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Albert Edward RUNCORN


Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Pte 1612 33y8m 18 Aug 1914 16 May 1916 5

Warrant Officer Class 2 Albert Edward (‘Pompy’) Runcorn  (1879—1941)

Booklet

Albert Edward Runcorn served in the 3rd Queensland Mounted Infantry in the Boer War, and in the 7th battery, 3rd Field Artillery Brigade at Gallipoli in World War 1, reaching the rank of Sergeant Major (also referred to as Warrant Officer Class 2).

He was born in Allora, Queensland and at different times in his life worked as a labourer, a blacksmith, an engine driver, an insurance claims clerk and manager, and a store manager.

At the age of 61 Albert was admitted to the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in May 1941 because of ill health and died a few days later. He was buried in Toowong cemetery in Brisbane.

Family background

Albert Edward Runcorn was born on 28 December 1879 and the Queensland births register gives the location as Allora, Queensland. Later records vary between giving his birthplace as Talgai or Allora, but there is only a short distance between these two places, so the variation seems insignificant.

His parents were John Runcorn, a ganger born in Shrewsbury, England and Liverpudlian Agnes nee Taylor. After marrying in 1873 in Bradford, the couple migrated to Australia the following year. Agnes died in 1930 and John in 1942 (aged 89) – both were buried in the Toowong Cemetery with Congregational rites.

Albert’s siblings included three sisters who appear in later membership lists for the Wharf Street Congregational Church (Florence, Ethel and Rhoda, married name Southern).

Boer war

In 1900 Albert – then living in Susan Street, Fortitude Valley - enlisted as a Private in the 3rd Queensland Mounted Infantry contingent (3rd QMI), and the group left for South Africa on the Duke of Portland at the start of March 1900.

After arrival in Africa, the 3rd QMI was in active service from April 1900 to April 1901. They were among the forces that made an arduous march through Rhodesia to take part in the relief of the besieged town of Mafeking in May 1900 – an event enthusiastically greeted in Australia by the Electric Telegraph operators all standing up at 12.30pm and singing the National Anthem, and a public holiday being declared for Wednesday 23 May 1900.

That success was followed by a defeat in the Koster River Battle in July 1900, but then followed the successful defence of the Elands River Post in August and the Battle of Rhenoster Kop in November.

The following year the 3rd QMI took part in what was called the pursuit of De Wet in Cape Colony, with various clashes with the rearguard of De Wet’s forces and the capture of many Boers and wagons. De Wet and his remaining forces, however, escaped into Orange Free State.

Next the 3rd QMI returned to the Transvaal and participated in an advance on Pietersburg, which was taken with little resistance.

The 3rd QMI embarked for Australia on 9 May 1901 on the Morayshire, disembarking in Sydney on 7 June and completing the return to Brisbane by train. The unit was formally disbanded on 21 June 1901.

Back to civilian life

On his return, Albert worked as a blacksmith for a period and lived in the family home in Gipps Street, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. However, when he married in 1907 – to Brisbane-born Annie Victoria Roch in St Stephen’s Cathedral with Roman Catholic rites - his occupation was recorded as labourer. Annie’s father Louis was also a labourer and her mother was Bridget née Casey.

The electoral rolls for 1908 and 1909 list Albert as a labourer, but by 1912 he and Annie were living at Myora (near Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island) and Albert was working as an oysterman.

World War 1 service

Albert enlisted in the 1st AIF on 18 August 1914, soon after enlistments began, at the age of 33. By then he and Annie were living in Victoria Street in the Brisbane suburb of Spring Hill, and his enlistment papers record ‘skipper’ as his occupation.

He was 169cms tall, weighed 73kg, had a dark complexion, brown eyes and black hair, and gave his religion as Church of England. Initially appointed a bombardier in the 7th battery of the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade, Albert was soon promoted to Corporal on 13 September.

The 7th battery embarked on HMAT Rangatira A22 in Brisbane on 25 September 1914 to join up with the first AIF convoy to Egypt. For the purposes of the journey Albert was made a Sergeant, and although he reverted to Corporal soon after arrival in Egypt in December 1914, he was promoted to Sergeant in January 1915.

