Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Trove Tuesday – Finding Alfred: another Fromelles relative

I’ve written a number of times about Allan BENNETT (1885-1916), my great grandfather’s cousin who was killed and one of the identified at Fromelles from World War I. You can read more about him here.
My husband and I visited Fromelles and Allan’s grave last year.

What I didn’t know until recently was that another of my great grandfather’s cousins was also killed there – Alfred Arthur COLLIER (1874-1916).

I’ve been working with a team of Ku-ring-gai Historical Society volunteers to research and write a book ‘identifying’ all the names on Ku-ring-gai WWI memorials and writing biographies on the killed and decorated soldiers.
This has really honed my skills in researching soldiers and reading service records.
Collier AA in the left hand column
Every now and then, between researching local soldiers, I’ve been looking at some of my own and that’s how I ‘found’ Alfred.
One of ‘my’ soldiers was Clarence Timbrell Collier and I wondered whether he was related. 

My great great grandmother was Ann/Anna FRANCIS nee COLLIER (1841-1924), and I know that at least four of her siblings and five of her first cousins also came to Australia in the mid-1800s.
I couldn’t find a link to Clarence despite him coming from an area in NSW where one of Anna’s sisters had moved to.
I couldn’t resist having a quick look at some of the other Colliers and as soon as I saw the front page of Alfred’s file, I knew he was related.

Alfred Arthur Collier was born in Beechworth, Victoria in 1874, the fourth son of Jenkin COLLIER (1838-1915) and Sarah BAINBRIDGE (1837-1923).
Jenkin was the brother of my great grandmother Anna, and Allan Bennett’s mother Fanny COLLIER (1846-1939) was a sister.
Arthur enlisted on 14 Jul 1915 at the age of 41. He was an unmarried draper, possibly working in Tatura, Victoria but gave his enlistment address as his mother’s address in Elsternwick.

It must have been hard for his mother to let him go – he was pretty old for a soldier and his father had only died a few months before.
Sarah had lost another son in 1908, Frederick James COLLIER (1871-1908).

Arthur was killed just a few days after his first year of service, and less than a month after setting foot on French soil.

Arthur’s service record is relatively short, just notes on his enlistment, his embarkation to Suez, then on to Marseilles, then reported missing ‘upgraded’ to KIA followed by a note on his burial.

Many other Fromelles files are huge, with pleading letters from next of kin as to their status, or gruesome accounts of their death. Not even Alfred’s Red Cross file sheds any light on how he died.
I guess in the carnage that was that night 19/20 July 1916 when 5,533 soldiers fell, it was hard to know for sure what happened to any of them.
Fromelles was the first major battle of the 31st Battalion, coming only three days after entering the trenches. This battalion suffered 572 casualties, over half its strength.

His mother, now in her mid 80s, picked up his Victory medal and memorial plaque on 9 Jun 1923 and little more than a month later, she died.

I wonder if Allan Bennett, in the 32nd Battalion knew he had a cousin Alfred Collier in the 31st Battalion at the same battle. It would be nice to think they had met somehow.

Alfred Arthur Collier remains one of the unidentified soldiers of Fromelles.
The 97th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles is this Friday / Saturday.
One account of the battle, "A Glorious Failure" can be found in The Argus of Saturday 10 April 1920.

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