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Albert Edward Kemp, AIF (1884-1917)

Photograph - Private Albert Edward Kemp

Image: Photograph - Private Albert Edward Kemp

Source: Museum Victoria

Albert Edward Kemp was a 32-year-old butcher living at 8 Normanby Ave, Caulfield and married to Annie Josephine, a seamstress, when he enlisted to fight in World War I in 1916. Born in South Yarra in 1884, he was a small man, 5-ft.4-in. (163 cm), and weighed only eight stone (50.8 kg). He and Annie had a daughter, Ethel Mavis, about 6, and a son, George Percival, still a baby. Albert enlisted at Royal Park on 4 October 1916 and was assigned to the 22nd Reinforcements, 6th Battalion - regimental number 6800. The 6th Battalion, part of the 2nd Brigade, was one of the first raised in World War I, and was entirely composed of Victorians. Kemp left Melbourne on 25 October 1916 - just 21 days after he enlisted - on the Ulysses with two officers and 150 O/Rs. The ship arrived in Plymouth three days after Christmas.

A little over one month later, on 1 February 1917, Albert was disciplined for being absent without leave from midnight and was apprehended the next afternoon. He forfeited 18 days' pay for his offence. Albert was shipped to France on 27 March and was 'taken on strength' on 4 April. On 13 July Albert was again in trouble, this time for disobeying orders from a superior officer. (It is unclear what his punishment was, but '48 hours' may refer to imprisonment). Two months later, on 21 September 1917, Albert died in the trenches at Glencorse Wood, Ypres. A witness said he had been killed by a 'German bomb'.

The battle is described in Australians on the Western Front: 'The Battle of the Menin Road was the first major Australian involvement in the series of British 'bite and hold' attacks which began on 31 July 1917. Collectively these operations are known as 'The Third Battle of Ypres'. After moving through Ypres, the First and Second Australian Divisions manned the front lines opposite Glencorse Wood. The ground was waterlogged in low lying areas but otherwise dry. 'Following a five-day bombardment, the two Australian divisions advanced at 5.40 am on 20 September. They were in the centre of an assault by 11 British divisions along Westhoek Ridge facing Glencorse ...'

'Enemy opposition was quickly overcome although a machine-gun checked the advance of one battalion for a moment... The final objective, 1,500 metres from the start line, was secured in two stages with one-hour and two-hour pauses in between. Although the artillery provided good cover for the Australian infantry and prevented some enemy counter-attacks from being launched there was still hard fighting against pillboxes and other strong points. By noon, the Australians had taken all the objectives and were at the western end of Polygon Wood. Enemy artillery fire was constant throughout the battle but on 21 September became more accurate targeting 'pillboxes' captured by the Australians.'

'On 20 September 1917, the Australians sustained 5,000 killed and wounded but the 'bite and hold' tactics had been proven and, combined with the allied superiority in artillery, it showed that, with fine weather, the allies were now in a superior position. Both the British and the Germans suffered similar casualties but while the British were elated at the results, the Germans were crushed by the defeat.' (http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au

Albert Kemp's body was never found. He is commemorated at 29 The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium. His name is located at panel 47 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial.

Some time in 1918, Albert's belongings - photos, postcards, a rosary and a 'religious book' - were sent in error to a family in Wonthaggi who had lost a man by the same name. Annie received that man's belongings and in June she was asked to return the other Pte Kemp's belongings. Annie received a war pension but appears to have fallen on hard times - suggested by her need for assistance with a grocery bill approved in one of the documents. She was eventually evicted and moved to 19 Raleigh St, Malvern in 1922. Her nephew believes she actually bought a home around 1922, putting down a deposit of £100 on a £900+ house. He surmises she might have received financial assistance, perhaps from other family members, for the purchase. Annie also worked as a seamstress to support her family. She never re-married, and was still living at that address in Malvern when she died in 1961, alone but cared for by an elderly woman.

The family's home at 8 Normanby Ave is still standing, largely with the original façade and their street overall is also largely original. Her nephew and great-nieces remember a photo of Albert in his butcher's outfit, but its location is unknown. However, a photograph of Albert in his butcher's outfit and seated in his delivery vehicle is held by the Stonnington History Centre; it is possible that this is the same photograph they remember. Ethel never married either and lived until old age (her family think she may have had a boyfriend who died in World War II, but are uncertain of the authenticity of that story). She died about 1993. She never liked to talk about the past, although carefully kept momentoes of her father. Her family describe her house as 'a museum'.

Footnotes: 1. According to Sands & McDougall's Post Office directories, an A.E. Kemp had a butcher's shop at 101 Burwood Rd, Hawthorn, from 1909 and before that, from 1903 to 1908 at 100 Burwood Road. Between 1899 and 1901 an A.E. Kemp had a butcher's shop at 463 Spencer Street, West Melbourne. These dates are too early to have been our soldier, Albert Edward Kemp. It is also unlikely that Albert owned either shop, since they were some distance from his home in Caulfield.

References:
National Archives of Australia Series B2455/1 - barcode 7368872 - KEMP ALBERT EDWARD
Kemp collection supfile, Museum Victoria

'Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918' http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/battlefields/menin-road-1917.html
Personal communication with the nephew and great-nieces of Annie Kemp, April 2008

Stonnington Local History Centre Catalogue, at: http://web.maxus.net.au/stonnington/quicksearch.htm (key seard word: 'Kemp'), accessed: May 13, 2013

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