At Mouquet Farm

It's exactly 40 years since the Battle of Long Tan, a notable feat of Australian arms during the Vietnam War. But I have a more personal anniversary in mind -- yesterday was 90 years to the day since my great-grand uncle John Joseph Mulqueeney was killed by an artillery round during the Somme campaign, on 17 August 1916. As I wrote a brief memorial about him last year on Remembrance Day, today I thought I would look at the online sources I used for that post.

The first thing to note is that the Australian War Memorial website is absolutely superb for researching family members who served in wartime. By entering a surname on their search page, choosing a war and specifying whether they were killed in action or not, you can obtain a wealth of information, including Red Cross records, embarkation rolls, lists of decorations awarded, and so on. There are also two important external links: one to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the location of graves (though the AWM link is actually broken at the moment), and another to the National Archives of Australia, where service records can be obtained (hopefully online, if not photocopies can be ordered).

In looking through these records, the big surprise was that Private Mulqueeney did not die at Gallipoli, as my family's oral tradition held. Upon reflection, the reason for this is obvious -- over the years, as the family members who could remember John themselves passed away, the succeeding generations assimilated fragments of his story into what little they knew of the war, and that increasingly came to mean Gallipoli. Unlike Gallipoli and in contrast to the situation in Britain, the Somme has little meaning for modern Australians. And in family history terms, having a relative who fought at Gallipoli has a cachet that is probably only second to having First Fleet convict blood running in your veins.

His service records were perhaps the most interesting, and sobering, find. Here's part of the attestation paper filled out when he enlisted. Note the bureaucratic scrawls all over it, and in particular the very final KILLED IN ACTION stamped across the top -- naturally, such a common occurrance merits a labour-saving device like a rubber stamp.

Attestation Paper

From his casualty form, we can trace his movements in the last months of his life. On 7 March 1916 he disembarked at Alexandria from the troopship Wandilla and on 29 March (presumably after further training) re-embarked, this time on the Transylvania, arriving in Marseilles to join the BEF on 4 April. He then presumably moved to the Australian depot at Etaples, where he remained for over two months: his group of reinforcements joined the 4th Battalion on 13 June. I'm not sure where the unit was then -- I'd need to check a unit history or war diary for that -- but it was another two months before he was killed, near Mouquet Farm. He was a well-behaved soldier, with nothing to mar his conduct sheet (where his character is recorded as "good").

John Mulqueeney's death added more pages to his service record than his life ever did. Six relate to the forwarding of his personal effects to his father, Timothy:

Writing Case, Tie, Key, Letters, Cards, Photo, 2 Pen Holders, Holdall, Housewife, 4 Brushes, 2 Combs, Scarf.

A receipt slip from 1921, to certify that (I think) his mother, Sarah, had received his 'Memorial Scroll and King's Message'. Stamps for his service medals: 1914/15 Star (presumably because he enlisted in 1915), British War Medal, Victory Medal.

Service medals

A positive reply to a family request for a photograph of his grave at Courcelette British Cemetary. Perhaps saddest of all, a form letter evidently for the purpose of informing his family which troopship he will be coming home on, never to be filled in, never to be sent.

Coming home

Finally, there are the records of the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau's enquiries on behalf of his family. They wrote to his comrades, asking for more information than the terse Department of Defence telegram would have provided.

We should be most grateful for any details you could send us concerning 4572 MULQUEENEY 4th Batt. A.I.F. and would also be glad iff [sic] you would add a short personal description, or any points that would sa tisfy [sic] his relatives that no error had been made.

There were six replies, including one from his sergeant. Pte. Hutchinson (himself recovering in the Eastbourne Military Hospital) provided the following information in December 1916:

Informant states that on Aug.17th. 1916, at the Pozieres Sector, a friend, Pte. McBride asked him to go with him into the next bay to see if "old Mul" [?] was alright as he did not think he had moved for a little time. Informant went, they found Mulqueeney dead, shot through the head, death must have been instantaneous. This was during the big bombardment. They buried him just beyond the bay, and informed the Sergt. Informant took some letters which he is sending to the Mother with details and also has pay book which he will forward to the right quarter as soon as he can do so.

