MORRIS Brian Percy 344
21MG Coy DoW 19/3/18
Brian Morris was born in 1898 in Presteigne, Wales. He went to the local council school in Presteigne but then, at the age of twelve (1911), his large family – there were 8 children – moved to Australia. There was another brother – Harold Geoffrey Morris – who was 2 years older – and who also gave his place of birth as Presteigne, Wales.
Both parents – Henry Frederick and Annie Mary Morris – are included in the local electoral roll for 1915. The father was listed as ’dairy farmer’ of Devon North and the mother as ‘domestic duties’ of Yarram. Oddly, there is no reference to either parent in the rate book for 1915. The father would have been in his early fifties. Possibly, the family had moved from the farm at Devon North to Yarram by the start of the War. When the older brother enlisted in October 1914 he had given his mother’s address as James Street, Yarram. Then when Brian enlisted in June 1916, nearly 2 years later, he gave the father’s address as ‘Highfield’, Yarram. All the correspondence in the service file was directed to either ‘Highfield’ or ’Braeside’ or ‘Kywong’, all of Yarram, or Commercial Street, Yarram.
When he came to Australia as a twelve-year-old, Brian Morris must have attended Devon North State School for one or two years. Both his name and his death, are recorded on the school’s honour roll. His name is also recorded on the honour roll for the Methodist Circuit and the District roll for Devon North. His name also appears on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in the main street of Yarram.
As indicated, the older brother – Harold Geoffrey Morris (1565) – enlisted early in the War. At the time (10/10/14) he gave his age as 19 yo. He reached the rank of sergeant but was captured at Reincourt in April 1917. He was imprisoned in Germany and repatriated to the UK at the end of 1918 (26/12/18). He returned to Australia in July 1919.
Private Brian Morris enlisted in June 1916 (20/6/16). He took his initial medical at Yarram and was re-examined in Melbourne where he completed his enlistment. He was 18 yo at the time and gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’. His mother, when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, indicated that he was working in the dairy industry. But it also appears that he was a paid employee of the local council. Private Brian Morris had spent 9 months in the Senior Cadets, presumably in Yarram, prior to enlistment. He was single and gave his religion as Presbyterian. His brother gave his religion as Baptist.
Private Morris joined 21 Machine Gun Company. His unit left Melbourne in mid August 1916 (18/8/16) and reached Plymouth in early October (2/10/16). There was further training in England and he did not proceed overseas to France until March 1917 (17/3/17). While in training in England he was charged with and convicted of being AWL – nearly a full day – for which he was fined one day’s pay and confined to barracks for 5 days. It was a common offence. In July 1917, he expressly recorded on Form 311B that he did not … wish to make a will. At the time he would have been 19 yo.
In France, up to the time of his death, his service record is sketchy. There was a brief period of hospitalisation in January 1918 for diarrhoea. He was wounded – gassed (‘severe’) – on 17/3/18. The next day he was evacuated, via ambulance train, to 14 General Hospital at Wimereux, near Calais. However, he did not recover and died there on 19/3/18. He was buried on 20/3/18 in the Wimereux Communal Cemetery. The family was advised of the death by cable dated 25/3/18.
The death was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 28/3/18:
Mr. and Mrs. H. F. Morris, Yarram, received the following sad message from the Victoria Barracks, St. Kilda road, on Tuesday [26/3/18]: – “Officially reported 344 Private B. P. Morris died 19th March, 1918, from effects gas at 14th General Hospital.” This was the second occasion Private Morris had been gassed, having been discharged from hospital only six weeks ago. He was the second son of Mr. and Mrs. Morris, and enlisted the day after his 18th birthday. He wanted to go to the front at the age of 16. In June next he would have attained his 20th birthday. We need hardly add that the bereaved parents have the heartfelt sympathy of Yarram and district.
The reference to Private Morris having been gassed earlier does not appear to line up with the service records. As indicated, the only period of hospitalisation to match the timeline was the January 1918 stint which was recorded as ‘diarrhoea’.
