Frank Gallagher’s grave markers

Frank Gallagher’s grave markers

Frank Gallagher’s isolated grave, Bray-sur-Somme. Susannah Place Museum collection, Sydney Living Museums

Bray Military Cemetery, France. The grave of Private J F G Gallagher from a photograph album previously owned by members of the Gallagher and Andersen families, c1900 - 1940s. Susannah Place Museum Collection, Sydney Living Museums

Late in the afternoon on 23 August 1918, Private John Francis Cecil Gallagher, known as Frank, was killed by shellfire. He was 23 years old.

Major J E N Osborn, Church of England padre, described Frank’s death: ‘He was killed outright by a shell bursting in the shell hole on left side of Bray on Somme at dusk, while the position was being consolidated after a stunt. I read the Burial Service when he was buried where he fell … a durable wooden Battalion Cross was erected by me’. There is a photograph of this cross in the Gallagher family album. Frank’s mother, Adelaide (Ada), turned this small photo into a poignant private memorial to her son. Look closely and you can see that she has carefully cut out an image of Frank’s face (from a photograph of him proudly wearing his AIF uniform) and pasted it onto the original image.

Frank’s burial place was later classified as an isolated grave. His body was exhumed and reinterred in the nearest military cemetery, with a permanent headstone erected by the War Graves Commission. Frank Gallagher’s military service file holds a series of letters written by Frank’s father, John Gallagher, about the inscription on this gravestone. In one letter, written almost two years after Frank was killed, John provides the ‘few words’ he has chosen:

His life on the Battlefield was spent
And Australia raises this monument

It is impossible to imagine John’s heartbreak as he wrote that inscription. It was his second attempt at writing a verse for his son’s grave. With inscriptions strictly limited to 66 characters (including spaces), his first was rejected because it had too many letters and his second was also changed slightly because it was still too long.

Seven years later (and nine years after Frank was killed), John wrote another letter asking for photographs of his son’s headstone. John’s frustration at the length of time that had passed since he had been informed that Frank’s body had been removed and reburied is evident as he concludes with a final plea: ‘if you will please let me know how much the photos are I will be much oblige[d]’.