Pop, you died long before I was born. Although I never knew you, I will remember you.
You were wounded in the Gallipoli landing. The hot shrapnel that sliced into your back nearly killed you, but you survived. Other soldiers were repatriated to Australia for lesser wounds, but you were sent back to Gallipoli. Was it then that you learned your brother Hugh had been killed at Cape Helles? With lost and delayed mail you may not have known for some time.
You fought at Gallipoli until the evacuation. Then you were sent to France. The industrialised warfare and the scale of destruction were like nothing you had ever seen.
You took part in the capture of Pozières on 23 July 1916. The next evening the Germans started a massive artillery bombardment and you were injured for a second time. You don’t remember what happened. Perhaps you were buried by that exploding shell. Your leg wound was nothing compared to the shell shock that gripped you.
You were shipped to England to recover, but you couldn’t shake feelings of dread, the churning stomach, the lack of appetite, the bad dreams. You hoped to be sent home to Australia, to the wife you had married just four months before the war. After all, most shell shock cases were given a military discharge, weren’t they?
But you weren’t sent home. You were moved from one hospital to another, then to convalescent accommodation. Your hopes of a trip back to Australia lessened with each new day you spent in England.
On 23 March 1917 you returned to active duty. You surely knew that it was exactly eight months since your battalion had stormed Pozières.
You were posted to the A.I.F. training units on Salisbury Plains. It must have been a relief not to be sent back to the Somme. You had the job of training reinforcements just arrived from Australia, of preparing them for the horrors of the Western Front. Were you one of those tough-as-nails Regimental Sergeant Majors? Did you push your men harder because you knew what they were about to face?
Then, on 19 September 1917, you received orders to rejoin your original unit in France. For over a year you had been in England, hearing accounts of the battles of the Western Front, seeing injured men come through the training camps to be rehabilitated and sent back to the front. Now it was your turn. Did you fight a feeling of returning dread as you read your orders, or were you fatalistic about what was to come?
Did Andy Duncan have tea with King George V? In my previous post I suggested this family story may have come from the Anzac tea party held in Windsor Great Park in October 1916.
The Adelaide Advertiser reported the tea party in detail
A tea party in Windsor Park in the middle of October is, it must be confessed, a risky undertaking under any circumstances. When it comes to entertaining 6,000 wounded soldiers in various stages of convalescence and varying degress of helplessness the “founder of the feast” is, it will be readily agreed, “asking for trouble.” Mrs. Dennistoun Fïske, an Australian lady (sister-in-law to the late Major General Sir J. Hoad), who has on sundry occasions entertained wounded soldiers on quite a big scale, decided, however, that she could trust the clerk of the weather to behave decently on Saturday, October 14, and made arrangements to entertain on that particular day 10,000 wounded soldiers at tea somewhere.
The question of a suitable rendezvous was, of course, of prime importance, involving questions of transport, not only of the men themselves, but of the wherewithal to feed and amuse the guests, and the provision of sufficient shelter for all should the clerk of the weather signify his disapproval of the gathering in his usual effective manner. The King came to the rescue of Mrs Fiske (and her myriad of helpers) by granting the use of Windsor Great Park for the rendezvous, and the difficulties of transit, &c., reduced the number of probable guests to 6,000. To entertain even that reduced number was, however, not a small undertaking, even if the clerk of the weather proved – as he happily did – in benevolent mood. Happily Mrs. Fiske enjoyed the cordial and active support of scores of willing helpers, who “delivered the goods” required to make the tea party a success without a hitch.
Hundreds of motor cars, motor omnibuses, taxi cabs, brakes, and carriages had to be requisitioned to bring the big party from London. Honorary services were provided in this direction by the Acton Taxi Drivers’ Association, an organisation of taxi-men possessing their own cars, who week by week, for nearly two years past, have patriotically, at their own expense, undertaken to give drives to wounded soldiers. The taxi-men found 75 taxi-cabs, and carried four or five men each from London and back. Private owners also lent cars. Hundreds of “waitresses” were required. These were organised by Lady Edward Spencer Churchill and the Mayor of Windsor, and included many wives of officers A band was wanted, and the band of the 2nd Life Guards met the requirement.
