Patrick Francis FITTELL


FITTELL, Patrick Francis

Service Number: 3108
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 58th Infantry Battalion
Born: North Carlton, Vic., 1895
Home Town: Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria
Schooling: St. Brigid's Roman Catholic School North Fitzroy Vic.
Occupation: Printer
Died: Killed in Action, France, 26 November 1916
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, Picardie, France, St Sever Cemetery Extension, Haute-Normandie, France
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)
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World War 1 Service

26 Nov 1915: Involvement Private, SN 3108, 23rd Infantry Battalion
26 Nov 1915: Embarked Private, SN 3108, 23rd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Commonwealth, Melbourne
26 Nov 1916: Involvement SN 3108, 58th Infantry Battalion

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Biography contributed by Sharyn Roberts

Patrick was the only son of Syrian-born Michael Fittell, who arrived from Tripoli on the Yarra in July 1890 at the age of 19 and lived briefly in Tasmania before settling in Melbourne. In 1894 he married Mary Quirk, who was born in Tipperary, and their son Patrick was born in 1895. Michael was a bootmaker whose business was then situated at 705 Rathdowne Street, not in the building at that address today but in an earlier and clearly fairly primitive structure. After he moved out in 1912 and relocated across the street at 418 Rathdowne Street on the corner of Fenwick Street, the building at 705 was not occupied again and was eventually demolished and replaced by the present brick structure in 1940. A daughter, Mary Agnes, was born to Michael and Mary in 1898.At the age of four she was involved in an inquest into the death of another child, Violet Wood, aged five, who lived with a registered nurse, Mrs Elizabeth Nichol, at 130 Curtain Street. The girls were playing together when "a childish quarrel sprang up and the younger child struck the other a blow over the left eye with a stick." Violet became ill, dying several days later, and the post mortem showed that the injury had contributed indirectly to the death. After the Coroner pointed out that the child who struck the blow was not of an age to distinguish right from wrong, the jury "found a verdict accordingly" and the child "who was quite unaware of the meaning of the proceedings left the court with her mother". In 1907, when Patrick was twelve and Mary Agnes nine, their mother died. Being left the sole parent of two young children may have been what motivated Michael to apply for naturalisation, which he did in October 1908. He had been in Australia for some 18 years and in Carlton for almost 15. He supplied all the information required and took the Oath of Allegiance before a police magistrate but two days later his application was rejected. "It appears from your Statutory Declaration that you are a native of Syria. You are, therefore, not eligible to apply."1,2

Citizen or not, Michael gave in writing his "full consent" when his son Patrick enlisted in July 1915. He was just 20, a printer's assistant with two years' experience in the 60th Infantry and he stated that he had previously been rejected because of his eyesight. He was assigned to the 58th Battalion and embarked on the Commonwealth in November 1915. He spent the first half of 1916 in Egypt where he was promoted to Corporal and in June 1916 joined the British Expeditionary Force in France. Communication with families at home was difficult. In August 1916 Mary wrote to the Officer in Charge at Base Records asking for information about the whereabouts of her brother. Several weeks later a Miss Scott of Haverbrack Avenue, Malvern, wrote asking for Patrick's number and battalion, saying that she believed "he left Victoria the beginning of November last." Having arrived in France in June 1916, Patrick was wounded in action in July but able to remain on duty. In the following month he was treated in hospital for "septic face" and "septic chin" but rejoined his unit on 12 September. Exactly two months later he was appointed Lance Sergeant and just a fortnight after that he was killed in action and buried near Ligny Thilloy. On 27 December 1916 the following paragraph appeared in The Argus under the headline Casualties in France.3

Lance-Sergeant Patrick Francis Fittell who is reported to have been killed in action is a Syrian lad [born and raised in Carlton with an Irish mother!] of 21 years of age. He was educated at St Brigid's School, North Fitzroy and employed at the Government Printing Office. He was a member of the 60th Citizen forces, Princes Hill. He is the only son of Mr M Fittell, bootmaker of Rathdown Street, North Carlton. A striking coincidence is that he sailed from Australia on November 26 1915 and was killed on November 26 1916.
"A striking coincidence" seems hardly appropriate for the devastating loss to Michael and Mary of their son and brother. His father's pain is clear in the letter he wrote in August 1917 to the Officer in Charge, Base Records. "My son (number 3108 L.Sgt. P F Fittell "A" company 58th Batt. formerly of 23rd Batt.) was killed in action nearly nine months ago. So far I have received no satisfactory information about his death or burial. If you could enlighten me as to how he was killed and where he was buried I would be most grateful." The reply was not what he was hoping for. "I enclose certificate of report of death". The certificate stated "Killed in action in France." In the same month his family received a registered parcel containing his effects described as Disc, Rosary beads, Wallet, Cards, Photos, Religious Medallion (metal). Mary wrote asking whether his kitbag could be returned to them, but the reply was that no other effects had been received. A war pension of 30 shillings per fortnight was granted to Patrick's father but Mary's claim was refused on the grounds that she "was not dependent on the soldier".In November 1921, after 31 years in Australia and now aged 50, Michael again applied for naturalisation, renouncing his Syrian citizenship and again taking the Oath of Allegiance. As was required, he placed advertisements announcing his intention in both The Age and The Argus. Several local shopkeepers vouched for him, describing him as "a loyal subject" who "had been anxious for his son to enlist and fight for Britain". This time he was successful. His name first appears on the electoral roll in 1927. Michael Fittell continued to work as a bootmaker at 418 Rathdowne Street until 1934, when he would have been 63 years old. Since 1927 he and Mary had been living almost opposite his shop in a very substantial double-storied terrace house at 749 Rathdowne Street. Michael died in 1936 at the age of 65. Mary appears never to have married. She remained at the house in Rathdowne Street until 1941, thereafter living in Pascoe Vale, where she died in 1958 at the age of 63.

For centuries it has been common for young men to do as Michael Fittell did in leaving his homeland and starting a new life without any family support. Over decades many became the patriarchs of large and prosperous extended families, as he must have one stage hoped to do. But it was not to be for Michael Fittell.

Notes and References:
1 The Argus, 1 September 1902, p. 9 and 2 September 1902 p. 6
2 There is some doubt about Mary's age. Her marriage certificate suggests a birth year of 1868 which would have made her 39 when she died rather than 43 as her death record states.
3 The Argus, 27 December 1916, p. 7