Brothers face wartime hardship
THIS Remembrance Day, Stuart Dinnis is reflecting on the hardships his two great-uncles - brothers Alexander and James Cooper - faced when fighting for their country from the trenches of Northern France during the final 100 days of World War 1.
Chinchilla local Mr Dinnis, whose great-uncles hailed from Baking Board where the Coopers were original settlers in the late 1880s, said that coming from the stifling heat of Western Queensland, the brothers would have struggled.
"They would have suffered. It would have been the first time they would have seen snow, and you don't understand until you see the pictures of them and how they're huddled together for warmth and protection in the trenches.
"The conditions were atrocious and the battlefields were terrible. There was nothing but dirt and holes and they were trying to live in trenches.
"I don't think it's really been given the recognition it deserves. As young Australians we all grow up with this celebration around Anzac Day and Gallipoli as it was the first major battle where we lost a lot of men, but we lost far more troops in Northern France.”
Mr Dinnis and his wife, three children and parents-in-law travelled to the battlefields of France in June. "It was eye-opening for the children to be able to see the pictures and what went on and to think that their great-uncle was only four or five years older than them and he's got a gun in his hand and is running through the fields,” he said.
"My in-laws had both lost great-uncles there too. There's memorials in Northern France so we went to a variety of different battlefields.
"I think that by taking my children there and actually walking on the battlefields, it was a bit more confronting and a bit more real.
"It's important to honour them. I was very fortunate that the two boys came home - a lot didn't - and a lot of Australian lives were given to help win the war. Without the Australian contribution the world would be a very different place today.”
Mr Dinnis said Alex had signed up through the Pittsworth recruiting station in October/November 1916 when he was 18 and his mother "may have guilted” 25-year-old James into signing up and keeping an eye on his brother.
The brothers - two of 13 siblings - both served in Northern France from 1917, and didn't arrive back in Australia until July, 1919.
"James had got pneumonia within about three weeks and was sent to hospital in England where he spent about six months recovering. Then he was eventually well enough to get on the ship to come back to Australia, by which time war was basically over.
"Alexander stayed fighting all the way through - he was there at the end.
"They had to get processed back in England and then they were put on a boat back to Australia.”
During the time he was away, Alexander managed to get one postcard to his mother and James sent a message to his mother to say he'd been injured in the war, with a second message being sent from hospital in England to say he was recovering.
"On their return, neither of them married,” Mr Dinnis said. "My dad said James was a gunner and he couldn't hold a cup of tea in his hands because he hands still shook so much.
"The war had a big impact.
"They wouldn't have come back the same as they went. "Alexander especially, having grown up on a sheep farm and then as an 18-year-old going to the Northern Front and seeing what you see there. It would have been pretty shocking.
"James signed up reluctantly to look after his younger brother, and I think the pneumonia stayed with him for the rest of this life. The impact of being a gunner stayed with him too.”