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IT was the envelope that every mother dreaded to receive.

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BerichtGeplaatst: 25 Apr 2006 7:40    Onderwerp: IT was the envelope that every mother dreaded to receive. Reageer met quote

Small in stature, huge in courage
By Helen Manusu
Tuesday, 25 April 2006

IT was the envelope that every mother dreaded to receive.

It's hard to imagine that day back in 1918 which saw Mrs Annie Byrne of Renwick Street, Redfern receiving in the mail a letter postmarked 'Australian Imperial Force'.

With trembling hands and a heavy heart, she would have opened it.

Out slipped a curt, official letter and a few treasured belongings – all she had left in the world to remember the young son she had farewelled off to war some time past.

Today, a copy of that letter is amongst the memorabilia Taree man Kevin Byrne has collected as he researches the short life of his great-uncle David.

"Forwarded herewith, per separate registered post, is one package containing personal effects of the late No 5541 Pte DJ Byrne 17th Btn, received ex ‘Marathon' as per inventory attached. I shall be much obliged if you will kindly let me know whether it came safely to hand, by signing and returning the enclosed printed receipt."

The separate letter, headed ‘Australian Imperial Force, Kit Store, Greyhound Road, Fulham, London', lists – simply – ‘Inventory of Effects – The Late No 5541 Pte DJ Byrne. Forwarded to: (Mother) Mrs A Byrne, 118 Renwick Street, Redfern, Sydney, NSW.

Effects: Identity Disc, Rosary (damaged), Letters, Cards, Devotional Book, 1 Franc Note (Damaged)."

That's it.

No son to warmly embrace as he returns from war. No photos. No joy of watching him mature. Deprived of every mother's dream of eventually seeing a son marry and provide the ultimate little bundles of joy – grandchildren.

David's official records – now in Kevin's possession – include his original ‘Application to Enlist in the Australian Imperial Force'.

David Joseph Byrne listed himself as just 21 years and four months old when he filled out the form five days before Christmas in 1915.

He listed his occupation as ‘Bottle Washing'. He was small in stature – just five feet five inches, weighed nine stone three pounds and had a chest measurement (fully expanded) of 35 inches. His eyes were blue, he had fair hair and complexion, and was an unmarried Roman Catholic. His preliminary medical examination listed him ‘fit for active service'.

More details of his life came to light as Kevin furthered his research.

David was born at Barcaldine in Queensland but was educated at Cleveland Street Superior Public School in Sydney. He served in the Senior Cadets, Area 34B, Erskinville.

He enlisted on January 3 1915 as a private with the 17th Battalion, 15th Reinforcement and joined his fellow soldiers on board the ‘Euripides' in Sydney on September 9 1916.

Annie was surely there to wave him off, trepidation filling her whole body.

One day short of eight months later, he was dead on the Western Front.

His official record shows he ‘Died of Wounds - May 8 1917, Bullecourt, France.' Further medical records show he died from a ‘penetrating wound to the abdomen'.

Then comes a surprise – his official records list him as ‘age of death 19', and ‘age at death from cemetery records, 19'.

So did he jiggle the truth a little when he declared on enlistment he was 21 years and four months? After all, young men needed a parent's or guardian's signature on their enlistment form if under the age of 21. Were his father John and mother Annie against the idea of possibly losing their plucky teenager? We'll probably never know.

(He was apparently a bit of a larrikin though, as suggested by one notation in his war service record which records ‘18.10.16 HMAT Euripides At Sea, Disobedience of Orders, Award Forfeits 1 days pay.'

David was buried in Grevilliers British Cemetery in France, and his family were eligible to receive posthumously his British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Among letters unearthed in Kevin's search is one from David's mother Annie dated June 1923 which says in part: "I would like to state that I have not received any badge that was issued to the mothers of deceased soldiers yet, although I made application for same, as I would be pleased to have one."

There is also a record of the family having received the official photo of their son's grave, and the 1914-1918 Memorial Plaque, offered to Australian families from 1920 "as a solace for bereavement and as a memento."

However one letter from Annie to the authorities notes she "encloses six pence worth of stamps as directed on slip for you to forward me one to above address." What cheek from the government of the time – they certainly haven't changed much!

It is impossible for us today to comprehend how many times the above scenario was played out in ordinary Australian homes.

The Second Battle of Bullecourt, in which David Byrne perished, opened on May 3 1917 involving the Australian 2nd Division and the British 62nd Division. By May 17, Bullecourt had been captured, but at a horrendous cost of over 7000 Australian casualties.

And that was just one battle in one bloody war.
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