In August 1915 a function was held in the small, rural village of North Motton, in North West Tasmania. Local people were saying goodbye to seven young men from the district who were leaving to fight in WWI.
After the speeches one fellow stepped forward;
‘Mr A.L. Tongs, on behalf of himself and fellow recruits, thanked the people for coming to say goodbye to them, and also the speakers for their kind remarks. He did not know where they would go, but wherever it might be they would do their duty. They all felt their comrades needed assistance, and were going to do their best to help them.’
The boys who had left in 1914 did so with a certain sense of adventure, having no real idea of the horrors of war. For those enlisting after Gallipoli it was different. They were all too aware of what was in store for them. As Allan Tongs said, it was support for their mates fighting on the Peninsular that prompted them to enlist.
Among the seven recruits was Private Ronald Shadrick Allen. With other young Tasmanians he signed a postcard of their transport ship The Ulysses, which embarked for Egypt on October 27 1915. Ronald was 18 years old, a slight figure at just 5′ 4″ and weighing under 10 stone.
In Egypt, Ronald transferred from the 26th battalion to the 12th ( a battalion raised in Tasmania which had been at the Gallipoli Landing). Soon he was in France, fighting in the trenches. When letters stopped arriving in July the following year his worried parents, Herbert and Jessie, made enquiries. Some of his mates from North Motton had already written home saying he had been badly wounded during a battle at a place called Pozières, but nobody seemed to know where he was.
Allan Tongs wrote home with a graphic account of the day Ronald died. CLICK HERE
Jessie was actually Ronald’s stepmother, but clearly he meant the world to her. When the military authorities could not help, his father contacted an old friend. John McCall was Tasmania’s Agent General in London. He had spent some years as a GP in Ulverstone (near North Motton) , and Herbert Allen had served with him on the Leven Harbour Trust. A letter came back early in December. McCall had done his best, but sadly could not offer much hope.
McCall’s letter to Ronald was eventually returned, unopened. Herbert then wrote to The Minister of Defence.
It was not until mid 1917 that his parents received confirmation of their son’s death at Pozières on July 23 1916, the first day of the battle.
His effects were returned to North Motton; just a damaged bible and the handle of his kit bag.
Ronald lies in Pozières Cemetery (Plot III Row O Grave 25) with so many others. The carnage on Pozières Ridge led Australia’s official war historian Charles Bean to write that the soil there was, ‘More densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.‘.
Back home, a service held in his memory was written up in The Examiner on August 3 1917;
An In Memoriam service was held in the North Motton Methodist Church for the late Private Ronald Allen, twin son of Mr H.O. Allen, who gave his life for King and Country in the battle at Pozières on July 23rd 1916. It has been an anxious time for his parents, as one of his comrades who left North Motton with him and five others, wrote saying he was mortally wounded that day, but until recently they had no official notice of his death.
It was mentioned at the service that of those seven young men who left home with Ronald, only two were left. It was the same story in towns and villages all over Australia. By this time Ronald’s twin, Herbert Jnr, was fighting in France. He had enlisted in March 1917. (Herbert survived the war.)
It is shocking to see the repetition of surnames on the school honour board, emphasizing how many sons some families sent.
NOTE – Ronald’s father Herbert Allen was my great-uncle and died long before I was born. However, I remember Aunt Jessie very well; a sweet, gentle lady. She was often sitting by Grandmother’s fire when I visited, or knocking on the door with a bunch of fresh flowers. She died on Christmas Day 1965.