Wordless Wednesday: mystery photo from Lundager Rockhampton

This photo is among some we inherited from Mr Cassmob’s father, probably one he rescued while living in Rocky. We know it’s not one of his family because it’s from Queensland, probably in the 1880s, whereas his family were from Victoria <gasp! horror!>.

It’s such a delightful photograph that it would be wonderful if someone could identify the woman and child. Lundager was in Rockhampton in the 1880s then in Mt Morgan so it’s likely an 1880s photo, which fits with the woman’s dress style.

Having good Scottish ancestry I just love the little fellow’s outfit. The dog’s not bad either! On closer inspection I wonder if the woman is indeed the boy’s mother, or a sister. She looks quite young although very much like the boy.

Unknown family by Lundager, Rockhampton, Queensland.

Unknown family by Lundager, Rockhampton, Queensland.

Racing through R in Retford, Rotterdam and Rocky

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). Today I am going to keep comments on each place succinct and refer you back to earlier posts.

R is for Retford (Nottinghamshire, England)

Grove St, Retford where Susannah Cass had her school for ladies. © P Cass 2006.

Mr Cassmob’s Cass ancestors lived in Retford where his 2xgreat grandmother Suzannah Cass and her sisters ran a school for young women with her sisters. The women lived in the adjacent area of Moorgate. Back in 2006 we had a great time on this particular leg of our family history adventures. You can read about it here.

R is for Rotterdam (Netherlands)

My 2xgreat grandfather, Laurence Melvin, worked as a merchant sailor, travelling between Leith and the northern European ports. He was a young man, with a wife and three small children, when he took ill on one of his voyages. He died overnight and is buried in Rotterdam. I’m not sure I’ll ever know precisely where.

R is for Rockhampton (Queensland)

Rockhampton was the Queensland hub for my McSherry/McSharry ancestors after they arrived in 1884/1883 respectively. Last year I posted about discovering the sale of my great-grandfather, Peter McSherry’s estate on Trove. More recently I wrote about how his mother, Bridget McSharry, had a boarding house in Rockhampton and the hardships she experienced in her new Queensland life, and the on-going mystery and brick wall of her husband, James McSharry.  Peter, his wife Mary, and mother Bridget are all buried in the Rockhampton cemeteries. Although I’ve visited Rocky briefly in recent decades, for me the mental associationis stopping there on the Sunlander train, and Dad making a mad dash to get us beautiful fish and chips for our lunch.

St Mary's Rushden is just delightful. © P Cass 2010

R is for Rushden (Hertfordshire, England)

Although my Kent (name, not place) ancestors belonged to the Sandon parish in Hertfordshire, it’s likely they also visited the Rushden church from time to time as it was just as close to the Red Hill area of Sandon. I too have visited this church several times over the decades. It may only be “just another 14th century church” to quote a family member, but I love its simplicity and its peace, tucked away up a lane. When the daffodils flower in the churchyard among the graves it is simply lovely. The village has many gorgeous old homes with timber work and thatched roofs. I’m also enamoured with the name of the local pub The Moon and Stars. In one of those flights of fancy I usually never apply to my ancestry, wouldn’t it be nice to think my Kent publicans might have worked there once.

Fearless Female 31 March: A retrospective on Bridget McSharry nee Furlong

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. The final challenge for the month is to write a 500 word mini-profile of a female ancestor. I’ve chosen one of my lines that I don’t write about often, and a female ancestor who rarely appears in my blog spotlight.

Bridget Furlong was born to Martin Furlong and his wife, Margaret nee Sta(u)nton and baptised on 29 December 1840 at the Roman Catholic Church, Tullamore, Kings County (Offaly).  The Griffith Valuations place the family in the townland of Shr(u)agh, but their absence from the church records suggests they were not native to Tullamore. Nothing is known of Bridget’s early life other than that she lived through the devastating experience of Ireland’s Great Famine. Later generations of Furlong men would be skilled Gaelic footballers. Were Bridget’s brothers, John and Martin, similarly talented?

Bridget married James Sharry, a railway man, in Tullamore on 21 May 1859 (witnesses John Horan and Maria Slavin). Their sons, Peter (1861) and James (1865) were both baptised in Tullamore but their second son, Martin, was baptised in 1863 at Arklow, Wicklow. Their childrens’ baptisms track the family’s movement from Tullamore to Arklow to Gorey, Co Wexford where the family settled in the townland of Knockina, probably in a railway house.

Around the time of their 23rd anniversary the couple made the decision to emigrate. Queensland was building its extensive railway network and James would have readily gained employment as an experienced railwayman. James and Bridget and eight of their ten known children (James, John, Mary Agatha, Margaret, Bridget Agnes, Catherine, Esther Anne, and Patrick) arrived in Rockhampton on board the Melpomene on 20 January 1883. The family name changed to McSharry, possibly to piggyback on the renowned railway company, McSharry and O’Rourke. Son Martin may have died in Ireland[i]. Eldest son Peter, wife Mary, and his young family would arrive in Australia a year later, changing his name to McSherry.

