We will remember them
November 2018 marks 100 years since the end of World War I. To commemorate, Contact reflects on the war’s impact on members of the UQ community and pays tribute to the sacrifices made by so many brave students and staff.
Image: Fryer Library, The University of Queensland
Image: Fryer Library, The University of Queensland
Mates connected to tragic end
Take a look at this photo of UQ graduates in 1916.
It may seem unremarkable on its own, but it helps to tell one of UQ’s most remarkable stories of coincidence and loss from World War I.
Charles Wonderley and Walde Fisher in their UQ graduation photo in 1916. Image: Fryer Library, The University of Queensland
Look closer. See the men circled in the back row? They’re Charles Wonderley and Walde Fisher, standing side-by-side on what was then just another day in the parallel lives of two young mates.
Fisher was born on 24 August 1894 in Horsham, Victoria. Wonderley was born a few weeks later on 5 October 1894 in Toowoomba, Queensland.
Fisher moved to Queensland with a scholarship to Ipswich Grammar in 1908. Wonderley attended Toowoomba Grammar, less than 100 kilometres away, and, like Fisher, was the dux of his school.
As members of their respective First XV rugby teams, they would occasionally meet head-to-head on the football field during their schooldays.
They got to know each other better when they matriculated to UQ in 1913. In 1916, they both graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours) in Classics.
Just weeks after this photo was taken, with the war in full swing on the Western Front, both answered the call to take up arms. After embarking for active service, Fisher rose through the ranks to Lieutenant, while Wonderley was awarded the Military Medal for his actions in battle in October 1917.
Charles Wonderley (left) and Walde Fisher (right). Images: Australian War Memorial and Fryer Library, The University of Queensland
And on 5 April 1918, their lives again mirrored each other’s to a tragic end, when they were both killed on the same battlefield. Their bodies are buried less than 10 kilometres apart, near Amiens in France.
In a final heartbreaking coincidence, the pair’s personal effects now rest on the bottom of the ocean after the ship carrying their belongings home to Queensland was torpedoed and sunk off the Scilly Isles near England.
Fisher and Wonderley are two of the 84 UQ students and staff (including Queensland Agricultural College) who lost their lives in service during World War I.
Fourteen died at Gallipoli, including two on the first day of battle on 25 April 1915, while 11 were killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
More UQ students and staff died in 1917 than in any other year of the war, most notably in Belgium in what was known as the Third Battle of Ypres.
During the final year of the war, in 1918, three more students died on the same battlefield as Fisher and Wonderley.
More would die from illness and misfortune in the five years after the war ended, including John Fryer (for whom the Fryer Library is named) who passed away from the aftermath of exposure to poison gas.
Soldiers on the Menin Road in Belgium in 1917. Image: Fryer Library, The University of Queensland
Soldiers on the Menin Road in Belgium in 1917. Image: Fryer Library, The University of Queensland
UQ’s Associate Director of Workplace Diversity and Inclusion, and Royal Australian Air Force Group Captain, Dr Dee Gibbon OAM CSC, said the rich personal stories of UQ’s involvement during wartime demonstrated the degree to which the University was, and remains, an integral part of Australia’s initial and ongoing identity as a nation.
“As UQ reflects on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and the war’s impact on members of the UQ community, it is important to acknowledge that UQ remains a place of study and employment for future, past and current veterans, from Australia and other countries,” said Gibbon, who recently served as NATO’s Senior Gender Adviser to the Resolute Support Mission in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“UQ scholars continue to contribute to global dialogues and research addressing security, peace and conflict, as well as methods of building sustainable peace in regions affected by ongoing conflict and terrorism.”
Gibbon said it was also important to acknowledge the important role UQ women played during WWI, both at home and overseas.
“While the contribution of women tends to be neglected in historical accounts of war, women from UQ and the broader Queensland community actively contributed to Australia’s war efforts, especially in the areas of nursing, communications and administration,” she said.
Jane Darvall, also known as Jean, earned a Bachelor of Arts at UQ before joining the Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) with the British Expeditionary Forces in 1916. She served in Manchester and in field hospitals in France, where she was mentioned in dispatches in May 1918. Upon her return, she worked in UQ’s Department of External Studies for a number of years.
