No.3913 – Private James Seeary – 51st Battalion AIF
James ‘Jim’ Seeary was born in Rushworth, Victoria, on 12 January 1896. His parents were James Seeary and Agnes Caroline Seeary nee Gunnyon. Jim had a twin sister Esther Elizabeth and an older sister, Beatrice May. He also had an "adopted" sister, Elvera.
In 1901 the family migrated to Western Australia. James Seeary Snr arrived first, followed by his wife and children who arrived in Fremantle, from Melbourne, on 26 August 1901 courtesy of the Coolgardie.
The Seeary family settled in Balingup in the State’s south-west and James Snr took up work in the timber industry, mainly as a sleeper cutter.
Young Jim Seeary obtained a primary school education from the Balingup and Greenbushes State Schools. He is photographed here in 1906.
Unfortunately this is the only known photo to exist of James Seeary. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you happen to have a photo of James ‘Jim’ Seeary. His family would be very grateful for any developments on this front.
The Seeary family later relocated to Douglas Street, Fremantle, and Jim Seeary found work as a labourer in Fremantle.
On 29 May 1917, Jim went to the Fremantle Drill Hall where he successfully applied to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). On enlistment he was described as being 21 years of age; 6ft 1½ inches; 158 pounds. He was recorded as having a 34/36 chest measurement; fresh complexion; blue eyes; brown hair; and of the Church of England.
Upon his successful enlistment, Jim was sent to Blackboy Hill Camp where he was initially assigned to the 26th reinforcements to the 16th battalion. He remained with this group until 6 June when he was transferred to the 12th reinforcements to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion. He had over two months with this group but on 16 August he was transferred to the 13th reinforcements to the 2nd Pioneers. Another six weeks was spent with this group until, on 3 October 1917, he was transferred to the 11th reinforcements to the 51st Battalion.
This was the final move for James and after beginning training with this group in Western Australia, they were sent to Melbourne. On 30 October 1917, Jim’s group boarded HMAT Aeneas in Port Melbourne and set sail for England on 27 December 1917. It must have been a difficult Christmas away from home. During the voyage, Jim got in trouble a couple of times. The first instance was when, against orders, he wore leather boots on parade. For this he had to forfeit two days pay. His second offence was insolence towards an NCO. For this he was fined one day’s pay.
When the ship finally berthed at Devonport Harbour they were disembarked and sent to the 13th Training Battalion at Codford Camp on the Salisbury Plains. James remained in camp for the next five weeks but in early February he was charged with destroying public property and had to forfeit two days pay. A few days later, James reported sick to the camp hospital and after being examined, the doctor sent him to the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital at Bulford. He was kept in hospital for a period of 51 days. He was discharged on 2 April 1918.
After being released from hospital, James was sent to the 13th training battalion and shortly after was transferred to the 12th training battalion. He spent just two weeks in training before he was put in a draft of soldiers bound for France. Arriving at Folkestone Harbour, he boarded a transport ship that took him across the channel to France. On arriving in Etaples he was marched into the New Zealand Infantry Base Depot though he would only remain there for a few days.
On 5 May 1918 Jim was able to rejoin the 51st Battalion. This Battalion had just participated in the successful recapture of Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April and they had suffered many casualties in the process. They were still in the vicinity of Villers-Bretonneux when Jim joined them.
In June, the 51st Battalion moved to Sailly-le-Sec and for the next two months also served at Daours, Hamelet and Glisy. In early August they were stationed in the trenches at Domart-sur-la-Luce until they were relieved by Canadian Forces in preparation for the planned offensive of 8 August 1918. This offensive was very successful with the Germans being pushed back along the line.
After being relieved by the Canadians, the 51st Battalion were sent north of the Somme to Chipilly.
On 10 and 11 August, the 51st Battalion assisted in the advance towards Bray being undertaken by the 13th Brigade. On 11 August, James was with several comrades when a German shell exploded nearby and he was struck and killed instantly. Several other members of "C” Company were wounded.
Sergeant Warren, service no. 3237, of the 51st Battalion buried Jim where he fell and erected a cross over his gravesite. Private C.H. Stevens, service no. 4034, was a witness to Jim’s burial.
Following the Armistice in 1918, Jim’s body was exhumed and he was buried in Beacon Cemetery, near Sailly-Laurette, a village located 19kms east of the city of Amiens. His parents wrote the following epitaph on his grave:
BEING OUR ONLY SON
COULD DO NO MORE.
Jim was remembered for years to come in the "ANZAC Heroes" feature in the West Australian.
O'ver that sweet and honoured spot;
Still today the memory of Jim Seeary is held dear by his family. Below is a picture of Des Ayres, who visited his Uncle's resting place, in July 2014.
Many thanks to Des Ayres, nephew of Jim Seeary, for sharing this story and these few images. Thanks, too, to Andrew Pittaway, for adding further detail to the story.