‘That famous army of generous men’: some stories and reflections for Remembrance Day

Richard Reid*

‘”That famous army of generous men”: some stories and reflections for Remembrance Day’, Honest History, 11 November 2016

In early November 1993 I stood at 8.00 am in the misty cold of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Adelaide Cemetery just outside the town of Villers-Bretonneux in France. My role that morning was to accept, on behalf of the Australian War Memorial, that the remains of an unknown Australian soldier we were about to exhume were indeed those of such a soldier and that he could now be taken back to Australia for reburial in the Hall of Memory at the Memorial on the morning of 11 November, Remembrance Day, 1993.

tomb_of_the_unknown_soldier_australiaTomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, Canberra (Wikipedia/Bidgee)

That event was a defining moment in modern Australian commemorative history and what was dedicated that day at the Australian War Memorial – the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier – altered forever the way in which visitors can relate to the Memorial. It raised the status of the commemorative area from being the site of the national Roll of Honour to that of a ‘war cemetery’. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission acknowledged this by producing one of its ‘Cemetery Registers’ for the Memorial, in which it states that entombed there is an ‘Unknown Australian Soldier killed in the War of 1914-1918’.

Individual identity and war

The tomb is a reminder of one of the most devastating effects of World War I battle – its capacity to obliterate the identity of hundreds of thousands of individuals of all combatant armies. This soldier’s name is among those more than 61 500 names of Australians who perished in Australia’s armed services in World War I and who are now featured on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour. It is almost certain, from this man’s place of burial in France, that he died in the battle area around Villers-Bretonneux between April and August of 1918, maybe even in the famous action of 24-25 April 1918 when infantry units of the Australian Imperial Force recaptured Villers-Bretonneux from the Germans.

Some 46 000 Australians died on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918, virtually 47 per cent of all those recorded on the Roll of Honour, that is, of the number for all of our wars. Of those, some 18 000 were never found for burial or, if found, could not be identified. One of them was Private William Gale of Crystal Brook, South Australia, who died on 25 April 1918 and is commemorated on the wall of the missing of the Australian Imperial Force in France at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. It is possible, indeed, that Gale is the soldier in the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier but we cannot trace the identity of this soldier because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has no record of where in the surrounding area his body was found when the Adelaide Cemetery was used for burials both during and after the war.

In the 1920s, Charles Bean, who had been Australia’s official correspondent during the war, involved himself in two great projects, the writing of the nation’s official history of the war and the creation of what was to become the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Bean spent much time thinking about how the individual dead should be commemorated at the Memorial and he knew this would be in the form of a national Roll of Honour. However, originally, the Roll was not to be constructed as we see it now, showing the dead by name within their military units, and listing these units in what was the military precedence of the armed services of the old British Empire, that is, first the senior service, the navy, then the army with first the headquarters units, the cavalry (in Australia’s case the Light Horse), the artillery and then the poor bloody infantry. At the bottom of the Roll are the Australian Flying Corps and the Australian Army Nursing Service.

Bean had two objections to listing the names in this way. First, he thought – and claimed he had much support among AIF veterans for this – that in 100 years’ time, let alone 500, nobody who visited the roll would have a clue what the 1st Light Trench Mortar Battery was, let alone the significance of an infantry battalion at that time. Secondly, Bean felt that such a military style of listing was not compatible with a force whose members he claimed were ‘incorrigibly civilian’ in outlook. This reminds us that the AIF was not the Australian Army as we know it today but a military force raised with the express purpose of serving against the Empire’s enemies overseas and where men signed on for the duration of hostilities only.

reid-5-dsc03931Australian Memorial, Bellenglise (Australian Government)

How the roll was meant to appear is clear from the Roll of Honour Circulars sent out in the 1920s by the Australian War Museum, which later became the Australian War Memorial. These documents went to the next of kin of all the deceased, who were asked, among other things, to nominate the town and district with which the soldier was most clearly associated – in the words of the circular ‘under which his name ought to come on the Memorial’. This, argued Bean, would return a man’s individuality to him and allow visitors to the Memorial to find a sense of identity with names from their city, suburb, town or district. Under Crystal Brook, South Australia, they would have seen the name William Gale.[1]

Today Charles Bean comes in for bit of flak from various quarters. He was the key – although by no means the only – player in the creation of the whole ‘Anzac legend’. Excessive veneration of the legend has led Australia, in the eyes of some contemporary critics, into overindulgence in commemorative endeavour and into a situation where we are spending considerably more on events and other programs to commemorate that war, and other conflicts, than even the United Kingdom or France.

