The war had been over for almost five months when Private George Finch was wounded – accidentally shooting himself in the left hand.
His army records contain an account of how, on the afternoon of April 5, 1919, George had found “an old firearm, probably Belgian” in the back room of his billet at Mont-Sur-Marchienne in Belgium.
“I picked it up in my right hand and when trying to force it open, the fire-arm discharged contents of the charge entering my left forefinger,” he wrote.
George immediately went for help at the regimental aid post, where the wound was cleaned of “fine shot and powder grains” and it was established that the bone was not broken.
However, the wound became infected and George was evacuated to England and admitted to the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Dartford, with an abscess on his hand, on May 1.
A Report on Accidental or Self-Inflicted Injuries in George’s file accepted that it was an accident, stating: “Finch found some old firearm in his billet and on picking it up to examine it, it went off wounding him in the finger.”
George would have faced disciplinary action for negligence – except that by June he was already on a ship headed home.
A memo, dated June 6, from AIF Headquarters, Horseferry Road, London, states: “It is regretted that the above named soldier embarked for Australia on HMAT Aeneas on 31-5-19 before action could be taken.”
Eighteen years old and a labourer when he enlisted on February 16, 1916, George was born in Canungra to Amos and Elizabeth Finch of Woodlands.
He was assigned to the 14th reinforcements of the 26th Battalion and left Brisbane on the Itonus on August 8. En route to England, on August 23, George was charged with disobedience for leaving the ship without permission and was given eight days’ detention by Lieutenant Colonel Dawson.
George arrived in Plymouth on October 18, but it was not until mid-December that he proceeded to France from Folkestone on the SS Victoria.
He was wounded in action in France on March 2, 1917, most likely at Warlencourt, where the 26th Battalion engaged the Germans as they retreated to the Hindenburg Line.
Suffering a gunshot wound to the left thigh, George was evacuated to England and did not rejoin his unit until February the following year.
He was back in England when the war ended in November, 1918, but was returned to France and remained in Belgium until his mishap with the loaded firearm in April 1919.