Author identifies Port Fairy WWI soldier by DNA

AN author who published a book about his father’s and brothers’ war bravery has discovered another relative was a 16-year-old killed in World War I and buried in an unmarked grave.

The teenage soldier’s mother and grandparents at one stage lived in Port Fairy.

Ian Minchin, of Melbourne, who wrote Brothers in Arms and is working on his second book, said news he was related to Private Joseph Davis de Passe Joseph of the 31st AIF battalion gave him inspiration to write another war story.

Mr Minchin provided DNA to confirm the identity of Private Joseph who was killed at Fromelles after being badly wounded.

He died on the battlefield in July 1915 as the advancing German forces scattered the Allies.

The Germans put his body in a mass grave and it was only recently exhumed during extensive work to identify missing soldiers.

He had been officially classed as missing in action.

“There is quite a mystery attached to this discovery,” Mr Minchin told The Standard.

“He came to light after I published and I got a letter from the Department of the Army. 

“My grandmother is his aunt.”

Port Fairy historian, Maria Cameron, who has helped with extensive research to identify soldiers buried in unmarked graves, said Private Joseph’s mother Sarah (nee Hendricks) lived in Port Fairy as the daughter of Joseph Levi Hendricks and Sara McKenna. 

Sarah married Leopold Emmanuel Joseph in Port Fairy in 1888 in the Presbyterian church and later moved to Geelong.

Private Joseph was reported missing in the field in France in July 1916 and was last seen by his fellow soldiers crawling in “no man’s land” with his heel blown off.

Mr Minchin’s own father Hugh was left for dead on the Western Front and put in a coffin. Fortunately a farmer heard his groans and kept the injured soldier hidden under a bed for five days.

Later he was shipped back to Australia.

Three of his sons went off to serve in the Second World War and Mr Minchin’s book focuses on two of them, Ron and Brian, who were both RAAF pilots.

Ron was a pilot delivering underground spies behind enemy lines in the dark of night without radar or lights for which he won France’s second highest honour — the Croix de Guerre. He also trained the Dambusters for low flying.

Brian who turns 90 this year, was a bomber pilot who undertook many hair-raising missions over Germany and recently attended the launch of Ian’s book.

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