The ‘new signature’ in Bob Siganto’s army records is a stark reminder that the young soldier had literally given his right arm to be part of the great adventure that became the horror of the Great War.
Dated April 2, 1918, an accompanying note explains:
“2888 Cpl RC Siganto 49th Battalion lost right arm and has learnt to write with left hand. Above is a specimen of his new signature”.
Bob had enlisted in the AIF on July 22, 1915, just one month after his 18th birthday. His enlistment papers show a blank space where his father should have signed above his mother Elizabeth’s signature, as the consent of both parents was required if their son were under 21.
Instead, a handwritten note signed John Siganto states:
“This is to certify that we have given our consent to our son, Robert Charles Siganto, to enlist for active service”.
Born at Oxenford, Bob was the second youngest of 10 children of John Siganto, a Croatian immigrant who built a vast business empire in the Coomera and neighbouring districts and was one of the pioneers of Tamborine Mountain. Bob was also a cousin of Solomon Lane, Alfred Lane and Henry Lane, whose names are also listed on the Canungra memorial.
On his enlistment papers, Bob stated his occupation as farmer and gave Tamborine Mountain’s St Bernard Hotel, at that time owned by his parents, as the address for his next of kin.
He embarked for overseas service on August 29, as part of the 9th reinforcements of the 9th Battalion and struck up what was to become an enduring friendship with Robert (Bob) Underhill, also a farmer, who had joined the Australian Imperial Force in Brisbane a week after Bob Siganto.
An English immigrant, Bob Underhill still had family living in Britain, to whom he would eventually introduce his Australian friend, sparking a romance.
In late October, after arriving in Egypt, Bob Siganto was in hospital in Heliopolis with mumps and in January, 1916, he was hospitalised in Cairo with influenza.
He was transferred to the 49th Battalion in late February, followed a few days later by Bob Underhill.
On June 5 and now a Lance Corporal, Bob and the 49th Battalion left Alexandria with the British Expeditionary Force bound for France, arriving in Marseilles a week later.
Soon after, the battalion moved into the trenches of the Western Front and fought its first major battle in August, sustaining heavy casualties.
A bleak winter in the trenches was followed by heavy fighting in 1917, when the battalion advanced towards the Germans who were retreating to the Hindenburg Line.
Bob was promoted to Corporal in May 1917 after Corporal Lloyd died of wounds and then to Sergeant after Sergeant Sears was killed in action.
In October, Bob was himself severely wounded in action and admitted to hospital in Rouen with gunshot wounds to his right arm and shrapnel wounds to his back.
He was invalided back to England, but the amputation of his arm was not enough to stop Bob from going absent without leave in early December, for which he was severely reprimanded.
Bob married Sarah Louise (Sadie) Underhill, the sister of his good friend, Bob Underhill, on January 28, 1918 at Nuneaton in Warwickshire. He then took an unauthorised honeymoon, going absent without leave from January 29 to February 5.
This time his superiors were less lenient, and Sergeant Siganto was court martialled and his rank reduced to Corporal.
In April, he was discharged from the Army and returned to Australia, leaving Sadie in England. It was not until 1919 that he was able to bring her to Tamborine Mountain.
According to June Smales’ family history, The Siganto Story, Bob and Sadie settled on a dairy farm at Oxenford, but the loss of his arm caused much suffering as it was difficult for Bob to provide for a growing family.
On April 4, 1939, at the age of 42, Sadie died three days after giving birth to the couple’s 12th child. The baby had died soon after it was born.
Bob suffered further grief the following year, when his eldest daughter, Thelma, died of tetanus at the age of 20.
His grand-daughter, Kathy Ingram, said that while the family was proud of her grandfather’s war service, her own mother, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s brothers and sisters had struggled to build a relationship with their father, whose injuries had left him physically and emotionally a broken man.
The loss of ‘gentle Sadie’, the calming and stabilising influence and the great love of Bob’s life – followed soon after by the death of his eldest daughter – was the beginning of a hard-fought battle with alcoholism. Bob’s family had offered their support but he was determined to keep his children together.
Two of Bob’s sons served in World War Two, Bill in the Air Force and George in the Navy, and his old mate and brother-in-law, Bob Underhill, re-enlisted in the Army. A younger son, Ron, served in the Korean War.
Bob lived for 13 years as a single father and spent most of his weekends at community sporting events supporting his children. He passed away at the Brisbane General Hospital on November 21, 1952, aged just 55.