the above (all of B Coy) and one other man whose name I think was Lionel killed by one shell near Beaurevoir about 7 am during the attack about 1/2 hour or less after we hopped over. I was stretcherbearing & was following up behind them and was not 8 yards from them. Browning (killed instantly) was hit through head, Clarkson (instantly) thigh to knee badly smashed and concussion, Sgt, Crockett (instantly) all over body, Lionel (instantly) head, Langley hit on left collar bone and the artery was cut he was the only one with any life and I tried to dress the wound and succeeded in stopping the bleeding but he was dead before I finished ... Browning, Clarkson and Langley were all late joined us at Cappy, first time in line."
IN LIFE I FEAR FOR MYSELF
I FEAR FOR MY MOTHER
Thomas Hanson's mother wanted to demonstrate her son's consideration towards her in the inscription she chose for his headstone. Presumably he had expressed these fears to her, fearing how she would cope with his death.
Hanson, a sheep overseer whose family emigrated to Australia sometime after the 1901 census, enlisted in October 1916. He reached Britain in July 1917, embarked for France in September and was killed in October.
On 22 March 1918, Driver FJ Brophy told the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau:
"I did not see the casualty, but I saw his dead body soon after it happened. He was unloading a waggon just in front of Zillebeke, when he was caught by a piece of shell, which entered his back and went through his heart, death was instantaneous. I knew him very well, he was the only man of this name in the battery."
Gunner AS Miller reported on 8 March 1918:
"I saw him killed at the Half-way House, near Ypres. He was caught by pieces of shell which hit him about the chest, death being instantaneous. He had not been with the battery very long, as he was a new reinforcement."
And how did Thomas Hanson's mother cope with his death? In May 1920 she sailed to England from where she went to France to visit his grave, something very few Australian mothers would have been able to afford to do.
It's strange how you can build up a picture of a person - and be wrong. I had Mrs Hanson down as a poor widow and Thomas as her only son. Thomas was her only son but Mrs Hanson was a remarried divorcee. The information comes from a reply to a letter the army authorities had written asking for clarification about Thomas Hanson's father. Her new husband replied:
"I have to inform you that the father of the late soldier is still alive, as far as I know, but am absolutely ignorant of his address. I also have to inform you that Mrs Hanson divorced her husband some years ago and has been married to me since then."
Mr FW Gregory 24 May 1920
IN THAT RICH EARTH
A RICHER DUST CONTAINS
This may not be its most famous line but it certainly comes from one of the most famous poems of the First World War, Rupert Brooke's The Soldier, of which this is verse 1:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
Lines two and three are, not surprisingly, a popular inscription. Stanley Ede's father chose line four, changing the word 'conceals' to 'contains'. When relations change words it's difficult to know whether they've just misremembered the original or whether they meant it. I think Mr William Edward Ede meant it - the earth should be proud to contain his son's 'richer dust', whereas there could be something furtive about concealing it.
The poem is full of nostalgic melancholy:
And think this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
William Edward Ede emigrated to Australia with his wife and three children in 1912. Having been born and grown up in Devon, is there a longing for the old country and the old days concealed in his choice of inscription? The family are Australians now, that is why his son's grave cannot be 'forever England'.
And there could be a deeper regret too. When Stanley Ede joined up on 1 May 1915 he declared he was 18 and 3 months. A handwritten note beside this answer says, "Parents consent attached". However, according to the British records, Ede was born in the first quarter of 1898. He was therefore only 17 and 3 months. A fact confirmed by his father on the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia when he gives his son's age at death as 19 and 9 months.
Ede, a plumber, served with the 12th Field Company Australian Engineers. Sturdy and of fresh complexion, Ede was, according to his comrades, "full of fun and almost invariably singing". A witness told the Australian Red Cross that he "was killed at Zonnebeke by a piece of shell which hit him in the neck and killed him outright".
GREAT CLOISTER'S STILLNESS
WHOM WE CALL DEAD
The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) is the author of a surprising number of headstone inscriptions of which this is one. It comes from his poem, Resignation, composed following the death of his daughter Fanny. Longfellow holds out the consolation that "oftentimes celestial benedictions / assume this dark disguise", and what seem to us "but sad, funereal tapers / may be heaven's distant lamps".
There is no Death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.
It is in the 'life elysian'
In that great cloister's stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin's pollution,
She lives, whom we call dead.
Harry Richards was a gunner serving with the 46th Battery 12th Australian Field Artillery Brigade at Zillebeke when he was killed near the Menin Road. A witness told the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau:
"He was dark, cleanshaven, slim, about 5'6", and about 21 or 22. He was killed whilst mending our telephone wire on 1st Oct. on the Passchendaele front. I was told this by Sig. Norman Potts, who was with him at the Dickebusch and a cross put over his grave."
Richards' South Australian Division Red Cross file can be read here. Unusually, it not only names his mother as his next-of-kin, but also his fiancee, Miss Doris Baldwin.
TO LOVE, TO HOLD
AND THEN TO PART
IS THE SADDEST STORY -
A HUMAN HEART
This is a near quote of a couplet composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834):
To meet, to know, to love - and then to part,
Is the sad tale of many a human heart.
It makes me realise that many inscriptions will have been composed from memory rather than from reference to a book. This would explain why Mrs McRae's inscription is close but not accurate - nor is it an improvement on the original, or a personalising of the original, which sometimes explains the differences.
Mrs McRae had two sons serving at the front, William and Percy. Percy was a witness to William's death, as he informed the Australian Red Cross Enquiry Bureau:
"Driver Wm McRae No. 2531 of the 6th Batty is my brother and I was behind his gun which he was pulling into action at Yeomanry Post, Zillebeke on 31st July 1917 ... when he was killed instantly by a shell. He is buried in a Military Cemetery at Reninghelst, and there is a cross on his grave. I have sent full details to my mother ... "
Sgt P.A. McRae
HUMAN WORTH WILL BLOOM
TO PROFIT OTHERWHERE
This is yet more evidence of the popularity of Tennyson's poetry in headstone inscriptions. Frederick Miller's comes from In Memoriam, the poem Tennyson wrote following the death of his friend, Arthur Hallam. Hallam was only 22, yet Tennyson was able to believe that Hallam's youthful life wasn't wasted by his death since his potential would be fulfilled in the next life.
