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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

In Memory of Austin Morrison, and of his great nephew Kevin, and also of Albert Leslie Featherston


My grandfather's brother Austin Lindsay Morrison lost his life in The Somme in 1916, aged 24. His photograph was published not long afterwards in the Supplement to the Auckland Weekly News on 26 October 1916. Here is the page that includes Austin's photo. Note the larger photographs for the officers, followed by smaller ones for the enlisted men:

So many men lost over such a disastrous few years, and doubtless every one treasured and mourned by their own circles of family and friends.

Gunner A. L. Morrison, killed in action, from ' Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19161026-40-24 ' 

Austin was born in 1891 in the Marlborough district in New Zealand. I had some trouble finding his name in the birth index, because the transcription of it given there is 'Estion Liencey', which I find very strange, but not strange enough to compel me to purchase a printout of the record so I can interpret it for myself, although I suppose I really should. My grandfather, the son born two years earlier, was simply named John!  

When the Great War broke out, Austin enlisted and became a member of the Machine Gun Section of the 2nd Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade. His unit left New Zealand for the Suez on 9 October 1915. 

 Early in 1916 the local Marlborough paper published a report of a letter that Austin had sent home, which must have provided some degree of hope and comfort to his Irish-born mother Mary Bridget and father Daniel.

Marlborough Express, 22 January 1916, per Papers Past web site

Sadly the worst news arrived later that same year, when the family received advice that Austin had been killed in the Battle of the Somme on 16 September. Austin was much loved and missed by his parents and his ten siblings. I've written in an earlier. Sepia Saturday blog about the last brave letter he wrote to his mother just a week before he was killed, but no doubt received by her after his death.

Report published in The Press,  9 October 1916, per Papers Past web site

Here is a photograph I took in 2003 when we visited the Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial, where Austin's name is listed amongst those of the many whose remains could not be found or identified.

Memorial detail

There is also a Roll of Honour at the Canvastown School attended by the Morrison children. It shows the names of Austin, killed in action, and of his brothers Stan and Arnold, who also served but thankfully returned.  

A sad postscript to Austin's story:
I posted the photographs of Austin and the Caterpillar Valley memorial on the Find-a-Grave web site, and this led to my being contacted by the wife of my second cousin Kevin, whom I had never met, but to whom Austin was also a great uncle, and whose grandfather was Stan, as noted on the above Honour Roll. Kevin's father was named for Austin, and his German wife was also interested in family history. A couple of years later we were travelling in Germany and met Kevin, an ex-New Zealander who spoke fluent German after living and working in the country for about twenty years. Kevin collected us from our hotel and took us to their home for 'Kaffe und Kuchen' in the small village where they lived near the town of Mainz. They seemed a lovely couple, so we were shocked and saddened to hear in 2010 that Kevin had died, his wife was in a mental hospital, and their two little boys were in care. I don't know the exact circumstances of what happened, but I don't think it was through accident or illness. RIP Kevin.

 Here's a song written and sung by one of my favourite Scottish Australian folkies, Eric Bogle, that illustrates the essential futility of war. I've been to so many of Eric's concerts over the years, but they are always great!

And finally, a sad 'in memoriam' notice, placed in the Ballarat Courier 9 August 1917, a year after the death of my husband's great uncle, who died aged 19 at Monquet Farm, near Pozieres, France, on 8 August 1916:

FEATHERSTON.-In loving memory of
my dear son and brother Private Albert Leslie Featherston,
killed in action in France 8th August, 1916 (previously
reported missing).
Your country called for soldiers
To fight 'neath the Union Jack:
With a cheerful smile Les left us,
With a hope he'd soon some back.
You fought midst other heroes;
Yes bravely fought and fell
how we sit and think of you, dear Les,
No other tongue can tell.
-Inserted by his loving mother, sisters, and brothers, Joe, Ralph, Sylvia and Lillian.

Private Albert Leslie Featherston, photo from the Ballarat Courier, 2 June 1917.