“Australia’s greatest cultural loss to war” remembered at Villers-Bretonneux

This year’s Anzac Day dawn service in France had on its agenda the music of Australian composer Lieutenant Commander Frederick Septimus Kelly, who was killed on the Western Front in 1916.

FILE IMAGE: Lieutenant Commander Frederick Septimus Kelly, an Australian composer and British Olympic Gold Medalist.

Australian Army Band music director Major Matthew O’Keeffe recently premiered a new arrangement of one of Lieutenant Commander Kelly’s works and chose to highlight the movement during the reflection at the ceremony at Villers-Bretonneux.

Musical artist in residence at the Australian War Memorial, Chris Latham, described Lieutenant Commander Kelly as Australia’s greatest cultural loss to war.

Sheet music written by Lieutenant Commander Frederick Septimus Kelly.
Sheet music written by Lieutenant Commander Frederick Septimus Kelly.

“He grew up in Sydney and was educated at Sydney Grammar School. He had strong connections to the ocean, swimming between the heads at Bondi and sailing on the harbour each weekend,” Mr Latham said.

A child prodigy, he soon ran out of piano teachers in Sydney, and was sent to England to complete his high school education at Eton College, and then studied music and history at Oxford.

Lieutenant Commander Kelly’s natural sense of rhythm was also borne out in his rowing and he went on to compete in the 1908 London Olympic Games, in which he and his crew won a gold medal in the eights for Great Britain.

Like many prominent Australian musicians and artists of the time, Lieutenant Commander Kelly was living and working in London when war broke out in 1914.

He was soon commissioned into the Royal Naval Division with friends, including the poet Rupert Brooke and the composer William Denis Browne – a group of officers who became known as the Latin Club.

Mr Latham said Lieutenant Commander Kelly wrote the music – to be played at this year’s Dawn service – before WWI while living in Bisham, near Henley, hence it was part of a set called the Bisham Waltzes.

“Kelly continued to compose music during the war, and while serving at Gallipoli he wrote an Elegy In Memoriam Rupert Brooke (1915), as a musical portrait of the moonlit burial of his friend,” Mr Latham said.

Lieutenant Commander Kelly was wounded twice at Gallipoli and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The gravestone of Lieutenant Commander Frederick Septimus Kelly in Martinsart.
The gravestone of Lieutenant Commander Frederick Septimus Kelly in Martinsart.

He survived Gallipoli only to die at Beaucourt-sur-l’Ancre while rushing a German machine gun post in the last days of the Battle of the Somme in November 1916.

A great-niece of Lieutenant Commander Kelly, Carol Jones of Sydney, said she was thrilled to learn ‘Sep’s’ music would be played at Villers-Bretonneux this Anzac Day.

“We as a family are so proud of him and it seems such a fitting tribute to a proud Australian who fought in a British battalion and is the only Australian buried in the cemetery at Martinsart (British cemetery), near where he fell,” Ms Jones said.

“We have been to Villers-Bretonneux, and watch every Anzac Day, and we will be with you feeling so proud of you all.”







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Posted by Brian Hartigan

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

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