News

Forgotten casualties of the Great War

By Simon Ruppert

More than 102 000 young Australians have died in the many wars fought by Australia.

Australia remembers their sacrifice twice a year - on April 25, the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing in the Great War, and on November 11, the anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting in that same war.

What tends to be forgotten are those many hundreds of thousands who were maimed or died young as a result of these wars.

Benalla cemetery contains graves of at least three young men whose lives were snatched away because of their war service.

Early in Australia’s war, two Stewart brothers, Jack and William, enlisted from Benalla.


Coo-ee: A parachute jump

John served in Britain with the Australian Army Service Corps motor transport until 1917 when he was sent as a lance corporal to France with the same unit.

William served with 24th Infantry Battalion on Gallipoli before being transferred to 6th Field Ambulance in France.

Both brothers were badly gassed in France.

Neither was declared unfit.

They only returned to Australia when the original ANZACs returned in late 1918.

Coo-ee: The circle of love

Upon their return, they conducted a livery stable in Benalla St.

Jack died in October 1924. He was 28.

William died in April 1925 aged 27. Both died from the effects of their gassing.

Stewart Knight finally enlisted for military service in 1916.

John and William Stewart's grave

He had previously been refused because of a heart condition.

Knight was a fireman with Victorian railways.

Benalla’s poet

He was transferred to the 15th Australian Light Railway Operating Company operating in northern France.

This built and operated light railway lines that transported ammunition, supplies and reinforcements from the nearest rail-head.

Soon after his arrival, Knight was caught in a gas attack.

In 1916, German forces were using lethal phosgene, often in combination with chlorine gas.

Phosgene gas had the drawback that symptoms took up to 24 hours to manifest.

In the meantime, a soldier affected by the gas could still fight.

Kerang’s White Clocktower

Chlorine helped spread the phosgene and immediately incapacitated.

Knight was admitted to the 11th Australian General Hospital in Rouen.

His family was notified that he had been "slightly injured in a gas attack".

Within a week, he was back with his unit.

However, he soon reported sick again.

A history of local news in Benalla

What neither Knight nor the army realised was that the gas had caused an allergic reaction and led to nephritis or acute kidney inflammation.

Knight also developed a rare condition (outside of the Great War and its gas attacks) called diffuse alveolar haemorrhaging.

Small vessels throughout Knight’s lungs began to bleed into his lungs.

Knight was declared unfit for further military service.

He was sent home to Benalla in 1917.

Coo-ee: Coroners' Juries

There he struggled over the next years with the effects of being "slightly injured in a gas attack".

By 1926, Knight’s heart, also damaged by the gas attack, gave out. He was 35.

Because he died after April 25, 1926, Knight is not counted in the 62 000 Australian war deaths of the Great War.