The bombing of a casualty clearing station in France where Joseph Blunt was killed created shockwaves that were felt in Australia for generations to come. It left a young woman a widow, five small children without a father, a mother without a son and four men who were also serving on the Western Front without a brother.
Joseph was the first of three sons of Sarah Wease, of Canungra, to be killed on the Western Front within six months. His fifth child was born a month after he died.
A letter written on behalf of Joseph’s widow, Ida, to “The Secretary” and signed “Yours very humbly, Mrs JF Crozier”, underscores the high price paid by the women of Australia who lost loved ones in the war and how the smallest mementos were treasured by those left behind.
Dated February 15, 1918, and written from Birnam Road, Beaudesert, it reads:
“Dear Sir, I am writing you on behalf of my Cousin (Mrs J Blunt) who has like myself given her husband for God and Country, but unlike myself she has never received the least article of her deceased one’s kit. It was just five months after my brave boy’s sacrifice that I received his small parcel of belongings and what a comfort it is to have them to know that they came from where they last were. It is now seven months since Mrs Blunt’s husband died of wounds in France and she has never received anything so I promised to write and ask you if you could kindly try and get something if it were ever so small that belonged to him. She poor soul is not in good health and has five little children to attend to, the youngest arriving only a month after her husband was killed. I feel sure you will do what you can for me.”
Joseph was a 32-year-old woodworker when he enlisted on June 12, 1916. He was allotted to the 23rd reinforcements of the mostly Queensland 15th Battalion, which had suffered heavy losses at Gallipoli and then Pozieres on the Western Front, and left Sydney on the Beltana on November 25.
Arriving at Devonport in England on January 29, 1917, Joseph went next day to Codford for further training but, like so many other Australian servicemen, contracted mumps and was hospitalised a week later.
After three weeks recuperating, Joseph rejoined his mates in training. He embarked for France via Folkestone on May 3 and joined the 15th Battalion, which had suffered further heavy losses at Bullecourt in April, in the field.
By May 31, Joseph was suffering foot problems, most likely caused by his army boots. He was passed through a number of aid posts before arriving at a Canadian hospital in Boulogne, where he was admitted for treatment on June 2.
Joseph rejoined his battalion on June 17 but six days later was in hospital, sick with influenza.
The following week suffering trench fever, he was transferred from the 4th Australian Field Ambulance to the Number 11 Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul.
Joseph was among the 250 patients under canvas when the tent hospital at Bailleul Ambulance Siding came under repeated attack from enemy aircraft on the night of July 6-7. Seven bombs were dropped on the hospital in three hours, wounding 68 and killing 27 medical personnel and patients, including Private Joseph Blunt.
For her courage that night, British nurse, Sister Cissy Spence, was awarded the Military Medal, gazetted in London on September 17. The citation describes how, throughout the attack, she “continued her duties amongst the patients, helping to calm them and tending to those wounded in the bombardment. She showed remarkable coolness and devotion to duty, and gave a splendid example under very trying circumstances.”
Two months after his death, pensions beginning September 16 were awarded to Joseph’s widow, Ida, who received two pounds per fortnight, his son, William, who received one pound per fortnight and his son Frederick, who received 15 shillings per fortnight. Fortnightly pensions of 10 shillings were also granted to his sons Reginald and Ronald, and daughter Edna.
On April 5, 1918, seven weeks after the letter written by her cousin, Ida received a package containing her late husband’s personal effects. Included were a holdall, wallet, pair of boot brushes, fountain pen (damaged), letters, matchbox cover, two toothbrushes, pocket case, two ‘housewives’, razor, cards, two shaving brushes, soap, metal cigarette case, French book, songbook, tin of buttons, photos, handkerchiefs, comb and two coins.
In August 1924, Ida, who had remarried and was now Mrs Brown of Cedar Street, Wynnum, received a telegram advising that Joseph had been buried in the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, his grave officially registered as Plot 3, Row D Grave number 213.
Joseph is commemorated on the Canungra memorial with his brother Charles Blunt, who also paid the supreme sacrifice, his step-brother Oliver Wease killed in action, and stepbrothers Victor Wease and William Wease who survived the Great War.
Joseph’s son, Ronald, who was born on August 12, 1917, a month after his father had been killed in action was himself killed serving in the Middle East World War Two.
Private Ronald Blunt died of wounds in Syria on June 21, 1941 and is commemorated at the Khayat Beach War Cemetery in Haifa, Israel.