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On this day… 25 April – ANZAC day

April 25, 2011

ANZAC Day is a day of significance to Australians and New Zealanders.  The day was chosen to commemorate the first day of the landing of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand at Gallipoli in the first World War, 25 April 1915.  ANZAC stands for Australian and New  Zealand Army Corps.  The Australian War Memorial website has this to say:

The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated, after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian soldiers had been killed. News of the landing on Gallipoli had made a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in the war, and their loved ones.

My memories of ANZAC Day as a child were of watching (on television) the  coverage of the various ANZAC Day dawn services and the parades around the country, where veterans of the first and second World Wars would march, in uniform or with their medals pinned to their suit jackets.  It was an opportunity for the veterans to catch up with their mates and either talk about their experiences and the mates who didn’t come back, or just to spend time with people who understood their experiences.  Many of the men who returned ‘from the war’ – which ever war that might be – did not discuss their experiences with their family and friends who were left behind.  For those who had lost loved ones in either war, it was an opportunity to remember them and honour them.

When I was a child Australia was involved in the Vietnam War.  There was conscription and men who would never have enlisted were forced to go to ‘National Service’ and then to fight in Vietnam.  My uncle went to Vietnam several times, but he was a career soldier and had been in the Army all of his working life.  The men who enlisted for the first and second world wars did so voluntarily.  There may have been peer pressure, but the government was not forcing them to go.

There were many Aboriginal soldiers in all of the wars.  Just as there were ‘special’ rules for Aboriginal people in Australia – curfews, travel restrictions and a lack of full citizenship – Aboriginal people were not required/allowed to enlist.  But they did.  There are stories of how Aboriginal men would fight alongside their fellow soldiers and be accepted, treated as equals, valued for their contribution, but then when they went to the pub with their mates, in uniform, even, they would be refused service in the bar.  Aboriginal returned service men were not automatically accorded the same benefits such as to housing or resettlement employment as their mates either.

And the original ANZACS – those who returned – were becoming old, and frail and their numbers were diminishing, as I grew up.

A flag-wearing young Australian at the Big Day Out festival

All of this, and a more recent burgeoning ‘nationalistic’ attitude, particularly among some young people – aggressive flag waving/wearing, Southern Cross tattoo emblazoning, Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi chanting – and a certain glorification of war, has concerned me in recent years.  I am all for recognising the futility and tragedy of an ‘exercise’ that caused the deaths of over 8000 young Australian men, as well as New Zealander and Turkish casualties.  It culminated in withdrawal eight months after it started – not victory as some young people I have talked to assume.  But glorifying war and all that goes with that – that is what worries me.

I have recently reviewed a couple of really good books dealing with the Anzac experience – one from the perspective of a young girl who witnessed the first convoy of ships leaving Albany for Galipolli, The Lighthouse Girl, and the other, a first hand account as drawn by artist, Signaller Ellis Silas.  I’ve also recently obtained a copy of Shattered Anzacs – living with the scars of war.

In the process of seeing just what was available online to the genealogist, that was not available when I was first engaged in genealogical research in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I came upon the AIF Project.  To test out the project’s search engine to see what it did, I started plugging in surnames, fairly randomly.  The project has gathered information on as many of the WWI men and women who served in the AIF overseas, as possible (about 330,000 of them) from nominal rolls, service records and other documents and compiled them into a data base.  What you get when you plug in a surname is a list of all the AIF service personnel who bear that surname (and even those whose next of kin bear that surname if you do a very open, surname only search), their home address and their Unit.  A click on the name brings you to the gathered details on that person.  A click on the Unit, from within that document, takes you to a list of everyone in that Unit – all hyperlinked so that you can look at the details of every one of the people who served with your person of interest.

Armed with their service number and Unit it is a simple matter to go to the War Memorial site if they are on an honour roll, and to find or order digitised copies of service records, war diaries, Red Cross missing person reports and such from the National Archives of Australia.  Hours and hours of fascinating research (if you like that kind of thing – I do) later, and it’s possible to find details of whole families from some of the information included.

So to honour some of the men in my own family who served in the AIF in WWI, here are some stories about a couple of them.  One who returned, and one who didn’t.

