Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sepia Saturday 251: 25 October 2014






Alan from from Sepia Saturday says:
Marilyn chose this splendid image from the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Centre.  She suggested as possible theme interpretations - bobbies, bellies, bums and brushes - but one could keep the alliterative pendulum swinging by adding beards.









Well, as per usual, I am going to break the non-existent laws of Sepia Saturday by NOT following the prompt and carrying on in my own sweet way. Those bobbies are looking back at me as I jay-walk through my latest digital acquisitions.

Here is a photo of yet more WW1 soldiers.  Last week I posted about Roy Duncan.  

Here we have a photo of Alex Duncan.  I'm sorry but I don't know whether he is the chap on the left or the right but I'm going to guess the one on the right as the Duncans tend to be tall chaps.  Alex was the third son or fifth child of seven born to Alexander Duncan and Julia O'Sullivan.  He was born in 1891 and the older brother of Roy. His full name was Maurice Alexander Duncan but seems to have been known as Alex.  

Alex enlisted 14 February 1916 joining the 2nd Reinforcement of the 42nd Battalion.  He was 24 years old, a single man and a Labourer. He was described as being 5 foot 9 inches and weighing 132 lbs.   

His younger brother Robert enlisted a couple of weeks later on 6  March, joining the 41st Battalion.  He was a carpenter.  On his enlistment record he says he was 21 years and 3 months old but in fact he would have been more likely 19 or 20.   Robert embarked for overseas service on 5 June.  

Alex embarked 16 August (four days after his younger brother Roy was killed in action at Pozieres) on the "Boorara" from Brisbane.

A couple of months later he arrived in Plymouth and, in the footsteps of his younger brother, having contracted Mumps, he was sent straight to Hospital. After some training in England he was finally sent to serve in France leaving Folkestone just before Christmas on the "Princess Victoria".  He was marched in to 3rd A.D.B. Depot, Etaples and went into the Field with the 42nd Battalion on 26 January 1917. 





According to a history of the 42nd Battalion on the Australian War Memorial's site here:


"The winter of 1916-17 was horrendous, and the 42nd spent much of it in the front line, the remainder being spent alternating between training and labouring in the rear areas.



In 1917, the operations of the 3rd Division were focussed on the Ypres sector of Belgium. The 42nd participated in major battles at Messines on 7 June, Warneton on 31 July, Broodseinde on 4 October, and Passchendaele on 12 October. Even though the battalion was in a reserve role, the battle of Passchendaele proved particularly costly. It lost over a third of its strength, principally from German gas attacks, and trench foot caused by the sodden condition of the battlefield."
You can tell it was cold in that photo by the sheepskin vests that they are wearing.  

Alex Duncan was first wounded on 10 June.  The diary entry for the Battalion during that time was:

 Catacombs 9/6/17 Strength 35 off 973 OR
                         Casualties 5 OR wounded
Received orders 12.30AM to proceed to the line & take over Black Line.  Took over from 38th & 40th B/tns & became G. Btn.  BAG on Messines Road near Seaforth 2am.  3 Coys in the line.  A.B.C. from right to left and D Cy in support.  Armour occupied. Green line in front of us.  Digging & wiring commenced.  Subjected to heavy shelling with 5.9 4.5 whizbangs & shrapnel all day.  Few gas shells.  
Black Line 10/6/17 Strength 35 Off 942 OR
                                                 Casualties decrease 27 (12 OR killed, 55 wounded, 
                                 3 Off wounded)
Subjected to exceptionally heavy shelling as previous day.  Trench digging & wiring proceed with position well consolidated.  Few gas shells reported.

Let's have a look at what these Catacombs looked like.  The Australian War Memorial has some great photos.


                                                 
Base records sent Alex's father advice along the lines of "Reported Private Alexander Duncan wounded.  Will advise anything further received.  9/7/17"  You can see his name on the top of the 3rd column in Casualty List No. 325 reported in the Brisbane Courier 20 July 1917 here.  

