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Meet William Stubbings

William was born on 17th November 1890 at Lacey’s Creek near Dayboro to Moses Stubbings and Sarah Ann Stubbings (nee Strain), both of whom were pioneers and first British settlers in the Samford/Dayboro district.  

Moses Stubbings was born in Felsted, Essex in England and came to Australia at the age of 14 years old, arriving in Melbourne in 1872 to work for family friends in their bakery business.  In 1874 he moved to Brisbane arriving on the Winifred in Moreton Bay.  Moses was first selector of land at Lacey’s Creek in 1879 at 19 years of age and settled on Portion 155 that to the current day remains in the hands of the Stubbings family.  He would add many more acres to his holdings but the family would settle and build a house and raise their family on Portion 155.

Sarah Ann Strain was born in Killyman County Tyrone, Ireland and emigrated to Australia at 13 years old with her mother and sisters, arriving on the Windsor Castle in Brisbane on 21st August 1878.  The Strain family were also pioneers in the district, her brother Hugh Alexander Strain becoming a prominent pastoralist and entrepreneur in the Samford Valley and greater Brisbane region.   

Moses and Sarah were married on 26th December 1882 in Dayboro and would have seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood.  William was the eldest of their three sons, with one older and younger sister, he was adored by all and a deeply loved member of the Stubbings family.  He worked for his father Moses after leaving school and family records state they were breeding stud horses and taking out many prizes at local and Brisbane shows.

William enlisted for duty on 10th May 1916 in Brisbane and embarked via Melbourne on the Port Lincoln troop ship, transferring to the Ulysses in Sierra Leone before arriving at Devonport Dock in Plymouth, England on the 28th December 1916.  William would undertake training with the 5th and 13th Machine Gun Companies at Perham Downs in England and it was during this time he would visit his father’s family in Bishops Stortford, Essex.  (William Stubbings Family Letters 1917)

William wrote home often and described his adventures in England, visits to London and seeing a host of sights such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s statue, meeting family members and discovering cousins already fighting in the war. He eloquently described the honour of being an Australian soldier fighting for England in a letter to his father:

“I did not go to Felstead as the day I was going it snowed all day so I did not bother but put in my time in Bishops between the two.  Will said that two of Amos’s boys have been killed at the front about six months ago so you see we are a fighting family and he has another boy fighting too.  There is two of Uncle’s sons Harry and George so with me here that makes four (4) of us fighting for England and the honour of our name.”  (William Stubbings letter to his father 28th January 1917).

In a letter to his sister Violet (my great-grandmother) William shares with her that he had been assigned as a driver when in training camp with the 5th Divisional Machine Gun Company and lamented the opportunity to be with his “mates on the gun all the time”.  With a hint of irony, he jokes that the army was sending him to a “riding school…fancy teaching me to ride and drive, it all seems so funny for us for other mates too who are drivers are the same as myself...bush boys and know all about horses but it is military all over so when I come back you see a finished rider with a bit of swank”.

William was taken on strength at the 25th Australian Machine Gun Company A Section on 13th February 1917 and although he suffered a bout of mumps in March 1917, he was otherwise spending his time training for the war.  He would embark for France in September 1917 and with his company joined the I Anzacs Corp as they carried out the “Flanders Plan” to drive the Germans back.

On the 22nd September 1917, the 25th Australian Machine Gun Company were in position adjacent to Polygon Wood preparing gun positions for the upcoming operations in the area. 

William went missing in action on the 25th September and a court of inquiry was held in February 1918 to ascertain what had happened to him.  

Historian and Military academic Jonathan Passlow (2018 pg. 89) describes the evening of the 24th September in his book The Battle of Polygon Wood 1917 as follows:

On the night of the 24th September, in the X Corp sector to the couth of the 1 Anzac Corp area, the 33rd Division moved up from the corp reserve to relieve the 23rd Division and occupy positions to the north of the Menin Road.  The troops were harried by intermittent German shelling as they moved, their passage both difficult and dangerous.  T 5.15 am the 98th and 100th Brigades just completed their relief on the front-line battalions when an intense and accurate bombardment opened up on the British and Australian lines, blasting the men with a mix of HE, shrapnel and gas shells.

The Australian and British lines were hit hard and by early morning front line battalions caught sight of the mass approach of German soldiers through the mist (Passlow 2018, p. 90).  The barrage of artillery opened up from the Australian side and in combination with the German bombardment would have made for a deeply frightening encounter for young soldiers engaging in the war fighting for the first time.