Nor blame I death, because he bare
The use of virtue out of earth:
I know transplanted human worth
Will bloom to profit, otherwhere.
The only thing Tennyson's blamed death for was that:
He puts our lives so far apart
We cannot hear each other speak.
An enquiry by Miller's family to the Australian Red Cross in October 1918 elicited the following witness statement:
"This man was killed by my side on the 5th October 1917 and was buried by myself and another man on the morning of the 6th October 1917. He was buried in the field. It was impossible to get his body back to a soldiers cemetery as the shelling was very heavy and the cemetery was so far away. This man was a short dark man."
Another witness told the Red Cross:
"Miller was my mate. This grave position has been smashed up since, as the Huns came through, it was on the right of Zonnebeke. Broodseinde road (from Zonnebeke) just below Daisy Wood."
Miller was 'buried in the field'. It was not until December 1924 that his body was discovered in an unmarked grave, identified by his clothing and his discs. This was three years after the Graves Registration Unit had stopped scouring the battlefields for bodies and yet plenty continued - and continue - to turn up.
READY WHEN CALLED
Private Middleton enlisted in October 1915; he answered the 'call to arms'. But I don't think that this is the 'call' his father was referring to when he chose his son's inscription. The call Archibald Middleton answered was God's. Christians are constantly warned that they should be prepared to meet their God, in other words that they should always live godly lives because they never know when they will be called to meet their maker - "ye know neither the day nor the hour". Middleton, a Presbyterian, was, according to his father, ready when God called him.
Middleton served with the 31st Battalion Australian Infantry. He had embarked from Australia in March 1916 and was killed six weeks before the war ended. According to a witness:
"He was of 31st Battalion, A.2. 5ft 4, medium and 30. Came from New South Wales. Beyond Bellecourt near the railway line on September 29th 1918 at 10. a.m. we were resting in shelters during the attack when Middleton was wounded by a shell. He was carried out by two prisoners of war. He was conscious when I last saw him."
Another witness reported, "He died at a field D/S about two miles back from Bellicourt". The Officer Commanding 20th Casualty Clearing Station confirmed, "Admitted 20th Casualty Clearing Station 30.9.18. Died 1.10.18. Wounds: - shell wounds chest and left leg".
A CAREER SO BRILLIANT
FOR THE CALL TO ARMS
LOVED BY ALL
Francis John Piggott was working in marine insurance before he joined up in February 1916. After several months training in both Australia and England, he arrived in France in November 1916 to serve with the 36th Battalion Australian Infantry. Australia's digitised records are phenomenal and one site, the Harrower Collection, documents every single aspect of Piggott's military career together with the bureaucracy surrounding his death.
Piggott was killed on the third day of the Battle of Messines. The Battalion War Diary records the action but doesn't mention his death:
10/6/17: At 3 a.m. threw out Advance Posts on Ulster Avenue and Ulster Drive to line "O" and Tilleui Farm ... At 5 p.m.received orders to storm La Potterie Farm System of trenches. Zero time 11 p.m. Organised 6 Officers and 200 men who carried the works killing 80 Boche and sending back 5 prisoners.
An enquiry by his mother to the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau elicited the information that:
Captain F.J. Piggott of C. Coy. of the 36th Battn was killed on the night of the 10th June just prior to the attack at La Potteril (sic) Farm. He and four others were killed instantly by a large shell which fell into the trench. His body was brought back to the Casualty Clearing Station and handed over for burial.
Other witnesses weren't quite so sure about the 'killed instantly'; one reported that he had been "badly wounded through the lung at Messines and died at the dressing station at Charing Cross".
THEN THE GODS PITIED HIM
AND TOOK HIM TO THEIR MIDST
Who dies in youth and vigour dies the best,
Struck thro' with wounds, all honest on the breast
Homer Iliad Bk viii, 1.371
No one knows but that death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man
Plato 'Apologia of Socrates sec. 29
Prout's inscription makes sense if you take the view that to die in youth is to die the best, if death may be the greatest of blessings. It follows on from yesterday's inscription, 'Whom the gods love dies young', and it informs that very popular verse of Laurence Binyon's, now regularly recited at Remembrance Day services:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Binyon probably meant the polar opposite from the way the verse is taken today - that tragically those who died in the war never had the opportunity to grow old. To Binyon, and to others, those who died young would be young forever unlike the survivors who would end up 'sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything' (As You Like It Act II. Sc. viii, Shakespeare).
Arthur Prout was 22 when he died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station on the Somme. His mother, Mrs Jessie Prout, requested information from the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau, which told her:
"This man was admitted to a dressing station administered by this Field Ambulance on the Bray Corbie Road (map reference approximately Sheet. 62D.J.24.b.) suffering from Bullet wound skull - fracture, and died a few minutes after admission. He was buried by an Army Chaplain close by at a spot known as Cemetery Copse, which has since been made an English Cemetery.
[O.C. 2/3rd H.C. Field Amb. R.A.M.C. B.E.F.]
A PRAISE FOR THOSE
WHO FOUGHT AND FELL
TO SAVE THE EMPIRE'S NAME
There's an Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau file for 'Jack' Orr, which gives us a wonderfully vivid description of him.
"Orr was a short, nuggety, red faced man, who had been a butcher before joining the army."
"Height about 5 ft 7 and a half inches, dark complexion and heavy dark moustache, sturdily built."
Reports about his death vary but these two seems to add up:
"On Nov. 1 when we were on reserves at Passchendaele, Orr was killed by a gas shell which burst right on the Bivy. I did not see him, but Pte. E. Calder B Co. was with Orr when he was killed and can give the details."
G. Taylor, 6650, D Co. 28 Bn A.I.F.
"I know that Private J.E. Orr died from the effects of gas on November 1st. 1917, and that he was buried in the field. Whether his grave was ever registered I could not say."
E. Calder, 6556, B Co. 28 Bn A.I.F.
The grave was not registered but in August 1919 Orr's body was discovered at map reference J.3.c.3.4 in an unmarked grave.
Robert Orr, Jack's elder brother, confirmed his inscription: "a praise for those who fought and fell to save the Empire's name". Included with those who 'fell' was was not only 'Jack', but another brother, George Wood Orr, who was killed on the Somme on 10 October 1916, and a brother-in-law, Albert Nordstrom, killed on 31 August 1916, also on the Somme.
