Tuesday 13 November 2007 by Craig Tibbitts. 34 comments
To Flanders Fields, 1917, Frontline troops, Passchendaele (Ypres)

As haunting as any image of the ghosts of Passchendaele is this studio portrait photo of the Seabrook brothers, the sons of William and Fanny Seabrook of Five Dock in Sydney NSW.

Theo (age 25) and George (age 24) were both privates, while their younger brother William (age 20), with his previous military experience, soon made it to Second Lieutenant.  William had in fact joined the AIF back in August 1915, but this had somehow fallen through as he was discharged two months later.  At any rate, he joined up again with his two elder brothers in August 1916 and they left Sydney together as part of the 17th Reinforcements for the 17th Infantry Battalion

By the time they got over to Belgium to actually join their unit it was already June 1917 and preparations were well underway for the great offensive at Ypres.  The Battle of Menin Road that began on 20 September 1917 was the first engagement of Australian infantry in this offensive and proved a stunning success.

But despite this success, for the Seabrook boys it was their first, last and only battle.  All three were mortally wounded in action, and died in the days immediately afterwards.  For some the war was very short, but the sacrifice was nevertheless the full measure. 

One can scarcely begin to imagine what went through the minds of William and Fanny Seabrook, and how they might come to terms with this perhaps baffling and seemingly pointless loss of their three cherished sons.

William is buried at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, just west of Ypres.  George and Theo's remains were either never identified or never found, so they  are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.

Comments

Aaron Pegram

Another poignant article Craig, and a particularly haunting photo. Menin Road was surely one of the first 'bite and hold' engagements for the Passchendaele ridge, but wasn't Messines the first engagement Australians took part in during the Ypres offensive? Cheers, Aaron Editor's comment: Thanks Aaron. Although the Battle of Messines was very nearby (both in distance and timing), I tend to view it as a separate battle in its own right. Certainly the Ypres offensive was dependent on clearing the southern flank around Messines, so I can understand you viewing it as part of Third Ypres - indeed most good books on the topic include a chapter on Messines. But it's traditionally regarded as a seperate battle and not one of the recognised phases of Third Ypres. In an earlier post I've listed the eight recognised phases of Third Ypres beginning with Pilckem Ridge on 31 July. Cheers, Craig PS: Perhaps you'd like to post the paper you gave last night to the ASA on this blog? It will be closing soon, but will remain on the AWM website. If you're interested I'd recommend just focussing on the personal story of Albert at Polygon Wood. Just email it to me and as editor, I'd have to check it over first, but I could then post it under your name. Keep it concise - you need only tell the story of the actual offensive or the battle in the briefest and most basic terms. As I said, best to concentrate on the personal story. Just include a couple of photos if you like (we'll of course use the one in the AWM collection). What do you think?

Kevin McSweeney

Another tragic story. Are you aware of the 4 Keid brothers who died during WW1 albeit at different times. The names of 3 of them are on the Graceville war memorial in Brisbane? Leaving another sad family. Regards, Kevin McSweeney. Editor's note: Hi Kevin, thanks for your comment. No, I hadn't ever heard of the Keid brothers. A quick look at their online Roll of Honour entries reveals they died at three of our momentous battles; Gallipoli, Somme 1916 and Passchendaele. I also did a Google search and discovered someone has written a book about them (The brothers Keid by Cedric Hampson). Have you read this? I notice our library at the AWM doesn't have a copy, so I'll recommend to our librarian that we get one. The online link for details and ordering info is here. Cheers, Craig.

