Alfred Henry SANDS

SANDS, Alfred Henry

Service Number: 3116
Enlisted: 15 September 1916
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 42nd Infantry Battalion
Born: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 4 December 1894
Home Town: Nundah, Brisbane, Queensland
Schooling: Nundah State School, Queensland, Australia
Occupation: Commercial Traveller
Died: Killed in Action, Passchendaele, Belgium, 12 October 1917, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial
Plot 33, Row C, Special Memorial 74,
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Brisbane 42nd Infantry Battalion AIF Roll of Honour, Nundah Baptist Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

15 Sep 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 3116, 42nd Infantry Battalion
7 Feb 1917: Involvement Private, 3116, 42nd Infantry Battalion, Third Ypres, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '18' embarkation_place: Sydney embarkation_ship: HMAT Wiltshire embarkation_ship_number: A18 public_note: ''
7 Feb 1917: Embarked Private, 3116, 42nd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Wiltshire, Sydney
12 Oct 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 3116, 42nd Infantry Battalion, Third Ypres, Killed in Action

Help us honour Alfred Henry Sands's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Sue Smith

Alfred Henry Sands was born on the 4th December 1894 in Brisbane, the eldest of 5 sons born to his parents Henry and Mary Sands.  The family lived at 12 Bayview Terrace, Nundah, a suburb of Brisbane.  Alf attended the Nundah Baptist Church with his family and his early schooling took place at the Nundah State School.  He served 12 months in the State School Cadets and was a member of the Nundah Rifle Club.  Having completed his education he went to work for his father who owned a picture frame manufacturing business at 301 Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley.  On his service records his occupation is listed as ‘commercial traveller’ so he travelled around selling picture frames for his father’s business. 

Alf was a member of the Nundah Tent of the Independent Order of Rechabites who promote total abstinence from alcoholic drinks. 

At some point Alf met a young lady by the name of Agnes Wardlaw and they became engaged.  Agnes was my Grand Aunt…my paternal grandfather’s sister.  She was a year younger than Alf and like him, she was a faithful member of the Baptist Church so this may be how they met. 

At age 21 Alf was successful in enlisting in the AIF on the 15th September 1916 at Brisbane after previously being rejected for an under standard chest.  His service number was 3116, his rank Private and his Unit the 42nd Infantry Battalion, 7th Reinforcements.  He’s described as being 5ft 1inch tall with a medium complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. 

He proceeded to the Enoggera Camp where he completed his basic training before embarking from Sydney on the 7th February 1917 on the troopship HMAT Wiltshire.  Two months later he disembarked at Devonport, England UK, and proceeded to the Fovant Camp at Wiltshire.  AIF Battalions were housed here while engaged in training activities on the Salisbury Plain.  It is also the site of the regimental badges cut into the chalk of a nearby hill and includes the Australian Rising Sun hat badge.  Twelve days later he proceeded to Durrington Camp to receive more training with the 11th Training Battalion.

One night in early August Alf went absent without leave from midnight to 6.30am.  He was admonished by Major Everett and had to forfeit 2 days pay.  A month later he proceeded to France from Southampton and marched into Rouelles the following day.  A week later, on the 14th September, he joined his Unit at Ypres. 

After a dry spell in September the rains began on the 3rd October and by the 9th October much of the British field artillery opposite Passchendaele was out of action due to rain, mud and German artillery-fire.  The area received the heaviest rain seen in the region for 30 years.  The conditions were atrocious and in some places like swamp.  For the soldiers who fought at Passchendaele, it was known as the 'Battle of Mud'. 

This entry from the 42nd Battalion Unit diaries for the period of 10th-21st October:

“The weather was extremely bad with rain and mud.  Both men and animals suffered severely.  In 4 days 64 men were hospitalised with trench foot, exhaustion and shell shock…12 animals were lost.  Transport difficulties were horrendous but in spite of this hot soup, stew and tea were taken up to the line in improvised food containers wrapped in blankets.” 

The First Battle of Passchendaele took place on the 12th October 1917 in the Ypres Salient.  The attack was part of the Third Battle of Ypres and was fought west of Passchendaele village.  The 42nd Infantry Battalion fought in this battle and sadly, for Alf it was his last.  He was killed in action and buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium, Plot 33, Row C, Special Memorial 74.  

Tyne Cot is the largest British military cemetery in the world with 11,956 burials, over 70% of the graves are unidentified but there are special memorials to more than 80 casualties known or believed to be buried among them.  Alf is one of those 80 special memorials.  At the rear of the cemetery is the Memorial Wall to the Missing, bearing the names of 34,888 missing.  A cluster of 5 German pill boxes stood here and in front of them was a low lying area that contained some of the worst and deepest mud in the Salient.  After the Australians captured the position on the 4th October the pill boxes were used as advanced dressing stations and it was around these that the original battlefield cemetery of 300 burials grew.  The central pill box was incorporated into the Cross of Sacrifice at the suggestion of King George V in 1920.

