I cannot imagine how bewildered my grandmother, young Ethel, must have felt when she received news that her huband was Missing in Action and subsequently listed as Killed in the Field. However, if one searches Australian Military Records one will find no evidence of John Chatfield's existence.
Bert Chatfield was one of five sons of William Henry Chatfield and Sarah Jane Busby of Northamptonshire in England. Presumably Bert travelled to Australia sometime before 1914 when he married my grandmother in Cobar, NSW. According to his attestation papers Bert, who was a miner in Cobar, had previously been a member of the militia in his home county of Northampton. I have no details of that service but my aunt (his daughter-in-law) says that he was a deserter from the military.
|Clipping from Attestation Papers|
Yesterday I heard from the gentleman who owns that tree. This is part of what he said "Thankyou so much for your email,it actually gave me goose bumps as Bert has always been one of the family's mysteries! In relation to me he is my Grandmothers uncle, so in turn my Great Great Uncle. The family tale I was told was that during the First World War he joined the Royal Navy sailing on a Man o War ship, Sailed to Australia, Fell in Love with an Ausralian Girl, deserted the navy and changed his name to marry her,Then Joined the Australian army and was killed at Gallipoli."
I, too, got goosebumps when I read his message. I wonder what my aunt and cousins will say when I tell them that I have located some of their Chatfield family in England. I am still overwhelmed by this find just in time for the Challenge. I replied to that gentleman with a few details and will follow up with more after the Easter break. This man kindly sent a copy of a newspaper clipping from the Wellingborough newspaper showing photo of Bert and his four brothers who were in the service.
|John Bertram Chatfield (Top left)|
I now know that Bert had been in the navy and may have jumped ship in Australia. As Cobar is several hundered miles from the coast I doubt that he fell in love with my grandmother in Cobar before he deserted. On my next trip to the UK following up Bert's naval service record and a dated copy of this clipping will be a research priority.
But back to Bert's story. A digital copy of his service record can be found on The National Archives of Australia website and a summary of his service here. He enlisted on The Australian Army at Dubbo on 20 May, 1916 naming Jane Williams c/o Mrs Pusell as his next of kin. Jane was actually Ethel Jane Pusell, my grandmother. Bert's Unit embarked from Australia on board HMAT Ceramic on 7 October 1916. On 4 February 1917 Bert left from Folkestone, England for France. He was reported as missing in action three months later on 3 May 1917. A Court of Enquiry held in the field on 4 December 1917 found that he had been Killed in the Field.
Bert probably did not know that he had become a father of a daughter, Nellie, who was born on 4 April, 1917 and lived for just two weeks. I wonder if Nellie's birth was premature or if she died of some other cause. Ethel had always told me that she had lost twin girls; although there is no official record of two births I have a copy of a family letter that confirms this.
I do not know when Ethel heard of her husband's fate but on 24 July, 1917 she wrote the following letter to the Army
Another woman who was concerned about Bert's fate was his mother who enlisted the help of The Red Cross to find details of Bert's death. The Australian War Memorial has an index to the First World War Wounded and Missing file . Bert's file contains a number of statements from soldiers who were at the front with him.
It appears that Bert or Jack as he was known to fellow soldiers sustained a severe injury to his legs and was left in a shell hole by his mates, they retreated and when they returned he was nowhere to be seen.
I have travelled to France to visit the Australian Military Cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux to see the panel on which John Williams name is inscribed. Standing there on a winter's day when the biting wind was howling across the plains I shed a tear for Bert and Ethel and the thousands of other young men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries.
|Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery, France|
When young Bill was seven Ethel married Frank Duncan and went on to produce five daughters, one of whom is my mother. Billy was a loved older brother of his five young sisters. Ethel had a tough but happy life raising Bill and the Duncan girls.
Had Bert not met his fate on the Battlefield at Bullecourt Ethel's life would have been different. My Mother and I would not have been born and I would not be writing Bert's story today.
This post was prepared for the Trans-Tasman ANZAC Day blog Challenge