Kristie Harrison

These three men were my great great uncles and I know personally of the shockwave felt by not only their parents, but of the successive generation (in particular my great grandfather - their younger brother). The pain was too great for him to speak of in his lifetime. My family have loaned our family artifacts (postcards, photos, letters, medals, plaques etc) to the Memorial Museum in Passchendaele for their recent exhibition and opening of their new Tyne Cot visitors centre. We had hoped this will help to 'tell the story of our Seabrook boys' and set the story down for our future generations. Thank you for highlighting them here and acknowledging their brief, but heartfelt contribution to the war. Regards, Kristie Harrison

Mary Hall

Thank you Craig Tibbitts for bringing the history of the Seabrook brothers to us. My great uncle, Private George Scrivener, 4070 died on Sept 20 1917 at Ypres. George was 27 when he died and he is remembered at Menin Gate Memorial. Like many families, we had 6 men that I know of in the war. In early 1917, while my great aunt, Hope, was "heartbroken" and writing to the army for any news of her brother, George, who she had heard through the grapevine was injured; feared missing; her own 18 year old son, Cecil, who was a clerk, was enlisting in the army. The next year got worse for Hope. Her brother, George died Sept 1917, and her young son in 1918, Private Cecil Herbert McKeown, 3442 died of wounds on the Western Front and is buried in France, March 30, 1918. It is tragic that so many strong young Australians were never bought home. I can't imagine this being condoned today. Logistics would have been incredible but somehow we owed it to them. It was the very least we should have done. George's mother was 66 years old when he was killed at Ypres. She deserved to have a grave to put flowers on, a place to mourn her youngest son. His was the greatest sacrifice a man can give to his country. His country owes his mother the best it can do for her in her grief. No doubt these men and women would not have asked for this. They were much too humble and in awe of authority and hardly ever asked for anything all their lives. Such a scheme now might be impractical but haven't we done impractical things before? I guess I don't believe in overseas graves for our soldiers. If a man is willing to lay down his life for his country the very least his country can do for him is to bring him home, even if they can't find his body, bring home and bury a memorial of him. Go through the motions and give the family a burial in their own land, somewhere to really remember him. Families should have more than a name on a list to look at on Anzac Day. There should be a plot and a headstone in their own country for each of them. I feel very strongly about this and hope others feel the same too. I understand the rules about this were changed after WW2, but what are we doing about all those soldiers now? This is something that needs a sweeping government action that will mean more than a tear in a politician's eye on Anzac Day. Sorry if I sound too radical but I really believe in this. Thank you for listening; Mary H

Tim O'Brien

I am writing an article on the Seabrook brothers and would like to get in touch with Kristie Harrison to get some background material. My address is timobrien@mcelhone.com.au so Kristie if you are out there please make contact.

Robyn Lloyd

My Grandfather was Albert Seabrook a cousin of the Seabrook Brothers I also would like to get in touch with Kristie Harrison.

Karen Anderson

I have always been very interested in WWI and I was wondering if there is a site that lists all relatives that were killed during the war. I have found one that list brothers killed on the same day, but was wondering if a larger list exists
Thanks

Editor's response: Hi Karen. Sorry, I'm not aware of any such comprehensive list of relatives killed during the war. I'm currently researching the history of the 56th Battalion, and so far I've identified about fifty sets of brothers and several cousins all serving in that unit, and I'm sure I'll find more as I go on. I was surprised there were so many and assume it was similar in other units. Of those fifty, it appears that in a dozen cases one of the brothers died while the other survived. In three cases, both died, but not on the same day. Regards, Craig.

Hugh Garner

There were 3 Hunter brothers killed in WW1, two of them on the same day 27/08/1915. Editor's response: Thanks for this info Hugh. I've looked them up and found Frederick (age 26) and Maurice (age 22) were both killed at Gallipoli serving with 18th Battalion. It was their first battle, having only landed on Gallipoli five days before. Their younger brother William was just 21 when he lost his life on the Western Front at Pozières with the 45th Battalion almost exactly one year later. It must have been a fearful blow to their parents, Edward and Fanny. The family was from Redfern in Sydney. It would be great if someone could find photographs of these men as the Memorial apparently has none to attach to their Roll of Honour entries online. If anyone can help, please click here. Regards, Craig Tibbitts Curator Official Records.

Doug Carruthers

Choat Brothers. 32nd Batalion A company.

Raymond Choat aged 24, Wesley Choat MM aged 20 and Archibald Choat aged 18 from S. Aust, Were three brothers who enlisted on the same day in 1915, regimental numbers 66,67 and 68.
Raymond and Archibald were KIA on the 20/7/1916 at Fromelles
and Wesley was taken POW on the same day. Wesley later escaped and walked out through Holland (Red Cross Archives. Aust War Mem Site) and returned to Aust in 1918.

