WWI letter mystery: appeal to help fill in the blanks of soldier's words

After reading a 97-year-old letter from her great uncle to her grandmother, Orange woman Lynette Crannis wants to find out what became of three brothers who went to France in World War I.

After reading a 97-year-old letter from her great uncle to her grandmother, Orange woman Lynette Crannis wants to find out what became of three brothers who went to France in World War I.

THOUSANDS of kilometres from home and dealing with the death of his brother, Alexander Whiteley lay in a hospital bed in France grateful he was alive but wondering whether he had a future. 

It was October 1917, and the young man believed to be from Cootamumdra, wrote a letter to his sister-in-law Mary Katherine McAuley, describing his sadness and his feelings of hopelessness after suffering traumatic injuries fighting in World War I.

The letter has been passed onto Mary’s grand-daughter, Orange woman Lynette Crannis, and she wants help to find out what happened to the man lying in the hospital. 

She does not know his regiment or rank but knows his wife, Ivy, died in 1924. 

“The letter must have impacted [my grandmother] for her to keep it,” she said. 

Mr Whiteley wrote to Ms McAuley in October, 1917, and told her he had been away from the front line in France since July and had been in hospital until three weeks prior.

“I am now in a camp near Weymouth waiting my turn for a boat back to Australia. I am permanently unfit for further active service. I have had a very bad time, I do not think I will ever be strong again,” he wrote in the letter.. 

The statement is followed by “poor brother Dick has gone under”.

Ms Crannis recently visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and was able to find out that “brother Dick”, Private Richard Whiteley, was killed in action on May 3, 1917, in France, on the same day a third brother Charles had been wounded by shrapnel. 

“It must have been a ferocious battle,” Ms Crannis said. 

Mr Whiteley wrote to Ms McAuley that he had received a letter from Charles a few days earlier and that he was still with the battalion.

That is the only information Ms Crannis has about Charles. 

“Well dear sister, by the time you receive this, I may possibly be on my way home again. I will write again before I leave for home,” he wrote. 

Ms Crannis does not know where Mr Whiteley was from, the only clue being a reference in his letter to where her grandmother lived at the time. 

“I was beginning to think that you had forgotten about me, and had given up hope of hearing from you again, as three of the letters I had written to you were returned to me from Cootamundra while I was in France,” he said.

If you can help solve this mystery, email nicole.kuter@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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