The McSharrys settled first in Rockhampton where James worked as a railway platelayer[ii]. As with the Irish records, BDM events track their geographic movement. Daughter Margaret died in Rockhampton in 1884, aged 12, of shock from burns. John, aged 19, drowned in the flooded Claude River in March 1887 while working as a labourer on/near Mantuan Downs station. Their youngest son, Patrick, died in Gympie in 1889 of pericarditis, aged 8 years. Newspaper reports seem strangely silent on the deaths except John’s. James McSharry is not listed as the informant on the certificates.

Bridget reappears running boarding houses, first in Maryborough (1892-93) and then in Derby St, Rockhampton (1894-97). James disappears entirely from view and nothing has been found of his death. Did James desert her as I suspect, or has his death gone unreported somehow? Certainly life went badly wrong for her and the family not very long after their arrival. Down all these years I feel the terrible sorrow of her loneliness and the betrayal of her dreams, but no loss of faith.

Bridget McSharry née Furlong, a widow aged 59, died in Rockhampton on 13 July 1900 and is buried in the North Rockhampton cemetery.

SOURCES:

Tullamore Parish register – information received from Offaly Historical Society. Confirmed through LDS microfilm 926186.

Griffith Valuations on microfiche (Tullamore).

Gorey parish records viewed on site.

Queensland Immigration records.

Official Queensland death certificates.


[i] Bridget’s death certificate lists three sons and one daughter deceased: John, Patrick, probably Martin and Margaret.

[ii] Queensland Death Certificate for daughter Margaret McSharry.

My “Most Wanted” family member: who was James Sherry?

From clker.com in public domain. Intended as a question about going green, it also represents my questions about where James Sherry came from, where he went.

Geniaus raised the Saturday challenged initiated by Thomas McEntee On his Destination Austin Family Blog, which in turn revived Craig Manson of GeneaBlogie‘s meme from 2009. For today I’m going to focus on my “most wanted” family member and leave the surnames to Surname Saturday.

Ever since I started family history all those years ago, one ancestor has provided me with an “impenetrable” brick wall.

James Sherry is first identified in the “public” record in Tullamore, County Offaly (Kings County as it was then). On 21 May 1859 he married Bridget Furlong, a local girl from the townland of Shruagh, in the old Catholic Church, with witnesses John Horan and Maria Slavin.Their first two surviving sons, Peter and James Joseph, were also christened there, on the same date 29 May, in 1861 and 1865. Peter, is my direct ancestor. Their second-born son, Martin Sherry (named for Bridget’s father) was baptised in Arklow, Wicklow on 15 July 1863 with witnesses James and Margaret Halpin. Martin did not emigrate with the family and nothing is known about whether he died or remained in Ireland.

A typical Irish cottage at Knockina, complete with cat.

During their years in Arklow, James was working as a ganger on the railway, presumably on the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford line. Several children were born and baptised in Arklow before the family moved to Gorey, Wexford where they settled for about 10 years. At the baptism of each child born in Gorey, the family states their townland as Knockina, just outside Gorey township. Having researched the Griffith Valuation revision lists for the period, it seems that the Sherry family must have been living in a caretaker’s cottage owned by the railway as all other properties are accounted for. This would suggest that James had reached some level of responsibility with the railway.

The interior of St Michael's Church, Gorey, Wexford 1992. Site of Sherry baptisms and Peter's marriage.

So far, so good, you’re wondering why I have a problem….after all I have quite a bit of information on them, thanks to the baptism of all those children. But there’s one thing missing – where did James come from and what’s his ancestry? Name distributions suggest he probably came from one of Ireland’s northern counties, possibly Monaghan, Fermanagh, or Meath. Dublin is also a strong contender but surely if he was from there one of his family would be a witness to at least one of the baptisms.

In 1882 James and Bridget Sherry emigrated to Queensland with all their children, except eldest son Peter. On arrival in January 1883, the family changed their name to McSharry, supposedly with the idea that he would ride on the coat tails of another James McSharry, the partner in O’Rourke & McSharry, railway construction contractors. If this was his goal, he certainly succeeded from one point of view. From that time forward my James McSharry cannot be readily identified. Despite the family’s horrendous luck with three children dying within a few years of arrival, James does not appear as the informant on any of the death certificates. By 1892, Bridget McSharry was listed in the post office directories as a boarding house keeper in Maryborough and later in Rockhampton, where she died in 1900. Had James died so that she needed to take up this work?

