F is for the Fifteen Mile, Fromelles and Fleurbaix


I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

F is for the Fifteen Mile (Queensland)

The Fifteen Mile in Queensland would be unknown to most people except locals. Part way up the road between Murphys Creek and the Crows Nest road, it is mostly scrubby bush with little apparent activity. You can get a sense of its geography by clicking here. You can see that in amongst the trees and scrub, there is a cleared semi-valley and a smattering of buildings. This inconspicuous spot is where my 2xgreat grandparents Kunkel selected their land in 1874, paying it off over five years until the total £19/5/- was reached[i]. They had very nearly lost out on the land in a bureaucratic glitch when George Kunkel filed his claim in the Ipswich Lands office while Mr Pechey filed his in Toowoomba. By the time their land purchase was finalised in 1879, they had ringbarked 154 acres, cleared two acres and cultivated it with maize, stocked the land with cattle branded GK9, and a four room house had been built and was occupied by the “selector’s wife and family” while George himself was earning cash on the railways.

The old road down to the Kunkel property at the Fifteen Mile c1988 © P Cass 2010

Early land maps[ii] of the area from the Queensland State Archives, revealed the settlers who lived in the area. I was struck by the correlation of the names with some of those I knew had emigrated from Dorfprozelten. Further research proved this to be a small settlement of former Dorfprozelten people and their descendants. I doubt it was a deliberate ploy to settle together, rather that the land became available when they were eligible and they had saved some money. It was also not a well known area, but more likely to be known to those who had worked on the railway line through Murphys Creek.

George Kunkel had been clever in his selection of land because the creek ran below his property (you can see it if you enlarge the map – a snake like curve marks his boundary) but stepped down from his buildings. This gave him natural irrigation for his fruit orchards and grape vines. In recent decades the creek had dried up in the drought and bush fires were a very real hazard. However the drastic January 2011 floods affected the Fifteen Mile in a way I hadn’t fully understood until we drove through in July last year. I couldn’t believe my eyes to see trees up in trees and debris scattered high up the creek banks.

The old Horrocks property at the Fifteen Mile is now semi-derelict. Photo taken 1988 © P Cass

This small community gathered with those close by to play tennis and hold dances in the Horrocks’s barn, and shared their excess produce[iii]. Few people live in the area now and the names of old are gone: Horrocks, McLean, Stack, Jerrard, Zoller, Bodmann, Ganzer, Kunkel.

F is for Fromelles and Fleurbaix (France)

Rue Petillon cemetery, Fleurbaix.

Last year on the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles I wrote about my grandfather’s cousin, James Augustus Gavin. James was also the grandson of Denis and Ellen Gavin who you’ve met in the “D is for…” post ( I think they’re following me at present). Fromelles is also a pivotal battle for my husband’s great uncle. Despite participating in Gallipoli, it was the Battle of Fromelles which destabilised him with the shock of the huge losses of his men. I won’t go into more detail here but if you have time, please read a little more about this fierce battle in which 5533 Australian soldiers lost their lives or were wounded or missing.

The muddy fields of Flanders 1992. © P Cass

In recent years DNA sampling has been used to identify Australian Diggers (soldiers) buried in mass graves after the Battle of Fromelles…an amazing and sobering use of modern technology to bring closure to families, and allow these soldiers to be laid to rest under a named gravestone, no longer missing.

Our James Gavin was fortunate in a sense (if you can say that) in as much as he died early in the battle, perhaps even before it officially commenced. Consequently he was laid to rest in a known grave in the Rue Petillon cemetery at Fleurbaix (about 5kms from Amentieres). In November 1992, my husband and I made a pilgrimage to see his grave, and that of another of my grandfather’s cousins (James Paterson) at Villers Brettoneux.

Rue Petillon Cemetery, Fleurbaix, amidst the farm lands of Flanders. © P Cass 1992.

The cemetery at Fleurbaix is so peaceful, set amidst French farm land. As we parked the car, a local farmer gave us a nod of acknowledgement…they take their debt of loyalty quite seriously, it seems to me.  All was tranquil with birds singing and the distant sound of farm machinery. Farm buildings lie across the road and beside the cemetery. If you must die at war, then surely this is a place where you can truly lie at peace.

Across the road, the agricultural fields gave a clue of just how difficult it would have been to fight in those conditions at any time, let alone as winter approached. The deep plough furrows showed just how clay-y and sludgey the soil was as it took on water. I couldn’t begin to truly imagine what it would be like to try to advance the German front line in those conditions.

We were pleased to be able to pay our respects to a distant family member, and indirectly to my husband’s relative, Lt Col WEH Cass. Since 1992 I’ve learned a lot about Fromelles, a battle that had long been overshadowed by Gallipoli. If I was to do a battle field tour, it would be to the Western Front, I think, rather than Gallipoli, and definitely not on Armistice Day or Anzac Day so I can have time and peace to reflect on all that happened.


[i] Queensland State Archives PRV9882-1-740 (LAN/AG739) Deed of grant.

[ii] QSA Map Parish of Murphy, County of Cavendish, A3/18 1932.

[iii] Oral history from Anne Kunkel, granddaughter of George and Mary Kunkel.

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6 thoughts on “F is for the Fifteen Mile, Fromelles and Fleurbaix

    • Thanks Jill, I tend to agree but I suspect there’ll be a few entries where it goes back to travelogue. Let’s add genealogue to geneameme in that dictionary ;-)

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  1. As my 3x great grandparents trudged their way along the Oregon Trail to The Dalles (on the Columbia River, many of the little tributaries that flow into the Columbia gorge have names like 5 Mile Creek, or 7 mile, or or 15 mile. Whilst on a research trip to The Dalles, I asked on of the locals about the naming. “o, it’s 1 miles from The Dalles” — Unfortunately, as I drove along the Columbia, much further than 15 miles, I would encounter 5 mile, or 7 mile, or some other number attributed to a creek or road. Evidently, the starting point was a moving target, so to speak. But what struck me, was that much of that country had the familar look of the country in the picture of the road at Fifteen Mile of the Kunkel’s.

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    • That’s really interesting Joan and I guess it was their way of making sure people knew where they were, even if it doesn’t always make sense to us. I agree they were moving targets. People in Darwin still refer to places by the X mile and usually I haven’t a clue where they’re talking about as there are no signs. How intriguing that the 15 Mile countryside reminded you of the Oregon Trail. Have never made it to that part of the US…one day maybe.

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  2. Pingback: M is mulling over Milne Bay Islands and Mull (via Lismore) | Family history across the seas

  3. Pingback: Brigadier Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass | Family history across the seas

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