On the night of the 24th September William is reported to have taken shelter with another soldier from his unit in a pillbox some distance from the company gun positions where he was supposed to have been.   On the morning of the 25th September, he assisted wounded soldiers to a dressing station some 4.5km behind the line, between Hell Fire Corner and Birr Crossroads.  A sergeant from his unit encountered him here and instructed him to return to the lines, leading him out into the foray back across the fields and under the bombardment of artillery raining down on the Polygon Wood positions.  William, it appears either drifted away or turned back within about 500 metres of the 25th Australian Machine Gun positions to the north of Polygon Wood.  It is not known if he was killed at this point or somewhere further back behind the lines, but he was never seen again and his body was never found.  The court of enquiry however concluded he was killed in action this day.

William’s family were deeply distraught and heartbroken by his death.  His letters to the family when he was stationed in England kept safe and passed down the generations to ensure his life was remembered and celebrated.  

For many years after his death, the family would post obituaries to remember what he had done and sacrificed his life for.  They would always write personal poem in dedication to him:

Someday I hope to meet you, Someday I know not when
To clasp your hand in a better land, never to part again
And while the sad years vanish, your name we’ll oft recall
And proudly we will cherish, Your photo on the wall.
However long our lives may last, Whatever land we view,
Whatever joy or grief we have, Til death we’ll think of you.

William’s life and service is honoured at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Beligum Panel 31

Meet Alfred Fitzgerald

Alfred Fitzgerald was born in 1873 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England to Thomas William and Naomi Catherine Fitzgerald (nee Critten).  He was one of ten children to Thomas and Catherine and had emigrated to Australia with his family at the age of 11 years old sailing on the passenger ship Chyebassa, which arrived in Brisbane on 20th October 1885. The Fitzgerald family settled on land they turned into a dairy farm in the area of St Lucia where the University of Queensland now stands.  

Alfred devoted himself to caring for his mother and family after his father Thomas William died in 1887, just two years after they arrived in Queensland colony.  Alfred never married and would remain by his mother’s side to support her and his younger sisters working the farm and labouring jobs in the region.  

Alfred’s older brothers Thomas George and William James (known as Jim) had come to Australia ahead of the family to pave the way for their settlement here.  Thomas George met and married a Swedish woman named Amanda Andersson and then moved his family to New Zealand in early 1900s to the Bay of Islands town of Keri Keri.  Thomas George’s only son Thomas Jnr would be the catalyst for the older Fitzgerald brothers entry into the great war of 1914-1918.

Young Thomas Fitzgerald Jnr enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 8th March 1916 at the age of 20 years old and proceeded overseas to France to join the 1st Battalion E Company as part of the 14th Reinforcements. Family stories passed down through the generations state that Thomas had gone missing in action prompting his father Thomas George and Uncle Alfred to sign up and go search for him.  Although the official service records make no mention of Thomas Jnr going missing in action, Alfred’s service record show him enlisting on 29th May 1916 at the age of 43.  Family members state Thomas George dropped his age from 53 years old so he could enlist but it also appears he may have changed his name as his service record cannot be located under the name “Thomas George Fitzgerald”.  I am in possession of a photo of both Thomas George and his son Thomas Jnr in military uniform, with Thomas George wearing a hat insignia badge of the New Zealand Artillery Regiment.  It is a mystery that as yet has not been solved but the story prevails that Alfred joined his brother, although both were much older men, and enlisted so they could locate and bring home safely their nephew and son, Thomas Jnr. 

Alfred’s war service record shows that he joined his training unit and embarked from Sydney on the OC Troop Ship “Ceramic” arriving in Plymouth England on 21st November 1916.  He proceeded to France on 8th January 1917 and was taken on strength at the 52nd Battalion as part of the 6th Reinforcements for that unit.  

The 52nd Battalion had seen its first major action in France at the Battle of Mouquet Farm in September 1916 losing many of its men in the fierce fighting.  They would alternate back and forth between the front line and training duties behind the lines throughout the rest of 1916 and into 1917.  Alfred joined the unit on 15th January 1917 at the village of Flers in the Somme Valley.  

The battalion endured the miserable winter of 1916-17 and would not see major action until the 2nd April operating in a support role as the 13th Brigade set to the task of advancing after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line.  The brigade attacked the village of Noreuil, eventually driving the Germans out and taking occupation in the early hours of the 3rd April.
In May 1917, the Battalion moved with the 4th Division to the Ypres sector in Belgium as the focus of AIF operations shifted further to the north.  The Battalion settled in to the area of Neuve Eglise (modern Nieuwkerke) a staging point for the division and turned their attention to the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge.

At 3.10am on the 7th June 1917, the largest mining attack of any war in human history was carried out with 25 mines detonated along a fourteen-kilometre front underneath the German front lines in the Ypres Belgium sector.   The 13th Brigade comprised of the 49th, 50th, 51st and Alfred’s 52nd Battalion steadied themselves at a staging point in reserve waiting for Australia’s 3rd Division, New Zealand Division and British 25th Division to move in behind a creeping barrage of artillery fire towards objectives that included Messines village and German trenches on the other side of the Messines ridge.  The New Zealand Division’s remarkably achieved all their objectives and had taken the village of Messines, consolidating their positions in preparation for the second phase the attack.  The 13th Brigade war diary reveals the plan of attack and situates the 52nd Battalion on the left side of the approach to the ridge with the 49th Battalion on the right.  

