James Burley

I have often thought that many a youngster when he was hit out there on the Passchendaele heights … and he knew that the end had come – must have thought to himself: “well at least they’ll remember me in Australia”. C.E.W. Bean

We all have ancestors but not all of us study their lives. I do, but I don’t know whether I’d recommend it. Many of my ancestors died young, which means I’m a descendant of the few survivors. And every young loss has a tragic story behind his or her death.

Two brothers who enlisted in the army together, numbers 5046 and 5047, James and Frederick Burley, were my great-grandmother’s cousins. Both of their lives ended in France in 1917. Frederick was never found.

But James was wounded in one of the horrific battles in Passchendaele near Ypres in Belgium, died in hospital in Rouen, France, and is buried there. This week, news articles are appearing about the commemorations of the hundred years that have passed since the Ypres battles. By coincidence, James Burley had his name projected onto the Australian War Memorial last night. I was there to see it for the 30 seconds it was shining on the facade of the building.

Like many Australians, I have descended from a convict ancestor, Joseph Burley, who was transported to New South Wales for trying to sell a stolen watch. Seven years he got. Pretty harsh penalty for a pretty petty crime.

Frederick and James Burley were his grandsons.

James was wounded on 20th October when his battalion was fighting near Zonnebeke in the region of Ypres, where 30 mm of rain had fallen two weeks earlier. Not only was the ground wet from heavy rain, but parts of the battlefield were swamp or reclaimed swamp, and digging and shelling only produced more water.

View of the swamps of Zonnebeke on the day of the First Battle of Passchendaele. Ruins of Zonnebeke church in background. Photo from Australian War Memorial taken on 12th October 1917.

Note from War diary for James’ 47th battalion, 12th October 1917: Country almost impassable being very boggy and shell holes full of water… Weather very bad, cold, raining… Men’s feet very sore owing to continually standing in shell holes full of water…

James died seven days after he was wounded. He was 32 and had got married the year before.

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This is the last of my relatives’ names to be projected onto the War Memorial. Five in all.

I have so little to complain about.

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Changing Seasons: July

Canberra, July.

Eight-thirty. One degree. Fog lifting.

Frosty gum leaves and oak leaves, fallen side by side.

I love this place. My face is icy but my neck is warmly wrapped. After days at home with a winter head cold, I’m out for a walk, cooling my cabin fever. In this early morning stroll along Anzac Parade and down to the lake, I pass ten people, each of the encounters some minutes apart. It’s strangely quiet, Canberra. It doesn’t have the buzz of the big cities, it doesn’t have the bustle. Later in the morning there’ll be buses of tourists arriving to view the memorials on Anzac Parade, and public servants will be walking between buildings and car parks. But right now as a pedestrian, I have the footpaths of the Parade virtually to myself.

A local radio station, Queanbeyan FM, frequently plays a snippet from Troy Cassar-Daley’s song I love this place. I know why they play it.

Anzac Parade, Canberra, up to the Australian War Memorial and Mt Ainslie, winter

 

Check out Cardinal Guzman’s blog for July in Norway: https://cardinalguzman.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/the-changing-seasons-july-2017/

Weekly photo challenge: Heritage

In Canberra there’s a street that exists because of war. On either side of Anzac Parade there are statues and sculptures to commemorate those men and women who went off to every war that Australia has been part of over the past century and more. At the head of the street is the biggest monument of them all, the Australian War Memorial, not a statue but a building, built to commemorate those who fought in the First World War. Every war has been represented except one. The Boer War in South Africa.

We’ve needed a memorial for the mounted troops who fought there between 1899 and 1902. That gap will soon be filled. The sculptor, Louis Laumen, has created four bronze riders and horses for the commission. They are in place on Anzac Parade, but will remain covered in black plastic until the official opening on 31st May.

Until then we’ll be seeing phantom riders at dusk.

Beside the statues, a verse by A. B. Paterson (Banjo Paterson) reminds us of the courage of those who volunteered to fight in South Africa:

When the dash and the excitement and the novelty are dead,
And you’ve seen a load of wounded once or twice,
Or you’ve watched your old mate dying – with the vultures overhead,
Well, you wonder if the war is worth the price.
And down along Monaro now they’re starting out to shear,
I can picture the excitement and the row,
But they’ll miss me on the Lachlan when they call the roll this year,
For we’re going on a long job now.

