Frank Wheatley DUNSTAN

DUNSTAN, Frank Wheatley

Service Number: 5003
Enlisted: 29 December 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 25th Infantry Battalion AMF
Born: Geraldton, Western Australia, Australia, 22 July 1897
Home Town: Childers, Bundaberg, Queensland
Schooling: Toowoomba Grammar School, Queensland, Australia
Occupation: Engineer
Died: Drowning, Tewantin, Queensland, Australia, 15 April 1933, aged 35 years
Cemetery: Tewantin Cemetery, Qld
Memorials: Toowoomba Grammar School WW1 Honour Board
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World War 1 Service

29 Dec 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 5003, 25th Infantry Battalion AMF
4 May 1916: Involvement Private, SN 5003, 25th Infantry Battalion
4 May 1916: Embarked Private, SN 5003, 25th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Seang Choon, Brisbane
1 Nov 1916: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 5003, 25th Infantry Battalion AMF , Third Ypres
17 Jul 1918: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 5003, 25th Infantry Battalion AMF
29 Mar 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Private, SN 5003, 25th Infantry Battalion AMF

Help us honour Frank Wheatley Dunstan's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Sue Smith

Frank Wheatley Dunstan was born on the 22nd July 1897 at Geraldton WA to his parents, Rev. Richard and Martha Dunstan.  Frank came from a large family having 5 sisters, Clementine, Annie, Dorothy, Jean, Marjorie and 5 brothers, Sydney, Leslie, Edmund known as Albie, Donald and Douglas.  Two other brothers, Bennett and Victor, both died in infancy and a sister was stillborn. 

Frank’s father was a Methodist Church Minister so the family moved regularly.  In 1915 they were living in Toowoomba where Frank was a boarder at the Toowoomba Grammar School.  At the end of his senior year he sat an exam and won a university scholarship.  These were awarded to the 20 students with the highest marks in the exam.  Frank achieved a pass in Latin, Greek, Algebra and Geometry and a merit in German, Plane Trigonometry, Mechanics and Physics.  He qualified for matriculation to the University of Queensland by passing a supplementary examination in English in early 1916.  He applied for, and was granted, permission to defer the scholarship until after the war.  Prior to the war, Frank served 4 years with the Cadets and 6 months with Citizens Military Force. 

Frank was my Great Uncle…his sister Annie was my grandmother.  Many of the details shared in this biography come from Frank’s war diaries which he commenced on the 29th April 1916 and concluded on the 20th January 1919. 

Frank enlisted in the AIF on the 29th December 1915 in Brisbane aged 18.  His rank was a Private and his service number 5003.  He’s described as being 5ft 4ins tall with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.  He went into camp at Enoggera to commence training on the 2nd February 1916.  He spent time in the 11th and the 14th Depot Battalions and was then drafted into the 25th Battalion 13th Reinforcements on the 1st April 1916.  This Battalion consisted mostly of Queenslanders. 

Frank spent his last day at home on the 29th April 1916 before embarking for France from Brisbane on the 4th May on the HMAT Seang Choon.  The ship arrived at Hobart TAS on the 9th where it took on 150 Tasmanians.  Frank comments in his diary that the company marched through the streets of Hobart and the locals tossed them apples to take with them on the ship.  They left Hobart the following morning and after stops at Fremantle WA and Colombo Sri Lanka the ship arrived in Suez on the 14th June.  Frank comments in his diary that he’s been gone from Brisbane a month and in the service for 4 months.  He also comments that having been on the ship for 6 weeks he’s 20lbs heavier than when he enlisted, weighing 10st 5lb.  That problem was rectified somewhat after he spent 4 days in hospital with influenza and fed only soup and custard.  He comments several times that he had to sleep on the deck of the ship as it was too hot to sleep below.  Boredom and lack of exercise were some of the other issues the men had to contend with. 

