Expecting to serve as a Light Horseman with his brother in the Middle East, Private James Cronk instead found himself serving as an artilleryman on the Western Front.
Although they started out as brothers in arms in the same Light Horse regiment, James and Charles Cronk, were not only reassigned as artillerymen for the Western Front they were also separated, posted to different divisions.
James, a labourer, was 29 years old when he joined up with his brother on September 27, 1915.
Listed on the Canungra memorial with his brothers Charles and John Cronk, James was one of five sons of Louisa Cronk, of Currumbin, to enlist for service in the Great War.
One younger brother, George Henry Cronk, was killed in France in 1916 and another, Albert Ernest Cronk, who joined up two days after Charles and James, served with the 47th Battalion which fought in some of the bloodiest battles of the war on the Western Front.
With his brother Charles, James embarked for overseas service from Sydney on the HMAT Star of Victoria on March 31, 1916, as part of the 16th reinforcements of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment.
The pair were taken on strength of the 1st Light Horse Training Regiment at Tel el Kebir in Egypt on May 5 but 11 days later, James was transferred to Artillery Details.
James left Alexandria with the British Expeditionary Force for England on May 28 but it was September 18 before he headed to France and the battlefields of the Western Front.
James joined the Australian Base Depot on September 23, and on November 12 was taken on strength of the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column in France as the country was experiencing its worst winter in decades.
In a war dominated by artillery, the men of the divisional ammunition columns played a vital role in feeding the voracious field guns. Each division had its own ammunition column to supply the artillerymen at the front in a mammoth logistical effort involving rail and motorised and horse-drawn transport.
It was a back-breaking task that was both dreary and dangerous, especially when it involved mule and horse-drawn wagons laden with high explosive shells. Highlighting the danger, an entry in the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column unit diary of 1916 tells how, four months before James joined his unit:
“a box of bombs burst on a wagon (just after being loaded) near bomb store Erquinghem. A man and mule grazed”.
James Cronk’s record shows that he served for two years on the Western Front, but it does not tell of the horrors of the battlefield, the horrendous winter of 1916-17 in mud and snow in France, or the herculean task of carting tonnes of ammunition along war-torn roads reduced to a quagmire by rain and shell-fire.
The war had been over for more than four months when James finally marched out to England to prepare to return to Australia.
After boarding the HT Durham at Liverpool on May 22, 1919, James arrived in Melbourne on July 21, 1919, and was discharged from the AIF in Brisbane on September 6.
However, in World War Two, James was back in uniform serving his country. Aged 54, and a linesman, James had been living at Lather Street, Southport, with his wife, Elizabeth, when he re-enlisted.
Joining the 32nd Garrison Battalion at Enoggera, he served full-time from January, 1941 until his discharge on December 22, 1944.
James passed away in Brisbane on October 12, 1963, aged 77.