AFTER TWO WEARY YEARS
GOD TOOK HIM
TO HIS TWIN BROTHER
Corporal Mitchell's twin brother, Frederick, died of wounds on 1 July 1916. Hawton followed him two years later. The Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau found witnesses who could tell his mother what had happened:
"I knew casualty. He was a well built man, 5 ft. 5 ins. dark complexion, about 19 years of age. Casualty was in advance at Peronne Road. He was leading his machine gun team in attack when an H.E. shell exploded a piece entering his leg. I was 20 yds. away at the time. He was carried to hospital."
Pte. A.G. Thornton
The Registrar of No. 1 South African General Hospital finishes the story:
"This man was admitted to this hospital from No. 53 Casualty Clearing Station on the 24th August, 1918. He was suffering from a severe wound on the thigh with fracture of the femur. He had two attacks of secondary heamorrhage, the second of which rendered amputation of the limb necessary. The operation took place on the 1st September 1918. He recovered slightly on returning to his ward but collapsed later and died at 6.30 pm on the 1st September, 1918."
GOODBYE AND GOD BLESS YOU
DEAR ERN AND SID
TILL WE ALL MEET AGAIN
"Palk was a Signaller in C Coy. 9th Battn., tall, stoutly built, fresh complexion, rather large head, wore glasses, a proper cockney, not long joined up. They were in a dug out in a trench on telephone duty. I was close by in a small dug-out. I went to do my shift on phone and found the phone dugout had been blown up by a shell. Palk's body was lying on top of the wreckage, hit all over. I got a shovel and started digging to see if anyone else was underneath, and found Marsden's body also badly smashed."
Witness L/Cpl G.A. Simpson 7057
Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Report
Born in Fulham, London, in the 1901 census Ernest Palk was 8 and his mother was dead. His brother Sidney was 5. In the 1911 census Ernest looks to have been a waiter at a London Club in Pall Mall. At some point he emigrated to Australia, joined up in 1917 and embarked for Europe in June 1917.
His inscription was chosen for him by his sister Rose. She makes reference to her other brother "Sid". Despite the fact that Palk is an unusual name it has not been easy to identify Sid but I think he has to be Lance Corporal S Palk, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, killed in action on 31 July 1917 and buried at New Irish Farm Cemetery, Belgium. My reasoning is that there are only two S. Palk's in the War Graves Commission's records and the other one, buried at Lijssenthoek, was called Stanley. However, the records make no mention of any family and he has no inscription.
DIED AS HE LIVED
A PATRIOT AND A MAN
You can sense a father's pride in this inscription: his twenty-four-year-old son had died 'a patriot and a man'. In fact, Private Ramage's father elaborated on this when he filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia. In answer to the question as to whether there were any biographical details that might be of interest to the historian of the AIF Mr Ramage wrote:
Who answered the call of duty and died as he lived a patriot and a man.
Ramage enlisted - 'answered the call of duty' - on 2 August, two months before Australia held a referendum on whether or not to introduce conscription. The answer was 'no'. He went missing on 25 October 1917 and his body was not recovered until the war was over. Enquiries by the Red Cross failed to find any witnesses but a letter from Sergeant Short in May 1918 related how Norman:
... was going along the communication trench at Passchendaele on Oct. 25th when a shell got him and killed him instantly. He was very badly knocked about. He was buried in the communication trench near where knocked. I did not see it happen and the person who was with Ramage at the time and saw it has since been killed. He told me about it.
TO MEET THY GOD
Reader, prepare to meet thy God.
Death is at no great distance; thou hast but a short time to do good. Acquire a heavenly disposition while here; for there will be no change after this life. ... In whatever disposition or state of soul thou diest, in that thou wilt be found in the eternal world. Death refines nothing, purifies nothing, kills no sin, helps to no glory. Let thy continual bent and inclination be to God, to holiness, to charity, to mercy, and to heaven: then, fall when thou mayest, thou wilt fall well.
This passage, from the writings of the Methodist biblical scholar and theologian Adam Clarke (c1760-1832), offers a stern warning: we know not the day nor the hour when death will take us so we must live our lives in readiness. After we are dead it will be too late to change our ways and win our place in 'the eternal world'.
It really is a very stern warning, which Ellis's step-mother chose. Other inscriptions convey the certainty that if a man dies fighting for his country he will earn his place in heaven: 'Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life' (Revelation 2:10).
Sapper Ellis was a eucalyptus distiller from Macedon just north west of Melbourne in Australia. He was killed in the fighting around the Menin Road. A fellow sapper told the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau that they were going forward:
in extended order as shelling was heavy. Casualty was in front of me and I saw an H.E. shell land alongside and he went down. I went to his assistance. Death was due to concussion. He was buried where he fell.
OUR HERO AT REST
A BONZER BOY
This is such a wonderfully Australian, inscription. 'Bonzer', a splendid word but what exactly does it mean? Well it appears to be a term used to express admiration for just about anything, and when used about a person to mean excellent, remarkable, outstanding, or in today's vernacular - a great guy, a cool man. And at the time Tyne Cot Cemetery was constructed in the early 1920s, it was a very new word too, making one of its earliest appearances in the Australian magazine 'Bulletin' in 1904.
Ernest Stone's parents must have been pleased to have 'found' him. He went missing on 20 September 1917 during an attack on the Menin Road, but it was October 1920 before his body was discovered on the old battlefield. Luckily his identity disc was still on his body. Witnesses had told the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau that he must have been killed, even though no one had seen his body and no one had buried him. And they had also said that for various reasons he couldn't have been taken prisoner. But Stone's parents still hoped. As late as August 1919 Mrs Stone had sent the Red Cross a photograph of her son saying that although they had been advised that he was missing, and later that he was reported killed: "We think perhaps that he may not be killed but suffering from loss of memory".
The discovery of his body would have put an end to all this hope and this anxiety - their 'hero', their 'bonzer boy' was dead.
DEARLY LOVED HUSBAND
& LOVED DADDY
OF LITTLE MARJORIE
Thomas Bone was a school teacher from Subiaco, Western Australia who enlisted in January 1916, almost six months after his younger brother. He served with the 44th Battalion Australian Infantry, which arrived in the trenches in December 1916. The battalion saw extensive service in the Ypres sector where it's reported that only 158 men out of the whole battalion were unwounded by the time it went into rest on 21 October. Bone had been killed on the 4th. (NB The War Graves Commission gives the date of death as 5 October but all the witnesses say it was the 4th.)
