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Help needed in finding info about missing Australian soldier


papaguspacho
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Hi,

I am studying modern history in my last year at school and our assignment is to research a missing Australian soldier and present a seminar regarding, how when and where he died.

My chosen soldier is, 3808 James Nelson Chapman of the 18th Battalion.

His date of death is the 3rd May 1917 so he died at the 2nd Battle of Bullecourt. His cause of death says killed in action.

I've accessed his war record and Red Cross files and which have been pretty helpful but the Red Cross Files have a common thread of confusion about his cause of death and a little about his date of death although I am sure he did die on the 3rd May 1917. He was originally classified as Missing in Action then i think a few months later they held a court of enquiry and deemed him as killed in action. If anyone could put me in the right direction in regards to this it would be greatly appreciated.

Also, I've read two chapters from the Official War Histories which talk about the plan for the 2nd Bullecourt and the actual battle. Everything is very detailed except the actions of the 5th Brigade which is his brigade.. Bean states that, "precisely what happened in his brigade will perhaps never be known" (referencing to the 5th Brigade). So I accessed the Unit War Diary which seems to leave out any movements for the 3rd May (it says see operations order and report which I don't know where to find).

I've been trying to plot the movements of the battalion onto a map so I can get a better understanding of the area in which his battalion fought and to narrow down where he could have died. My only problem is finding maps... I've been searching for maps about Bullecourt on all sorts of sites and am finding it difficult to access most maps and i cant really find trench maps of the area in May or late April.

If anyone has or could give me/tell me where to get access to these maps it would be most helpful, and any further information on James Chapman that could be provided I would be most grateful for.

Regards, Alex

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Hello Alex and welcome to the GWF.

Have you managed to find this resource for maps?

http://library.mcmaster.ca/maps/ww1/ndx5to40.htm

I just accessed vis my iPad with no problems, I note there are some maps of Bullecourt.

Good luck!

Michelle

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Hello Alex and welcome to the forum.

Firstly the confusion over James Chapman’s death is fairly common as is the classification of missing in action several months later. My wife’s great uncle served with the 18th Battalion and disappeared at Bullecourt on the 3rd May 1917, most likely the victim of artillery, however he was not officially announced dead until February 1918. There were thoughts that he had been taken a prisoner of war, like many other soldiers, after the battle and investigations had to be made by the Red Cross. Have a look through some other 5th Brigade soldiers Red Cross files and you will see similar patterns.

It was a messy battle and it is difficult to find an account of the 18th Battalion in particular for the battle. Bean is your friend but you will have to look at it from a 5th Brigade level. Joe Maxwell VC of the 18th Battalion who wrote a wartime memoir ‘Hells Bells and Mademoiselles’ however he wasn’t present at 2nd Bullecourt.

I agree that the maps in the Official History are not very good (they are very small). Some books worth looking at are firstly Carlyon’s ‘The Great War’ which has a good description of the battles and a modern map on P.367 which is very clear, although not a trench map. Paul Kendall’s ‘Bullecourt 1917- Breaching the Hindenburg Line’ also covers the battle and has a small period map from ‘Military Operations, France & Belgium 1917’ by Captain Cyril Falls. Maybe one of our British pals may be able to point you to a better copy of the map.

David Wilson's recent book 'Fighting Nineteenth', a history of the 19th Battalion, also has a good modern map of 2nd Bullecourt showing the German machine guns at Queant and the German regiments facing the Australians.

Regarding locating information about Private James Chapman. Firstly have a good search through the National Library’s TROVE newspaper search.

Another avenue you might try is contacting the local newspaper and Historical Society at Bundarra where he came from.

Hope you do well.

Scott

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Alex,

I've had a couple of thoughts regarding your research though I must say I think they could both be long shots.

Firstly, I have a copy of Paul Kendall's excellent book 'Bullecourt,Breaching the Hindenburg Line,1917'. There is a chapter relating to the 3rd May and as soon as I've finished this post I'll re-read it to see if there's anything in it which may be of use to you. After a very brief glance at the index there is a Chapman but unfortunately he's not your man, this one is a Captain Theodore Chapman.

