Lost, But No Longer Unknown

Story
Posted on 9 December 2021

For many, the names displayed on a war memorial are a list of those who served or those who perished. For family and friends however, a name represent the loss of a treasured life. It can also be a stark reminder that there is no known grave upon which might be laid flowers to recognise that loss. Almost one third of the names on the First World War Roll of Honour, in the cloisters of the Australian War Memorial, are those who have no known resting place. However, one name that also features on the Broken Hill War Memorial need no longer be counted among them.

In September 1915, a young Broken Hill lad, three months past his eighteenth birthday, travelled to Adelaide to enlist to serve his country. Albert Martin Nicholson, recorded simply as a labourer, was soon to face the conflict that four years of Cadet training had begun to train him for. By the time he’d completed his training and was allocated as a reinforcement to the 6th Field Artillery Brigade, the Gallipoli campaign was over. With the rest of the reinforcements, he joined the Australian forces in Egypt, awaiting transport to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. Whilst in Egypt, Albert was taken on strength of the 2nd Australian Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) and later the 6th Field Artillery Brigade. He arrived in France in late March 1916.

In May Albert was reassigned as a Driver and returned to the 2nd DAC. Whilst in France he experienced numerous illnesses, including time in hospital being treated for tonsillitis. During the harsh winter of 1916/17 he was hospitalised for influenza, like many other soldiers on the Western Front. In February 1917 he was wounded by shrapnel and was sent for treatment in England. Illness continued to plague Albert, now with the 14th Field Artillery Brigade, throughout 1917.

In early August 1918, at Villers-Bretonneux, Albert was preparing artillery positions for a coming Allied attack.  His role likely included moving horse drawn artillery and ammunition. On the 3rd of August he was killed by shellfire, aged only 21 years.

On being advised of her son’s death, Albert’s mother was asked to provide an epitaph for his grave. She requested “Great is our sorrow but God knows best, He has taken our loved one home to rest” however she was told that this epitaph exceeded the allowance and asked to suggest an alternative. She subsequently requested “Till the day dawns, and the shadows flee away”.

Unfortunately, Albert had been buried in an orchard at Villers-Bretonneux, but the position of his grave was lost. When his body was eventually found, his identity was not established and he was reburied in Adelaide Cemetery, Villers-Bretonneux marked as an Unknown Australian Soldier. It was to be another 103 years before this young Broken Hill man’s resting place was identified and his family gained the closure they’d so long sought. A new headstone will be placed over his grave, bearing his mother’s original inscription request.