Jack Kirwan in his uniform c. 1916

1.  Jack Kirwan – Jack Kirwan was born Richard John Kirwan, in Wilpena, South Australia, in about 1874.  He went to school in Hawker, South Australia and was a member of No 3083 EC Mitchall Queensland Lodge of Freemasons.   He was single and 42 years old when he enlisted in the 48th Battalion, 4th Reinforcement (Service No 2279A), on 3 April 1916.  Jack listed his occupation as ‘grazier’ but it is known that he also held the mail contract for several years, running the mail coach from Laura to Melrose in South Australia for many years.  Jack embarked in Adelaide, aboard the HMAT A70 Ballarat on 12 August 1916.  His rank was Private, and once in France, he was assigned duties as a ‘driver’.

HMAT A70 Ballarat - Image from State Library of Victoria

Jack listed his father, Richard Kirwan as next of kin when he enlisted.  Richard died in the Adelaide Hospital and his address at the time was the home of his eldest daughter, Jane (Kirwan) Harry, Herbert Street Franklin.  Richard Kirwan died on 26 November 1916, of epithelioma of the face (skin cancer).  Jack had been away only three months when his father died.  Jane notified the AIF and requested to be listed as Jack’s next of kin.  The nominal roll was duly amended.

Jack's father, Richard Kirwan

Jack Kirwan fought in France.  The Ballarat arrived in Plymouth on 30 September 1916.  Jack arrived in France on 4 December 1916 and spent what was to be his last Christmas in France, far away from his family and friends at home.  He also ‘celebrated’ his 43rd birthday while he was away.  He was detached from his Unit to join the 4th Division Pack Transport on 4 January 1917 and returned to his Unit on 25 February 1917.   He was appointed Driver on 20 April 1917 and was wounded in action on 3 July 1917.  On 4 July 1917, 13th Field Ambulance admitted him with a scalp wound, superficial wounds to the throat, thigh and ankle caused by gunshot wounds, and a fractured left thigh.  That is what his service record casualty sheet records.  Further to his service record are reports made to the Red Cross.  Jack had been recorded as Missing in Action and it appears that the process of keeping track of your mates was a well oiled machine.  Several reports from a variety of service personnel relate their last sighting of Jack, how well they knew him, what they knew about his family background and other details.  The story unfolds through these documents that the Unit came under heavy fire, and Jack ran out into it to save the horses in his care.  He was successful in saving some of them before he was wounded.  The story is harrowing and very sad, unfolding as it does, in a very matter of fact way, in some cases in the handwriting of those who witnessed the events first hand.

Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension (Nord) - Image from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Jack is buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension (Plot III, Row D, Grave No. 186), France.

Sadder still, in my opinion, is the story that unfolds after Jack died.  Jack’s sister Jane who had recently been caring for her dying father, had two brothers (Jack and Henry Edmond ‘Harry’ Kirwan) and one of her three sons away at the war.  She was also running a shop.  While the AIF were happy enough to accept Jane’s word that she was Jack’s next of kin, and send her the details of where he was buried in the field, they put her through the hoops asking for proof that she was his closest living relative, and the most appropriate person to take possession of his few meagre effects, and his medals.  The AIF had a strict hierarchy at the time, for determining closeness of relationship – and fathers came before mothers, brothers before sisters.  They wanted to ascertain if Jack had any living brothers, as he was unmarried, had no children and his parents had both died, before they would send his possessions to Jane.  She informed them that he had a brother, Henry Edmond (‘Harry’) also serving with the AIF and two other brothers, Nicholas Wade (my great grandfather) and Richard Francis (Frank) who had gone to the Western Australian goldfields, lost contact with family, and could well be also enlisted, from WA.  The Army requested a report from local Police to verify her claim, and she had to sign a declaration saying she would take due care of the medals and other effects, should they be placed in her possession, and would return them to the AIF on demand if someone with ‘prior rights’ request them.  Finally after a few letters back and forth, the AIF sent her Jack’s effects.  On 17 June 1918 Jane was sent a package containing the following personal effects belonging to her brother Jack: letters, photo, 2 cards, pipe, knife, purse, wrist strap, handkerchief and tobacco pouch.

