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state library of queensland
John Oxley Library

Penalties of War

By Marg Powell, Specialist Library Technician, Metadata Services | 28 January 2016

Private John William Daniell, 9th Infantry Battalion, & 4th Australian Pioneers.

Not everyone’s story during the First World War is one of bravery and service.

Jack Daniel and his mate Les Young were both sentenced to 5 years ‘penal servitude' in September 1916, a staggering penalty for a deed that reads as a misdemeanour, but in the Army, and at a time of war, misdemeanours were not tolerated - and if discovered, severe penalties were quickly handed out.

Jack Daniell was a 23 year old carpenter from Longreach, when he enlisted in May 1915, a young man with a lifetime of experiences in front of him. A postcard from Jack to a friend, has been located in a collection of photographs relating to the Mulry Family.

Initially assigned to reinforce the9th Infantry Battalionwhich at the time was severely depleted in their fight with the Turks on Gallipoli, Private Daniell joined his unit from Lemnos, one month before the Anzac forces were evacuated from the Peninsula.

After the withdrawal, Private Daniell was transferred to the 49th Infantry Battalion, then to the 4th Pioneers, which embarked for France early in 1916.

Private Daniell, Queenslander, 24 July, 1915 

Privates Daniell and  Young, were originally charged with Desertion. They were arrested in Albert, late August 1916 by the Military Police, when they were supposed to be on duty with the railway construction gang.

During their Court Marshall, held at Reningelst, Belgium, the charged was amended to the lesser one of Disobedience, but both were initially sentenced to 5 years imprisonment with hard labour.

What prompted these two young men to leave their posts, knowing they would be missed?

According to the Australian War Memorial, numbers of men going Absent Without Leave, increased markedly after the the terrible casualties suffered in the defence of Pozieres, in the Somme Valley in July and August, 1916.

AWM EZ0084, Pozieres 1916

Fortunately for these men, the same actions in the British Forces would have brought upon them a much harsher penalty, that of Execution. Their sentences were commuted to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour, at No 1 Military Prison, Rouen, France. Hard labour often meant moving ammunition and supplies for the Allied Forces, supervised by guards with loaded weapons.

One year after they were imprisoned, their sentences were suspended and they rejoined their battalion for duty on the front line, no doubt to relieve the declining numbers of reinforcements. By October 1918, their sentences had been remitted by Major General Sinclair Maclagan, Commander of the 4th Australian Division.

Jack and Les returned to Australia to rejoin their families and start new lives. Jack married Phyllis Richards in 1927 and remained in Queensland where he worked in various ports, on the wharves.

Further Reading:

Marg Powell
QANZAC 100 Content Technician
State Library of Queensland


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