Case Book 1

Entries from the War Diaries of the Assistant Provost Marshall (APM)
(Taken from the AWM 25 Series)

Corporal Maurice ROBINSON, ANZAC Provost Corps in France.

Photo: Two members of the ANZAC Provost Corps in France. Sitting left is Corporal Maurice ROBINSON, the other soldier is unknown, but was obviously a light horseman prior to becoming a military policeman (he still wears the emu plume of his original unit). The APM’s at the time of these entries were firstly Colonel William SMITH, and then acting APM Major Edgar LANGLEY. [Munro Collection]

War Diary – December 1917.
-The murder of an Australian soldier- No 3879 Gnr F.W. Ryan, 46th Battery, 12th AFA, was reported from Bailleul week ending 8.12.17, and as a result of investigations, a civilian named Theele confessed to the murder of the soldier aforesaid. Proceedings are being taken by civil authorities against this man.
-On the 13th inst., a civilian – VANMEIRIS, GEORGES, of NIEPPE, – was killed by a shot from a revolver. Initial investigations failed to reveal the status of the perpetrator-soldier or civilian – but from the evidence of a brother of the deceased, relative to a conversation he overheard, it is presumed that a member of a battalion, billeted locally, is the party responsible. Further investigations are proceeding.

War Diary – January 1918.
– One traffic casualty occurred early in the month on the Caestre- Fletre Road, when a soldier – No 5124 Gunner Russell, 42nd Battery, 11th AFA, was killed, apparently by a lorry. Exhaustive enquiries as to the identity of the party responsible have proved fruitless to date.

War Diary – March 1918.
– On the 15th inst., a fatal shooting affair occurred at HUCQUINGHEM, in which a soldier – No 2278 Sig. Burgess D. 36th Bn., AIF, was shot dead by a civilian whilst in the act of breaking into a private house.

War Diary – April 1918.
– On the night of the 26th inst., an Australian soldier – Sapper J.C. McKenzie, 2nd Aust. Tunnelling Coy., was killed by a civilian at La Motte whilst in the act of taking away a jar of wine from a private house, the civilian hitting the soldier over the head with a rifle which went off, killing the soldier.

War Diary – June 1918.
– On the evening of the 6th June, an Australian soldier – No 1069 Pte J. Mc Cormack, 31st Bn., AIF, was shot by a French civilian at Argoeuves and died shortly afterwards. It appears that McCormack and another soldier, apparently under the influence of liquor, burst into the Frenchman’s house between the hours of 9 and 10 pm. Terrorising the family, and then proceeding to prise open the drawers in the bedroom where money was kept. The occupier of the house – the Deputy Mayor of Argoeuves – procured a fowling piece and fired a warning shot in the air. As this had no effect of stopping the soldiers, he fired in their direction and McCormack was fatally wounded. As the French civilian was acting apparently within his legal rights, no proceedings have been instituted against him. Diligent search has been made for the second Australian soldier concerned in the affair, but although he is believed to have been found it has not been possible to have him positively identified with the occurrence in question.

The death of Gunner Russell was treated seriously, not just as an accident in the time of war, close examination of a tree near the scene revealed the same vehicle that had presumably killed Gunner Russell had struck it, the damage suggesting it had been a lorry. The investigating MP’s had ascertained that the lorry would have had some damage to the off side and most probably a torn canopy, a wheel cap (hubcap?) was also found at the scene, it was described as being similar to that from “Albion” or “Peerless” lorries. Despite exhaustive enquiries with the various Lorry Parks and Supply Columns in the area it would appear that the damaged vehicle was never located.

Author’s note – I knew of the matters of both Signaller Burgess and Sapper McKenzie well before compilation of these entries. As the co-author of Wellington’s Finest I was aware that Daniel Burgess had been a cook working at Lakes Hotel, Wellington (NSW) prior to enlisting. Burgess was serving with the Headquarters Signals section of the 36th Battalion at the time of his death.

Burgess’s death is officially recorded as ‘Accidentally Killed’ on the AIF’s nominal roll. Several Red Cross statements taken some time after the event shed some light on the matter, lending weight to a somewhat different interpretation of the incident. It would appear that Burgess had been drinking at the estaminet earlier on in the night, returning to camp with other men from his battalion around 9.00 pm. Burgess had apparently returned to the hostel some time later.

Mention is made in several statements of a female being involved (a daughter, wife maybe?) another of the statements claimed that the Frenchman who had fired the fatal shot had also been involved with a similar incident some time prior.
The investigation of Sapper McKenzie’s death was also known to the author, but on this occasion through his interest in the military police, the investigation had been handled by Corporal Lin Harston, MM, he and Trooper Grunenfelder, both from the 5th Div Provo’s, had been despatched to carry out the investigation. Circumstances of McKenzie’s death appear to be similar to that of Pte McCormack (June 1918).
McKenzie had apparently broken into the cellar of an estaminet at Lamotte-Breiere owned by Monsieur Anatole, apparently with the aim of stealing red wine from a large container, McKenzie had not been alone in his actions. The details of the shooting were somewhat sketchy; Corporal Harston makes no mention of having interviewed any other Australian soldiers who may have been with McKenzie at the time of his death. Harston’s investigation centred mainly on the statement made by Mons Anatole and his daughter.
Confronted by noise of several persons having broken into his cellar, Anatole took matters into his own hands. English soldiers staying upstairs at the estaminet reported being woken from their sleep after hearing two shots, their initial investigations after the shots found only the owner downstairs, he claimed that there had been a disturbance involving a soldier, but that the soldier had fled via a back entrance. Suspicious of the version of events given the two English soldiers returned upstairs initially, but then returned to the scene some ten minutes later from where they had heard the shots, it was then that they found the dead body of an Australian soldier (McKenzie) laying in a cart, the Frenchman, Anatole was standing not far from the cart (the English soldiers did apparently verify that at that time there had been another Australian (?) soldier sitting near the cart).
After his initial investigations Corporal Harston had sought assistance from the French Gendarmes in the town, he handed over the Frenchman to the Gendarme’s for subsequent charges to be laid.