Skip to content

Pte. John David Jacob Richardson – Lest We Forget




The photograph

One of the photos in the box of assorted family memorabilia that I inherited was a formal studio portrait of a soldier. His uniform, his pose and the style of the photo are all typical of the pre-embarkation photos taken of many Australian World War 1 troops just before they left for overseas, many never to return.

Unlike many of the other photos in the box, this one had an inscription on the back – ‘John D.J. Richardson / B. 1896.’ The name wasn’t immediately familiar, however after a quick search I found John on the WOOLLEY branch of my family tree. We are both descended from the WOOLLEY family who came to Australia in 1836 as Bounty immigrants from Mildenhall Suffolk. [1] We are also descended from Margaret STEWART of Paisley in Scotland. Margaret was a convict transported to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) in 1853. [2]

Ironically, the soldier looking into an unknown future and about to leave his homeland to fight in the Great War in the name of King George V, was the grandson of a convict exiled from her homeland by the king’s grandmother, Queen Victoria only 63 years earlier.

Private John Richardson

The soldier

John RICHARDSON (1896-1917) was a 19 year old dairy farmer from South Gundarimba, via Lismore, when he enlisted for military service at Liverpool, Sydney on 26 January 1916 . He embarked with the 16th Reinforcements of the 1st Infantry Battalion (New South Wales) from Sydney on the SS Makarini on 1 April 1916. [3]

We will never know why John enlisted. Patriotism, a spirit of adventure and loyalty to his brothers who had already enlisted – these would all have played a part. Perhaps he enlisted to escape the drudgery of the daily milking on his father’s dairy farm. He may have been inspired by one of the many recruitment posters of the day.[4]

We do know from a small reference in the Northern Star of 7 May 1917 that John was ” the younger (brother) of the two going under an operation to fit himself for active service’.

“The trumpet calls”, an Australian Army recruitment poster from World War I [5 ]

Charles Bingham, a Private from the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station, summed up the feeling of many recruits in an interview with Harvey Broadbent in 1985:

… a feeling that England was the mother country. We were only a colony anyway, and although we’d been given independence, we were so tied to Great Britain that when she was in trouble it was just automatic, a feeling of ‘this is your duty’. That’s why I think the majority enlisted. Some out of loyalty, some searching for adventure, and some, I’m afraid, to get away from a cranky wife. It was automatic. Every man from the first day off was a volunteer… some of them, they’d walked for two, three days… it was a remarkable expression of loyalty. I doubt if it would ever happen again.

Charles Bingham, Private 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station [6]

Whatever John Richardson’s motivations, it would have been impossible for him to imagine the horror and devastation that was the trench warfare of the Western Front in France.

Pte John Richardson’s Attestation paper. p.1

The young soldier disembarked at Suez on 1 May 1916. After months of training at the Tell El Kebir training camp in Egypt, he joined the newly formed 4th Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF). and was in France by 12 October 1916. [7]

Pte. Richardson was killed in action only six months later at the first battle for Bullecourt, France on 15 April 1917. He was one of 3,000 Australian men killed or wounded in this battle.[8] He was 20 years old. [9 ]

The squalid condition of First World War trenches. An Australian sleeps in a trench shelter in the second line of trenches before Riencourt. AWM E00455

Pte Richardson’s parents were told of their son’s death by telegram. They received it the day after discovering that another son had been seriously wounded in battle. This would have been devastating news and it really illustrates the effect that the Great War had on families and communities at that time.

Personal, Northern Star, Monday 7 May 1917, page 4 [10]
Northern Star, Friday 8 June 1917, page 4 [11]

The young soldier’s parents and family were not afforded the comfort of knowing where there son was buried.

Our records have found Private Richardson died on 15 April 1917 and according to our records he has no known grave. His name is therefore recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial to the Missing, Somme, France.

Claudia Krebs, Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Office of Australian War Graves.
Bullecourt Diorama at the Australian War Memorial

In the trench warfare that was predominant in World War 1 it was often impossible to locate or identify bodies that had been buried as a result of heavy bombardment. Memorials to the Missing were built to officially commemorate these casualties. However, on occasions when the remains of an unknown casualty were found they were interred in the nearest war cemetery with the headstone reading “An unknown soldier of the Great War – Known to God”.

I can only wonder if Private John David Richardson is one of those unknown soldiers.


Villers-Bretonneux Memorial to the Missing, Somme, France.


[1] Ancestry, Arrivals record for William Woolley, ‘Tasmania, Australia, Passenger Arrivals, 1829-1957’, Archives Office of Tasmania; Tasmania, Australia; Reports of ships arrivals with lists of passengers; Film Number: SLTX/AO/MB/1; Series Number: MB2/39/1/3 , Accessed 14 November 2019.

[2] ‘Convict Ships’ ,, Accessed 14 November 2019.

[3] Service Record of John David Jacob Richardson, p.1, Service number 5203, National Archives of Australia.

[4 ] State Library of Victoria, ‘World War I posters from the State Library Victoria collection’,, Accessed 20 November, 2019.

[5 ] ‘The trumpet calls’, Norman Lindsay. Printed by W.A. Gullick, government printer, Australian War Memorial catalogue number ARTV00039, Public Domain, Accessed 20 November 2019.

{ 6} ABC News, ‘World War I: How Australia reacted to the outbreak of conflict’., Accessed 19 November 2019.

[7] Service Record of John David Jacob Richardson, p.4, Service number 5203, National Archives of Australia.

[ 8] Australian War Memorial, ‘The Battles For Bullecourt’,, Accessed 11 November 2019.

[9] Service Record of John David Jacob Richardson, p.5, Service number 5203, National Archives of Australia.

[10] Anon, ‘Personal’, Northern Star, Monday 7 May 1917, page 4

[11] Anon.. ‘Votes of Sympathy’, Northern Star, Friday 8 June 1917, page 4.

One thought on “Pte. John David Jacob Richardson – Lest We Forget Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: