Richard Kleinig has enjoyed a fascination with war memorials since he was a primary school lad, and when approaching his 60th birthday decided to delve into the background of why the name of his wife’s great uncle, Private John Edward Lundstrom, appeared on the World War I Roll of Honour at Goolwa.
To the family’s surprise, Richard discovered this returned soldier – they were all gallant – won a Military Medal. On the first day of the famous Battle of Menin Road, near Ypres, Belgium, Jack, as he was known, was carrying a wounded man by stretcher when a heavy shell burst close to him, blowing him into a large hole and burying him with mud and debris. After being eventually dug out, Jack picked up his Lee-Enfield .303 calibre standard rifle and bayonette and went straight back into action.
Consumed with admiration for all of those who served, Richard researched another name on the list, and then another. And another. His wife, Lee, said: “Why not research the memorial at Strathalbyn?” And so his long journey began.
Now, two years later, after working six-seven hours almost every day, her great uncle Jack features on Richard’s two-part book A Guide Behind the Lines covering the 1458 soldiers and nurses from the Fleurieu Peninsula who enlisted for the Great War from 1914-18.
His 908-page two-part epic reveals some remarkable stories on each of these brave men and women. It reminds us these names etched in stone were very real people.
There was barely a time when a chill didn’t run down Richard’s spine during his long and tedious days and nights gathering new information from war records and yellowed newspaper cuttings, especially upon realising that one out of every 4.4 fine young men and women – many of them teenagers – destined for war from our Fleurieu Peninsula was killed.
And despite his 20 years earlier as a magistrate, mainly with civil matters, and believing he was somewhat hardened with life’s realities, Richard admitted he fell into depression upon discovering the fate of many of these poor souls.
“All of the stories touched me, but some were far more affective than others,” Richard said. “Even the first name on the Goolwa monument, Private Andrew Christian Orr, brought me sadness. He didn’t even get to the war – he died from cerebrospinal meningitis before boarding the troop carrier. He was just 19.
“It made me suddenly realise that the ‘fallen’ among our rolls of honour don’t just mean killed in action, but those who died of disease or other reasons while enlisted. There are also some memorials that include those who returned from war, not just the fallen.
“I became astonished at how many of our poor lads were ravaged by malaria, especially those who served in the Middle East.
“I also found it remarkable how soon the mum and dad died after hearing the death of their son or daughter; obviously it was the shock of it all. Another cruel aspect of fate was the slow communication; a telegram would go to the parents saying their son was wounded in action and was making a good recovery in hospital, but by the time they actually received the telegram he was dead so they were fed this false hope.
“I guess you can see how this significant part in the Australian story affected me. Lee said she could see the progressive change in me; the burden of carrying the incredible weight of one sad episode after another.”
Richard said the story behind every name bearing a cross on the memorial representing ‘Killed in Action’ ran deep, but perhaps the one that touched him most was the fate of Lieutenant Alfred Cronin, who earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal. In the early hours of February 23, 1918 on the battlefields of France while patrolling what was referred to as ‘No Man’s Land’ he was wounded in the leg and side by machine gun fire. While being carried by stretcher, he was shot again from machine gun fire, and died the following day.
One-by-one Richard recalled horrors of this war. The eyes glistened when he spoke of Private Charles Herbert Deckhart, who like the spelling of many names on these memorials, differed on other documents.
“Private Deckhart was a cook, just 5ft 4in tall and weighing 128lbs,” Richard said. “There was obviously nothing of this lad from Strathalbyn. He served with the 15th/11th Battalion Reinforcements in France when he was wounded in the field of Pozieres with shell shock. He had been buried by a shell explosion for three hours and regained consciousness when in hospital.
“Young Private Deckhart was invalided to England. The tragedy was that, after being repatriated at home, people realised that the war had changed his character and he became constantly in trouble with the law. He was ordered by the court to be detained for the rest of his life at Parkside Mental Hospital.
“It was one of the many stories from the names on these memorials that told me this war wasn’t just about fighting on the front lines, but trying to survive behind them in time of peace. Like all wars, it took its toll mentally.
“I guess these stories and the books have taken their toll on me too, but I have no regrets. I have appreciated even more the commitment and sacrifices of all of those who have served this country in every war, and learned a lot about the women who served in World War I – including five female nurses enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Corps who were killed.
“I would like to think that these books have done those from the Fleurieu Peninsula who served in World War I, and their families, justice.
“I would have liked to have included a lot of photos in the books, but I didn’t want to have some soldiers and not others… it would not have been fair. We would like to do a companion volume later by hopefully getting the RSL clubs helping us out with photos.
“People ask me why have I done all this, and it gets back to appreciating what all of those who served did for our country, and how the impact was great on their families too.
“Take Private Laurence Anderson, who after learning that his two brothers had been killed on the western front (Private Clarence Hurtle McGuinness and Private Horace Victor McGuinness) asked his commanding officer for leave to return home to Langhorne’s Creek (name later changed without apostrophe) to help his ageing, dying father run the family’s fishing plant.
“There were no fewer than 123 instances of two or more siblings from the Fleurieu Peninsula going to World War I. Given the number of those killed, it is easy to understand how there are so many families across the region who have been affected by this war.”
World War I followed four decades of hostilities among the great European powers, coming to a head when the driver of Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria Hungary and his wife, Sophie, took a wrong turn at a T-section, and by chance were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian nationalist organisation, the Black Hand.
Nowhere on the memorials across the Fleurieu Peninsula does it say a soldier died because a driver took a wrong turn. It highlights the senselessness of this so-called Great War of 1914-18 which claimed the lives of 60,000 Australians. Think of them as 60,000 great grandfathers with family members who could have followed them also gone. As Richard discovered, the sadness is infinite. Such is war.
All proceeds from his books, published by Goolwa community radio station Alex FM, will go to various local charities.
“The books are not about me,” Richard said. “I hope people see them as a tribute to everyone who has served their country in all conflicts and in time of war and peace. This is part of our heritage.”
And may we honour them, especially on Remembrance Day, Monday, November 11, at 11am.