Death of an ANZAC Lieutenant

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

As we move through the centenary of World War I, it’s time to put Australia’s war history into a more realistic perspective. We do ourselves a disservice, as well as the men who served and those who lost their lives, when we insist they were brave all the time and were immune to the effects of such a confronting war.  This war fundamentally changed how Australian servicemen saw the home country and gave them, and us, a sense of a different identity.

Today’s Remembrance Day post is a story of one man’s death, only two months before that momentous day on 11 November 1918. Like all the thousands of war deaths, it left the world a lesser place with the loss of talent and ability.

My search for a person to write about happened almost entirely by chance, other than I was looking for men who came from, or enlisted at, Toowoomba on the Darling Downs and who died during the World War I.

[?] PERSONAL. (1916, January 18). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 - 1922), p. 4.

[?] PERSONAL. (1916, January 18). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 4.

Leslie Samuel Buchanan was a one-person ANZAC when he enlisted in Toowoomba on 17 January 1916. He was born in Ashburton, New Zealand about November 1876[i], son of John Edgar and Mary Elizabeth Saunders Buchanan[ii].  On his enlistment papers[iii] he gave his next of kin as his wife, Alice (aka Alyce[iv]) Buchanan of Eleanor St, Toowoomba and noted he had one child under 16 (actually an infant). He was 6 feet tall with grey eyes and brown hair and stated his occupation was “newspaper editor”. His only experience in the military was four years in the volunteer cadets, possibly at high school or university. Initially Leslie enlisted as a private and was attached to D Company, 41st Battalion with the service number 4732. As a newspaper editor his enlistment was publicised far and wide: Farmer and Settler, Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser, Maryborough Chronicle as well as the more obvious Darling Downs Gazette. Strangely it is the Maryborough article that will become relevant later in the story.Leslie Buchanan article151081572-3-001

PERSONAL. (1916, February 10). Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932), p. 15.

PERSONAL. (1916, February 10). Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1932), p. 15. Note: Townsville is an error and should be Toowoomba.

It’s likely it was Leslie’s professional career rather than the cadets that made him a candidate for officer training and the Darling Downs Gazette tells of his committed study to gain entrance to Duntroon Military College where he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant, gazetted on 1 October 1916. At this point, on 29 December 1916, Leslie was attached to the 13th reinforcements of the 31st Battalion. Gaining his commission had delayed his departure to France by nearly a year and may have saved him from the slaughter at Fromelles – a bloodbath for the 31st.

It wasn’t until 7 February 1917, that Leslie joined the rest of the 13th reinforcements of the 31st Battalion on troop ship A18 Wiltshire ex Sydney en route for England. He landed at Devonport (Plymouth), England on 11 April 1917 and marched into the 8th Training Battalion at Hurdcott, Salisbury, England.

Unidentified (1917). Page 22 of the Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 17 February, 1917. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Unidentified (1917). Page 22 of the Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 17 February, 1917. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Is Leslie Buchanan one of the two officers in the front row, centre?

Lt Buchanan was taken on strength with the 31st Battalion on 13 July 1917 and sent to France via Havre. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 11 August 1917 and on 7 August was sent to the 1st ANZAC Corps School in the field.  Less than a week later, on 17 August, he was taken to hospital sick with malaria (and later anaemia), then transferred to the 1st General Hospital at Etretat on 31 August. He remained there until 24 September when he was discharged to the 5th Division Base Depot, fit for active duty.  (I confess that so far I remain confused about these movements and the medical facilities to which he was sent).

From here, on 9 October he re-joined his unit. Less than three weeks later he was taken by the Field Ambulance back to hospital and didn’t re-join his unit, as best I can tell, until 8 December 1917. Leslie had been in France for five months but in hospital for much of this time, and on active service in the field only about four weeks by my estimate. It begs the question why he felt he needed to enlist if his health was not great. Nevertheless he is photographed with his fellow officers from the 31st over Christmas 1917, an image which made its way to an Australian newspaper.

OFFICERS OF THE 31st BATTALION, CHRISTKIAS DAY, 1917. (1918, March 28). The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 - 1934), p. 13.

OFFICERS OF THE 31st BATTALION, CHRISTMAS DAY, 1917. (1918, March 28). The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), p. 13. Lt L Buchanan is third from the left in the row standing behind the kneeling men.

AN APPRECIATION FROM BELGIUM. (1918, April 22). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 - 1922), p. 3. Retrieved

AN APPRECIATION FROM BELGIUM. (1918, April 22). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 3. Retrieved

News of his activities in the coming months is discovered through letters home and published in various papers:

Lieutenant Leslie Buchanan, well known in journalistic circles and formerly editor of the ‘D. D. Gazette’ writes to ‘Sirdar’ of the ‘Daily Mail’, as follows: ‘The dawn is just breaking, and Fritz had left us comparatively alone, so I am taking a short spell in my very insecure dugout, having so far dodged the scrap-iron which the Hun heaves at us with very little intermission. Our division has been pretty heavily engaged for the last month, and I have been in the front line practically since the middle of January, but so far we have stopped the Boche on this sector at any rate— and the sector at present, is the most important in France. I’ve had one shave and one wash in a month. We look a queer crew, but that doesn’t matter much when things are as they are. We live in hopes and are still hammering the Hun.’[v] It’s difficult to know when the letter was written as the publication date was August 1918.