Be that as it may, one of the legacies of Bean, and of his monumental efforts in writing the official history of the war, was to suggest that central to our understanding of that conflict should be a sense of what individuals went through, what they actually experienced on the field of battle. The operative word here is ‘individual’. Unlike the official histories of other countries, Bean’s six volumes of the Australian involvement at Gallipoli and in France and Belgium are copiously footnoted with the names and personal details of hundreds, possibly thousands, of soldiers involved in dozens of military actions.

Bean’s phrase ‘incorrigibly civilian’ resounds in the content of these footnotes: ‘Railway goods porter, of Stanmore, NSW’; ‘Schoolmaster, of Launceston, Tasmania’; ‘Clerk, of Prospect, South Australia’; ‘Farm hand, of Cathcart, Victoria’. Such ordinary men found themselves caught up in the obscenity of murderous, modern war and Bean’s approach to writing the story of that war at the fighting front was to place these farm hands, railway porters and clerks front and centre in the story. His determination to do that resulted in the collection of a mountain of archival material, in comparison with other countries, about individuals both in their own localities throughout Australia but also about the time they spent as members of what Bean felt was ‘that famous army of generous men’. Bean was ever the optimist about human nature but we can be sure that the Australian Imperial Force was, from the point of view of character and personality, as complex an organisation as any on this earth, with its quota of saints and sinners. As we come to another 11 November on which we are asked to remember them, let’s examine the fate of a few of those allegedly ‘generous men’.

Six fighting men

I’ll begin the story at the little village of Bellenglise, population 383 in 2012. Bellenglise lies on the old St Quentin canal about 30 kilometres to the east of the town of Péronne on the River Somme. High above the village, along an unpaved farm road is a monument, one of five divisional memorials in France and Belgium placed there after World War I by the five divisions of the Australian Imperial Force. This memorial, as stated on its dedicatory plaque, remembers the men of the Australian 4th Division. Close by is the dual carriageway of the busy A26 known as the Autoroute des Anglais as it carries thousands of British tourists south on their annual pilgrimage to the sun.

This is the most isolated and least visited of the Australian divisional memorials. The farm road simply does not accommodate a tour bus and, as there is no War Graves cemetery nearby with a visitor’s book, it is hard to know how many Australians come this way. Some do, undoubtedly, in search of ancestors or committed to seeing all the sites associated with the AIF along the Western Front. That more do not visit is a pity as this landscape is as dramatic and arresting a setting as any other in the Somme region. And the 4th Division’s memorial plaque shows what brought them here – the capture on 18-19 September of the outpost region of the famous German defence network known as the Hindenburg Line.

awm_e03390-706Bellenglise, September 1918 (Australian Government/AWM A02640)

Among those who advanced to the storming of that line on 18 September were the men of the 48th Australian Infantry Battalion, a mixed South Australian-Western Australian unit. Perceived by their unit historian, Catholic Padre William Devine, as a tough bunch, they were drawn in the main from the mining districts of Western Australia and the rural regions of South Australia. Devine wrote of them:

They were not a kid glove lot of men and required something firmer than kid-glove handling. Those of them who drank, drank deep and were noisy in their cups and strong in their language … Some of them were bad soldiers even after much training. Very few of them proved bad fighters.

Devine penned his account of the 48th, The Story of a Battalion, in Belgium in early 1919 when the unit was fading away all around him as men left in small contingents to return home and to civilian life. The padre saw his little book not as a military history in any sense but as a story told to convey something of the ‘spirit of the battalion’. Central to that spirit were three men, battalion identities, who went into action near the 4th Division Memorial on 18 September 1918, the battalion’s very last action of the war.

The three men were Nathanial Lunt, ‘Cork’ Daly and ‘Punch’ Donovan. Cork and Punch were nicknames for Gordon Aloysius Daly, born in Adelaide in 1894, and Percy Claude Donovan, born in Bunbury, Western Australia in 1894. Lunt was an immigrant from Liverpool, England, but joined up from Adelaide in late 1915. Donovan and Daly were decorated, both having been awarded the Military Medal, Donovan receiving the award twice. This perhaps accounts for Donovan’s listing on a WA history website dedicated to ‘Anzac Heroes’ and where an edited version of his war record, as it appears in his AIF dossier, now fully online at the National Archives, gives the dates of his basic service and quotes the recommendations for his two Military Medals. Daly appears on a South Australian site called the RSL Virtual War Memorial but there is no information about him and we are invited to help the site ‘honour Gordon Daly’s service by contributing information, stories and images so as they can be preserved for future generations’. There is an entry on this South Australian website for Lunt, which I’ll return to later, but let’s now hear from Devine about these three men:

