Lone Pine and the Anguish of Jessie Meech
by Michael Hall
Richard Alfred Meech was born in Queanbeyan in 1887, the grandson of Canberra pioneers Joseph and Susan Blundell. He was working for the Queanbeyan Age and engaged to be married when he enlisted at the outbreak of war in August 1914. Alf, as he was known, landed on Gallipoli with the 3rd Battalion on 25 April 1915.
He survived the landing and the weeks that followed but by July the Queanbeyan Age was reporting on rumours that Alf had been killed as some friends had received letters of sympathy. The rumours were premature as Alf was alive and well.
Then his father Isaac received a letter from a mate of Alf’s saying that his son was wounded, the first intimation that the family had that something was wrong. As the weeks and months passed the Meech family became concerned that they had not heard from Alf. His sister, Jessie Meech, wrote to the Minister of Defence, Senator George Pearce, on 28 December 1915.
“As we have not had any word from my brother I was told to write to you and ask you if you would try and find out something about him. My mother is very ill and is worrying herself to death about him if we could find any trace of him at all it would ease our minds a great deal. We have not had any official word that any think has happened to him so will you kindly find out all you can for us.”
The Officer in Charge, Base Records replied that no official report had been received “and it can be safely assumed he is well and with his unit.”
Jessie was not satisfied. A month later she again wrote to Senator Pearce upset at the effect that the lack of information was having on her mother.
“We received word last Tuesday (25th) to say that our brother (No.1148 Private R.A. Meech 3rd Battalion) has been missing and wounded since August 6th it is terrible hard to think it should take the head department over there five months before they could let us know. It has broken my poor mother up completely will you try and find out some information about him for me thanking you for same.”
Army officials were struggling to correctly identify Meech much to Jessie’s exasperation. She wrote to the Officer in Charge of Base Records in Melbourne a week later on 31 January 1916.
“In reply to my inquiries of 26th ult. re Private R.A. Meech No.1148 3rd Batt. I received yours of 7th inst to say I would be notified should anything be the matter with him.
On 25th inst I received a wire from Victoria Barracks Sydney stating – No.1140 Pte R.A. Meech was reported as missing & wounded since between 6th & 12th August last. Now today (31st) I received another wire simply stating No.1140 should read 1138 – no mention as to name being right or wrong.
Now seeing as No.1138 is not the number of Pte R.A. Meech & neither is No.1140 I would be thankful if you let me know for certain if you have a record of Pte R.A. Meech No.1148 No.1 Platoon A Company 3rd Battalion 1st Inft Brigade.”
Jessie was still not getting a satisfactory answer from officials so she tried a different channel, the YMCA. But all they could suggest was that she follow it up with the Department of Defence. And she did, on 10 February.
“Having written to the Y.M.C.A. in Sydney to see if they could trace or find out any information concerning my brother (No.1148 Private R. A. Meech 3rd Battalion 1st Infantry Brigade) who has been missing and wounded since August 6th and we only received word to tell us on 22nd January. I received a reply from Y.M.C.A. this morning to say that his number does not correspond with the one he had when he left Australia. So that advised me to write to you & that you would be able to explain the matter.”
Without official notification to his family, Alf’s name appeared in the casualty lists published in newspapers in November 1916. Jessie wrote again to the Officer in Charge Base Records.
“As my brothers name No.1148 Private R.A. Meech appears in this mornings paper amongst the killed in action in the casualty list & as we have had no word from the department to say he was will you try & give me the particulars as I think it is right that we should get word before they publish it in the papers hoping you will do this as soon as possible.”
And then on 15 November 1916 she wrote for the final time to the Defence Minister, Senator Pearce;
“Having seen my brothers name No.1148 Pte R.A. Meech in the casualty list amongst the killed in action prev. reported wounded & missing since August 6-12 1915 & as my mother had had no word to inform her of such. I wrote to Victoria Barrack in Sydney also in Melbourne the only reply I received is that word was sent to my mother last month but we never received such word. Will you find out particulars for me.”
The Defence Department claimed that they had written to the family in October 1916, but Jessie Meech and her family never received any official advice on the fate of Alf.
Yet on 5 June 1916 a Court of Inquiry held in the field in France had found that Meech was killed in action. In August 1915 the Anzacs had launched a series of attacks on Turkish positions on Gallipoli with the aim of breaking the three month long deadlock on the peninsula. Alf Meech was part of the attack on Lone Pine when he was wounded by a bomb in the trenches on the night of 7 August. He was not evacuated until daybreak and died soon after.
Queanbeyan Age – 9 July 1915
National Archives of Australia, Series B2455 (First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920)
Australian War Memorial, Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Report 1DRL/0428