British War Medal and Victory Medal

The letter, that conceded that they would send Jane Jack’s medals on the condition that she would hand them back if someone with ‘prior rights’ came along, was sent in October 1922 – five years after Jack died.  Jack was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Jane never forgot to place a memorial notice in the newspaper in the years following the war, for her brother who never returned.


Langford Hanna

Langford Hanna c. 1914

2.  Langford ‘Lanx’ Hanna. Lanx was born in Brighton, Victoria on 25 October 1893, the second son and fourth child of Rosina (Hammond) and Frederick Greer Hanna (my great-great grandparents).

Lanx enlisted in the 11th Battalion, A Company on 26 August 1914 (21 August on the nominal roll), at Helena Vale, Western Australia.  His service number was 59.  He was 21 years old.  He listed his ‘trade or calling’ as Engine Cleaner.  As he later worked in the railways at Katanning, I understand this to be railway-related.

Lanx’s Unit embarked from Fremantle, Western Australia, on board Transport A11 Ascanius on 2 November 1914 to Gallipoli.


Lanx was wounded in Gallipoli and spent six weeks between 16 June and 31 July 1915 in various field hospitals with a gunshot wound to his left elbow.  He suffered from influenza and was hospitalised between August 1915 and November 1915.  On 23 March 1916 he embarked aboard the HMT Maryland in Alexandria for Marseilles, arriving in Marseille on 2 April 1916.  In February 1916 he was appointed Animal Driver.   He was again wounded in action, this time a shrapnel wound to his thigh and was admitted to hospital in France on 13 October 1917.  He was transferred to Orpington in England on 17 October 1917, from where on his recovery, he returned to the trenches in France.  On  5 October 1918 after four years in the field he was sent hom for three months R&R – an initiative of the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes.  As his ship was steaming into Fremantle Harbour, presumably on 11 November 1918,  the Armistice was signed, so he didn’t have to return to duty.  His AIF Project record says he returned to Australia on 16 October 1918 (but that would be when he embarked).  Following his three months leave, Lanx was discharged from the Army, only 11 days after the death of his father on 12 July 1919 in Menzies, Western Australia.  Hopefully he was able to visit his father while on leave.  Lanx was awarded the 1914/15 Star as well as the British War Medal and the Victory Medal that Jack Kirwan received (posthumously).

Lanx married Hazel Gertrude Veale in 1920 in Perth, Western Australia.  Lanx and Hazel moved to Katanning, where Lanx worked on the railways as a train driver.  They had at least two children – Keith and Jack in Katanning.  Lanx died in Katanning in December 1946 and was buried at Katanning Cemetery on 21 December 1946.

In 1967 Hazel wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Army in Canberra to request Lanx’s medallion.  In the letter she  related his involvement in WWI as follows:

Dear Sir

I wish to apply for the ANZAC Medallion.  My late husband was an ANZAC.  Langford Hanna.  He was in the first AIF.  Number 59, 11th Battalion AIF in WA and was at the landing in Gallipoli, wounded at the landing and was in hospital at Heliopolis in Egypt.

From there he was sent to France, was wounded at Pozieres  and went to England and then back to the trenches in France.  He was one of the ANZACs sent home on three months furlough to Australia by the late Billy Hughes and if war wasn’t over at the end of three months they had to go back to France.  However the Armistice was signed the day they steamed into Fremantle Harbour.  So I hope I will be able to get his medal.

Thanking you, yours faithfully

Hazel Hanna.

The ANZAC Medallion Hazel was applying for was issued to all soldiers who fought at Gallipoli or served in support of operations in the Gallipoli Pensinsula, or their families, in the late 1960s.

Hazel died in June 1976 and was buried at Katanning Cemetery on 16 June 1976.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2011 10:07 am


    If you haven’t already done so please add this wonderful post to list for The Trans-Tasman ANZAC Day Blog challenge

    It would be a worthy addition to the compilation of posts being prepared by Shelley and Seonaid

  2. Michelle permalink*
    April 25, 2011 11:59 am

    done (I think) – couldn’t see my comment, but that might be because it needs to be approved 🙂

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