The knock on the door that mothers came to dread

Name: Mary Green
Date: 1917
Unit: Civilian
Location: Brisbane, Qld

Mrs Mary Green was busy at home on 9 January 1917 when she heard a knock on her front door. Like hundreds of mothers before and after her, her heart missed a beat when she found the local parish priest on the step.

He had been given the thankless task of informing her that her son, Sgt S.V. Green of 3rd Depot Unit of Supply, 21st Australian Army Service Corps, had died of gunshot wounds at 2/2 London Casualty Clearing Station on 28 December 1916.

It was inevitable with the large number of casualties in World War I that many a parent received a letter from their son fighting in Europe after being told of his death. And so it was with Mary Green.

Syd had been away for two years but he and his mother had corresponded regularly. She had sent him a parcel of goodies for Christmas and he and his mates had made short work of it on the train journey to their latest camp.

On Christmas Day, Sgt Green had worked as usual issuing supplies to the troops but managed a few quiet moments to write to his mother, thanking her for the parcel. It was to be the last letter he ever wrote.

"My dearest Mother,

"Today is Xmas Day and the second I have spent away from home, and I hope the last. I have just arrived back at camp, the rest of our chaps are working late so I have the tent to myself and have a few minutes to write.

"We worked as usual today issuing supplies, and there was the same amount of rain, mud and slush so there wasn't much to remind us of Xmas. A few miles away our guns are pounding away at the Germans and sometimes the sky is lit up by the flashes. Star shells rise and fall like brilliant sky rockets and everything is just War."

Syd was obviously looking forward to what must have seemed like a sumptuous feast but found time to tell his mother who had helped provide the food.

"Tonight about 9.30pm we will have our Xmas dinner of roast beef and potatoes, roast turkey (kindly given to us by the officer in charge of our column) and plum duff (issued by the Army but subscribed for by the people of England) so we should have a good time and enjoy ourselves.

"I hope you got my letter from Rouen saying I received your Xmas parcel, everything was great, Mother, and we disposed of the eatables in the train on our journey here, but I'm afraid I was too excited to thank you for it. However, you know how grateful I am for all you do for me and I can only hope to repay it all when I get home."

Syd sought to comfort his mother who was obviously worried about her other son Bert going away to fight against the Germans. Whether he truly thought the end of war was in sight or not, he certainly gave that impression.

"I had another lovely letter from you a few days ago but am sorry you're missing Bert and so sad about him coming away. Mother, he'll be as right as a bank and will probably arrive here in time to see the finish of it all and take me home.

"You take it from me, 1917 is the last lap of the war and Fritz will throw in the sponge at the first opportunity and he'll get the shock of his life very soon. Now don't you worry about Bert, he can look after himself and ditto me, so we'll all be together again before the next Xmas.

"Well Mother, I'll have to say goodbye again with love to everybody I know and hoping you are keeping well and in good spirits. Best love and kisses from,

Your loving son

Sergeant Syd Green died of multiple gunshot wounds three days after he wrote the letter.

A memorandum dated 9 January 1917 from Major E. D'Arcy of the Australian Military Forces, 1st Military District in Brisbane, addressed to the Senior Chaplain, Roman Catholic Denomination, asking him to

"please break the news to Mrs Mary Elizabeth Green and convey the deep sympathy of King, Queen and Commonwealth Government in loss she and the army have sustained".

While Sgt Green died, aged 21, shortly after eating his Christmas dinner in 1916, he had enjoyed a much more organised event the previous year while on TS Suffolk.

In true wartime humour, the ship staged its Xmas Day dinner with a tongue in cheek menu.


= = = = = =
Shallots au Natural
- - - - -
Consomme a la Rubbish
- - - - -
Potage Skilli
- - - - -
Whitebait Nextrip
- - - - -
Saute de la Suffolk Lingo
Curried Rabbit Alf-onso
Underdun Roast Surloin of Beef minus Yorko
Roast Head of Pork Quick Style
Stuffed Mutton not Dinkum
Roast Turkey a la Perhaps

Baked and Boiled Potatoes Fermento
Peas aux Cardcounters

Plum Pudding Hard and Sauce (tasteless)
Trifle Mortrouble
Cheese (nippy) ------------- Dessert (byenbie)
Pumpkin, Marrow, and other Fruits in Season.


Weak Tea -------------- Coffee Grounds

Sarto 4d extra


The material for this article was supplied by Marjorie Whimp of Queensland

Last updated: 31 May 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), The knock on the door that mothers came to dread, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 28 September 2021,
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