A war story

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Undried Plum
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A war story

#1 Post by Undried Plum » Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:04 pm

Nearby where I live there is a small private family burial ground. It has very tall stonebuilt walls and an extraordinary door. So far as I know, it is the only door, other than that of Number Ten Downing Street, which can only be opened from the inside.

It's mostly of Victorian vintage, but the most recent interment was in early December 1918. No longer within living memory, though I do remember an elderly lady telling me that she remembered, as a young child, seeing the funeral cortege of that burial party. What she recollected was the enormous black feathers on the heads of the horses which drew the hearse up the hill to the burial place.

Local legend tells a story of that guy, but first I should explain the circumstances.

For the first few years of WW1 there was no conscription in the UK. Instead there was immense societal pressure on young men to join up and do their bit for King, Country and Kitchener. After a year or so, any young men of military age seen on the streets were verbally abused and even spat upon, mostly my women who had lost a husband or brother or father or son in the meat-grinder that was the Western front of trench warfare. They would forcefully push a white feather into the lapel buttonhole of such a man. It was a symbol of Cowardice.

According to local legend, wrongly as I'm about to relate, he was shot for Desertion and buried there because no churchyard or military cemetery would have him.

The story says that he refused to volunteer and that he was so abused by the community that he ran away to Australia to make a new life for himself where his face was not known and in a country which, though technically at war as a part of the British Empire, was peaceful.

The legend told, which I shall disprove later in this piece, says that upon arrival in Oz he was badly surprised to find that in that country they already had Conscription and that he was immediately put into khaki and given a rifle and coupla weeks training send sent to Gallipoli where he shot his toe off to get out of the military and that he was subsequently shot for Desertion.

Almost all of that legend is untrue.

Now here's the truth. I've got umpteen pages of his service record from the Australian National Archive website to back up every iota of what I say from here on.

I'm aware of the fact that he may have had children. Therefore there may be grandchildren or great-grandchildren who would prefer to imagine that their ancestor was some kind of a war hero. He was not, in my informed opinion. I am therefore deleting his personal identity as I would not wish any of them to find this story through some kind of Googlesearch.

I have full documentation from his induction into the Australian Infantry, all the way through the military record of his burial.

I now know that he was in already in Australia in 1911, so the story about him shirking voluntary service in the UK is wrong.

Here's an image of my first piece of evidence. Note the date, and note that he appears to already have served military service (though I doubt the latter). Clearly the story that he ran away to Australia after a year of the War is wrong.

Image

I shall continue this story in further posts.

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Re: A war story

#2 Post by Boac » Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:13 pm

Fascinating, UP

"the only door which can only be opened from the inside." - oo err. Has it ever opened?

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Re: A war story

#3 Post by Undried Plum » Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:20 pm

Boac wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:13 pm
Fascinating, UP

"the only door which can only be opened from the inside." - oo err. Has it ever opened?
Yes, by me.

I used a great big extending aluminium ladder. Two actually, just in case I couldn't get the door to open from the inside. :ymdevil: The residents are a bit decrepit and for some reason wouldn't respond to my knock on the door.

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Re: A war story

#4 Post by ian16th » Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:57 pm

Undried Plum wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:04 pm
So far as I know, it is the only door, other than that of Number Ten Downing Street, which can only be opened from the inside.
Looking forward to Episode 2.

About the front door of Number 10!

Y'all see most night's on TV the comings and going at this well known address.
Maybe like me you admire the ultra shinny, coachwork like, black finish.
Have you ever paused to think that we never ever see anyone wielding a paint brush on said door?

My theory is that there are at least 2 such doors, and when renovation is required, in the wee small hours, a quick door swap happens.
A few screws removed & replaced, is far quicker than a paint job.

Any other theories?
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Re: A war story

#5 Post by Undried Plum » Sun Apr 05, 2020 8:01 pm

ian16th wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:57 pm
Undried Plum wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:04 pm
So far as I know, it is the only door, other than that of Number Ten Downing Street, which can only be opened from the inside.
Looking forward to Episode 2.

About the front door of Number 10!

Y'all see most night's on TV the comings and going at this well known address.
Maybe like me you admire the ultra shinny, coachwork like, black finish.
Have you ever paused to think that we never ever see anyone wielding a paint brush on said door?

My theory is that there are at least 2 such doors, and when renovation is required, in the wee small hours, a quick door swap happens.
A few screws removed & replaced, is far quicker than a paint job.

Any other theories?

You're right.

I have a book, in Norwegian language, called Bak den svarte dører.

It says that they have two doors and regularly do the swap which you suggest.

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Re: A war story

#6 Post by ian16th » Sun Apr 05, 2020 8:07 pm

UP

You really are the the ultimate authority of knowledge, trivial and otherwise.

Its nice to be right, if only occasionally.

Why on earth is this in a Norwegian book?
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Re: A war story

#7 Post by Undried Plum » Mon Apr 06, 2020 5:20 am

It was a Norwegian author and he wrote in his native tongue.

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Re: A war story

#8 Post by Undried Plum » Mon Apr 06, 2020 5:23 am

I'm starting his story from the end, as that is how I started my research.

Here is the official Army Report into his burial. I have redacted his identity as I shall be showing why I believe that he was a lousy soldier. A malinger, a drunkard, a brawler. A general arsehole. Not the kind of characteristics that any of his descendants would want to know about.

His funeral was attended by a representative Major of the Australian Infantry.

Image

Image

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The family connection with the burial ground was on his mother's side, whose married surname he bore. His birthplace and childhood home was a small town in Invernessshire.

