One hundred years ago today Annie Wheeler was unwell and the doctor ordered her to rest. She left London for Eastbourne leaving everything in Portia’s capable hands. With so many missing and wounded the number of letters increased every day. Every post brought bags of mail, all needing answers. ‘Mothering’ so many boys was taking a toll. Working as a nurse in Rockhampton, Annie knew many of these boys and their families personally; some she had delivered. Each death was a blow.
Not long before Annie left for Eastbourne she heard a Court of Enquiry had determined Andrew Fraser had been killed in action. She had been looking for him for almost a year.
Andrew was 18, a year younger than Portia, when he enlisted in 1916. He had brown eyes and brown hair and a “fresh complexion”. He was only five feet and five inches. In August 1916 he was fighting in Poziers. In October his mother, Mary Fraser, received a cable telling her Andrew had been wounded.
After unsuccessfully trying to find what hospital he had been sent to she cabled Annie Wheeler. Annie spent four weeks trying to locate Andrew; turning over every stone only to conclude Andrew was missing.
Mary wrote to the AIF telling them Mrs Wheeler’s conclusions and a couple of weeks later received news Andrew was now listed as missing.
She kept writing to the AIF for information telling them in May 1917 “any news is better than this suspense”. On the 1st June there was still no more information.
Eventually a Court of Enquiry was convened to investigate and on the 2nd July determined Andrew was killed on the 21st August 1916.
Mary kept writing wanting more information, wanting to know where her son was buried and in 1921 received an account from a witness.
Andrew’s legs had been blown off. After he was bandaged he was taken away to a dressing station but he never got there. The suspense was over.
Andrew’s war record has been digitised by the NAA – http://www.aa.gov.au
Annie’s letters to Mary Trotman published in the ‘Capricornian’ have been digitised by Trove – http://www.nla.gov.au