LOST MATES HAUNT AN ANZAC
My great-uncle, Anzac veteran Arthur Singleton, was admitted to a Tasmanian mental asylum in 1926. He constantly spoke of being tormented by the voices of his dead mates on Gallipolli. With the 12th Battalion Arthur had gone on to fight at Lone Pine and in France, but it was memories of the carnage following the dawn landing at ANZAC Cove that quite literally drove him mad. It is a cliche, but oh so true, that he and his friends experienced a ‘baptism of fire’ on The Peninsula. No other action Arthur was involved in had quite the same impact. His medical notes written by asylum staff two years after his first admittance are revealing;
14.2.28 At times noisy and restless. He lies in bed is very sullen & one can get little out of him. Hears voices. Said; “I am being worried by the chaps on Gallipoli.”
21.3.28 Is at times restless and hears voices of soldiers.
For the relatives of men missing at Gallipoli there was the anguish of waiting for news. Were they wounded, captured or, God forbid…..dead. This was the case for the family of one of Arthur Singleton’s friends, John Quamby. The men had trained together at Pontville in southern Tasmania before boarding the troopship Geelong on Octbber 20 1914.
John Quamby’s enlistment papers show that he already carried some battle scars;
He was from a broken family and had spent time in a young offenders’ institution. Fortunately he settled down after finding employment as a miner when he was sixteen.
In June 1915 Private Quamby’s name appeared on a casualty list published in Australia. It was the only news his family received. For months they waited and worried. Just before Christmas 1915 his mother wrote a touching letter to army records office;
Her letter prompted a concerted effort by the Red Cross to find out what had happened to Private Quamby. The Australian branch of the Red Cross had set up a Wounded and Missing Bureau, based in London. It was staffed primarily by volunteers.
In May 1916 a Miss Deakin contacted the 12th Battalion’s Lance-Corporal Keen on behalf of the Red Cross seeking information about John Quamby. He responded;
‘My chum, Private Singleton, of the 12th Battalion , now’ with the 3rd Battalion, in training at Etaples, told me two days ago that Quamby had been killed at Anzac during the landing there about 25th April, 1015. Private Singleton can give you full particulars…..
Arthur had a tragic story for the Red Cross;
I have often thought how painful it must been someone like Arthur to revisit that terrible day of carnage, just as the 12th battalion was about to participate in another dreadful battle at Pozieres.
The confusion of the dawn landing at Anzac Cove was illustrated by the varying reports the Red Cross received during their investigation. Stretcher bearer Private Betts said he was a personal friend of Private Quamby and saw him shot below the knee. He said he carried him to safety, but subsequently heard he had died on a hospital ship. Another friend reported that Quamby had been shot in the hand and evacuated to Egypt. However, the tragic account provided by Arthur Singleton and his mates was accepted as the correct version.
Finally, a death notice could be placed in the local paper, though there was still some doubt surrounding the exact day he died. Later it was confirmed that John had not responded to the first muster on morning of the landing, and that he had indeed died on April 25.
HONOURING AN ANZAC
His body was never located, but his name is recorded on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli. RIP Private John Quamby.
The efforts by the Red Cross to determine the fate of the dead was surely very painful for the surviving Anzacs, yet provided at least some comfort and closure for loved ones. I’m sure John Quamby’s mates considered it the only decent thing to do.
UPDATE – ANZAC Day 2017 – This article was posted on the Facebook group Tasmanian – The Great War 1914 – 1918. One comment was from Private Quamby’s great-niece. She said that he has a memorial tree in Soldier’s Walk, Hobart, and that his two brothers also served. Her understanding was that her great-uncle had been shot through the cheek.
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