I note that only three days elapsed between his death and burial. I know that his mother was present at the time of his death in an Edinburgh hospital which is now called The Western General. Clearly there had been some preparation for the funeral, almost certainly commencing before he expired as it was probably very clear that his flu-generated pneumonia was not responding to the serum treatment very well. Digging a grave in that little burial ground involves breaking very hard Dolerite rock, so would have taken at least one or two days to dig. It's the presence of that reef of 'whinstone' as it's known locally which is the reason why the little copse exists as it could never have been tilled agriculturally.

It's a terrible irony that a chronic hypochondriac and malingerer should die of flu.

I shall post lots and lots of pages of his service record in due course. It paints a very bad picture of the man.

I shall discuss the possibility that he was suffering from what we now call PTSD.

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Re: A war story

#9 Post by Undried Plum » Mon Apr 06, 2020 6:11 am

An interesting point in his attestation is the claim that he'd served 3 years in the Seaforth Highlanders.

My search is not fully comprehensive, but I could find no trace of a man of his full name in the Records of that Regiment.

His father, same surname but different forenames, served in the Regiment with distinction in the Boer and Zulu Wars, retiring with the rank of Major.

Looking at the general demeanour of this guy, from his service record, I do not believe that he had served any time in the British Army as a volunteer. I suspect that the reason why he claimed to have served before was that he was hoping that it would excuse him from being drafted into the Oz Infantry. I guess he was hoping that nobody would check the records back in the UK as telecomms in those days were very primitive and expensive.

I know that he used the lack of checking in 1918 when he reported sick (he really was sick, this time) at Waverley Railway Station in Edinburgh. He claimed that he was on Leave, but actually he was doing a runner from a barracks in Dorset to his family home in Invernesshire. The Edinburgh military medical people were dealing with a catastrophic epidemic of "Spanish" Flu at the time and had better things to do than verify whether a sick travelling soldier was on legitimate leave.

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Re: A war story

#10 Post by Pontius Navigator » Mon Apr 06, 2020 7:05 am

Diverting, a No 10 door is also in the Cabinet War Rooms, no sign of wear on it. Is that the spare I wonder if an earlier one without armour plate?

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Re: A war story

#11 Post by Mrs Ex-Ascot » Mon Apr 06, 2020 9:01 am

UP you've got me hooked already; can't wait for the next installment. :)
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Re: A war story

#12 Post by 4mastacker » Tue Apr 07, 2020 10:56 pm

ian16th wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:57 pm
................My theory is that there are at least 2 such doors, and when renovation is required, in the wee small hours, a quick door swap happens.
A few screws removed & replaced, is far quicker than a paint job........
True. Apparently there's three according to a former colleague who was involved in such matters - one fitted, one spare, one being renovated.
It's always my fault - SWMBO

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Re: A war story

#13 Post by Undried Plum » Tue Apr 07, 2020 11:58 pm

I have well over 80 pages of his service record, most of which I will not reproduce here.

It's a quite incredibly lengthy list of criminal charges and of occasions of him pushing for sick leave.

Later in this series, I'll post a truly randomised half dozen or so pages so that you can see what I mean about the sheer relentlessness of his avoiding military duties.

I'll first paste this page, in two parts because the writing can be hard to read at the scale of imagery allowed here, because it's actually quite funny.

Here, he has inveigled himself into hospital on one of his numerous bouts of fake 'flu. Even there he gets himself into trouble by getting pissed and going "out of bounds". I dunno quite that that means. Perhaps he let himself into the nurses' quarters to try his luck?

I also love the entry which says "wounded in Action while an absentee from his Unit". Having read more than 80 other pages of his service record, my interpretation is that he had the living schitt kicked out of him in a bar fight.

AWL = AWOL

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Re: A war story

#14 Post by Karearea » Wed Apr 08, 2020 3:49 am

Poor beggar.
Unlike the other countries engaged in World War I, conscription was not introduced in Australia. All the Australians who fought in World War I were volunteers.
https://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/wwone_sol ... nscription
"The battle, whatever it may have been about, had apparently rolled away in some unknown direction..."

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Re: A war story

#15 Post by Pontius Navigator » Wed Apr 08, 2020 7:39 am

UP, what was the source of these records? I don't have any Australian relatives at this time that I know of though I had an uncle there in WW2 and other relations in NZ.

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Re: A war story

#16 Post by Undried Plum » Wed Apr 08, 2020 9:51 am

Pontius Navigator wrote:
Wed Apr 08, 2020 7:39 am
UP, what was the source of these records? I don't have any Australian relatives at this time that I know of though I had an uncle there in WW2 and other relations in NZ.
The Australian national archive website is brilliant. It's an example of what the English and Scottish equivalents ought to be like, but aren't.

I'd like to do some research into his home address in Victoria, but I don't know the Oz versions of things like census returns and Valuation Rolls or how to go about such research.

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Re: A war story

#17 Post by Undried Plum » Wed Apr 08, 2020 9:53 am

Karearea wrote:
Wed Apr 08, 2020 3:49 am
Poor beggar.
Unlike the other countries engaged in World War I, conscription was not introduced in Australia. All the Australians who fought in World War I were volunteers.
https://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/wwone_sol ... nscription
The local legend that he ran away from Britain to avoid joining up was simply wrong.

Then societal pressure on him to join must have been extreme. His endless series of malingering and being AW(O)L shows very clearly that he didn't want to be in the bloody army.

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Re: A war story

#18 Post by Pontius Navigator » Wed Apr 08, 2020 10:28 am

UP, have a look at Ancestry.co.uk. Search there looking at Oz or World Wide. This will tell you which records in their data sets have such details but to get that detail you will then need to subscribe. Find my past. I don't have WW subscription.

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