Like many returned soldiers, Alf Gundrill did not say much about the horrors of war.
His son Albert said his father’s memories from the battlefields were often pushed to the back of his mind, however they were from a time that was never forgotten.
‘‘Dad never really talked about the war but it never went away,’’ Albert said.
‘‘He said the worst thing they ever experienced from the war was the stench of dead bodies ... Dad said they weren’t frightened of dying but he said the stench of dead bodies was something he had never gotten rid of.’’
It is believed Alf was just 17 when he enlisted for war service alongside his brother Albert, who was 24.
‘‘My father was supposed to be 18 when he enlisted but I think he had his birthday somewhere in France,’’ Albert said.
‘‘I think he lied about his age.’’
The Gundrill brothers from Kialla West joined the 37th Battalion A.I.F which landed in France on November 23, 1916, more than two years after the war began.
The pair served in the battalion alongside 2700 other officers and men; more than half of them were under the age of 25.
Albert said he remembers his father talking about the harsh conditions in which they fought, with torrential rain causing thick mud and wet ground.
‘‘Dad said everyday he had to put an ammunition box down in the trench because the mud was so deep it would just sink into the ground,’’ he said.
The 37th Battalion presented a valiant face in 14 major battles during the war, and like most suffered significant casualties.
‘‘Dad lost the full use of his right arm and uncle Albert was wounded a number of times,’’ Albert said.
‘‘Albert was wounded in the shoulder, he was a Lewis gunner — meaning he had to sit up and shoot and of course the stray bullets used to hit him in the arm.’’
After losing the use of this arm, Alf was no longer fit for service and was shipped to Bristol in England.
He spent 17 months there before returning home to his family in Australia.
Unfortunately he returned home without his older brother Albert, who was killed alongside 500 other men from the 37th Battalion during the battle of Passchendaele on October 12, 1917.
‘‘Albert is still over there; they don’t know where he is, he was buried in a shell hole,’’ Albert said.
‘‘Albert was standing two miles behind the line because he had been wounded in the hand, and that’s where a stray shell landed and the shrapnel killed him instantly.’’
Albert said he could only imagine how difficult the war must have been for his grandmother, with her only two sons sent to fight.
Their mother made a number of inquiries about the boys’ safety throughout the duration of the war, with the death of her son Albert confirmed in a letter from the Australian Red Cross.
The letter read: ‘‘In answer to your enquiry regarding Albert we regret to inform you he is officially reported as KIA 12.10.1917 and we have unofficial information from men in the same battalion who write from France that Private Gundrill was killed instantaneously at Hamburg House in Passchendaele. Owing to the number of casualties and lack of transport all were buried in the field. This report is confirmed by private Hosking.’’
Albert was one of the dozens of local men who were featured on the Shepparton News calendar published in 1917.
Following his death, Albert’s family spent decades collecting pieces of history from his time at war.
The collection is now in the possession of Albert Frank Gundrill, who was named after his fallen uncle, and who looks back on that time in history with great sadness.
‘‘It was a horror time; what a waste — but they never knew where they were going or what they were fighting for until they got there,’’ he said.
‘‘The Poms didn’t like the Aussies so they sent them in where no other man would go.’’
Albert now has an extensive collection of letters, postcards, war records and photographs from the Gundrill brothers’ time at war.
Also in his collection is his uncle’s memorial plaque, which was given to the next-of-kin of all Australian soldiers who died during WWI.
At 89 years old, Albert recently donated the plaque to the Shepparton RSL sub-branch in the hope it will remain in their growing collection.
‘‘Our family has collected most of the information on and off over the years,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m the last of our line and that is why I want to do something now and donate the plaque.’’
The Shepparton News — Thursday, November 8, 1917
On active service.
GUNDRILL – Killed in action in Belgium on October 12th, Private Albert E. Gundrill, after 1 year and 4 months active service.
Dearly loved eldest son of Mr and Mrs J Gundrill, Kialla West.
Loving brother of Mrs Andrew Sinclair, Arcadia, Alfred (on active service) and Alice, Brighton.
Aged 26 years and 3 days.
One of Australia’s best.
Inserted by his loving mother.