Every year, around ANZAC Day, I share a thought on social media for my Great Grandfather William James Roseland, who perished in France during the ‘Great War’. The greatest sadness for me is the photo below, a loving father with his brand new baby boy who never saw each other again.
Today, August 14 2018, is the 100th anniversary of William’s death. A milestone I nearly missed if it wasn’t for my cousin John Francis Roseland (named after my mother Frances) who compiled the majority of the information that follows.
William James Roseland, born in Brisbane c1893, enlisted on the 7th December 1916 at the ripe old age of 22 and half years old.
He was 5 feet 9 inches tall at the time of his enlistment, weighed 144 pounds with a chest measurement of 31-34 inches and had fair hair and blue eyes.
His distinctive marks include small scars on his knee. I’m not sure how identifiable this would be for a casualty in battle though, but it was noted all the same. Like so many young men of this time it is believed that he was at least 2 years younger. Meaning he was possibly 21 when he died. You can see below the attestation of his enlistment papers – no date of birth is mentioned.
The only son of George and Margaret Roseland, William made his way to Sydney where he married Ruth Winifred Field, or ‘Nanny Field’ as we used to call her.
On April 19th 1917 he fathered his only child, a son, Ronald William Roseland – the baby in the picture at the beginning of this post – our grandfather and a man I loved dearly.
Just over a month later William embarked from Melbourne on board HMAT Suevic. He never saw his wife or son again. The boat traveled via South Africa, and with basic training along the way William soon found himself amongst the horrors of the western front.
As an engineer who had experience handling horses, William was given the rank of Driver. This meant he was in charge of a team of horses that pulled gun carriages in and out of the required locations.
A dangerous mission that left him undefended on many occasions.
On the 10th of August 1917 Whilst undertaking one of these transports a shell exploded with in his vicinity, which caused some shrapnel to lodge in his leg. A note written by one of his brigade said” I saw Driver Roseland not long after taking the shrapnel to his leg. He was in fine spirits and was not in need of aid to walk to the triage station. “ Adrenalin is amazing, but eventually it wears off.
Unfortunately, there were no antibiotics at this time and within 2 days he was admitted to the 2nd Canadian General Hospital. Things then became critical with the leg turning gangrenous. His leg was removed however it was too late as sepsis had taken over his body. On this day 100 years ago he died in a faraway country with no family by his side.
He is buried in the Mont Huon Military Cemetery (Plot VII, Row A, Grave No. 2A), Le Treport, France.
After his death my great grandmother was devastated. A young mother, with no income other than a war pension, wrote to the AIF desperately seeking her husband’s effects. Her penmanship is perfect, but the date is over nine months since William’s passing.
The reply is a sobering reminder of the futility of war.
A bible, a thimble, a wedding ring…William wasn’t sending much home other than his love.
I’d like to say that I miss William James, but I never had the opportunity to meet him. I did name my youngest son Lachlan James after him, in his honour. I did have the pleasure of knowing my great grandmother’s second husband, who we affectionately called Pop. He was a lovely man who died when I was very young. He was in his nineties and I was less than ten.
War is Hell, or so the saying goes. But Alan Alda said it best in an episode of MASH when his character, Dr Hawkeye Pearce suggested that war was worse. When he was questioned by Father Mulcahy how he arrived at that conclusion he asked who went to hell. Fr Mulcahy said that Hell was for sinners. Hawkeye said that, unlike Hell, innocent people died in war. I agree with Hawkeye, war is worse.