As usual the Red Cross reports vary but it seems that during the battle of Broodseinde his spine was pierced by a very small piece of shrapnel that otherwise scarcely damaged him. He died almost instantly and was buried the next day.
Bone's brother, Cecil, died on 25 April 1918 of cerebro-spinal meningitis "due to exposure while on military duty". And what happened to Effie and little Marjorie? History does not relate.
FAREWELL MY DARLING SON
MY BEST BELOVED FAREWELL
It was ten years before Arnold Jones' body was discovered and identified. Although he was known to have been killed between the 22nd and the 23rd September 1917, his grave was lost until it was discovered along with those of four other Australian soldiers on 24 February 1927.
His mother had instituted a Red Cross search and the files reveal that he was killed by a shell, wrapped in a ground sheet and buried on the spot. Although the grave was marked with a wooden cross, which had a tin can nailed to it with his name written inside the can, the grave was lost in the subsequent fighting.
Arnold Jones served under an alias: he called himself Arnold Ernest St Leon. The name St Leon was attached to one of Australia's famous circus families whose founder was John Jones. Arnold himself had been a tailor before he enlisted but I have a feeling that he could have been a member of the St Leon / Jones circus family.
MY BELOVED HUSBAND
OUR DEAR SON
CHERISHED IN OUR HEARTS FOR EVER
I love the way that Lieutenant Miller's parents and his wife, Belle, have shared this inscription - my husband, our son. I've often wondered how it must have been for parents who had to yield their status as next-of-kin to a wife. And sometimes it will have been to a wife of only a few weeks standing. That's why I liked this inscription, which Alexander Miller's wife confirmed.
Alexander Henderson Miller was born in Keiss, Caithness, Scotland where his father, John, was a police constable. At some point after January 1911 the family emigrated to Australia. By the time he enlisted on 7 July 1915, Miller was a school teacher in Beechworth, Victoria.
He left Australia for France a year later, on 8 July 1916 and was killed in action at Polygon Wood on 25 September 1917. A single letter in the Australian Red Cross Wounded and missing files states what happened to him:
"I saw him cut in half by a big shell at Hooge Crater, Ypres on the 25th Sept. He died instantaneously, - no agony whatsoever. He just cried out a couple of times and finished"
Pte W.H. Barkiville 2866
57th Australians, C Co. 12th Pltn
"SPES TUTISSIMA CAELIS"
The word is spelt 'caelis' in the War Grave Commission's records whereas some people would spell it 'coelis' but the meaning is the same - heaven - the surest hope is in heaven. I can't work out the significance of the quotation marks though. The phrase is the motto of some armigerous British families, but I haven't been able to discover a link between the Benjamins and these families.
Maurice Benjamin was killed at Passchendaele on 26 August 1917. In 1921 the bodies of five unidentified soldiers wearing Australian uniforms and boots were discovered at map reference 28.I.29.b.20.25. The Commission's records note:
"These five Australian soldiers' remains were properly buried in blankets and the graves equally spaced and probably all Artillery men as all were dressed like cavalry men."
It's the first time I've noticed this comment, that the bodies were "properly buried", and that this meant wrapped in blankets and equally spaced out. And it turns out that they were all Artillery men, all Gunners from the same Battery and in all probability from the same gun. All killed together and buried together by people who did it properly - even though the graves were not initially found and recorded by a Graves Registration Unit - and all subsequently identified.
Despite the fact that all five men were missing presumed killed in action none of their families instituted a Red Cross Enquiry. In fact, there is a Red Cross file in Maurice Benjamin's name in which there is a copy of a letter dated "September 17th 1917", to "The Manager, Bank of Queensland, 4 Queen Victoria Street, E.C", following up "our telephone conversation this morning", which says:
"We understand that you do not wish us to make inquiries for details of his death and burial."
Maurice Benjamin worked as a teller for the Bank of Queensland in Sydney before he joined up in October 1916. He left Australia in February 1917. It was 1930 before his mother filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia and this is something else I've never noticed before,the stamp on the front of the document, which indicates the length of time that it took for these records to be compiled. In Gunner Benjamin's case:
Next-of-kin communicated with for records and relics
Letter no. 12/11 3890
Date 6 Aug 1930
ROCK OF AGES CLEFT FOR ME
Of all the hymns quoted in inscriptions this is one of the most popular:
Rock of ages cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
It was a favourite nineteenth century hymn appearing in virtually every Protestant hymnal - of which there were fifty-two. And it was a favourite funeral hymn, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband even asked for it to be played to him as he lay on his deathbed. Christ is the Rock of Ages, from whose side the water and blood flowed at his crucifixion, the event which guaranteed man's salvation.
Private Cooper was initially listed as missing. His parents instituted an Australian Red Cross Enquiry from which it was possible to piece together what happened to him:
"Informant states that the 26th A.I.F. were going into the line at Zonnebeke at about 8 pm on Oct/4th/17 when Cooper was struck by a shell and killed instantly a piece of shell went right through his lungs."
Private V.H. Lusk
"I saw him killed on the tape just as we left the duck boards to go over at Zonnebeke on the 4th October about 4.30 am. A whizz-bang killed him and Whipler and wounded several."
Private J.S. Locke
"I saw him killed at Ypres. He was caught by a shell fragment in the chest and killed instantly."
"I buried my comrade 400 yards from Zonnebeke Church as near as possible. ... The said soldier was a dear friend of mine and ... I would like his parents to know his comrades buried him decently."
Private G. Graham
OF THE DEARLY LOVED SON
OF J.H. PHILLIPS OF BRISBANE
Soren Hawkes drew my attention to Private Phillips on her Twitter account, @sorenstudio. She published this document from Phillips' Australian Red Cross and Wounded Enquiry Bureau file:
Phillips R.S. 3098
Killed Sep. 25th 1917
Was in C. Coy., Lewis Machine Gunner. He was badly wounded in the legs and body during the hop over at Ypres. I saw him immediately after he was hit, his right leg was practically off. He later drew his revolver and blew his brains out. I did not see this happen. I don't know where he was buried.