Editor's response: Many thanks Doug. Do you know of any photos of Raymond and Wesley. If so, please contact the Memorial's Photographs Section as they're always looking for photos of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Craig Tibbitts

Doug Carruthers

Further to my earlier post... results of google search on Choat Brothers PDF] BIBLIOGRAPHY Records held by the Australian War Memorial AWM 8 ...File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat Choat, WP: ‘A Bold Bid for Freedom: War Prisoners’ Experiences’ (no details, ... Kerr, Greg: ‘Lost Anzacs: The Story of Two Brothers’ (OUP, Melbourne, 1997) ... www.library.unsw.edu.au/~thesis/adt-ADFA/uploads/approved/adt-ADFA20051115.094949/public/13bibliography.pdf - Similar pages

Bill Field

One can but speculate on the cataclysmic reaction to the parents of these three young men killed in the war. During a visit to my uncle's grave at the Tyne-cot cemetery a few years ago I learned of an even more horrific story of an event during the battle of Vimy Ridge, a Canadian mother Mrs Williams, lost her seven sons. When one looks back at the unimaginable horror that soldiers of every nation faced during that dreadful war it is quite remarkable that any of them survived with their sanity intact. The only marks left on earth by my uncle are his medals,memorial plaque, his enlistment photo and a handful of letters which have been treasured thru the years...his last letter written three weeks before he was killed at Passchendaele on the eve of his 22nd birthday....some present eh?

Editor's response: Thanks for this Bill, indeed another heavy price to pay. I did a bit of quick checking but couldn't find anything about a Canadian family named Williams who lost seven sons. I did however find out a little about the Wood family from Canada who lost five sons. There has apparently been confusion over the years as to whether they lost five, seven or eight sons to the war. From what I could figure out, they lost five during the war, but a further two were seriously wounded and may well have died after the war of those wounds. The mother's name was Charlotte Wood and the boys lost were a mixture of sons and stepsons. I found this article online about their sacrifice. I will contact my colleague at the Canadian War Museum and see if he knows any more. I also stumbled across another that lost five sons, the Beechey family from Lincolnshire in the UK. There's a short article on them here. I bet the more you looked, the more cases like these you'd probably find. Perhaps in the east where the scale of losses were staggering (and the recordkeeping poor), you'd probably hear stories of some Russian, Turkish or east European family that lost even more than five or seven to the war. Regards, Craig Tibbitts Curator Official Records Research Centre Australian War Memorial

Craig Tibbitts

I've just discovered that one of the five Beechey brothers killed in the war was serving with the Australians. This was Lance Corporal Harold Reeve Beechey, who was killed in action whilst serving with the 48th Infantry Battalion at Bullecourt on 10 April 1917. Craig Tibbitts

Jo-Anne Border

After reading the article in the Daily telegraph today, I was surprised to find that only 5 sets of brothers were killed in World War 1. Our family lost 2 brothers, John Reginald Storer, who is remembered at Villers Breonneux and William Edgar Storer, who is buried at Bancourt British Cemetery near Albert. William was apparently killed in the last battle of the war onthe 5th of October 1918. In 2003, I took my mother to find the grave of my Great Uncles and her Uncles. I think we would have been the only visitors to Williams grave from the family. My mothers brother Harry, had the medals and was able to see the photographs of the grave before he passed away a couple of years ago.

Charrelle Davis

These three brave souls were my great, great uncles. My great grandmother (the youngest of the siblings) was only a child when this tragedy occured. This event has left a permanent mark for the generations following. Photos of the boys can be found still hanging in the homes of our more senior relatives. Along with these comes the stories of the families suffering. They haven't been forgotten.

brian scanlon

hi sorry for butting in from the other side of the world, five conlon brothers from sligo ireland lost their lives in ww1, in all 8 brothers were in the war

Monique Seabrook

God Bless. long live the Seabrook's i will for ever remember my great great uncles. Monique Seabrook

Karen Smith

My partner's grandfather along with 4 of his brothers enlisted in WWI, two of them never returned. Two of the 5 brothers enlisted under different/false names and I was wondering if there was some rule at the time that only allowed so many sons from the one family to enlist?

