Nicholas Leo MCINERNEY


MCINERNEY, Nicholas Leo

Service Number: 3419
Enlisted: 26 July 1915, Keswick, South Australia
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 10th Infantry Battalion
Born: Jamestown, South Australia, 17 December 1886
Home Town: Port Lincoln, Port Lincoln, South Australia
Schooling: Jamestown Public School
Occupation: Packer (S.A.R.)
Died: Killed In Action, Pozières, France, 23 July 1916, aged 29 years
Cemetery: Serre Road Cemetery No.2
Plot XXI, Row F, Grave No. 14, Serre Road Cemetery No 2, Beaumont Hamel, Picardie, France
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Adelaide South Australian Railways WW1 & WW2 Honour Boards, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Kapunda District Honour Board, Kapunda and District Fallen Soldiers Monument, Port Lincoln S.A.R. Eyre's Peninsula Division Roll of Honour WW1
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World War 1 Service

26 Jul 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 3419, Keswick, South Australia
27 Oct 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 3419, 10th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
27 Oct 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 3419, 10th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Benalla, Adelaide
25 Jun 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 3419, 10th Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières

A Name for Anne

A Name for Anne Frances Thompson, April 2016

Evidence of the terrible toll on my family taken by war has been in front of my eyes since I was a child.

I can’t say I didn’t know.

Books on shelves, old photos in frames and albums, sombre Anzac Day and Mum close to tears… the legacy was such a burden.
Lest we forget.
Then came the Vietnam War. My response was “war is hell.” Let us forget.

In 2016, the centenary of that ocean of mud, blood, bone, flesh, muscle, terror and chaos called the Somme, I have chosen to remember.

It is 100 years since my great uncle, Nicholas McInerney, aged 29, was killed in action, probably early in the battle for Pozieres.

To mark the anniversary, I compiled a chronology using the official records of the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives of Australia and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

It traces his enlistment in 1915, to his death in 1916 and the exhumation and reburial of his remains in 1928.

It is also the story of his brothers, Michael and Patrick McInerney.
All three were from country South Australia, all participants in the Great Adventure.

One hundred years on, the internet is my time machine.
Grandparents and great uncles, dead long before I was born, stare back at me on my computer screen, accessible on demand.

I see their faces buoyed by pride, ravaged by prison camp hunger and horror.
Battalion colour patches are visible in faded black and white.

I read a Kapunda Herald newspaper report of Patrick’s 1918 letter home telling his family about “being busy chasing Fritz” and meeting up with South Australian soldier friends. How was it possible to sound so carefree?

I see the handwriting of Anne, the brothers’ widowed mother and the signatures of her sons, one obliterated in France, then those of her grandson picked off by a Japanese sniper in a malarial jungle valley.

The ‘net takes me back repeatedly to Anne’s unflagging efforts to find out what happened to Nicholas, her first-born son.

The bronze plaque in his memory she received from the government in 1923 has come to me and sits on my bookcase.

I was probably eight or nine when I first saw it on a mantle piece in a South Australian house, in which my great-aunts, Nicholas’sisters, lived out their lives together, either widowed or unmarried.

These plaques may have been derided as death pennies and a widows’ pennies but it is beautiful.

The work of the Imperial War Graves Commission, that picked over tens of thousands of scattered graves and human remains and found Nicholas’ battered A.I.F disk, 12 years after he was killed is especially poignant.
Nicholas’ service number and name are abbreviated by some shell, bomb or gun.

--119 N L ---IERNEY. 10th Batt AIF.

That tiny piece of mangled metal allowed a name to be put to the “remains’’ reburied in France in 1928.

In its huge task, the unit also found uniforms, mess tins, boots and, in one case, a silver boomerang, the records show.

Nicholas was a soldier of the Great War but thanks to that discovery, he was not unkown. That disk put a name on the headstone. A name for Anne.

I’ll never know the answers to the questions raised by trawling through the digitised records.

Was the disk all that was left of him?
What sort of war was Major J M Lean’s, the Base Records, Melbourne officer who received and replied to Anne’s persistent correspondence and no doubt many other grieving mothers.

The last letter from him on file is signed personally. Sent in 1921, before the disk was found, it sounds like a last-ditch attempt at securing any skerrick of information that would “obviate the necessity of interring them (soldiers, including Nicholas) in the new Military Cemeteries under the heading “An Unknown Australian Soldier”.