That same month, Pte. Dickman wrote from Etaples:

He was killed at Moquet [sic] Farm about the middle of August. We were in the trenches. He was observing. I saw him killed by a shell, which burst near the parapet, and a piece hit him in the head. He belonged to IV Pl. A.Co. I knew him quite well. He was buried in a shell hole near by. A rough cross was put on his grave.

I hope that knowing how John Mulqueeney died, the return of his effects, the photo of his grave and so on, somehow provided some solace to his family. I can only imagine the pain they carried with them for the rest of their lives. My own sadness in examining these remains of his life can only be the palest (and somehow unearned) reflection of their grief. And of course, this was merely one, not particularly remarkable, death from a very bloody war. Scale all of that up by a factor of 10 or 40 million or so, and that's one huge reason why the First World War is still worth studying.

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29 thoughts on “At Mouquet Farm

  1. Fascinating stuff and great resources. One dumb question, though; The effects list includes "housewife"; I'm assuming that means something other than what I think it means?

  2. Brett Holman

    Post author

    Good question, I wondered that myself but forgot to look it up. Turns out it's basically a sewing kit -- according to the OED 'A pocket-case for needles, pins, thread, scissors, etc.' Makes sense, as soldiers would have had to mend their own clothing.

  3. Allan Janus

    Brett, there's a chapter on Moquet Farm in Capt. David Fallon's "The Big Fight", 1918. Fallon was an Irishman who served in the Australian forces at Gallipoli and later with the Oxford and Bucks - he was slightly wound at Moquet Farm - sounds like a hell of a fight.

  4. Post author

    Thanks, I'll have to track that down! I hope to visit the site one day (perhaps next year), and it would be good to look at some accounts of the action before then. One I know of is Peter Charlton, Pozieres 1916: Australians on the Somme (London: Leo Cooper, 1986), which likewise has a chapter on Mouquet Farm. Any other references would be gratefully received!

  5. My Great Grandfather was killed while serving with the 4th Battalion AIF at Mouquet Farm (244 Lance Corporal David Thomas John), on the 18th August 1916. Whilst researching his military service, I have taken many photos of 4th Battalion graves in France & Belgium, and have a photo of Mulqueeny's grave. If it's of interest, I'll mail it to you.

  6. Post author

    Thanks, Steve -- yes, I would very much be interested. I also have a purported photo of John Joseph himself, which I should scan and post here at some stage.

  7. Rob Mulqueeney

    Hi Brett,
    I read your comments about John Mulqueeney and The Somme and My grandfather was also John Mulqueeney, however he was not in the army.
    I am interested to know where your grandfather came from, as I believe the Mulqueeney family is all related and mostly came out from Ireland about 1850. We have been in Wodonga, vic since 1886. Cheers, Rob Mulqueeney

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  9. Chris

    My Great Uncle Pte Harold Oliver Watt was killed 15/17 Aug 1916 at Moquet Farm also. I have been researching for my Aunty & myself. Brett mentioned that he had pictures of graves, I was wondering if he had one of My Great Uncle's. It would be so wonderful to have. no one from our familiy has been to see him since the war and I want to go as soon as I can now that I have found out about him. According to records he is at Villiers Brentonneux 194.
    About the comment on the housewife, even when I enlisted in 1972, we still had the housewife, it was essential to be able to keep one's uniform in order, in fact I still have it.



  10. Post author

    Yes, I've got a photo of Mulqueeny's grave, which Steve John generously sent to me. I think he's got a lot of 4th Battalion graves, so it might be worth contacting him through website.

    Are you sure, though, that he is actually buried at Villers-Bretonneaux? My understanding is that there are many names listed there with no known grave.

    Finally, you may be interested in a new book about the 4th Battalion AIF, The Fighting Fourth, available from here. It's a very well-researched book. (I had a look for HO Watt, though, he's not listed in it other than the honour roll and the casualty list.)

