“Your brothers were laying there, they had been killed…”
Privates Stephen Charles Allen and Robert Beattie Allen were literally brothers-in-arms. The brothers from Manly in New South Wales had enlisted within a week of each other in July 1915, both with the 13th Infantry Battalion. After embarking from Australia in September of that year the brothers were first sent to Egypt for several months. Unaware of the conditions that awaited them at the Western Front they, like many others, were subsequently glad to leave Egypt. Stephen remarked in one letter home that in Egypt they were “dying a sure but slow death” due to the sand and the heat.
They now found themselves on the Western Front in France, half a world away from home. With subtle humour Stephen remarked in one letter that they now had “plenty of company especially of a night time, the rats come and kiss us good night and run about over us just as though we were a public roadway…” Despite the incessant rain and mud, bitter cold and hellish artillery fire, he also managed to cultivate a poppy plant in one of the trenches and sent one of its flowers home to his family in Australia. The constant shell fire and horrendous conditions at the front did not prevent the brothers from remembering their sister Minnie’s birthday and they both sent ornate birthday cards to her from the front.
On August 14th 1916, in the midst of the fighting around Mouquet Farm in France, the brothers failed to report back in after fatigue duty. Originally listed as missing in action it would take several months and several witness testimonies to ascertain their fate. A letter from Private Will Hale to one of the Allen sisters describes what happened that fateful day. He wrote that:
“When the shell had exploded I knew by the screams that someone had caught it. I could not get through for some time, as I was half silly through the shock. However when I could get through, my brother was seriously wounded and your [two] brothers were laying there, they had been killed…”
Stephen Charles Allen and Robert Beattie Allen, the brothers who had embarked and served together, were killed together by the same artillery shell while walking beside each other. Stephen was 25 years old and Robert was 27 years old. Their letters home, including the birthday cards to their sister and the preserved poppy, been digitised as part of the Anzac Connections digitisation project and are available to view online here.
The preserved poppy that Stephen Charles Allen sent to his family at home.