Annie Wheeler’s workload increased dramatically after the first battle of Bullecourt. On the 11th April 1917 1,170 Australians were taken prisoner, the most men captured in a single battle during the war. Blackall man, William Lonergan from the 15th battalion was one of these men. William wrote to Annie requesting her help. In a long letter on the 25th May 1917 he begged her to send a parcel of supplies for him and two friends to a prison camp in Germany.
In the confusion of being captured Will mistakenly told Annie he was captured on the 2nd of April.
But his war record list him missing in France on the 11th April.
When Annie cables Miss Annie Russell at Will’s request she tells her he was taken prisoner on the 11th April.
Annie’s cables were vital. Will’s family and friends received information months before they heard anything from the AIF.
It took almost six months before Will’s wife Alice Louisa Lonergan was officially told he was a prisoner of war. She was advised he was missing on the 8th May 1917 and not told he was a prisoner of war until 17th December 1917.
It is difficult to know if Alice Lonergan was upset by this news. Will and Alice had been living apart for ten years when he enlisted in 1916 which is why he asked Annie Wheeler to cable Miss Russell with news of his capture. John Lindsay Russell is listed as Will’s next of kin but only Annie Russell is ever mentioned in his letters and it is Annie Russell who writes to Annie Wheeler and sends letters care of Annie Wheeler for Will. Following is part of Will’s letter to Annie Wheeler which is in his file in the National Archives of Australia.
Annie Wheeler’s letters are part of SLQ John Oxley Library collection and have been digitised – ww.slq.qld.gov.au
William Lonergan’s military file has been digitised by the National Archives of Australia – ww.naa.gov.au