Kevin McSweeney

The discussions Craig have been very interesting. The Christophers family of New Zealand also lost 4 sons in WW1. One brother died each year of that war.

Carolyn Stamp

Hi. I was wondering if you could find any information on John Wesley Stamp. He was in the 37th Battallion and died at age 22 on 7/6/1917.

Stephen Brooks

I have been researching sets of Australian brothers who lost their lives during WW1 for nearly 18 months. I have recorded the names of over 2,800 confirmed sets brothers who lost their lives, serving just with Australian forces. This figure includes 42 fathers and sons, who both died. It has been a more than poignant task, it has been gut wrenching at times, but one that gives a much deeper understanding of the sacrifice made by the AIF. I have not completed the work, and it could reach almost 3,000 sets of brothers. So far I have found 151 families that lost at least three sons, and at least 5 of those lost 4 sons. These figures do not include any brothers who died serving with other Commonwealth forces, I have recorded them seperately, and have found a further 147 families who had at least one brother who died serving in the AIF, and at least one other brother who died serving with another British or dominion force. The Beechey family is included in this group. The great majority of course are pairs of brothers, and over 160 pairs of brothers lost their lives on the same day, the majority often serving in the same unit, so literally dying side by side. The slaughter at Fromelles caused the death of 25 sets of brothers and two fathers and sons. The sacrifice made by so many families is unimaginable. Many families are better known like the Howell-Price, Keid, Seabrook and Leane brothers, but many are also almost forgotten, perhaps not having any descendants to commerate the lives they gave in the service of their country. The grief and suffering endured by their families, and the family's contribution to Australia should be remembered. The 2800 sets of brothers translates into over 6000 dead Australians, or 10% of our total casualties. This means in every group of 20 killed were a pair of brothers. The AIF was desperately short of men for much of the war, and no rules were put in place to limit the number of volunteers, but I have come across many examples where steps were taken to bring home the still surviving brothers from families who had already lost two sons. In one case the people of the small township took up a petition asking for the return of the survinging brother, and in other cases, deperate mothers and fathers, implored the authorities to send at least one son home. Of course many thousands of families lost just the one son or brother, many of them an only son or brother, and their grief and pain was no less. Lest we forget.

reg stevens

i am keen to correspond with Stephen Brooks re his research of brothers died on service in w.w.1. our war memorial has 2 brothers A SENDY & W SENDY named as died on service. their 2 sons served in w.w.2 i cannot find any info on these 2 men under that name. i am thinking that they were possibly of german descent and changed their surnames. the 2 sons were born as SENDY in 1908 & 1913. Stephen's research may provide an answer. the names are on the Northam Memorial in WA. I am researching all 77 names on that memorial for he RSL. any help appreciated

Michelle Morrison

My Grandmothers 3 brothers Edmund,William and Daniel Conway of Berry NSW all served in the AIF in WW1 William and Daniel were both killed in France.William is commemorated on the memorial war at Villers Brettoneux and Daniel has a grave there. Edmond returned at the end of the war and also enlisted in WW2. I have photos of Daniel and of his original burial site in France and a few of William in, I think, Egypt.( copies) I also have original postcards sent from Edmond and also an original group photo "No 20 Class,Physical & Bayonet Training HQ Gymnasium,Aldershot.Aug 1918" On the back of this photo which is mounted on the original cardboard are the names of all the soldiers in order with their regiment number written by I think Edmund. Does any one know how to preserve these or what i can do with them? Thanks Michelle

Sandra McKessar

Is there a way of finding out how many lots of 4 brothers were killed in WW1. The Reid family of Udny Aberdeenshire lost 4 boys, Alexander (serving with the Canadians) his twin brother William, Robert and James. One can only imagine the pain that family went through.

