2020 starts with us all commemorating Anzac Day in new and different ways than tradition has dictated for over 100 years. This year, we’ve lined our driveways and listened to the last post on our iPhones with our family. My way of commemorating was spend the day delving back into WWI by accessing Ancestry’s military collection which had free access over the weekend. The experience gave me perspective when I needed it – of my current quarantine frustrations versus the life long impact of The Great War.
I’ve found more information to add to the ever growing research on St Helena’s Warder/ Soldiers. There were still some warders that I was unsure about and some whom I have only a surname, ensuring they will remain tantalisingly out of reach. But as I delved into the war records of these men, the variation and enormity of their experience was all too apparent.
William Landrigan and Patrick Staunton both began their new career as warders at St Helena P.E. on the 4th and 6th April 1916. (1) Their experiences were quite different. William spent 1914 to 1916 only in Rabaul with the 3rd Battalion before being discharged, while Patrick was part of the 5th Light Horse from 1914 to 1915, when he was sent to convalesce in hospital due to Influenza and chronic bronchitis. (2) William Landrigan, previously a labourer in NSW, went on to have a long career in the Prison service, transferring to Brisbane Prison in 1921 and retiring there a Senior Warder in 1945. (1) Patrick Staunton resigned from St Helena P.E. in March 1917 in tandem with fellow Warder/ Soldier Edward Heathcock and headed from new adventures as a member of the Mounted Police Force in the Northern territory. (1) It was here Patrick died after falling off a cliff and breaking his neck.
George Clifford McLaren Gilbert was a soldier who I can find no war records of at all. The only reason I know of him as a Warder/ Soldier is because he found employment as a warder at St Helena P.E. upon his return, beginning at the age time as William Landrigan and Patrick Staunton. His was a promising but short career, as he unexpectedly died on the island in November 1916, affording the following remark from the Comptroller General of Prisons, Charles Pennefather in his 1916 Annual report:
‘Besides the extra probationary warders appointed, vacancies caused by deaths, resignations etc. were filled by probationers, in nearly all cases returned discharged soldiers, to whom preference is given. Probationary warder Gilbert, a returned soldier and a promising young officer, also died during the year.’
William Galloway was baker in the prison on St Helena from 26/3/10 until 1/2/1912 . (1) I was introduced to him in 2019 by his relative Fay, who informed me of his involvement in WWI as part of the 3rd Pioneer Battalion from February 1916 until September 1918. Most of his campaign was in France, in amongst intense fighting, where he paid the ultimate price by being Killed in Action and buried in the Roussoy cemetery.
Seeing his will in amongst the military papers online is sobering as it makes us, 100 years distant in time, realise that the soldiers were asked to face their mortality in very real ways by creating wills before they left Australian shores. (2) The list of effects that he had with him when he died also made his experiences more personal – and I wonder what small memories and items any of us would take with us into a battlefield.
The final warder I’ll make mention of is George William Gray. At part of the 9th Battalion, he was a part of the Gallipoli campaign, wounded on the 10th May 1915. Surgeons reported:
‘Bullet completely severed the posterior interosseous nerve where it emerges through the supinator bravis. He has paralysis of the muscles supplied by this nerve.’
A later medical board found… ‘loss of power and extension of the fingers of the left hand due to the bullet fracturing the left radius.’ (2)
Out of all the war stories I read through yesterday, I was George Gray’s that struck me the most. This young 22 year old suffered severe damage to his forearm, which resulted in permanent nerve and muscle damage, rendering the use of this arm to about half of its capacity. Having previously been a Drayman, this is not conducive to further employment. He was pensioned off by the Army at the age of 23. (2) Yet following all of this, George became a temporary Warder at St Helena Penal Establishment on the 18th May 1916 and later was transferred to Stewarts Creek near Townsville where he later resigned. (1) Despite his lifelong injuries, George had no choice but to find a way forward.
I had considered that I had had a long a frustrating time last week, being quarantined at home, teaching students remotely via newly learnt online technologies, home schooling 2 kids who are equally unmotivated by the endless days of quarantine and caring for ill extended family. I challenge anyone who is feeling that quarantine is getting too hard to read some of the Anzac stories online this weekend. It’s all a mater of perspective. Here in Australia in 2020, we are managing far better than other countries and a facing a lot less than our fellow Australians did over 100 years ago.
Warders’ dates of appointment book – H M Penal Establishment/Gaol, St Helena, Qld State Archives
Ancestry Military records. ancestry.com.au/cs/militaryrecords
Australian War memorial. https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/article2