This is a tribute to a young soldier in our family who died nearly 100 years ago during the freezing winter on the Western Front in December 1916. John William Vance is my daughter’s third cousin – first cousin of her grandfather Archibald Pitt Vance – and his Service No was 3962. He was the son of Joseph Edward and Mary Ada Vance (nee Fallon) and was working as a carpenter in Maryborough (Queensland) when he first enlisted on 24 August 1915. John stated that he was 18 years on his enlistment form, but his actual age was 17. It seems that he may have forged his parents’ names in the consent section on the enlistment form, because his father (Joseph Edward Vance of Cheapside Street, Maryborough) wrote to the military authorities and the Federal Member within two days, stating that he had not given his consent. Joseph desperately tried to prevent his son from going to the war. Interestingly, Joseph Vance states in his letter to the military authorities that a Sergeant-Major Thetford informed his son that if his father ‘made trouble in Brisbane he could go on to Sydney, and if he liked enlist under another name’. However, John William was discharged on 11 September 1915.
It appears that John William Vance took the Sergeant-Major’s advice, as one week later he travelled to New South Wales to enlist on 17 September. He was listed as being 18 years and one month, belonging to the Church of England, 5 feet 8 inches tall, 130 lbs in weight, with a fresh complexion, grey-blue eyes and fair-brown hair. He passed his medical exam on 3 December 1915 at Liverpool in New South Wales and was appointed to the 12th Reinforcements, 2nd Battalion. On 29 March 1916 he joined the British Expeditionary Force in Alexandria and six days later John William disembarked at Marseilles. By 9 June 1916, he was taken on strength of the 1st Battalion in France.
He contracted the mumps by the end of July 1916 and was not discharged to duty until 18 August 1916, rejoining his battalion two days later. It seems that about this time John William was wounded in action. In early December, he was receiving instruction in the use of the Lewis machine gun, but on 6 December 1916, John William was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and died five days later on 11 December 1916.
John William Vance was buried in the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension in France, 2.5 miles South-south-west of Albert. Information from the United Kingdom Commonwealth War Graves Index France lists his grave at No 177, Pt II. M-Z.