Richard James MCGUARR
Eyes light blue, Hair brown, Complexion fair
Richard McGuarr – now remembered
Private Richard McGuarr died at Fromelles in France in July 1916 at the age of 27. With the passing of decades, memories of his life and sacrifice had faded but, with the search for a DNA donor, Richard is now once more in the hearts and minds of his family. Richard’s present-day family wrote to one of our Fromelles researchers:
Unfortunately, our side of the family was not aware of our connection to Richard or his service until you brought it to our attention. This discovery was also meaningful from the perspective of better understanding the McGaurr family tree in Australia, which my sisters and I had very little knowledge about apart from our father and grandfather.
Nevertheless, being made aware of the family connection to Richard and realising the ultimate sacrifice he made had a strong personal impact on our family. I think it brought home the magnitude of human loss in the Great War and a better appreciation of how so many young men’s service has largely been forgotten due to a lack of ongoing family connection. When you think about it, the fact that so many young men must have died before they started their own families, there are no doubt many soldiers whose memory is only tenuously maintained, if at all.
My younger sister mentioned to me just the other day that she was recently at the War Memorial in Canberra and she found Richard’s name on the wall of remembrance. I have visited a couple of times as well and have placed a poppy by his name. I’m glad that at least my sisters and I now have him in our thoughts, and we can honour his Memory.
Who was Richard James McGuarr?
Richard was born in Sydney in 1892 to Richard and Elizabeth McGuarr. Richard Snr was a blacksmith who had married Elizabeth Marsh in St Mark’s Church of England church at Picton in 1881. The young couple went on to have two daughters – Rosalie in 1882 and Belinda in 1886 – followed by Richard in 1889 and William in 1891. At some stage, Richard took up dairy farming in Tuncester near Lismore in New South Wales.
Not much is known of the McGuarr family but records show that Richard junior completed his schooling at Cleveland Street Superior Public School in Redfern and, like his father, took up dairy farming at Tuncester.
In October 1915 aged 26, Richard Jnr enlisted and was assigned to the 19th Battalion but after arriving in Egypt was transferred to the 55th Battalion which became part of the 14th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division. Arriving in France on 30 June 1916, the battalion entered the frontline trenches for the first time on 12 July and fought its first major battle at Fromelles a week later. The battle was a disaster, resulting in heavy casualties across the division [Source: AWM collections, U51495] - including Private Richard James McGuarr who was one of the many originally listed as missing.
At Home in Australia
Back at home, his father was advised as next of kin in mid-August 1916 that Richard was missing in action. And then heard nothing more.
Richard’s younger brother, William was with a training Battalion at Salisbury Plains in England when he wrote in November and December 1916 desperately asking for information. William had enlisted three months after Richard and was probably en route to Europe when his brother went missing. He received the following reply in January 1917 from the Australian Red Cross.
William would have had the difficult task of passing this information on to his parents and sisters at home.
His parents had also been writing to authorities seeking information and still held out hope. In February 1917, Elizabeth McGuarr wrote to authorities about her son:
"I regret having to trouble you again but as it is over six months ago that my son No. 3873 Pte R. J. McGuarr 55th Battalion was reported missing to me. I have tried all means of tracing him, but so far have been unsuccessful.
I had word from his comrade who went with him that he had been wounded in the Germans front trench. I would feel very grateful to you if you could tell me any way of gaining any information concerning him."
The response from the Base Records Office dated 16 February 1917 advised that they had received no further reports concerning her son. They went on to say:
"The overseas authorities are doing their utmost to clear up these unsatisfactory cases, and in view of this there is nothing to be gained by making inquiries from this end. Should any later information come to hand it will be promptly communicated to the soldier’s father who is recorded as next-of-kin."
Sidebar Modern readers often note the apparent misogyny evident in responses to grieving mothers and sisters by authorities with their strict adherence to rules regarding next of kin and, after the war, who was entitled to war service medals where male family members generally had priority over females.
In the McGuarr case, the response was comparatively gentle. There is another example on file where Elizabeth wrote to advise their change of address and the authorities responded that it would be necessary for her husband to advise the change of address before it could be noted.
Interestingly, on the McGuarr file, the hand-written letters – one signed E. McGuarr and the other R. McGuarr – seem to be by the same hand. Perhaps, the women found their own solutions!
Finally, on 30 March 1917, official notification was sent to confirm that Private Richard James McGuarr had been killed in action eight months earlier on 20 July 1916.
Richard’s name had appeared on the German Death list dated November 1916. Later in 1917, his personal effects – 5 handkerchiefs and his identity disc that had been returned by the Germans – were returned to Richard Snr as next of kin.
The McGUARR Family
After the war, Richard Snr gave up dairy farming in Lismore and shifted to Sydney where he and Elizabeth lived with their three surviving children until their respective deaths – Richard in 1933 and Elizabeth in 1936. The three siblings - none of whom married or had offspring - continued initially to live in the family home in Botany Street in Waterloo.
The eldest daughter, Rosalie born in 1882, worked as a machinist up until the 1930s and around 1940 moved to Bellambi, a suburb of Wollongong, to keep house for her youngest brother, William. Early in the 1960s, Rosalie moved into aged care at the Garrawarra hospital until her death in 1967 aged 85.
Belinda McGuarr was born in 1886 and is shown in electoral rolls as working as a tailoress. Belinda remained in the family home in 23 Botany Street until her death on 26 February 1950. She was cremated at the Rookwood crematorium.
The youngest son, William, worked on the family dairy farm prior to enlisting in January 1916. He served with the 20th Battalion and was wounded in France in September 1917. This gunshot wound to his right elbow saw him returned home, discharged as medically unfit on 17 May 1918. William lived initially with the family in Botany Street and worked as a labourer. He and Rosalie later moved to Wollongong where he died at 77 in April 1968.
Still seeking to identify Richard
To locate donors in the McGuarr family has required a complex search and ultimately, has been a co-operative effort between UWCA and the FAA.
As the search travelled back and forwards across many generations, it is easy to understand why memories of Richard’s service became lost over time. However, the search for suitable DNA donors has led to new knowledge of Richard and his sacrifice.
With DNA samples now provided, all are hoping that some news may be forthcoming from the next Identifications Board meeting.
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