This is the story of two brothers, Ben and Joe. One was carefree and the life of the party, while the other was hard working and industrious. One travelled the country in search of adventure and new experiences, the other put down roots and planned for the future. Then came war, Ben was eager to join and in the first few days after the declaration was made, he was through recruiting in Sydney and eager to go. His brother Joe took a longer time to make the decision. He had a promising career in mining, a serious relationship with a girl he was hoping to marry, and going off to war was not in his plan. Although both of them had a religious upbringing, it was Joe who took it seriously and after prayerful consideration felt that the right thing to do was join up. So, after a tearful farewell to Carrie, he made his way to the recruiting centre in Perth.
War is hell, and so both brothers found themselves in the horror Western front. Ben was a machine gunner, and gradually rose through the ranks to become the RSM, and was even offered the opportunity to become an Officer while in England recuperating after being wounded. However, the story is that during his promotion course he was frustrated with the “superior attitude” of the instructor to the extent that he threw a bottle of ink at him and walked out! His military record does not record that event but he did get charged for running a two-up game!
The story of his brother Joe, like so many others is quite brief, he was still a Private and was seriously wounded on the western front. He was sent to the big British hospital at Etaples where he died on 20 Aug 1916 and was buried, so very young with his whole life still before him.
Ben survived and was even awarded the Belgian Cross for Bravery but, like so many that were damaged in body, mind and spirit by war, he rarely talked about it except on ANZAC day when tanked and among mates. He returned to Australia still carrying shrapnel, sought to settle down and married his brother’s girl friend.
Why did I tell you this story? Ben was my grandfather who died long before I was born. Last year I took my mother to visit Joe’s grave in the Etaples’ war cemetery. As we recognise the centenary of the start of WW1, I would challenge you to research your history so that this is not just boring historical facts but part of your story and who you are!
Australian War Memorial has some great resources which might help.
Chaplain Ian S Whitley