William Wrangham was an ordinary man who did his bit for the war effort until he died a long way from home at Orange Hospital in 1921.
He was one of almost 100 WWI veterans who were laid to rest in unmarked graves at the Orange Cemetery, a discovery unearthed by members of the Orange sub-branch of the Returned Services League.
Last week,the Central Western Daily revealed how researcher Sharon Jameson was at the forefront of the discovery, and the often sad circumstances of the passing of these soldiers, most of whom died as paupers, without family and miles from home, many of them at Bloomfield Mental Hospital.
The sub-branch is now now working to recognise the Diggers and Mr Wrangham was the first to be identified. He was recognised with a grave of his own almost 100 years after his death. Now his story has been unravelled.
The following article appeared in the Orange Leader on May 18,1921:
"Digger's lonely death at the hospital yesterday. William Wrangham, a returned digger, passed away after suffering from wounds received and being gassed in the recent war. The Returned Soldiers' Club were notified of the sad end and also informed that deceased was a stranger to the town, he would have been buried as a pauper, but the Diggers of Orange have arranged to give their late comrade a fit and proper burial and the secretary asks all returned men who possibly came to attend the funeral, which will leave the hospital this morning. Deceased had been visiting about the district for some time. He was aged 56 years."
William Wrangham was born in Whitehaven in Cumbria, England, on June 12, 1865 to George and Isabella Wrangham.
What prompted him to come to Australia is unknown but he arrived in Victoria via the ship Liguria in August 1886. He stayed in Victoria for eight years before travelling on to Albany in Western Australia arriving March 1894 via the Gabo.
Gold had been discovered in Kalgoorlie in 1893 and it's suspected he thought the prospect of making his fortune was better in Western Australia than it had been in Victoria. Electoral Rolls and advertisements in the Coolgardie Miner in 1898 revealed he became a carrier/contractor in Norseman owning a jinker (trailer) for moving houses.
When war broke out in Europe in 1914. Mr Wrangham attested at the Blackboy Hill Camp, about 22 kilometres from Perth, in Western Australia on December 29, 1915. He gave his age as 44 years but in reality, he was 50 years old at the time.
The Returned Soldiers' Club were notified of the sad end and also informed that deceased was a stranger to the town...- Orange Leader, 1921
He was described as 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 140 pounds with dark complexion, grey hair and grey eyes. He gave his brother-in-law J Myers in England as his next-of-kin.
Recorded as SN5454, he formed part of the 17th Reinforcements of the 16th Battalion and on April 17, 1916, he boarded HMAT A60 Aeneas bound for England and then onto the Western Front in France.
According to his war record, he acted as a driver and for some time was driving for the Australian Army Veterinary Hospital both in England and in Calais. He was hospitalised several times in 1917 but his record does not state the reason. He did manage to forfeit two days' pay for "overstaying furlough" in France on April 26, 1917.
Mr Wrangham's health deteriorated and he returned to Australia on the HT Balmoral Castle on February 1, 1918. He was discharged as medically unfit on April 12, 1918. By this time his age was recorded correctly as 53.
For his 19 months service in France, William Wrangham was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Researchers who investigated his life questioned how a man born in England and working in Western Australia ended up in Orange and a clue came from one of the witnesses mentioned on his death certificate, LR Anlezark. Leslie Reginald Anlezark had joined the Coo-ee March from Gilgandra to Sydney in 1915 and went on to serve in France and Belgium. Mr Anlezark too was hospitalised several times in 1917 and perhaps the two became friends and he invited Mr Wrangham to Orange for a visit or to work.
Mr Wrangham died in Orange Base Hospital on the May 17, 1921. He never married.
Searches undertaken by the researchers on Ancestry located a family tree mentioning William Wrangham's family. A sister Ann was wife of J Myers mentioned as next-of-kin in his war record and also named in his will as beneficiary. Two descendants of Ann have now been located, one in Braidwood, NSW and one in Ballarat, Victoria.
It did not seem acceptable that a man who served this country should lay forgotten in the local cemetery so on December 18, 2019 application was made to the Australia War Graves Commission for an official commemoration to be placed on his grave.
This was accepted in June 2020 and the application was completed and forwarded to AWG. In December 2020 a full grave headstone was placed on this grave nearly 100 years after William Wrangham was interred there.
The Orange Ex-Services club, headed by Mr Chris Colvin conducted a Remembrance ceremony at the graveside as a mark of respect for his war service.
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