Witness: - Sgt. W.S. Ward 1884, 49th Battn
Yet again I wonder how much information discovered by the Red Cross was passed on to the next-of-kin. Six months later another witness reported that he too had been told that Phillips had shot himself and the following month, April 1918 another witness gave a more graphic description:
I saw him after he was killed on September 25th at Passchendaele; he had been blown out of a shell hole and twisted like a cork screw. He crawled back into a shell hole and blew his head off with a rifle.
Rifle is probably more likely than revolver as only officers carried revolvers but whatever the weapon it appears that Phillips did kill himself. I wonder if his father knew. I rather hope not as Robert Phillips was a Roman Catholic, he said so on his attestation form, and to a Roman Catholic suicide is a mortal sin.
WHEN THE FIELDS
ARE WHITE WITH DAISIES
IN LOVING MEMORY
George Beavis' inscription comes from a popular Irish song written some time around the end of the nineteenth century. The words of the song originally referred to a sailor:
"I once stood in a harbour, as a ship was going out,
On a voyage unto a port beyond the sea.
I watched the blue-clad sailor, as he bade his last farewell
To the lassie who he loved most tenderly.
I heard the sailor promise to the lassie now in tears,
"When the fields are white with daisies I'll return."
During the war, Bamforth produced one of their three-card picture postcard series featuring this song. The card with the first verse shows a sailor but the card with the words of the chorus shows a khaki-clad soldier.
What is a bit strange about this inscription is that it was chosen by his mother, Mrs Sarah Jane Beavis, not by a wife or sweetheart. However, it must be for the words of the second verse that she chose it. The sweetheart learns that the ship has sunk and as she stands there weeping she hears a voice reassuring her that they will meet again:
"God has spared me for your keeping, and the promise once I made,
When the fields are white with daisies I'll return."
George Beavis died of wounds in a casualty clearing station in Dickebusch. According to a letter from the Officer in Charge of the 1st Field Ambulance, written on 1 February 1918 to the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau:
" ... he was admitted to the Dressing Station of this Ambulance on the night of 20.9.17 with shell wound of right leg, the wounds being so extensive as to necessitate amputation of the leg. He was suffering a good deal from shock, and died next morning. The burial took place at Military Huts Cemetery Dickebusch."
BROTHER TO A.H. HODGES
13TH BTN. KILLED AT GALLIPOLI
It was nine months before Charles Hodges' parents discovered his fate, nine months in which the
Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau had tried to find witnesses who had seen what had happened to him. Eventually they tracked down Corporal L O'Neill who told them definitively:
"On 14th November at 5 am we were attacking; we failed in our objective and retired to our front line which we held. I saw Hodges after we had got back to our lines about 9 am go outside our trench; there were wounded men inside the trench and he had to go outside to get passed them. A sniper hit him in the head and he died about two minutes after. I was right alongside of him."
Mr and Mrs Hodges therefore did eventually find out what had happened to this son, but they never found out about his elder brother, Albert Henry. He went missing in Gallipoli on 22 August 1915 in the unsuccessful Australian assault on Hill 60. His body was never found and curiously there is no record of his parents instituting a Red Cross search for him. Albert Hodges is commemorated on the Lone Pine memorial in Gallipoli and on his brother's grave in France.
DEATHLESS AND CHANGELESS
REMAINETH THE SPIRIT
This is an unusual inscription from an unusual source, the Bhagavad-Gita a Hindu scripture. It's an interesting inscription too, especially for a machine gunner. Krishna argues:
"Thou grievest where no grief should be! thou speak'st words lacking wisdom! for the wise in heart mourn not for those that live, nor those that die. ... He who shall say, "Lo! I have slain a man!" He who shall think, "Lo! I am slain!" those both know naught! Life cannot slay. Life is not slain! Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never; never was time it was not; end and beginning are dreams! Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever; death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it seems!"
The Bhagavad-Gita Book 2
There's another interesting aspect to this inscription. There were only three Dornbusches killed in the First World War and buried in War Grave Commission cemeteries and the other two are German soldiers: Kanonier Hermann Dornbusch and Obermatrose Karl Johann Dornbusch. Is this why the Australian National War Memorial records his name as Ernest George Dornbush, without the telltale 'c'? This is the way he spelt his name when he enlisted, and the way his mother spelt her name when she signed the form for the Roll of Honour of Australia, although someone has written on the outside of this form, "correct name Dornbusch".
George Ernest Dornbusch was born in London. His parents emigrated to Australia when he was five months old and settled in Sydney where he attended Sydney Grammar School. On enlistment, Dornbusch described himself as an engineer. His mother on the Roll of Honour goes further and describes him as a "sheep shearing machinery expert". He enlisted in April 1915, served in Gallipoli and France and was killed on 14 November 1916.
A Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau search revealed that he had been killed by a shell.
"I was in company with this man in an attack near Fleurs. I was injured by the shell that killed Durnbush. ... I knew him well, we were in the same gun coy. ... This man was killed instantly but I can give you no details re his burial. I saw him lying dead before I was my self removed to the clearing hospital."
Durnbusch was buried in a shell hole and after the war his body was reinterred in Warlencourt British Cemetery.
A SOLDIER OF RABAUL
GALLIPOLI & FRANCE
HIS DUTY DONE
Private Buckland's inscription is a reminder of a forgotten episode from the earliest days of the war. In September 1914, at Britain's request, the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force invaded the island of New Britain, part of German New Guinea, in order to take out a strategically important wireless station at Rabaul, which would otherwise have been of great value to the German East Asiatic Squadron. The successful struggle, known as the Battle of Bita Paka, was the Australian's first military engagement of the war. According to his inscription, Private Buckland was part of this Force.
As a member of the 19th Battalion Australian Infantry, many of whose members had also been part of this Force, Buckland served in Gallipoli from 21 August to 19 December 1915 and then in France until his death in November 1916 during the battle of Flers. Conditions by now on the Somme battlefields were truly appalling and it was the attackers who had the worst of it. Any gains the Australians made was into a devastated landscape whereas the defenders were withdrawing into relatively untouched territory. After this, 'Almost as bad as Flers' became the yardstick against which the Australians would measure conditions.
It was in these conditions that Private Buckland went missing on 14 November. An Australian Red Cross file records his family's attempt to find out what had happened to him - and the difficulties of doing so.
"He is in hospital in England. I am certain of this. Men in the Bn. have heard from him."
