At this time of year with Anzac Day upon us, my thoughts turn to the many family members and ancestors who have been involved in the Defence Services, particularly World War I.
It is now 100 years since all this took place, but those people are still remembered for their great service and sacrifice.
James Joseph Stapleton has always been a part of our family history. He was killed near St Quentin on 1 September 1918, a few weeks before the war ended. More about this soldier here.
In 2014 we took a tour of the World War I Australian Battlefields of the Western Front and visited his grave in the Peronne Communal Extension a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. Blogs about our experience can be found here.
A few weeks ago a family member connected to one of James Joseph Stapleton’s mates who died with him, got in touch and told us about the coincidence of her visiting the cemetery the same day as we had done, although we didn’t meet. She wrote:
Hi Nola, I’m so pleasantly surprised and grateful to have discovered your wonderful post about your visit to the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery dated 13 Oct 2014 tonight. I’m a niece of Leiton Roy Johnston who died with Corporal James Joseph Stapleton, Sergeant Thomas James Stewart McDonald and Lieutenant John Gardiner on 1 September 2018. Thank you for your kind, respectful tribute to my uncle Leiton Johnston and Thomas McDonald and for including the wonderful photo of yourself holding the Australian Flag behind the three graves (Plot I, Row C, Grave Nos. 59, 60, 61). After receiving advice from the War Office that her son’s remains had been reinterred in the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery, my late grandmother Ann Johnston wrote to Base Records on 16 January 1921 to ask if her son had been buried alongside Lieutenant Gardiner, Sergeant McDonald, and Corporal Stapleton as she was aware they ‘fell with him’. Lieutenant Gardiner is buried just behind the three graves in Plot 1, Row C Grave No. 31. I’ve visited the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery twice – on 23 July 2007 and 11 July 2014. During my visit in the afternoon of 11 July 2014 I noted entries in the visitor’s book/folder at the cemetery by relatives of James Stapleton who had visited the cemetery earlier in the day and entries by relatives of Thomas McDonald who visited the cemetery just a couple of days earlier – such a coincidence! I took a photo of the page with my iPad with the intention of contacting the relatives of both men on my return to Australia however, unfortunately, I lost my iPad on a train at the end of my trip and with it the photo of the cemetery visitor’s book page containing the relatives’ contact details. Like you, I too was very grateful to find that our family members ‘were resting in peace with their mates’. [Judy Zappacosta]
Then one of our tour companions recently made a comment about a photograph I mentioned as having seen at the 2nd Division Memorial. She reminded me that I should follow up and try to identify the photograph.
I have visited the Australian War Memorial website this morning, and have located the photograph in their Online Photographic Gallery.
I had taken a photograph of the photograph at the 2nd Division Memorial Site, and can now confirm it is the same photograph, which can be found at https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C55028
It was taken on 1 September 1918, possibly near St Quentin by an unknown Australian Official War Photographer
Here is the description with the photograph:-
Stretcher bearers of the 6th Australian Infantry Brigade bringing in an injured soldier. This was at a time when the German forces still held the hill and the soldier on the right is holding up the Red Cross flag to minimize the risk of being fired on. While the Germans frequently used the Red Cross flag when collecting wounded, it was rather unusual for our bearers to use it as German snipers generally disregarded it. Note also the use of four stretcher bearers. Earlier in the campaign two stretcher bearers only were allowed for each stretcher and they used to wear slings around their necks to take some of the weight. In the last stages of the war the ‘carries’ were usually longer and consequently, four men were allowed to carry each stretcher.
So although I believe I can now say, the photograph was not James Joseph Stapleton being transferred to the first-aid station by his mates, it certainly is a photograph of the kind of situation on the battlefield that day.