Why did Nicholas, then 28 and the eldest, leave enlistment until 1915, when so many South Australian men, including his younger brother Michael, were in the historic 1914 muster at Morphettville that formed the 10th Battlion “originals”.
Perhaps Nicholas felt he had to follow Michael. If so, did that influence the third brother, Patrick, who embarked in 1916?

Nicholas was a long way from home. Could a family rift, or something else have led him to move to Port Lincoln, so far away from the rest of the railway family together in Jamestown?

What did these young men from the South Australian bush think of the crowded, exotic port of Colombo, deserts and medieval forts, the Suez Canal, Port Said, Alexandria, the pyramid of Giza, the Sphinx?
Who rescued Nicholas’ personal effects, how did they get back to Anne and what happened to them?

Two McInerney brothers returned to Adelaide from the Western Front and lived in the West Croydon- Kilkenny area.
Patrick, who received a Military Medal, died in 1946 aged 55.

Michael, my grandfather, started a family, his first-born my mother and served his community as a councillor and advocate for returned service men.
He died in 1956, aged 67.

A fourth brother, Laurence Eiffe McInerney, served in World War 2 and was taken a prisoner of war by the Japanese in Java. He died within a few months of Michael in 1956.

A family photo shows Laurence at a welcome home gathering in West Croydon, probably outside his sister’s house in Alfred Road. The Red Cross car that likely brought him can be seen in the background

Working through the digital records, trying to put these hard, broken lives back together, has been a thrill.
At times I’ve felt like a detective, a voyeur, a spy but mostly, a penitent for my past neglect.


Three Brothers: A Family at War

Three Brothers: A Family at War Frances Thompson, April 2016

This year, 2016 marks the centenary of the death of my great-uncle, Private Nicholas Leo McInerney, who was killed in action in one of the First World War’s most horrifying battles.

The battle of Pozieres is infamous for its massive death toll, cruelty and suffering.

Nicholas, a machine gunner aged 29, was among those thousands of Australians who died there, a place described by one eyewitness as an Australian graveyard.

He was wounded and died in what has been described as unrelenting combat between July 23, the first day of the assault and July 25.

In his book The Fighting 10th, Cecil B.L Lock, an original member of South Australia’s 10th Battalion, reports total unit casualties for the Pozieres’ operation during those few days was 350.

Over the next six weeks of fighting Australians suffered 20,000 casualties.

“Everyone knew this would be an historic battle and by the end of it there would be more Australian dead at Pozieres than anywhere else in the war,” writes Ross Coulthart, in his biography of Australian war correspondent and historian, CEW Bean.

After four days of fighting, research shows the A.I.F’s 1st Division , of which the 10th was part, had lost 5285 officers and men.

Nicholas Leo McInerney, service number 3419, was the eldest son of Patrick John and Anne Margaret (nee Eiffe) McInerney, a railway family, who lived in the Mid North of South Australia.

He was serving with his brother Michael John, my maternal grandfather, in what became known at The Fighting 10th, one of the first battalions raised after the declaration of the war and considered to be one of the great infantry battalions of Australia.

Michael was among the first to join the battalion at Morphettville in Adelaide in 1914 and served at Anzac.
Patrick McInerney, a telegraph linesman before he volunteered, was a sapper in the 5th Pioneer Battalion.
He was awarded the Military Medal.

No one is left to tell Nicholas’story.
No letters of his exist, nor any confirmed images.
I have a French postcard photo of an Australian soldier that has come to me from my family.
It might not be Nicholas, however, it was always kept with his memorial plaque.

I have compiled this chronology using the official records of the Australian War Memorial (AWM), the National Archives of Australia and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark the centenary of his death.

The most compelling records on Nicholas’ files are letters from his mother Anne McInerney, a widow, then living in the Mid-North South Australian town of Kapunda, seeking information about the fate of her first-born son.

Here is all I know.

Born: Nicholas Leo McInerney, December 17, 1886, Jamestown, South Australia.
Occupation: Packer, South Australian Railways.
Enlisted: July 26, 1915, Port Lincoln, South Australia aged 28 years and eight months.
Height: 5 foot 3 inches. (The records are unclear.)
Weight: 152 pounds.
Eyes: Blue.
Hair: Dark.
Complexion: Fresh
Chest measurement: 35-37 inches.
Religion: Roman Catholic

Embarked: October 27,1915, Adelaide HMAT Benalla.

