THE MARA BROTHERS of JAMESTOWN
THE MARA BROTHERS of JAMESTOWN
Caught up in the wave of patriotic fever that swept the country, five of the six sons of Joseph and Sarah Mara enlisted between August 1914 and August 1915 to fight in World War I. They were Robert Spencer Mara, Walter Henry Mara, Ernest Clifton Mara, and twins Clarence John and John Clarence Mara. Their eldest brother, Joseph Albert Alfred Mara (known as Alfred) had already enlisted as a private in the Fourth Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse, South Australian Unit for the Boer War. He survived that war but disappeared on the ship returning to Australia. Of the remaining five Mara boys only two returned from WWI.
There were twelve children altogether in Joseph’s and Sarah’s family, six girls and six boys, all born in the Jamestown District. Joseph’s father, Michael Mara had applied in 1837 in Castlepollard, Ireland for a free passage as an emigrant labourer to Adelaide for himself, his wife Elizabeth Robinson. They arrived in Adelaide on the 24th June 1838 on the 3 masted barque Eden to a colony that was already on the verge of bankruptcy as the result of a land speculation boom. They were forced to live in destitution at Islington, where they stayed until the early 1850’s. Joseph and the rest of his siblings were born there but as the economic situation in the new colony slowly improved and more land was surveyed, Michael was able to move his wife and family of now 8 or 9 children, to the North of the State, finally settling in Belalie in the late 1850’s where he took up farming. Belalie was a small settlement on the Belalie River which now runs through the centre of Jamestown. Jamestown itself was not created, a little further down on the Belalie River, until 1871.
As they grew up Joseph and his brother Henry found work on the surrounding large holdings in the district, eventually being employed on the huge Canowie Station between Jamestown and Hallet. In its heyday the Station housed up to a hundred single labourers and many more cottages for men with families. There was a post office, school, and cemetery as well as the main homestead.
Henry married Margery Read in July 1873 and five years later in May 1878 Joseph married her sister Sarah. The sisters were from Clare and their parents, Robert and Elizabeth were both Welsh and had immigrated arriving in Adelaide in 1856 on the ship Nabob.
Joseph was employed as a teamster on Canowie and he and Sarah, lived in a cottage on the Station. Six of their twelve children were born there, including Spencer, Walter and Ernest. Henry, his brother and Henry’s wife Margery, also lived on the Station. The sisters Margery and Sarah each had a set of twin boys within two years of each other. Henry and Margery called their boys Stanley Edgar and Edgar Stanley and Joseph and Sarah called theirs John Clarence and Clarence John. Joseph’s family moved back into Jamestown around 1900 but Joseph died in 1911 so in 1914 Sarah was a widow depending on her sons for support. The boys were all single and named their mother as next of kin at the time of their enlistment.
Spencer joined the 3rd Battalion as a machine gunner on the 27th August 1914. He fought in Egypt, France and Belgium as was promoted to Sergeant. He died of Bronchial Pneumonia in a war hospital in France on 30th December 1916 at the age of 32.
Walter enlisted on the 5th September 1914 in the 12th Battalion but died in Gallipoli on 9th June 1915 aged 26. Tragically he shot himself in the field. There was a Court of Inquiry in which his comrades said he had been overcome with ‘melancholy’. Probably the family back home never knew what had really happened. Myrtle, 17 years old and the youngest in the family, was living with her widowed mother Sarah and wrote many letters to the War Office asking why her mother was not receiving Walter’s pension even though they had been told he was dead. The family had not been informed of the circumstances of his death or of the pending Court of Inquiry. Finally the War Office deemed Walter had died in action and Sarah was therefore entitled to his pension but this has only become known since the War records have become available through the open access of the National Archives.
The twin brothers Clarence John enlisted on the 3rd March 1915 and John Clarence on 12th April 1915 when they were 18 years old. They were both in the 10th Infantry. After enlisting on the 10th August 1915 Ernest, their elder brother, also served in the 10th Battalion. He and Clarence were both captured at Pozieres in the 22nd August 1916 and imprisoned by the Germans until 1918. However they were sent different POW camps and not reunited until 1919.
Sadly the day after his brothers were captured, on the 23rd August 1915 John Clarence was killed in action France. He was only 19 years old.
The cousins Edgar Stanley and Stanley Edgar went into the Field Ambulance service and were both discharged wounded (gassed) in action. Edgar (Ted) was awarded a Military Medal for bravery in action.
The War office could not cope with the enlistment of so many ‘Mara’ boys all from the Jamestown District. There were dreadful mix ups with the names, especially the twin brothers and their service records. Those that had been captured were reported dead and then missing in action. It must have been very hard for the family not to know who was dead or alive. Although only a young girl, Myrtle wrote continuously to the War Office and the Red Cross trying to sort out what was happening to her brothers. Her letters are all filed with the war records of her brothers and these letters together with the boys’ letters back home make a very poignant story.
By the end of World War 1 only two of the six sons of Joseph and Sarah were alive. The Jamestown community recognized this amazing contribution made by the family by a memorial inscription on the beautiful stain glass window in the Anglican Church and inscriptions on the Arch of Remembrance in the public gardens. There were many newspaper articles in the local papers about the boys at the time and many of the boys’ letters back home were published in the Press. The Mara brothers are still remembered now in Jamestown.
written by Tony Griffiths Sep 2014
Submitted 28 October 2014
by Steve Larkins