Your Story

Churchill family returns to battlefield to find loved one

The Churchill family returns to WW1 battlefields to find a lost loved one.
The Churchill family returns to WW1 battlefields to find a lost loved one.

THIS story was submitted by the Churchill family via our Your Story page as part of our Anzac Day comemmorations. If you'd like to share a story or opinion, click here.

PRIVATE David Charles Morrison enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force on 1st January 1916. 

He had served in Senior Cadets for 4 years in Melbourne and felt it was his duty to join the army, not to mention the possibility of a great adventure. 

He did his training with the Light Horse at Seymour, this allowed him to get away overseas quicker. 

He sailed on the Euripedes and landed in Egypt where he was transferred to the 46th Battalion. 

Eventually they were transferred to England and then arriving in France on 8 June 1916. 

The 46th Battalion participated in its first major battle at Pozières. 

Initially, the battalion provided carrying parties for supplies and ammunition during the 2nd Division's attack on 4 August, and then, with its own division, defended the ground that had been captured.

The 46th endured two stints in the heavily contested trenches of Pozières, as well as a period in reserve.

David Charles Morrison was my Great Uncle, the beloved brother of my Grandfather, Robert. 

He was in his trench and was killed by shrapnel one year and 16 days from his Enlistment. 

He was 19 years 2 months old.  Like many soldiers, known or known,  he was not declared a hero, nor am I aware if he received any medals.

My husband Glenn and I visited the Somme last year. My father , Max Morrison had told me previously that his Uncle had been killed somewhere in France in WW1. 

The family, however, was unaware of where he was buried.

Our tour commenced very early. We found out that there are 400 war cemeteries in the Somme which is not a large area. However they are not within sight of each other.

We visited Adelaide Cemetery where they consumed the body of an unknown soldier and buried him at the War Memorial in Canberra.  

Then onto Villers-Bretonneux Australian National Memorial.

It was quite moving to see all the names around the main building of the Australian National Memorial which are of soldiers who were never found. Over 10,500 of them.

We discovered Soldiers in WW1 never wore dog tags, thus the difficulty of identification. The Memorial and Cemetery is on the top of a hill with magnificent surrounding scenery.

We then visited the township of Villers-Bretonneaux and the Town Hall which has large tourist photos of places in Australia. 

The back door of this hall opens up to the playground of the primary school. 

The memorial testament.
The memorial testament. Contributed

You immediately see the sign "Do Not Forget Australia". An appropriate place to have it as all new generations are reminded. 

Next to this is the Australian Museum. Great photos and information. 

I had given our Tour Guide, Julien, information on my Great Uncle David in the hope that we may find some record.

The museum has information on all Australians who were killed in the Somme. 

They gave Julien a Memorial Testament with all information on Uncle David - which Battalion he belonged to, the date of his death and age, also his parents' names and address in Australia.

The main part was they gave the name of his cemetery and a photo of it.  On the bottom of the page has the words "Commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission". 

Although we had to forego a visit to a particular site, Julien and fellow travellers were pleased to visit his gravesite. 

On 24 April 1918, Villers-Bretonneux was the site of the world's first battle between two tank forces: three British Mark IVs against three German A7Vs.

The Germans took the town, but that night and the next day it was recaptured by 4th and 5th Division of the First Australian Imperial Force at a cost of over 1200 Australian lives.

The town's mayor spoke of the Australian troops when unveiling a memorial in their honour:

"The first inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux to re-establish themselves in the ruins of what was once a flourishing little town have, by means of donations, shown a desire to thank the valorous Australian Armies, who with the spontaneous enthusiasm and characteristic dash of their race, in a few hours drove out an enemy ten times their number...

"They offer a memorial tablet, a gift which is but the least expression of their gratitude, compared with the brilliant feat which was accomplished by the sons of Australia...

"Soldiers of Australia, whose brothers lie here in French soil, be assured that your memory will always be kept alive, and that the burial places of your dead will always be respected and cared for.."

Next we visited the Canadian Newfoundland Memorial.

"The Canadians," wrote Lloyd George, "played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as storm troops.

For the remainder of the war they were brought along to head the assault in one great battle after another.

Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst." 

The Memorial site has kept their trenches, although now they are covered in grass, they have made a walkway on the bottom so you get the feeling of what it was like to really be in a trench.

From there we went to Pozieres where Uncle David's Battalion had major battles. 

Here they have kept a small German trench. These were much deeper than the Allies, approximately 3 metres high, they also concreted parts.