It is not known whether Alfred and Thomas Jnr ever found each other or realised just how close they were together in the field on the front lines of this battlefield.  Brigade and Battalion records show that the 13th Brigade units moved through the New Zealand lines and were situated in an operational area to the north east of the village of Messines where the second phase of the attack was launched later that afternoon on the 7th June.  

Confusion prevailed amongst the II ANZAC Corp with battalions unsure of their positions and communication hopelessly unreliable.  Author Craig Deayton (2017, p. 107)) states ‘the inevitable time lag between despatch and receipt of messages, which sometimes stretched to several hours, added to the difficulty of divisional commanders in reacting effectively to problems during the course of the battle.”  It was simply impossible to call in accurate artillery fire support with a multitude of calamitous decisions bringing friendly fire down on the soldiers moving forward towards objectives

By the evening of the 9th June, the 52nd Battalion were stalled, bunkered down under the hellfire of German artillery on the open flat land about 1.25km northwest of the Messines near Despagne Farm and the Blauwepoortbeek (Blue Gate Brook).  Anzac artillery bombardment of this area along the Blauwepoortbeek would prepare the way for a “further assault under the cover of darkness” later that evening and the next day (Deayton 2017). 

Alfred would not see out the 10th June 1917.  He was killed instantly by piece of artillery shell that exploded overhead on the battlefield between Despange Farm and the Odd Trench objective that crossed the Blauwepoortbeek.  Alfred’s Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing investigation file collects eyewitness statements that support the fact he was killed by an artillery shell explosion, however with one exception.  One statement reports that he was killed by a sniper.  In any case, he received a fatal wound to the head and was killed instantly.  

Research is inconclusive about his burial place with some indications that men from the 52nd Battalion killed on the 10th June were left for burial by men of the 4th Brigade (Red Cross Wounded and Missing – Alfred Fitzgerald).  Many were simply buried where they fell, some were taken and buried at the now Bethleem Farm East cemetery while others are buried in unmarked graves near the area of Gapeard, the final Battalion objective (Red Cross Wounded and Missing – Francis Reginald Newitt).  There are eight unidentified soldiers at the Bethleem Farm East cemetery but no current day indications of a cemetery having been maintained in the vicinity of the former Gapeard area exists.

In the end, Thomas George did find his son Thomas Jnr and family stories suggest they spent the remainder of the war together somehow and would stay afterwards to help nurse the pneumonic flu victims before returning back to New Zealand in 1919 together.  Both lived to a wonderful age of 80 years old with Thomas George passing away in 1943 and his son in 1982.

The family deeply mourned the death of their beloved Alfred and would post an obituary in loving memory of their son, brother and uncle four year later.  A family notice was placed in the The Brisbane Courier Fri 10 Jun 1921:

FITZGERALD.—Pte. Alfred Fitzgerald, killed in
action, at Messines, 10th June, 1917.
A mother's heart is sad and lonely,
For the sun she loved so dear;
He died on the field of battle
With none of his loved ones near.
He sleeps beside his comrades
In a foreign grave from home,
But his name is written in letters of love
ln the hearts that are left at home.
Inserted by his loving mother, brothers, and
sisters, Swann-road, South Toowong.

“Old Fitz” he was known amongst his mates in the Battalion.  Alfred’s service is honoured by his name being included on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium Panel Number 29.


Deayton, C. 2017, The Battle of Messines, 1917, Army History Unit, Canberra

Off We Go!

With a strong passion for history and extensive family connections to military and war service, I have focused my teaching career on Modern History learning. I am a former serving member of the Royal Australian Air Force and have participated in ANZAC Day services both as a serving member and private citizen for a long as I can remember.  A frequent traveller and school study tour chaperone to Vietnam for the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, I have eagerly anticipated the opportunity to tour the Western Front battlefields and share these experiences with students and colleagues alike.  I am a strong supporter of our Veteran community and am honoured to be here supporting our recipient student team of the Premiers Anzac Prize Tour 2024 raising funds for Mates4Mates.  I invite family, friends and colleagues to join us on this life changing journey in the footsteps of the Australian soldiers of World War One.

QLD Premier's Anzac Prize Group 2024

As members of the 2024 Premier's Anzac Prize Tour Group, we are proud to be raising funds for Mates4Mates to help support veterans impacted by service-related injuries and their families.

Mates4Mates need our help to do more and provide much- needed support and rehabilitation services to those in need.

Please help me make a difference by donating. Together, our impact is greater!

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