Private A.B Cliff.IMAGINE how Mrs C. Cliff must have felt when she received this reply to an inquiry about her son, who had been reported wounded in World War I.
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“Your son, Private A.B. Cliff, is reported to have been admitted on October 9, 1917 to King George Military Hospital, London, with severe gunshot wounds, multiple,” it read.
“On receipt of any later cable messages, you will be promptly advised, but in the absence of further news, it may be assumed favourable progress is being maintained.”
Alfred Beyer Cliff had enlisted less than a year earlier in Cowell in regional South Australia and had found his way to the war front in Ypres in Belgium, his son Milton explained.
“A pellet knocked the top off his finger, [he got] another through the wrist, and another through the jaw,” he said.
“He was lucky to get out. Apparently there were only three of them who came out of the shelling, and they had to crawl out over their mates.”
Not only did Alfred survive the war, he lived in Port Pirie until the age of 84 and bequeathed the relics of his years of service to his family.
Among them are badges, a compass, a box of matches, a cigarette case, a wallet, photographs and briefly written postcards with messages such as “This is the boat that brought us across” or “Been on three fronts up till now and getting ready for number four”.
There is also a handwritten letter from Buckingham Palace.
“The Queen and I wish you Godspeed, a safe return to the happiness and joy of home life with an early restoration to health,” it reads. “A grateful Mother Country thanks you for faithful services.” It is signed by King George V.
In hindsight, Alfred’s aversion to talking about the war makes the Cliff family collection all the more valuable.
“This is real history, isn’t it?” Milton said.
Alfred Cliff’s story and others like it will feature in Fairfax Media’s The Faces of Anzacs centenary tribute in April, marking 100 years since the Gallipoli landing in WWI.
We want to include your stories in this special tribute, which will pay homage to Anzacs from every community across Australia.