My second thought is an even longer shot. The Jean and Denise Letaille Museum is in Bullecourt and houses the collection of of the late M.Letaille. Whilst the Museum houses a large collection of artefacts I do remember M.Letaille showing me various items of letters etc. that had been sent to him from both Australian and British families containing details of their loved ones who fought there. It may just be that someone has looked for your man before or sent details regarding him , like I said it's a very long shot indeed when you consider how many soldiers took part.

My grandfather, Pte H.A. Thomas (21st Manchesters) was captured about a week after your man was reported missing at Bullecourt and a letter home from the Chaplain indicated he was "missing believed killed". In fact he was a POW though it took some months before he got word home much to the relief of his wife and children. My other grandfather Cpl J. Lamb (22nd Manchesters) was also there but got through it only to lose his leg at Broodseinde 6 months later.

I'll read the chapter now and I'll be in touch later.

Regards

Simon

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Alex,

Yes search his name and look in the newspapers both nationally and in his area. You may find local mentions of him.

Scott.

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Thanks so much Simon, with the Jean and Denise Letaille Museum is there anyway to find more information about their collection online, I just googled them and there was only tourist information. Even though it is as you said a long shot it would still be good to have a look just in case, because sometimes well through my studies you just tend to come across really good information in unexpected places.

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The Blood Tub by Jonathan Walker is another good read for Bullecourt

Michelle

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Michelle,

Just found a trench map of Bullecourt which is pretty good but its corrected to early Feb i think, would that still be ok to use? Of course the wire entanglements and things like that would be different but the actual trenches would be the same wouldn't they? The closest one afterwards is June which shows the amount of trench line that they captured which is helpful.

Alex

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Alex

I've had a quick scan through the relevant chapter of 'Bullecourt' and as I expected there's no mention of Pte Chapman. It does however give details of the battle on the 3rd in terms of which Brigades/Bttns were in which parts of the line. It also states that in 9hrs of battle there were 1700 wounded Australians dealt with at just one dressing station. 791 missing men (no known grave) appear on the Australian memorial at Villers Bretonneux from the 3rd of May.Somewhere I have contact details for the author but it may take me a while to find them. He would certainly be a lot more use than I.

I don't think the Museum have any online search facilities as it is only a small but fascinating Museum but I wonder if an email to the curator may assist.

Good luck with your search and I'll be in touch if anything else crops up

Simon

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When you say you've accessed his War Record, presumably that's the National Australian Archives where he has a digitised file from 1998.

If you haven't already done so, you can copy his entire Service Record to display in your Project.

Chapman James Nelson: Service No 3808: Place Of Birth: Bundarra, Murchison County, NSW: Place Of Enlistment: Armidale NSW: Next Of Kin: Father, Chapman G.

He was fairly old at 35 and 5 months in August 1915 and he was part of the 8th Reinforcements to the 18th Battalion.

His wife is shown as K P Chapman and later remarried as K Lister.

There might still be descendants under either surname in the Bundarra area.

He appears to have been a capable and steady man, being appointed as a Corporal.

Probably unrelated, but this chap also is from Armidale, so might be a cousin...

CHAPMAN, HENRY STANLEY. Rank: Lieutenant. Date of Death: 25/07/1916. Age: 22.
Regiment/Service:Australian Infantry, A.I.F. 3rd Bn.
Panel Reference: Memorial: VILLERS-BRETONNEUX MEMORIAL.
Additional Information:Son of Frederick and Clara Louisa Chapman, of "Haydonton," Edinburgh Rd., Marrickville, New South Wales.
Born at Armidale, New South Wales.
2 Chapman families in the same area, they may have at least known each other, and now share the same Memorial.
Good luck, you seem to have a lot of useful details being provided, his family would be proud that you are being so diligent..
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Simon,

Thank you for going to all that effort, 791 missing is a lot.. I am also certain that he was buried, as multiple sources make mentions of a burial taking place but of course this was only a temporary grave and obviously was destroyed. He also had a brother in the battalion I'm presuming the same company as most his friends talk about the two but he knew only second hand information of the death. If you couldn't find contact details for the author i could probably try go through the publisher but thanks again.

