1916 ‘deserters’ name cleared – body identified

The identity of another World War I Australian soldier who died during the ‘Great War’ has been ascertained through persistence in investigations and campaigning.

Unfortunately, for almost 100 years, the family of this soldier was told by authorities that he was a deserter.

Private Edward Attfield, regimental number 1701, was formally identified by an Australian Army Identification Board on 29 August 2017 – the public announcement made today by Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester.

Born in 1890 in Prahran, Victoria, Private Attfield was determined to serve his country – attempting to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on seven occasions, but rejected for being too short at 5 feet 3-and-a-half inches – before finally being accepted on 22 December 1914.

In May 1915, Private Attfield deployed to Gallipoli with the 5th Battalion, AIF and was evacuate wounded on 26 May 1915.

He returned to Gallipoli in October 1915, where he served until the general withdrawal in December 1915.

On 30 January 1916, the body of an unknown Australian soldier (cause of death strangulation) was discovered near the Gizeh (Giza) Base in Egypt, but a medical examination failed to identify him and he was buried as an unknown soldier in the Old Cairo War Cemetery.

Records show that Private Attfield was the only soldier missing from the region at the time the body was discovered – yet was listed for more than 100 years as a deserter.

Mr Martin Elliget, a researcher from Victoria, made a submission to Army to reconsider the case, which directly led to the identification of the heretofore unknown soldier.

“The Army’s Identification Board has reviewed all the evidence presented by Unrecovered War Casualties – Army and concluded there is sufficient evidence to confirm the soldier’s identity as Private Edward Attfield,” Mr Chester said.

On Anzac Day 2018, a new headstone provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will be unveiled by Defence staff from Oeration Mazurka and the Australian Ambassador to Egypt Neil Hawkins.

The family chose to include the inscription ‘I once was lost, but now am found’ onto the newly installed headstone.

The most direct descendant of Private Attfield will be presented with his newly struck medals during ANZAC Day activities in Balnarring, Victoria.

“This represents the culmination of a great deal of effort from researchers, family and agencies from around the world,” Mr Chester said.

“It is a wonderful occasion to rectify the record on a true hero of Gallipoli on Anzac Day 2018.”

Since authorities accepted the Private Attfield’s identity and burial site, family member Susan Morrison has written on behalf of the Attfield family, much thanks to all who finally brought the case to a satisfactory conclusion.

“Of course, it is too late for his parents and his sister and brother-in-law, but we, as the extended family, are very pleased to have his name officially cleared and the mystery of his disappearance solved,” she said.

“Thank you all.”

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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