An anxious time of waiting
Just weeks after the outbreak of the First World War Margaret Lepp, of Chinese heritage, became a widow with the death of her husband George. Twelve months prior to that she had lost a son, Ernest, and many years earlier she had lost infant sons Percival and John. Further worry and anxiety was added to her life in July 1915 when sons Albert and Reginald enlisted together in the 1st AIF, being issued consecutive service numbers. Albert and Reg had both attended the Golden Point State School and they both embarked together aboard the ‘Themistocles’ in January 1916 to serve with the 58th Infantry Battalion. After further training in Egypt, the 58th Battalion reached France in June and a few weeks later took part in the disastrous charge at Fromelles on the 19th July 1916. In late August Margaret was advised that Albert was listed as ‘missing in action on July 19th ‘ with no further detail. Like many mothers at that time, she would have scanned the casualty lists that regularly appeared in The Courier, but his name was never there. So, she was left wondering what had happened to him.
Had he been evacuated to a hospital somewhere?
Had he become a prisoner of war?
The uncertainty dragged on and was added to in late May 1917 when Margaret was advised that Reginald had been wounded. On the 28th of June 1917 she wrote to Army Base Records requesting information on the whereabouts of Albert and the condition of Reginald. ”I am very anxious about them, it being now nearly twelve months since reported missing.” Sadly, it took until September 1917, 14 months after the battle at Fromelles, for Margaret to be advised that a Court of Enquiry had determined that Albert had been killed in action on 19th July 1916.
Reginald recovered from a bullet wound to his hand and returned to the front line only to be wounded a second time when he suffered a shrapnel wound to his leg and foot in April 1918. This time his wound rendered him unfit for further active service and he was returned to Australia just prior to the war’s end.
Margaret moved to Melbourne where she lived for another 30 years before her death in 1949, aged 86.
She is buried at the Ballarat New Cemetery with her husband George and her three sons. Church of England C Row 6 Grave 19.
Thank you to Garry Snowden for submitting this story.