Andy’s passing

“Andy’s taken a turn. He’s in the hospital”.

The news spread quickly through the Stewart clan. Andy’s health, fragile for the past decade, had taken a turn for the worse. He was having chest pains and difficulty breathing.

And with his body weak, his mind tormented him. Hallucinations took him back to the war. Gallipoli. Pozieres. Hollebeke.

Jane was at Andy’s bedside, but she felt helpless. She could only watch as the war separated her from Andy again.

Andy’s condition deteriorated and he was transferred to Ballarat. Then, five days before Anzac Day 1960, Andy died.

Anzac Day dawned cold and grey that year.
Featured image: ‘Original Anzac Passes On’, Riponshire Advocate, 30 April 1960. State Library of Victoria

10th Battalion departs Adelaide 1914

S.S. Ascanius, departing of the South Australian infantry of the first Australian Expeditionary Force. State Library of South Australia B 10303

When the men of the 10th Battalion Australian Expeditionary Force waved goodbye, they believed they were sailing for Europe, “To hold secure the fields of France against the German tide”, in the words of their battalion song.


SA Memory. 2016. Song of the 10th Battalion. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 June 2016].

State Library of South Australia. 2016. S.S. Ascanius B 10303. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 June 2016].


Gunnewin soldier-settlement memorial

Gunnewin WWI soldier-settler memorial, Debbie Duff
Gunnewin WWI soldier-settler memorial. Copyright Debbie Duff

A new memorial at Gunnewin in Queensland commemorates the World War I soldier-settlers. Andy and Jane Duncan were here 1920-1924 on Portion 70.



Debbie Duff. 2015. Gunnewin WWI Soldier Settlement Memorial [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 9 April 2016]. Image used with permission.

Once in a lifetime – The Descendants Project

Invited by a prize-winning artist to sit for a portrait. How often does that happen?

A portrait to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign and honour the memory of my great-grandfather, Sergeant Andrew Stewart Duncan. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I have the privilege of participating in The Descendants Project, an exhibition of twenty portraits by Mertim Gökalp of Australian and Turkish war descendants, exploring the understanding of peace between the two nations.

Each subject shared an object that had once belonged to their ancestor, along with a hand-written letter explaining their feelings about the project.

Andrew Palmer by Mertim Gokalp. © 2014 by THE DESCENDANTS PROJECT. Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Andrew Palmer by Mertim Gokalp. © 2014 by THE DESCENDANTS PROJECT. Reproduced with permission of the artist.
In my letter I wrote:

For the portrait sitting I was very fortunate to be able to borrow Andy’s fob watch. I only learned of its existence in 2013, when I made contact with a distant relative. To be able to hold Andy’s watch, to run my fingers over the engraved initials, “A.S.D.”, was very special. Andy had bought the watch in England in 1917, then posted it back to his wife Jane in Australia – probably after he learned he would soon rejoin his battalion on the Somme. For me holding the watch in 2014, I felt it still contained Andy’s hopes and fears from 1917.

The exhibition launched on 10 April. Of course I had to fly to Sydney along with my son to be part of it. Meeting other descendants that night made me realise how well Mertim had captured their essence in his art. Learning the Australian and Turkish stories gave a human face and an intimacy to the countless acts of sacrifice and heroism on both sides.

More sobering still is the realisation that the lives commemorated by The Descendants Project are a mere twenty out of the hundreds of thousands who fought at Gallipoli.

The Descendants Project exhibition is at The Rocks Discovery Museum (3rd floor) Sydney, 10 April – 3 May 2015

The way home

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.

A lady worker of the Victorian League stands on the platform with two buckets, distributing fruit and cigarettes through an open window in the train carriage. The returned Australian prisoners of war entrained at Hull, for the receiving camp at Ripon, in England. Australian War Memorial collection D00175
A lady worker of the Victorian League stands on the platform with two buckets, distributing fruit and cigarettes through an open window in the train carriage. Australian War Memorial collection D00175

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.

Red Cross postcard 1918
Notification of Andy’s repatriation to London. South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau records 1916-1919. Digitised by The State Library of South Australia SRG 76/1/7574

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.

Troops on the promenade deck of the HMT Kildonan Castle returning to Australia. The decks presented this appearance practically all day long, for there were no drills or exercises and very few fatigues. Australian War Memorial collection J00172
Troops on the promenade deck of the HMT Kildonan Castle returning to Australia. The decks presented this appearance practically all day long.
Australian War Memorial collection J00172

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.