In March 1918, 21 Machine Gun Company was part of a reorganisation that created 1 Machine Gun Battalion. The war diary for the new unit locates it near Ypres at the time. The closest town was Scherpenberg, near Reningeist and Kemmel. There is a brief entry in the war diary on the 17/3/18 to the effect that there was ‘heavy gas shelling’ by the Germans, coming from the direction of Zonnebeke/Warneton. There is no indication of casualties. Such heavy shelling on the allied lines was a common feature at the time and, invariably, the diary would follow up with a note that no infantry attack followed. It was still several days before Operation Michael and the German onslaught.
Nearly one year after the death of her son, Mrs Annie May Morris wrote to Base Records (21/2/19). In the letter she queried the amount of her son’s pay that had been returned and also the whereabouts of his personal kit,
Yesterday was paid arrears of deferred pay of 344 Pte B P Morris 21st Machine Gun Co deceased, £35.16.7 but think there is more money due.
At the time of his death, he was expecting to go for holiday, and had been saving money for that purpose. About the time of his death I had letter from him in which he says we cannot go [to] Blighty, unless we have £10.0.0 in our pass book. I haven’t saved quite enough yet. My turn will soon come.
Up to the present I have not had kit etc of deceased. Heard from section officer also chaplain who said kit etc would be forwarded.
Shall be glad if you make enquiries into the matter. It is nearly 12 months since time of death and the kit etc should have been forwarded.
Base Records replied within a few days (25/2/19). They passed the query re the pay to District Paymaster, Victoria Barracks. The response regarding the whereabouts of the personal kit was revealing:
… I regret to inform you that a package of personal effects was included in a consignment shipped from England per “S. S. Barunga” which vessel was lost at sea with all cargo, as the result of enemy action, on its way to Australia. However, should anything be received later it will be transmitted to deceased’s father, as the legal next-of-kin, in the absence of a will prescribing otherwise.
The father did, finally, in late September 1919, receive a copy of the items of kit that went down with the Barunga,
Disc, Letters, Photos, Photo case, Wallet, 12 Stamps, 2 Francs, Piece as [of] Disc on Chain, Cards, Handkerchief, Unit Colours.
with a note which stated that … no hope can be entertained for the recovery of the articles so lost.
[The Barunga was sunk by a German U-boat on 15/7/18 when it was approx 150 miles off Lands End, Cornwall. It was carrying Australian troops on the voyage back to Australia. Fortunately there were destroyers nearby and everyone was taken off before it sank. The Barunga had in fact been a modern German steamship that was captured in Australia at the outbreak of war and used as an Australian troopship.]
At a ceremony held at North Devon in mid September 1918 – reported in the local paper on 18/9/18 – to present medals to returned men from the district, there was also a presentation to families of men who had been killed. Speaking of his son, Henry Frederick Morris was reported thus:
Mr. Morris said he wished to express his appreciation of the thoughtfulness of the Our Boys’ Association in presenting mementoes to the parents of the fallen lads. His lad was at Devon school, and he could truly say was liked and esteemed by all. There were many names not appearing on the honor roll [it is not clear to which ‘roll’ he is referring here], but when they all passed over that great river those who had made sacrifices might see their names along with those of their lads written in the book of life. God had promised to reward those who had made sacrifices, and he felt sure he and his boy would meet again. (Applause)
In the Red Cross file for Private Morris there is correspondence from R. M. Kinsley Esq, of Bryntirion, Towyn, Merioneth [t is difficult to make out the address] which appears to be in Wales. The letter was dated 8/4/18 and it requested information for Private B P Morris. It included the correct regimental number and unit. The writer indicated that he had heard indirectly that Private Morris … was gassed and has died of his wounds. The writer added:
My wife is his next of kin (Aunt) in this country and has not heard from him lately.
The detail suggests that the boys were in contact with members of the Morris family in Wales.
There was a reply from the Red Cross, dated 30/5/18, which confirmed the death.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project
National Archives file for MORRIS Brian Percy
Roll of Honour: Brian Percy Morris
First World War Embarkation Roll: Brian Percy Morris
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Brian Percy Morris
Note: text adjusted 23/3/18 to acknowledge that entire family moved to Australia in 1911 not just the 2 brothers who enlisted in the AIF. See the attached comments.