Private Cox 26.2.17
"Private Griggs ... told me in Nov. last that he had seen Buckland killed. He was blown up in a trench at Flers.".
Private Williamson 8.6.17
"I saw Buckland at Weymouth about six weeks ago, in the Westham camp. He had an arm off ..." Cooper E. 10.9.17
However, six months earlier, on 3 March 1917, the Australians had captured a frontline German trench and removed a wallet from the body of an otherwise unidentifiable Australian soldier. The wallet belonged to James Buckland and a week later was handed to his brother, Private CM Buckland. The body was buried as James Frederick Buckland but as late as October 1919 there's a letter in the Red Cross file showing that they were still checking: "No trace in Germany".
A GOOD LIFE
HATH BUT A FEW DAYS
BUT A GOOD NAME
ENDURETH FOR EVER
Captain Nicolls' inscription was chosen by his wife. It comes from Ecclesiasticus in the Book of the Apocrypha.
Have regard to thy name; for that shall continue with thee above a thousand great treasures of gold.
A good life hath but a few days: but a good name endureth for ever.
'Name' was a great preoccupation after the first world war. The names of the dead were recorded on memorials all over the Empire, great effort being exerted to ensure that no name was excluded. The statement "Their name liveth for evermore", the words from Ecclesiasticus 44:14, were carved onto Lutyen's Stone of Remembrance in all but the smallest war cemeteries, and was often the dedication on memorials in churches, villages, schools etc, all over the world. A similar sentiment was expressed on the the next-of-kin memorial scroll, "let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten", although here the responsibility for the names living for evermore lies with the generations who come afterwards. Name, or as in the case of this inscription, a good name, also has to do with renown, something that is above 'great treasures of gold' and which will endure for ever.
Billie Nicholls had emigrated to Australia and was working in the crockery department of Messrs Cribb and Foote, Ipswich, Queensland, when war broke out. He enlisted in the Australian Infantry and served throughout the Gallipoli campaign, earning a commission. The newspaper report of his death tells that he was so popular with his fellow soldiers that they all clubbed together to buy him a complete officer's kit.
Nicholls was born in Wales and his parents still lived there. In September 1916 he married Lily May Fuell in Holy Trinity, Llandbradach, South Wales. Returning to the front after a short holiday, he was killed on 26 January 1917. A shell dropped on the dugout where he had just gone for a rest and he was killed by concussion. This was the general conclusion of an Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau search, most of the witnesses assuring his wife that his body appeared untouched.
PERSTA ATQUE OBDURA
Persta atque obdura, be steadfast and endure - if ever there was an appropriate inscription for a family this is it. Mrs Amy Beechey, the widow of a Church of England clergyman and Frank Beechey's mother, lost five of her eight sons in the war, and of the three who returned one was crippled for life.
Frank Beechey was injured by a shell that blew his legs off. A witness described how he lay out in No-Man's-Land from "dawn to dusk" until a doctor was able to crawl out and administer morphine. Frank was 30 and was the second of the brothers to die.
His older brother, Barnard who was 38, had been killed a year earlier, on the first day of the Battle of Loos, 25 September 1915. Barnard had gone to France in July, reporting to his mother that he had been sick three times during the Channel crossing. On 5 September he told his mother: "I really am all right and don't mind the life only we all wish the thing was over, and those who have been out the longest wish so most of all." Three weeks later "the thing was over" for Barnard, killed in a charge at the German trenches. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial.
Harold Beechey was the third brother to die. He had emigrated to Australia in 1913 and was serving with the 48th Battalion Australian Infantry when he was killed at Bullecourt on 10 April 1917. Enquiries from the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau elicited the information from a witness that,
"We were digging a dug-out on the night of April 1917 on the railway line between Lagnicourt and Bullecourt when the Germans sent a couple of shells over and he was severely wounded about the body and legs. He died two hours afterwards and was unconscious most of the time".
The eldest of the brothers, Charles, was the next to die. Aged 36 in 1914, he was initially too old for military service and joined up later than his brothers. He was serving in East Africa with the Royal Fusiliers when he died of wounds caused by machine gun fire on 20 October 1917. He was 39. He is buried in Dar-es-Salaam War Cemetery where his inscription reads: Requiescat in pace.
Two months later, on 29 December 1917, Leonard died of wounds in hospital in Rouen having been gassed and wounded at Bourlon Wood. His last letter to his mother, from his hospital bed, concluded with the words: "My darling mother, don't feel like doing much yet. Lots of love, Len".
In April 1918, Mrs Beechey was invited to be presented to King George V and Queen Mary when they visited Lincoln Guildhall. When thanked for her sacrifice she is reputed to have told the Queen, "It was no sacrifice, Ma'am, I did not give them willingly". However, Michael Walsh, whose book on the brothers, Brothers in War reports the meeting with the King and Queen only has this to say: "if she felt anger she did not show it when their Majesties thanked her for her sacrifice". And in fact, Lady Cecilia Roberts, the local MP's wife who Amy Beechey had thanked for helping her secure a pension, replied, "you are very brave and very gracious over all that concerns you - you set a great example to us all".
Michael Walsh describes 'persta atque obdura' as the Beechey family motto, a fact confirmed by the Reverend Canon St Vincent Beechey, founder of Rossall School in Fleetwood, in his book 'Rossall School its Rise and Progress', 1894. The quotation comes from the Satires of Horace Book II, Satire V, line 39.
HE DIED FOR ITS COLOURS
AND SHED HIS HEART'S BLOOD FOR THE FLAG
Private Stone's inscription illustrates the impact of patriotic propaganda. Recruiting posters encouraged men to rally round the flag, whilst poetry from the South African War still cast its spell. Poems and Songs on the South African War (1901), featured an anonymous verse, The Union Jack, with the lines:
It's only a small piece of bunting,
It's only an old coloured rag,
Yet thousands have died for its honour,
And shed their best blood for the flag.
All this sentiment played into Private Stone's inscription but whereas for a soldier, 'the colours' usually mean the regimental flag, here it's the red, white and blue of the union flag around which, "Britons conquer, or die, but ne'er yield".
And how did Private Stone "shed his heart's blood"? A friend, reported:
"I saw him killed on the 30.12.17 at Warneton. He was caught by a shell and killed instantly. We were in the line at the time. I knew him very well, I went to school with him at Callie, W.A. His people are box manufacturers there. He was buried on New Year's morning at a little cemetery at Red Lodge near Warneton, I saw his grave, which was marked with a cross bearing his number, name and unit.