Lunt … [was] the best known man in the Battalion and the hero of many fights both in the line and out of it, for he gave as much trouble to his friends as he did to the enemy. With Punch Donovan and Cork Daly and some others, he formed a small party that one learned to look on as essential to the identity of the 48th. Throughout its career … they might be seen as supplying their comic relief to the tragedy of every engagement … Always conspicuous in an attack, but as soon as the climax of that excitement had passed they sought fresh interest in odd jobs that ensued from it. If prisoners were to be taken to the rear, the duty of escort was regarded as theirs by right and many were the antics with which they performed the task.

Enough … we get the picture. Those poor Germans represented loot in the form of marketable souvenirs. Devine says that these three were everywhere and appeared to have no regular duties. They received well-earned decorations but, for obvious reasons, never gained promotion because their very ‘gypsy character’ (that’s what Devine euphemistically calls it) made such advancement impossible. But they were prudently tolerated and one suspects that this stemmed from their undoubted capacity energetically to take the war to the enemy on the battlefield itself.

Entries in the men’s individual dossiers reveal what kept them from promotion. Without ascribing any particular act to any of them, here are some examples:

  • Absent without leave in that he failed to entrain at Victoria Station London and remained absent to 6 pm on 26/11/17;
  • Crime overstaying leave;
  • Believed deserted;
  • Breaking away from parade when ordered to rejoin unit;
  • Falling out of line of march without permission;
  • Absent without leave until apprehended;
  • When on active service striking a person in whose custody he was placed;
  • Threatening language to a superior officer;
  • When on active service deserting His Majesty’s service (the sentence here was seven years’ penal servitude which was later suspended);
  • Breaking out of hospital whilst under arrest;
  • Falling out of line drunk;
  • Using abusive language to an NCO;
  • Obtaining 10 days marriage leave and failing to produce documentary evidence of marriage on reporting back;
  • Failing to report back immediately on finding marriage could not take place;
  • Committing a civil offence in attempting to shoot No 2387 Private A S Blinn with intent to do grievous bodily harm;
  • An act to the prejudice of good order and military discipline in that he did on 18/9/17 assault No 2250 Private Stafford;
  • Wilfully damaging government property;
  • Creating disturbance after lights out.

padrepicIllustration from Devine’s book (Australian Government)

Not a bad list. This behaviour pattern would, almost certainly, qualify Daly and Lunt – Donovan had only one or two minor misdemeanors to his name – for inclusion in Professor Peter Stanley’s 2010 book Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force. The book’s blurb states: ‘These were the men who went absent and deserted, caught or concealed VD, got drunk and fought their comrades, who stole, malingered, behaved insolently toward officers or committed more serious offences, including rape and murder’.

Author Stanley said in an interview: ‘All the records are sitting there in National Archives. But Australians have preferred to dwell on the positives – on the best commanders, the best battalions, the great battles. And they have been reluctant to ask questions which result in awkward answers.’

Well, the answer is, indeed, that Lunt and Daly were, on those criteria, bad boys. And Lunt’s propensity to misbehavior is not dodged in his entry on the RSL Virtual War Memorial website. There is a report about Lunt from the Adelaide Daily Herald of 17 August 1915 as he faced the magistrates at the Port Adelaide Police Court, accused of being a ‘rogue and a vagabond’. He may have spoken in his defence in a broad Liverpool scouse accent but the reporter mistakenly described this as London ‘cockney’ – if you’ve heard the two you’ll know they are worlds apart. Constable Donnellan stated that, among other things, Lunt had stopped a man on Robinson’s Bridge and asked him for money and, on being refused, had knocked the man down. Lunt defended himself against Donnellan like this:

Lunt – Did you not call me a ‘blankety blank’ of the lowest type?

Donnellan – No.

Lunt – Did you not call me all the low names you could lay your tongue to!

Donnellan – No.

Lunt – you did, and I knocked you down. You are telling untruths.

Lunt maintained he had been unable to get work apart from odd jobs on the wharves and had been rejected three times from enlistment in Bean’s army of generous men. He was then sentenced to two months imprisonment and, we assume, on his release was accepted into the AIF because he signed up, in a clear hand and 30 years of age, in Adelaide on 19 October 1915. He was on the road, with many deviations along the way, to Bellenglise on 18 September 1918.

