Francis Henry Staunton: Remembrance Day 2022

When you go home, tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow, we gave our today

John Maxwell Edmonds

Henry Francis Staunton, 1916, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Negative number: 197890

Francis (Frank) Henry Staunton was a 28-year-old shearer from Richmond in north-west Queensland when he enlisted on 28 December 1914 and travelled to Brisbane as a new recruit. He was posted to D Company of the newly formed 25th Battalion, AIF, and embarked for Egypt in June 1915. The battalion arrived at Gallipoli in early September, three months before the allied evacuation in mid-December that ended the ill-fated campaign. The Australian troops regrouped in Egypt and undertook further training before embarking for the Western Front. Like many other Australian soldiers, Frank took in the sights of Cairo, bought souvenirs for loved ones and sent letters and postcards home.

Printed souvenir of Egypt cloth banner, purchased by Frank Staunton for his mother, OM72-90 Staunton Family Papers 1892-1917; 1978-1980, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The 25th Battalion was the first AIF force to arrive in France, disembarking on 19 March 1916. The men spent a quiet few months there before their first major battle, and Frank wrote many letters home to his sisters Theodosa and Maggie and his younger brothers George and Tom. He was especially close to his mother and wrote to her often.

Silk embroidered postcard sent by Frank to his sister, 11 July 1916, OM72-90 Staunton Family Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The battle of Pozières in July–August 1916 was one of the costliest operations of the entire war – over six bloody weeks the Australians suffered 43,000 casualties. What began as an attempt by the British to divert the enemy’s attention from Verdun, became the focus for the might of the German army, owing to Pozières’ critical role in the German defensive system. Three Australian divisions were called in to assist and, after initial gains were made, the German command ordered the town to be retaken at all costs. They bombarded Pozières methodically and relentlessly over three days (24–26 July), reducing it to rubble. By the time it was relieved on 27 July by the 2nd Division, which included Frank Staunton’s 25th Battalion, the 1st Division had suffered 5,285 casualties.

Australians Parading for the Trenches, Pozieries, July 1916, 30413 Una Margaret Stitt Postcard Album 1907-1944, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The 2nd Division’s commander succumbed to pressure applied by the British commander and sent his men in to attack on the night of 28–29 July in conditions far less favourable than those encountered by the 1st Division. The Germans’ bombardment raised so much dust it was impossible for the Australian artillery to direct their field guns properly. The main attack, scheduled to begin at 12.15 am on 29 July, went ahead, even though the 7th Brigade was late in reaching its starting mark. The brigade’s movement was detected by the Germans, who unleashed a hail of machine-gun fire. The brigade, which included the 25th Battalion, then encountered the barbed-wire entanglements which had been left uncut by the artillery preparation. The attack was a failure. The 2nd Division lost over 3,500 men, and the 7th Brigade had to be withdrawn to reserve in order to be brought back up to strength with reinforcements, so great were their losses.

OM73-85 Francis Henry Staunton Commemorative Scroll ca. 1918, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Frank Staunton was killed during the failed attack on Pozières on the night of 29 July. His friend and commanding officer, Captain G.M. Connor, wrote two heartfelt letters to Frank’s grieving mother. He reported that Frank had been acting as a runner, or messenger, when he suffered a direct hit from a German shell while returning from his last delivery. He described Frank as a ‘loyal and conscientious soldier’ and assured her that ‘his death unites him with the vast numbers of brave spirits who have given their lives for their country – a noble array of martyrs. God give you comfort that his death was such a noble one’. He was just one of 61,514 Australians who selflessly sacrificed their lives during WWI for the ongoing safety of our nation. Lest We Forget.

This Remembrance Day we will be featuring stories of service personnel from WWI to the present. We encourage you to share with us who you will remember. To learn more about this campaign and how you can contribute, visit our website.

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Well said.