Leslie was trained at the gas school in the field on 15 March 1918 and newspaper reports reveal he had taken on additional responsibilities.

 Lieut. L. Buchanan, formerly editor of the “D. D. Gazette,” and now at the front In France, has been appointed by General Sir W. R. Birdwood, editor for the 6th Australian Division of the new magazine, “Aussie” a military official production. The duties will not take Lieut. Buchanan from active service, where he has been for several months past.[vi] 

A MIRACULOUS' ESCAPE. (1918, August 6). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. :

A MIRACULOUS’ ESCAPE. (1918, August 6). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. :

He also found time to report home: Lieut. Buchanan, in which he reports himself as being well and fortunate enough to come through a big engagement without hurt[vii].

Based on unit war diaries Lt Buchanan undertook regular patrols with his men, often in the middle of the night throughout May 1918[viii]. During this period, the Battalion was stationed in the field at Vaire-Hamel for 53 days without relief, said by the CO to be a record for the British units in France. It was during this time that Leslie had an uncanny brush with death, described in the papers as a “miraculous escape”. The story is appended for you and linked here, but the essence is that the only thing which saved him from death was that the bullet, which hit him centre chest, had struck the button on his clothing, stopping it from killing him. Hence the annotation on his file, and also in the message to his wife, that he was “wounded but remaining on duty”.  While he makes light of it in his letter home to his wife Alice, I can’t help wondering if this near miss affected him in the coming months.

There are no notations I’ve found which make adverse comment about Leslie in the war diaries, yet on 3 July 1918 he was court martialled[ix] on two counts: (1) for being AWOL on 4 June 1918 until 7 June when he was apprehended and (2) for being drunk at Cobie on 11 April 1918. Although his plea to both counts was “not guilty” the enquiry found him not guilty of the first count, but guilty of the second. He was demoted and given a strong reprimand. His service seniority was also reduced to 16 January 1917 (not 1916). What is interesting, though, is that the Battalion had arrived on 2 June in Rivery, on relief after their 53 day stint on the front. The Battalion also received congratulations from Brigadier General Tivey for their work on holding an important sector of the line and consolidating it while keeping the German troops contained.

On 23 July 1918, there is a report on a Lt Leslie Buchanan interleaved with “our” Leslie’s file, but the age and unit number are inaccurate. However I can find no other serving officer with this name so perhaps it was him. The findings were that he was suffering from overwork but that “there were no signs of Subuale (??) and no bacilli were found. His temperature was normal. He is gaining weight and in good condition.”[x] The condition had been caused by military service but he was fit to return to duty. If this is indeed him, then perhaps it explains what was to happen.

Leslie was admitted to the 41st Stationary Hospital on 23 August 1918 and sent to the 4th Army Convalescent Depot on 30 August with gastroenteritis. On the evening of 4 September he was seen, by a private from the Royal Hussars, near the villa where he was quartered and taken to his room by two Australian soldiers. They took him to his room around 8:45pm, and removed his tunic, collar and boots before covering him over on the bed. Later, about 10:30pm, a Capt Barclay of the RAF had looked into the room and seen Leslie sleeping[xi].

PERSONAL. (1918, October 14). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 - 1922), p. 4.

PERSONAL. (1918, October 14). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 4.

However early in the morning of 5 September 1918, a body was seen lying on the ground outside the building. Captain Ironside was called in around 7:15 – 7:30am and found it was Lt Buchanan. It was estimated that he had died about six hours previous. The body was then sent to 3 General Hospital for pathology testing. It appeared he had fallen out of a window on the second floor[xii].

A Court of Enquiry[xiii] was convened and witness statements taken including that of Capt Ironside. Pte Edwards of the 10th Royal Hussars had seen the two Australians helping Buchanan where he was collapsed on the ground near the villa. When asked if Buchanan was drunk the Hussar said “he was in a collapsed condition”. What did he mean? Was Leslie drunk, or suffering from the effects of gastro? When the court asked whether he thought Buchanan was drunk, another witness, L/Cpl Dover, also said “he was in a collapsed condition” but that “he was a very moderate drinker taking only one drink with each meal”. Capt Ironside was asked further questions and confirmed he had checked Buchanan’s room that morning after finding his body. The “bed had been slept in, the window was open and one pane had been broken. There was nothing to indicate why this officer had climbed out the window[xiv]. There was no blood in the room and he considered the blood on the body had been incurred when landing on trees below the window. The opinion of the Court was that death had occurred by accidentally falling from the window[xv].

Image from

Image from

Lieutenant Leslie Samuel Buchanan was buried with full military honours at Mont Huon Military Cemetery, Le Treport, France (Plot 7, Row F, Grave 13).

Unsurprisingly his former newspaper, the Darling Downs Gazette, published an extensive obituary on 12 September 1918 which can be read here as it’s too long to include with this story. However these extracts deserve to be highlighted: ”

“He was a man possessing a big nature, and nothing mean or petty could find countenance with him. His decision to enlist came as a surprise to his friends owing to his having family obligations and holding a position such as he did. His decision once formed, however, was final, his chief   reason being the call of conscience and duty. He stated that he could not from the editorial chair urge the eligible to enlist while he himself was eligible, and he hoped that by his example others would be induced to act similarly“….