It was obvious the enemy knew trench warfare better.

We then went in search of Uncle David.  We approached one cemetery which had school children there performing gardening and maintenance.  It was not the correct one. 

On we go down the road and there it was, entrance from the road and then surrounded by someone's farm. 

Farmers are very vigilant with ploughing or digging because they are still finding bodies. 

Sue and Glenn Churchill at the grave site.
Sue and Glenn Churchill at the grave site. Contributed

The Museum also gave us the row and site number where he was.

It was quite a cool day even though the previous week they had scorching heat. 

This whole trip had no rain or sight of rain.  As soon as we arrived it started drizzling. 

Once we left it didn't rain again. Uncle David was killed right in the middle of winter. 

Someone in our family finally found Uncle David's gravesite. This was a moment in time of surreal emotion. 

The thing that really stood out to me was every cemetery we saw was beautifully maintained. 

At the back of Uncle David's gravesite there was some rhubarb growing. 

It then dawned on me that no one had visited his gravesite for 97 years. 

My husband, Glenn, said some very nice words in respect and perpetuity, we then placed a small wooden cross, bought at the French/Australian Museum on his gravesite and said a prayer.

We then visited the Lochnagar Crater Memorial. This is the only site left of the huge explosion caused by the Allies.

The mine was packed with 27,216 kilograms of ammunition in two charges 18 metres apart and 16 metres below the surface. The crater is 100m wide and 30m deep.

There were about 17 craters in all. They say the explosion in the Somme Battlefields was heard in the UK.

We then headed for Peronne. An extremely beautiful village. The Germans took over this village twice but it was the Aussies that finally took it from them for the French people.

When my Grandfather turned 18 and said he wanted to go to war, his father said "It was enough to sacrifice one son." 

Thankfully the War came to an end soon after my Pop's eighteenth birthday. 

My Great Grandfather was the youngest of four children. He never grew up with his family as he was put in an orphanage at two years of age by his mother. 

His father passed away before he was born, and she couldn't afford to keep him. 

To make matters worse they used to call an orphanage an asylum back then!  Yet through all that, his children were most important to him.

I will be forever grateful that the war ended when it did, because if Pop had gone to war and got killed like his brother, my father, my siblings, my children and my grandchildren would not be here.

For those who were able to return, life was really hard for the soldiers and their families because of the torment they went through on the brutal battlefields of WWI.

None of the soldiers were prepared for the torment, neither were their families truly able to understand the full effects of the War upon their loved ones.

WWI ultimately ended in 1919 but not before the lives of millions of people had been changed for ever.    

A different take on the effects of war

One hazy morning in 1917 the senior mistress of Bournemouth High School For Girls in England stood up in front of the assembled sixth form and announced to her hushed audience: "I have come to tell you a terrible fact.

"Only one out of ten of you girls can ever hope to marry. This is not a guess of mine. It is a statistical fact.

"Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed. You will have to make your way in the world as best you can.

"The war has made more openings for women than there were before. But there will still be a lot of prejudice. You will have to fight. You will have to struggle."

Sitting in the assembly hall among her shocked and silent schoolfellows was 17-year-old Rosamund Essex.

She was never to forget those chilling words, recalling: "It was one of the most fateful statements of my life."

When Rosamund, who never married, wrote her memoirs 60 years later she accepted that her teacher's pronouncement had been prophetic.

"How right she was," she recalled. "Only one out of every ten of my friends has ever married.

"Quite simply, there was no one available. We had to face the fact that our lives would be stunted in one direction.

"We should never have the kind of happy homes in which we ourselves had been brought up.

"There would be no husband, no children, no sexual outlet, no natural bond of man and woman. It was going to be a struggle indeed."

Rosamund, and so many of the classmates who sat with her that morning, joined what came to be known as The Surplus Two Million - women whose dreams of marriage and children died alongside their men.

Taken from "The Telegraph"  7/8/2007

Even though the soldiers made it very difficult for wives and children, whether they returned home or not, I am not taking away from their bravery and loyalty. 

On Anzac Day attend the dawn service and feel what these young men were feeling and going through just trying to get onto the beach at Gallipoli, let alone to experience what was to come. 

Then also attend the Anzac Day Parade and give respect, appreciation and honour for all who fought and still fight in the air force, in the army, in the navy, also the medical staff in all wars, past and present, men and women who together continue to make our Country a safe and peaceful place to live.

Written by Sue Churchill

Topics:  your-anzac-stories

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