Brothers in the AIF: Stories from the 41st Battalion
Within the Anzac Square Memorial Galleries, we hold plaques dedicated to the memory of those Queenslanders who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice in The Great War (WWI). The oldest plaque, unveiled on Remembrance Day 1931 (a year after Anzac Square was completed), commemorates the 41st Battalion. This Honour Roll of 470 men from the battalion who lost their lives during WWI, contains some particularly moving stories of sets of brothers who served.
The 57,705 Queenslanders who enlisted during the First World War represented nearly 10% of the state’s population of approximately 600,000 people. Over 10,000 of those who enlisted would lose their lives and many more would be wounded or suffer terribly from their service. WWI took an immense toll on Queensland families and almost no community was left unscathed as young men signed up and marched off to a war on the other side of the world. For many families, the grief and worry was magnified when several family members joined up.
Albert Walter Samuel Kehl (20) and his younger brother Arthur Eric Kehl (18) were born in Charters Towers and were working on the family farm in Ingham when they enlisted in the 41st Battalion on 20 May 1916. They embarked for England on the ‘Clan MacGillivray’ on 7 September that same year. After more training in England they proceeded to France on 20 December 1916 and their battalion entered the frontline for the first time on Christmas Eve.
They then endured a long hard winter and the first half of 1917 rotating through the frontline near Armentieres in France and across the Lys River in Belgium. Enduring continual rain, flooded trenches, and heavy shelling many of the battalion's platoons dwindled from 35 men to less than ten. Arthur would be one of these casualties. He was wounded on 3 August 1917 and died on the 6th from a gunshot wound to his back and hip.
His older brother would fight on until he too was wounded in battle on 10 October 1917. While the gunshot wound to his left arm would heal, the damage to his cornea and scarring from the explosion meant he was no longer fit due to ‘defective eyesight’. He returned to Australia on 30 January 1918 and lived until 1975 when he died at the age of eighty.
The Mills family from Redland Bay would suffer even greater loss. Albert Mills (27) and his younger brother Frederick enlisted on 16 March 1916. With their service numbers 2126 and 2127 they were in the same contingent (3rd reinforcements for the 41st Battalion) as the Kehl brothers. They embarked on the same ship and joined the fighting in France at the same time.
Albert was hospitalised with mumps in January 1917 and then with a wound he received on 14 February before re-joining the battalion and his brother. It would be during the Battle of Messines (7-14 June 1917) in West Flanders Belgium that fate would strike.
The 41st filed out of the front trenches under heavy bombardment and played a supporting role in the attack on Messines Ridge. From 8 to 11 June they were ‘rested’ but were kept busy carrying rations, ammunition, and other materials to the battalions on the front line. One officer and four soldiers were killed during this time. Unfortunately, both Albert and Frederick were among them. On 10 June they were hit by the same shell. Frederick was killed instantly, and Albert died thirty-six hours later from his wounds.
The loss for the Mills family did not end there. An older brother, William, who had tried to enlist when the war broke out but was rejected, as at four foot eleven inches he was considered too short, volunteered again on 21 April 1917 aged forty. He would die with the 52nd Battalion on 24 April 1918 during the battle to recover Villers-Bretonneux leaving behind a wife and three children and a heartbroken family in Cleveland.
The young Spackman brothers, Henry (19) and Gordon (18) enlisted with their parents’ permission on 8 January 1918. The farmers from Palmwoods embarked on 2 March and underwent more training in Suez and England before proceeding to the 41st Battalion in France on 8 August 1918. At this time, the battalion was part of the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’, a series of massive Allied offensives which would ultimately end the war.
Unfortunately, Gordon’s time in the field would be limited as he was wounded in action on 1 September with a gunshot wound to the hip. He was sent back to hospital in England and after recovery was sent to the Overseas Training Brigade, where he was when the Armistice was signed. He sailed for Australia 8 January 1919 and was discharged from the AIF on 22 March 1918 with a final rank of Corporal. He returned to Palmwoods and died of natural causes 24 March 1950, aged 50 years.
Henry would stay with the Battalion in France and be part of the 41st Battalion's final involvement in the fighting. This was in early October when they took part in the joint Battle of St Quentin Canal in France. After finishing the Hundred Days Offensive near Bony, France, the battalion had been reduced to a strength of less than 250 men, from a normal strength of over 1,000. Henry was one of the survivors and after the Armistice, would stay in England until sailing home on 26 July 1919. He discharged from the AIF on 26 September 1919. The family was then reunited as like Gordon, Henry returned to Palmwoods and died there on 7 September 1984, aged 86 years.
We acknowledge and honour the service of all members of the 41st Battalion A.I.F.
For more stories about soldiers in the 41st Battalion you can read these State Library of Queensland Blogs: