Wednesday, 30 May 2018

#52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Week 21: 'Military'

Week 21 Prompt: Military

I have many relatives who were in the military and served in wars and have written about some already. This time I am selecting one who is not a close relative and I know very little about him,  but it touched me when I first came across him.  

Frank Ernest WELLS born 02 November in Hawthorn a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria.  His parents were Henry Wells and Annie Mary Garvin. He was the fourth son of 6 and had 3 sisters.  Two of his brothers, Alex and George, served in the war also.
Frank is my 1st cousin 2X removed. We are both great-grandchildren of Thomas and Eleanor Wells. (My Maternal side.)

When Frank enlisted for World War I on 14 August 1915, he was a single man, 26 years old, Roman Catholic living in Hawthorn.  He was a carpenter and joiner having completed a 5-year apprentice under his father Harry (Henry) at Bendigo, Victoria.  Five foot 8” tall, weighed 9 stone, fair complexion with blue eyes and brown hair.

Service Record for Frank Ernest WELLS

He had already served 5 years in the 2/8th A.I.R.  I tried to find out what this service was, but a response letter from the National Archives explained that they were unable to find Frank’s previous service. So the ‘2/8th AIR’ listed in his records will remain a mystery. (See Letter below)
On completion of his recruitment training, he was given leave to spend Christmas at home with the family at Quarry Hill, Bendigo.

Pte Frank Wells Service No: 4624, sailed away to war on the ‘Themistocles’ with a number of Bendigo boys on 28 January 1916.  

He arrived in Egypt in preparation to head into a theatre. Initial posting was at the Ferry Port.

Frank was… ‘part of The 58th Battalion raised in Egypt on 17 February 1916 as part of the expansion of the AIF. Roughly half of its recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 6th Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the composition of the 6th, the 58th was predominantly composed of men from Victoria. The battalion became part of the 15th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division.’ (AWM)

It was only five months later that Frank contracted Spanish Flu’.  Frank’s parents received the terrible news that he was dangerously ill with enteric fever in hospital in Cairo, having been admitted on 16 June. 

His mates would have headed on to France whilst he was in hospital. 

Frank died 8 days after being admitted on 24 June 1916 in the No 4 Auxiliary Hospital, Abbassia.  It is said that more soldiers died of Spanish flu’ than those killed in the war.  He was buried the day he died in Herli, Grave M125 at the New RC Cemetery at Cairo, Egypt.  

Index No E9 Cairo War Memorial Cemetery: WELLS Pte Frank Ernest 4624.

Cemetery at Cairo.

Poor Frank had only just got to war and was struck down with illness and died before facing battle.

Two packets of his personal effects were returned to his father and consisted of:  Comforter, Money belt, 2 Knives, Pipe, Biblical book ‘Key to Heaven’, Diary, Matchbox containing 2 coins, Badge, Button, 2 Miniature Monkeys, Handkerchief. The other packet contained: Identity Disc with charms and keys, Leather wallet, Papers, Notebook, Postcards, Ring (stone missing), Wristwatch, Strop, Holdall with 2 combs, Razor and Housewife.
In December 1921 his mother Annie Mary signed for a Memorial Scroll, in February 1922 for a War Medal and in August for a Memorial Plaque.

Packet that held Frank's Personal Effects

In searching through Frank’s army files I found an interesting letter that piqued my curiosity. It looked like Frank had left behind a sweetheart or at least a very dear friend who was close enough to write to the army about Frank’s welfare.

Letter from Miss M Robson

Return letter from Army to Miss M Robson.

I tried to track down Miss M. Robson of Elsternwick but couldn’t find any leads.  I felt sad for her and all others who were in relationships with young men who were lost at war.  I do hope that she had a happy life. 



National Archives of Australia
National Reference Service
Reference: NAA1000072090
Dear …,
Thank you for your enquiry regarding the military service of Frank Ernest Wells.

Our Melbourne office holds two series that relate to your enquiry:
B4747 – Army militia service records, 1901 – 1940
B4717 – PMF (Permanent Military Forces) and Army Militia Personnel dossiers, 1901 – 1940

I conducted a search in both series; however I was unable to identify any related records.
These series are both incomplete, thus the absence of a record does not necessarily indicate that a person did not serve; rather it means that such a record, had it existed, was not retained by the Department of Defence for subsequent transfer to the Archives.

Thank you for your interest in the National Archives.
Anna Koh
Reference Officer,  National Reference Service

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