Aussie POW dies in agony

Aussie POW dies in agony

French town farewells prisoner of war

He may have been stranger from the other side of the world, but when Joseph Jenkins died alone and in agony in the Spring of 1917, the Deputy Mayor of a small town in northern France rallied local residents to his graveside.

Private Jenkins died of an untreated illness as a prisoner of war in a German military hospital in Maubeuge on June 18, 1917. The town had been under German occupation since its capture in September 1914.

Two days after his death, according to Private Jenkins’ military file, his funeral at Maubeuge-Central cemetery was conducted by Maubeuge’s deputy mayor M. Meuilles. The file adds that there was “… (a) wreath from the town, the public were present and the Protestant Chaplain gave an address... a party of 16 Roumanians attended”.

The Sydney-born former Sons of Gwalia Gold Mine fireman was captured at Bourcies on April 15, 1917, after serving with the 11th Battalion since his enlistment at Blackboy Hill, WA, on November 20, 1914. He was interned in Limburg prisoner of war camp in Germany but was part of a forced labour gang building a railway near Berlaimont in northern France when he became ill with what fellow prisoner Private Leslie Powell described as “a sort of acute colic”, from which he later died.

Another 11th Battalion POW, Private Victor Perrie of Perth, said in a statement made to the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Bureau after the war: “… I saw 1877 Private Jenkins, 11th Battalion, reduced to such a low physical condition that he dropped from exhaustion” and had to be “carried back to camp”. Private Powell, who shared a Maubeuge hospital ward with Private Jenkins for several days, later told the Red Cross: “The Germans made no attempt to give him medical attention until about the 16th of June (four days after he was admitted) and then the doctor did nothing for him at all... (He) had been in great pain, was almost unconscious when I last saw him.”

Another prisoner, Private A Musgrave, reported: “Private Jenkins was taken very sick while working behind the lines … he lay for days without medical attention and when he was finally taken to hospital I heard that he had died”. A report by the German Red Cross described the cause of Private Jenkins’ death as “a twist in the bowel”.

Twenty-two-year-old Private Joseph Jenkins embarked at Fremantle aboard HMAT Argyllshire with the 11th Battalion on April 19, 1915. He survived bullets and influenza at Gallipoli and was sent with the battalion to France the following year, where was wounded in action on July 2, 1916.

Ten months later, just before dawn on April 15, 1917, the battalion came under a fierce German counterattack in Louverval Wood not far from Bourcies. The battle lasted until dusk and the battalion held the line, but losses were heavy on both sides. Joseph Jenkins was reported missing in action on April 16, 1917 and it was later confirmed he had been taken prisoner with other 11th Battalion soldiers the previous day.

His effects, consisting of just his army paybook and a “housewife”, or sewing kit, were returned to his next of kin – his sister Margaret Stewart in Adamstown, NSW.

*Anne Skinner is a writer based in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia. She is passionate about telling the stories of the men and women who enlisted from the Goldfields region to serve in World War 1.