One hundred years ago John Fryer wrote to his mother from France. The Fryers were old friends of Annie Wheeler nee Laurie. Annie started school in Springsure and knew Rosina Richards and Charles Fryer long before any of them were married. Rosina and Charles met while working at the pastoral station, Orion Downs and still lived in Springsure with their seven children. Four of the six boys (William, Charles, Henry and John) enlisted and by 1917 were in various parts of England and Europe. Their only daughter Elizabeth remained at home with the two youngest boys Richard and Walter.
March 1917, John apologised to his mother, “you must really excuse me for not writing sooner but I have been kept well on the move since leaving Oxford.” John had been promoted and was in Oxford learning how to use explosives and artillery for trench warfare in his new role as lieutenant. John’s notebooks from his time at Oxford, part of the John Denis Fryer Collection in the University of Queensland Fryer Library, are a fascinating insight into how a man studying modern languages could lead men in battle. Not only do they detail the equipment and methods used in the first world war they also show John’s prowess as a student; the notes are detailed, illustrated and clear.
Before returning to France from Oxford, John dropped in on Annie Wheeler in London. He told his sister Lizzie “she was jolly glad to see some of us Rockhampton boys. By jove she is a great little woman. I think the name ‘mother of Anzacs’ suits her to a T.” Annie was very pleased to see John telling her friend Mary Trotman of his visit and her pride in his commission. But there was a downside to promotion which was why some men refused; John couldn’t re-join the 49th battalion and was transferred to the 52nd. This meant leaving men he had fought alongside and two of his brothers Charles and William who were both with the 49th. Henry was with the 47th. John reassured his mother they were all still part of the same brigade and he saw a good deal of Henry and Charles which no doubt gave her some comfort. He told her, “Charlie is not too bad, but a little drawn about the face. He is quite cheery though and chockfull of confidence – as we all are – in our ability to beat Fritz.”
But by the time Rosina read these words, Charlie was dead. He was killed in action on the 5th April 1917, less than three weeks after John wrote this letter to their mother.
John, William and Henry survived the war and returned to Australia but in 1923 John died of TB, a result of being gassed during the war. John had been an active member of the University Dramatic society who established a memorial collection of works in Australian literature in his name. This collection became the Fryer Library.
John Fryer’s letters to his mother are part of the John Denis Fryer Collection in the University of Queensland Fryer Library.
Annie Wheeler’s letters to Mary Trotman were published by the Capricornian and have been digitised by the NLA and are available on Trove.
Springsure is in central Queensland 335 Kilometres west of Rockhampton.