In due course they arrived at the Australian camp at Tel-el-Kebir.  This is the camp that the troops from Gallipoli were evacuated to and although it was deserted when they arrived, just a few months earlier there had been 88,000 troops camped there.  The following day they were moved to the isolation camp at Moascar, however, there was some doubt as to whether they should have been isolated so they spent the night camped in the desert a few hundred metres from the Arabi Pasha trenches.  They moved into the camp the following day and Frank comments that water was very scarce.  The next day the Brigade was inspected by General Maxwell.  On the 30th June 1916 Frank’s company moved out of the isolation camp to a new camp, most likely Mena Camp, the main Australian Camp.  While there Frank got to visit Cairo, the pyramids, Ismailia and Great Bitter Lake.  In late July he was ordered to escort some prisoners to Cairo and spent some time at the Anzac Hostel and then overnight at the Kasr-el-Nil Barracks.  Upon returning to camp preparations began for the company to move to England.  On the 28th July they left camp and travelled by train to Alexandria embarking from there the next day on the RMSP Arcadian.  The ship arrived at Marseilles France in the late afternoon on the 4th August and they disembarked the next day. 

The company travelled by train to Le Havre where they boarded a transport ship which took them to England.  After arriving at Southampton it was onto another train which took them to Camp Rollestone on the Salisbury Plain where they trained in earnest for preparation for a move to the “Front” in France which came 6 weeks later.  This camp was situated not far from the famous icon “Stonehenge.”  While at Rollestone Frank had leave twice so he made the most of it seeing the sights of London including the Tower Bridge, Hippodrome, Regents Park Zoo, Madame Tussards, Westminster Wesleyan Church as well as the Albert & Victoria Science Museums.  Lord French visited the troops at Rollestone 10 days before they left for France on the 22nd September 1916.  The Battalion embarked from Folkestone at 10am the following morning and 2 hours later arrived at Boulogne, France.  They marched to the base camp at Etaples where as many as 100,000 soldiers at a time were housed.  The next 4 days were spent in training at the “Bull Ring” preparing the men for trench life.  In included bayonet training as well as lectures on lice, trench foot and poison gas.  On the 1st October the battalion were given orders to leave for the front the next day.  Their destination…Ypres.  They were issued with a tin hat, a sheepskin vest and their colours. 

Upon arrival at Ypres they marched through the ruins of Cloth Hall and the Cathedral to the old barracks where they were billeted.  Over the next 4 weeks the battalion marched all over the northern part of France and parts of Belgium.  Frank estimated that they’d marched around 65miles and mostly with full pack on and the dugouts were less than spacious and comfortable.  The following extract from Frank’s diary on the 13th October 1916:                                        “Got up here aright last night & into dugouts.  I am in a dugout with 2 others, about 2ft 6ins high, 5ft dep & 6ft or 7ft broad.  Awkward for sitting in.  Carried rations last night up to the firing line till 1.30am.  Slept a bit.  Stand to from 5-6am.  Rested all morning.  Throwing a few shells this afternoon on both sides.”  

The battalion arrived on the Somme in early November.  From Frank’s diary on the 5th November:  “Didn’t get much sleep last night owing to Battalion moving off, bombardment etc.  Warned to move at 4pm but left at 2pm.  Very muddy road.  Several shells landed close to us on the way up, one about 20 yards off splashed me with mud.  Had to carry a box of bombs up the sap & went over on my knees in the mud.  Dumped the bombs & got into a wreck of a truck to spend the night.  We are on the Somme…the Le Trane sector.”

6th November 1916                                            “Had a rotten night last night with wet underfoot & rain & bombardment from both sides.  Bitterly cold all night & no sleep at all.  Covered all over with mud today.  Sheepskins are warm enough as far as they go.  Collars & sleeves would improve them 100%.  Tonight we go out if a relieving party comes up.  If not, we go into the frontline.  In support at present.  Rations pretty short.”