No problems, surely his death certificate can be found, and this will most likely tell us his place of origin and his parents’ names? Good theory, nil outcome. Despite searching around the country, this James McSharry/Sherry appears to have disappeared off the face of Australia at least. I’ve looked for him in Police Gazettes thinking he might appear there – if he had “done a runner” and left his wife with the children, they might have chased him for maintenance. Of itself this seems strange given they’d been married over 20 years and just made the tremendous decision to emigrate, but perhaps he hadn’t coped with the death of his children. I’ve searched cemeteries, inquest indexes and hospital admissions all to no avail. Trove throws up innumerable references to the construction company and even occasional documents found at the Archives remain ambiguous.

One clue appears when his daughter marries in Rockhampton in 1903, said to be the daughter of James McSharry, late of Sydney. Does that mean “recently of Sydney” or deceased…but I suspect it meant the latter.  My suspicion is that it is a red herring to infer he may be the partner in McSharry & O’Rourke who was by then in Sydney. Searches of NSW death certificates were not forthcoming.

To confuse matters further this James’s eldest son, Peter, arriving in Queensland in early 1884 with his family, changed his name to McSherry and also joined the railway immediately. To this day, many of the leaves on this family’s branches do not know of the interconnection between the McSherry and McSharry families or indeed within some branches of either.

Did James emigrate to New Zealand or elsewhere to work on the railways? Did he return to Ireland? Did he die but never make it into the records? Was he admitted to a mental asylum somewhere? Was there some sort of scandal? Questions, questions!

My bet is that his father’s name was Peter Sherry and that he was probably born somewhere in Ireland’s northern counties. Searches at RootsIreland have been unproductive or inconclusive. Without some proof, or some clue about what happened to James, or where he went from Australia, this line is stone-walled.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 27: Vacations on Maggie

The topic for Week 27 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Vacations. Where did your family go on vacation? Did you have a favorite place? Is it still there? If not, how has the area changed?

Beautiful Arthur Bay on Magnetic Island, not Rocky Bay as I mistakenly thought.

My family’s favourite place for holidays was Magnetic Island off Townsville in North Queensland. Magnetic Island, or Maggie as it’s known to its fans, was named and “discovered” by Captain Cook when his compass headings were apparently distorted by the island’s geology.

My father got a railway pass annually due to his railway employment so we would travel by train to Townsville on the Sunlander, though it would always be an off-season holiday. Ironically I’ve just read that “the Sunlander was introduced with great fanfare in June 1953….built by Commonwealth-Engineering (Com-eng)”[i]. After my grandfather retired as a carpenter-foreman from building carriages for Queensland Government Railways (QGR) he went on to work for Com-Eng. I wonder if he supervised the building of any of the Sunlanders we travelled on?

It seems unlikely now, yet I still feel sure that the first time when we went up there, it was on a steam train as I recall the grit, open windows, etc…more research required on that. Perhaps we travelled on the Sunlander’s precursor, the Sunshine Express, but I don’t think my early memories are that good. I guess the distance from Brisbane to Townsville to be about 1000kms (actually over 1300kms) but it took nearly two days to get there. We left from Roma Street Station in the early evening of one day, arrived at Bundaberg for breakfast the next morning. We would pull into Rockhampton for lunch on that day and Dad would dash over the road to a superb fish and chip place –one of those childhood memories where nothing else ever seems as good, especially those potato scallops! I talked briefly about this on another post.

Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island with Townsville in the distance in 2008.

The afternoon train trip would be boring in the extreme as we travelled through the St Lawrence area and what I would call open scrub with nothing to alleviate the tedium. Sometimes along the way we’d see the railway workers’ tents where they were working on the line and it was a ritual to throw out the most recent paper so they’d have something to keep them going. With a family full of railway workers this was an important contribution to ensuring these isolated workers were kept in touch with what was happening in the world.
Then towards the end of the day we would pass through the cane fields at Sarina, near Mackay, and depending on the season would see the cane fields being burnt off with the red glow in the sky and the distinctive, not very pleasant smell of molasses and sugar cane by-products.[ii] At the time I had no idea that there was one branch of the Kunkel family living
in the area and closely involved with the sugar industry. I’m not sure my father knew either.

Our train compartment was neat and compact with a basin and three bunk beds: during the day the bottom two would be converted into a regular train seat but in the evening the guard (?) would come and set the room up. The toilet was at the end of the carriage and I was quickly taught the protocol that one must never, ever, use the toilet while in a station no matter
how desperate the situation! I remember too being aware that Dad was among colleagues while on the train. While we usually took some food with us, each train stop brought people flooding into the railway refreshment rooms on the station – another family link as my mother’s family had been involved in this business in the late 19th century.

A nice overview image of Picnic Bay with the new jetty, the old enclosure and with the wreck in Cockle Bay visible. Image 0009650 from Townsviille City Libraries.

