Courtesy of AWM (H05875)
Private Robert Charles Cornwall +
Pakenham & District War Memorial & Pakenham Upper Roll of Honour
Born: 1895 - Bairnsdale, Victoria
Enlisted: 18 December 1914 aged 19
Unit: 5th Battalion, 4th Reinforcement (SERN: 1725)
Served: Egypt, Gallipoli & Western Front
Died of wounds: 4 August 1916 - Wimereux, France
Robert was a younger son of William and Mary Cornwall of “Pakenham North” (Toomuc Valley). He grew up around Bairnsdale, where he enlisted on 18 December 1914, although his parents may have shifted back to the Toomuc Valley by this time (1). Robert was assigned to the 5th Battalion 4th Reinforcement. He left Australia for Egypt on 13 April 1915. From Egypt, Robert embarked for the Dardanelles and was taken on strength with the 5th Battalion at Anzac Cove on 27 May 1915. In August 1915, he took sick with gastroenteritis and bronchitis and was evacuated to Mudros, then England, where he was diagnosed with dysentery. When Mary Cornwall was notified of Robert’s illness, she wrote to the Army telling them she was not surprised as he had been in the trenches since May. She hoped he would pull through as he had a "good constitution" (2).
Robert rejoined his unit in Egypt in March 1916. In May 1916, Robert was sent to France to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front. There, he was first assigned to an entrenching unit, then rejoined the 5th Battalion in Belgium on 13 July 1916. Less than two weeks later, Robert was wounded during the Battle of Pozieres. He may have lain on the battlefield for some time before being found (3). Robert was subsequently evacuated to the 2nd Australian General Hospital at Wimereux France where he died of his wounds on 4 August 1916, two years to the day since Britain had declared war on Germany. He was buried in the local cemetery (4). John Armour, the Presbyterian missioner in Pakenham had the delicate task of informing William and Mary Cornwall of Robert’s death (5). After being notified of her “laddie’s” death, Mary wrote to the Army requesting more details. The stationery she used was framed with a thick black border symbolising her grief and mourning. Mary’s grief at losing her son was amplified by the fact that Robert had not received any of her letters while serving at Gallipoli and hardly any when he was in France. She was also anxious for news of Robert’s brother James, whom she had not heard from since he left for the War (6). That the Cornwalls had another son critically ill in Melbourne Hospital (7) must have made the news of Robert’s death even more difficult to cope with.
The assistance of Leonie Wuillemin & Jen Vlug is gratefully appreciated.
(1) (2) (4) (6) NAA B2455 Cornwall R C
(3) AWM Roll of Honour Circular 1725 - Cornwall Robert Charles.
(5) & (7) DA 17/8/1916 p. 2.