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VC Corner at the Australian Memorial and Cemetery at Fromelles, France where Pte Maurice J. CLAXTON 1892-1916 is commemorated
Fromelles Association of Australia

Maurice James CLAXTON

Regimental Number
1239
Rank
Private
War Service
Egypt and Western Front
Prior Military Service
Nil
Enlistment
21 Jul 1915 at Kattanning, WA
Embarkation
18 Nov 1915 from Adelaide, SA, on the SS Gaika
Next of Kin
Father - John Claxton, Coonooer Bridge, St Arnaud, Victoria
Date & Place of Birth
21 Mar 1892, St Arnaud, VIC
Parents
Sophia, nee BUNCLE (deceased) and John CLAXTON
Marital Status
Single
Siblings
Edward John, Harold Henry, Theodore Robert, Dorothy Ellen
Occupation
Teamster
Physical Description
5 feet 7 3/4 inches, 155 pounds (172.1cm, 70.3kg)
Eyes grey, Hair fair to reddish, Complexion fair
Religion
Presbyterian
Fate
Killed in Action, 20 Jul 1916, Fromelles, France – aged 24
Place of Burial
No known grave.
Commemorated
V.C. Corner (Panel 5), Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles, France
Positively Identified
No

The Claxtons of Yawong, Coonooer Bridge and St Arnaud in Victoria

John Claxton, a farmer, and Sophia Buncle were married in 1885 in Victoria and lived at Yawong and Coonooer Bridge near St Arnaud. They had four sons, Edward John, Harold Henry, Maurice James and Theodore Robert. In 1910, Sophia died from dropsy and heart disease at the age of 50.

John remarried Ellen Mills, a local girl, and they had a daughter Dorothy Ellen in 1913.

In 1912, the two younger sons, Maurice and Theodore, travelled to Western Australia with a cousin, John Buncle, to find work and to tour around Australia before returning home to Coonooer Bridge. John had visited the family from WA and suggested the brothers return with him. Once in the west, Maurice found work as a teamster and Theodore as an engine driver. It seems Theodore, at least, got right into the swing of his adventures if the ads below are anything to go by.

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A seemingly good-natured challenge by Theo Claxton to a boxing match.
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Acceptance of Theo’s boxing challenge. The outcome of the match is unknown.

Once the war broke out, Edward, Maurice and Theodore would all enlist with the AIF, with Maurice and Theodore part of the 32nd Battalion who fought in the Battle of Fromelles and Edward with the 5th Battalion. One brother was killed in action, another was wounded and taken prisoner and the third invalided home to Australia medically unfit.

The Claxtons of the 32nd Battalion - Maurice and Theodore

Maurice James Claxton, aged 23, enlisted on 21st July 1915 at Katanning, Western Australia, giving his address as Broomehall, more than 500 kilometres east of Margaret River. His younger brother, Theodore, had been working more than 250 kilometres further north at Bruce Rock (east of Perth); he too signed up on 13 July 1915 in Perth. Both Claxton brothers were allocated consecutive service numbers and assigned to D Company, 32nd Battalion.

The brothers undertook initial training at the Blackboy Hill camp. Later, the WA units of the battalion were sent to Adelaide to complete training with the two South Australian units of the 32nd.

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Blackboy Hill Training Camp, Western Australia
source AWM H02001

The newly formed battalion embarked on HMAT A2 Geelong on 18 November 1915, arriving in Egypt prior to Christmas. For the next six months, Maurice and Theodore served and trained in Egypt with the 32nd and in June embarked for France to join the British Expeditionary Forces at the Western Front.

The Battle of Fromelles

AIF and Red Cross records give no information as to Maurice and Theodore’s experiences at Fromelles but both brothers were initially listed as missing in action on 20 July 1916 with advice being sent to John Claxton as next of kin in late August 1916.

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Letter from John Claxton dated September 4, 1916 asking the fate of his sons and for the return of their personal effects.
source NAA B2455, CLAXTON Maurice James – First AIF Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920, page 35

By September, John had received a postcard from his youngest son, Theodore, advising that he had been taken prisoner by the Germans. There had been no updates by military authorities.

While Theodore’s whereabouts was now known, there was still no news of Maurice. Even Theodore was seeking news of him. In a letter home, Theodore said he didn’t know where Maurice got to even though “we were together until we made the charge, when we got separated.” His letter from Germany was reported as follows:

NEWS OF SOLDIERS.

Mr. John Claxton, of Conooer Bridge, is in receipt of the following communication from his son, Private Theodore Claxton, Dulmen (Germany), under date September 1st, 1916 —

" I am writing you these few lines to let you know that I am all right at present, I suppose you got the card I sent you to let you know that I was taken prisoner by the Germans on July 20th. I don't know where Maurice got to. We were together until we made the charge, when we got separated. I am getting treated all right here, but I will not be sorry when the war is over. This is all the news that I am able to tell you."