7th November 1916                                            “Rations yesterday ½lb of bread & a small piece cheese.  Came out last night fortunately.  Had a heavy bombardment 6.30pm & began to think I might go “up” instead of out.  Couple of H. E. (high explosive) shells landed within 10 or 15 yards.  Tin hat useful in saving head from nasty bruises from falling debris.  Left trenches about 10.30pm, arrived at camp about 2am.  Had stew & tea & slept till about 9.30am.  Slept most of the day.  I am covered with mud from head to foot.  Puttees are one mass of mud.”

They endured almost daily bombardments from the enemy and this entry from Frank’s diary on the 14th November when they were fighting in “The Maze” just north of Flers, gives a clear picture of what he experienced:                                                  “Went over the top about 7am in 4 waves.  I was in the 3rd.  I got as far as Fritz’s wire & then went to ground in a shell hole.  Shot a Fritz from there throwing bombs.  Retired about 10 yards to another shell hole & spent the day there with another chap, wet to the waist.  Had some marvelous escapes during the day from bombs & shells.  Got in about 6.30pm.  Crawled all the way to escape snipers & got into a disused trench & could find no one.  Absolutely lost.” 

The unit war diary states that the Battalion suffered 194 casualties in this battle…6 were Officers.  This is an extract from the war diaries of Charles Bean, Australia’s official war correspondent for WW1 and it’s quite a statement confirming the conditions the troops fought under:

“Indeed, the attacks of November 4th, 5th and 14th and the interval between them, formed the most trying period ever experienced by the AIF on any front.”  

Two days later the Battalion was back at the front line at Cobham Trench in support of the 28th Battalion.  The conditions they fought under were horrendous.  They were short on rations, it was extremely muddy and so bitterly cold that they had to wear sheepskin vests and gloves to keep warm.  They experienced their first snow on the 18th November and the entry in his diary the next day states:                              “Had a bath after dinner & got a change of underclothing.  I was horribly filthy & lousy.  Hadn’t washed my hands & face for 15 days.  Had my underclothes on for over a month.”

It’s no surprise that 6 days later Frank was admitted to the Casualty Receiving Station on the 25th November with a temp of 100.4.  He rejoined the battalion after time in a rest camp but not for long…just 3 weeks later and 2 days before Christmas, he was admitted to the ANZAC Rest Station at Bellevue farm near the town of Albert, suffering from trench fever.  This is a condition similar to malaria with symptoms of headache, dizziness, severe lumbago, stiffness down the front of the thighs and severe pain in the legs, particularly the shins.  As with malaria, this condition can also relapse.  He spent Christmas in hospital and spent over 2 months convalescing mainly at the 12th General Hospital in Rouen before being returned to his battalion in mid March 1917. 

The next day the Battalion moved up to the trenches as part of the Advanced Guard to the 2nd Division.  They marched through the battlefield of Warlencourt and Frank comments in his diary that this place was a picture of desolation with shell holes on every square yard.  They marched on through Bapaume…where there was not one whole house and some were still burning…to the ruins of the village Beugnatre where they camped the night.  The Germans had begun retreating at this stage.  The next morning they marched to a village called Vaulx and were involved in the defence of Lagnicourt.  This entry From Frank’s diary on the 20th March 1917:                              “The 23rd Battalion had been following Fritz right up & ran into him here the night before & found him making a stand.  We were out to support them.  Lots of shells were coming over.  We dug in the side of the road & in full view of Fritz although we didn’t know.  He let us get comfortable & then sent over 3 right in the middle of us.  We cleared out of that straight away.  They all landed within 10 yards of me.  Went into trenches at night.  No.3 section in supports.  The line only consisted of isolated posts.  Our trench was 50 yards long & out of sight of any other.  We were there for 4 days & although he shelled around us all the time, he never got one of us.”