“But it was those only who had the fortune to work with him who could value the man at his true worth. His big, generous heart never failed to respond and he was ever ready to extend a helping hand to those needing it . His kindly advice in his professional work was of valuable aid to those on his staff and his experience was always at the disposal of all when the need arose”.

These comments are very similar to those expressed by Cpl HT Hill in his response to Alice’s Red Cross enquiries: “he was very, very popular, keenly musical, well educated and a good soldier and very good hearted“. Cpl Hill, from Bundaberg, had travelled with Leslie on the Wiltshire to England. He said that Lt Buchanan had “gone well back behind Amiens to a school and no more was heard of him. The contention is that he fell from a train“.

 Leslie had served his country and his battle was over, but it was just beginning for his wife Alice. It was to take her several years as she tried to find out more about her husband’s death. Having first been told he died of illness (gastroenteritis), then that he had died from an accidental fall, she was understandably bewildered. By January 1919 she still hadn’t heard “the real cause” of her husband’s death. Somewhat strangely her mother-in-law, living in Windsor, England, seemed to be getting more up to date information that Alice, even though his wife was Leslie’s next of kin.

It didn’t help that Alice’s appeal to the Red Cross only brought more confusion, with one report suggesting Leslie had fallen 1000 feet off a cliff, and another that he may have fallen from a train. The official response was that these reports were “garbled versions based on hearsay”[xvi]. However she says “as you can imagine it has upset me very much[xvii]. She even tried to write to the mayor of Le Treport but the letter had been returned as having insufficient address[xviii].

Like so many other wives, mothers and daughters her pathos is evident even at this distance of time. Here are some extracts from her letters to the Army:

if I should hear from someone who had been with him it might bring me a ray of comfort. I am quite alone here as all my people live very far away[xix]. (Sept 23, 1918)

“All these dreadful weary days of anxiety” … “Since then (Leslie’s death) I have heard nothing from the military department”…”I fully realise the enormous work it must be for you people answering the large number of letters like mine”…”Don’t you think I should have heard from someone from the hospital or his Battalion”. [xx]

“All these differing accounts of his death has (sic) been so terrible”… “I had waited over four long weary months in the most dreadful suspense”.(dated Jan 16, 1918 but certainly 1919) [xxi]

“I have never received any account of the real cause of how he died.” (January 15, 1919)[xxii].

Eventually she received a letter from the Army giving her a synopsis of the findings of the Court of Enquiry, dated 26 March 1919. Whether she gained any consolation, or more anxiety, from hearing Leslie “had (apparently) fallen from a window on the second floor”[xxiii] is something to ponder.

I would give much to hear from someone who was with him toward the end[xxiv] she says when she receives the official memorial scroll and the field glasses she had been chasing up. They had caused her angst because the army assumed they were official issue and would be returned to stores whereas she informed them they were “his own property and a gift from the Darling Downs Gazette of which he was the editor[xxv]. While she eventually received the field glasses, there is no indication that his watch was every returned. Among his belongings were his chess set and the soldier’s friend, the housewife (a simple sewing kit), as well as letters, photos and 11 notebooks[xxvi]. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what was in the latter?

She regularly asks for photos of his grave “Have you received any word re Lt Leslie Buchanan’s grave? I am so tired of waiting[xxvii] (19 Jan 1920)

When they come (at a cost to her of 3 pence a copy), she is again saddened because “it looks so fearfully neglected. Can you please tell me if in time it will be cared for?”[xxviii]

Death of Mrs. Alyce Buchanan. (1930, July 23). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), p. 17.

Death of Mrs. Alyce Buchanan. (1930, July 23). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 17.

Over the years Alice received the Memorial scroll and King’s message (29 October 1921, three years after his death), the British War Medal (16 June 1921), the Victory Medal (8 May 1923) and the memorial plaque (19 December 1922).

While she stayed with her family in Sydney for a while after Leslie’s death, she returned to Toowoomba where she died on 22 July 1930, aged only 48 years. Alyce and Leslie’s only child, daughter Joyce, was just 16 years old. She had been active in fund-raising throughout the war and very much involved in the cultural life of the city. Alyce Buchanan is buried in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery.

Leslie’s name will be projected on the Australian War Memorial during the WWI centenary on these dates:

  • Mon 29 February, 2016 at 11:39 pm
  • Thu 21 April, 2016 at 8:14 pm
  • Sat 4 June, 2016 at 11:53 pm
  • Sat 16 July, 2016 at 9:56 pm
  • Wed 31 August, 2016 at 4:14 am
  • Sun 23 October, 2016 at 11:30 pm
  • Tue 27 December, 2016 at 1:44 am
  • Tue 28 February, 2017 at 2:08 am

[i] An Ancestry tree states his birth date as 17 November 1876. His service record (page 144) states it as 20 November 1876.

[ii] Commonwealth War Graves Commission website,%20LESLIE

[iii] National Archives of Australia Item barcode 3152469,  Service record Lt Leslie Buchanan (148pp)

[iv] She regularly signs her name as Alice, but by the end of her life it is consistently Alyce.

[v] PERSONAL (1918, August 29). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld: 1881-1922) p4.

