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Family Tradition – ANZAC Day

Every year, we have a get-together with extended family – usually the only time we see a bunch of our cousins & uncles – and 2nd cousins, etc.

The premise is to remember (lest we forget) my GrandFather – who was an ANZAC soldier during the 1st World War.

He has a tree in the “avenue of honour”, not far from a little town called Kingston – in country Victoria.   There is a metal plaque on the tree, simply stating “J.T. O’Connor” – John Thomas – otherwise known as Jack O’Connor.

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Each year, all the “O’Connors” meet at the tree, clear away the undergrowth – and have a few photos, etc – and some thoughts of remembrance, and then to the pub for a counter meal nearby. 

I’m sure my GrandFather would like that we’re gathering in his honour.

I never really knew him as a person – only from photos.  He passed away when I was about 4 or 5. 

(To me) it’s amazing to see the special bond developing between Cameron (Mr.4) and *MY* Dad – who is Cameron’s GrandDad – just to see my dad and my son together.

A few years ago, my Dad (Kevin) was in France for a conference, and took some time off to spend a few days re-tracing his Father’s steps (Jack).

He prepared a “report” of some sorts, including some photos and maps – he was a University Professor after all – it’s a “research paper” in some respects. 

Dad references many books and other texts/material – including some “unit reports” from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  

You can see from this screen shot (Google Earth), that Jack was stationed near the border between France & Belgium ;

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He was a “gunner” on a biiiig Howitser gun – in the mud & blood of battle – as part of the Australian Siege Battery ;

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Jack was only 22 years old – jeez, I was in New Orleans sipping “Hurricanes” and “Hand Grenades” when *I* was 22 – and he was in the middle of a war – literally.

It’s incredible to read this report, and imagine was it must have been like for those brave Aussies.  

If you’re a war-buff, historian, or simply interested, pls. feel free to take a look – and thanks Dad for compiling this report (2002).

Here’s a brief intro / overview :

J.T. O’Connor enlisted in the Australian Army in March 1917 at the age of 22.   At that time he lived with his foster family, the Sullivans, at a farm called Sunnyside at Newlyn, midway between Ballarat and Daylesford.

His enlistment papers indicate he was a blacksmith. He underwent special gun training at Queenscliff before sailing for Europe in May.

His journey took him to Suez, for a stay in Egypt of two months, then on to Taranto in Italy followed by a long train ride to Southampton and then to a camp at Devonport in August of 1917.

He was based there until November, when he joined the front line in Flanders. After the armistice he spent about six months in France, and then in camps in southern England, before sailing home in April 1920.

On discharge he had spent three and a half years in the Army.

Dad’s role in Flanders from November 1917 to the Armistice in November 1918 was as a trained gunner. He was assigned to the First Australian Siege Battery equipped with Howitsers.

These guns had a range of 10,000 yards, so he would have been up to two miles behind the lines. The guns took time to set up as special trenches had to be constructed to accommodate the recoil of the guns and storages for the heavy ammunition had to be built.

The gun positions were camouflaged or hidden as much as possible. Once in position they were not easy to move; most moves involved horses, though some motor transport was used (crawler tractors) in long movements and on better roads.

And – this story about him losing “one of his nine lives” – lucky he made it out – otherwise my Dad (and me) would not have been born !

Dad once told me his unit experienced a direct hit on an ammunition dump which blew him up in the air – high enough – and thus long enough to “look around” and survey the countryside. He suffered some injury and a gas burn.

(He had a small piece of German shrapnel lodged in his lower arm for the rest of his life.

He also said that everything was chaotic when he recovered and he joined the rushed retreat. That memory is consistent with the unit history reports of these few days.

Click here to read more (PDF file ~600kb) – it’s about 18 pages covering where he was stationed, some of the war efforts & history, and some more photos, etc.  

It is certainly of great interest to me and my family – I (personally) read it with pride, amazement and relief – in equal parts.

ANZAC Day – April 25th – lest we forget.

Please buy a badge to support our returned soldiers.

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