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The Australian National University

Life Sentences - A tale of two mothers

Melanie Nolan, 'A tale of two mothers', ANU Reporter, vol 46, no 1, Autumn  2015, Life Sentences, p 60

The First World War was a brutal affair.

About 61,720 out of 330,000 Australian personnel died.

Some women in Australia did not find out about the deaths of loved ones until sometime after the war and, even then, they often had no details of the circumstances of their death, or where their bodies were buried.

Often the ravages of a battle meant there was no body to recover.

For women, it was a step into the unknown.

The three sons of Fanny and William Seabrook – Theo (25) George (24) and William (20) – left Sydney on the same day as part of the 17th Infantry Battalion.

All three died at Passchendaele on the Western Front in the course of 24 hours in September 1917.

Initially the family was informed that William had been fatally wounded and the two older sons were missing; by November Fanny was told all three of her sons were killed.

Poignantly, staff at the Tenth Casualty Clearing Station found a photo of Fanny in William's breast pocket after he died.

It had a hole through it made by the fatal bullet.

The photo was returned to Fanny.

Fanny filled out the particulars for George's inclusion on the Roll of Honour.

In reply to the question "Was he connected with any other member of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) who died or distinguished himself?", she wrote:

"Yes. Two brothers killed the same day."

William senior had a breakdown in the aftermath of the war and Fanny suffered financially the rest of her life.

More than 2800 Australian families lost two sons in the war, five families lost four sons.

During the war, the Department of Defence issued Female Relative's Badges to the wives or mothers – or nearest female relative – of AIF personnel "soldiers, airmen, nurses and masseuses" serving overseas, with additional bars for each further son or daughter serving.

Women had to apply for these sterling silver badges and for each bar.

It was a badge of pride and sadness.

Updated: 23 March 2017/ Responsible Officer:  Director, NCB / Page Contact:  Web Publisher