Then there was the food required – 1,250 lb. of meat, 4 tons of flour, 6 dwt. of sugar, 1,000 lb. each of currant and plain cake, 12 barrels of grapes, 15 boxes of apples, 150 lb. of tea, £25 worth of butter, and 20,000 cigarettes. The committee of the London Chamber of Commerce gave the meat and also a grant of £50 towards the cost of the transport. Messrs. Tate gave the sugar, the London Corn and Flour Association contributed the flour, whilst Selfridge’s supplied the currant cake, and Messrs. J. Lyons & Co. the plain cake, as well lending the crockery ware.
The gathering took place on the Cavalry Exercise Ground, near Queen Anne’s Gate.This had been specially laid out by Crown authorities under the direction of Colonel Claude Willoughby, Deputy Ranger of Windsor Great Park. Water was specially laid on, and about a dozen field ovens installed for the purpose of boiling the water. Two huge marquees were erected, each capable of accommodating one thousand men, tea being served in batches.
The men came by train, by motor cars, buses, and vehicles of every description, and some even came on steam launches up the river, private generosity providing practically all transport, whatever form it took.
To see the endless stream of vehicles arriving and depositing their human freights beneath the giant elms and oaks, and in front of an enormous marquee, rather reminded one of an Ascot race day. But an Ascot of a new character and more wonderful than any seen before, in which all the men wore the blue suits and red ties of honor, while most of the ladies accompanying them were in nurses’ uniform. There were, of course, some cruelly maimed men, unable to move without assistance, but it really seemed as if these were the jolliest of all.
There was a tremendous tea of all kinds of sandwiches and cakes and tea and coffee. There was not much left of any thing when the “big attack” was over. Before that the Duchess of Albany and Princess Alexander of Teck and Princess May of Teck followed a little later by Princess Christian, made a tour of the tables and spoke kindly words to the guests. After tea there were races, and a pleasant afternoon was concluded by the pleasant drive back to London through the lovely country lanes of the land which we call “Home.”
This seems a likely origin for the family story, but there are other possibilities. On 10 March 1917 the Reading Mercury newspaper reported –
THE KING AND WOUNDED SOLDIERS
A number of wounded soldiers – mostly Colonials – visit Windsor every week, and, by permission of the King, are shown over Windsor Castle. They are afterwards entertained to tea in the servants’ hall.
It is also possible that the story refers to one of the King’s many visits to troops and hospitalised soldiers during the war. In 1916 the King visited Australian troops on Salisbury Plain in September and December
ANZACS AT WINDSOR – The Adelaide Advertiser, 29 Nov 1916. Newspaper article found in Trove
THE KING AND WOUNDED SOLDIERS – The Reading Mercury, 10 Mar 1917. Newspaper article found in the British Newspaper Archive
Andy’s “Blighty wound” did not end his military service, though it did keep him out of action for almost a year. He was hospitalised in England from 2 August to 18 September 1916, then marched into Command Depot No.2, Weymouth. Command Depots were convalescent homes for men who no longer required hospitalization but were not yet fit to rejoin their unit. Command Depot No.2 housed those men not expected to be fit for duty within six months. Rehabilitation and training at No. 2 Depot was to harden up recovering soldiers and prepare them for a return to active service. According to the Weymouth Anzacs website, “While the general training in the new unit concentrated on toughening-up, the individual training a soldier received was governed by medical inspections under which he was categorized weekly according to fitness.”
A family story says that Andy had tea King George V. This may be a reference to the celebrations at Windsor Great Park, held by the King’s permission, on 14 October 1916.
Andy was finally ready to return to duty in March 1917. On 23 March – exactly 8 months after the taking of Pozieres – Andy was transferred on strength to the 70th Battalion, to be temporary Regimental Sergeant Major at Wareham. He must have been thankful not to return to the front, but disappointed that he wasn’t on his way home.
