Eyes blue, Hair fair, Complexion fair
Jack - The German Death List
Private Jack Joyce was killed in action at Fromelles in France almost one year to the day he enlisted back in Western Australia. His name is memorialised on Panel No 5 of V.C. Corner in the Australian Cemetery Memorial at Fromelles, France.
Enlisting in July 1915, Jack’s initial training took place at Blackboy Hill camp. He was assigned to the 32nd Battalion as one of two companies raised in Western Australia. These companies joined a further two companies raised in South Australia and the battalion sailed from Adelaide in November 1915.
Jack’s battalion joined Australian troops in Egypt before proceeding to France for the Western Front in June 1916. Fromelles on 19th July 1916 was the first major battle for the 32nd Battalion, only entering the front-line trenches three days previously. The attack was disastrous with 718 casualties – including Private Jack Joyce - suffered by the 32nd accounting for almost 75 per cent of the battalion's total strength, but closer to 90 per cent of its actual fighting strength.
Jack Joyce was reported as missing but, after appearing on the German death list, his next of kin was advised in July 1917 that he had been killed in action.
Rita Tournay [1897-1987] - Next of Kin, Friend, Fiancée
Jack nominated Rita Tournay, a friend, as his next of kin. Her address was given in care of the Palace Hotel, Wagin. It was in Wagin that Jack, working as a drover, first signed up for the armed forces and had his medical examination to determine fitness for duty.
Rita, born in Jersey, had emigrated with her family to Western Australia in 1913 just before her 16th birthday. Shortly after arriving in Australia, Rita and her family were living in Wagin where her father worked as an orderly and her mother as a cook. Perhaps her mother was employed as the cook at the Palace Hotel? A July 1915 newspaper report also shows a J. Joyce working as night porter at the Palace Hotel in Wagin so perhaps this is where Rita and Jack crossed paths.
Rita would have been about 18 when Jack enlisted and left for Egypt. From correspondence on Jack’s AIF file, it seems that Rita was a nurse working in Wooroloo by December 1916 and later in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
As next of kin, it was Rita who received advice in August 1916 that Jack was wounded and then further advice in October 1916 that rather he was missing. Finally, in May 1917, she was advised that he had been killed in action in July the previous year. The Germans had also returned Jack’s identity disc and it is likely to have been forwarded to Rita as next of kin. A lot to cope with for a young lady not yet 20 years old.
Jack’s estate was not finalised until 1921 with probate finally granted and £108 was distributed to Rita. By this time, Rita had married and was now Mrs Rita Calder, living in Perth with a young family. In the early 1920s, Rita was also contacted regarding the distribution of Jack’s war medals and she advised that as far as she was aware Jack had no living relatives. She applied to receive the medals as next of kin but in the final washup she was advised that ‘she had no claim whatever to the mementos in question’ as she was not a blood relation. The military authorities could find no family or blood relations so filed the medals as ‘untraceable’.
It is clear that Rita kept the memory of Jack alive. In 1932, she again applied for his medals but was again knocked back. Her children knew of Jack and, in fact, it was one of Rita’s daughters who passed on his photo to researchers. Rita had also kept Jack’s identity disc, preserving it in his memory. In recent years, her family (the Calders) donated the identity disk to the Army Museum of Western Australia where Jack and Rita’s story has been on display in the World War 1 Gallery.
So, what do we know about Jack Joyce?
From his AIF Records and his two photos, we know the following about Jack Joyce:
- Born Circa 1887 (aged 28)
- Born in Wolverhampton, England
- Parents Unknown
- Occupation – Drove in Western Australia
- Small in Stature – 5foot3inches, 132lbs
- Blue Eyes, fair hair and complexion
- Smoked a pipe!
We have no other records and no other confirmed details about Jack, his family or his life.
Researchers have spent many hours seeking to identify Jack or his family. For a while it was thought that Jack was John Thomas Joyce born 1882, the son of Thomas Joyce and Mary McGee – even to the point of seeking mitochondrial donors from Mary’s descendants. However, clever sleuthing found that that John had died in 1906 and so could not be ‘our Jack’.
In addition, researchers have trawled through all male births registered in Wolverhampton between 1880 and 1890 looking for a potential match for Jack Joyce. They have all been eliminated! They either died as babies (one poor family lost all their sons in infancy) or they were still in the UK at the outbreak of World War 1 and service records can be found.
There is a record of a J. T. Joyce leaving London and arriving in Fremantle, Western Australia on 16 December 1909 on board the Omrah. Is this Jack? We don’t know.
To complicate research further within Australia, Trove newspaper records show that there were two men called Jack Joyce in the Wagin / Blackboy Hill area at the same time. Newspaper records also show that Jack’s name was included in the lists prepared during the fundraising stages for the Roll of Honour for the Wagin Town Hall. The details showing his change of status from enlisted to wounded to killed in action follow the known timing of communication of events to Rita as his next of kin, so we are fairly confident that this is ‘our Jack’. However, contact with the Shire of Wagin in May 2020 has confirmed that Jack’s name does not appear on their Honour Board; a shire officer has undertaken to liaise with their local RSL to investigate further.
Jack’s name also does not appear on the main Wagin War Memorial in Trimdon Street. It is possible this is due to confusion with the other Jack Joyce (who survived the war) and no longer having family or connections in the immediate district (Rita was living in Perth by the time sufficient funds were raised) to ensure his name was honoured.
So, for now, we remain stymied by our brick wall and we are no closer to identifying Jack Joyce or his family. He remains in an unmarked grave, known unto God.
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