Boxing Day 1918. Leith dockyard. A pipe band played as the returning POWs walked down the gangplank and onto the dock, where they were greeted by local dignitaries and army officers. Some of the men noted with disappointment that the dock gates were locked and the locals kept away. The enthusiastic public parades that had welcomed arrivals a month earlier were missing.
A letter from King George V was read out
The Queen joins me in welcoming you on your release from the miseries & hardships, which you have endured with so much patience and courage.
During these many months of trial, the early rescue of our gallant Officers & Men from the cruelties of their captivity has been uppermost in our thoughts.
We are thankful that this longed for day has arrived, & that back in the old Country you will be able once more to enjoy the happiness of a home & to see good days among those who anxiously look for your return.
On Scottish soil once more, Andy was tantalisingly close to Ayr and his childhood home. But after a hot breakfast in a dockside warehouse he entrained for Ripon in Yorkshire. As the train left the waterfront, Andy probably saw people waving and cheering from a distance. Despite having been locked out of the docks, locals lined the railway tracks to welcome the prisoners home.
At Ripon Andy underwent further medical examination and was interviewed about his time as a prisoner of war. Once the debrief was completed, he was granted leave until 30 January. On 29 January Andy reported to Headquarters with an injury to his middle left finger. He was admitted to the 3rd Auxiliary Hospital, where he stayed until 10 February.
It wasn’t too long before news of Andy’s freedom reached Jane Duncan in Beaufort. On 16 January 1919 the Barrier Miner newspaper reported
Mrs. Duncan, of Ararat-road, Beaufort (Victoria), writes to “The Miner” stating that she has been informed by the military authorities that her husband, Warrant-Officer Andrew Stewart Duncan, who is well known in Broken Hill, and who was captured by the Germans on March 1, 1918, and has since been a prisoner of war, has been released, and arrived in London, quite well in health, on December 26. In a message to his wife W.O. Duncan wishes the members of his R.A.O.B Lodge and all other friends a happy, and prosperous new year.
Upon discharge from hospital Andy was granted 44 days paid leave in England. This was the ‘Anzac leave’ granted to 1914 enlistees. There is no record of how Andy spent his furlough in England. It would be nice to think he visited family in Ayr, seeing his parents again one last time (his father John would die in 1922; his mother Elizabeth in 1927).
Jane did not know where her husband was. On 11 March 1919 she wrote an anxious letter to the army –
I received your notification informing me that the above named soldier had been released from Germany and arrived in England (London) on the 26.12.1918 and was quite well, for this information I was very pleased to receive in January from you, but Dear Sir, I have had no news from himself since his arrival in England for which seems a very strange thing and I wish you to kindly give me some information of his whereabouts, as I have been waiting for news from him every day
On 12 May Andy finally embarked for home on board HMAT Soudan. It was very different from the 1914 voyage, with training drills and fatigues replaced by reading in the YMCA library on board and by regular concerts.
The Barrier Miner newspaper reported Andy’s arrival in Australia
Warrant-Officer A. S. Duncan (1057) [sic], 10th Battalion, arrived in Melbourne on June 29th last, after four years and nine months’ service, having been a prisoner for the last twelve months.
Jane was at Port Melbourne to welcome him. She had written a flurry of letters to the Defence Department about Andy’s return, to secure a train pass to Melbourne and to ask for Andy’s battalion colours. It appears she was instrumental in arranging for him to disembark at Melbourne rather than returning to Adelaide.
It is easy to imagine Jane anxiously scanning the arriving ship and khaki uniforms for the violet and blue colour patch and for Andy’s face. It is not so easy to imagine the overwhelming mix of emotions that Jane and Andy felt as they embraced for the first time in so long.
NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, A.S. National Archives of Australia.
1918 157 Company Sergeant Major Andrew Steward Duncan 10th Battalion. Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing, Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War 1DRL/0428.
1918 1st Australian Division 1 February to 7 March 1918. Statements made by prisoners of war [10th Battalion, No 157 CSM A S Duncan, No 2287 Private P M Berthelsen, No 2622 Private W B Crispe, No 5846 Private J Munday, No 5420 Private S T Noble, No 2958 Private J M Searle] AWM30 B5.37. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
1919 ‘In Broken Hill’. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 16 January, p. 4. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45468786 [Accessed 27 April 2013].
1919 ‘Personal’. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 18 July, p. 2. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45537445 [Accessed 27 April 2013].
Concert and Theatre Programs Collection – First World War 1914-1918, Series 1, Sub-series 1, File 4, Item 7: Ships concert. PUBS002/001/001/004/007. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Duncan, John. 1922 (Statutory Deaths 578/01 0097). Statutory Deaths 1855-2012, National Records of Scotland [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk [Accessed 27 March 2012].
Duncan, Elizabeth. 1927 (Statutory Deaths 578/01 0437). Statutory Deaths 1855-2012, National Records of Scotland [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk [Accessed 24 May 2012].
Henry Thomas Fowler (1882-1947) – a Life. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.thedanishscheme.co.uk [Accessed 06 April 2014].
‘Hand written Letter of Recognition for World War 1 POW from King George V 1918 sent to Lance Corporal James Cordingley’. [ONLINE] Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hand_written_Letter_of_Recognition_for_World_War_1_POW_from_King_George_V_1918_sent_to_Lance_Corporal_James_Cordingley.jpg [Accessed 06 April 2014].
Jones, M.A. 2009. The Danish Scheme: The repatriation of British Prisoners of War through Denmark at the end of the First World War.
South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau. 2016. Packet content | South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau. [ONLINE] Available at: https://sarcib.ww1.collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/packet-content/54253#https://sarcib.ww1.collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/sites/default/files/packet_images/7574/SRG76_1_7574_1.jpg. [Accessed 11 June 2016].
Featured image: ‘Scenes of returning troops from service overseas who landed at Port Melbourne from the ship City of Cairo and Lancashire’ January 1919. Australian War Memorial collection PB0306
2 thoughts on “The way home”
You have done an excellent job fleshing out this story from the documents. But my heart went out to Jane. The waiting must have been agonizing.
Yes, I wish I knew what happened after Jane’s letter asking for word. Andy must have written something to Jane about returning to Australia, but there is no record of it. I get a sense that Jane’s way of dealing with the situation was to take a proactive role in the arrangements for Andy’s return to Beaufort.