Pte. H Campbell 6423"
Report Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files
WHAT IS TO BE WILL BE
DEARLY LOVED SON OF
MARGARET AND SAMUEL HOGAN
It was one of Abraham Lincoln's maxims that, "What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree". And what was 'to be' for Margaret and Samuel Hogan? Their son, George, wounded on 11 April 1918 by a bomb from an aeroplane, died of his wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station the next day. The details are given in the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Files, "bomb wounds buttock punctuating abdomen arm right".
Oscar Grimes was reported wounded, missing in action on 5 November 1916 during the Battle of Flers. A month later his mother, Martha Grimes, instituted a Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau search. Confirmation of Oscar's death didn't come until August 1917 but by this time Martha Grimes was dead having died two weeks after instituting the search. Since Oscar's father was already dead it was his brother who chose his inscription, "Dear Oscar always remembered".
A MOTHER'S SACRIFICE
Jack Coombes, a painter from Newtown, Sydney, New South Wales, was born in England in Luton, Bedfordshire. He emigrated to Australia with his parents in 1898 when he was 6. I can't tell whether his father was still alive at the time of his death, nor whether he had any brothers or sisters. It was his mother who was described as his next of kin, she also filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia and instituted a search via the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau. While two witnesses say that he was sniped "through the forehead, death being instantaneous", another man, who looks as though his name was Company Sergeant Major H.S.A. Creehy, has another tale to tell; you can decide whose is the most likely.
"Informant states that on 31/9/18 the Battalion was holding the line in a trench at Villers Bretonneux. About mid-day when they were resting in a trench Coombes was hit by a shell and died about two minutes afterwards. Informant was with him when he died. He was conscious and asked informant to remember him to his mother. Informant saw him fall, being only about 4 yards away from him at the time and had been speaking to him just before. Informant added that Coombes was a fine fellow and was well liked by his men. If Coombes' mother cares to write to him he will go and see her if she lives in Sydney."
I have a feeling that the informant (Creehy?) was a very kind man and that he possibly knew there was a close relationship between mother and son. If so he hoped her son's 'last words' would bring her comfort.
THE SUPREME SACRIFICE
Corporal Robert James Andrew was killed in action at the retaking of the summit of Mont St Quentin on 1 September 1918. The next day the Australian Infantry took Peronne. These were among the finest actions of the Australian forces during the whole war and their casualties were very high.
Corporal Andrew's wife instigated an Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau search for her husband. The results show how difficult it was to ever ascertain exactly what had happened to a soldier. Added to this was the fact that a Private GV Andrews, who also served with the 24th Infantry, in the same Company, was killed during the same battle on the same day. However, it seems as though witnesses were all speaking about the same man: "Andrew was from Victoria, tall, very thin, fair hair, about 26 years" [Sgt JH Bond 14.11.18.] but there is not much agreement about he died.
"I didn't see Andrew, who was a M/Gunner in my D.XV. killed instantly by a m.g.bullet through the head at Mont St Quentin about 4 pm."
"Andrews was in the trench waiting to go over when he was hit by a piece of shell and killed right out. I saw this."
"He was killed with four others by a shell in the dugout ... It happened about 4.10 pm before our hop over, and Fritz was busy strafing us at the time."
"I saw Morris D.Coy. S/B and Andrew D.XVI both killed instantly by the same shell alongside of me at Mont St Quentin about 6 pm in front line of trenches before the hop over."
"Casualty was advancing at Mont St Quentin when a machine gun bullet entered his side killing him instantly."
Corporal Andrew's wife, Rhoda, used the title of Sir John Arkwright's famous poem, 'The Supreme Sacrifice' for her husband's headstone inscription. The poem is much better known as the hymn 'O Valiant Hearts', which for many years was sung at Remembrance Services until its sentiments went out of fashion.
HIS LAST WORDS TO FRIENDS
I WILL DO MY BEST
WHEN I GET THERE
Charles and Mary Patten had three sons. They all served in the war, only one returned. George, a railway fireman, was killed in Flanders on 28 August 1918. His brother Trooper Charles Douglas Patten, Australian Light Horse, died as a prisoner of war in Turkey on 9 February 1917.
Their sister, Mrs W.E.Webb, instituted a Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau search for Charles. This revealed that he had been captured at Katia on 9 August 1916 and initially interned in Afion Kara Hissar. When he died six months later he was in Angora Paludean Cachexia. One of the witnesses informed the Red Cross "he was in & out of hospital every week at Angora, suffering from malaria - he was game to the last".
In answer to another query Trooper G.A. Roberts wrote: "We are not allowed to attend the burial of a fellow prisoner. When they die in hospital they are taken to a room in the hospital and washed and then conveyed on a stretcher to the hospital grave ward and buried by Turks (shrouds are unnecessary luxuries according to these people) there is no mark to show who is buried in certain places. We know they are English that is all."
After the war the bodies of all allied prisoners of war buried in Anatolia were exhumed and reinterred in Baghdad North Gate Cemetery. The graves are unidentified but the names of the dead are recorded at the cemetery. However, access to the cemetery is difficult at the present time and in acknowledgement of this the War Graves Commission have compiled a two-volume Roll of Honour of the casualties either buried or simply commemorated in Iraq, which can be inspected in the Commission's head office in Maidenhead.
BELOVED SON OF
C. AND E. GREEN
BURRA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
"Green was badly wounded - shot through the head and fell beside me. After being bandaged he was carried to the Dressing Station and on their return the bearers told me he was dead."
Private J. Davy to the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau 14.10.1918
"I saw above named on a stretcher just after he had been wounded (about 9 pm) at Merris. I spoke to him, S/B Wright (No 452) of same Battalion) bandaged him up. The face (mouth portion) had been blown in."
L/Cpl J McFarlane to the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau 21.10.1918
"I saw Pte. (sic) J Green fatally wounded by shell while holding the lines in front of Merris on the 30th July 1918 ... The ground was held."
