Alexander Stanley Clingan, 53rd Battalion, AIF

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Posted on 26 July 2021

Alexander Stanley Clingan was the son of Ruth and William Clingan of Newtown in Sydney. He was 21 years old when he left his job as an ironworker's assistant and enlisted in the first AIF.

He was sent to Egypt, where he joined the 53rd Battalion for training before sailing for Marseilles. He spent two weeks in the “Nursery Sector” near Armentieres before joined the fighting on the Western Front.

On 19 July 1916, Australian and British infantry attacked a German position near the town of Fromelles. It was ultimately a futile military operation. Allied troops crossed open ground in broad daylight under direct observation and heavy fire from the German lines.

The Australian 5th Division suffered 5,533 casualties in 24 hours, incapacitating them for many months. German casualties were light and the Australians gained no ground.

Private Alex Clingan was 22 when he went over the top at Fromelles. Little is known of what happened to him during the battle. His mother received letters from mates who saw him go over but did not see him again. He had arrived at Marseilles three weeks prior and Fromelles was his first engagement.

Alex had sent his mother a silk postcard a week earlier saying:

“Just a line to let you know I’m OK. We have shifted to a billet 8 miles from the firing line. Along the road we passed one of our guns…you could see the flash and feel the concussion. It reminded us that there was a war on and not very far away either”.

Private Alex Clingan was listed as missing in action for nine months. In late March 1917, his death was confirmed by the German army, who had buried him after the battle. They sent his identification disc as confirmation. Finally, his family were officially informed of his fate.

His mother Ruth continued to write to Base Records Office until late 1921 asking for information on her son; none was forthcoming.

For more than 90 years, Alex Clingan had no known grave and was commemorated only by name at VC Corner cemetery near Fromelles. Until, in 2002, amateur historian Lambis Englezos began looking into the whereabouts of the missing soldiers.

In 2009, a mass grave was found in Pheasant Wood, very close to the site of the battle with the remains of 250 men. In this unmarked grave, the German Army had buried British and Australian dead following Fromelles.

Many of the remains could be identified as Australian by artefacts buried with them. Alex Clingan was identified through DNA testing, thanks to samples given by his living relatives.

In 2010, Clingan family members attended a dedication and reburial at Fromelles. It was led by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

Alex Clingan is now buried in the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery under the inscription: "Son of William and Ruth. Greatly loved, never forgotten, in God's care".

Read more about the extraordinary story of Pte Alex Clingan’s return from Fromelles: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/alexander-clingan-return-from-fromelles