A.B. Paterson 1902

The war memorial building and Anzac parade have National Heritage listing to ensure this tribute to the sacrifices by many generations of Australians is recognised and protected.

Thanks WordPress for prompting me to think about heritage for the photo challenge.

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Changing Seasons: April

April in Canberra.

In many parks and gardens, autumnal trees flaunt their red and yellow leaves or let them drop onto a thickening blanket of colour.

My back yard is scattered with leaves from a crepe myrtle and ornamental grape, plants so beautiful in colour yet so sad as the branches strip off their leaves, remaining bare and to all appearances dying.

But looking at the trees lining Anzac Parade today I saw only the green of our native trees that don’t hibernate for the winter. On the lush lawns of the Australian War Memorial the white chairs are all in place for the Anzac Day services which more and more people are attending every year. On the day, Tuesday 25th April, great numbers of visitors will fill the chairs, and those who stand on the roads behind will watch and hear the services on huge screens. I popped down there this morning while the crowd size was navigable. And with the weather forecasters predicting an 80% chance of rain on the actual day, I realised that today (with about 0% chance of rain) was better suited for photographing April in Canberra for Cardinal Guzman’s ‘Changing Seasons’ challenge.

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A hundred years ago in Pozières

In recent years, thousands of us have become avid family historians. The more information that is made electronically and freely available, the more we search, and the more we know. I know things that my parents never knew, and some of my ancestors would no doubt be horrified to know what I know about them. To know that I know, for example, that my grandfather stowed away on a ship so he could join the fight that was the First World War.

Ancestry, Family Search and Findmypast have been (not always reliable) sources for my research, not to mention the very generous provision of (more reliable) digitised newspapers going back to the early 1800s on the National Library’s Trove site, as well as the publishing of war service records by the National Archives and the Australian War Memorial.

Because we now know so much, many of us are commemorating various incidents in our relatives’ lives. This week on the news, I heard of a service in Pozières, France for the centenary of the battle for Pozières ridge on the Western Front which began on 23rd July 1916. It was a costly battle in which 6,700 Australian men died, but which has been ignored until now. It is estimated that 4,000 were never given a burial and are lying beneath the soil of present-day farmland. This week, I, too, am remembering this little village where my grandfather, Ernest Bruce, the stowaway, fought, and survived.

E.W. Bruce one of the soldiers photographed in The Queenslander Pictorial supplement to The Queenslander 1916.
E.W. Bruce, photographed for The Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander 1916.

On 29th July 1916 he was gassed, and later took cover behind a concrete wall with two fellow soldiers; a bomb went off near the wall, which fell on top of them. The other two died. My grandfather was pulled out unconscious, but alive. The gas ruined his eyesight, and his nerves were shot from the bomb blasts. I learned this from his medical records.

Of this day in Pozières, 29th July 1916, Charles Bean, the official Australian war correspondent, wrote in his diary:

Pozières today, no brushwood left – only black trunks – more buildings to be seen than before. Red brown earth. Men quietly dying. … Pozières has been a terrible sight all day … that insatiable factory of ghastly wounds. The men are simply turned in there as into some ghastly giant mincing machine. They have to stay there while shell after huge shell descends with a shriek close beside them. (Diary of CEW Bean, 3DRL606/54/1, pp. 19 & 90)

The gardens of the village of Pozières in August 1916

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This year, since 14th July – Bastille Day – the Australian War Memorial here in Canberra has been flying two French flags out the front of the building. They will remain until 4th August as a sign of respect for the slaughter that occurred in defending the Western Front, in places like the Pozières ridge. By a grim coincidence, the flags might have been raised because of the Bastille Day attack in Nice this month, which is what happened after the attack in Paris last year, but it turns out they were to be raised on that day anyway. A note on the AWM website explains the flying of the French flags:

“The decision was made earlier this month to honour Bastille Day and in recognition of the bond forged between the two nations and the sacrifices made on the Western Front 100 years ago. Given the recent horrific events in Nice and the subsequent loss of life, the flying of the French flag has added significance and our utmost respect.”

My grandfather volunteered to help defend his king and country, and even stowed away, which seems to mean his application was initially rejected. He was nevertheless signed up on arrival in Egypt. After more than a year, he returned home in poor health, which continued to deteriorate for the rest of his life. He couldn’t work for long stretches, had little money and even less sympathy from the government when he applied for a pension as a young man. It took many years and many requests before his debility was acknowledged as war related. But he did marry my lovely grandmother and they had nine children.