NEWS OF SOLDIERS. (1916, November 15). St Arnaud Mercury (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92098292

It was a further twelve months before Maurice’s fate was confirmed – killed in action.

PRIVATE M. J. CLAXTON.

Private M. J. Claxton, son of Mr. J. Claxton, of Coonooer Bridge, has made the great sacrifice in defence of the Empire. The Defence Department in a telegram to the Rev. A. E. Davey stated:—

"It is officially reported that 1239 Pte. M. J. Claxton was killed in action on 20/7/16. Previously reported missing. Convey to Mr. Claxton sympathy of King and Queen and Commonwealth.—Colonel Hawker."

The deceased and a brother enlisted in West Australia and left for Egypt in November 1915. After service there they went straight to France. There they went into action together, and after their first engagement both were reported missing on the 20th July, 1916.

It subsequently transpired that one brother was captured by the Germans, but no tidings of his brother and comrade in arms had come to hand until the receipt of the official message a few days ago conveyed the sad news that he was killed in action.

Source: DEATHS OF SOLDIERS. (1917, September 22). St Arnaud Mercury (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88056586

Probate was granted to his father in October 1918 with Maurice’s estate consisting of his military pay and his one-sixth share in the land left by his mother, Sophia.

Maurice has no known grave and is remembered at VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France - panel 5, the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Broomehill War Memorial and Coonooer Bridge War Memorial.

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In memory of those who fell 1914-1918– Coonooer Bridge War Memorial
source
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Coonooer Bridge War Memorial, Shepherds Lane, Coonooer Bridge, Victoria.
source AWM, places of pride, memorial 161081 - photo by Faithe
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Broomehill War Memorial showing those honoured from World War 1.
source AWM, Places of Pride, memorial 244741 – photo by Harry Frochter
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Broomehill War Memorial on the Great Southern Highway, Broomehall Village, Western Australia.
source AWM, Places of Pride, memorial 244741 – photo by James Wills

Theodore Robert Claxton

As part of the 32nd Battalion, Private Theodore Claxton, 1238 was likely part of the third and fourth waves that went over the parapets between 6pm and 6.30pm on July 19th. Theodore said in his letter dated 1 September 1916 that he was with his brother, Maurice, until “we made the charge, when we got separated”.

Later in the evening, they were cut off and overrun:

“At Fromelles, wounded men ‘found themselves’ prisoners as German troops overran their positions, while those who remained fighting were captured possessing ‘no opportunity for resistance’ ”

Bean, The AIF in France, 1916, pp. 404, 422, 432 and 436

One of those captured by the Germans was Theodore Claxton. Approximately 482 prisoners of war were captured at Fromelles and over the next few weeks, all were transported to prison camps in Germany:

The treatment of prisoners varied greatly, but they generally fared better the further away from the front line they were moved. After capture, officers were separated from their men, the latter being paraded through the streets of Lille and interrogated at a Napoleonic fort known colloquially as “The Black Hole of Lille”… The Fromelles prisoners were gradually distributed across Germany, where they were imprisoned in camps alongside British, French and Russian troops.

Pegram, Aaron, “Australia’s Fromelles prisoners”, Wartime 44 (2008), 23
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Australian soldiers captured during the Battle of Fromelles arriving at a German collecting station, 20 July 1916.
source AWM, A01552

Theodore was originally sent to Dulmen Prison in Germany where he was listed as wounded having suffered severe bruising as a result of shell fragments from the battle. Theodore was to stay at Dulmen until February 1917.

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Dulmen Prison Record for Pte Theodore CLAXTON
source NAA: B2455, CLAXTON Theodore – First AIF Personnel Dossiers 1914-1920, page 4
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Postcard photo of a group of prisoners at the Dulmen POW camp in Germany. These postcards were given to POWs to send home to families, likely intended as propaganda pieces.
source AWM, P01981.059

After enduring winter in Dulmen, Theodore was transferred in February 1917 to Friedrichsfeld, a larger German prison camp north of Cologne about 1 hour south-west of Dulmen. It had a reputation as being one of the better camps having space for physical activity and for the growing of vegetables. From Friedrichsfeld, Theodore wrote:

A SOLDIER'S LETTER. PRIVATE THEODORE CLAXTON.

Mr. John Claxton, of Coonooer Bridge, is in receipt of a letter from his son, Private Theodore Claxton, who has been a prisoner of war in Germany since 20th July last. Under date March 1st, 1917, Friedrichsfeld, he says

—I am writing the answer to your ever welcome card which I received the other day, and was glad to hear that you were all well. Things are the same as usual here, only the weather is changing for the better. How are the crops and grass out in Australia now?

The harvest would be in full swing now. I suppose the old home is the same as when I left. Many a time I feel that I would like to be back again to have a climb over the old hill and other places.

