SERVICE NO: 1156
YEAR OF BIRTH: 1883
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hamilton
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 21 February 1915
PLACE OF ENLISTMENT: Port Fairy
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 31
UNIT: 22nd Battalion
EMBARKED: 8 May 1915
TROOP SHIP: HMAT A38 Ulysses
FATE: Killed in Action – 5 August 1916 – Pozieres
William Kirkwood was born in 1883 at Hamilton, a son of William Kirkwood and Mary Ann Hunter of South Hamilton. During his time in Hamilton, William Jr spent five years with the Hamilton and Penshurst Rifle Club.
In 1905, William married Annie Wright Batchelor. A daughter, Jean Wright Kirkwood was born in 1906 at Hamilton and James Alexander Clyde Kirkwood in 1907. By 1909, the family was living in Camperdown. The following year, William’s father passed away in Hamilton and Mary Anne moved from the farm into Clarke Street. Still in Camperdown in 1913, William listed his occupation as turner and woodworker on the Victorian Electoral Roll of that year. William and Annie’s marriage was not a happy one and William left, taking the children and placing them in the care of his mother Mary Anne in Hamilton.
It was close to that time that William enlisted at Port Fairy on 21 February 1915. Assigned to the 22nd Battalion, he said goodbye to his children and mother and sailed for Egypt on 10 May. William ensured his mother would be supported and assigned twenty shillings per fortnight of his pay towards Jean’s care and fifteen shillings for James.
The 22nd Battalion went to Gallipoli in early September. It was there, on 19 October 1915, that William was shot and transported to hospital in Malta. He rejoined his battalion in Egypt in January 1916 but fell ill with bronchitis and didn’t return again until May. By that time, the Battalion had moved on to France. William was killed on 5 August 1916 during the Battle of Pozieres.
At home, things were not going well. To ease the burden on Williams’ mother Mary-Ann, younger brother Albert and his wife took on the care of Jean, by then ten. James, nine, remained in the care of his grandmother. In the meantime, James planted a tree for his father in the Clarke Street Avenue of Honour. His uncle Thomas Butler, a bootmaker of Brown Street and husband of William’s oldest sister Annie, held William’s war medals in trust for James,.
In 1917, Albert Kirkwood, William’s younger brother, contacted the Defence Department because he could no longer take care of his niece Jean because of his wife’s poor health, and Jean was becoming difficult for them to manage. The Defence Department was sorry for their plight but were in no place to help and suggested Albert contact a solicitor. By that time, the children’s mother Annie was living in Warrnambool.
In 1918, Annie herself was in touch with the Defence Department requesting a share of William’s pension. Careful checking of William’s records found he had indicated on enlistment that he was not supporting Annie and therefore Annie’s request was denied. It seems Jean may have returned to live with Annie around that time. In 1921, Mary Ann Kirkwood contacted the Defence Department advising that because of her increasing age, her son-in-law Thomas Butler would take over the care of James, then aged fourteen.
During 1923, Jean Kirkwood, aged seventeen, married James Brown and the couple were living in Melbourne. By 1925, two of their children, William and Clyde died. Mother Annie was living in Mordialloc. By 1930, Jean and James were living in Johnstone Street, Mentone with a further three children. An appearance in court revealed that the couple and their children were living in poverty, allegedly in Annie’s house. Annie in the meantime had moved to Newcastle, New South Wales. There is no further record of Annie or Jean after that time. Son, James Kirkwood appears to have never married and lived in Melbourne, moving from the inner city to the eastern suburbs and later the northern suburbs. He was still alive in the 1970s.
The enlistment and death of William Kirkwood had a big effect on his family. From his mother and siblings to his two children, Jean and James. The children had a hard life including their parents’ marital problems, their separation from Annie and being placed in the care of relatives they would have barely known. That must not have helped their stability. Would William’s continued presence in their lives in the years after his separation from Annie or at least his safe return from war have seen the story end differently? We will never know, but the story that unfolded was one of great sadness.
Along with the tree James planted for his father along the Clarke Street Memorial Avenue, William is also remembered on the Hamilton War Memorial, the Port Fairy War Memorial and the Warrnambool War Memorial.