Brothers-at-War [Alexander & James Patterson]

The collections of original material held by the State Library of Queensland, reveal many stories of multiple enlistments of family members during the First World War.

James and Alexander Patterson, 15th Infantry Battalion

One such collection, is that of the Patterson brothers of Toowong. Five brothers enlisted between 1914 & 1918, including 18 year old twins, Alexander & James. When they enlisted in May 1915, they were assigned to the 15th Infantry Battalion.

They departed together on HMAT 'Karoola' and their letters show that they served together on Gallipoli, sharing the same dugout. "We are cramped like a lot of rabbits here all in dugouts. Alec & I have one to ourselves ... shells keep flying over us to the beach all day" - Jim to his mother, 4 August 1915.

Just days later Jim was wounded during a major offensive at Suvla Bay and evacuated for treatment first to Malta then to England. They met up again in Moascar Camp, Egypt and traveled to northern France via Marseilles in June 1916. The battalion was billeted at Bois Grenier. Alec wrote - "We are having a good time here in the billets, . . . we have not been asphyxiated yet, but there have been a few alarms". For two young brothers from Queensland, it appears to be a great adventure.

Alec's letter to his mother 23 July 1916, describes the historic city of Naours - "There is an underground city here dug under a large hill. It is hundreds of years old & the people used to hide in it whenever France was invaded." The battalion was involved in heavy fighting at Pozières on the Western Front; Jim was again wounded on 9th August and evacuated. Alec to his mother - "I lost him in the charge. I was hit on the thigh with a piece of shrapnel but it did not make a big wound."

Three weeks later on the 27th August, Alec was killed during the battle of Mouquet Farm. 

Corporal Roy Proctor who was with Alec when he died, wrote to Jim from France "when we were going up to relieve ... a shell fell in & knocked us about & Alick was killed instantaneously ... you have reason to be proud of him, only a boy in years & yet such splendid service to his country ... think of him only as a little hero".

Ruins of Pozieres, August 1916. Image courtesy: Australian War Memorial EZ0097

Alec Patterson acted as Company Runner and ran messages day and night to Battalion HQ, even under the heaviest of fire. He was awarded the Military Medal for 'conspicuous bravery' in November 1916.

The other brothers who served with the AIF were:
Private Gordon Stanley Patterson, 31st Battalion; Private Raymond Mitchell Patterson, 1st Machine Gun Battalion and Private Alan McKenzie Patterson, 9th Battalion.

There are many other stories of Brothers-at-War to be gleaned from collections held by the State Library of Queensland. If you would like to share your story we’d love to hear from you at discovery@slq.qld.gov.au.

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