Before dealing with that action we should know a little more about Cork Daly and Punch Donovan, who fought alongside Lunt that day. I can find no record of the pre-war lives of either of them in the South Australian or Western Australian newspapers, searchable online at the National Library of Australia’s Trove website. Daly was among the first rush of enlistees from Morphettville, Adelaide, in 1914, men described rather romantically by Bean as ‘adventurous roving’ types ‘that could not stay away whatever their duties or their ties … all those who plunged head down into war, reckless of anything else’.

Just 20 years of age, Daly possibly landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 in the 16th Battalion but soon afterwards contracted dysentery and only returned to Anzac late in the campaign. Evacuated from there he was transferred to the newly formed 48th Battalion in Egypt in early 1916 and stayed with them until the end in November 1918. A number of the charges listed previously were Cork Daly’s but it was also said of him after the war by the 48th’s commanding officer, that highly decorated South Australian, Raymond Leane, that Daly ‘knew no fear’ and that his ‘courage was the wonder of the entire regiment’.

aac4-b0c0-526f-8a94-8a4a59fd6339Anzac Day, Adelaide c. 1918 (SLSA PRG 280/1/18/7)

Leane was in a position to know for, on 18 April 1917, he signed a recommendation that Cork Daly be awarded the Military Medal for his bravery at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917. On that occasion Cork had been a personal runner for Leane and Leane described him as one who was ‘untiring in his efforts to do his duty … Time and again he went through the enemy barrage in full view of snipers to get messages through and gain information. He showed splendid bravery and was an example to all.’ This was high praise indeed from Leane, a man described in his Australian Dictionary of Biography entry as ‘heedless of danger’. Moreover, this future Police Commissioner in South Australia would have been well aware of Cork’s wayward behavior as recorded in his personal AIF file.

Pozières, Passchendaele and Bellenglise

Percy ‘Punch’ Donovan, aged 21, left Australia in late 1915 from Western Australia as a reinforcement for the 16th Battalion but was transferred to the 48th Battalion and joined them in France on 18 July 1916. It was a fateful moment as the unit shortly afterwards went into the front line at a place notorious in Australian history, a place called Pozières. There, over six weeks fighting the AIF units suffered in excess of 23 000 casualties, more than 6500 of whom were killed in action or died of wounds. These casualty numbers were similar to those suffered on Gallipoli the previous year over the eight months of that campaign. The 48th Battalion, in which Lunt, Daly and Donovan were all serving at the time, took 598 casualties of whom, an examination of the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour suggests, 134 lost their lives. This unit’s experience of that battle, especially the period from 5 to 8 August when they held the so-called heights of Pozières near the village’s ruined windmill, is forever captured in the Australian War Memorial’s diorama ‘Pozières’.

Bean had six dioramas constructed for the opening of the memorial in 1941 (75 years to the day from posting of this article). They were to show visitors what conditions had been like for the AIF at key moments in France and Belgium between 1916 and 1918. The Pozières diorama shows nothing more than a huge shell hole, one of thousands caused by the ferocious bombardment to which the Australians were subjected during their six weeks here. In it are some dead and peering over the top over the lip of the crater towards the German lines beyond are soldiers of the 48th Battalion. One of them is Sergeant David Twining who signed up in WA but returned to live in Adelaide after the war. Beside him is a machine gunner Private Charles Tognini, who also joined up in WA, and somewhere also in this scene is Private Hugh Davoren, who enlisted in Adelaide in August 1915. The Memorial’s original caption for the diorama, written I suspect by Bean, said this:

Now the immediate enemy threat having passed them by, they are looking out in the growing light over the crest to the half-hidden mysterious green world beyond … for the next enemy move. They are determined that the vital ridge … will not be given up. They will remain at their post – alive or dead.

Back at battalion headquarters their commander, Raymond Leane, didn’t know they were there at all in such an isolated position. He was astonished to receive a message from Twining: ‘I am the only one left. Do you want me to hold the position?’

reid-2-img_3849Pozières diorama, detail (author)

Leane ordered Twining back at once and as Twining left the shell hole he was wounded as he attempted to rescue someone. For his bravery at Pozières, Tognini received the Distinguished Service Medal for having ‘cheerfully and courageously’ stayed at his post despite his severe leg wound. Hugh Davoren, wounded seven times, received the Military Medal, his recommendation reading, in part:

[H]e crawled a considerable distance and brought back water for Private Tognini who had both legs and one arm broken. A third man became delirious and wanted to shoot himself when Private Davoren took his rifle from him. At the Field Hospital Private Davoren was cheerful and kept on making jokes.

