World War I Photo Album – Egypt 1915

While I was working on my former blog, I recalled a World War I treasure I had found some forty years ago in a municipal garbage dump. It is in the form of a photo album recording a soldiers time and experiences in Egypt a few weeks before he embarked for the ‘Gallipoli Campaign’.How the photo album actually got into the garbage dump is anybody’s guess, but I suspect members of  a family were clearing a home after their parents had died, and took everything they didn’t want to the dump.

Today’s garbage facilities would not present an opportunity for the rescue of such a treasure, which leads us to these questions. Just how many such items are dumped and destroyed each year? Now with the centenary fast approaching just how many of treasures, such as this have been lost and destroyed over that century.?

This is not a handsome tome, and would be easily overlooked, but there are a total of 48 small (5 X 8 cm) photos. These range from named single and group photos of his comrades, scenes of their ‘camp’ on the Gaza plane showing the pyramids in the background, to street scenes in Cairo including purchasing water from a street-vender. They make up a complete slice of life for the soldier and his mates at the time. It is inscribed in the front cover, ‘ To Stell’ with Best Love from Alex’. It is date 20 March 1915, Cairo.

When I found it, I was at a loss to know what I should do with it, as I had no way of finding out who the soldier was. However, I have always felt I was holding it in trust, rather than something to be auctioned to the highest bidder of war memorabilia . So it sat in my cupboard, and even moved with us to our new home. Now many years later I have had another look at this album. With the help of online internet resources I have now been able to find out much more about this soldier and his family.

As I mentioned in my former post, the Australian Archives website at . http://www.naa.gov.au, have World War I Service Records of the Australian Military Forces digitized and available on-line. By consulting these records I was able to identify the soldier in the records and follow his movements from his enlistment in August 1914, soon after war was declared, to his discharge in 1917, unfit for continued service. He had been severely wounded several times and was granted a pension. These records also gave his mother as next of kin and the information that he had been born in Scotland.

Through other on-line resources, such as the New South Wales Birth, Death and Marriage Index at http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/, I found that after his return to Australia this soldier had married  the woman whose name was inscribed inside the cover of the photo album. This confirmed my theory that the album had been sent to his ‘sweetheart’ left behind when he enlisted.

I also found reference to not only his death, but those of members of his family including his parents, and his wife.

Once I had the basic story from the soldiers personal service records and his life after the war, I then returned to the Australian War Memorial website at http://www.awm.gov.au. It is well worthwhile spending time on this site with its many aids and features.

I first looked at their guides and information on World War I to help me put this soldier’s story in context. Here is an extracted outline of this war and how our men ended up in Egypt.

“ (for Australia,) …World War I remains the most costly conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.

The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great public enthusiasm. In response to the overwhelming number of volunteers, the authorities set exacting physical standards for recruits. Yet, most of the men accepted into the army in August 1914 were sent first to Egypt, not Europe, to meet the threat which a new belligerent, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), posed to British interests in the Middle East and the Suez Canal.

After four and a half months of training near Cairo, the Australians departed by ship for the Gallipoli peninsula, with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. The Australians landed at what became known as ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915 and established a tenuous foothold on the steep slopes above the beach. During the early days of the campaign, the allies tried to break through Turkish lines, while the Turks tried to drive the allied troops off the peninsula. Attempts on both sides ended in failure and the ensuing stalemate continued for the remainder of 1915. The most successful operation of the campaign was the evacuation of troops on 19 and 20 December, under cover of a comprehensive deception operation. As a result, the Turks were unable to inflict more than a very few casualties on the retreating forces.

After Gallipoli the AIF was reorganised and expanded from two to five infantry divisions, all of which were progressively transferred to France, beginning in March 1916….”

Also on this website I was also able to find material that helped me to ‘stand in the shoes ‘ of this soldier. The War Diaries of World War I have been digitized and are on- line, so you can read the daily activities and follow a soldiers progress throughout the war from his enlistment to his death or return home and discharge. Just a short glances at these will bring the reader into a much better understanding of what and where things took place. A series of maps, also on this website, places the reader right in the scene.

Then there are the private diaries of soldiers right there in the thick of things. Many of these tell you how the soldier felt, and his attitude about the things he was experiencing, which is very valuable to a family historian to get an understanding of how war changed these men, their families and also how the world viewed Australia generally after World War I.

As I had started out with a photo album I made a search through the huge photographic collection on this site to find similar photos. There were many photos of World War I, but there seemed few identified in the time and place of this album, and it was then I realized how this album might help fill a small gap in the records and maybe a valuable addition to the collective memory.

This morning, as I stood in the cool early morning air at an Anzac dawn service, with children and grandchildren, I realized no matter whether it was in World War I, before or since this conflict, that each and everyone of our ancestors and family members, whether they came home or not, were a casualty of war, and deserve to be remembered as ‘heroes’. It is up to us as family historians to make sure this happens. We only have a few short months before the centenary celebrations begin, so just get busy and do it!

World War I Family Heroes – The Stapleton Boys

At this time of year, many of us remember all those ancestors and family members, who served in theatres of war, particularly in World War I.