[vi] SOCIAL AND PERSONAL (1918, April 25) Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld: 1909-1954) page 3 Also reported in other newspapers (one of the advantages of Leslie having been a newspaperman). Interestingly there is no indication in the records that Leslie was the editor of this magazine, rather the AWM and other references indicate it was a Philip L Harris. Perhaps an interesting project for someone to follow up?

[vii] SOCIAL (1918, May 22) Darling Downs Gazette (Qld 1881-1922) p3

[viii] Australian War Memorial

[ix] Buchanan, Lt Leslie service record, page 145. There are summary figures for courts martial at the end of each month’s war diary for the battalion – a far from uncommon incident. You can also search the National Archives of Australia for the term “Court Martial”.

[x] Ibid, page 14.

[xi] Ibid, page 18.

[xii] Ibid, page 16.

[xiii] Ibid, pages 16-26.

[xiv] Ibid page 18.

[xv] Ibid page 23.

The Red Cross reports may be found at–1-.pdf

[xvi] Ibid, page 79.

[xvii] Ibid, page 82.

[xviii] Ibid, page 69.

[xix] Ibid, page 126.

[xx] Ibid, page 57.

[xxi] Ibid, page 82.

[xxii] Ibid, page 54.

[xxiii] Ibid, page 100.

[xxiv] Ibid, page 78.

[xxv] Ibid, page 94.

[xxvi] Ibid, page 91.

[xxvii] Ibid, page 73.

[xxviii] Ibid, page 125.

William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel: Always missed

A few years back I wrote in detail about my father’s cousin, William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel, who went missing in Korea. Dad always said that Robert’s parents never gave up hope of finding him. Like so many families whose sons went missing in action during battle, there must have been a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty…perhaps one day he’d turn up.

Recently I was searching Trove and came up with another news story about Robert Kunkel. It was a very big entry on page 4 of Brisbane’s Sunday Mail on 12 December 1954[i]. Robert’s mother, Hilda, plainly believed that it was her son seen in the march-past at the City Hall of the 3rd Battalion, recently returned from Korea, even though he’d served with the 1st Battalion. As a child I always heard that Robert had never returned so it’s plain that the man marked didn’t turn out to be her son. What a sad loss it was for Robert’s parents, Hilda and Bill, who never stopped missing their son.

I had hoped to hear from one of Robert’s mates after my previous post, but would still welcome contact from them or a descendant if they inherited a story about Robert’s capture by the North Koreans. The surviving men from the patrol were Corporal William Crotty, Brian Ransfield Mau from Hamilton, New Zealand and S Brent (Sidney Henry Brent?). Crotty and Kunkel were apparently good mates.

Robert Kunkel from Sunday Mail top of pic

Robert Kunkel from Cour Sunday Mail 12 Dec 1954

[i] Mother seeks her son. (1954, December 12). Sunday Mail(Brisbane) (Qld. : 1926 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from

Lest We Forget… those who came home

Anzac Cove DSC_0389_edited-1Today’s Remembrance Day is particularly poignant as we honour the fallen from all our wars, but especially from World War I. The intensity of reAWM wallmembrance over the next four years may almost become overwhelming. It is impossible to imagine the reality of the horrors and terrors those men suffered through the long months and years of the war.

Each year at ceremonies around the country we are reminded “they do not grow old as we who are left grow old”. We honour and recognise the sacrifice that was made by these men who gave their lives far young or old, single or married, bushies or city slickers.

The men who died overseas have contributed to our sense of ourselves as a nation, a people who could be relied on when in a tight corner, who would fight to the bitter end. Where did their courage come from when they could be told “Boys you have ten minutes to live and I am going to lead you[i].

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.[ii]

DSC_0412 edit

Such evocative words. Buried at Beach Cemetery, Gallipoli.

However there’s another aspect which I think we have sometimes neglected as family historians and one which will challenge us even more than documenting the history of our family members who died in action.

To what extent do we consider the lives of those left behind? The impact of loss on families, friends and communities? How is that documented in the official record? And how did they respond to never knowing exactly where their loved one was buried, let alone understand why there might no keepsake to treasure for themselves or their children?

I haven’t received nothing belonging to him.  I don’t even know of his burial place.[iii]

And what of the men who returned, some horrifically injured physically and no longer able to continue in their former occupations? It seems almost impossible that any man who returned, or indeed the nurses who cared for them, would return the same person mentally or emotionally. What of the guilt they may have carried at the loss of close family, brothers or friends?

What do we know of how this affected their family life?  Each returning soldier’s emotional responses to his wife and children? The general view is that they kept the horrors locked down inside them until each Anzac Day or Remembrance Day but surely the trauma must have seeped out from time to time. How did the women cope with the return of husbands, fathers, sons, brothers or sweethearts who were no longer the same men they had farewelled? At least those who married after the war would have had some idea of what they were “buying into”.  Perhaps the men felt slightly more reconciled since they knew they’d gone to war voluntarily and were not conscripted like almost all the other nations.

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles 2014.

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles 2014.

Bill Gammage’s book The Broken Years is increasingly difficult to find but is a useful starting point for our research into the returned soldier’s attitudes at the time.