On the second morning we’d pull into Townsville station with that typical motion sickness, body-continuing-to-move experience typical of long distance travel. Almost always there’d be friends there to meet us and they would take us to the Hayles ferry terminal where we’d catch the ferry to Picnic Bay, which is where we always stayed. Life was simple then and the
holiday accommodation was basic and usually built of fibro. My mother’s first objective was to ensure everything was pristine and clean and then we’d settle in for a relaxing holiday. There were no theme parks, rides etc etc to be had, just lots of fun in the sun.

My parents climbing up from Rocky Bay

Dad and I would often go fishing either off the ferry jetty or row out in a dinghy where we’d catch magnificent reef fish even though we weren’t that far out. We’d all go for long bush walks to different isolated bays which were inaccessible by road: Geoffrey Bay, Radical Bay and our favourite, nearby Rocky Bay. We’d sing bush songs as we went along and quite
regularly encountered a snake or two along the track. Magnetic Island is renowned for its koala population even today and it was common to see them up in the gum trees along the tracks –though they weren’t all that easy to spot. Other times we’d go on the bus to Horseshoe Bay and collect cowrie and olive shells (makes me cringe to think now, from an ecological point of view). You also had to be very careful of stonefish and cone shells both of which could be very deadly so I learned to keep my eyes peeled and watch where I put my feet. This became the basis of my teenage fascination with shells.

The swimming enclosure at Picnic Bay with the Hayles ferry arriving at the jetty. Image 0009635 from Townsville City Libraries available for public coping.

The most popular bays for accommodation had swimming areas with shark proof enclosures and now stinger-proof nets), though I don’t recall  hat as an issue when I was a child. These enclosures were quite large, and so were like a very large swimming pool. As I got older and could swim better I could swim out to the timber enclosure and walk along the perimeter before jumping back in and swimming back to the beach. One of the nice things about Magnetic Island is that it has casuarina trees and other shade (including an ancient fig tree) along the beach front so that you could sit in the shade without getting burnt, rather helpful with my Celtic colouring.  Sometimes we walked over to one of the bays where Mum’s relations, the Melvins were said to have had a guest house. Mum had also holidayed at Magnetic Island as a child so it was a family tradition really. Friends would come over to the island for a couple of days and visit and we kids would all build sand castles etc…simple pleasures.

The Barron Falls in 2008 but as I remember them as a child.

Life wasn’t always an idyllic escape on the island. On one trip when I was still quite young there was a reasonably severe cyclone (I’m pretty sure it was Cyclone Agnes, a category 3) and we had to stay in our accommodation while it blew over. I remember being very scared and seeing the palm trees “touching their toes”, bending over and dancing in the wind. We were cut off for a few days after that but eventually they sent in Army amphibious ducks to take people off the island because the ferries couldn’t get across. On that particular trip the north had masses of rain and I remember the Barron Falls in full flood when we visited my aunt in Cairns just after the cyclone. Then on the train home, with the Burdekin River also in flood, I have a distinct memory of the river lapping at the railway sleepers while the Sunlander crept its way across…some years ago I came across a photo of this crossing: the driver must
have had nerves of steel.

Maggie is still there of course and while parts of it seem lost in time, other parts have become very glossy and upmarket. Nelly Bay which in the earlier 20th century was a resort area, then in my time a rather unimpressive mangrove-y bay, is now the ferry catamaran terminal with high-class resort apartments right on the water overlooking the terminal. A sad reminder of the hazards of early Queensland immigration, the gravestone of little James Dryden on Magnetic Island.The open-air bathroom design means you need to make sure that you time your shower when the ferry’s not due or you’ll frighten the tourists! Some of the formerly deserted and isolated bays have been opened up, not really a good thing as the construction work has savaged the landscape. However the island is heavily treed and there are still many koalas and birds. Picnic Bay, once a hub of activity for the island, has become a sleepy backwater since it lost the ferry.

The island remains incredibly popular with Townsville people for weekends and holidays and is even within commuting distance. It also has an active backpacker presence. Are the changes for the best? I don’t really know, but those childhood memories are precious reminders of how things were once upon a simpler time.

This gravestone reminds us though, that times were not simple in the early days of Queensland’s immigration. James was the son of Andrew Dryden and Elizabeth Lilico. They had another seven children born in Queensland (Brisbane and country) including another child called James McVane Dryden who was born in 1890. Jim Fleming has published his great-great grandfather’s diary from this voyage – it certainly seems to have been an exceptional and dramatic journey, including a reference to little James’s death and tales of near-mutiny and quarantine. One’s heart goes out to these poor immigrants on such an horrendous start to their new life in Australia.


[ii] Graeme Connors has a great song, Let the Canefields Burn, on the difficult life on the cane fields relevant to family history as well. This YouTube video has images of the burn-off.

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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