Light left burning was never to guide him home

Will as a child with his older sister Hazel and mother Henrietta. There were two younger siblings in this photo as well.

Will as a child with his older sister Hazel and mother Henrietta. There were two younger siblings in this photo as well.

WILLIAM Henry Christian Rose was in the 55th Battalion, a back-up unit after the initial onslaught of the Battle of Fromelles on July 19, 1916, now known as the worst 24 hours in Australian military history.

Will wrote this postcard home to his mum from Alexandria in May, 1914. It ends ominously with "hope to be in the firing line very soon".

Will wrote this postcard home to his mum from Alexandria in May, 1914. It ends ominously with "hope to be in the firing line very soon".

As he was in a later wave he would have known in the early hours of July 20 what lay ahead for him as he ran across no man's land with bayonet held high. 

His recently recovered remains now have a headstone which reads ‘A light was burning in the window for your return. It was not to be. Your loving family.’

W.H.C. Rose was a descendant of Hawkesbury pioneers Thomas and Jane Rose, who built Rose Cottage at Wilberforce around 1811.

Luckily Will’s ancestors were not to know their descendant’s remains would not be found until 92 years after he died in battle, when a Melbourne history teacher tracked down where hundreds of the missing from that battle were buried behind enemy lines by the Germans. The story of Lambis Englezos’s search for the Fromelles missing soldiers was a ripping yarn in itself.

He found aerial photos of the area where the Germans were supposed to have buried Allied dead – before and after the battle – and looked for anomalies. Then a German document came to light written two days after the battle, ordering the preparation for burial of 400 bodies.

In 2008 these mass graves were located and in 2009 the Australian government decided to recover the bodies. A total of 250 were found. 

The difficult part then began – trying to identify the bodies. The Germans had been meticulous about returning any ID tags found on bodies to the Red Cross.

The Fromelles Association began contacting families of the missing from the Battle of Fromelles to try to get matches with their DNA.

Karen Rose had just been appointed secretary of the Thomas and Jane Rose Society, when in November 2013 she received an email from the Fromelles Association about Sergeant Major William Henry Christian Rose, who was one of the missing.

“I was asked initially to assist in identifying the closest living male relative to W.H.C. Rose in order for them to provide DNA to aid in the identification of his remains at Fromelles,” she said.

Ms Rose found that William was descended from Thomas and Jane Rose’s third child Joshua. Joshua’s fifth child was William Henry Rose.

William’s seventh child Frederick Ernest was our W.H.C. Rose's father.

“lnitially it was difficult to find a relative as all of Frederick Ernest's other children either only had female offspring, died young or never had children,” Ms Rose said. 

“I therefore had to go back to Frederick Ernest's brothers to follow the male line.

“I identified four possible male matches - three from his third child Albert Henry, being Robert Michael Rose, Stuart Gordon Rose and Warwick Rose, and one other from his fifth child.”

While Albert and Robert didn’t answer, the third brother was very interested. “I found Warwick Rose living on the Gold Coast,” Karen Rose said.

“He was very interested and keen to provide DNA. Shortly after, I received an email from a woman who was looking for a picture of W.H.C. Rose as her grandmother Nell Pike was his girlfriend before and during WWI, as she was serving as a nurse based in Egypt. What were the odds? 

“I also caught up with Warwick and his wife Selena in March 2014 on the Gold Coast. Between Easter and Anzac Day we received word that W.H.C. Rose had been positively identified and everyone was ecstatic. Finally he could be laid to rest with full military honours.”

Warwick Rose and his wife got time off work to attend the dedication ceremony for those most recently identified, on July 19, 2014 at Fromelles. 

He met Lambis Englezos, who had found the grave, and the French woman who had donated the land for the cemetery. Karen Rose also organised a wreath to be laid at the ceremony by Mr Rose on behalf of the Thomas and Jane Rose Family Society, and she will be there at this year’s Fromelles centenary ceremony on July 19.

The Australian War Memorial website says Fromelles was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front. The attack was planned as a feint to draw German troops away from the Somme battles being fought further south. 

“A seven-hour preparatory bombardment deprived the attack of any hope of surprise, and ultimately proved ineffective in subduing the well-entrenched defenders,” the AWM site says.

“ When the troops of the 5th Australian and 61st British Divisions attacked at 6pm on 19 July 1916, they suffered heavily at the hands of German machine-gunners. 

“Small parts of the German trenches were captured by the 8th and 14th Australian Brigades, but, devoid of flanking support and subjected to fierce counter-attacks, they were forced to withdraw. 

“By 8am on 20 July 1916, the battle was over. 

“The 5th Australian Division suffered 5533 casualties, rendering it incapable of offensive action for many months; the 61st British Division suffered 1547. 

“The attack was a complete failure because the Germans realised within a few hours it was merely a feint. It therefore had no impact whatsoever upon the progress of the Somme offensive.”

Almost 2000 of the 5533 were killed in action or died of wounds, all due to bad British planning.  

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