By creating a transcription list of the 3rd reinforcements 14th Battalion I’d hoped to create a tool to identify a mystery war photo but instead found myself with more than I bargained for.
I thought the original nominal roll from Australia’s War Memorial website could lead me to descendants of soldiers, and who might be able corroborate identities in the photo.
I figured officers in the photo might me easier faces to find so chose 2nd Lieutenant Norman Kingsley Strack from the Roll as a promising name to track. I made contact with descendent MS Victoria Haskins of Sydney and in one of those odd quirks of fate it turned out Ms Haskins has a war project of her own.
Professor Haskins is a Arts NSW Centenary of Anzac Commemoration History Fellowship grants recipient, exploring war’s impact on Australian women. Professor Haskins is currently researching the story of Australia’s WW1’Girl soldier’ – 16 year-old Maud Butler who got it into her head to don a soldier’s outfit and stow-away on a troopship to join our men off to war.
Victoria provided three photographs of 2nd Lieutenant N.S Strack for comparison to the men in my mystery photo, but the man in her photos does not seem to appear in mine.
Norman K. Strack’s war service record at National Archives of Australia shows however that he did indeed embark aboard the Runic.
By digging deeper into the records, we found Strack received an injury (trauma) aboard a troopship enroute to Egypt and was returned to Australia, and decommissioned the following year.
So that would explain away one of the missing 58 from my photo but where would the rest of the men be?
Another niggling concern has been that my grandmother’s brother who served in the 3/14th James Booley was originally assigned the service number of 1502, but some of his war service records are designated the number 1570. Was it possible he ended up in another unit and my grandmother’s photo is not of the 3rd reinforcements to the 14th Battalion.
According to the 3rd/14th Nominal roll, the assignable regiment numbers for this unit began at 1501 and finished at 1692, totalling 192 numbers for this unit of men. But not every regimental number on this nominal roll was assigned out, and 39 remain blank on the original roll.
Whilst there were possibly 192 numbers assignable, only 153 men of the 3rd/14th were given a regimental number.
Three men were not assigned a regimental number: – 1st lieutenant Thomas Ninian Wardrup Hill (killed same date as James Booley), and 2nd Lieutenant Norman Kingsley Strack. The third is Frank William McRae, of Auckland (New Zealand).
G.Wilson’s ‘What’s in a number’ shows the British army set the trend for issuing regimental numbers, back in 1830 and numbers were allotted to each unit regiment and corps starting from “1″. Australia followed their home country’s lead but a lot of men could end up with the same number though in different corps or units, so the system was tinkered with over the years:
“The regimental numbering system of the artillery was carried over from colonial times into Commonwealth service. Mistakes did occur. On 19 November 1895, Archibald Henry Donaldson was attested and allotted the regimental number 2465. Just over a month later, on 24 December 1895, the same number was allotted to William John Gilmore, who was attested that day. The roll book shows a pen amendment, hand written in red, withdrawing the number 2465 from Donaldson and allotting him the number 2459.x” (Wilson, G)
Wilson says the regimental number system for Australia’s military force, regulated in 1908 struggled to cope during the First World War as Australia fielded three armies:
“These were the small pre-war Permanent Military Force or PMF, the part time Militia, which was both volunteer and, under the Universal Training Scheme of 1912, conscript and the all-volunteer Australian Imperial Force or AIF. The AIF was raised as Australia’s overseas expeditionary force, an artifice required due to the strictures of the Defence Act, which forbade the deployment of members of the AMF overseas on operational service.
For the duration of the war, both the PMF and the Militia continued to serve, train and recruit and new members of the forces were allotted regimental numbers as required under the existing arrangements. For its part the AIF was required to issue its own regimental numbers, which were allotted to non-commissioned „other ranks‟ but not to officers or nurses.”
So Lieutenant Hill and 2nd Lieutenant Strack being without regimental numbers on the nominal roll of the 3rd/14th is compliant with contemporary practice.
“In all documents relating to a soldier, his regimental number will invariably precede his name. This number will not be changed as long as the soldier remains in the corps. If the soldier is transferred or discharged, deserts, or dies, the number will not be given to another
Soldier. A soldier promoted to warrant rank will retain his regimental number.xiii “(Wilson, p.7)
I can’t find any evidence in James Booley’s service record he ever transferred out of the 3rd/14th, so it still doesn’t explain how he received a second number, but it seems he wasn’t the only one. “A problem encountered in the early days was units arbitrarily changing the numbers of men who arrived as reinforcements,” Wilson writes. “ This practice forced the Military Secretary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps to minute every unit the corps, requesting the practice to stop. Specifically, Griffiths wrote on 24 November 1915:
Units at Anzac are still in many cases changing the numbers of reinforcements joining their units. Please issue strict orders that the number allotted to any man in Australia must be retained in every case otherwise the work in Records Section (is) impossible. Where such changes have been made the change should be cancelled and the original number reallotted. Duplication of numbers in Units causes less confusion than is caused by alteration.
According to the AWM archived nominal roll dated 19th February 1914, 156 men of the 3rd reinforcements 14th battalion embarked on HMAT A54 Runic.