Davoren’s many wounds led to his medical discharge from the AIF and he returned to Adelaide where he died in July 1957. He lies buried in Derrick Gardens in Centennial Park and his connection with that faraway action in France and with the Australian War Memorial’s Pozières diorama is little known. Interestingly, the recommendation for his Military Medal came, not from one of his own NCOs or officers, but from a Major RS McGregor, a doctor in the 4th Field Ambulance. McGregor, who must have witnessed some of Davoren’s actions, wrote that he hoped the award would be granted at once because from the extent of Davoren’s wounds he was not expected to live.

It is likely that Lunt and Daly also fought at Pozières but one could never be sure from their personal AIF files. These do not record participation in any particular action. However, we know that Punch Donovan was most likely there because he was awarded the first of his two Military Medals for his actions at Mouquet Farm, close by Pozières, later in August 1916 when as a messenger he showed ‘exceptional coolness and cheerfulness’, setting an example to others.

Someone who met Donovan at the time was Private John Smith from the same area as Punch in Western Australia. In a letter Smith wrote, published in the West Australian, is the following: ‘I met young Punch Donovan the other day in the firing line and he is just the same as ever but awfully fat. He must weigh 11 stone … he is one of the gamest lads in France.’

Donovan’s second Military Medal was awarded for his actions on the Passchendaele Ridge in Belgium on 12 October 1917 when, yet again, he acted as a messenger under heavy fire as well as helping to carry out the wounded. David Twining was also awarded a Military Medal for Pozières but I cannot find the recommendation. A few days after leaving that shell hole he was promoted Second Lieutenant and ended the war as a Captain with five more bravery awards – the Military Cross, a Mention in Dispatches three times and a French Croix de Guerre.

So Lunt, Daly, Donovan, Twining, Tognini and Davoren all served together at a place that, in the 1930s, Charles Bean recommended be bought by the Australian War Memorial – the site of the old Pozières windmill, reduced by war to rubble. In 1993, I assisted the then Director of the Australian War Memorial, Brendon Kelson, to dig up some soil from this site for return to Australia to sprinkle on the coffin of the Unknown Australian Soldier on the day when he was placed in his tomb at the memorial – 11 November 1993. I kept watch to ensure Brendon was not disturbed, especially by any local gendarme who might have wondered what the hell we were doing.

And so, finally, to Bellenglise. Here between 18 and 20 September the 48th Battalion was part of the 4th Australian Division’s seizure of the Hindenburg Outpost Line. Simply stated, this was a successful but, as always on the Western Front, a hard-fought action in which the division sustained 510 casualties. Among these, according to Padre Devine, were 18 men of the 48th killed in action or died of wounds and among them was Nathanial Lunt. Devine wrote:

Lunt’s career with the 48th came to an end opposite Bellenglise, and his comrades buried him, and those who had fallen with him … When, however, at a future date hostilities ceased, and it was known that the unit had seen its last fight, the knowledge gave a retrospective pathos to the fate of those poor fellows who fell so near to final victory. Down by the small spur known as Dean Copse some of them were laid to rest.

reid-1-img_3395Davoren’s grave, Adelaide (author)

Given what Padre Devine wrote about them I like to think that Punch Donovan and Cork Daly were there when they buried Lunt but I have no way of knowing that. Dean Copse is still there but those battlefield graves have been removed to nearby Bellicourt British Cemetery. What remains of Nathanial Lunt, erstwhile ‘rogue and vagabond’ convicted in Port Adelaide in 1915, are now in Bellicourt. Later his war medals were sent to his father in Liverpool, England, and I wonder if any member of the family has ever visited his grave. There is no personal family epitaph on Lunt’s headstone but perhaps what could sit nicely there was how Padre Devine described him, ‘the best known man in the battalion and the hero of many fights’.

Those who read such an epitaph might fail to grasp its insight into Lunt’s character for, as we know, many of those ‘fights’ were not solely with the Empire’s German enemies. What Lunt might have become had he survived the war we will never know.

And afterwards

Daly, Donovan, Tognini, Davoren and Twining all came home. Daly did not last long. On 20 October 1920, the Adelaide Chronicle reported a scuffle that had broken out in Daly’s room at the Returned Soldiers Club at Australia Gardens. Daly, according to David Evans, a canvasser from Morphettville, had had some drinks during the day and during this scuffle with Stephen Towner, the club manager, he had fallen and hurt his leg. All the evidence pointed to this having been a fight totally provoked by Daly and one in which Towner sought to restrain him. The police took Daly to the Adelaide Hospital where he died, aged 26, of a heart attack brought on, according to the doctors, by delirium tremens.

