Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion dark
Alexander McCulloch – his early life
Alexander McCulloch was born at Croy, Nairnshire, Scotland, on 2nd May, 1880 to William McCulloch, a farmer, and Marjory McCulloch (nee Hendry). William and Marjory were married on 27th June 1879 at Croy and he was named after both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, both being named Alexander.
The 1881 Census states that Alexander was 11 months old and living with his parents at Cairnglass Farmer's Cottage, Croy & Dalcross, Invernessshire, and his father William was a farmer of 66 acres, 40 arable, employing 1 man. Mother Marjory was a farmer’s wife.
By 1891, Alexander has been joined by four siblings – William (b~1881), James (b~1885), John (b~1887) and Elizabeth Sophia (b~1890) – and they were living at Main Street, Auldearn, Nairnshire, Scotland. His father (aged 38) was a general labourer.
Ten years later Alexander had moved to 13 Blacklaw Lane, Paisley, Renfrewshire, and was employed as a wheeler, boarding with Agnes Taggart (aged 60) and her son John. Meanwhile, back in Nairn, parents William (now a carting contractor) and Marjory were living at 16 Rose Street with four of their now six children – William, John, Jane (b~1893) and Margaret Helen (b~1898)
Unfortunately, Alexander's mother died at the Rose Street address in 1903. According to Alexander's great great grand niece Jenni Malcolm-Fraser, his father William died on 25th May 1909 at Nairn Hospital.
Travel to Australia
Alexander, aged 30, along with his brother William, came to Australia on board the “Orsova” , from London, landing on 7th February, 1911 at Fremantle, W.A. Their occupations are both listed as carter.
According to Alexander's niece, Annie Mansfield (nee McCulloch b 1928), back in Nairn their father had operated a horse and carting business which went broke and left debts. The brothers worked from Albany to Kalgoorlie, building and servicing railways, and sent money home before joining the Army.
Alexander McCulloch joined the AIF on 24 June 1915 as a private at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia, was given the Regimental Number 1011 and placed in C Company, 32nd Battalion, a battalion raised from South Australia and Western Australia. He was single, a labourer, aged 34 years, 1 month and was 5 feet 7½ inches tall and weighed 133 pounds. His chest measurement was 32-35 inches, complexion dark, eyes grey, hair brown. His religion was stated as Protestant, Presbyterian.
Alexander listed his brother William as next of kin as his parents were both deceased.
The 32nd Battalion left Australia in November 1915 and Alexander and his comrades continued their training in Egypt for some months. On 16th June 1916, Alexander and his battalion left by train for Alexandria to board the ship “Transylvania”, leaving the next day from Alexandria. They later disembarked in Marseilles in the south of France and six days later left for the Western Front.
As described on the Australian War Memorial website:
“The 32nd Battalion fought its first major battle at Fromelles on 19 July 1916, having only entered the front-line trenches 3 days previously. The attack was a disastrous introduction to battle for the 32nd - it suffered 718 casualties, almost 75 per cent of the battalion's total strength, but closer to 90 per cent of its actual fighting strength.”
Alexander McCulloch was part of the 32nd Battalion's offensive on the night of 19th-20th July, and unfortunately, on the 28th July 1916 he was officially reported as missing since 20th July.
Another soldier of 32nd Battalion named Private W. Nolan, stated that he was present when Alexander was hit by a shell and gave details of the event that night, confirming that Alexander had been killed.
After a court of inquiry was conducted in July 1917, Alexander was officially listed as “Killed in Action”.
His brother William at war
According to Civil birth records, William McCulloch was born in 1881 at Croy & Dalcross, Inverness, Scotland and just after his 34th birthday, he followed Alexander’s example and enlisted into the Army as a private on 16th January 1916 at Blackboy Hill. Described as 5 feet 9 inches tall, 162 pounds and with fair complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair, William was given the service number 5439 and placed in the 17th Reinforcements, 11th Infantry Battalion. With William and Alexander being the only immediate family in Australia, William gave his next of kin as their sister Bessie McCulloch at an address in Nairn, Scotland.
