As Lieutenant Ernest Shannon and his men waited anxiously for the order to go “over the top”, he penned a last goodbye to his mother, knowing he would almost certainly be killed in the coming assault on the enemy’s trenches. His note records the time and date of its writing. Below is a copy of the note and a transcription.
My Darling Mother,
This is just a last line in case I do not come back tonight. In 20 minutes I am going on a most dangerous enterprise into the enemy trenches. One never knows one’s luck and this, my dearest one on earth, is to say good-bye, in case I go to the Great Beyond. With last love and kisses,
Ernest 12:40 am 1/6/16
Lt. Shannon was killed that same day in the assault on the German trenches at Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium. His final resting place was the Strand Military Cemetery, 13 kilometres south of Iper (Ypres). (See note below)
Described in an obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald (25/7/1917 p14) as a “Sydney Hero”, Shannon was the second son of James and Mary Shannon of Drummoyne. He was born in Wagga in 1891 and educated at Wagga High School before moving to Sydney with his family.
Ernest trained as a teacher at Sydney Teachers College and was appointed an Assistant (teacher) at Drummoyne Superior Public School. In 1912 he enrolled at Sydney University to study Arts. In his final year, he postponed his studies in November 1915 to enlist in the A.I.F.
Shannon sailed for England in May 1916 as a second-lieutenant. After a probationary period of training at Salisbury, he arrived in France and almost immediately was sent to the front at Armentieres and subsequently to Messines. In August 1916 Shannon was promoted to lieutenant and in the same year was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action.
By all accounts Shannon was an inspiring leader and had a promising career ahead of him. When news of his death reached Drummoyne Public School, his former students and their masters stood as one in silent tribute.
Temporary wooden crosses such as these were commonly used on the Western Front until the summer of 1916 when the sheer numbers of casualties (military and civilian) defeated all efforts to provide suitable burial arrangements. Soldiers were often buried in extremis where they fell, their remains scattered across an extended area. Thereafter, Allied governments began to regularise burial arrangements with standardised headstones arranged in neat rows. Bodies of soldiers hastily buried on the battlefield were disinterred and reburied in communal cemeteries.