Craig Tibbitts says:

Hi Sandra, It looks like Stephen Brooks is all over this topic (see comment No. 20 above). I assume he will publish something as a result of his research at some stage. Cheers, Craig Tibbitts

Ann

I have 5 different distant great uncles that were killed in WW1. Miller Mack was wounded in action and returned to Aust and died in 1919. Two brothers Cyril Rigney was killed in action July 1917 and Rufus Rigney died Oct 1917 buried in Belgium. Francis Varcoe killed in action May 1917 Arthur Thomas Walker killed in action Aug 1916 Lest We Forget

Jenny Watson

I am keen to contact Reg Stevens re the Sendy Brothers. July 12th 2009. I have been trying to find out what happened to A.Sendy for a elderly relative. I believe he lived in West Australia, and have found his 2 boys in WW2, and their burials, and would like to be able to tell his elderly relation what happened to him. What did he change his name to? Where is he buried etc. Thank you Jenny Jenealogy44@hotmail.com

Marie Arnold

I have 4 great uncles (O;Gorman) boys Thomas, Timothy, John and Cornelius who were all killed within 12 months - different battles 2 in belguim and 2 in France. Their brother who was still fighting was sent home - it basically wiped out that side of our family

Paul Thompson

I have record in my Family history of three brothers from Newtown in Sydney., the are 25552 Gunner Bernard Rudd Thompson ,3306 Private Reginald Philip Thompson and 2410 Private Richard Thompson they were all sons of Richard Rudd Thompson of 566 Kings Street Newtown . They may not be recorded as one enlisted in Melbourne. Thanks Paul Thompson.

Jim Kelton

Hey Craig I feel almost selfish now after having read many of the emails on this site. I have been trying to find the resting place of my great uncle Cpl William Edmond Finn, 2591 (4th Battalion), of Bungulla (Tenterfield). Whilst he had three other brothers enlist in the AIF, William was the only one to pay the ultimate price, killed in action in France in April 1918. Another brother, Martin Richard, (56th Battalion) was wounded in France in 1917 but survived the war. As with so many other young men who died on the Western Front, William has no known grave site to mark the place of his death / burial and has only a mention on the memorial at Villers-Brettoneux. The curious thing about his burial is that on his military records held by the AWM / National Archive, William's identity discs were recovered and that raises the question that if his identity discs were handed in then there must have been a place where they were found and if so, there should be a record of the 'place', and yet official records state that there is no such record. However, I also found in his records a reference to a burial for William, near Strazeele Stn (presumably station?) and what appears to be some map coordinates......surely some kind of effort could be made by the War Graves Commission or even the AWM / Commonwealth Government / Dept of Veterans Affairs to find this specific location ? It would mean so very much to his family......still after all those years. The same situation might exist for a number of other 'missing' servicemen and their last resting place on the Western Front? Fingers crossed. AWM and National Archives do a wonderful job on recording and documenting and this website is great. Please keep it up, Craig. Thanks. Regards Jim Kelton

Taina

how sad

Peter O'Reilly

To the Seabrook descendants, I am researching to write a book about Theo, William and George. I have gathered some birth and death certificates but want to find some details of the death of the father and the birth location of Theo. Any help would be appreciated.

Joanne van Os

Hello Craig would you be able to tell me if the AIF ever instituted a policy of not allowing brothers to serve in the same units, to avoid them being in the same battle and all being killed at the same time? I have a feeling I've read this but haven't been able to find evidence of it anywhere. I've scanned the messages on this board, and it does appear it wasn't a policy, if three brothers were killed at Passchendale in 1917. Very grateful for your advice, Joanne van Os

Craig Tibbitts says:

Hi Joanne, No, the AIF never had a policy of keeping brothers out of the same unit. In fact it seemed to be quite acceptable to have them serving together, to the extent that you could often successfully request for a brother in another unit to be transferred into your own. By way of example, in one infantry battalion I've been researching, I've found over 70 sets of brothers. Regards, Craig Tibbitts (AWM)

karen ellison

Regarding the chOat brothers, I have found a site that not only has their military details but their photos. It has a huge number of these from all statesIincluding unit photos from SA.