This striking portrait of Albert shows just how young he was when he went to war. Courtesy of Dawn Willersdorf
Private Albert John Kempster
Pakenham & District War Memorial
Born: 31 August 1896 - Kensington, Victoria
Enlisted: 18 April 1916 aged 18*
Unit: 46th Battalion, 4th Reinforcement (SERN: 2225)
Served: Western Front
Died of wounds: 8 July 1918 - near Amiens, France
Albert was a son of Robert and Margaret Kempster, who were tenants on a property in the Toomuc Valley. His mother supplemented the family income by cleaning at the local Toomuc Valley State School where some of Albert’s younger siblings went to school (1). Albert was an 18 year old labourer living in North Melbourne when he enlisted on 2 May 1916 (2). He was assigned to the 46th Battalion 4th Reinforcement at Geelong and embarked for the UK on 16 August 1916. After arriving in England, Albert went into training camp before being sent to France in December. He was taken on strength with A Company, 46th Battalion in February 1917. The conditions in the trenches were awful and by April, Albert was suffering from septic sores on the feet. The following month, Albert was admitted to the 1 Australian General Hospital at Rouen suffering from “trench fever” and subsequently sent to England (3). Albert described the conditions in the trenches in an undated letter home to his sister Margaret Jeremiah: “Well Maggie it is very cold over here in the winter time and the snow is awful in the trenches in winter time. I have been in the trenches standing in the mud up to my art pits. It was terrible in the line at winter time and in the summer time it is scorching all day long and at night it is cold enough to freeze” (3a). Interestingly, Albert added as a post script to the same letter: “Tell Ernest not to enlist because it is no good . Tell him I said so” (3b). Ernest may have been one of Albert’s friends back home. Albert returned to the 46th Battalion on the Western Front on 1 December 1917 following some furlough and further training. In early 1918, the 46th Battalion was involved in the action to halt the German “Spring Offensive” around the town of Dernancourt in France. Following the stunning Australian attack on German positions at Le Hamel on 4 July, elements of the 46th Battalion attacked the enemy near Sailly-le-Sec on 7/8 July with the objective of “straightening” the front line. On 8 July, the Germans subjected the 46th’s old and new lines to heavy bombardment (4). That day, Albert was severely wounded by an exploding shell. He subsequently died of his wounds at the 4th Australian Field Ambulance and was buried at Daours (5). A dreaded "pink telegram" was sent to the Church of England minister in Pakenham asking him to "kindly inform" Albert's father of his death. Interestingly, amongst the items returned to his family in Pakenham was a jockey’s licence (6).
* Given Albert’s date of birth, it would seem he was 19 when he enlisted in April 1916, although on his attestation papers and WWI nominal roll, he is listed as being only 18 years old.
The assistance of Albert’s relatives Margaret Young and Dawn Willersdorf is gratefully acknowledged.
Updated 25 November 2018
(1) Waterhouse (2003) pp. 16 & 18
(2) & (6) Narre Warren & District Family History Group (2016) p. 52
(3) & (5) NAA B2455 KEMPSTER ALBERT JOHN
(3a) Letter from Albert Kempster to Margaret Jeremiah from France (undated)
(4) AWM 4 23/63/30 Unit War Diary - 46th Battalion - July 1918 pp. 2-3
(7) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 12/12/1918, p. 2
(8) Information provided by Margaret Young
(9) See for example The Age 8/71930, p. 1 & The Argus 7/7/1921, p. 1
In December 1918, the Pakenham community recognised Albert’s sacrifice with the presentation of a gold medal to his family (7). Later, his name was also inscribed onto the Pakenham & District Soldiers’ Memorial and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Members of his family also kept Albert’s memory alive: a picture of him in his WWI uniform hung in the family home (8). The family also periodically placed moving “in memoriam” notices in the newspapers down the years (9).
Left: The dreaded "pink telegram" which asked the local Church of England minister to break the news of Albert's death to his family. Courtesy of Margaret Young.