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International Siblings Day feature: World War I

National Siblings Day honours the bonds between brothers and sisters, the people who have helped shape our values, beliefs and experiences right throughout our lives.

The McLeary brothers

Three brothers from the McLeary family enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces to fight in World War I. Alexander (aged 22 years) and Vernon (aged 24 years) enlisted in 1914 and went on to serve in Gallipoli. Vernon suffered from ill health and returned to Australia in September of 1916. Alexander continued to serve on the Western Front, being promoted to the rank of Sergeant, until he was wounded in September 1918, just two months before the end of the war. He died from his wounds and was buried in England in 1919.

The younger McLeary brother, Roy, was 18 years old when he enlisted in 1916. Roy fought on the Western Front and was promoted to the rank of Corporal. He survived a gunshot wound to the buttocks in 1917, and was killed in action in France in April 1918.

Discovering Anzacs Portal

1914-15 Star and matching stamp British War Medal 1914-20 and matching stamp Victory Medal and matching stamp

Above: World War One medals and the matching stamps utilised within service records

The National Archives of Australia developed the Discovering Anzacs portal, in partnership with Archives New Zealand, to provide an extensive view of contributions to World War I. This portal includes 375,971 digitised World War I service records and also allows members of the public to contribute to the website by adding photographs and stories. The Group Stories section of the website returns many search results for “brothers”. These are stories submitted by members of the public about brothers who served their country, some of whom never returned home.

Each of these stories links to the service records of the people referred to in the story. Within these service records you can view what medals the member was awarded by looking for three distinct stamps, each depicting a specific medal, usually located on the last page of the record.

Looking at the McLeary brothers’ records you can see that two of the brothers received the 1914-15 Star, while the youngest brother, Roy, has been marked as “NE” indicating that he was not eligible for that medal, in this case because he didn’t enlist until 1916.

Vernon Vincent McLeary

Discharged September 1916

Vernon McLeary Medal Card. Click to open full image in new window

Alexander McLeary

Died of wounds March 1919

Alexander McLeary Medal Card. Click to open full image in new window

Roy McLeary

Killed in Action April 1918

Roy McLeary Medal Card. Click to open full image in new window

Thousands of Australian brothers perished in World War I

During the four years in which World War I raged across Africa and Europe, more than 2800 sets of Australian brothers were killed. There are many stories of brothers being killed in the same actions or of families losing all of their sons to the war.

There was no official Australian government policy on removing surviving siblings of families who had lost sons from the fighting during World War I or World War II. The United States of America didn’t introduce their ‘sole survivor’ policy, on which the film Saving Private Ryan is loosely based, until shortly after the end of World War II (Reference: McPhedran, Ian, “Six of seven sons of Frederick and Maggie Smith died in WW1”, Herald Sun 25 April 2014).

See also:

Click here for more information on medals awarded for service in World War I.

A PDF version of this page is available here.