These returned soldiers are the men who helped to build our then-new nation despite the traumas they’d experienced. They grew old but had to fight on in daily life. They deserve our attention as much as those who were lost and it seems to me that there is a great deal still ahead for us to research.

Lest We Forgetthose who died, those they left behind and those who lived to rebuild…in all the nations of the war.

My earlier posts on Remembrance Day are:

2013: Erle Victor Weiss

2012: Lest we forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

2011: Honouring the Australian born diggers with German ancestry.

Anzac Day:

2014: Two brothers go to war and Postcards to the Front

2013: V is for our Valiant Indigenous ANZACs

2012: V is for the Valiant of Villers-Brettoneux (my most-read post)

2011: Lest we forget: William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel (MIA Korea)

Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam James Augustus Gavin


[i] Lt Col Alexander White, Commander of the 8th Light Horse at the charge of The Nek, Gallipoli

[ii] Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth from the War Poetry Website.

[iii] Elizabeth Maud Paterson writing to the Army on 1 September 1921 about James Thomas Paterson of the 49th Battalion who died 5 April 1917. His body was never recovered and his name is among those on the memorial at Villers-Brettoneux.

100 years ago: Declaration of War

BRITAIN AT WAR. INVASION OF BELGIUM. (1914, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from

BRITAIN AT WAR. INVASION OF BELGIUM. (1914, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from

One hundred years ago Australians woke to the news that the Britain had declared war on Germany. In 2014 it’s difficult to appreciate how enmeshed Australia’s politics and life was with Britain’s, but the summary on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald gives us a retrospective glimpse:

“An unparalleled scene in the history of the State Parliament took place in the Assembly yesterday…..Members sprang to their feet and sang the National Anthem (which was then God Save the King) and “Rule Britannia” and gave cheers for the King”. [i]

In the “home country”, the navy was already mobilised and the army was to be mobilised by midnight on 4 August, just an hour of the declaration of war (then the next morning Australian time).

Last night (UK time) many in Britain commemorated the start of this long tragic war by turning their lights out and lighting a candle in remembrance (see twitter #lightsout). In 1914 the declaration of war must truly have seemed a terrifying prospect despite assertions it would all be over before Christmas, but it was not to be in 1914, or 1915, rather more than four long years later.

Already on this first day, in Australia, motor cycle clubs were volunteering members as despatch riders, immigrants of German and Austrian descent rushed to take up Australian citizenship, the St John Ambulance had been placed at the disposal of the Defence Department and men were offering to enlist. The 8th Infantry Brigade had also been mobilised for coastal defence, along with the citizen naval forces. [ii]

Nothing would remain the same in society for decades to come, not least the impact of the loss of the talents, skills and love of the men killed in this battle for freedom. The loss of life, the impact on families, communities, and not least the men who returned was to be incalculable at a local, national and international level. Women would remain single for lack of men to marry, married women would not recognise their husbands as they returned with ferocious injuries to the bodies, and even more inexplicably to those at home, their minds. It astonishes me that more men on the Western Front didn’t lose their minds listening to the repeated noise of guns, artillery and bombs combined with the fear of imminent death or terrible injury. Mercifully the Australian Expeditionary Force, comprised of volunteers, prohibited the execution of a soldier for shell-shock, more often called cowardice.

The World War I memorial in the Darling Downs town of Crows Nest, Qld.

The World War I memorial in the Darling Downs town of Crows Nest, Qld.

Those who had lost loved sons, brothers or husbands erected memorials throughout the country to have a tangible reminder of those who had died in foreign lands, often with no known grave. Forlorn and tragically pleading letters from families can be read in the military files of the men, begging for any small item of their loved one’s belongings with no understanding that often they’d been blown to pieces, just like the person who’d owned them. These heart-wrenching letters begged for some small memento to give a child left behind, perhaps one whose father had never even seen them, when men rushed to marry before they left for war.

The names on this wall of the Menin Gate are only a fraction of the total listed.

The names on this wall of the Menin Gate are only a fraction of the total listed.

The walls of the Menin Gate evocatively lists 54,000 men from the British and Commonwealth forces[iii] whose lives were lost on the Ypres/Ieper salient during WWI and who have no known grave. It is sobering to think this is only a part of the losses to the British Empire during this horrendous period.

The ideals of war are the fight for freedom, justice, humanity and home soil and yet “the war to end all wars” with such a fierce loss of life was only to be a precursor to another greater social cataclysm a bare 20 years later with even greater losses of life, both civilian and military, and the massacre of whole communities.

Lest We Forget

Menin gatee

[i] SUMMARY. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW 1842-1954) 5 August 1914 page 1. 15527541.

[ii] ibid and also page 7, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 1914.


Postcards to the Front 1917

Fred Fisher sent this photo to his brother Les from Etaples in September 1917. At the time Les

Fred Fisher sent this photo to his brother Les from Etaples in September 1917. At the time Les was in hospital in Dartford, Kent.

We first met Frederick Charles Fisher in my previous post for the Trans-Tasman Anzac Day Blog Challenge. Fred was a handsome, imposing young man, tall and strong, and no doubt cut a fine figure in his uniform.

1497 Rosary postcard two front low  - Copy

1496 Rosary Card 2 rear low  - Copy

This postcard, from “Ena”, is dated 22 November 1917 and posted in Swindon, England.