- Warrant officers of the 3rd reinforcement’s 14th battalion named on the nominal roll:
Rank Name Age Regiment Number
1st Lieutenant Thomas Ninian HILL 19
2nd Lieutenant Norman Kingsley STRACK 25
Sergeant Daniel Edward Doewra 39 #1532
Sergeant Leslie Raymond Talbot Gilbert 19 #1554
L/Sergeant Jack Allen 39 #1690
Corporal James Frederick Maher 23 #1583
Corporal John Rolph 20 #1609
Corporal John Vertigan 20 #1633
Corporal Edwin Lewis Purbrick 40 #1658
Corporal George Bowdres Webb 32 #1691
Signaller Gilbert Beresford Dyer 26 #1649
The nominal roll does not provide birth dates for the soldiers of the 3rd/14th but excepting Lieutenant T.H.Hill does show the men’s declared ages (in years though, not months).
The eldest age of men embarking for this unit was listed at 44 years and the youngest at 18 years.
Nearly 22 per cent of the unit were men aged either 20 or 22 years of age, and another near 11 % either 25 or 26 years of age. Those aged 19 represented nearly 9% of the unit and 7.7% were 28 or 31 years of age. 24 yo’s made up 6.4%, 21 yo’s (5.7%) 23yo’s (5.7%) and 18 yo’s (5.12%).
The nominal roll of the 3rd reinforcement, 14th battalion provides the marital status of the rank and file of the unit. 16 of the men were married, 2 were widowed and the rest (88.4 %) were unmarried men. 6 of the 156 men (3.8%) nominated their religious faith as Methodist, 15 (9.6%) Presbyterian, 25 (16%) said Roman Catholic and the remaining 100 (64%) said they followed the faith of the Church of England.
The enrolment dates of the rank and file show intake began in August of 1914 (x 1).Another 13 men entered in September (really 14 men, as the original service record of #1692 Harold Davies shows he joined on the 22/9/14, not the 22/8/1915 typed in this nominal roll). 36 joined in October with November being the largest intake month (42). In December 34 more signed up with the remainder entering in January of 1915 excepting Edward Heatley of Collingwood, #1678 who joined on the 22nd February 1915 just prior to the units departure for overseas per Runic.
The Nominal Roll doesn’t give the birthplace of the soldiers and officers of the 3rd reinforcements 14th Battalion, but does provide names and addresses for their nominated next-of-kin. As expected Australians (85%) represented the majority of soldier’s kith and kin, with 118 soldiers having family or friends living in Victoria, 8 in N.S.W, 3 each in South Australia and Western Australia and 2 in Tasmania. Some 12% of the soldiers nominated family and friends in the U.K as next of kin (13 in England, 4 in Scotland, 1 each in Ireland and Wales) and two men nominated relatives in New Zealand and just one in U.S.A (California).
About half of the nominated relatives in Victoria were in Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, the other half spread out across the state. Both the Ballarat and Mallee regions were concentrated areas of family contacts in the countryside (11% each), the south-west had just over 5%, the south-east just under 6% and the rest, about 23% was spread from the north-west of the Mallee to the north-east region of Victoria.
Country towns with where the next of kin lived included Geelong, Colac, Camperdown, Heywood, Gnotuk, Coleraine, Skipton, Redan, Buninyong, Ballarat, Creswick, Berriga, Donald, Dimboola, Nyang, Ouyen, St Arnaud, Landsborough, Macorna North, Watchem, Birchip, Kiniva, Ballendella, Mildura, Eaglehawk, Castlemaine, Maryborough, Bendigo, Goornong, Burke’s Flat, Bet Bet, Alexandra, Nathalia, Tongala, Violet Town, Bright, Monulk, Munro, Yea, Yarram and Trentham.
Melbourne, Melbourne east, south and west were all nominated addresses for relatives or friends and suburbs named included Carlton, Coburg, Richmond, Albert Park, Malvern, Sandringham, Port Melbourne, Brunswick, St Kilda, Fitzroy, Ascotvale, Hawthorne, Prahran, Auburn, Footscray, Abbottsford, Essendon, Caulfield, Kew, Elsternwick, Collingwood and Northcote.
Only one address was nominated twice – for a Mr Williams at Ballendella, near Rochester. According to his son’s war service records, William Isaac Williams was the father of Horace Hartley Williams #1642 and William John Cornwell (Cunwill) Williams #1673 who both served in the 3rd reinforcements 14th Battalion. Both boys were born at Clunes, enlisted at Rochester and departed per Runic. The brothers went in at Anzac cove: William was reported missing and Horace reported as wounded. Their father wrote pleading letters for news of his ‘soldier boys’ till finally he was told Horace was being sent home, his right wrist shattered by a bullet wound.William was also founded wounded, patched up and then sent back into service. After suffering a bullet wound to the chest his father, ‘Thank God’ wasinformed William was coming home.
The soldier without an assigned regimental number, Frank William McRae has an ambiguous service record history. Buried towards the end of his file it confirms that he served in the 3/14th, but was originally destined for the 12th reinforcements of the 14th, but was ruled off the nominal roll and transferred to the 3rd reinforcements. However there is no history in his file of his time overseas other than he departed per Runic in February 1915. Next he is shown as applying in 1917 at Sydney to join the 20th Reinforcements for the 15th battalion, under the assigned regimental number of 1842 which is then struck through and he is reassigned 6940. He served out in the 15th until war’s end when he returned ill. But there are not details relating to his time with neither the 3rd/14th nor any clarity what number he was assigned.
The nominal roll of the 3rd reinforcements 14th Battalion AIF (WW1) at least provides me with the number of men in the unit, and their names and regimental number. Armed with this information along with the whereabouts of kith and kin I can begin searching for relatives who may be able to identify the men in my mystery photo.