David Samuel ANDERSON
Eyes blue, Hair dark, Complexion medium
The sadness of not knowing
David’s great niece recalls her mother talking about ‘Uncle Dave’ and remembering her mother and grandmother grieving and wondering what happened to their brother and son who went missing in France in World War 1. Conflicting reports meant that they never really knew what happened to him; whether he was taken prisoner or killed, or lost his memory and was living somewhere else. They hoped he would somehow come home one day.
Who was David Samuel Anderson?
David was born at Bergalia (near Moruya NSW) in 1891. David’s father, Joseph Anderson, managed his uncle’s Bergalia Estate but sadly died aged only 39 of typhoid fever in 1896.
With six young children aged 3 to 15 years, Joseph’s widow, Kissock, moved to Sydney where David continued his education and eventually served his apprenticeship with H. Grout & Co to become a manufacturing jeweller.
He served in the Scottish Rifles, was a keen footballer, played piano and was unofficially engaged to Esther Hamilton. David was described as tall with a solid build, and ‘firm chin’, and very popular.
Over the decades since his death, family members have kept his memory alive and treasured various pieces of memorabilia from David’s life. This includes a ring that he had made from a cufflink, a copy of the telegram and letter David’s mother received from the Army together with a medallion he was posthumously awarded after the war by King George V.
The long road to finding David
While current family members did not know David personally, the unresolved grief and sorrow was passed down the generations because there is no closure when someone is missing in action. Despite official reports by October 1917 that David had been killed in action at Fromelles in July 1916, the family could not give up hope that conflicting reports that he had been taken prisoner might still be true.
They continued their enquiries about his fate for some years and his mother suffered greatly not knowing what happened to him. In 2007, when family members heard about the mass grave at Fromelles, they were incredibly excited. There were prospects of possibly finding David!
The family actively followed progress, provided information and DNA and advocated for excavation of the mass grave to allow proper burial for the unidentified soldiers, hopeful that one of them might be their David. The first donor was found quite quickly but it took some time to find the second donor and finally in April 2014 the army could confirm a clear match and David was identified as being in the grave.
David’s great-niece, Jill Byrnes, described her reaction:
"It was overwhelming to get this news, there are no words to describe it. I was in tears and shaking. I phoned all the family and we rejoiced together for hours. My mother was so happy. For so long we had thought that David was not in the mass grave at Fromelles after all, and would never be found. It was such a wonderful and unexpected relief to know he was there."
Laying David to rest at last
Eight family members across three generations travelled to France in July 2014 to represent the broader family for the ceremony to dedicate David's headstone at the Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery in Fromelles. Laurence Anderson reflected at the time on the pride and happiness he felt to have been part of the process to identify David and to see at last the places where family members - rarely spoken of in his childhood because of the pain of loss - fought and died. Jill Byrnes, David’s great niece, describes her feelings about the event:
“It was very moving to be there, representing my family. My Mum was 91 years old and not able to travel to France. I was able to take photos and video so that I could show her the headstone and the ceremony (and other family members).
It was wonderful to see David's name on a headstone, in a beautifully kept Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, finally. We took with us his medals and his photograph, a piece of Anderson tartan, a ring he made as a jeweller, and other items to show David he had not been forgotten.”
"After all the research, however, I do now feel like I know David personally, in a way. I have his ring, I have his medals, I have visited his graveside in a proper cemetery with his name on a headstone. I and my family are immensely grateful to the Australian Army UWC Unit and to the Fromelles Association of Australia for making this possible.
Closure is a wonderful thing. We now feel we can lay David to rest in our hearts."
Note- We acknowledge the efforts of Jill Byrnes in researching and writing the various articles on which this story is based. We also acknowledge the donor search undertaken by the Fromelles Association and the very happy and willing assistance of the broader family connections including the much-needed Y DNA family who were located on the South Coast of NSW, not too far from David’s birthplace.
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