While he was serving with the 19th Battalion during the War, Fred obviously had an impact on this young lady. Was she his sweetheart or just a friend? With the rosary theme to each card, it seems likely she was also a Catholic herself.  It seems to me she was desperate to hear from him and perhaps never did. Did he break her heart?  Perhaps he just never got round to writing in the demands of battle and then it was too late.

1531 rosary back low

Postcard dated 12 December 1917.

1530 Rosary front low


Postcard sent 22 December 1917.

Postcard sent 22 December 1917.

1494 Rosary postcard  - Copy






The tone of the letters makes it obvious she kept waiting for his reply, but it seems naive that you couldn’t understand why he didn’t write. Even allowing for the level of censorship it would seem obvious that many things might interrupt his ability to write back, or to receive letters, though plainly he did get these cards.

Had they met while Fred was in England on a furlough or while he was involved with the Championship of England run at Salisbury in September 1917?

His Aussie family know no more about Ena than is shown on these postcards to the Front.

1518 Fred Fisher left low


1519 Fred Fisher and others 1917 low








And then there’s this “ring-in” among the Fisher family collection. Who was writing to Gaston Duhamel? Had that person promised Gaston to post him a letter while they were on furlough? Did the card never get sent?

1502 Versailles front  low1503 Postcard to Gaston low

Two brothers go to war: Les and Fred Fisher

Les and Fred Fisher and Ted Murray were also known as the Paddington Boys.

Les and Fred (aka Snow) Fisher and Ted Murray were also known as the Paddington Boys. You can pick Les out of future photos by the dimpled chin. There is no date on this photo but it is presumably prior to their departure overseas.

In the early months of 1915, two young brothers enlisted to serve their country in the First World War. It’s unlikely they felt they were going to fight to defend “home” and the “motherland” as their grandparents and uncles were German-born, not unlike my own Kunkel relatives. Perhaps they felt they needed to defend their allegiance to Australia and prove their loyalty as did other young men of German ancestry.

Frederick Charles Fisher was 22 years and 3 months when he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 24 February 1915. He was allocated to the 19th Battalion, 5th Brigade. A motor mechanic in normal life he had also served with the Colonial Forces. His young brother Leslie Gladstone Fisher, 21, enlisted soon after on 2 March 1915, also with the 19th Battalion. Leslie had served in the school cadets and also with the 12th Battery of the Australian Field Infantry.

Les's daughter believes this relates to his militia service.

Les’s daughter believes this relates to his militia service.

Les and Fred were the sons of Martin and Louisa Fis(c)her of 42 Rennie St, Paddington in Sydney. Martin was born in Australia in 1863 to Gottfried and Victoria Fischer who had arrived in Australia with their German-born children on the barque Caesar[i] in March 1855 under the Vinedresser Bounty Scheme[ii]. The Kopittke indexes, based on the Hamburg shipping lists, reveal that the family came from Harheim in Hessen/Nassau.

This is an embarkation of troops on the HMAT Ceramic in 1915. AWM image H19500 out of copyright.

This is an embarkation of troops on the HMAT Ceramic in 1915. AWM image H19500 out of copyright.

Les and Fred boarded the former White Star liner, HMAT Ceramic (A40), in Sydney and sailed for war on 25 June 1915, along with myriad other troops via Albany in Western Australia. On arrival in Egypt one of their shipmates, Ellis Silas, painted some lovely views while TH Ivers chose Bombay as his subject. While on board Les wrote to his mate Teddy Murray apparently yet to sail for war. I love the old vernacular like “bosker“. Lt Wilfred Emmott Addison (KIA) of the 19th has left a diary of the voyage which can be read here. Les Fisher’s daughter knows that he kept some form of diary himself but destroyed it years later after his return to Australia.

1510 eddy postcard low

There is no date on this card, but it seems to me it was sent to Teddy Murray, the young man in the photo above, while Les was en route to Egypt. They sailed on HMAT Ceramic from Melbourne on 24 June 1915.

The reverse says: Taken in Heliopolis Egypt August 1915. Fred Fisher 218 19th  Les Fisher 550 19th

The reverse says: Taken in Heliopolis Egypt August 1915.
Fred Fisher 218 19th
Les Fisher 550 19th

Like so many of the men, both fascinated and repelled by the sights, smells and sounds of Egypt, Les and Fred had their photos taken for posterity.

In many ways these men’s stories reflect that of so many other Anzacs. What’s unusual about them is that they left a photographic trail that has been lost to many families.  Also unusually their family preserved the records and Les at least shared his story with his children.

The photographs reveal the progressive story of their war. They included photos of mates they met, fought alongside, or furloughed with.

Below: Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned. There is no date on this photo.

Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned.

Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned.

The Australian War Memorial documents that the 19th Battalion was sent to Gallipoli where the troops landed on 21 August 1915. “The Battalion participated in the last action of the August Offensive – the attack on Hill 60 – before settling into defensive routine in the trenches. From mid-September…the 19th Battalion was responsible for the defence of Pope’s Hill.

Les Fisher, undated.

Les Fisher, undated.

For many of the Aussie Anzacs, the Gallipoli snowfalls would have been their first sighting of snow. I imagine the novelty wore off pretty quickly. AWM image C00751 out of copyright.

