As one of the many Australians who enlisted in the army during WWI, Private Francis Gilbert Jenkins was one of the thousands of soldiers who never made it back home. When he succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds in 1917, Private Jenkins’ death traumatised his family and community for generations.
This history has been researched by Abby Richardson and Lena Van Swinderen.
Private Jenkins’ Service Record
Born in 1893, Francis Gilbert Jenkins was the only child of Lydia Christensen and Hercules Thomas, who worked as a commission agent. His mother, in a letter sent to “the officer in charge” after her son’s death, mentions that her husband died “some years ago” (Christensen, 1921, [online]).
Whether this occurred during Private Jenkins’ childhood or his adult life is not known. Nonetheless, Private Jenkins had an education and attended Moggill State School. After that, he became a pineapple farmer. Private Jenkins also appears to have been an active member of the Methodist community, as he is mentioned, along with his cousin Percy Norman Smith, in the recorded sermon of the Methodist Church of Australasia that commemorated fallen Methodist soldiers. It is probable that Private Jenkins attended the Moggill Uniting Church, which was built by local Methodists in 1868 and still exists today (Todd, 2013, [online]).
On 23 February 1916, Private Jenkins enlisted in the Australian military. There is no way of knowing what influenced him to do this; whether it was the memory of his dead father, patriotism, or a hunger for adventure. However, it is possible that his enlistment influenced his cousin, Percy, who joined the army a few months after, on 31 May.
Following his enlistment, Private Jenkins was placed into the 11th Machine Gun Corps, and then travelled to Melbourne. On 16 August, he embarked on the RMS Orontes and left Australia behind for good. He disembarked in Plymouth, England on 2 October. Following his arrival, he was “taken on strength” (a military term meaning that the soldier has been permanently moved to a battalion and has begun to receive pay) and proceeded overseas to France on 23 November.
On 29 September, 1917, Private Jenkins was wounded in action. Having received gunshot wounds to the shoulder and abdomen, he was quickly moved to Belgium, so he could be cared for in the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. Sadly, the bullet wound he received to the abdomen proved to be too much, and he died five days later, on 4 October, after almost two years of battle. His remains were buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium.
The death of Private Jenkins would have affected many members of the Kenmore-Moggill community he had once lived in. Due to his father’s death, it is probable that Private Jenkins’ mother, Lydia Christensen, would have depended on her son financially and emotionally. Losing her husband and only child in such a short space of time would have been horrendous for Lydia. Private Jenkins’ death would also have traumatised his aunt, Alice Smith, who would have received the news of his death directly after that of her own son, Percy.
Additionally, the close Methodist Church community would have felt Private Jenkins’ death as evidenced by the service that commemorates him and “all Methodist soldiers who have fallen during the Great War” (Methodist Church of Australasia, 1919, [online]).
Finally, the farm that Private Jenkins once worked on would have lost an employee. Almost the entire community was affected in some way by the passing of Private Jenkins. Like most of his fellow soldiers, he left behind no stunning tale of individual heroism, but instead, a simpler yet equally honorable story of a young farmer who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. It is for this reason that he, like every fallen soldier, deserves to be remembered.