William embarked on the HMAT A60 Aeneas for training in Egypt in April of that year and proceeded to join the rest of his Battalion in France via England in August of 1916. It is during this time that he probably learned that his brother Alexander was missing.
It wasn't until July 1917 that he was informed, as next of kin, that Alexander was officially killed in action.
During much of 1917, William was actively engaged in fighting at the front line. He was promoted to Lance Corporal in May 1917, and then to Corporal in July 1917, shortly after being notified officially of Alexander’s death.
In September 1917, William was sent to England for training at the Gas School Chiseldon and qualified as an assistant instructor. He returned to France in March 1918 and was wounded in the back of the shoulder by shrapnel three months later and evacuated to England for medical treatment.
It was during this time that William married Cecilia Lawson Whitecross Salmond in Bridge of Allan in Scotland on 30th July 1918. He also completed further training to qualify as a second-class instructor in November 1918. He remained in England until 21 June 1919 when he and Cecilia boarded the “Konigin Luise” to return to Australia. The young couple arrived in Fremantle on 2nd August 1919 and William was discharged from the AIF on 17th September.
These are the fond recollections of Annie Mansfield, William and Cecilia's daughter, as told to her daughter Laurel Tate:
“Dad was a quiet man …he never talked much about the war. He was wounded and sent to England in 1918. He was wounded in the shoulder and carried the bullet there until it was removed at Royal Perth Hospital (WA) in about 1933.
He had a small service pension which helped during the depression as he had no job. He used to get a “bit” job cleaning up Mongers Lake and one day he brought home a tortoise. I remember having a ride on its back in our backyard, so I must have been very small, or the tortoises in those days were a lot bigger than they are now! Dad worked at Whittakers [Whittaker Bros] Timber yard in Subiaco for 12/15 years before he died at the age of 65 (he was just about to retire) of cancer of the throat, lungs and spine. I was nineteen when he died.”
“He married Mum in 1918 and came back in 1919 on an old German troopship the “Koningen Louise”. Eventually they bought 75 Kimberley Street West Leederville.”
“My Mother, Cecilia Lawson Whitecross (nee Salmond) …….I don’t think she ever missed a Sunday for writing home to Scotland to her Mother and Father and when she came out from Scotland she missed her home and family very much – not knowing anyone here and having had her first child here just 3 months after arriving in WA. He lived only one month (died of pneumonia)…”
William and Cecilia had five children:
- John (died at 3 months)
- James (Jim)
- and Annie (Anne).
William died in 1948, followed by Cecilia in 1965, and both are buried at Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth, Western Australia. Their descendants include 11 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and, as of 2022, 23 great-great-grandchildren.
As next of kin, his brother William signed for receipt of Alexander's Victory Medal, Memorial Scroll and King's Message in 1921 and a Memorial Plaque in 1923. The 1914-15 Star and British War Medal were also issued and were probably received by William.
Alexander's name is listed along with other 32nd Battalion members on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour. His name is also listed on the Nairnshire County War Memorial in Nairn, Scotland.
Identification and Resting Place
From May to September 2009, the exhumation of the remains of 250 soldiers took place adjacent to Pheasant Wood in France and a world-wide identification project began seeking to identify the remains by use of DNA matching.
Alexander's body was recovered from one of the unmarked mass graves, and as a result of his DNA matching to relatives in Australia, it was announced in April 2018 that he had finally been identified by the Fromelles Project Identification Board, along with eight of his comrades. This research was undertaken by Fromelles Association researchers. No doubt this has provided closure for Alexander's and many other families who have gone through the agonising wait to find the resting place of their loved one.
On 19th July 2018, the 102nd anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles, Alexander's headstone was finally rededicated in a ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery in France, in location I.F.6.. Relatives in Australia had input into the personal inscription, and the Latin motto of the Clan McCulloch at the bottom of the headstone – Vi Et Animo – which translates as “by strength and courage”.
Among those attending the ceremony was Geoffrey Benn, President of the Fromelles Association of Australia who represented the family, and Major David Wilson. Malo Masson, the son of the Mayor of Fromelles, and a student from the local Cobbers School were welcome attendants at the ceremony.
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