His Little Treasures - Royston George Duncan

You may have read recently that I have been entrusted with digitizing some family heirlooms.  This is my next contribution to the "finds" therein. Coincidentally and most fortuitously it fits in with this week's Sepia Saturday theme. Marilyn aka Little Nell says:

You can let your imagination run free with your responses to this one. Street traders, roadside artisans, menders, cobblers, tools-of-the-trade, hand-colouring and lantern slides

This postcard has, I think, Dorothy Grace DAW (nee HINDE's writing on the back of the postcard) on the right hand side.  On the left, very faintly, you can see some other writing.  It says from Cousin Roy to Hinde family. So I imagine that is Roy's writing.  How precious.

Roy enlisted in the AIF 25 August 1915 at the age of 21 years and 5 months. Less than a year later he was killed in action.  

Roy was the sixth child of Alexander DUNCAN and Julia O'SULLIVAN.  He was born 1894 and was their fourth son.  Older siblings included William, Catherine, John, Rose, Maurice Alexander and younger brother Robert.

Roy's father Alexander was part of the big family of William Doig DUNCAN and Rose GORRIAN.  He was the third eldest and his younger sister Alice Cecilia DUNCAN was my husband's great-grandmother.  Roy and my husband's grandmother Dorothy (Dolly) DAW (nee HINDE) were cousins.  Roy was about 7 years older than Dolly.

Roy embarked from Brisbane 30 December 1915 on the HMAT Itonus A50.  He was single, Roman Catholic and earning 5 shillings a day.


It looks like a bit of a party doesn't it?  Close to New Year's Eve I expect there was some excitement in the air.  

At first Roy was assigned to the 7th Reinforcement of the 26th Battalion.  He was taken on strength at Tel-el-Theba on 3 March but then, on 9 March 1916 he was assigned to the 48th Battalion.  According to a letter from his father on page 12 of his file, Roy was a Signaller with C Company of the 12th Infantry Brigade of the 48th.  Shortly after his transfer to the 48th he went to Hospital with the Mumps, then rejoined the Battalion at Serapeum on 28th March.  It's a bit tricky reading the record but what I can make of it it indicates that he then went back to hospital with influenza.  He finally joined the BEF at Alexandria on 2 June and made his way to Marseilles by 9 June.

I have been reading Scott Bennett's Pozières – The ANZAC story, CEW Bean's The AIF in France and the Unit Diaries on the AWM site to get some sense of what was going on at the time.

The potted history of the 48th on the AWM site here gives the best summary:

The 48th Battalion was raised in Egypt on 16 March 1916 as part of the “doubling” of the AIF. Roughly half of its new recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 16th Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the composition of the 16th, the men of the new battalion hailed mainly from regional South Australia and Western Australia. The new battalion formed part of the 12th Brigade of the 4th Australian Division. It became known as the “Joan of Arc” (the Maid of Orleans) battalion because it was “made of all Leanes” - it was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ray Leane, his brother was the adjutant, and several other relatives were scattered throughout the battalion.
The 48th’s first major battle on the Western Front was Pozières. Here, it was tasked with defending ground captured in earlier attacks by the 2nd Division and entered the firing line on two separate occasions - 5 to 7 and 12 to 15 August. During the former period the battalion endured what was said to be heaviest artillery barrage ever experienced by Australian troops and suffered 598 casualties. 

The unit diary which you can read online here says the following about the day Roy died and this is the closest I can find to a possible account of his death.

HQ was very heavily shelled from 2.30 to  3.15 with systematic searching fire and considerable damage was done.  Two shells burst in the sap close to HQ dug out and destroyed a lot of signal gear and telephones and also I regret to say killed 2 runners of 48th and 2 of this battalion and wounded 7 others either signallers or runners.  A heavy barrage of HE shrapnel and indirect m.f. fire was placed on these HQ and Sunken Road tracks from 11pm to 3.15am.

Group portrait including General J. J. T. Hobbs (left, seated), Senator Pearce (centre, seated), Brigadier General McNicoll and their wives, on board RMS Osterley, during the return voyage to Australia, September 1919-October 1919 coutesy of National Library of Australia

On 17th February, Roy's father wrote to Senator Pearce, then Minister for Defence,  as follows:

 I write to ask you if you could assist me in getting my son's belongings that are over somewhere in France and to unable (sic) you in doing so I am sending you full particulars as to his name & date of death & as I am his father I would like to get all his little treasures whether great or small but it's all poor compared to my sad loss.  I beg to state since my son's death there has been letters sent from Captain McKay that my son had written & not posted.  Captain McKay said they were found in the personal affai  effects.  I also wish to state that no other member of my family are to get these things wihout my written consent.  If you cannot get his things for me will you please write & tell me where I would have to write to .  I remain Yours Faithfully Alexander Duncan.  