A hundred years later, France is under attack again. She will survive, she always does, but it must be easier if she has friends to help her fight and recover.

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George (and Mephisto)

Since last year the Australian War Memorial has been projecting names of Australians who died in WWI onto the front of the building. I’ve been to the Memorial on cold dark nights to see the names of two brothers, D’Arcey and Frank. Recently, it was their brother George’s turn.

George Ronald Shaw, my grandfather’s cousin, was killed in France, near Sailly-sur-la-Lys, on 20th April 1916, a hundred years ago this week. He was 24, the first of the three brothers to be killed in action, all of them in France. (My grandfather was wounded on the Somme a few months later but returned home alive.)

George Ronald Shaw, name projection, Australian War Memorial, 1st March 2016
George Ronald Shaw, name projection, Australian War Memorial, 1st March 2016

George had disembarked in Marseille on 3rd April and made it all the way to the Somme in northern France, where he was killed 17 days later when his billet, a farmhouse, was shelled. His record says he was KIA, killed in action, but he actually didn’t get to fight against anyone.

An aside: the last couple of times I’ve been to the War Memorial to photograph my relatives’ names, I’ve read the banners advertising the presence of Mephisto, the Rarest Tank in the World (they were still there when I took the photo above, but in preparation for Anzac Day on Monday, they’ve been removed). Today I decided to see Mephisto for myself. It’s a Sturmpanzerwagen A7V invented by the Germans, and Mephisto is the only one of its kind left in the world. It has a painted red Faustian demon on the right side, carrying a British rhomboid-shaped tank under its arm. Hence the name Mephisto, short for the Faustian character, Mephistopheles. It was a great lumbering vehicle, hot, cramped and noisy inside, but it was one of the first of many tanks that would change land warfare for ever.

The War Memorial was quite crowded this morning, and Canberra generally seems to have more people moving around this weekend than usual. Perhaps they’re here for the Anzac Day long weekend. I’m considering going to the dawn service on Monday. I’ve never done it. Yet.

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Weekly photo challenge: Trio of bleu blanc rouge

In any ordinary week, the Australian War Memorial has six Australian flags flying out the front, three on each side of the steps.  So, as I drove up Anzac Avenue this morning I was surprised to see this trio of French flags flying on one side, a week after the attacks on Paris.  I stopped to snap a few photos.  (Try not to pay attention to Mephisto, the rarest tank in the world.)

Vive la France!

French Flags AWM
Front steps of Australian War Memorial, looking towards Mt Ainslie, 21st November 2015
Australian War Memorial, looking down Anzac Avenue, 21st November 2015
Australian War Memorial, looking down Anzac Avenue, 21st November 2015

Thanks for the inspiration, Daily Post.

Frederick Burley

Walter Burley had two wives and seven children.  His wives had short lives, and four of his children died in infancy.  The three who survived to manhood, Alfred, James and Frederick, went to France to fight in World War One, even Alfred who had his own wife and six children.  Fortunately for them he returned.  Pity about Alfred’s two brothers who enlisted in the army together, numbers 5046 and 5047, for both their lives ended in France in 1917.  With all his siblings dead, Alfred came home to Australia in 1919 to find his wifeless father, Walter, was also dead and gone.  All of Alfred’s original family were in the ground.

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I learned this little story of big losses through the Australian War Memorial’s prompting.  It’s reminding us nightly, from sunset to sunrise, that 62,000 Australians died in the fight that was World War One.  Walter’s sons, Frederick and James, are on the Honour Roll currently being projected onto the Memorial’s facade.  They are two of my grandparents’ cousins who did not return from France, so I’ve been zipping over to the Memorial to catch the names as they appear.  This month it’s Frederick’s turn.

I’ve read the army records, including a few letters and the immediate family history, of Frederick and his brothers.  I’m struck by the number of deaths that left Alfred the only standing family member.

The abundance of our ancestors’ details now available means we’re discovering their long-forgotten joys and losses.  But look closely;  there are even a few of their untruths.  Frederick’s details on the Roll reveal that, when he was young, he wished he was younger;  the Memorial records his age at death as 24, but he was born in 1887, which in 1917 made him 30…  Frederick died and was buried in April 1917 at Vaulx-Vraucourt, Pas de Calais, forever youngish.  He lied to the Australian Army, but he can’t lie to me because his birth details are these days online for all the world to see.