The Anzacs landed at a location on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915 in which it was particularly difficult for the 18 pounder guns of the Australian artillery units to operate. Apart from the physical challenge of moving the guns up the steep terrain, 18 pounders fire at a relatively flat trajectory (unlike howitzers), and to have any effectiveness in reaching the narrow gullies and trenches occupied by the enemy, meant using relatively exposed placements for the guns. Moreover, in many places there was little distance between opposing trenches.

In his history of the Australian artillery, David Horner noted how the 7th battery adapted to play an important role in one type of situation:

On the right the 7th Battery … was within a few metres of the front line, and on the nights of 26 and 27 April its guns played a key role in repulsing determined Turkish attacks. One of the guns fired across an open field with its shrapnel rounds timed to burst at the gun muzzle like a gigantic shotgun. The Turks attacked again in the morning of 27 April and some were killed only 25 metres from the muzzle of this gun.

The Gallipoli campaign became a stalemate, with the Anzacs confined to a relatively small area, despite some gains in the major August offensive, and the conditions began to add to casualty numbers in a major way. Continuous hardship, fatigue and poor diet weakened the longer serving Anzacs, making them easy prey for illness and disease.

Albert was promoted Sergeant Major for the 7th battery on 1 September 1915 and his health held up until November, when he was evacuated among the sick and wounded and treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital in England for ‘valvular disease of the heart”.

After discharge from hospital in January 1916, Albert embarked on HMAT Ascanius A11 in Portland in March 1916 for Australia, and on arrival was formally discharged on 16 May 1916.

That wasn’t the complete end of his contribution – he was active in assisting recruitment activities in Queensland for the rest of the War, and in at least 1918 was on the executive of the Queensland Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Imperial League.

Civilian life

Back in civilian life Albert worked as an engine driver, and lived with Annie in Oriel Road, Ascot. At some time between 1919 and 1925 Albert became a clerk working in the claims area of the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation. By 1927 he was head of the claims area and between at least 1925 and 1929 he and Annie resided in Kent Street, Hamilton.

Albert was still employed with Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation in 1929, but by 1932 was a store manager at Mt Edwards near Boonah.

In 1934 the couple were back in Ascot in Brisbane – without any occupation listed for Albert - and then in 1937 they were in Apollo Road, Bulimba with clerk being specified as Albert’s occupation.

In 1937 Annie passed away, and the following year Albert married German-born Pauline Ernestine Meta Hamann in the Nazareth Lutheran Church, South Brisbane according to the rites of the United Evangelical Church. Both gave their occupation as clerk.

Albert was admitted to the Benevolent Asylum at Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island because of ill health on 1 May 1941, and died eight days later, aged 61, of myocarditis. He had no money and no property – his AMP life insurance policy had been assigned to his sister Rhoda Southern in April 1941 and 33 pounds, 16 shillings was paid out to her on his death, and on application of his widow Pauline the Repatriation Commission paid his funeral expenses of 15 pounds.

In his funeral notice a nickname of ‘Pompy’ was used. We don’t know when or exactly why this was bestowed, although it does sound like something that might be given to a Sergeant or a Sergeant Major, somewhat affectionately. Major-General Harold Edward Elliott – a demanding officer but one who cared deeply for his men – had been called ‘Pompey’ after a notable Captain of the Carlton football club Fred Elliott.

In any case, on 12 May 1941 Albert was buried with Congregational forms in the Toowong cemetery (Portion 10, section 81, grave no.20).


Select bibliography
• Australian electoral rolls.
• Australian War Memorial – embarkation rolls.
• National Archives of Australia – service record, repatriation file.
• North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum – Dunwich Benevolent Asylum admission record.
• Queensland registers of births, marriages, deaths.
 
• Harvey, Len. Letters from the Veldt (LL Harvey, Maryborough, 1994).
• Horner, David. The Gunners: A History of Australian Artillery (Sydney, 1995)
• Murray, Pembroke Lathrop. Official records of the Australian military contingents to the war in South Africa (Government Printer, 1911).
 
The Courier Mail (Brisbane) 12 May 1941 p16.
The Queenslander 3 March 1900 p411; 15 September 1917 p28.
The Telegraph (Brisbane) 3 October 1917 p7; 13 August 1918 p5; 29 June 1927 p7; 1 June 1928 p6; 21 August 1929 p8.
Truth 25 August 1929 p1.

Written by Ian Carnell AM, Buderim.  March 2017

 

 

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