In December 1916 Annie Wheeler and her daughter Portia were busy seeing the many Queensland soldiers who were on leave or furlough in London. Their letters are filled with the names of soldiers they’ve seen. “Wilfred McLaughlin had lunch with us the same day. He is on furlough. Bill Orrock was here last week. Jack Atherton came on his way to flying school. Noel Trotman came down from Grantham for four days leave. He had tea and dinner with us today.”
In the middle of December Fred Fox came in and had tea with them. For Portia, something about Fred set him apart from the other soldiers; her heart quickened and butterflies filled her stomach.
Fred joined the army on the 4th September 1914 and on the morning of the 25th April 1915 was one of the first to step onto the beach at Gallipoli. He was part of all the Australian efforts there until he was hospitalised on Lemnos with fever a few weeks before the evacuation. Fred’s brother Norman was also at Gallipoli and they were sent to different parts of Egypt at the end of 1915. Norman was badly wounded in a training exercise and Fred desperately wanted to see him. Denied leave, Fred talked to his superiors and they agreed to turn a blind eye to his absence. According to his son Norman (presumably named after his brother) who has written an extensive family history available online, (www.foxfamilyhistory.com) Fred walked for a night and day across the desert but was unable to reach Norman before he died.
Fred’s son believed Portia and Fred met during the war, probably earlier in 1916. Annie first mentions Fred in a letter to Mary Trotman which was published in the “Capricornian” in June 1916. Apparently Annie had had a letter from H.J. Wallace. “He said he had seen Fred Fox so we know he is in France, and we hope to see Fred and Peter Stuart soon.” Between June and September 1916, Fred was with the 49th Battalion in France. The Battalion “moved into the trenches of the Western Front for the first time on 21 June. It fought in its first major battle at Mouquet Farm in August and suffered heavily, particularly in the assault launched on 3 September”(awm.gov.au/unit/U51489/). On 23 September Fred was sent back to England for further training.
By Christmas 1916 Fred had been part of the horrors of Gallipoli and Pozieres. The official war correspondent Charles Bean was also at Mouquet Farm and in his official history describes “the flayed land, shell–hole bordering shell–hole, corpses of young men lying against the trench walls or in shell–holes; some – except for the dust settling on them – seeming to sleep; others torn in half; others rotting, swollen and discoloured” (ww1westernfront.gov.au/pozieres-windmill/aif-memorial-mouquet-farm/mouquet-farm.php).
Fred had seen all this and it was this man Portia was falling in love with. After the war Portia and Fred married and Annie walked her daughter down the aisle.