• PB0345

    Staff Nurse Victoria Christensen (second from left) with fellow nurses prior to boarding HMAT Orsova (A67).

    Poul and Ernestine Christensen were born in Germany and immigrated to Australia. The couple settled with their five children, in Tiaro, Queensland, where Poul worked as a carpenter. In 1910, Ernestine applied to become a naturalised Australian subject, but rather than note her real birth place of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, she claimed that she was born in Denmark.

    When war broke out in 1914, four of the five Christensen children enlisted for service. Their eldest child, Victoria Dorothy, volunteered as a nurse for the war effort on 12 June 1915. Victoria had undertaken her training at a children’s hospital and had worked for five years prior to enlisting, during which she also acted as a matron. Victoria, along with most other members of the Australian Army Nursing Service, embarked from Australia on HMAT Orsova in July 1915. She commenced duty at No. 6 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, but also served at the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital in England. At the end of the war, Sister Christensen was posted to Bombay before being discharged in July 1919.

    Poul and Ernestine’s eldest son, Andrew, was the last of all three sons to enlist. Andrew worked as a grazier in the Maryborough region before joining on 2 June 1916. He was assigned to the 21st reinforcements of the 15th Battalion and departed Brisbane on 21 October aboard HMAT Boonah. Andrew proceeded to France to reinforce the 15th Battalion, where he served in Étaples, Boulogne and Le Havre before he was wounded in action. Andrew was hit by shrapnel between his knee and his ankle, which fractured both his tibia and fibula, and he was transferred to a hospital in England before returning to Australia in late 1917.

    The second eldest, Paul, known as Dan, worked as a tester and grader in Bundaberg. Dan enlisted on 9 March 1916 and had been married to his wife, Margaret, for only two months before he departed Brisbane aboard the same ship as Andrew. Dan also served with the 15th Battalion as a stretcher bearer and he played tuba in the band. As part of this battalion, Dan was involved in attack on the Hindenburg Line on 11 April, 1917. Dan suffered from trench fever for the latter part of 1917 and returned to Australia in mid-1919.

    The Christensens’ youngest son, Victor, enlisted before his older brothers on 30 September 1915. Victor was only 20 when he joined the Australian Imperial Force but was 21 before he departed Brisbane aboard HMAT Commonwealth with the 15th Battalion in March 1916. Victor trained at Egypt and Alexandria before he was transferred to the 42nd Battalion on the Western Front. He was killed in action in July 1917 while his battalion carried out a diversion at Messines. Although the operation was highly successful, Victor and 39 other members of the 42nd Battalion were killed.

    According to an article published in the Cairns Post the Christensens were a well-known and highly respected family. Perhaps more important, however, is the closeness between the siblings that is apparent in the letters written by Dan and Victoria. In one letter dated 28 March 1919 Dan described how much he was looking forward to coming home to see his family. In a letter to a friend dated 31 August 1919, Victoria wrote about her difficulty in coming to terms with the death of her youngest brother.

    Victor has no known grave but his name is on the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium. His name is also listed on the First World War Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial.

    Research and activities for classroom discussion

    1. Many Australian families had more than one child enlist and serve during the First World War. Some parents never saw their children again. Imagine you are a like Ernestine and Paol. Write a journal entry or create an art work to explain your feelings.

    2. Why would Ernestine not have wanted to reveal her German heritage on her 1910 naturalisation application?

    3. Research the role of the Australian Army Nursing Service. What main tasks would Victoria have undertaken as a nurse in the First World War? What would have been the challenges of her job? The following link may be useful: Australian nurses

      P03968.002

      Members of the Australian Army Nursing Service, London, July 1915. Victoria is in the back row, third from the right.

    4. Why did units have bands? What would their role have been?

      E01748

      Members of the 15th Battalion band, Belgium, March 1918. Paul Christensen is in the front row, third from left.

    5. Investigate the following records relating to Victor Christensen’s service in the First World War:
      Enlistment papers
      Record of death

      1. In his will, who did Victor put down to inherit all his belongings after his death?

      2. Read the letter Ernestine wrote to the “the Officer in charge”. What insight does this give you into the impact of the First World War on families at home?

      P05493.003

      Soldiers of the 42nd Battalion, c.1916-17.

      E01926

      Members of the 42nd Battalion in support trenches, Laviéeville, France, March 1918.