Daly’s aunt, Elizabeth Galvin, said Daly had lived in the club for a while, was suffering from the effects of the war and was not in good health. She had also seen him a couple of times the worse for drink. A personal letter she wrote in 1924 to the AIF authorities spoke of Daly’s tough childhood, of how Daly’s father had not supported his two sons after his wife’s early death and that he had had Gordon’s brother committed to a state institution as uncontrollable.

Mrs Galvin had taken the Daly boys into her own home and never, she stressed, did the father seek custody of them or, in her words, ‘pay a penny towards their upkeep’. She sought for, and obtained Gordon Daly’s war medals but a strange annotation on his AIF file states that his Victory Medal was returned in 1959. I have no idea what to make of that but this was a sad end for Cork Daly, acknowledged by South Australian war leader and police commissioner, Sir Raymond Leane, as one whose ‘magnificent bravery was the wonder of the entire regiment’. As yet I have not found where Daly is buried.

In 1919 Punch Donovan returned to Bunbury, WA. From newspaper articles it can be seen that he was living up to the reputation he may have had as a bit of brawler in the 48th Battalion and how he might have acquired that nickname – ‘Punch’. In 1924 he was fined a pound for fighting outside a pub in Bunbury and the article in which this fracas was described made it clear who the offender was – Percy Donovan, otherwise known as ‘Punch’. In 1928, again under the influence, he used obscene language to a publican who refused to serve him. On this occasion in court a local police sergeant asked Donovan: ‘Have you ever gone home sober after half a day in town?’ Donovan responded: ‘Yes. When I walked in he might have thought I was drunk because of my crook neck.’

In 1930, Punch was fined again for a similar offence – this time asking for a drink when he was on a prohibited list for Bunbury pubs. Punch clearly had his problems in the post-war world and it should not be suggested that he was in any way exceptional in that. Some cope, some do not and what this brief overview of the lives of Nathanial Lunt, Punch Donovan and Cork Daly reveals is something of their complexity and humanity. Knowing these things about them, all of which are on the public record, makes them more open to our understanding than if this material were avoided simply because we conceal their real natures behind something called the ‘Anzac legend’.

redi-3twiningTwining (left) with Lieutenant Harry Downes, Belgium 1919 (AWM P10689.025.003)

There is one of these six men I have been talking about whose record seems, at first sight, to place him on that Anzac pedestal – David Twining. This young, highly decorated Captain returned to Adelaide in 1919, the only visible wound he sustained in the war being to his left arm at Pozières in August 1916. That was undoubtedly the result of his defence of the shell hole depicted in the Australian War Memorial’s ‘Pozières’ diorama. Publicly we hear of him attending a ball at Government House in 1923. In 1926, described as a ‘popular Staff Officer’, he departed for service with the British Army in India, having joined the Australian regular army and passed out at Duntroon. At his farewell dinner at the Grosvenor in Adelaide none other than Sir Raymond Leane, SA Police Commissioner, and his old CO from the 48th Battalion, proposed a toast to this most distinguished of his former unit officers. At some point he returned to work at Keswick Barracks in Adelaide and then this:

Captain Twining was found dead in Keswick Drill Hall shortly after nine o’clock this morning [26 August 1931] … The discovery was made by Mr S Bennett, a watchman … Attracted by the smell of gas he entered a room at the end of he hall, where he found the officer. The jet of a gas ring appeared to have been left turned on.

Cause of death was ultimately determined as ‘suicide’ and Twining was buried with full military honours in the AIF section of the West Terrace Cemetery. Many ex-members of the 48th attended and Sir Raymond Leane was one of the pall bearers. What drove Twining to that tragic end?            

Reflections

The subtitle for this piece speaks of reflections as well as stories. Years ago my PhD supervisor and mentor said that if one’s conclusions are not clear from the story, the narrative, it would bore the examiners to tears, or anyone else who cared to read it. I now see that my own sense of the nature of remembrance is embedded in these brief stories of Nathanial Lunt, Cork Daly, Punch Donovan, David Twining, Charles Tognini and Hugh Davoren. One might suggest that they are as representative a bunch of ‘Diggers’ from World War I as you are ever likely to encounter. Perhaps that is too large a claim as their lives verge a bit towards the tragic rather than the ordinary; mixed in with those supposedly transcendent heroic qualities the nation has wanted to ascribe to men like these is a good dose of the flaws of ordinary mortals.

