A brave Queenslander finally returns home

My cousin, Morris William was the first born and only son of William and Amelia.

Morris was born at Rockhampton in 1897 and worked as a station hand with his parents and four younger sisters until the age of 18 when, on his birthday he enlisted, declaring that he was 21.

At the end of 1915, Queensland had been asked to provide two battalions and the men drafted into formation were gathered at Thompson’s Paddock, Enoggera. Morris was allocated to the 42nd Battalion of the Third Division with Lt Col A.R. Woodcock in command.

After several months training, at daybreak on June 3, 1916, the columns of men were marched to the railway station at Enoggera Rifle Range [Gaythorne].

Three trains conveyed them to Sydney where they boarded the SS Borda at Wooloomooloo.

They landed in Egypt and were then sent on to England, ship to Marseilles in France, then train to Le Havre and another ship across the Channel, arriving at No.1 Camp Larkhill, Salisbury Plain.

More training followed until, 12 days before embarkation, King George V inspected 18,000 men of the 3rd Division. It was Morris’ 19th birthday. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on August 6, 1917 and sent to the front at Armentieres.

For four years between 1915 and 1919, fighting took place along a 750km western front which stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss border. To hold back the German advance, the Belgian people had opened the canals and flooded the land in the north-west sector, turning their fields into a muddy morass.

The next sector to the east was held by the Commonwealth forces based in the town of Ieper (Ypres). Where the heck is Ieper you say? Well many Australians recall their relatives calling it Wypers!  

It was close to the outskirts of the town that the German advance was stalled and the fronts were separated by a canal. This front was held predominantly by Australian troops.

On October 3, 1917, Morris and his companions assembled at Zonnebeke, 3kms from Ieper and were in position when the barrage began.

The enemy retaliated and Morris was wounded. He was evacuated to a casualty clearing station where he died and was buried in the nearby graveyard.  Over the next couple of years fighting reduced the graveyard to torn earth and grave sites could no longer be recognised.

After peace was declared, Morris was deemed to be one of the soldiers “with no known grave”.
The people of Belgium wished to commemorate these men and the memorial, Menin Gate, was erected and the names of the missing inscribed on it.

Since 1929, volunteer buglers of the Fire Brigade have each night sounded the Last Post at the Gate.
In May 2005, my husband and I gathered at the memorial and eight buglers attended. We struck up a conversation with Ivan Sinnave and his wife Marie Clare as we waited.

Ivan, a local, was confined to a wheel chair, but before his accident he had, for no specific reason, collected lead from the Belgian fields and now employed himself casting small lead soldiers, usually about 1000 a year. He intended to cast 55,000 to match the names on the memorial.

Very quietly he drew from his pocket a small box and from it selected a soldier which he passed to me.
Later, in our hotel room, I recalled the words of Lord Plume, “Morris is no longer missing. He is here in my hand, and now after all these years he can go home with us.”  On June 1, 2005, 88 years after his death, safely tucked in my hand luggage, Morris touched down at Brisbane airport.

Some months later at a family gathering, among assembled memorabilia, stood a small figure in the uniform of an Australian soldier.

Diana Hacker is archivist for the Queensland Women’s Historical Association at Miegunyah, Bowen Hills. Tours are available. Visit miegunyah.org