Remembrance Day

Descendants treasure information on St Germains’ Munro family

By Liz Mellino

The smiling young faces of three Munro brothers sit next to each other on the 1917 Shepparton News Roll of Honour of Fallen Heroes.

James, 22, George, 20, and Colin, 19, from St Germains enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I alongside their older brother Alex, 28.

George, James, Colin and Alex Munro are pictured from left to right.

The three younger brothers were killed in action, while Alex was seriously wounded before returning back to Australia.

Shepparton’s Peter and Beverly Ford have spent many years collating war records, photographs and medals of the Munro brothers, who were Beverley’s great-uncles.

While the Fords cherish the information they have gathered, they acknowledged the brave sacrifice the brothers made and the effect this had on their family back home.

‘‘James was engaged to be married before he enlisted and when he enlisted he broke the engagement off because he said he wasn’t sure whether he was coming back — which turned out to be accurate,’’ Peter said.

‘‘His fiancee never got married, so that’s the ripple effect carrying through ... they were realistic enough to know what was going on.

‘‘It would have been devastating. They’re still having the effects today; not just that particular family — there were many others as well.

‘‘A family in Kyabram lost seven sons and the effect on a small town like theirs — particularly at that stage — would have been devastating.’’

Medals of the Munro brothers alongside photos of James, Alex and Colin.

Alex was the first of the Munro brothers to enlist.

He was posted to the 4th Light Horse Regiment where he was wounded at Gallipoli in 1915 and then more seriously in France in 1917.

James was next to follow his older brother, when he enlisted into the Goulburn Valley Company of the 7th Battalion.

He was killed in action at the landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.

George enlisted into the 5th Battalion in 1915 which comprised mostly of Victorians of Scottish descent.

Like James he was also involved in the Gallipoli landing where he was severely wounded.

Returning to Gallipoli he was wounded a second time before landing in France with a Pioneer Battalion where he was killed at Pozieres Village in 1916.

Colin was the last and the youngest of the Munro brothers to enlist in WWI.

Following in the footsteps of his brothers, Colin saw active service with the 5th Battalion alongside George.

He was listed as Killed in Action in 1917 during the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge.

James now rests at the Gallipoli Peninsula Cemetery while George and Colin have no known graves.

The only reminder of their brave efforts is the mention of their names on the Villers-Bretonneux and Menin Gate memorials.

‘‘They were buried in the field; the fighting would have just gone straight over them,’’ Peter said.

‘‘One of the boys was given a funeral but once again the fighting raced over the top of where he was buried and it just got churned over ... George and Colin have no known graves.’’

While digging through the Munro family history Peter said he uncovered conflicting information surrounding George’s death.

He was first marked as Missing in Action, sparking a Court of Inquiry to uncover the truth around his death.

‘‘The Court of Inquiry received a slip form from one of the medics to say George had been wounded and was being taken back to the lines and that was the last everybody ever heard of him,’’ Peter said.

‘‘So whether he and the medic both got killed by a shell or whether it was just a mistake, he just vanished.’’

Another report said George was standing next to another soldier in Pozieres Village when a bomb landed between the two of them.

The other soldier’s body was recovered from the wreckage, however George was never found.

‘‘It’s mainly speculation. I received conflicting reports on the cause of his death,’’ Peter said.

‘‘The truth is that he was in an artillery barrage and that was the end of him.’’

Alex returned to Australia alone in 1917, severely wounded and struggling to comprehend the effects of war.

Despite his experiences he volunteered again in World War II where he served with a garrison battalion as a guard at the Tatura Internment Camp.

Like many returned soldiers, Alex rarely spoke about the war and, according to Peter, the family never asked him about it.

‘‘No-one ever asked him about the war but I suppose it’s a case of if you’re speaking with someone who hasn’t shared the same experiences it’s hard to explain them before you can talk about it, especially when they’re that far removed from normal reality — you just can’t imagine it.

‘‘The family never spoke about it ... I remember being told that back in the day they used to have a family lunch on Sundays which was the dress-up day and the family had lunch in the dining room, and their mother always used to lay places for the missing boys.’’

The names of George, Colin and James now reside on a memorial wall at Undera Primary School.

While it has been more than a century since they were killed on the battlefields, the Munro brothers’ legacy lives on through the generations.

‘‘We are very lucky to have their medals and their photos, it is really amazing,’’ Beverley said.

‘‘It is special but it is hard to talk about.’’

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