Waiting to welcome home their loved ones.  Australian War Memorial collection H11576
Waiting for a glimpse of their loved ones.
Australian War Memorial collection H11576


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: [Accessed 27 April 2013].

1919 ‘Personal’. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 18 July, p. 2. [ONLINE] Available at: [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: [Accessed 27 March 2012].

Duncan, Elizabeth. 1927 (Statutory Deaths 578/01 0437). Statutory Deaths 1855-2012, National Records of Scotland [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 24 May 2012].

Henry Thomas Fowler (1882-1947) – a Life. [ONLINE] Available at:  [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: [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: [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

Armistice – but not freedom

In early November 1918 German revolutionary soldiers beneath a red flag visited Springhirsch POW camp. They threw the gates open and invited the prisoners to leave.

The Regimental Sergeant Majors in the camp visited the bunkhouses and reminded the men that the war was not yet finished and it was not safe outside the wire. In the event of the German guards leaving the camp, the men were to remain in the compound.

Jerry L. Cpl. told us the armistice was accepted and it’s great excitement here

Diary of Sergeant A.E. Mead. Extract of entry for 7 November 1918

On 8 November confirmation came that the armistice had been signed. The Regimental Sergeant Majors’ prediction came to pass: the sentries disappeared and one of the German officers shot himself.

All prisoners in the punishment cells were released. There was no restriction on the men’s movements, and no lights-out. Soon the only parades were head-counts.

Exercise drills ceased but football games were played daily. Camp concerts, cancelled previously by the Commandant in a fit of pique, began again. The band played The King publicly for the first time. The men sang, no doubt boisterously and to the discomfort of the remaining German soldiers.

On 11 November the men had the terms of the armistice read to them. Rumours were soon circulating that the men would be marching out, two companies at a time, for Holland and a ship back to Blighty.

The concert held on 17 November was the last, as the men expected to move out within the week. There were rumours of ships waiting in Hamburg harbour to transport the POWs home.

Jerry meals very much better now than when we much needed it

Diary of Sergeant A.E. Mead. Extract of entry for 10 November 1918

In anticipation of leaving the camp, food rations were dispersed more liberally. The commissary stores were being run down; men were less frugal with the contents of their Red Cross parcels.

Then word came that there would be no move out until the end of November. This caused unrest in the camp. Some NCOs absconded. Rumour had it that these men were arrested in Hamburg, attempting to stow away on ships bringing food into Germany.

[The POWs] in their wild desire to return to England had become quite unmanageable

Ferdinand Hansen An open letter to an English officer and incidentally to the English people

On 30 November British officers visited the camp and addressed the men at the request of the camp commandant. The men were told to be patient, that every effort was being made to return them to England as soon as possible.

Did Andy Duncan step outside the camp while waiting for orders to move out? Other POWs did, enjoying a kind of freedom by exploring the nearby towns and villages of Kaltenkirchen, Lentföhrden and Barmstedt.

A lot of the men go to Hamburg; they get the money by selling soap, cocoa, tea, etc.

Diary of Sergeant A.E. Mead. Extract of entry for 6 December 1918

On 8 December Andy would have learned of a planned move out in the next ten days. After all the rumours and false starts would this really be his last week in Springhirsch camp?


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 ‘Back from Germany: Prisoners’ Stories of Life in Captivity’. The Scotsman 27 December, p.2. [ONLINE] Available at:

Hansen, F. 1921. An open letter to an English officer and incidentally to the English people. 4th ed. Hamburg, Germany: Overseas Publishing Co.

Mead, A.E. Private Papers of A E Mead Imperial War Museum collection 17232.

Milner, L. 1993. Leeds Pals. South Yorkshire, England: Pen & Sword Military.

Featured image: END OF THE WAR. GERMANY SIGNS ARMISTICE. (1918, 12 November) Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW), p. 2. Newspaper article found in Trove and reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.


At Springhirsch POW camp punishments were wide-ranging and often capriciously decided –

Men were sent on fatigues to fetch the guards’ food supplies from the railway station. Without horses they had to push the van for miles to Lentföhrden. Along the way they took any opportunity to scrounge vegetables from roadside farms and pocket food from the German supplies. Men caught stealing guards’ bread had their own bread ration withheld for four days.

The Commandant stopped the issue of Red Cross packets because no prisoners would volunteer to fetch bread from the station. The men were made to parade, seemingly until volunteers stepped forward. Finally 50 men volunteered, but the men did not move until the Commandant agreed to start issuing packets again.

