I went in to find out more about it and met memorial guide Michael Wilson. Somehow we ended up talking about our relatives and Michael told me about his great grandfather John Hilary Lynch who had been killed in WWI and his son Walter, Michael’s great uncle, also killed in action. Naturally I asked him if he would like to be part of my project. This is their story.
Michael’s grandfather’s eldest brother Walter Hilary Lynch, a labourer born in Nyngan, enlisted in Dubbo on 4 February 1916 just a month short of his 19th birthday. His service number was 1943 and he was assigned to third reinforcements 54th battalion initially but later transferred to 34th battalion, my grandfather Harold’s battalion.
Young Walter departed Sydney on 23 June 1916 for Plymouth, and then moved from England to France on 21 Nov 1916 heading into the worst winter on the Western Front. Sadly he was killed in action in the field in Belgium on 7 June 1917 and was buried in Old No Man’s Land near the allied wire in front of Antons Farm, just north east of Wytscahete, one mile south of Messines. His name is listed on the Menin Gate Memorial.
Shortly before being notified of his son's death, John Hilary Lynch also a labourer from Nyngan enlisted on 5 June 1917. Walter’s personal effects, of just 1 notebook and 2 photos, were later sent to his sister Mrs Isabella Farrell of Watsons Bay.
John, assigned to 20th battalion service number 6957, no doubt distraught at finding out the fate of his young son, embarked for England on 16 July. He departed for the Western Front late December arriving into Belgium on 1 January 1918. In late March and early April John is hospitalised in France suffering from fever, and after recovery rejoins his battalion.
John was wounded in action in France on 11 August 1918, and later died of his wounds, multiple gunshots that penetrated his left lung, at 8th Stationary Hospital Wimmereux France on 13 September 1918. John is buried in Terlinethun British Cemetery one mile north of Boulogne. John’s personal effects were sent to his wife Jane and contained 3 discs, a wallet, letters, YMCA wallet, testament, a religious pamphlet and a razor.
Jane had been kept up to date on her husband’s fate by telegrams, one on 31 August saying he was seriously ill and the next on 3 September saying he was dangerously ill. She sent a heartfelt telegram of her own to Base Records asking if the reports she was receiving about John Lynch were in fact about her husband and not a mistake?
With her eldest son and husband both killed Jane moved her family of seven children from Nyngan to King Street St Peters in Sydney and no doubt struggled to make ends meet. She wrote on 2 Dec 1922 to request a memorial plaque for her son Walter after receiving a plaque for her husband John. They reply saying the plaque had been received however his name had been incorrectly inscribed and it was being re-issued.
John’s records include a sad little handwritten letter from Jane in May 1923 to Base Records asking for a Widows and Mothers badge as she has seen other widows wearing the small blue enamel and silver badges. They write back saying that the issuing of these badges ceased on 31 March 1922 and that there are no more in stock. In 1926 she writes requesting certificates of their deaths which are required for probate. She has been unable to change the title deeds of their land in Nyngan into her name.
In 1929 the Public Trustee Office in Sydney was still trying to process probate for Walter and to track down the whereabouts of John’s will which had been sent to Victoria Barracks. Again in 1935 the Public Trustees Office Sydney are still following up on the whereabouts of his will. It is now 17 years since her husband’s death and no closure for Michael's great grandmother Jane.
Michael has worked at the Anzac Memorial for 13 years and has no mementoes of his great grandfather and great uncle apart from a full transcript of their service records. But as a memorial guide he is learning more and more about their service and WWI under the guidance of senior curator and historian Brad Manera, which is a fitting tribute to their memory. He hopes to visit the battlefields where they died soon. Lest we forget!