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The Garden of the Grieving Mother


Story courtesy of Marion Snowden:

My great uncle William ‘Will’ Campbell was born at Clunes but, as an infant, moved in to Humffray Street South and grew up in Ballarat East. He was educated at the Queen Street State School before becoming a gas-fitter. He joined the AIF in May 1915 declaring himself to be 18 years and 11 months of age. Two months later he sailed from Melbourne on the Demosthenes as a reinforcement for the 23rd Battalion and saw action at Gallipoli from early September until the evacuation. When the Australian units were re-organised in Egypt he was transferred to the 22nd Battalion with whom he travelled to France in March 1916. On August 5th 1916 he was reported ‘missing in action’ during the fierce fighting at Pozieres but by late September his mother, Annie, wrote to the army –

Dear Sir,

We received a telegram Tuesday which stated that Pte. William Campbell is missing since 5th August and we are very anxious about him. So we thought you may have some news of him or could you let us know if we could find out anything in any way about him. We know he was alright on 2nd August as his mate wrote home and said they went into the trenches and came out together on 2nd August. Hoping you will kindly let us know as soon as possible. I am sending addressed stamped envelope for reply. Do you think he might be a prisoner of war as he has been missing so long?

Trusting you will do your best.

Like many mothers she was clinging to the hope that he may still be alive as a prisoner of war. As the months went by there was still no news, just the anxiety that stems from not knowing whether her son was dead or alive. In late November 1917 she wrote again –


I am writing again to know if you have any word of my son Pte. William Campbell No. 1691, 22nd Battalion, missing 5/8/16. It is now 5 months since I wrote last. Hoping to hear as it is 16 months since he was reported missing and that is all I have heard. It was only days after she wrote this letter that a Court of Inquiry on 26th November 1917 found that No. 1691 William Campbell had been killed in action at Pozieres on August 5th 1916. Sixteen months of uncertain grieving now gave way to full grieving. The Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour lists his age at death as 18 years, indicating that he had put up his age in order to enlist. It was also later revealed that Annie was in fact his grandmother – but that is another ‘family story’.

Will Campbell is commemorated by tree no. 1593 in Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour and on the Honour Board of the Queen Street State School which is now housed at the Caledonian Primary School at Brown Hill.

The Miner will be printing stories of the Grieving Mothers or relatives who have had to stay behind and suffer an ordeal in the great conflicts that have taken place in two word wars. If you have a story of your own we would love to hear from you. We hope these stories will give readers an insight into what it was like for those who were left behind, not knowing, waiting. This is also a chance to help bring this monument to Ballarat by donating to the fund. Mail to. Grieving Mother Fund 39 Magpie Street Ballarat 3350.