My own personal reflections led me, as I was writing, to realise that, in a strange way, I knew these men. Back in the distant 1970s, I taught at an all-boys school in Wollongong, New South Wales, a school whose yearly intake was from the supposedly less academically inclined boys of the central Wollongong area. The best and brightest went to Wollongong High, which lay right next door across a car park we christened the ‘Gaza Strip’.

Our boys had many sterling qualities but respect for authority and easy classroom discipline were not among them. What I do recall, however, is taking a group of them, very troublesome Year 9s, on a history excursion to Hill End, a little mining settlement in the hills north of Bathurst, in the middle of winter. We camped there for four nights and you could view this, from the point of view of the officer class, the teachers, as our field of battle.

Imagine our surprise then when some of the most troublesome boys in the parade ground atmosphere of school suddenly became the leaders and organisers in this more challenging situation. They sat us down, gave us a cup of tea, and said that they would see to everything – which they did – pitched the tents, organised the cooking area, prepared the meal and cleaned up afterwards. It was a transformation that lasted the week until we returned to the normal classroom routine and the daily struggle for attention and respect for authority. Remembering those kids, I am reminded of Lunt, Daly and Donovan.

The impact of World War I on Australia is both a complex and an endlessly contentious matter. That story is far more than the story of men in battle. It tells of intense division at home, the interruption of the movement towards the more progressive society marked by the first years of federation, reignited sectarian conflict, families and individuals left to deal with the effects of horrific battlefield experience in a generation when things like post-traumatic stress disorder were little understood, a sense that the economic burden of the war had fallen disproportionately on lower income earners, justifiable industrial discontent which provoked strikes … the list could go on.

In remembering that war, these things must be weighed in the scales along with the emergence of something as powerful as the Anzac legend, whose proponents today would have us believe that the battlefield, and how man endured it, was the real crucible of the nation from which a sense of Australian identity has emerged. That is a big load to place on the backs of men like Lunt, Daly and Donovan.

My reflection for Remembrance Day might be simply to ask myself how they would have wanted me to remember their stories. Given what Padre Devine wrote about them as providing comic relief in every tragic situation I might expect a torrent of irreverent answers. Yet they too, along with our defenders of the Pozières shell hole – Twining, Tognini and Davoren – compel my attention and in Adelaide I can visit the graves of Twining and Davoren, run my finger across Lunt’s name on the South Australian War Memorial and, behind that memorial, stand and reflect in front of the actual battlefield cross that the 48th Battalion erected for their dead at Pozières in 1916.

reid-4-img_3399Twining’s grave, Adelaide (author)

The cross was returned, along with similar battlefield crosses, to Australia by the Imperial War Graves Commission in the early 1930s and it eventually found a home behind the state memorial. Its very existence there points back to that representation of the Windmill shell hole at the Australian War Memorial, to Twining’s grave at West Terrace and Davoren’s grave in Centennial Park. Moreover, all this suggests, it seems to me, the personal nature of remembrance, the way in which we develop personal stories that allow us to make sense of the big feelings we are supposed to have about the national story, buried in the increasingly sentimental mystique of occasions like Anzac Day and Remembrance Day.

Personally, I’ve always been attracted by a particular reading of the human desire to remember, to pay some sort of respect to the lived experience of past generations. A secular age might find it all too irrational and sentimental but I like the idea of Marcel Proust, the French novelist, quoted approvingly in a magnificent work of personal family remembrance by the late Professor Patrick O’Farrell, Vanished Kingdoms. Proust felt the old Celtic belief plausible that the souls of the dead are held captive in some lower form of life, a plant or inanimate thing, until that day comes when we pass by or inherit that object. Then the dead begin to stir, we hear their voices and, liberated, they return to life with us.

The Australian War Memorial’s Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, those Adelaide graves and commemorated names, that simple wooden cross behind the state memorial, are not these the places where the stories of Bean’s army of generous men reside? By telling their stories in all their sadness, complexity and pain we push through to Bean’s original desire for the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial – that it restore to those so commemorated their essential individuality and humanity. William Butler Yeats was, I think, right when he wrote this in verse:

Though grave-diggers toil is long,

Sharp their spades, their muscles strong,

They but thrust their buried men

Back in the living mind again.