  11. Eloise Verlaque

    Hello, my great uncle Pte William Bowman of the 51st Battalion was also killed at Mouquet Farm on 03.09.1916. He was 19 years old. His body was never recovered and he was officially listed as missing until 1917. From the research I have done it appears his company (C Company) was trapped behind enemy lines during a German counter attack and his entire platoon fought to the end but there were no survivors and no bodies were ever found (due to being in German held territory). I wish I knew more about what happened to him.

  12. Post author

    From the circumstances, it sounds like you've found out all that can be known about his fate. It must have been that much harder for his immediate family to bear, not knowing exactly what happened at the end.

  13. Eloise Verlaque

    Yes, my great grandmother apparently never recovered from his loss and I can't imagine how awful it must have been wondering what happened to him. The never knowing must have been awful. It is awful now, 90 years later. I am torn between wondering if he died for nothing - I suppose I am angry that the machine of war just chewed him up and spat him out and he died without even a grave - and then wondering what would had happened if he and all the others like him hadn't gone....

  14. Post author

    Yes, I suppose the arguments over whether the war was necessary or not (etc) can go on forever, but looking at individual stories like these, and scaling up to 61928, gives a pretty sobering estimate of the emotional cost of the war to Australian families. That diminishes over time, of course, but lingers still.

  15. llewellyn ross harradence

    I had an uncle, Frank Llewellyn, who was also killed at Mouquet Farm on 3rd September 1916 and whose body was never found. He also was from the 51st battalion. I visited this site in 1979 and have a dozen or so photos taken at that time, which represent a vastly different landscape to what it was in 1916. The farm has been rebuilt on the same site but the surrounding land is littered with the remains of the original building. Copies available.

  16. Julie

    I had a great great Uncle that was in the same batallion (4th) He was killed in 1916 in August. We don't know what happened to him. Family legend said he was "blown to bits". You no doubt have researched this battalion. We would like to know a little more. A school boy digging in a garden in Pozieres found my great great uncles identity tag and it was returned to us. Can you help us to find out what happened to 4th Battalion in August. I have read the diaries for that month, but with no avail. Julie

  17. Eloise Verlaque

    Hi Julie, wow! what an unbelievable find to discover your great uncle's identity tag.....I have a lot of information from that period regarding the battles that took place from July to September at Pozieres but I will need to know more about your uncle (his name, etc.) so I can work out exactly who he was with and where as the 4th, 11th, 51st and 52nd were all mixed up over that period.....can you email me at eloise (at)

  18. jeffrey arlidge

    i believe i have the medals of 244 johns in my collection
    i was wondering if you had any information of his service.
    many thanks
    jeffrey arlidge. uk

  19. Post author

    Well, I don't, but I'm sure Steve John does, as that would presumably be his great-grandfather! You can contact him through his website. Alternatively, if you go through the links in the 2nd paragraph of my post, you can probably find much of the information online.



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  22. Susan Pederson

    My great-uncle, Herbert Bracewell Dawson, also died at Mouquet Farm on 3 September 1916. He was in D company of the 51st. His body was never found and his parents didn't receive confirmation of his death for a long time—in January 1917 there was still no news. The Red Cross correspondence record with his father is quite heartbreaking. They never got any further details about what happened at the end. In May 1919 they received a letter saying that he had been buried 1 mile east of Thiepval and 4 miles N.E. of Albert. But I think this must have been an error—that seems to be the approximate location of Mouquet Farm, and the Commonwealth Graves Commission only lists him on the monument at Villers-Bretonneux. No actual grave. I did find a wonderful 2-page letter in his online service record that he wrote to his family in England while in Egypt. I think it must have been preserved because he declared in it his intention to will his estate to his father. It has some wonderful personal details that really convey the tragedy of the loss of each and every one of these young men.

  23. Post author

    Was the letter from the Imperial War Graves Commission (as it then was) about the interment into the new cemetaries, or was it talking about an wartime burial (presumably in 1916)? It does sound like an error, though.

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