‘I would like to tell you that I had a second son fall’ wrote Elizabeth McAuliffe of Stirling Road, Port Augusta, to Base Records, Melbourne, in August 1919, when she enquired about the details of her sons’ deaths. She was anxious to know how they died and where they were buried. In time she received photographs of both graves as well as their personal effects, which contained their identity discs.
The brothers were born at Port Augusta, South Australia, two of the eleven children of Patrick and Elizabeth McAuliffe. Both were educated at St Joseph’s School, belonged to the Foresters’ Lodge and were employed in the clothing and drapery departments of two local stores. Their obituaries gave brief details of their lives. Edward, known as ‘Ted’, was described as popular and possessing a generous disposition. Hugh was a member of the town band and took an active interest in church life. Edward enlisted first, arriving in France in June 1916. Meanwhile, his younger brother Hugh had enlisted and was awaiting embarkation when the family received news that Edward had died of wounds.
The discs, poignant reminders of the McAuliffe brothers, were fixed to a wooden shield by family members, and are now displayed in the museum.
The use of identity discs for AIF members was governed under AIF Order No. 2, issued on 26th August 1914 as the AIF was being formed. The discs were personal items given individually to each soldier and used to identify wounded and deceased men.
Made of compressed fibre, aluminium or tin, the discs were stamped or engraved with name, regimental number, unit and religion. At the beginning of the war soldiers wore only one disc and this was later increased to two, duplicating the identification details. In the event of death one stayed with the body and the second was returned to the soldier’s unit; in time this disc would be sent to the next of kin named in the soldier’s service file.