Remembering the fallen can be hard when you have no face to match the name
Anzac Day and Remembrance Day have always left me feeling like a bit of a fraud whenever it comes time to recite the Ode of Remembrance.
It’s the part about “we will remember them” that catches in the throat.
I had a great uncle who died in World War I but, head bowed in solemn attempts to honour him on those days of reflection, I always had nothing.
Perhaps because we had no photos to put a face to the name.
I had avoided the family military history lessons until a few years ago, but by then it was all too late.
My father and uncle, both keepers of the family history, had recently died.
However, my desire to know more about this man who fought and died so long ago had been ignited by the Anzac Centenary.
It was the start of a four-year journey to find Michael Francis Lloyd.
Armed with a name and not much else, the search began with National Archives and Australian War Memorial records.
Mr Lloyd enlisted in March 1916 and was 30 when he left Australia, straight off a farm in country Victoria.
His only qualification for war was his fine marksmanship.
He sailed out of Melbourne onboard HMAT A7 Medic on May 20, 1916, waved off by his mother, Jeanie.
Private Lloyd of the 3/46th Battalion did not have what you would call a glorious war.
There were no glowing dispatches written home about him. No medals and praise from his superiors.
The only notation on his military record was “deprived a day’s pay for having a dirty rifle on parade”.
It’s a bloody poor epitaph for someone who sailed across the world and died fighting for another country, yet it made me like him even more that he was perhaps a bit of a slacker.
Private Lloyd fought on the Western Front in the Battles of Bullecourt in France early 1917 and survived.
Six months later, he was shot in the chest while fighting at the Battle of Polygon Wood, near Ypres in Belgium.
Tragic conflicting telegrams
Canadian medics kept him alive long enough to get him to a field hospital and he was repatriated to England to a military hospital in Kent.
I found telegrams from the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to his mother Jeanie Lloyd in the small Victorian town of Warracknabeal, including one on March 20, 1918, reporting he was “out of danger”.
The AIF war office letter declaring Private Lloyd was out of danger. (ABC News: Shelley Lloyd)
But he died in hospital the very next day.
On March 21, she received a telegram declaring Private Lloyd, 33, died from “shrapnel wounds to the chest”.
His distraught mother wrote numerous times to the AIF requesting his effects.
In July 1920, more than two years after his death and eight months after the end of the war, she was finally informed the ship returning his personal effects had been torpedoed and sunk during the last months of fighting.
An inventory showed his effects included a match box cover, a pipe, five handkerchiefs, a tin opener and a devotional book.
Her final connection to her son was lost.
If it was any consolation to his poor mother, Private Lloyd was buried with full military honours at the Fort Pitt Military Cemetery in Kent with “his coffin draped in the Union Jack flag and a gun carriage supplied”.
Despite so little detail about his military service, the AIF sent his mother extensive details about his funeral, including the undertaker’s name and address and an elaborate description of “a good polished elm coffin with brass fittings”.
The military records included a photograph of his headstone, but frustratingly I could find no photographs of the man himself, so he remains faceless.
Earlier this year, I became the first member of our family to visit his graveside, on a cold Spring day, 100 years after he was buried in foreign soil so far from his home and those who loved him.
I expected a bleak place, but the cemetery is meticulously maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
A letter from the Army in 1920 admitting Private Lloyd’s effects were lost. (ABC News: Shelley Lloyd)
Michael rests alongside other foreign soldiers from Canada, New Zealand and Australia, beneath beautiful flowering, shady trees.
I laid some poppies and sat by his grave and had a cry for Michael Francis Lloyd and the many, many other young lives lost in a war fought a world away from Australian shores.
It had been a long journey, but after finding him in that green field in Kent I can honestly say when the ode is read aloud, I will remember him.