On 11 June 1917 Jane Duncan wrote to Victoria Barracks
I am now writing to you to thank you on my receiving the Warrant Papers of my husband & I am returning you the required slip. Hope same reaches you safely. In my husband’s last letter he said he had been made R.S. Major in charge of the 70th Battalion which they were forming over there in France (somewhere). Of course he has gained his positions well & had some very narrow escapes. Would you mind letting me know if Warrant Officer’s duties are dangerous & also what address do I use, the Warrant Officer address or the Regimental Sergt. Major. When convenient for you to do so & still continue to send any further particular concerning him direct to me until further notice.
So thanking you once again for your kindness.
Mrs E.J. Duncan
From May to July 1917 Andy was on command at Officer School of Instruction, Chelsea Barracks, then at the No.3 School of Instruction for Infantry Officers, Candahar Barracks, Tidworth, until September 1917. He would have been involved in training Australian troops in musketry and trench warfare.
In mid-September Andy received notice that he would proceed overseas and rejoin his unit in France.
While in England Andy bought himself a silver fob watch and had his initials engraved on it. Probably after receiving his posting to France Andy mailed the watch home to Jane for safekeeping. As he wrapped the watch to post, he must have wondered about his chances of seeing Jane and the watch again.
NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.
Featured image: View from Worgret Hill looking towards the timber buildings of Wareham Camp. Australian War Memorial collection A03246
Andy’s battalion sailed for France on the RMS Saxonia, the men disembarking in Marseilles on 3 April 1916. They quickly entrained for Strazeele, not far from Dunkirk. The three-day train journey across the lush French countryside must have been a welcome change from the scrubby gorse of Gallipoli and the sands of Egypt.
The next six weeks were spent training for the conditions of the Western Front, including drills for gas attacks. On 6 June the battalion went into the line for the first time at Fleurbaix, an hour’s march from Fromelles.
Soon they marched to join the ‘Big Push’ and the attack on Pozieres on 22 July. The 3rd Brigade was heavily shelled with poison gas and high explosive shells, but took Pozieres before dawn the next morning.
Andy was wounded in action. It was 24 July, the start of a fierce and relentless German artillery bombardment that continued for days. Suffering from shell shock and a leg injury from an exploding shell he was sent to the 10th General Hospital in Rouen, then to England. He was admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth on 2 August 1916, then moved to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Southall.
Despite having a long recovery ahead of him, Andy was fortunate to have been hospitalized before the intense fighting to hold Pozieres and take Mouquet Farm. By the time the AIF was relieved at Pozieres in early September they had suffered more than 23,000 casualties; almost 7,000 dead or missing, 17,000 wounded.
On 23 August Andy wrote from Wandsworth to a friend in Broken Hill
I would have written before, but our outward mail was stopped for some weeks owing to us proceeding from Flanders to the Somme to take part in the big push.
Our first job was the taking of Pozieres, which we took on Sunday morning, July 23. The same brigade was allotted that task as was in the original landing at Anzac. We took the village with only few casualties, but as soon as it came daylight on Sunday morning the Huns started counter-attacks, and when we beat them back they started shelling.
They kept on with counter-attacks and shelling up till Monday night, when I had an argument with one of their shells, and the shell won, as I remember no more until I was well away from the firing line on my way to a clearing station.
No doubt you have seen the big casualty lists, and it was mostly through the shells that we had so many killed and wounded. Of course, our own guns were going as well. We got so badly knocked about on the Sunday that we had to have the remainder of the division sent up to help us. On Monday morning they had to send the second division in to give us a hand. But we hung on to the village, or what was left of it, as it was a most important position, especially to the Huns.
No doubt the Huns are good fighters when they are in a good trench, but when it comes to close quarters then up go their hands, and they shout for mercy. I might say that they did not get much mercy at Pozieres, as all the prisoners taken there could be counted on your fingers and toes, and all wounded at that. But there were heaps of dead. Well, I have seen quite enough, and this is my second time wounded, and the only time I have been away from my battalion since I first joined it at Morphettville over two years ago.