In my husband’s ancestry, as well as my own, we have many family members involved in this terrible conflict.

As family historians our ultimate aim is to trace a life story from birth to death of each individual on our ‘family tree’. We use many sources to accomplish this, including archival records held in many places, and in many forms. It requires careful detective work as you follow up clues and leads revealed in the documents. This work is very necessary, and although time consuming, it is never boring.

 

This year I have been working on the history of our Stapleton family. Michael Stapleton of County Tipperary, Ireland, immigrated to Queensland in 1875. In 1883 he married in Townsville, Rosanna Kane, who had immigrated from County Armagh Ireland, some time before. Over the next twenty years or so they had six sons and four daughters. When war broke out in 1914, most of the family were living at Mullumbimby, in northern New South Wales. Three of these sons enlisted in the army.

 

Next year we will be celebrating 100 years since the beginning of World War I. So much has been done by Governmental Departments and other groups to help us get the most out of the available sources, by making them available on the Internet.

 

When we think of Australia’s involvement in war and conflict, we usually think of the Australian War Memorial. Their website can be found at http://www.awm.gov.au

Links from this website led me to National Archives of Australia, at http://www.naa.gov.au, for the Personal Service Record of each soldier and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, at http://www.cwgc.org/ concerning the deaths if those who died during the war, and those who died from the effects of the war.

 

I was able to find lots of records on these websites to put together the life story of these three Stapleton brothers.

 

The first to enlist in the Australian Infantry Forces was Daniel Patrick Stapleton, known as ‘Dan’. He was born in 1896, and was the third son, and sixth child, of Michael and Rose Stapleton, of Mullumbimby.

 

Dan was working as a labourer when he enlisted on 10 June 1915. He went into training and embarked for active duty overseas in August the same year. He was serving in the trenches of the Western Front in France, when he was severely wounded in the chest and head on 19 August 1916.His Casualty Service Form told the story of how he was transported from field station to various hospitals over the next few weeks and then was deemed unfit to return to his unit. He was finally returned to Australia in May 1917 and then discharged on 21 June 1917. Although he married and had a number of children, Dan’s war experiences and wounds were to dominate his life until his death in 1946. Much of this is revealed in his Personal Service Records on-line at http://www.naa.gov.au.

The second son to enlist was James Joseph Stapleton, the fourth son and seventh child of Michael and Rose Stapleton, known as ‘Jim’. He was born in 1899, but claimed to be 18 years and 1 month when he enlisted on 2 November 1915 less than five months after his elder brother.

His Service and Casualty Forms reveal a very colourful character, who was well thought of by his men. He is listed as a Gunner in the mortars in October 1916, and rose to the rank of Corporal in June 1917. He saw fighting throughout the Western Front during the worst period. He was killed in action on the Somme, just over two months before the cessation of the war. To find his full story I needed to visit the three above mentioned websites.

 

However, even more of the story was revealed by tracking down the newspapers of the time. The Northern Star (Lismore) has been digitized and is available on-line at the National Library of Australia website,at http://trove.nla.gov.au/ . There I found a newspaper article referring to James Joseph Stapleton, and how and when his parents had been advised of his death. In a later issue was a copy of a beautifully written and comforting letter from one of Jim’s comrades, telling his parents how their son was actually killed, and where and when he was buried. The Australian War Memorial also has a photograph of this serviceman on their website.

 

The third of the Stapleton brothers to enlist, was Michael. He was the eldest son and child of Michael and Rose Stapleton. He was born in Townsville in 1884, and was working as a railway fettler when he joined up in June 1917, a few days before his brother Dan arrived home. Originally he was in the 4th Pioneers, and was involved in building medical field stations and hospitals and was later transferred to the Army Medical Corps at the beginning of 1918.. He spent much of his time in England. When his brother Jim was listed as missing in action he wrote to the authorities and the Red Cross trying to get details for his parents. While he was stationed at Weymouth he met Eva Margaret Gardiner, a young English woman from Frome. They were married in March 1919.

At the end of 1918 and early 1919 Michael had bouts of illness and was hospitalized for a number of weeks each time. He finally returned to Australia in September 1919. His wife Eva Margaret Stapleton followed soon afterwards.

 

The Military service of the Stapleton family did not stop there. William Thomas Stapleton, the tenth and youngest child of Michael and Rose Stapleton was born in 1907. He grew up with the stories of his older brothers in World War I. He was only ten when his brother Jim was killed. Bill, as he was known, enlisted in the Australian Army in World War II, on the 7 July 1941. He served in New Guinea before he fell seriously ill and was returned to Australia in April 1942. He was admitted to the Tweed District Hospital where he died in September 1942.

The above mentioned records have been valuable in putting together the Life Story of each of these Stapleton family members. However, where most family historians with the above information on these men, would believe the research is now complete, for me it is not. I will now search h the archives of the local newspapers for ‘send-offs’ and ‘welcome home’ functions as well as other bits of information I might be able to find. I will be seeking photographs of the families, as well as hoping to make contact with descendants and other interested family members. Family history is never complete. There is always more.