Friday, 6 September 2013

Not everyone died on the battlefield

One of the most poignant images I’ve seen is this one. It shows Louis and Matilda Rauert at the grave of their son, 1122 Private Sydney Charles Rauert of C Company, 21st Batallion, at Coburg Cemetery.

Image courtesy Australian War Memorial. Image number P07586.003.

The following information comes from Sydney Rauert’s dossier, available online at the National Archives of Australia.

Twenty-two year old Private Rauert enlisted on 7 April 1915 at Nhill in Victoria’s Wimmera, but soon after arriving at the Broadmeadows Camp contracted measles, which in those days was a serious, often fatal, illness. Admitted to the Melbourne Hospital on 7 May, he was soon returned to Broadmeadows by horse ambulance.

I can imagine the shock his parents must have suffered, having travelled the 360 kilometres from Kiata East (near Nhill) thinking that they were going to say goodbye to their son as he sailed off to war – he was due to sail out with the 6th Brigade on 9 May. Instead, they learned of his illness and despite his worsening condition, were unable to visit him because he was infectious and in quarantine. In the end, they had to make the long journey home without seeing him.

Sydney developed bronchial-pneumonia and died of heart failure on 15 May 1915, four days after his parents returned home. Thankfully, his brother Percy, then in camp, was by his side until his death. Percy went on to serve on the Western Front with distinction, attained the rank of Lieutenant and was awarded the Military Cross.

To add to his parents’ distress, the details of Sydney’s dying days became the subject of an official inquiry in November 1915. It’s likely that his brother instigated the complaint, given that he had visited Sydney every day. Firstly, it was claimed that the Department had not supplied Sydney with a change of clothing and Percy had to give his brother his own clothes and find new ones for himself. However, that was not the worst of it:
He was in an iron room with about 15 others and attended by camp orderlies with no technical knowledge. There were no comforts and no clean towels. The lad complained of the medical attention, his dying words being “they are absolutely doing nothing for me, they are letting me die like a dog.”
Percy must have been outraged in late August 1915 when a member of the Military Police at Seymour was sent to arrest him for supposed desertion. It transpired that it was actually Sydney they were there to arrest, for desertion from Broadmeadows on 8 May, at a time when he was lying in his iron room at Broadmeadows, dying.

When the Nhill Free Press published Sydney’s death notice on 18 May 1915, it made reference to him dying at the Broadmeadows ‘concentration camp’. Although this term has a very different meaning for us now, it was used then to mean a camp where many men were concentrated. Given the terrible conditions under which Sydney Rauert died, it could be claimed that his treatment at the Broadmeadows Camp was closer to our modern understanding of the term.

Rauert brothers just before Sydney's enlistment in April 1915. Back row: all unidentified. Front row, left to right: Sydney Charles Rauert; unidentified; Norman Alfred Rauert (served in WW2); and Percival Louis (Percy) Rauert.
Image courtesy Australian War Memorial, image number P07586.002

If you are able to identify the three men in the back row or the man in the middle of the front row, please let me know.


  1. These deaths that occurred before the volunteers even left the country are very sad. Andrew Lemon has a very interesting chapter on the Broadmeadows Camp in his book "Broadmeadows: a forgotten history". It is probably this case that he mentions in reference to the early conditions in the camp. I was particularly interested in the story of the Camp of Evil Women!

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, Lenore. I'll borrow Andrew Lemon's book and read more. Have you (or anyone else) heard much about the Glenroy Military Hospital? I've come across references to it a few times but don't know very much at all.