When I first saw the name R. F. Hallett carved in the stone of the Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneax, France, in 2009, it was if it shouted out to me, ‘Hey, here I am, where have you been?’
I felt like Roy Frederick was waiting impatiently for someone to come find him, his body never recovered from the killing fields on which the memorial came to be built.
Under the warm sun and surrounded by the peaceful green fields of rural France, my wife and I had made our way from Paris to Amiens and then on to Villers Bretonneax as an act of remembrance for my father’s uncle who never returned from World War 1.
Ironically, Roy went to war with a bullet scar already showing on his foot, perhaps the result of an accident while hunting or working as a stockman.
Or maybe he belonged to gun club, as did many of those recruited around the same time, into the 36th battalion. Ambrose Carmichael, Minister for Public Information led a recruitment drive from the rifle clubs of NSW in early 1916. The battalion became known as ‘Carmichael’s Thousand’. Carmichael led by example and enlisted as well, serving in the battalion as a captain.
Whatever the source of his bullet scar, he was to see much, much worse in his short but bloody tour of duty along the battlefields of Europe.
While Roy never returned, his scant belongings did and among them were two religious books. Our family history is not particularly religious but it sounds as if Roy may have found some solace in faith in the face of death.
The rest of his story, as gleaned from Australian war records, follows and is my contribution to Anzac Day… Lest we forget.