Disembarked: Marseille, France, April 3, 1916. (via Egypt)

Then came the Somme…

“… by letter from the trenches…”

September 28, 1916: Letter to the Red Cross Bureau from Anne McInerney.

“I have received information by letter from the trenches that my son has been wounded and posted as missing. I have not yet been notified by the military authorities and I have not received any letters from him for two mails and would be very thankful if you could assist me in any way by obtaining any information.
It was thought by the soldier who wrote me that he was wounded on or about the 25 of July.
Respectfully Yours.”

Perhaps unknown to Anne McInerney at the time, about a month after Nicholas was wounded and reported missing, her second son, Michael John was wounded and taken a prisoner of war. He was captured on August 22, 1916 in the battle of Mouquet Farm.

October 2, 1916: In a letter to the Minister of Defence from Anne McInerney, she repeats the news about her son, Nicholas, from the trenches and asks:

“ I have not been informed by the Defence Department re his (Nicholas’) injury and would like very much to know if there is any advice I should have received some time back and has been overlooked or if there is any information to be obtained now?
Respectfully yours…”

October 10, 1916: Letter to Anne McInerney from Officer In Charge, Base Records Melbourne.

“… I have to state no official report to any effect has been received respecting your son.
If you forward to this office authentic documentary evidence to the effect he has been wounded, upon receipt of same and if such action is warranted, inquiries will be instituted and the result when to hand will be transmitted to you.”

Four months pass and by mid-November, records show no casualty has been reported.
Then, on November 21, 1916 records purport to show Nicholas is “with unit”.

Some time in late 1916, Anne sought the assistance of Senator John Newland, whose son, Donald, was a captain in the 10th Battalion and was awarded the Military Cross.

In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the South Australian senator is said to have been a “destitute immigrant” in Adelaide.
He joined the South Australian railways as a lamp cleaner and worked as a guard on the Broken Hill-Terowie, SA line for more than 10 years.
The Jamestown McInerneys may have known him in this capacity or through their railway community network.
Anne used the railway friends and contacts to help find her son.

A Labor member in the South Australian House of Assembly and elected in 1906, Senator Newland was said to be a “dogged worker for his constituents”.
He volunteered for war service but was rejected because of his age.

December 28, 1916: Letter from South Australian Senator John Newland to Base Records, Melbourne. It is written on Senate stationary, address Parliament House, Adelaide.

“I would be glad if you will have enquiries made regarding the undermentioned – his mother, a widow, with 3 sons at the front (one a prisoner of war in Germany) would be glad to hear of him.
No. 3419, Pte Nicholas McInerney, 10th Battalion machine gunner … supposed to have been wounded in July last, his mother had letter to that effect from a lad who is now a prisoner. Shall be glad of early enquiries.”

January 4, 1917: To Senator Newland from Base Records, Melbourne.

“…No report of any description has been received concerning him, consequently from the official standpoint it can only be assumed he is with his unit.
If however definite authentic evidence at variance with the official advice can be produced immediate investigations will be made – without this I regret my instructions preclude any action being taken.”

“…this soldier is well and with his unit.”

For a third time, Anne is given hope her son is still alive.

January 4, 1917: Letter from the Red Cross Bureau, South Australian Division to Anne McInerney.

“…we beg to state that we are in receipt of information from the Commissioners to the effect that this soldier is well and with his unit.”

“ … he is a friend of mine…”

Undated: Letter from Miss Neta Sands of Lyndoch, SA, to Officer in Charge, Base Records, Melbourne. (Punctuation and capitalisation as in the letter.)
“Can you give me any information of Pte NL McInerney as he was reported missing, as he is a friend of mine I would be very grateful if you would send me further information as soon as possible, we have had no word from him since last July.”

August 5, 1917: Officer in Charge Base Records, Melbourne to Miss Sands.

“….I regret to state no further information has been received since he was reported missing between the 23rd and 25 July last.
The overseas authorities are doing their utmost to trace members of the Force …further information regarding the soldier will of course be promptly communicate(sic) to his mother.”

September 5, 1917: Letter from Base Records, Melbourne to Anne McInerney.

“I regret to inform you that no further official news has been received.”