Another VAD member was fellow UQ graduate Annie May Parr. According to the book The University of Queensland 1910–1935, she worked with the VAD in Bucharest, Romania, during the German occupation from 1916 to 1918, and was awarded the Queen’s Cross.
“While Defence women have now moved far beyond the more traditional supporting roles, women’s contribution to World War I laid the groundwork for women’s increased participation in Australia’s military, including combat roles from which women were once banned,” Gibbon said.
Special thanks to UQ archivist Bruce Ibsen for his research and assistance in the development of this article.
Father's desperate search for lost Anzac
Private Harry Graham was a long way from the sheep-farming life he left behind in Barcaldine, central Queensland.
From Australia to Egypt and onto Turkey, he was seeing the world – camping next to the pyramids and exploring the bustling streets of Cairo.
Harry had spent most of his life in Barcaldine, a small farming town famous for the great shearers strike in the 1890s and renowned for its role in the birth of the Australian Labor Party.
His father Thomas Graham was the resident pharmacist and he made sure Harry completed his high school education, unusual for many rural Australian children at the time.
Harry left Barcaldine in 1911 and attended Queensland Agricultural College (now UQ Gatton) until 1914 – when the world went to war, his sense of adventure got the better of him. Harry put his agricultural career on hold and set sail with the Army for active service.
After months of intensive combat training in the harsh North African desert, he was finally ready.
During the early hours of 25 April 1915, under the cover of darkness, 18-year-old Harry and his comrades from the 9th Battalion stormed the beaches of Gallipoli.
He was never seen again.
Life carried on as normal in Barcaldine. It would take almost a month for news of Australia’s first casualties at Gallipoli to reach home.
Lost Boys of Anzac, written by Peter Stanley and published in 2014, traces the steps that Harry and his fellow first wave of soldiers took to land at Gallipoli, where so many died on the first day of battle.
The book describes how the casualty lists published in Australian newspapers carried grief and anxiety with them across the country; however, few of the first casualties were listed as killed in action. Many were reported as wounded or missing.
“The word ‘killed’ at least signalled a definite fate,” Stanley writes. “The word ‘missing’ was to become the most dreaded of the war.”
Harry was among the missing and, after months of correspondence and no firm report of his death, Thomas embarked on a long and unsuccessful quest to find his son. The Grahams, like other families looking for missing relatives at the time, also engaged the Red Cross to investigate Harry’s fate.
They had a moment of hope when one of Harry’s fellow soldiers, Private Potts, reported seeing him wounded.
“It was only a flesh wound”, the report said, “and [Harry] was taken off to the doctor.”
Thomas wrote to hospitals across Europe and, with the help of Irish relatives, circulated printed notices around military camps.
The notices read:
“INFORMATION WANTED: The relatives of the undernamed, who has been missing for over four months, would be grateful to any member of the Australian force for news of him.”
On 8 November 1915, the Australian Red Cross Society reported that Harry was “said to have fallen in a bayonet charge after the landing at [Gallipoli] on 25th April. He did not answer the first roll call. Perhaps he is a prisoner”.
Harry’s remains were never found and, after several years of searching, the Grahams eventually accepted that Harry had been killed in action.
Sadly, he was just one of thousands of missing Australian soldiers with no known graves, buried beneath battlefields around the world.
Efforts were made after the war to identify the remains of fallen soldiers, and the Australian Army’s Officer in Charge of Base Records wrote to Thomas in 1921 seeking information that might help in the identification process.
“We have so far been unable to obtain any trace of the last resting place of your son, the late No.154 Private H.J. Graham, 9th Battalion,” the letter read.
“I shall be much obliged if you will let me have on loan any letters or communications that contain any reference to the circumstances surrounding his death.
“The reason these steps are being taken is to identify... those bodies that are being recovered but which have nothing on them to definitely establish identification, and thus obviate the necessity of interring them in the new Military Cemeteries under the heading ‘An Unknown Australian Soldier’.”
One hundred years on, Unrecovered War Casualties – Army (UWC–A) is responsible for finding, recovering, and identifying fallen Australian soldiers like Harry.
