James Augustus Gavin was born in Jondaryan in 1886. He was working as a stationhand when he enlisted in the Great War on the 9th July 1915 after Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett, the war correspondent of the Daily Telegraph who was on board a warship with 500 Australians forming part of the covering troops for the landing at Gaba Tepe on the Aegean side of the Gallipoli Peninsula, stated:
“It required splendid skill, organisation, and leadership. The huge armada got under way from Mudros Bay, on the Island of Lemnos, without accident. The warships and transports were divided into five divisions. Never before has an attempt been made to land so large a force in the face of a well-prepared enemy.” ANZAC Landing at Gallipoli as reported in the Hobart Mercury 12th May 1915.
Was this the call to arms James answered as he left the family farm to fight for King and Country? His brother George, nine years his junior, was to enlist less than a month later on the 6th August 1915. James joined the 31st Battalion/ B company and George was to be assigned to the 12/5 th Light Horse Regiment. Already the war was taking it’s toll on the Gavin family.
James was 29 years and 3 months at enlistment, 5 feet 11inches tall with a dark complexion, grey eyes and dark hair. His portrait shows a handsome young Private Gavin in uniform. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 29th April 1916. The war on The Somme was where the new recruits would be sent with limited field experience. The first ANZAC Day had been commemorated and little did our Diggers know what was to come.
James disembarked from the H.M.T. Wandilla on the 7th December 1915 in Suez. He then embarked to join the B.E.F per HMAS Hororata at Alexandria, named after Alexander the Great, on the 16th June 1916 to disembark at Marseilles on the 23rd June 1916. James’s 31st Battalion would join the 32nd Battalion as part of the 8th Brigade. The German line was in close proximity to that of the newly arrived and inexperienced 31st, only 300 metres at some points. The 8th Brigade were to suffer heavy casualties from not only the enemy but also it’s own artillery. The lack of communication left the 31st Battalion exposed and the unanticipated loss of men, the wounded and dead stranded in No Man’s Land that was by then an inferno, isolated and without support. Colonel F.W. Toll was the commanding officer of the 31st the battle was a complete disaster, with the remnants of his Battalion retreating back to their original trench
by the next morning. The Germans were back in control, there were 5533 casualties, one of these being James Gavin, the battle was over.
The National Archives Record of James’ Field Service star that he was killed on the 19th July 1916, in the Field in France. He was buried at Eaton Hill Cemetery, near Rue Petillon, 2 1/2 miles E. of Laventle, 4 1/2 miles, S.S.W. of Armentieres. Reference to map, sheet 36, square M. E.b.5.2. The Chaplain attending was Reverend J. Green whom was attached to the 14th Brigade.
L/CPL James Gavin’s War Rrave is in the Rue Petillon Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix in France, but his actual burial place is still Eaton Hill as stated in correspondence with his father James on the 10th October 1925. Mat McLachlan researched this for me and gave the following information:
Eaton Hall (not Hill) was a headquarters and dressing station next to the site of the present-day Rue Petillon Cemetery. During the war the cemetery consisted of a number of small burial grounds, which were amalgamated after the war to form Rue Petillon Military Cemetery. Isolated burials from the surrounding battlefields were also brought in. My guess is that L/Cpl Gavin died at the dressing station at Eaton Hall and was buried in a small plot beside it, which was known at the time as Eaton Hall Cemetery (or Burial Ground). After the war this was one of the small plots that collectively became known as Rue Petillon Military Cemetery. Visit Mat McLachlan Battlefields Tours site.
He was 30 years old when he was killed n the Battle of Fromelles on the 19th July, 1916. The information on his commemoration and the Commonwealth War Grave (CWGC) at Rue Petillon can be obtained on this link: Commonwealth War Graves
Emily Treacy: My daughter is the great-great niece of James Gavin and made the pilgrimage to his grave at Rue Petillon Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix July, 2011
The death of James was conveyed by Telegram. We cannot imagine the outpouring of grief for a son lost so far from home. How long before his brothers heard of the battle. I have known of the Battle of Fromelles since my youth and have read extensively on this day in time. However, with the courageous work of a history teacher, Lambis Englezos, some of the missing Diggers from the fateful night have been found and some families have at last been able to bury and honour a generation of Australians who never came home. It took many years and changes in policy for these men, mates, cobbers- to be given the burial they deserved. Personally, I believe the tireless efforts of this humble hero should have been rewarded in whatever award, military or civilian that could be bestowed upon him. What value can we put on reconnecting families?
The return of personal letters and mementos would be all that a family could hope to receive in these tragic times. Mary Gavin sent a letter to Melbourne, advising she had received a parcel from France of letters and personal effects of her son James. She writes..” a mother is always anxious to find any little token that reminds them of the lost one. I feel sure you will see if you can trace this for me. Apologizing for troubling you as I have not received this yet.” NAA Records, Canberra. All she received of her son were: an identity disc, wallet, photo, metal wristwatch and strap and religious book.
The CWGC had a limit of 66 letters on the inscription on each headstone. The first draft sent by my great grandparents, but due to the limit their moving tribute to a loved son was rejected.
” A sorrowing people cried aloud, that they were of their hero proud. He helped to build his country’s name, and died in bringing her to fame.” the family were advised to consider another text that contained fewer letters! On the 14th July 1925 the suggested alternative was sent
” Though nothing can the loss replace, a dear one taken from our side, Rest In Peace”, unfortunately the R.I.P had to be omitted.
The 26th June 1930 a letter was received by the Department of Defence ( NAA Record of James Gavin, p 17 of 42) the Gavin’s distress was still continuing as they had still not received the medals for James Gavin’s service in a war that had now been over for the rest of the world since 1918, but this family and the rest of the Crow’s Nest community were still adjusting to life without their sons who were killed and the men, who and left as boys, who could no longer work on a farm after the horror, deprivation and hardship of war. It would be on the 4th August 1930 that Mary Gavin would be killed in a car accident and be laid to rest in Toowoomba with her beloved son James name being placed on her headstone.
Mary and Ede Gavin at ANZAC Day c.1920.
Mary and her beloved Son James. together again.
The loss of James, his medals, his personal possessions, tokens that a mother would have teasured and an inscription for a beloved son that would never return. How much did this mother, the mothers of the other boys from Crow’s Nest, Queensland and homes all over Australia, carry on with life.
The following text is part of the Poem Soul ANZAC Poetry
Shall Australia mourn for the sons she has lost-
Should Australians weep? Nay! Great though the cost,
Joy mingles with grief, and pride mingles with pain,
For our boys died like heroes, and died not in vain.
And the ‘Soul of Australia’, new-born on that day
When her sons died at ANZAC, shall never decay.
The Brisbane Courier, 25 April 1916