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.’ 

Allan Tongs
Allan Tongs. The only one of the seven who survived the duration of the war.

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.

Signatures of WWI soldiers

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. Unfortunately, nobody knew  whether he was dead or alive. In the unlikely event that he had survived, where might he have been sent?

Letter from Jessie Allen re missing son.
A mothers pain.

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.

John McCall, Agent General for Tasmania
Letter to Herbert Allen  from John Mcall in WWI regarding  his son Ronald Allen.

McCall’s letter  to Ronald was eventually returned, unopened.  Herbert then wrote to The Minister of Defence.

Letter to the Minister of Defence from Herbert Allen asking for information about his son Ronald.

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 Allen effects were returned to his parents.

Alan Tongs wrote home from France in tribute to his fallen friends;

The battlefield was an awful sight, and I am not ashamed to say I lay down and cried at that solemn roll-call when the rest of us returned, for so many good fellows will only be remembered here by the little wooden cross – ‘Died for his country’s sake in a foreign land.’ What those last hours were like we will never know…‘ (Advocate September 18 1916)

Village of Pozieres, Where Ronald Allen died.
Once the main street of Pozieres, completely destroyed in the fighting

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.‘.

Poziere's Cemetery, The grave of Ronald Allen is marked with a red dot.
Memorial to private Ronald Shadrick Allen at Pozieres

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 Allen, 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.)

 WWI Honor roll at North Motton

North Motton State School
North Motton State School, attended by many of the boys who served in WWI

It is shocking to see the repetition of surnames on the honour board, emphasizing how many  sons some  families  sent to war.

NOTE –  Ronald’s father Herbert Allen was my paternal great-uncle, but he died long before I was born.  However,  I remember Aunt Jessie very well; such a sweet, gentle lady. She was often sitting by my Grandmother’s  fire when I visited, or perhaps knocking on Grandma’s door with a bunch of flowers from her garden.  She died on Christmas Day 1965.

Jessie Allen, loving stepmother of Ronald.
Aunt Jessie Allen
  1. Am currently volunteering for RSL Virtual War Memorial website and am adding War Memorials and Honours and associating each soldier’s profile. I was hoping you would allow the photograph of North Motton State School to be added – full credit would be give to you. I am trying to make the site more inclusive of other state as most memorials are from South Australia.

  2. My great uncle was amongst these troops who went with Ronald. Jack’s sister died to the exact day 35 years as to Aunt Jessie. There is a twist in this tale that has not been told. They also wrote a letter and put it in a bottle, launched it off the ship and it was recovered at South Australia. The letter found its way to The Mercury in Hobart, where a story about it was written.

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