A SOLDIER'S LETTER. (1917, June 30). St Arnaud Mercury (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88055516
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Outdoor portrait of Australian Prisoners of War (POW) at Friedrichsfeld POW camp, Germany. March 1918
source AWM P01981.020
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German Prison Records for Theodore Claxton from Dulmen Prison
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German Prison Records for Theodore Claxton from Friedrichsfeld Prison

On 5th December 1918, Theodore returned to England. He was promptly repatriated home arriving in Australia on 9th February 1919 where he soon married Ada Violet Ford and their son Maurice Theodore was born later that same year.

Theodore took up land in country Victoria at Wycheproof as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme where conditions of the land grant required that the returned soldier live on the land for a period of time. In 1927, he sold his lease and moved to Kerang before eventually settling in Boort where he was employed as a water bailiff whilst Ada ran a boardinghouse.

Theodore passed away in 1968 in Boort and is remembered at the Coonooer Bridge War Memorial.

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Coonooer Bridge War Memorial
source AWM, Places of Pride, memorial 161081 - photo by Faithe

Edward John Claxton

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Pte 1238 Edward John CLAXTON 1888-1956
source AWM DA15306

The oldest son of John and Sophia, Edward was a farmer from Coonooer Bridge via St Arnaud, Victoria prior to enlistment. Born in 1888, he was named after his grandfather, a native of Elm, Cambridgeshire, who moved to Australia in the 1850s to settle.

Edward enlisted in February 1916 aged 27 years but it was not until 3 July 1916 that he embarked with the 5th Battalion from Melbourne on HMAT A33 Ayrshire.

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Studio portrait of 5350 Private Edward John Claxton, 5th Battalion and two unidentified soldiers. Positions of the soldiers is not confirmed but comparison with the individual portrait indicates that Edward is probably seated on the right. The photo was taken in May 1916 at the Broadmeadows camp in Melbourne so Edward’s companions cannot be his brothers, Theodore and Maurice, as they were already serving in Egypt and they had also not done their training in Victoria.
source AWM DA15295

Edward arrived in Plymouth, England on 2 September 1916 – just around the time that his father was receiving news that Maurice was missing and that Theodore had been taken prisoner. A difficult and confusing time for all.

On arrival in England, Edward was hospitalised suffering synovitis of the right knee and he was returned to Australia on 22 February 1917 and medically discharged.

Like his brother Theodore, Edward applied successfully for a soldier settlement property, settling first at Coonooer Bridge before later moving to Kerang. He married Ivy King in 1926 and they had four daughters. Edward passed away in 1956 and he is remembered for his service at the Coonooer Bridge War Memorial, alongside his brother Theodore.

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Edward John Claxton’s grave in Kerang, Victoria.
source Findagrave website, photo courtesy of Leigh O’Connell

The Claxton family – further service

In addition to the three Claxton brothers serving with the AIF, there were a number of cousins who also served

  • Private George Harold CLAXTON, 3132, died from influenza while serving with the 28th Battalion in Abbeville, France.
  • Private Percival Francis (known as Tom) CLAXTON, 6293, of the 21st Battalion was wounded in action and returned home.
  • Sergeant John Joshua KING, 1692, served with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force.

Two of Ellen’s brothers - Pte Sydney Gordon MILLS, 695, and Corporal George Arthur MILLS, 416 - also fought in World War 1 with the 8th Battalion. George was killed in action at Ypres, Belgium on 4 October 1917 and, like Maurice, has no known grave.

In later years, Harold’s son, Private 3/2845 Edward Charles CLAXTON – nephew to Maurice, Theodore and Edward – served in the Korean War. He died from wounds in 1952.

And today, descendants of the Claxton family are working with the Australian Army to locate suitable DNA donors to support efforts to identify where Pte Maurice Claxton who died at Fromelles may be buried. In particular, we are seeking potential Mt DNA donors on the maternal Buncle and Hutchinson lines.

DNA is still being sought from a maternal mt DNA donor

SoldierMaurice James CLAXTON 1892-1916


Siblings Edward John Claxton, Harold Henry Claxton, Theodore Robert Claxton, Dorothy Ellen Claxton

ParentsJohn CLAXTON 1859-1931, Victoria
Sophia BUNCLE 1860-1910, Victoria
Grandparents
PaternalEdward John CLAXTON b. abt 1817, England d. 1871 Victoria and Mary Ann McCARTHY b. 1829, Cork, Ireland d. 1867 Victoria
MaternalJohn BUNCLE b. abt 1819 Scotland d. 1875 Victoria and Hellen (Ellen) HUTCHINSON b. abt 1819 Scotland d. 1891 Victoria

Seeking DNA Donors

Fromelles Association of Australia

Contacts

The Fromelles Association welcomes all contact regarding this soldier.
(Contact: royce@fromelles.info or geoffrey@fromelles.info).
We also urge any family members to contact and register with the Australian Army
(Contact: army.uwc@defence.gov.au or phone 1800 019 090).

Donations

The Fromelles Association maintains this web site, purely by donations received.
If you are able, please contribute to the upkeep of this resource.
(Contact: bill@fromelles.info ).