Eventually the little treasures were returned.  They comprised:

Metal cigarette case. Hair brush. Comb. Letters. Postcards. Notebook.  Photo. Flynet. Cottonbag.

I don't know if these little treasures survive today, but I will treasure this hand coloured photo very dearly now I know its story.

For more treasures go here.

PS -A couple of very important things I forgot to say before....

Roy has no known grave.  If you read the account of the battle I believe that many were just buried in the trenches due to the incredibly heavy bombardment in that battle.  He is commemorated at Villers Brettoneux and I am grateful to Tracey and Doug for this photo on Flickr.  What a powerful place that must be to visit.  

According to Find A Grave here, his name is inscribed on the memorial.  You can read more here.  

If you go to the Australian War Memorial his name is on Panel 145 as per here.  But most importantly, his name will be projected on the war memorial at the following times:

Tue 28 October, 2014 at 4:53 am

Thu 1 January, 2015 at 1:05 am
Wed 4 March, 2015 at 5:06 am
Fri 24 April, 2015 at 4:36 am
Sun 7 June, 2015 at 9:19 pm
Sun 19 July, 2015 at 9:45 pm
Thu 3 September, 2015 at 12:28 am

Tue 27 October, 2015 at 10:23 pm

I don't think I will be in Canberra at any of those times.  I want to go in March but it will be at the end of March.  If you want to see what it will look like, go here.  Pretty impressive huh?  What a great idea.


La Nightingail said…
Gosh, I found myself wishing, after the mumps & influenza, he'd come down with the measles or some other longish-lasting malady to keep him in the hospital instead of being well enough to join his company. So many young lives so sadly lost.
Mike Brubaker said…
A very evocative photo. The added color makes it a very fitting memorial to the many young men of that generation who perished in the war.
Little Nell said…
You’ve done well to find out so much about Roy. It’s a sad story and his father’s letter is very poignant. I’m glad the little treasures were returned eventually.
Alex Daw said…
Thanks Jackie. The more I read, the more I want to read, though it's all very sobering.
Alex Daw said…
It looks clumsy now, the hand colouring, doesn't it Mike. But you're right...they will be forever young in our memory.
Alex Daw said…
Thanks Little Nell. Such a poignant phrase - his little treasures - isn't it?
I admire all the information you've pulled together on Roy. You are an inspiration for me to complete my research into my father's service in WW1. The letter from Roy's father choked me up. Finally, thanks for the link to the memorial in Canberra - it's a wonderful idea. Those heroes should never be forgotten.
A beautifully wrought post Alex. Such sad stories hidden in all those NAA files and the letters reveal tragedies and hurt beyond the immediate loss. Interesting that he sailed from Pinkenba as all my Queenslanders seemed to have left from southern ports...at least those I've followed up. Like you I had my fingers crossed that some of my KIA family members would have their names projected during Congress but sadly no. BTW Villers Brettoneux is one of the most poignant places I've visited in the depths of a cold November day 22 years ago...very sad.
Boobook said…
Beautiful image and text Alex. I didn't know about the war AWM projected names - I'll have to check it out.
Alex Daw said…
Thank you Helen. Yes, what agony these parents must have gone through huh? So very very sad. The more I read, the more mad it seems - war, that is. I only just found out about the projections at AWM from a colleague at work. Such a great idea - I agree.
Alex Daw said…
Oh Pauleen - you say all the right things. Of course I feel that I can never do any of these young men any justice. How can we really know what it was like? Horrific beyond our wildest imaginings I suspect.
Alex Daw said…
Hi Lorraine - aren't the projections a great idea? I didn't know either until just last week. Such a great idea.
Sharon said…
I am such a sook. Anything about the ANZACs gets me so emotional since I started doing family history.
I haven't been to the AWM but am hoping to visit and remember my ANZACs during the centenary celebrations. Thank you for letting me know about the projections as I will try to co-ordinate my visit accordingly.
Great Post!
Alex Daw said…
Me too Sharon, me too. I am gripped by the account of Pozieres at the moment though it is more than a bit depressing. Please allow quite a bit of time to see the AWM - maybe a couple of half days if you can stretch to that. It is honestly the most amazing and moving place and there is never enough time to see all of it.
Sharon said…
Yes hoping to spend a week in the area.

One day, I also want to get to Ypres where there are many relatives remembered. I know that will also be a very emotional experience.

So many things on my "to do" list!
Wendy said…
His father's letter brings tears to my eyes. Those little treasures in exchange for his life -- "tragic" doesn't quite say it all.
Alex Daw said…
I know Wendy - can you imagine the heartbreak? Just awful.
Alex Daw said…
Thanks Jill...that's great news!

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