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

Links from this website led me to National Archives of Australia, at, for the Personal Service Record of each soldier and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, at 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

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 . 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.