THEY were poignant final words.
It was 3.15am on July 20, 1916 when Captain Kenneth Malcolm Mortimer, 29th Battalion, 5th Division, indicated to some of his men that he was headed off “to see how things were”.
The previous day the company had made a raid of German trenches near Armentieres on the Western Front in France. It was the Battle of Fromelles.
Captain Mortimer, who was born and raised at Leneva West, just outside Wodonga, was never seen again. He was 20.
He was reported as “missing in action”, assumed killed in one of the most costly battles of World War I.
His mother, however, never gave up hope that he would one day return home.
Captain Mortimer’s great nephew, Don Leys of Sydney, said testimonies from some of his fellow soldiers wounded in action during the battle indicate he may have been captured by German soldiers, as he and his men attempted to prevent an enemy advance, accompanied by a heavy bombardment.
"From the day Kenneth was reported missing in action on July 20, 1916, his loving mother Florence never gave up hope that he would one day walk through the door returning home."- DON LEYS
“Kenneth had indicated to some of his men that, following their own advance, they should retire from the German trenches that they occupied at the time,” Mr Leys said.
Among the testimonies was one from Private M. Matthews who told of two officers, Captains Mortimer and Sheridan, who were in the German trenches.
“I was talking to Captain Sheridan. We were not in the trenches more than half an hour when there was a counter attack and we had to retire. Neither of them came back with us.”
Another, from Captain M Coats, said the 31st and 32nd Battalions had begun the assault on July 18 at Fleurbaix near Armentieres by gaining the enemy’s second line.
“At about 8pm Captain Mortimer’s company was ordered up to [the] firing line and was in [the] second line of German trenches the greater part of the night,” he said.
“They were bombed and machine gunned on the flanks and rear and some of those who returned said they were ordered to retire by Captain Mortimer who was then seen to move forward evidently with the object of ascertaining whether any other members of his company had been left in the front trench. He has not been seen since.”
Captain Mortimer went to Wangaratta Agricultural High School before enrolling at the Royal Military College Duntroon.
Mr Leys said along with other students from the college, his great uncle had been “specially graduated for active service” in the Great War, and received his commission as Lieutenant on June 29, 1915, and enlisted on July 1, 1915.
“From the day Kenneth was reported missing in action on July 20, 1916, his loving mother Florence never gave up hope that he would one day walk through the door returning home,” he said.
“Her love and administration for Kenneth was never diminished.
“Nor did the generations of his family ever lose sight of a dear uncle and great-uncle.”
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