Diary entry for 26th March 1917:                            “We started off about 10.30am & came up a slope in open…order at 3 yards in 2 waves.  500 yards from his trench that defended the village (Lagnicourt) he sighted us & started sniping & soon his machine gun bullets were whispering around us, & then his S.O.S. went up for artillery & he opened up with H.E. shells & a few shrap.  If he had sent all shrap, he would have got the lot of us.  H.E. shells would land within 4 or 5 yards of a man without harm.  Just before we reached the top of the ridge the fire got too hot & we lay down.  We were just short of the ridge & the bullets were chipping the edge just in front of us & just skidding over our heads.  Only one got hit there & he was next to me on the left.  We couldn’t advance against that force so we were ordered to retire.  A minute later our Officer fell.  We crawled & scrambled back through a pretty heavy barrage.  We were going over a turnip field & it was terribly hard going & when I reached our trench, I was absolutely exhausted.  If Fritz had withheld all his fire until we had gone 50 yards over the edge, not one of us would have got back, but he was evidently excited.  We went over 34 strong & were very lucky to have get back with only 2 killed & 6 wounded.”   

Two days after this battle the Battalion marched to the camp at Acid Drop Corpse at Contalmaison to rest and do some training.  Frank’s older brother Leslie was also serving in France and he came to visit Frank in late April.  No doubt this was a highlight for both of them amidst the horrendous surroundings.  The strength of the battalion at the start of May was 20 Officers and 773 other ranks.  By the end of May the casualties were…27 killed, 1 missing, 139 wounded including 3 Officers.  In mid June the battalion moved to Bapaume for training in open warfare, attack schemes with live ammunition and attacking at night over a distance. 

Sadly, on the 5th July Frank’s father Richard passed away suddenly while attending a church conference in Melbourne VIC.  Frank makes no mention of this in his diary but he may not have been notified for some time.  On the 22nd July Frank celebrated his 20th birthday with the battalion at Bapaume.  In late July the battalion moved to Coin Perdu, a village near St Omer, and spent the whole month of August in training there.

In late September Frank went on 10 days leave to England.  He went to Horseferry Road where the AIF Admin HQ were and got some new clothing.  He was in London for 2 days and experienced an air raid while there.  He then made his way to St Just to stay with some relatives on his mother’s side.  He visited several places…Liskeard, Progo, Carn Gloose, Land’s End, Penzance…just to name a few.  At the end of his leave he returned to London and went sightseeing to Leyton.  While returning to London he was caught in another air raid which delayed his returning to France by a day.  He stayed overnight at the War Chest Club, a place where the soldiers could stay and pass the time.  It was in Horseferry Road across the road from the AIF Admin HQ. 

Frank rejoined the battalion at Ypres in early October and by the end of the month they were in support at Zonnebeke.  He took part in the Battle of Passchendaele and on the 29th the battalion was gassed and forced to wear masks.  Two days later they moved up to the front and the next day, 1st November, they were heavily bombarded with gas at Westhoek Ridge outside Steenvoorde.  The whole battalion was so affected it had to be relieved early.  These entries from Frank’s diary for the 1st – 4th November:                                                           1st Nov - “Were to have left at 5pm yesterday but Fritz put up a barrage of gas shells in front of us & we waited until 2am.  Still going strong so we had to go through it.  Got through it alright but pretty rotten trip with respirator tubes in our mouths nearly all the way.  Alright in the line.  Very quiet.” 

2nd Nov - “Being relieved tonight a day early.  Battalion been knocked out by gas.  Relieved about 10.30pm.  Had to walk right back past Dickebusch, over 10 miles.  Just about done when I got there.” 

3rd Nov - “Sleeping all day today.  Voice croaky today.”

4th Nov - “Can’t speak above a whisper today.  Gas got into my throat.  All the Company the same.”

On the 6th November Frank was admitted to the 5th Field Ambulance then to the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station.  He was one of the 154 men from his Company evacuated to Boulogne by hospital train to the 53rd General Hospital.  He was there for 10 days before being evacuated to England on the hospital ship Princess Elizabeth and admitted to Queen Mary’s Hospital at Whalley, Lancashire.  He was granted 2 weeks furlough then reported to the No. 1 Convalescent Depot at Sutton Veny where he saw his first snow on the 16th December.  Three days later Frank went absent without leave for 17 days when he heard that railway travelling for troops over Christmas was to be restricted.  He made his way to St Just to spend Christmas with his relatives.  As he was making his way back to camp on the 4th January he was apprehended at Trowbridge and escorted back to camp.  He went before the District Court Martial a few weeks later and his sentence was detention for 16 days.  However, the General Officer Commanding remitted the sentence and made to forfeit 27 days pay. 