“Strafe parades” were called with short notice, sometimes twice a day. The men had to parade and display their towels, blankets or mattresses. If it rained during the parade the men returned to their bunks with sodden bedding.

Even the relatively inconsequential penalties were part of a constant effort to break the prisoners down –

The Sergeant Majors were shut out of their bunkhouse for a day for not removing a stove as ordered.

In late August 1918 all cricket and football was stopped because too many windows had been broken. The Germans demanded that the prisoners pay for the damage – not just for the broken windows adjacent to the sports area, but for all broken windows throughout the camp.

The games soon resumed. Two weeks later a football game was stopped and the ball confiscated, seemingly because the prisoners were enjoying themselves too much. The guards claimed that the shouting and laughing were upsetting the camp’s neighbours. Sergeant A.E. Mead noted drily that there were only two houses within a mile of the camp.

The prisoners had formed a band and purchased instruments. The Commandant asked the band to play in the camp square, but the band refused. The Commandant cancelled the evening concert as a consequence.

It seems that as numbers in the camp grew, arrest and confinement in the punishment cells became more common. Perhaps this was a way of managing the shortage of beds in the crowded bunkhouses.

Men were given 14 or 21 days ‘in the jug’ for standing or sitting during morning exercise, or for making a fire for cooking or warmth.

The German camp interpreter was singled out as a key antagonist, someone who would find any excuse to put a man in the cells on bread and water.


Mead, A.E. Private Papers of A E Mead. Imperial War Museum collection 17232.

Milner, L. 1993. Leeds Pals. South Yorkshire, England: Pen & Sword Military.

Featured image: Football game at a Prisoner of War (POW) camp at Springhirsch, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Australian War Memorial collection PO3236.279

“Jerry’s food seems quite poor by comparison”

…The camp was insanitary and, as a matter of fact, had been condemned before they were sent to it. They had not, however, much complaint to make regarding the treatment they received there, because their German guards were afraid of them: but they could not look at the food they got when they could get instead anything from home. ‘Back from Germany’ Aberdeen Evening Express 27 December 1918, page 4

While there is some truth in the newspaper description of Springhirsch, we can also detect the exaggeration and bravado of freed prisoners of war. These men wanted to show that they had not failed in their duty or dishonoured their country by being taken prisoner; that in the camps they did not capitulate. Not all Springhirsch prisoners’ experiences were the same when it came to food rations. For the men reliant on Jerry food there was plenty to complain about.


Breakfast at 7am was bread and ersatz coffee – or just coffee if the bread had not arrived from the train station, or a man had eaten his ration when it was issued the evening before.


The 4pm meal was the main meal of the day. It was often some combination of vegetables and rye or barley meal. Depending on how much water was added it could have been a broth or a porridge. The vegetables were generally poorly cooked and might have been green, rotting, or gritty with sand. Sauerkraut was served regularly, and just as regularly thrown into the swill trough by many prisoners. There may have been a little horsemeat or some other indeterminate meat added, perhaps tasting of disinfectant.


The evening meal was usually a soup of some kind. A ration of a tablespoon or so of cheese was issued before lights out. Extra cheese was issued from August to prevent diarrhoea.

Parcels from home

Sergeant A.E. Mead’s diary mentions the Old Hands, men who had been in Springhirsch since well before the German Spring Offensive of March 1918. These men received regular Red Cross and private parcels; for the most part they could live on the contents of their parcels and so did not draw their Jerry rations.

It makes us very hungry to see the old hands cooking nice things such as sausages and bacon, macaroni, chips and potatoes, tins of fish such as herrings and roes. Jerry’s food seems quite poor by comparison

Diary of Sergeant A.E. Mead. Extract of entry for 15 August 1918

New arrivals had to wait for the Red Cross to catch up with their whereabouts before they could expect any mail. The men might receive packets of clothing, groceries, biscuits or tobacco from the Red Cross or home front auxiliaries, and private mail from family.

Australia. Australian Red Cross Society workers packing food parcels for Australians held in prisoner of war camps. Australian War Memorial collection H11793
Australia. Australian Red Cross Society workers packing food parcels for Australians held in prisoner of war camps.
Australian War Memorial collection H11793
Parcels did not arrive regularly at Springhirsch. When they did, not all men received them. While Andy waited for mail he might have shared a Commandant-issued emergency parcel to tide him over. The Sergeant Majors had their own bunkhouse and own mess, so even though Andy was a new arrival his meals would have been supplemented at least by shared parcels. From Andy’s letters home it is clear he did not like having to rely on the charity of others. By late August packets were arriving late or not at all.