These Burley men were my first cousins three times removed.  I snapped this photo of Frederick’s name at 8:05pm one evening a couple of weeks ago, when it shone for 30 seconds.  In June 2016 his brother’s name, J.E. Burley, will be projected.  I’ve marked it in my diary.

Frederick Miles Burley, name projected onto the Australian War Memorial, 8th September 2015
Frederick Miles Burley, Honour Roll name projection, Australian War Memorial, 8th September 2015

The names of three other men, my grandfather’s cousins George, Frank and D’Arcey, were projected onto the Memorial during this year’s cold, starry winter evenings.  The significance of all this for me?  My grandfather also went to France, but he was a cousin who returned.  His name, like Alfred Burley’s, is not one of the 62,000 being projected, 30 times over 4 years, beneath the dome of the Memorial.

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D’arcey

Tonight at 7.52 when it was 6 degrees Celsius and blowing an icy gale, I took this photo of D’arcey Richard Nottingham Shaw’s name projected onto the Australian War Memorial.  It was hard to hold my camera still in the wind, but the photo is not too bad.  D’arcey was killed in action on The Somme in France in 1917, yet he has no grave;  his remains were never found.  On his Roll of Honour card, digitally available on the A.W.M. website, it is noted that D’arcey Shaw’s wounds were the result of being buried twice from bombs bursting near him in Pozières.  How ironic that they should write that, when in the end he was buried nowhere.

DRN Shaw AWM
D R N Shaw, projected onto Australian War Memorial, 26th July 2015

Because he died defending Australia, his name was written in light for 30 seconds tonight, perhaps for my benefit alone.  As far as I know, none of his other family members live in Canberra.  Since I’m just ten minutes away, it’s easy to whip down to the Memorial and see the names when they come up between sunset and sunrise.

D’arcey was my grandfather’s cousin.  I want to remember him and his two brothers who also died in France, in the war to end all wars, because my grandfather was there too, but he didn’t die.

Nineteen-year-old D’arcey was the second son in his family to be killed in France. The first one was George, and there would be a third, Frank Percy Shaw, whose name was projected onto the War Memorial on 21st June, a night that was cool but not freezing like tonight.  I wrote about him here.

As I was leaving around the back of the Memorial I saw four kangaroos standing guard in the dark.  They’re delightful at a distance and are happy to be photographed from a car window, but if I’d got out and approached them they would have either hopped away or hopped towards me and treated me as an enemy.

Kangaroos AWM
Kangaroos at the back of the Australian War Memorial

The next date that I will have a relative’s name up for viewing is in early spring.  I’m happy knowing it won’t be another chilling evening.

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Frank

Last night I went to the Australian War Memorial for an 8:58 pm appointment.  At this moment, Frank’s name would be projected onto the exterior wall of the Hall of Memory, an honourable way of remembering the soldiers who died for Australia in World War One.  Every 30 seconds a new name appears.  There are 62,000 names on the Roll of Honour which will all be displayed several times between 2014 and 2018, from sunset to sunrise.

F.A.P. Shaw, name from the Honour Roll projected onto Australian War Memorial, 21st June 2015
F.A.P. Shaw, projected onto Australian War Memorial, 21st June 2015

Frank was my first cousin twice removed.  Or, if you like, my grandfather’s cousin.  He was the third son in his family to be killed in action in France; the first one died in 1916, the second in 1917, and Frank in 1918.  He was 23, had been promoted to Lance Corporal, was twice recommended for decorations and was congratulated for conspicuous gallantry and daring in reconnoitring enemy positions in February 1918.  Five weeks later he was killed by the enemy on 5th April, 1918 in France.

After receiving news of the death of a third son to die on the Somme, Frank’s father asked the Defence Department to send home his personal effects.  And so, in July 1918, the effects of Frank Albert Percy Shaw were sent with the SS Barunga.  In case no. 1153 were a two-Franc note (damaged), a wallet, a note case, photos, two prayer books, a letter and a YMCA wallet cover.  On 15th July, the Barunga was torpedoed by the enemy and was lost with all cargo.  But, at last some good news, she was carrying invalided troops back to Australia, and all on board were saved.

The Barunga, with the personal effects of a number of soldiers who had died, is still sitting on the ocean floor off the Isles of Scilly, south-west of Lands End, England.

Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 21st June 2015
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 21st June 2015

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