As usual I am participating in Kintalk‘s (Auckland City Libraries) annual Trans Tasman ANZAC day blog challenge. This year I am featuring my father’s three great uncles Robert, John and Denis Patrick Finn who enlisted in World War One. Although all three returned to Australia, I believe that the experience changed them and their lives were totally different from what they might have been had not war intervened.
John and Sarah Finn emigrated from County Wicklow, Ireland in 1882 to Queensland with their eldest son Robert. Another son James was born on the voyage and a further eight children were born in Queensland, Australia.
Their youngest son Denis Patrick Finn was the first of the Finn brothers to enlist on 19 September 1915 in Brisbane. Denis was 19 years old and single and working as a labourer at the time of his enlistment. He joined the 52nd Battalion. Denis was wounded in action in France and was the only Finn brother to become a prisoner of war in Germany. In September 1916 he sent his sister Sarah Jane Jewsbury a postcard:
Just a postcard to let you know that I am getting on very well and my wound is nearly better. I am at a German Camp here, you can send me anything you like at the address on the other side in full. We get no money here so you can tell Kitty to send me a pound or so. Good bye, best love to all. Tell Kitty to write.
Denis was also mentioned in despatches (not dated) for bravery under fire and it is probably at this time that he was wounded. In 1923 Denis married and had two children but the marriage did not last and by the early 1930s Denis had been convicted of a number or petty crimes. He was also using the alias Johan Romanoff and perhaps this was someone who he had met in the prison camp or at some other point during the war.
Denis seems to have disappeared after that and I’m still to trace when and where he died.
Robert Finn, the eldest son was the next to enlist on 12 February 1916 in Cairns and he joined the 9th Battalion. Prior to that he was working as a miner at Wolfram in Queensland and was still single at 36 years of age. Like Denis, Robert was also sent to France and returned to Australia on 18 July 1919. Robert never married and died in Mount Morgan hospital in 1953 but prior to his death he was living in Bouldercombe, another mining town in Queensland.
John Finn was the third brother to enlist on 10 June 1916 in Brisbane. He was also single, working as a labourer and 26 years old. He too saw service in France and returned to Australia on 2 June 1919. Like his older brother Robert, John never married and spent time working on the sugar cane plantations in north Queensland. John died in Cairns in 1967 and had been living at Trinity Bay.
All three brothers received the 1914-18 Star Medal, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for their service overseas.
Why did Robert and John never marry? Were they just confirmed bachelors or did the war change how they viewed their world? Why did they live so far away from their family? Would Denis have turned to petty crime if he had not gone to war or not spent time in a prisoner of war camp? Not only did the war impact on the brothers but it also must have impacted on their father and their siblings. My grandmother would never talk about her mother’s family so I will probably never know but as more and more records are digitised and made more easily accessible I can continue to slowly piece together their stories.
Lest we forget.