Alex

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Kevin,

Yeah i did mean Service Record sorry. I hadn't really gone into the family details as of yet but I was planning to so thank you for that head start :D I did actually read about the wife the other day and did pick up on the remarried part and there was something about a pub too ill have to go over it again. If there are descendants I think it would be very benefiting to be able to get in touch, do you know how I would be able to try and find out if there are connections in the Bundarra area?

Thanks again, Alex

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Scott,

In regards to Joe Maxwell's book Hells Bells and Mademoiselles, do you know if he mentions things about Bullecourt even though he wasn't there; as in talked to the other soldiers in his battalion about it because that might give some good perspectives?

Alex

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Alex I don't think the lines moved significantly before the attack, but I am not widely read on the battle. I think finding a map with the precise dates might be a challenge. Have you looked on the AWM site for maps as well?

Michelle

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Michelle,

I have looked at the awm site but i dont know how to access the maps. I go into the collection and type in say Bullecourt and it comes up with cartographic source and i click on it and it give me info about the map.. I dont actually know how to look at it?

Thanks, Alex

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Alex

James Chapman is one of the 791. He is commemorated at Villers Bretonneux and as such he has no known grave so it sounds correct that he may have been buried but the grave was subsequently lost. There is a possibility someone may have a photo of the panel he is commemorated on so perhaps if you start a thread in the 'look ups' subforum you may be lucky.

Simon

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Alex try this site for a photo of his name at V-B

http://www.australianwargraves.org

I haven't tried map searches on the AWM site, I can access service records but not retired much else.

Michelle

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Hi, Alex, I'm the opposite side of the world to you so looking at the soles of your feet!

I'd suggest Bundarra area phone books as a start for both Chapman and Lister, as if there were children they may have taken the (step)fathers name, maybe not knowingly if too young.

Google can usually help, and I don't know if it's easy to access Electoral Rolls over there.

When he enlisted he described himself as "single" and his Will left all to his father, with reference only to to his sister and brother Richard George.

Perhaps a little family issue, as he made no provision for a wife but she got his medals and Memorial Scroll (albeit in 1931)

Is there a Returned Servicemens League Post there?

Or a War Memorial, and the local paper might find it of interest to run an article on your findings.

(Scrub that, only 5 Names showing, not Chapman, but he may be commemorated elsewhere... https://rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/places/2452014/people )

https://rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/memorials/1785/people

His brother had the immediate preceding Service Number....

CHAPMAN, George Walter; Service Number: 3807; Last Rank: Private. Last Unit: 18th Infantry Battalion
... but I haven't looked any further on him!
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Hi Kevan,

Firstly, thank you for going to that effort to pass on that useful information. I'm not sure if there is a returned service league's post but on that RSL site you sent me it has an update information option which allows members to pass on information to the people running the site.

I've read his brother's name as Richard George Chapman and you've written it as such as well but on the RSL site it says Walter George Chapman... Would you be able to explain this please?

As for his marriage I'm about to start looking into it so hopefully there is a mention somewhere or if there are relatives that by useful

Thanks again, Alex

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Hi Alex,

There are still Chapmans in the Bundarra area. Have a look online in the local Bundarra white pages under both residential and business.

There is also a grazier in the Bundarra area with the Chapman name.

There are also a few Chapman family trees on Ancestry, and you may be able to make contact that way.

Good luck.

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Hi Alex and welcome to the forum

Just answering a couple of the 'family' questions after a quick look:

The brothers Richard George & George Walter are 2 different people - Richard George is James's oldest brother & George Walter is the one that embarked with him

James only married his (2nd) wife Kathleen the day before he embarked for overseas - (this is why she wasn't mentioned in his Will) - haven't looked into it, but I doubt there was any offspring

No surviving children from 1st marriage - looks like his wife may have died in childbirth (the same year they were married) & the baby died not long after...

James had a couple of sisters that died unmarried & a couple that may have married, as well as a few brothers - so there’s hope of finding descendants with a bit of searching....

Good luck, Frev

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Alex

Go to NSW registry of births, deaths , marriages online, and you can look at and track births ( from parents names, and place of Armidale and Bundarra), as well as marriages of the very large Chapman family. You can search for free - no cost unless you want to apply for a certificate.

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