On Remembrance Day and similar occasions, I will spare a thought, not for the ‘Anzac legend’, whatever that is, but for Nathanial Lunt, Cork Daly, Punch Donovan, David Twining, Charles Tognini and Hugh Davoren. For me, like the Unknown Australian Soldier for whose remains I was briefly responsible all those years ago, these six men will symbolise all Australians who have died in war or whose lives were irrevocably affected by war. Telling their stories puts them back into the living mind again.

* Richard Reid’s previous contribution to Honest History was about family history and the Western Front.

mannix_1920parade_480wArchbishop Daniel Mannix, St Patrick’s Day, Melbourne 1920, in procession led by 13 mounted Victorian Cross recipients (NMA/NLA)

Sources

W Devine, The Story of a Battalion: Being a Record of the 48th Battalion AIF, Melville and Mullen, Melbourne, 1919

For the 48th Battalion at the windmill site, Poziѐres, France in 1916, see CEW Bean, The AIF in France, 1916, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol III, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1929, pp. 707-25.

For the 48th Battalion at the taking of the Hindenburg Outpost Line, Bellenglise, France, on 18 September, see CEW Bean, The AIF in France during the Allied Offensive,1918, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol VI, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1942, pp. 926-31.

For more on the War Memorial’s Pozières diorama see Anne-Marie Conde, ‘“The strain of watching”: the origins of the Pozières diorama’, Wartime 7, Spring 1999, pp. 34-36.

The service records for the following 48th Battalion soldiers, 2159 Nathanial Lunt, 3689 Hugh James Davoren, 1030 Gordon Daly, 3435 Percy Donovan, 4343 Charles Tognini, and Captain David Austral Twining, can be found at the National Archives of Australia, online search at   http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/SearchScreens/BasicSearch.aspx.

Newspaper references to all the above soldiers were easily found by searching for them by name on the National Library of Australia’s Digital Newspapers website, Trove, at http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/search?adv=y .

The Proust quote is in Patrick O’Farrell, Vanished Kingdoms: Irish in Australia and New Zealand, University of NSW Press, Kensington, 1990, p. xxiii.

The Yeats verse is from ‘Under Ben Bulben’, A Norman Jeffares, ed., WB Yeats Selected Poetry, Macmillan, London, 1967, p. 206.

 

Note

[1] As it turned out, it was not possible for Bean and his associates to allocate the dead definitively to locations (for example, many men enlisted in different towns or even different states from where they originated) and they had to settle for the format we see today. See M McKernan, Here is Their Spirit: A History of the Australian War Memorial, 1917-1990, University of Queensland Press & The Memorial, Brisbane, 1991, pp. 226-29.

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2 comments on “‘That famous army of generous men’: some stories and reflections for Remembrance Day
  1. admin says:

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment, Chris. We were pleased to bring Richard’s article to an audience.

  2. Chris Appleton says:

    Richard, this is a magnificent Remembrance Day tribute, thank you. The scope of your article precluded any information of David Twining’s mate in the image, Harry Downes. You would know his story, but other readers may not.

    Harry joined the 48th Battalion in 1916 and like David, was wounded, earned the Military Medal as a Sergeant, was commissioned and earned the Military Cross for bravery and leadership. Harry also earned a special commendation for his bravery in rescuing civilians from a burning train while he was on leave from the front.

    David and Harry were great mates. Like David, Harry survived the battlefields, but not the war.

    After David’s suicide, Harry (by then a Lieutenant Colonel in the militia) wrote in the RSL magazine ‘Reveille’: “For some people the war ended in 1918. But to those of us who understand, the grim reaper is still taking his toll, just as surely as he did at Messines or Passchendaele. And to me, Don Ack Toc (D.A.Twining’s nickname) has gone to join his comrades of Gallipoli and Flanders ‘killed in action’ just as surely as if he had ‘stopped it’ in the strenuous days of 1914-18.”

    Four months later, on Remembrance Day 11 November 1931, Harry took his own life. Today is the 85th anniversary of his death. The words of tribute he wrote for his mate could well have been his own epitaph.

    Harry’s story is told in the 1918 gallery of the AWM, but is found only by the visitor who might be attracted by the small black and while image of a smiling Harry with two unidentified women in their best dresses taken in 1919 on his safe return from the war.

    For all the many artefacts in the AWM’s First World War galleries, the most heartbreaking stories are to be found by examining the scores of small black and white or sepia toned images and reading the accompanying stories, so many of which tell the story of lives forever changed by war.

    PS. In 1939, six years after David Twining died, the Repatriation Department would belatedly award his widow a pension.

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