L/Cpl W Bartch 14.10.1918
"3333 Pte. (sic) Green H.T. 10th Bn. died of wounds at our Dressing Station Borre at 5.45.a.m. on 30/7/18. Wound received was S.W.skull compound fracture. He was unconcious on admission and died soon after. Burial took place at Military Cemetery Borre same day."/ Signed by Major, Acting CO 1st Australian Field Ambulance, [signature unreadable]
Harold Green's elder brother Edward Owen Green "died of accidental injuries" near Tripoli in Syria, according to his father when he filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia. Edward Green is buried in Bierut War Cemetery in the Lebanese Republic. His inscription, which was signed for by his father rather than by his mother as Harold's was, reads:
Beloved son of
C. and E. Green
Of World's End
THE HOURS I'VE SPENT
WITH THEE DEAR HEART
ARE AS A STRING OF PEARLS
This inscription comes from The Rosary, a hugely popular romantic song about loss and the acceptance of loss, written in America in 1898 by Ethelbert Nevin and Robert Cameron Rogers. It became one of the most popular songs of the early twentieth century, and was made even more popular by Florence L Barclay's deeply romantic novel of the same name in which the song plays a central part.
Barclay's book was published in 1909 and immediately became a best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic; by 1924 it had sold a million copies.
The hours I spent with thee, dear heart,
Are as a string of pearls to me.
I count them over every one apart,
Each hour a pearl, each pearl a prayer,
To still a heart in absence wrung.
I tell each bead unto the end - and there
A cross is hung.
Oh memories that bless - and burn!
Oh, barren gain - and bitter loss!
I kiss each bead, and strive at last to learn
To kiss the cross,
To kiss the cross.
Fred Hampton's widow, Eleanor, chose his inscription. Her husband had been killed during the night of 3 July whilst part of a working party repairing the wire out in no-man's-land. Initially no one knew what had happened to him and Eleanor initiated a search by the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Bureau. One wonders how much of what the Red Cross found out was relayed to her. Witnesses describe how Fred Hampton was "struck by a shell which carried away the lower part of his face". The witnesses then disagree about whether "he lived only a few minutes" or was "taken to a dressing station where he died after about 30 minutes". The fact that he is buried in a battlefield cemetery not one associated with an aid post, Field Ambulance or Casualty Clearing Station, inclines me to think he only lived a few minutes.
THE NOBLEST WORK OF GOD
"An honest man's the noblest work of God" according to Alexander Pope (1688-1744) who wrote in Epistle IV of An Essay on Man:
A wit's a feather, and a chief a rod;
An honest man's the noblest work of God.
Fiftly years later, Robert Burns quoted Pope in his own poem, The Cotter's Saturday Night:
Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
"An honest man's the noblest work of God;"
Private Sloggett, a draper and mercer from Manildra New South Wales, was killed by shellfire whilst making breakfast in his dugout:
"He was a signaller attached to A Co. at the time of his death. I was in the Intelligence Section. We were at Co. HQ at Broodseinde Ridge, in a dug out, on 21st Oct. when he was blown up by a shell and killed outright. I saw his body and buried it right there. I put a little cross on the grave".
Private Dabell to the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau January 1918.
Both Sloggett's fate and the location of the grave were lost in the subsequent fighting, hence the Red Cross enquiry. However, it was redicovered in 1919 once the war was over and the task of recovering bodies from isolated and unidentified graves was begun. Sloggett was identified by his identity disc and reburied in Tyne Cot Cemetery.
AU REVOIR DARLING TOOTS
BRAVE TRUE HEARTED BOY
"Died of wounds 3.10.18. 4 large splinters from gas shell (4.2) one splinter through right arm and 1 in groin. He never regained consciousness - buried by Chaplain Webb at Roisel near Peronne." This is the report given by Lieutenant Boulton's senior officer, Major Dodd, to the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau. Others witnesses might have put it more delicately but they could not alter the facts.
Stephen Boulton was born in Australia in 1890. He enlisted in the ranks in January 1915 from his position as a clerk in the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. He served in Egypt and Gallipoli and in January 1918 received a commission. He was killed during a heavy bombardment of his artillery position.
In 1928 his mother donated his letters and postcards - all signed Toots - together with her official letters of condolence, and correspondence from the Imperial War Graves Commission, to the Australian War Memorial. This digitised correspondence can be read on-line providing a vivid record of one man's war. In the last line of his personal inscription, his mother describes him as an ANZAC, a member of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The term remains today, what it was then, a proud term for a superb body of soldiers.
I COULD NOT LOVE YOU
DEAR SO WELL
LOVED I NOT HONOR MORE
"I was with Parsons in a trench near Zonnebeke ... I had just moved away from him for a moment when some shrapnel burst over us, and I saw Parsons hit in the throat and killed immediately ... We lifted Parsons from the trench on to the parapet and covered him up with his groundsheet. He was buried at dusk just behind our trench. I don't know if a cross is put up to him." This eye-witness account was given to the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau on 15 March 1918 by Private G Todd, in response to enquiries instigated by Sergeant Parson's wife.
It was Mrs Parsons who chose the inscription, the last two lines of 'To Lucasta, Going to the Wars' by Richard Lovelace 1618-1658.
Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of that chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this incontancy is such
As thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.
According to a file in the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau, Private Maher was a stretcher bearer killed during the German attack on Villers Bretonneux. Four witnesses recalled that, whilst engaged in carrying wounded from the fighting to the Regimental Aid Post, he was hit in the temple and chest by a shell and killed outright. One witness mentioned that 'Mick' was "a very obliging chap, well thought of by his mates". In civilian life Michael Thomas Maher was a farmer, grazier, from Bethundra in New South Wales who had enlisted on 1 February 1916.
AN ONLY SON
KILLED IN ACTION
ON HIS WAY TO
LEAVE AND WEDDING
The Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau would make extensive enquiries when it needed to find out exactly what had happened to a casualty. Their records, now digitised, reveal that Private Gilkes "was about 19, fair, medium height, and fresh complexion. A fine little soldier. His name was Harry" (Lieutenant Hindmarsh). Information pieced together from other witnesses describe what happened: they were holding an advanced position and had been bothered by a sniper, at about mid-day Gilkes crawled out into the long grass to try and get him. When he didn't return his mates went out to look for him and found him shot through the head, "the bullet entered the top of his head, coming out at the back above his neck", "I helped carry him from the front line to the support line where they placed him on a stretcher", "he was working for leave to go to England to meet his father. He expected to get married".