For many of the Aussie Anzacs, the Gallipoli snowfalls would have been their first sighting of snow. I imagine the novelty wore off pretty quickly. AWM image C00751 out of copyright.

As the months wore on and the weather changed, influenza became a high risk, along with frostbite as the men were under-supplied with appropriate winter clothing. Les’s daughter remembers that he talked of melting snow to obtain water to drink. You can read more about how the men dealt with life on Gallipoli beyond the fighting here.  The 19th battalion was withdrawn from Gallipoli at night on 19 December 1915.

1521 hospital pic low

Les Fisher’s casualty record shows he was taken sick on 14 December and admitted to Heliopolis Number 1 Auxiliary Hospital on 23 December 1915 with “mild frostbite”. Judging on Les’s annotation on the postcard it’s obvious the men called it Luna Park – a tongue-in-cheek nod to the eponymous amusement park in Sydney.

Les was discharged fit for duty until 19 January 1916, but not before he’d spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the Heliopolis hospital. The postcard below is not of good quality but it talks of Les’s stay over Christmas and New Year’s Eve 1915, though like many of us, he muddled his dates in those early days of the year.

Les Fisher (right) taken with a mate.

Les Fisher (right) taken with a mate, unnamed.

1522 hospital Heliopolis back low









You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them. 

After another period of training the men were despatched to France via Marseilles, disembarking there on 25 March 1916.

18th and 19th Battalions, landing at Marseilles from Egypt. AWM Image CO4393 out of copyright.

18th and 19th Battalions, landing at Marseilles from Egypt. AWM Image CO4393 out of copyright.

The AWM’s history again: The 19th took part in its first major offensive around Pozières between late July and the end of August 1916. After a spell in a quieter sector of the front in Belgium, the 2nd Division, which included the 5th Brigade, came south again in October. The 19th Battalion attacked near Flers between 14 and 16 November, in conditions that Charles Bean described as the worst ever encountered by the AIF.1515 Nurses

Les’s fighting service was coming to an end. On 26 July 1916, he was wounded and admitted to 32nd Stationary hospital, Wimereux, France on 27 July with a severe gunshot wound to the right foot. He had copped what the troops knew as a Blighty, an injury which merited evacuation to England. Les was transferred via Boulogne on 30 July 1916 and admitted to Wharncliffe War Hospital in Sheffield where he was to stay for five months.

It is unfortunate that many of the Battalion’s War Diaries from 1916 no longer exist, but digitised copies of those that do can be found here.

This postcard was sent to Les Fisher by his sisters, Dorothy or Dorie (left born 1911), Alma (centre, born 1906) and Vera (born 1902). It says “God be with you until we meet again and Good Luck“. It’s dated 20 September 1920 which I have to think might have been a mistake as Dorie is certainly not 9 in this photo, so perhaps it was sent when the family heard of his injury, given its nursing theme. It was Dorie to whom Les gave his tiny bible which the men were given and which was carried in their breast pocket.

1504 Good luck fm Surry Hills low

A few months later Les was transferred to 2nd Auxiliary Hospital on 18 December so once again he was in hospital for Christmas. A further transfer came in April, to Weymouth hospital.


1500 Rust Cadigan Fisher McIlveen 1917 low - Copy

FE Rust 50th Battalion, W Cadigan, Leslie Gladstone Fisher (with cane) 19th, H G McIlveen 13th.

1501 Rust Cadigan Les Fisher and McC 1917 hospital low

Slowly Les’s injuries started to heal and he was given furlough in April 1917. His postcards show that he spent at least some of the time with Ned Kent from Victoria. I wonder where they went? 1509 Ned Kent and Les Fisher 1917 low1508 Ned Kent and Les Fisher low





After returning from furlough Les was repatriated to Australia on board the Ayrshire in July 1917, and given an honourable discharge due to injury. His daughter has a copy of his certificate but unfortunately I have not scanned or photographed it, though I saw it some years ago.

1526 Les Fisher low

The inscription on the reverse of this photo says: Monte Video Camp, No 2 Company, Weymouth, Dorset, England. 27-4-17. Note boot cut out for wound on foot, comprie (sic). His daughter said he often used this French expression meaning “understand” even though he’s mis-spelled it here.

On his return to civilian life, Les was no longer able to follow his hope to become a police man like his uncle. The injury to his foot had put paid to that aim, and he went to work at the Sydney Victualling Yards. Les would wear a surgical boot for the rest of his life, and receive regular treatment at the repat hospital.

Fred Fisher and a joyous welcome home.

Fred Fisher and a joyous welcome home.

The family must have been pleased to have one son back at home, but older brother Fred was still serving in France. He would not return until 1919 and the family turned on quite a celebration for him at their home in Lenthall Street, Kensington (Sydney). Fred Fisher is pictured bookmarked by his parents and his brother Les is in the background with girlfriend Norah Keane. Many years later a relative approached the new owner of the property to see if they could look inside the house, and there on the wall was this photo -the new owners had always left it hanging in the hall.

Les and Norah would marry and raise a family. Although Fred also married he had no children. The men would live in adjacent houses in Snape Street, Maroubra for the rest of their lives.  Leslie Gladstone Fisher died in 1956 and Frederick Charles Fisher died in 1937.