On the 28th January 1918 he was transferred to the Dental Camp to have some work done on his teeth in preparation for returning to the front.  A month later he reported to the Overseas Training Brigade at Longbridge Deverill.  In early March he started a 12 week course at the Signals School at Camp Fovant at Dinton.  Many of the troops who stayed at this camp carved replicas of their hat badges into the chalk hillsides in remembrance of their colleagues who didn’t return from the war.  By the end of the war there were 20 badges, the largest of which was the Australian Commonwealth Forces Badge…The Rising Sun. 

Frank proceeded to France on the 24th June 1918 and rejoined his Battalion on the 12th July at Bois de l’Abbe, south of Amiens, in defence of Villers-Bretonneux.  The following night he moved up to the front.  I will let Frank tell you himself from his diaries what happened over the following few days.            17th July - “Left our line at 9.40pm tonight to go 1,200 yards.  Pretty ragged barrage.  I got about 700 yards & got hit in back of left thigh with bit of our shell.  Numbed my leg & bled considerably.  Had to wait half hour before I got a dressing on & a while later was carried out to R.A.P. (Regimental Aid Post)  Was carried about 2 miles & had a pretty rough trip.” 

18th July - “Had 3½ hours trip in motor ambulances last night.  Pretty rough.  Got here to 47th C.C.S. (at Crouy) at 5am.  Nerves in left leg & foot very painful.  X-rayed about 10am.  Went into operating theatre at 5pm to get piece out but they wouldn’t do it which annoyed me as I had been building on that to give me relief.  Had a dose of morphia at 6pm but was awake again by 8pm.” 

19th July - “Expected to leave C.C.S at 9am but didn’t get away till 5pm.  Rotten ambulance train.  Converted French carriages.  Brakes very bumpy.  No bunks…had to stay on stretchers.  Going to Etretat…past Le Havre.” 

20th July - “Arrived at noon after tiresome trip.  Seaside town.  Motored mile or so to hospital in the Casino on seafront.  No. 1 General Hospital, Presbyterian, USA.  All American staff.  Got into bed at last & had first wash for a week.  Blood was still on my hands." 

22nd July - “X-rayed again this morning.  Leg getting easier & more manageable.  Still got sensation in my foot.  21 today…worse ways of spending my birthday in these times.  Fairly lucky to be having one.”

23rd July - “Dr marked me for operation this morning.  No dinner today.  Went into theatre at 2pm & was put off to sleep.  Woke up about 4.30pm feeling fairly lucid but too tired to try to be.  Didn’t kick up any row at all.  Could only articulate words slowly for an hour or so.  The piece is one complete square of a Mills bomb.  Must have been let off accidentally.  Couldn’t have been far away & I was lucky not collect more of it.”

Frank wrote a letter to his Mum while in hospital recuperating and mentions that the nerves in his leg and foot are quite painful even with massage treatment.  The nerves didn’t improve so he was invalided to England at the end of August aboard the hospital ship St Patrick.  Initially he was admitted to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital at Brighton then a month later was transferred to the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford.  At the end of October he was transferred to the No. 2 Convalescent Depot, Montevideo Camp, at Weymouth.  It was while he was here that the Armistice was signed on the 11th November.  On the 12th December Frank boarded the HMAT Nestor at Liverpool for his homeward journey to Australia.  There were 1,700 soldiers on board.  The ship arrived at Suez on Christmas Eve so Frank spent Christmas Day there on board the ship.  The journey continued and the ship docked at Albany, Western Australia, on the 18th January 1919.  Frank finally made it home to Brisbane and was discharged on the 29th March 1919.  He eventually received a small pension on account of his invalidity arising from his leg wound.  He had to teach himself how to walk all over again and suffered from cramping in his leg as a permanent effect of the injury. 

