This afternoon I spent some minutes sitting at a computer keyboard and crying. The other members of the Genealogical Society of Victoria around me were not intrusive. They had perhaps seen this kind of reaction before from other people who research their family history. How anyone can think the subject is dry and dull is beyond me.
My research on my family member James Salter Armstrong has led me in recent days to his brother Robert, who is also my great great uncle. Robert Armstrong named his son after his brother and so James Ernest Armstrong was born in 1894.
This unfortunately made James Ernest Armstrong the perfect age to enlist in the First World War.
James enlisted in Queensland at the age of 21 years and 9 months, and was allocated to the 42nd battalion.
|The Colour patch of the 42nd Battalion, |
primarily men who enlisted in Queensland.
Looking at his military papers is just so personal. You get a physical description of the person (5ft. 10 in., medium complexion, brown eyes, black hair) and you see their signature committing themselves to their fate with the AIF. You see their nominated next of kin's name and know how hard they must have hoped that they would never need to be contacted. In James' case, he nominated his father Robert.
My inexpert reading of his military papers shows that James spent time in England training. He caught the flu in October and got sick with Mumps in December 1916, spending two weeks in hospital on that occasion. He eventually got to France on 23 February 1917, and was killed three days later.
I suddenly realise that his Uncle James was in the same part of France at exactly the same time. The elder James had reduced his actual age of 43 to be admitted to the AIFand had by this stage already survived his ship being torpedoed and Gallipoli. Eventually, he would be gassed at Ypres and repatriated to Australia. How would he have felt when he was told his nephew and namesake had been killed?
The volunteer researchers at the GSV advise me to go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and I found the younger James, buried not in Belgium as I had been told but in France near Armentiers.
James Ernest Armstrong was killed in action on 26 February 1917. He is buried at Cite Bon-Jean Military Cemetery : Armentiers. His death reported by Rev. A. J. Davidson.
On the website, amongst the photographs of the cemetery are papers about grave locations and matters of bureaucracy for the cemetery. Dry stuff, until I see the page that shows the wording on his grave stone as chosen by his father Robert.
"But a boy who died for his country"
This is when I wept.
monument australia website:
42nd Battalion Roll of Honour is located at:
Ann Street, ANZAC Square, Shrine of Remembrance Crypt, Brisbane, 4000