UQ graduate Donna MacGregor (Bachelor of Science (Honours) ’94) is an Army reservist and the only forensic anthropologist in the Australian Army.
“A forensic anthropologist’s job is to study the skeletal remains to provide biological profiles, which then starts a shortlist of those who are missing,” MacGregor said.
“Genealogists, biologists and investigators will then try to match family reference samples. It’s difficult because these soldiers have been buried for 100 years, and some family lines no longer exist.”
Soldiers were required to provide a description of themselves when they enlisted for duty in World War I. This included information such as age, height, chest measurements, hair and eye colour, as well as distinctive marks – in Harry’s case, a scar on the lip and a scar below the left kneecap.
MacGregor said it was these details that could help determine a soldier’s identity.
“By studying the bones of these soldiers, we might be able to assess whether the deceased had any metabolic diseases, or whether they had a healed injury. We can also look at traumas and any anomalies.
“It can all depend on the quantity of remains. Sometimes we might only get a few fragments of bones; other times we might get a complete skeleton.
“It’s now 100 years since these soldiers gave their lives for their country and they deserve to be honoured and laid to rest. And their families deserve that closure.”
The grief and anxiety associated with Harry’s unknown fate took its toll on the Graham family. Thomas died less than three years after the war, having finally accepted that his son wasn’t coming home.
UQ Lecturer in Clinical Psychology Dr Fiona Maccallum specialises in grief, loss, trauma and anxiety research. She thinks there is still much to learn about how individuals and families cope when a loved one goes missing.
“In such circumstances, it can be very difficult for people to keep going with daily activities or plan for their future in any meaningful way.Stopping the search or giving up hope can feel akin to a betrayal of their loved one and the importance of that relationship,” Maccallum said.
“Some people do find ways of living with the uncertainty. Others experience intense and disabling distress that can continue for years. The field is working hard to try to understand these differences.”
Names live on forever at UQ
Sunday 11 November 2018 marks a century since World War I ended – a sombre anniversary for our nation and the UQ community.
To commemorate the staff and students who served and sacrificed, UQ has unveiled a new Roll of Honour plaque that now recognises all 51 Queensland Agricultural College (UQ Gatton) staff and students – 15 of whom were omitted from previous memorials.
Initially focused on UQ staff and students during 1914 and 1918, the project later expanded to include the Queensland Agricultural College community, which became part of UQ in 1990.
“The deeper I delved into the project, the more it highlighted some discrepancies and omissions listed on UQ memorial plaques, in particular the plaque at the War Memorial Swimming Pool at the Gatton campus,” Mr Ibsen said.
“Thirty-six students are listed on the original plaque, but during my research I found that 15 names were omitted.”
“The original plaque was made using research material available at the time, however contemporary online access to historical resources had provided greater accessibility to the information.”
Mr Ibsen said the plaques evolved from being a list of names etched on stone or metal, to a revelation of unique personalities; some who achieved much in their short lives, others with untapped potential that was never fully realised.
“We cannot forget they were more than just names to the people who knew them; they were individuals who were loved by many, and missed forever by their families and friends.”
Melbourne resident Clive Dellora – whose great uncle Kevin John Molony attended Queensland Agricultural College between 1904 and 1905, and died in battle in Belgium on 2 November 1917 – said memorial plaques at UQ brought together two key aspects of the lives of these young men: their education and their ultimate sacrifice.
“In many cases, given their youth, a soldiers' education and military service were the only recorded activities in their lives,” Mr Dellora said.
“They were often too young to have marriage certificates or an involvement in community affairs, and photos would have been a rare treat.
“Their lives were all too short and a visible commemoration of their sacrifice is of lasting value.”
To learn more about the UQ staff and students who served in World War I, read Faces of the Fallen.
Australian War Memorial. (2014). Search for a person. http://www.awm.gov.au/
National Archives of Australia. (2014). Australian Service records World War 1: 1914-1918. http://www.naa.gov.au/
Faces of the Fallen, 2018
Gatton College Magazine, 1940
Stanley, Peter (2014). Lost Boys of Anzac