State Library has recently digitised and transcribed a collection of letters written home by a young grazier from Mitchell, Queensland.
John Bain (Jack) Moncrieff was born in 1891 at Moonta, South Australia, the Adelaide-educated son of an Anglican minister. Jack had a taste for adventure, and after a short stint as a merchant ship cabin boy, decided to go on to the land.
Attracted by low price, prickly pear infested land for sale in western Queensland, Jack opted to move north, and his father purchased 4,000 acres near Mitchell for him. Jack relished the challenge, and within three years had fenced the property, sunk a bore and built a house. His family moved to join him in 1911, and his father Samuel Moncrieff established a parish in the town of Mitchell.
When war broke out, Jack enlisted in the 5th Light Horse and departed for Egypt. He volunteered for the regimental Machine Gun Section, and served eighteen weeks at Gallipoli until evacuated with dysentery, an illness which plagued him throughout his active service.
Many of the letters Jack wrote home to his mother, father and younger sisters Kathleen (Kits) and Amy, are held by State Library of Queensland in the Moncrieff and Jenkyn Family Papers. Some are tourist accounts of Cairo and surrounds, others describe his work in the machine gun section, and many mention encounters with friends from home. Several are written from convalescent hospitals or establishments as he coped with recurrent dysentery.
While in Cairo Jack completed an advanced machine gun course at the Imperial School of Instruction, Zeitoun, and was sufficiently impressive to be offered both a position as a machine gun instructor and a commission. He enjoyed his instructor’s role, and life as a 2nd Lieutenant certainly provided better conditions, but he longed to join his regiment. When an opportunity arose to transfer to the Machine Gun Company, 13th Infantry Brigade, he took it wholeheartedly and left for France.
His letters from the Western Front describe life in the trenches, the conditions of his village billet, and the exacting task of providing “indirect fire” from about a mile behind the front line. His last letter to his parents dated 18th August 1916, reassured them that he was safe and sound. On 3rd September 1916 Jack was killed at Mouquet Farm on the last day of the Battle of Poziéres. He was 25.
Jack’s letters reveal him to be a capable, generous young man who loved his family and wished to fulfil his duty to his nation and the Empire. These letters are transcribed, and you can read the transcriptions alongside their digitised originals in the Moncrieff and Jenkyn Family Papers.
2nd Lieutenant John Bain Moncrieff is included in the Distant Lines: Queensland voices of the First World War exhibition currently on at State Library of Queensland until 15 November 2015. He is one of 25 Queenslanders whose experiences and collections are featured in the exhibition.
Robyn Hamilton – QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland