The Mystery of the Lone Pine Medal

Farewell family photo 1914. Arthur Singleton in uniform back row, far left.

Private Arthur Singleton (Service No. 301) was one  of the first young Australians to volunteer in WWI.  He was a farmer’s son, from South Road, Ulverstone.  Aged 20, he joined the Tasmanian 12th Battalion, sailing off  to Egypt aboard the troopship Geelong on October 20 1914.

Arthur was at the dawn landing at Gallipoli, and later fought at the bloody battle of Lone Pine.

Carnage in the trenches at Lone Pine.

Shortly after this action he was evacuated to Malta  suffering from enteritis and a septic hand. It was here he received the terrible news that his  mother had died from diabetes, aged only 50.  From Malta he  returned to Egypt.  After a further period  in hospital recovering from  a dislocated clavicle, his father was informed that Arthur would be returning home.  Instead, he went on to fight in France. Presumably he volunteered, anxious to rejoin his mates.

Arthur Singleton - Gallipoli Veteran

Arthur Singleton – Gallipoli Veteran

While on leave in London at Christmas 1916 his clavicle dislocated again. He spent several months in a military hospital  at Wandsworth, undergoing a reconstruction of his shoulder.  During this stay in hospital  Arthur  apparently  saw his name  gazetted as being recommended for a medal. He understood it was  for action around  August 6 1915, at the height of the Lone Pine battle.

Now there is a slight  discrepancy  here as Arthur’s family were aware of the  decoration even before he entered hospital.  In mid December 1916 a fundraising event was held  at the South Road school.  Arthur’s  father John Singleton was chosen to unfurl  an honour roll naming  local boys at the front. This was because his son had been the first to enlist in the district, and had apparently received the  Distinguished Conduct Medal. In reality this decoration was only for  officers.

Arthur returned  to Tasmania  in October 1917 after being discharged unfit for further action.  Not surprisingly, he was welcomed as a hero. There was a party for him at the  schoolhouse.  Some years ago  I was able to speak  his niece Edna  about this occasion. She was  aged about  six in 1917, but remembered waving a flag and being helped across the creek by her hero uncle on their way home. Edna is the little girl sitting  in the middle of the front row in the Singleton family photo.

With three other soldiers,  Arthur was  also honoured at a reception held at the Ulverstone  Town Hall.  A report of the occasion in the local paper (The Advocate) read;

Pte Singleton was among the ANZACS who landed in Gallipoli on April 25 1915, and was wounded at Lone Pine. He received the D.C.M (Distinguished Conduct Medal) for services rendered to Major Brand. He went to France and was again wounded at the Battle of Armentieres.   Now the major Battle of Armentieres took place in 1914, but the AIF,  including Arthur’s  12th Battalion, were fighting there in 1916.

Major Brand was  in command of the Australian contingent at Lone Pine, which adds substance to Arthur’s claim. I should also point out that Private Singleton  had an unblemished service record. He was from a deeply religious Methodist family, where telling the truth was sacrosanct.

Major Charles Brand

 

But oddly enough, nothing more was heard about the medal. On December 12 1918 an ex-officer friend called  Ronald Smith wrote to the Military Base Records Office in Melbourne on Arthur’s behalf;

Smith received a letter back advising that there was no record of the medal being awarded.  The humiliation Arthur must have felt  exacerbated the post traumatic stress he was suffering (then known as shellshock).  Could he have simply imagined being recommended for a decoration?  I  suppose it’s possible, but there is nothing to suggest he was delusional while  a serving soldier.  In fact, while he was in France he was able to assist the Red Cross in determining the fate of a fellow ANZAC, missing after  the Gallipoli landing.

He married within months of returning home, and had two little girls. However, by 1922 he was becoming seriously  disturbed.  His condition worsened after he resorted to alcohol to blunt his memories.   Sadly, the family disintegrated.  Arthur’s wife left and the children were placed in an orphanage.  Apart from brief periods when he was released or escaped,  he spent the rest of his life  in a mental asylum at New  Norfolk in southern Tasmania.

In 1961 he underwent a fairly extensive  case review.  It was now nearly  fifty years  since Private Singleton scrambled ashore  on the beach at  Anzac Cove.  Despite this, he was still falling in imaginary soldiers and marching them around the hospital’s airing  yard.  His reconstructed shoulder continued to cause him pain.  Mental relief  from shellhock only came with the onset of dementia.  He died on May 29 1966.

