Fragments of identity disc : Private A S Clingan, 53 Battalion, AIF : Pheasant Wood mass grave, Fromelles

Place Europe: France, Nord Pas de Calais, Nord, Lille, Fromelles
Accession Number REL47107
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Aluminium
Maker Unknown
Date made c 1915
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Two fragments of an identity disc. Engraved with italic script on larger fragment is 'A I [F - indistinct] Med' [Methodist].

History / Summary

3168 Private Alexander 'Alick' Stanley Clingan was the son of Ruth and the late William Clingan of Newtown in Sydney. He was 21 years old when he left his job as an ironworker's assistant and enlisted in the first AIF. He was sent to Egypt, where he joined the 53rd Battalion and, after a period of training, was sent to fight on the Western Front.

On 19 July 1916 Australian and British infantry cooperated to attack a German position near the town of Fromelles. While small parts of the German position were captured, casualties were so heavy in most parts of the line that troops in these small advanced positions were forced to retire. The Australian 5th Division suffered 5,533 casualties in the 14 hours of the battle and would be incapable of serious offensive action for many months.

One of those casualties was Private Alick Clingan. Little is known what of happened to Clingan during the battle, although his mother received letters from his mates who told her they saw him go over the top on that date but did not see him again. He was officially posted as missing for some months.

Eventually, word was received from German authorities that Alick Clingan was dead and had been buried by the Germans. His identification disc was sent from Germany to confirm this. Finally, Clingan's family were officially informed of his fate. However, for more than 90 years he had no known grave and was commemorated only by name at VC Corner cemetery near Fromelles.

This would change in 2009, when a mass grave was located in Pheasant Wood, very close to the site of the battle. This grave had been used by the Germans to bury British and Australian dead following the battle, and had not been discovered in the years following the war when battlefield cemeteries were constructed and formalised.

Many of the remains in the grave could be identified as Australian by artefacts buried with them. The remains of Alick Clingan were identified through DNA testing, thanks to samples given by his living relatives. He is now buried in the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery under the inscription: "Son of William and Ruth. Greatly loved, never forgotten, in God's care".