Alex was admitted to the 9th A.F. Amb. in the Field with concussion then transferred to the 12th A.F. Amb. with exhaustion.  A fortnight later he was transferred to 24th Gen. Hosp. Etaples and then the 25th Gen Hosp. Hardelot.  



If I had been Alex, I would not have wanted to leave here at all.  It looks so sweet doesn't it?  This hospital was staffed by Australian nurses and English medical officers according to the AWM site here.  You can read more about it here too. 

Alex's story has turned out to be quite a saga, so I've decided to break it into three parts.  I'll finish the post here but in the meantime, can anyone tell me the type of dog in the photo?  It looks like a Jack Russell to me but I have a bit of an uneducated eye when it comes to dogs.

For more Sepia Saturday posts go here.  For Part Two of the saga go here.



25 comments:

La Nightingail said...

I'm afraid I'm left to wonder what finally happened with Alex? Did he recover from his injuries? I saw something that seemed to suggest he died in 1926 at the age of 34?

Alex Daw said...

Arrgh! I thought I had it all set up properly and now I realise the vital links to Parts 2 & 3 were all in darkness. I have re-edited my post so you can click through to Parts 2 & 3 of the story if you want to find out what happened next!

Lorraine Phelan said...

You are right on theme Alex. Uniforms.

Alex Daw said...

Ah Lorraine. How could I have missed that? You are right, of course!

Postcardy said...

I like how the dog was given the place of honor.

ScotSue said...

It is always so moving to read accounts of the soldiers who experienced the First World War. and your profile was fascinating.

Little Nell said...

And to keep the alliteration going..Brave Boys! I always enjoy reading these personal stories. The dog could be a Jack Russell or a Fox Terrier.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

You've gotten so much great information from those batallion diaries - a great record they wisely kept. Mumps were apparently raging during those days. My Dad with the Canadian Armed Forces got them too...almost immediately. I guess they got them on the troop ships. The packs around their necks almost look like purses. Great stories.

Alex Daw said...

Me too and it looks like it knows how important it is too doesn't it?

Alex Daw said...

Thank you Sue.

Alex Daw said...

Thank you Marilyn....brave boys indeed.

Alex Daw said...

They do look like purses don't they? I've discovered in another record of service - Robert Duncan's I think - that the men were often issued with "housewives" which when I looked it up on the AWM site is a sewing kit.

Michelle Ganus Taggart said...

The picture of the catacombs gives me claustrophobia! I am sure that was the least of their worries though. It is always so humbling to realize the price that so many paid in war. Great post.

Alex Daw said...

Thanks Michelle - aren't those catacombs something else?! Thank you for your kind words.

Barbara Fisher said...

I’m in awe of the amount of information you’ve discovered. My grandfather was killed in 1917. I believe 3 of his brothers were killed around the same time, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of their lives as yet.
The dog looks a bit big for a Jack Russell. My parents had one for years, but she was much smaller than the one in the picture.

boundforoz said...

Well done, Alex. Very interesting reading.

boundforoz said...

Well done Alex. Very interesting reading.

Bob Scotney said...

Could be a Jack Russell, but it's had to tell. Definitely small enough.

Wendy said...

I vote Jack Russell for the face and markings but it does seem to be a large one, if so.

Shipping out 4 days following his brother's death could not have been easy for Alex.

Alex Daw said...

Thank you for your kind words Barbara although I believe the same could be said about your writing too. How awful for your great-grandparents to lose so many of their children - though I understand they were not alone in their experience.

Alex Daw said...

I love how I learn so much doing this hobby!

Alex Daw said...

And it certainly looks smart enough to be one I reckon.

Alex Daw said...

Thank you Wendy. It was the markings that made me think so. I suspect that Alex might not have known about his brother's death before he went. It was such a mess over there that I don't think the family would have found for weeks or even months.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

The pragmatic simplicity of "casualties decrease" and the bare words re whiz bangs etc...the reality would have been terrifying,. mind you I'd have freaked out in the claustrophobia of those catacombs!

Jo Featherston said...

Excellent historical account, as always. I feel most sorry for that poor innocent little 'dog of war', even though I'm not a dog lover.