Cyril Fitzgerald was the older brother of poet Paula Fitzgerald. He was born at Newfarm, Brisbane in 1891, and was employed in the insurance industry before working 'on the land'. He enlisted in the first AIF in 1916 and served in France, and died of the complications of wounds near Villers-Bretonneux, in April 1918.
His story is instructive, and typical of many Australian soldiers who enlisted in this war. Far from the myth of the God-like 'bronzed Anzac', he was just 5 ft 5 1/2 inches tall and weighed 55kg (8st 8lb) when he enlisted in the 47th infantry battallion. He had attempted to enlist previously, but had been rejected on the grounds that he had a hernia. He had the hernia operated on, and was allowed to enlist in September 1916. After 4 months of training (and 3 days of home leave) he embarked for England on the HMAT Ayrshire in January 1917. He arrived in England in April that year and joined the Australian troops in Belgium in July. He was briefly hospitalised with gastro-enteritis in December 1917, but returned to the lines, and received a head wound on 30 March 1918.
His mother did not receive news of his condition until 12 April, by a telegram which simply read:
She replied by telegram, 'please advise what hospital he is in and other details'. The Army replied by a letter inviting Mrs Fitzgerald to write to her son, c/o the AIF, but by the time the Army's letter arrived, Cyril Fitzgerald had died, of his wounds and supervening meningitis.
The volunteer at his bed side when he died wrote:
The story after that is hardly edifying. His distraught mother wrote to the Army, asking for his personal effects. The army wrote back, asking for proof that she was next of kin. That proof was provided, and his belongings were dispatched on the 'Barunga' late in 1918, but unfortunately that ship was lost at sea. The National Archives contains correspondence which continues for more than 1 year, before the army was in a position to admit that the ship was lost. According to those records, all Laura Fitzerald received was a photograph of her son's grave at Le Havre, and a 'Victory Medal' issued in 1923.
When soldiers were killed in the first world war, their next of kin were asked to complete a record (in a standard form) setting out the bare details of the soldier's story. Here is Cyril Fitzgerald's story, as completed by his mother, (courtesy of the Australian War Memorial):