On the 6th September 1917, 5 weeks before Alf’s death, his father Henry wrote to the Army requesting that in the event of something happening to Alf that reports should be sent to him at his business address and the reply he received from the Army on the 13th September said they would do so.

However, this didn’t happen so his father wrote again to the Army on the 21st November asking why notification of Alf’s death went to his home address where his mother was the first to see it which is what Henry was trying to avoid happening.  He also asked for any further information on Alf’s death. 

On the 11th May 1918 Henry wrote to the Army asking why he had not received Alf’s personal effects citing that several troopships had arrived back home with some who served in the same battle as Alf.  It was several months before he received the personal effects.  He also asked for a copy of the death certificate and for Alf’s deferred pay to be forwarded. 

The saga continued and on the 30th August 1921, almost 3 years after Alf was killed, Henry received a letter from the Army explaining that a situation had occurred at Tyne Cot Cemetery.  The following is an extract from this letter:

“Since your visit to this country the position of your son’s case has considerably altered. The following facts are appended in order that you may be aware of the circumstances in which it was necessary to modify the report that your son is buried in a known grave in Tyne Cot British Cemetery, near Ypres, Belgium.

Two unknown Australian soldiers were found at map reference sheet 28.D.16.d.40.40 and 28.D.16.d.40.50. These map references almost coincide with the exact spot where your son and the late 2565 Private L Hilton, 42nd Battalion (Killed in action 12.101.17) were reported buried originally. The remains of the two “Unknowns” were buried in Grave 10, Row C, Plot 33 and Grave 21, Row A, Plot 36 Tyne Cot British Cemetery.

At the time of your visit it was thought extremely likely that these graves really contained the remains of your son and Private Hilton as no other “unknown” Australian soldiers bodies had been recovered from the vicinity of sheet 28.D.16.d.40.40. Your son and Private Hilton were reported originally as buried 28.D.16.d.40.35, a difference of 10 yards only. Therefore, special crosses were erected over the graves referred to above, although it was not possible at the time to say definitely which grave was your son’s and which was Private Hilton’s as no means of identification whatever were found on either body. A photograph of the special cross erected for your son is being sent to the Officer in Charge Base Records, Department of Defence by the next mail and that will be forwarded by him to you with the least possible delay. If the photograph be examined it will be noticed that in addition to Private Sands’ regimental particulars and the date of death, the following inscription appears thereon:- “Buried in Plot 33, Row C, actual grave unknown.”

However, two other “unknown” Australian soldiers have been found within a few yards of the places where we exhumed the bodies of the first two “unknowns” who were thought to be your son and Private Hilton. Consequently, it is now quite impossible to say which of the four bodies is that of your son. The remains of the latter mentioned soldiers, like those of the first two, bore no means of identification. As all four bodies have been buried in Tyne Cot British cemetery, the Imperial War Graves Commission, London, have agreed to erect a Special Cross for Privates Sands and Hilton in that cemetery. Both crosses will bear the respective soldiers’ regimental particulars preceded by the words: “Buried in this cemetery, actual grave unknown.” It is possible that the same cross as is shown on the photographs which are being forwarded to you, will be used for that purpose.

It is a matter for extreme regret that the circumstances mentioned above should have arisen, but you will realise that the finding later of the other two soldiers’ remains rigidly debars any notion being taken other than that outlined.

It should be explained that this Special Cross mentioned will later be replaced by a permanent headstone which will have inserted upon it the same particulars as are quoted in a previous paragraph. Your son’s memory will therefore be perpetuated in a manner fitting his great sacrifice.”

Three years later, in May 1924, Henry wrote to the Army requesting that an open bible be engraved on Alf’s headstone but in September 1924 the request was denied due to the magnitude of work undertaken by the Imperial War Graves Commission in erecting thousands of crosses across the many war areas.  Instead, Henry was given the choice between a Cross or a Star of David so he chose the Cross. 

Alf’s Church Pastor, the Reverend Ezekiel Barnett, wrote a poem in honour of Alf and it was published in the ‘Roll of Honour’ section of the Brisbane Courier Newspaper on the 12th January 1918. 

In October 1922, 5 years after Alf’s death, his parents received the WW1 Memorial Plaque, Scroll and letter from King George V acknowledging the sacrifice of their son.  

Alf’s fiancée Agnes felt the loss of Alf greatly.  She died in 1975 aged 80 having never married.

Alf’s name appears on the WW1 Memorial in the Nundah Baptist Church where he attended regularly prior to the war.  His name is also recorded on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, ACT.  

Alfred Henry Sands was awarded for service in WW1 the Australia Service Medal and the Australia Defence Medal.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Smith 29th July 2021