A MEDAL AFTER ALL

Arthur Singleton was my great-uncle. When I started researching his life, the first thing family members told me  was that he had won what they now referred to as the Military Medal.    His niece Edna, who knew him well,  was convinced it was true.  How  did  this misinformation trickle down the generations?  Did they just accept and believe it for Arthur’s sake?  And then I stumbled across some information that at least partly explained things.  On November  8,  1917, just days after he returned home, the following article appeared in The Advocate;

SOUTH ROAD

Sunday and Monday were the days set apart  for the Methodist Sunday School anniversary….On Monday the usual games and tea took place, when everyone had an enjoyable time, and in the evening a concert and coffee supper were held. A large number of people was present. This large attendance was not only due to the exceedingly good entertainment provided, but also to the fact that Mr  Arthur Singleton, who has lately returned from the war – to which he went at the very first call – was to be presented with a medal by his many friends in token of their admiration of his patriotism and bravery. Not only has he done the  ordinary duty of a  soldier, but, by special merit, he obtained the D.C.M.   The concert opened with the National Anthem……..During the concert the presentation to Mr Singleton took place. He thanked his friends in a becoming manner and received repeated cheers from those present.

Well well,  a medal!  I  have a horrible feeling that this kind gesture  only made things worse for Arthur.  The more he was feted as having been decorated by the military, the more humiliation he would have felt when nothing eventuated. I suspect this is the ‘party’ Edna remembered attending and that this is where confusion over the medals began.

I did my level best to find out whether he  really was recommended for a  ‘proper’ war  medal.  Staff at The Australian War Memorial  made a thorough search through the  12th Battalion’s  records (free of charge), but  found nothing .   They did say that in those chaotic times following Lone Pine, it is quite possible that Arthur’s name  was  mentioned.  I  guess the mystery will never be solved.  Never mind, he was a hero in my eyes, as he clearly was in the eyes of his family and community.

POSTSCRIPT –  When I first came across The Advocate’s report of Arthur’s homecoming there was one word I simply could not decipher. 

I studied it again when I began writing  this piece and suddenly the blurred, distorted  letters made sense…. ARMENTIERES.  It reminded me of the old song, Madamoiselle From Armentieres.   The latter verses are  very poignant, especially  in relation to the thousands of  men like Arthur, who gave so much but were never formally  recognized.

COMMENTS MAY BE LEFT IN THE BOX BELOW. DON’T FORGET TO COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM BEFORE PRESSING ‘SUBMIT’.

15 Comments
  1. Oh what a poignant story! A lovely young man, doing his duty for King and country, and to end up losing his wife and children, and spending the remainder of his life in an asylum. No-one is a winner in a war. And this story and others like it will continue until humankind comes to its senses and embraces peace.

    • Pauline

      His story has haunted me for years, Christine. One day I will write his full story.

  2. Wow. The sadness he must of felt amongst so many other emotions would have been unbearable. Then to be in the new Norfolk asylum as well. May he be in perfect peace now.

    • Pauline

      Yes Angela, the poor fellow experienced the horror of the war virtually all his life. My father was born the year Arthur came home, and was named after him.

  3. I enjoy reading about the past, especially about the heroism of our young Australian men who gave so much for their country. My uncle returned ‘shell-shocked’ from World War 2. As children, we often giggled behind his back when his face would twitch, his eyebrows move up and down, and his mouth twist awkwardly in different directions. Now, I know the new term for his ailment is P.T.S.D. He lost many mates in that war including his brother who was also in the Airforce. He won some medals and my uncle did although, posthumously. What a brave man Arthur was to continue to fight in spite of his injuries. They say that the voyage to the war front was almost as cruel and unpleasant as the conditions in the trenches.

    • Pauline

      My father was named after Arthur Singleton because he was born just as Arthur returned home. However, Dad was always called Robin, because the family were so ashamed of Arthur’s ‘madness’. No-one ever visited him at the asylum. So dreadful, although it was a fair distance away and the family had no means of transport I guess.

  4. Loved this story.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Heather, the story has had a huge impact on me. I was shocked to think that he was still alive and in the asylum when I was a teenager.

  5. What a terribly sad story! What a living hell that man went through from the time he left for war until he died. Thankyou for posting.

    • Pauline

      As I mentioned to someone else, Josie…my Dad was named Arthur in honour of his uncle, but always called Robin after poor Arthur became so ill. Arthur was brought home to Ulverstone to be buried.

  6. So terribly sad, Pauline – I feel a connection because of my great-uncle who was also one of the first to sign up in Melbourne, and must have sailed for Egypt in the same convoy as Arthur, although not on the same ship. And having worked (briefly) in a mental hospital, I can envisage poor Arthur’s situation. Very tragic – and the mess-up of the medal must, as you say, have made his state of mind so much worse. God bless him.

    • Pauline

      Thanks for your message, Ann. It’s such a tragedy to think that the only peace Arthur managed to get in the end was from dementia. One of his daughters had a fulfilling life and contributed a lot to society. The other one died at nineteen in very sad circumstances.

  7. Thank you Pauline for sharing this very sad and tragic story of Arthur Singleton’s life during the War and how his experiences there affected him for the rest of his life – How Sad!

    • Pauline

      Arthur Singleton grew up in the house where the Ralphs lived, Eileen.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.