Upon his return to Brisbane he enrolled at the University of Queensland to start his studies on engineering.  He was living at King’s College, a theological training college that was associated with UQ, which at that time was where the UQ students boarded till they completed their studies.  One of the photos on Frank’s profile page was taken at King’s College in 1919 with Frank in the front row and my grandfather Cyril in the back row.  Cyril was studying for ordination at King’s College after his return from the war.  He went on to marry Annie Dunstan, Frank’s sister in May 1924.  Frank completed his degree at UQ with 2nd Class Honours and graduated in 1923.  His first job as an engineer was installing the sewerage system near the Grammar School in Spring Hill Brisbane.  

In the 1960 UQ Calendar, Frank’s name appears on the “List of Graduates” along with 7 other family members, including his 2 sons. 

It was while studying at UQ that Frank met Jean Wallace who was studying science.  He married Jean on the 22nd August 1924 at St Mary’s Anglican Church at Kangaroo Point.  They lived in Maryborough QLD initially while Frank was the engineer working on the Granville Bridge.  Through the connection of a friend from his school days at Toowoomba Grammar, Buzz Boyce, whose father owned the Toowoomba Foundry and the Southern Cross Windmill manufacturers, Frank was later made North Queensland Manager of Windmills based at Townsville.  Frank’s first 2 children were born in Townsville…Dorothy and Alan.  When the Great Depression happened in the 1930s, the job dried up so the family moved to Childers where Frank became the Isis Shire engineer and completed the Sandy Creek bridge.  On another occasion there was a problem with the town well so Frank went to try and fix it.  His leg cramped because of his war wound, he fell in and had to be rescued.  Another 2 sons, Richard and Donald, were born while the family were living in Childers. 

Frank was put off from his work with Isis Shire so he found a job cutting cane.  However, he found he wasn’t any good at that so while he worked at whatever jobs he could find, which often involved living away from the family, Jean and the children went to live with her parents at Tewantin QLD.  On the 15th April 1933, Easter Saturday, Frank was visiting with the family at Tewantin and after lunch took Alan, aged 5, and Richard aged 3, fishing in a small boat on the Noosa River near the family home.  Richard got a fright and fell overboard.  Frank gave the oars to Alan and jumped in after him.  Alan was alone in the boat with the tide running fast out to sea but he somehow had the presence of mind to drop the anchor out.  Frank surfaced with Richard on his back but Richard lost his grip and fell off.  Frank dived after him again but neither he nor Richard surfaced again.  Alan called out for help but it was 20 mins before that help arrived.  Richard’s body was found 2 hours later by his grandfather.  Frank’s body was recovered the following morning.  From the position of his body it was determined that he cramped up so Jean was later granted the War Widow’s Pension on the grounds that his leg wound had contributed greatly to his death.  Frank was 35.  He was buried at the Tewantin Cemetery. 

Jean and the family stayed living at Tewantin with her parents.  After their deaths the house was sold in 1976 so Jean went to live in Brisbane with her son Alan and his wife initially, then she bought her own home at Paddington.  In 1980, shortly after returning from a trip to Malaya with her daughter Dorothy, Jean became ill with a chest infection and was hospitalized.  She died on the 25th August 1980 aged 76.  It is thought by the family that she may have contracted Legionnaire’s disease from the air conditioning in the hotel where they stayed in Malaya.  She is buried with Frank and Richard in the Tewantin Cemetery.           

My deepest thanks to Frank’s granddaughter, Marion, who provided me with much of the personal information for this biography as well as a copy of Frank’s war diaries and some of the photographs and documents, all of which are on Frank’s profile page. 

Frank Wheatley Dunstan was awarded for service in WW1 the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Smith 9th February 2021

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