Headstone for Private Stanley R. O’Donnell 1889-1916, Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery, Fromelles, France
Photo courtesy of Carole Laignel and FFFAIF

Stanley Richard O’DONNELL

Regimental Number
War Service
Egypt and Western Front
Prior Military Service
14 Jul 1915 at Melbourne, VIC
10 Nov 1915 from Melbourne, VIC, on the HMAT A11 Ascanius
Next of Kin
Mother - Mrs S. R. O’Donnell, 30 Llaneast St, Malvern, Victoria
Date & Place of Birth
1889, Malvern, VIC
Sarah Rebecca nee AMBLER and Richard O’DONNELL (deceased)
Marital Status
Fourth of six children (3 boys and 3 girls)
Physical Description
5 feet 5 3/4 inches, 126 pounds (167.0cm, 57.2kg)
Eyes grey, Hair black, Complexion sallow
Killed in Action, 19 Jul 1916, Fromelles, France. On German Death List - aged 26
Place of Burial
Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery, Fromelles, France. Plot II, Row D, Grave 1
Positively Identified
Yes, 2018

O’Donnell Family tragedy - Sorrento 1905

Tragedy struck the O’Donnell family in 1905. Over the Christmas break, Stanley’s parents, Richard 53 and Sarah 45, left Malvern in Victoria for a holiday at Sorrento with their six children - Albert Luther 23, Rebecca Florence 22, Hilda Lily 19, Stanley Richard 16, Dorothy Ruth 14, and David Arnold 12.

After lunch on Christmas Day, Richard took four of the children fishing for bream off the rocks at Back Beach at Sorrento. Sarah had returned to Malvern to nurse her 90-year-old mother-in-law and took son, Stanley, and daughter, Dorothy, with her.

While fishing, the party were suddenly swept off their feet and Richard and three of his children (Albert, Rebecca, and Arnold) drowned. Hilda had tired of fishing and had retreated to the beach to read a book, when she looked up all were gone.

Only Sarah and three children were left to struggle on. Stanley, at 16, was the only male remaining in the family to support his mother and two sisters.


A shocking accident, resulting in the death of five persons, occurred yesterday afternoon on the Back Beach at Sorrento, the members of a fishing party being suddenly swept from the rocks into the sea by a big wave and drowned. Those who lost their lives were:

  • Richard O’Donnell, aged 52 years, of 13 Sorrell-avenue, Malvern.
  • Albert O'Donnell, aged 23 years.
  • Arnold O’Donnell aged 12 years.
  • Miss Rebe O’Donnell aged 23 years
  • Miss Edith Fraser, of Malvern.

None of the bodies has been recovered. Miss O'Donnell, the sole survivor of the party, is able to give a brief account of the tragedy. She says that a little girl named Rose Carr told her 'Some people are in the pool, and can't get out.' She paid no attention, but later on saw her father's hat floating in the sea, and people running, and she then realised that something dreadful had happened. Her father had been going to that spot for 35 years. She was afraid the shock would kill her mother. The daughter told her father that she was nervous about going on the rocks, as she knew they were liable to be swept by the seas. Miss Frasor was half inclined not to go but was persuaded by the rest of the party.

[[Source: THE SORRENTO TRAGEDY (1905, December 27). The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950), p. 3 (THIRD EDITION). Retrieved August 9, 2020, from ]]

Stanley’s war

Born and educated in Armadale, Victoria, Stanley was working in Malvern as a warehouseman when he enlisted with the AIF some ten years after the death of his father and siblings. He arrived in Egypt in December 1915 with the 29th Battalion where they served and trained for six months before embarking for France in June 1916. After the disastrous Battle of Fromelles, Stanley was posted as missing.

A statement was given to the Red Cross by a fellow soldier from the 29th Battalion, 362 Private James Westwood, who was wounded at Fromelles. He stated:

"…on the night of July 19-20 1916 at Fromelles he saw ODonnell whom he know personally hit and afterwards saw his body lying there. He is quite sure from personal knowledge that ODonnell was killed."

Source: AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files – Stanley Richard O’DONNELL, p 3

Stanley’s name appeared on the German Death List and in February 1917 he was officially found to have been killed in action on 19 July 1916.

After the war

Stanley’s mother having lost the last of her sons was granted a pension of £2 per fortnight.

As next of kin, Sarah received Stanley’s identification disc but no other personal effects were returned.

After the war, her son’s war service medals – 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal – were issued to her in addition to the memorial plaque and scroll.

Stanley’s sisters, Hilda and Dorothy, both married but only Dorothy had any family.

Malvern War Memorial
source website, 32092 Malvern War Memorial

And his name in stone

Stanley’s name is recorded on the Malvern War Memorial - a beautiful granite memorial in the shape of a Victoria Cross – in the Malvern Cricket Ground.

Following extensive research by one of our researchers, a much-needed Y DNA donor was located and agreed to donate the vital, complimentary, DNA sample to Unrecovered War Casualties - Army. The sample proved a match and Stanley has finally been re-united with his family. Thus, in 2018 and more than a century after his death, Stanley’s headstone in the Pheasant Wood Cemetery reads:


Two of his 29th Battalion comrades were identified in the same year, namely, Captain Kenneth Malcolm Mortimer and 191 Private Henry Bell.

The Fromelles Association would love to hear from you

Fromelles Association of Australia


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