John William CAMP
Eyes brown, Hair light brown, Complexion dark
John Camp - South African born
John Camp is commemorated on the family gravestone in Wynberg, South Africa, together with his grandparents, two uncles and his maiden aunt – the aunt he had named as next of kin. His remains however lie in France having been killed in action on 19th July 1916.
John William Camp, born on 15th May 1882, was a part of a large extended family with both his parents also born in South Africa. His father, William, was one of fifteen children born to an Englishman who had married into an established Cape Dutch family, the Van Den Eykels. William’s occupation was listed as a post cart driver on his children’s baptism records.
John and his siblings - Edward, Rosa, Harriet and Sarah - were born and grew up around the diamond-mining areas of Barkley West and Kimberley in the Cape Province of South Africa.
As a young man during the Boer Wars, it was only to be expected that John would serve in the local militia. His AIF records state that he served in the Town Guards and in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Volunteer Rifles. It is highly likely that his younger brother served as well.
Left for Australia
John left South Africa for Australia, possibly around 1912 if a Hobart shipping record for a Mr J.W. Camp is correctly attributable to him. Certainly, by 1913, John William Camp is listed on the electoral roll employed as a carpenter at the Quarantine Station at North Heads in Manly. It seems that John was establishing himself in Australia as he purchased land in Berith St, Bexley - now the suburb of Kingsgrove in Southern Sydney.
In August 1915, he enlisted in the AIF at Liverpool as a private in the 2nd Battalion. He claimed to be 29 years of age, lowering his age by 4 years, and nominated his unmarried aunt, Margaret Ann Camp, as his next of kin. It is unclear why he did not nominate his mother who was still alive at this time but perhaps she was already in ill-health as she died the following year.
By November, Private John Camp was aboard a military transport ship with the 2nd Battalion bound for Egypt to join other troops as part of the re-organisation and training of Australian forces post-Gallipoli.
John at War
While in Egypt, John was transferred to the 53rd Battalion and also suffered a number of bouts of tonsillitis needing hospitalisation. During this time, he was promoted to corporal and, immediately prior to embarking for France in June, promoted to sergeant.
The 53rd Battalion arrived on the front line for the first time on 10 July 1916 and became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front, at Fromelles, on 19 July. Sergeant John William Camp was one of the battalion’s more than 600 casualties.
Private Robert Thomas, 3433, also of the 53rd Battalion provided an eyewitness report of John’s last moments. This report for the official enquiry into the fate of John Camp indicates that he was probably killed instantly during a charge from the trenches. As is often the case in these enquiries, there were some conflicting reports as to John’s fate but ultimately the enquiry found, on the basis of Private Thomas’ evidence, that Sergeant John Camp had been killed in action on 19 July 1916.
Commemorated on three continents
In addition to the family headstone in South Africa noted earlier, Sergeant John Camp is remembered:
- in France on panel 7 of V.C. Corner at the Australian Cemetery Memorial at Fromelles
- in Australia at
- panel 156 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; and
- the Manly War Memorial on the northern beaches of Sydney.
His younger brother, Edward, remained in South Africa. He worked as a digger and lived with his wife, Maria, and young family in Barkley West, Cape Province. Like John, Edward enlisted when war broke out and joined the South African Infantry, 3rd Regiment. He too was killed in action – on 20 September 1917, aged 31. He is buried in Belgium and commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.
Charlotte, John’s mother, died just days after John was killed. She had been suffering pneumonia for about 2 weeks and died in Kimberley on 23 July 1916, unaware that her son had pre-deceased her.
His aunt, Margaret Ann Camp, as sole legatee of his estate would have received the proceeds from the sale of John’s land after probate was granted in 1918. She also received his war medals after some feisty interchanges with authorities about her right to receive them as his paternal aunt. Margaret had never married and she lived in Plumstead, a suburb in the southern parts of Cape Town. She outlived her two nephews by almost three decades, dying in 1945.
The Search for DNA
John was reported as having got near to the German second line, so there is a very good chance he is one of the men now buried at Pheasant Wood, known unto God.
In terms of tracing Y DNA, John has no known offspring, his only brother (Edward) died in 1917 and Edward’s son died in infancy. Going back to the next previous generation, Grandfather Camp had six sons amongst his fifteen children, so it would generally be easy to find a male descendant. Certainly, there are living relatives that researchers have contacted, including down the male line for a YDNA match, but, so far, no one has come forward.
On the mitochondrial side, we have been unable to find descendants on John’s mother’s line. She was born Charlotte Johanna Wallace in 1856 to George Day Wallace and Sarah Helena Eretszen. The search continues.
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