I am hoping this may be a trip back to Australia for me. I arrived here from France on August 2. I am still in bed. but I am hoping to be out very soon.
NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.
Limb, A. 1919. History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F. 1st ed. London; Melbourne: Cassell and Co.
1916 AWM4, 23/27/6 – April 1916. First World War Diaries – AWM4, Sub-class 23/27, 10th Infantry Battalion.
‘Pozières, First Australian Division Memorial – Bombardment 24-26 July 1916’. Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918: The Australian remembrance trail in France and Belgium.
‘Pozieres, The Windmill’. Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918: The Australian remembrance trail in France and Belgium.
Featured image: Postcard – Private Albert Edward Kemp to Annie Kemp, ‘Australians Parading for the Trenches’, circa 1916. The postcard depicts the ‘men who shortly after midnight of Sunday, July 23, 1916, took Pozieres by a splendidly dashing advance through shrapnel, shell, and machine-gun fire.’ Museum Victoria collection MM 90948
Stories handed down from generation to generation can be both important family histories and frustratingly light on detail.
My father told me the family story: there were three brothers who enlisted to fight for King and Country in the First World War. The brothers had to lie about their ages to enlist. After the war one brother emigrated to Canada, another to South Africa, and the third to Australia. The brothers never met again, but kept in regular contact through letters.
The brother who settled in Australia was my great-grandfather, Andrew “Andy” Stewart Duncan. Any detail about his brothers was lost. I wanted to learn more about this story.
Birth and census records on the ScotlandsPeople website soon found the Duncan family of 12 Duke Street, Newton on Ayr, Scotland.
John Duncan and Elizabeth Stewart had ten children, one of whom died in infancy. Including my great-grandfather there were four brothers, not three: John, Andrew, Anthony and Hugh. They were born in 1879, 1882, 1884 and 1893 respectively.
Which three brothers enlisted?
Army records identified that John, Andrew and Anthony had enlisted.
John joined the British Army Reserve in January 1916, transferred to the 5th Army Reserve Scottish Rifles and later the Royal Army Veterinary Corps.
Andrew had emigrated to Australia in 1912. He enlisted in the 10th Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Force in August 1914.
Anthony had emigrated to Canada in 1910. He attested for the 74th Battalion, Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in July 1915.
I found service records and Medal Rolls Index Cards for soldiers named Hugh Duncan and Hugh Stewart Duncan but could not connect any of them with my great-grand uncle. I was unable to determine whether Hugh had joined up or not.
Who lied about their age?
A common part of the narrative of the First World War is that underage lads added a few years to their age, so as not to miss out on going to war.
John, Andrew and Anthony were all in their 30s when they enlisted. And yet the family story was that the brothers had lied about their age to enlist. Where had that come from?
John had misrepresented his age, dropping it from 36 to 35 years
Andrew had lied about his age – but in 1899, at the age of 17, when he enlisted for the Boer War.
Who emigrated to South Africa?
Anthony had sailed for Canada. Andrew had made Australia home. John survived the war and was back in Scotland to register the death of his father in 1922, and his mother in 1927. The only one unaccounted for was Hugh Stewart Duncan. There was no trace of him emigrating, or returning home.
There was no Duncan emigration to South Africa after the First World War. Memories of Andrew’s Boer War travels had become mixed with later stories.
What happened to Hugh Stewart Duncan?
The launch of Scottish soldiers’ wills on the ScotlandsPeople website sent me looking again for confirmation of whether Hugh had enlisted. My query returned three possible wills. The first will I viewed had no connection to the Duncans in Newton on Ayr. The second will made me sit upright in my chair. It read,
In the event of my death I give the whole of my property and effects to my father Mr. John Duncan 12 Duke St. Ayr.
Pte. Hugh Duncan
Hugh had joined the 1/5th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. On 7 June 1915 he landed at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula, where he was critically wounded.
