Remembering Private Dunstan
IRT William Beach Garden’s resident Cathy Robinson remembers going to church each morning before school and saying a prayer for her Uncle Benedict Dunstan, a Private who served in World War I.
“He was my mother’s brother and was serving in the 54th Infantry Battalion with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF),” the Kanahooka resident says.
Private Dunstan was fighting in Fromelles, France during WWI when he was killed in action. He was 23 years old. Sadly his family only found out he had died many months after the fact. He was killed in July 1916 and in November 1916 his family only knew that he had been wounded.
Cathy has copies of letters written by Ben’s father and brother to the army desperately seeking more details about Ben, his injuries, then his death, location of his personal belongings and final resting place over the course of many years.
Ben was killed in the field and, along with hundreds of other soldiers, buried in an unmarked field grave.
Sadly, Ben’s parents died not knowing the final resting place of their son but for the surviving family, a phone call in 2010 changed all that.
“A farmer in Fromelles was digging up his field and uncovered some bodies,” Cathy explains.
Ben’s body was identified through DNA samples provided by Cathy, her brother and her cousin.
Ben is one of 144 Australian soldiers who have been identified by name through the Fromelles Project team using DNA technology, forensic science and historical data.
“I couldn’t speak after taking the phone call [to say his remains had been positively identified],” Cathy says.
When a solider is identified the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erects a new headstone at the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery bearing their name, bringing closure to the soldier’s family.
Cathy, along with other members of her family, made the trip to Fromelles in 2010 for the Dedication of the Fromelles Military Cemetery. “The ceremony was very moving,” Cathy says. “We were able to visit the graves. The soldiers were re-buried next to the other soldiers they had lain next to for more than 90 years. The army has been marvellous.”
Cathy said the reception they received from the people of Fromelles was incredible. “The roofs of the houses had the Australian flag painted on them,” she says. “We even had the opportunity to meet Prince Charles.”
Another interesting chapter in the story is that because there had been no funeral or official resting place for Ben, back in 1924 the Dunstan family donated a baptismal font to St Joseph’s Church at Rockdale in his memory.
The font took pride of place in the church for several decades before it fell into disrepair and was thought to be lost. “When I was young I went to school at Rockdale,” Cathy says. “I was quite proud of Ben’s name being on a plaque on the baptismal font.”
Many years later builders uncovered some marble under the church. The priest realised it was the same marble he had discovered while playing as a child, without realising it was the font. The decision was made to restore the font, a project that was funded by parish donations and a grant.
In 2014, the restored baptismal font was rededicated to the church.
Cathy, along with other family members, attended the special service for her uncle and was pleased that in the space of a few years, two family mysteries had been solved.