This photo was taken in the Sydney Town Hall near the end of the war. Les and Norah are among the crowd.

This photo was taken in the Sydney Town Hall near the end of the war. Les and Norah are among the crowd.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

This post is my contribution to the 2014 Trans-Tasman Anzac Day Blog Challenge hosted by Seonaid from Kintalk blog in Auckland.

Lest We Forget.




[i] For those interested in this voyage, which resulted in the deaths of 66 passengers due to cholera, this website includes a letter from the doctor on board.

[ii] Jenny Paterson’s excellent articles in Ances-Tree are invaluable reading about the German vinedressers.

Remembrance Day 2013: Erle Victor Weiss

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

For Remembrance Day 2013, I’m going to share with you the brief story of a man who has no family connection to me whatsoever. He made himself known through a photograph found in my cousin’s extensive photo collection.

My 4th cousin in Sydney is one of those people who has myriad photographs stored in suitcases – probably literally hundreds of them. Some have names on them, but sadly not all. She has been a wealth of information about my own family but there are also hidden gems of no direct relevance to me.

Erle Victor Weiss KIAAmong her collection is this photograph postcard from a young Australian soldier who was killed in World War I, Erle Victor Weiss. Erle was another of the young men, descendants of German ancestors, who fought for King and country in World War I. You will see from his note to his friend that he did not affiliate with the Germans he fought, referring to them as “Huns” in the vernacular of the time. Given the social attitudes of the era I often wonder whether those with German names felt they had to be more English than others, and whether it provoked them into joining up as soon as possible.

Erle Victor Weiss to Nora

Click on the image to read the letter.

Erle had joined in August 1915 and was a bombardier with the 1st Field Artillery Brigade. He had been severely gassed in November 1917 and it was during this period of hospitalisation in England that he wrote to my cousin’s mother.

This postcard strikes me as a letter to a young woman with whom he was perhaps in love. Whether she was just a friend or reciprocated his love is unknown, though the fact that the postcard has been preserved all these years suggests she was very fond of him.

Erle was killed on 9 August 1918 nine months after this letter was written and is buried in Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres. His brother, Frederick Alfred Weiss, died on 19 July 1916, in the Battle of Fromelles. These two young men were the eldest sons of Walter Henry and Amy Selina Weiss who lived at Erina, New South Wales where it seems Walter was a school teacher.

Erle’s friend, Norah, married another former soldier Leslie Gladstone Fisher in 1925 in Surrey Hills. Were the two men friends? Had they ever met?

Leslie Gladstone Fisher, WWI.

Leslie Gladstone Fisher, WWI.

It is impossible to read the files for the young men who were killed during the war: there is such pathos in each and every letter written to the authorities by their next of kin. All they had left to hope for were some items of their son’s to treasure, and in Erle’s case this amounted to 2 photos, 1 card, a belt a damaged wallet, a pocket book and a scarf. The significance of the war memorials, especially in Australia, is knowing that a memorial and small personal items were the only tangible reminders of their son’s sacrifice.

Among the photos are two unknown soldiers, I thought I would include it here in case someone else recognises them.

Two unidentified Aussie soldiers.

Two unidentified Aussie soldiers.

Anniversary of Battle of Milne Bay

This week is the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay.  Far less known to the average Aussie than Kokoda in the annals of our military history, it was a vitally important victory against the Japanese Forces.

This is the approximate location at which the Japanese landed: very difficult to get a good photo when bouncing along in a banana boat.

This is the approximate location at which the Japanese landed: very difficult to get a good photo when bouncing along in a banana boat.

You can read what I wrote about it for last Remembrance Day, not long after we returned from visiting Milne Bay, as well as the memorial stained glass windows in the Catholic church.

This excellent link provides an interactive map of the battle field, and progress of the battle itself.

Facebook fans might be interested in liking the Milne Bay Memorial Library and Research Centre.

Milne Bay Province is on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Image from Google Earth.

Milne Bay Province is on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Image from Google Earth.

Trans Tasman Anzac Day Blogging challenge.

I have incorporated my response to this challenge into my A to Z theme for 2013.

You can see my response over here on my Tropical Territory blog.

Sepia Saturday 166: Army bakers

Sepia Sat 166 2MarchThis week’s Sepia Saturday theme is about work, ideally it would include an image of a woman working but that seems to be so uneventful and ordinary that no one photographs it. Instead I’m including three photos which came to me as part of my aunt’s photographic archive.

Army cook, Pat Farraher, baking.

Army cook, Pat Farraher, baking.

The photos all feature Army bakers probably around the time of World War II. My uncle, Pat Farraher, is the main person in each. One is very serious and I’d love to know who the Visiting Dignitary was.

My uncle, Pat Farraher, on the left meets an unknown Vis Dig.

My uncle, Pat Farraher, on the left meets an unknown Vis Dig.

Another is the complete antithesis –a frivolous one. Would you want these men making your bread and pastries? Unfortunately I don’t have the background story behind any of the photos.

Uncle Pat and a mate "act the goat".

Uncle Pat and a mate “act the goat”.

Inventive Sepians might conclude there’s another link, because after all in the real world, cakes are often carried in boxes just like the women were packing in this week’s theme photo. Not to mention that it would be as never-ending a task to feed many hungry soldiers as to fold all those boxes!