Hugh died on 23 June 1915 of wounds received in action. He was buried at Lancashire Landing cemetery not far from Cape Helles.
In searching for the truth behind the story of three brothers in the First World War I uncovered a forgotten brother. Hugh, the baby brother, died and was buried far from home.
Crammed full with wounded from the Gallipoli landing, the S.S. Ionian made for 17th General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. If Andy was lucky, he would have been dosed with morphine for the journey, but he may not have received decent medical treatment until he reached Egypt.
Andy was admitted to hospital on 1 May. His condition was recorded as “dangerously ill”, but Jane Duncan received the standard notification
Sergeant Duncan is not reported seriously wounded. In the absence of further reports Egypt advises all wounded to be progressing satisfactorily.
Jane probably provided The Adelaide Chronicle with its 29 May article
Andy’s hospital stay gave him some respite from the dysentry and enteric fever that swept through the men at Gallipoli.He was treated at Alexandria for 37 days, then spent another 12 days at Tanta Government Hospital.
On 17 June 1915 Andy was discharged from hospital, carrying in his back the Turkish shrapnel that was to torment him in later years. He was judged fit for duty, and rejoined his unit at Gallipoli on 8 July 1915.
At the start of the great August offensive Andy was promoted to Company Sergeant Major. During the battle for Lone Pine Andy’s battalion was in support at Silt Spur, holding the existing lines.
September’s cooler weather turned wintry by the end of the month. On 23 September Andy was reprimanded for neglect of duty at Anzac. Details of the reprimand are not recorded, but it appears to have come at a time of relative quiet. During lulls in the fighting some men took the opportunity to move about the trenches more freely, and some received reprimands for not staying below the trench parapet. One officer had been reprimanded earlier for setting a bad example for his men. Perhaps Andy’s reprimand was of a similar nature.
November brought violent storms and heavy seas. On 21 November, in bitterly cold weather, the 10th Battalion left Gallipoli, rotated out of the line for a rest at Mudros on Lemnos island. What Andy did not know was that he was leaving the peninsula for the last time.
The History of the 10th Battalion records that on arrival at Mudros
the blizzard which caused so many casualties on Gallipoli came upon them. That blizzard “which in four days by flood and frost caused 200 deaths, 10,000 unfit for further service, and 30,000 sickened and made old”.
During this severe weather Andy was reprimanded a second time for neglect of duty at Serpi rest camp.
While at Mudros Andy would have learned that Gallipoli was to be evacuated. How did he feel on hearing the news? There must have been relief, certainly. But he would not have the chance to visit the graves of the fallen and say a final farewell. Did he feel that he was letting his mates down by evacuating after all they had fought for?
Andy spent Christmas day 1915 on Lemnos. The next day he sailed for Egypt, disembarking at Alexandria on 29 December and entraining for Tel-el-Kebir Camp.
NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.
Kearney, R. 2005. Silent Voices: the story of the 10th Battalion AIF in Australia, Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium during the Great War 1914-1918. New Holland Publishers, Sydney.
Limb, A. 1919. History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F. 1st ed. London; Melbourne: Cassell and Co.
Researching the goings-on in the Australian Imperial Force’s Mena camp, I came across this December 1914 newspaper article in Trove:
DEATHS IN EGYPT MELBOURNE, Saturday The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has received information that Miles Standish Cox, of the Fourth Battalion, died from pneumonia on December 16. His next of kin is his father, Mr. E.S. Cox, of Woy Woy (N.S.W.). Another message to the Minister states that Roy Gartside Cullan, of the First Battalion, died on the same day from pernicious anaemia. His next of kin is his wife, who resides in New Zealand. WAGSTAFFE POINT, Saturday Following the death of Edward King Cox, the deceased’s father received a cablegram last night announcing the death of his second son, Miles Standish Cox, at Mena Camp, Cairo, Egypt, on December 16
Two sons dead at Mena Camp within days of each other. Sadly deaths like these were not unusual. The soldiers would return from drills soaked with sweat; the desert winds would then chill them and put them at risk of pneumonia.