Both Nicholas’ brothers, Michael and Patrick were making inquiries about him at the same time.

September 17, 1917:Anne McInerney responds and sends Base Records a letter from her prisoner-of-war son, Michael, which names a Sgt Corcoran, who it appears might be able to help in the search.
Records show this letter was returned to Anne.
She also states two other soldiers “spoke to 3419, Pte NL McInerney, after he was wounded.”
She said these men were Pte W Donald, Pioneers, 10th Battalion and a Pte Fowler, also 10th Battalion.

Later promoted to lieutenant, Thomas Leo Corcoran was another member of the 10th Battalion and another Military Cross recipient.
He enlisted in Adelaide at the famous Morphettville muster, where Nicholas’ brother Michael also joined. They both embarked for Anzac on the same ship, the Ascanius.
More significantly perhaps, Lieutenant Corcoran was a railway man.
He also was one of three brothers serving at the same time.
Lieutenant Corcoran died of his wounds in May 1918, at Borre, France. He was 28.
See his well-documented story on the RSL Virtual War Memorial.

“… the case of No 3419…”

October 1917: Letter to Anne McInerney from Base Records, Melbourne.
“I return the letter which accompanied your report of (September) 17th ult. concerning the case of No. 3419….
“Representations have been made to London and as soon as any further report is to hand you will again be communicated with.”

February 2, 1918: Records show a court of enquiry of this date found Pte NL McInerney was killed in action “in the field, in France”.

It appears his mother was informed of the findings around the same time because she wrote to protest the constant and worrying delays, including the lack of a death certificate, which she needed to finalise her son’s affairs.

April, 9, 1918: Letter and package from the AIF to Anne McInerney containing the late Pte NL McInerney’s personal effects.

Effects - ex kit store - book 8: Scarf, cards, pieces of ribband, prayer books, playing cards, Pr. bed socks, photos and military books.

“ …do you not think it is quite time…”

June 27, 1918: Letter from Anne McInerney to Base Records, Melbourne.

“Some time ago an application was made for a death certificate … but the certificate has not come to hand.
It is now two years since this soldier was killed and six months since your office reported him such. Do you not think it is quite time your department gave this matter its due consideration?
I have two other sons abroad with the AIF. If any such trouble occurs where they are concerned and the department takes two years to finalise matters as they are at the present time doing then I, as a dependant on my sons, will be in difficult circumstances.
Neglected cases such as this do not give full due to those who have done their share nor any encouragement to others to enlist or aid recruiting.
I am yours etc…”

She is clearly exasperated and there is a hard edge to this letter.
Anne’s reference to enlistment and recruiting was a pointed political statement.
Australia had held two referenda on conscription to boost the dwindling numbers of soldiers as death rates of young men and officers on the Western Front soared.
The Australian public rejected conscription, a stand led by the Catholic Church.

Undated pension claim form entry describes Anne and Nicholas as “widowed mother-unmarried son”
The form shows Anne McInerney was granted a pension of two pounds a fortnight dated from August 1917.

July 3, 1918: Letter from Base Records, Melbourne containing a report of the death of Pte NL McInerney.

Perhaps this is the long awaited military equivalent of a death certificate.

No further correspondence from Anne McInerney is contained in the records.

However, correspondence to her from defence continued for another 10 years.

“…we have so far been unable to obtain any trace of the last resting place of your son…”

June 24, 1921: Letter from Major J M Lean, Base Records, Melbourne to Anne McInerney.
“I regret very much that, not withstanding the efforts of our Graves Services Unit, we have so far been unable to obtain any trace of the last resting place of your son, the late N L McInerney…
I shall be much obliged if you will let me have … any letters or communications that contain any reference to the circumstances surrounding his (Nicholas’) death, particularly the locality at which it occurred, or where he was last seen alive.
The reason …is to identify, if at all possible, those bodies that are being recovered but which have nothing on them to definitely establish identification and thus obviate the necessity of interring them in the new Military Cemeteries under the heading “An Unknown Australian Soldier”.

This letter is signed personally by Base Records officer Major J M Lean, who dealt with much of Anne’s correspondence. It reads like a last-ditch attempt at securing information that would help place a name on her son’s headstone.

Writer Ross Coulthart says at Pozieres many Australian soldiers who were grievously wounded died where they lay because the Germans shot stretcher-bearers.