It is very aggravating to see the fellows who are lucky enough to get parcels eating all the nice things and we have to be content with pigs’ food. Still we keep on hoping and our turn will come.

Diary of Sergeant A.E. Mead. Extract of entry for 26 August 1918

By September the arrival of parcels had slowed to a trickle. Even many of the Old Hands were on Jerry rations again. This situation was to continue until the end of the war.


Mead, A.E. Private Papers of A E Mead Imperial War Museum collection 17232.

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, A.S. National Archives of Australia.

Smart, J., 2013. CAPTURING CAPTIVITY: Australian Prisoners of the Great War. 

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.

Featured image: Hanover, Germany. c. 1917. German orderlies inspecting Red Cross Society food parcels for Allied prisoners of war. Australian War Memorial collection H113925

Strafe camp

He has been in three German camps – Dulmen, Parchim and Springhirsch – the last being a strafe camp for N.C.O.’s who refused to work. While at Parchim the Germans tried to force British N.C.O.’s by all means possible to work, but the Cambrai men stuck together and eventually were sent to Springhirsch near the Kiel Canal, where they were joined by several hundred more, who were captured in March, 1918.

The return of Sergeant S. Mugford, prisoner of war.

1918 ‘Local and District News’ Western Times, Exeter, Devon, England. 14 January 1919, p. 5. [ONLINE] Available at: 


“I am just about as low as it is possible to be”

Four months after being captured Andy was still surviving on starvation rations in Limburg POW camp.

July l.- Just a few more lines now that I have the opportunity again. I am hoping that this will find you in the very best of health, as this leaves me as well as can be expected under my present circumstances. I hope you are not worrying over me being here. I know it is bad enough being here, but it is ever so much better than having about six feet of earth to myself somewhere in Flanders or France. Don’t you think so? There is a good chance of me returning when the war is over.

This last 10 days we have had nothing but rain here, but to-day it is much better, and the sun has come out again and we are likely to have some good weather. The amount of wet weather we have had lately is not likely to do the crops any good.

It is four months to-day since I was taken prisoner, and up to the present time have not received any of the bread and grocery parcels that the Red Cross send out to every prisoner of war. I hope it won’t be very long before my parcels start to arrive, as I am just about as low as it is possible to be without breaking down altogether, and I don’t want that to happen, as I don’t think it would be possible to get up again if once I did break down.

I have written a card to Mrs. Stark in Broken Hill. Of course, I could not say much on a card, and I told her that she would be able to get the news, such as I can send you. I hope you have received all my other letters, as I am patiently waiting for a letter from you, as I have not had a letter since I was captured. I wonder what they have done with your letters which would arrive in the battalion after I was captured. As I have not received any of them, I was wondering if you have had them returned to you. Please let me know when you reply to this, and when writing letters to me always put my address on the top of the letter as well as on the envelope, as it greatly assists the censor.

In any parcel you are sending to me, please enclose plenty of chocolate, and in your next parcel please enclose some needles and plenty of cotton, also a few packets of cigarettes, or I will make my own if you would send some cigarette paper and packets or tins of light tobacco. I could do with a cake or two of soap in each parcel. I think I have said all this time, so I will now close, hoping to hear from you soon. I remain your ever-loving husband – Andy. Kind regards to all at home.

The cigarettes and soap that Andy requested were highly prized in the camps by prisoners and guards alike. Tobacco could distract a prisoner from his hunger, and soap could be used to purchase food or favours from the guards.

Of all scarce articles in Deutsch land, soap was the scarcest. The lice made our days and nights miserable in the extreme and though we stripped every time a chance occurred, it seemed impossible even to keep them down.

from Prisoners of the Kaiser: The last POWs of the Great War by Richard Van Emden

While a Prisoner of War Andy set himself the daily routine of marching in uniform around the camp. He marched to keep himself from breaking down, but also to encourage other POWs who might be wavering in their resolve.


NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.

1918 ‘FROM AN AUSTRALIAN IN GERMANY.’Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 9 November, p. 10

Featured image: Distributing Red Cross parcels to allied POWs at Kriegsgefstammlager (camp) at Limburg, Germany.
Australian War Memorial collection P03236.004