1923: Anne McInerney signs receipts for Nicholas’ Memorial Plaque No 339458 and the Victory Medal. The plaques were often called “widows’ pennies” or “death pennies”.

Undated (with 1923 correspondence): Letter to the Secretary, Australian Grave Services Australia House, London from Principal Assistant Secretary Imperial War Graves Commission, Baker St., London.

“… in accordance with the agreement with the French and Belgian governments to remove scattered graves…it has been found necessary to exhume the bodies buried in certain areas.
Will you please inform the next of kin that the necessity for removal is much regretted but was unavoidable and give them every assurance that the work of reburial has been carried out carefully and reverently.”

September 13, 1928: Imperial War Graves Commission (Exhumation and Re-burial) Effects Form.
Inventory of Effects: Disc -119 N L ---IERNEY. 10th Batt AIF.

“…every measure of care and reverence…”

December 13, 1928: Letter from Base Records, Melbourne informing Anne the remains of her son had been found, more than 12 years after he was killed.

The map reference where Nicholas’ remains were found was 57d x5 b 0024.

“ … during the course of recent exhumation work in the vicinity of Pozieres, the Imperial War Graves Commission was successful in recovering the remains of this soldier, which have since been interred with every measure of care and reverence in Plot 21, Row F, Grave 14 Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 near, Beaumont Hamel, France.”

No personal signature, or officer’s name and Nicholas, earlier referred to as “your son, the late N L McInerney” is now “this soldier”.

What happened to Major Lean?

Nicholas’ great niece Kate Thompson-Bennett visited this grave in the 1990s, the only member of our family who has done so.

One of the most beautiful memorials where Nicholas is listed is the Roll of Honour at Adelaide Railway Station that is inscribed with the names of railway employees who served in the two world wars.

After the war…

Nicholas’ brother, Michael (Mac) McInerney was released from his German POW camp to England, via Holland
He returned to Adelaide in 1919.
In 1920 he married Hilda Gillespie, of Birkenhead and they lived in Cavendish Street, West Croydon. Miss Gillespie was the daughter of HMCS Protector petty officer James Gillespie. The Protector was a South Australian ship that served at the Boxer Rebellion in China from 1900 to 1901.

Michael last served in the 3 Infantry Training Unit during World War 2.

He retained lifelong connections to the RSL in South Australia. He was president of the West Croydon Kilkenny RSL, in Adelaide’s Western suburbs and acted as an advocate for returned servicemen, helping them to secure their entitlements. He was also a councillor.
His first-born son, Desmond John, was killed by a Japanese sniper in the Ramu Valley of Papua New Guinea in 1943, aged 19.
Michael died in 1956, aged 67.

The third brother, Patrick, died in 1946, aged 55.

A fourth brother Laurence Eiffe McInerney served in World War 2 and was taken a prisoner of war by the Japanese.
He died within a few months of his older brother Michael in August 1956.

The last direct family link to these men was their niece, my mother, Cecilia (Sheila) Margaret Thompson (nee McInerney) who died in Adelaide in 2003.
She was born in 1920, four years after Nicholas’ death.

Nicholas’ memorial plaque was first in the care of his sisters, who also lived in West Croydon and Glenelg, then it passed on to his niece Cecilia and when she died, to me.

Sources: Charles Bean, One man’s struggle to report the Great War and tell the truth, Ross Coulthart, Harper Collins 2014.
The Fighting 10th, Cecil B L Lock, Webb and Son Adelaide 1936.

Showing 2 of 2 stories


Medals: 1914-15 Star, British war Medal, Victory Medal

"Late Pte N. L. McInerney 

Mrs. A. McInerney, of Kapunda, has received news this week that her eldest son, Pte. Nicholas L. McInerney was killed in France, on or about July 23, 1914, at which time he was reported as missing. The deceased was 31 years of age. Before enlisting in October 1915, he was engaged in railway work in the Port Lincoln District, and enlisted from there. He left for the front in October, 1915, and after a brief period in Egypt was among the first Australians to go to France. He there joined a machine gun section, connected with the 10th Battalion, and was in the fight at Poziers, after which he was reported missing. Pte. McInerney had two brothers at the front — Pte. P. McInerney, who is in France and Sgt. M. J. McInerney a prisoner of war in Germany." - from the Adelaide Register 19 Dec 1917 (