3rd February 2016
On a winter’s afternoon in August 1916, two boys were playing in the breakfast
room of a boarding house at 1 Royal Avenue, off Gilles Street. The landlady,
Mrs Thistleton, was keeping an eye on them while the rest of her family were in
the front room playing the piano. Allan Strang, aged nine years and seven
months, and his friend Jack Mallinson were pretending to ambush German
soldiers. In the midst of the First World War, it was a game played in homes
and schoolyards across Australia, but it had special significance for young
Allan, whose father had been killed the year before at Anzac Cove on the first
day of the Gallipoli campaign. Private William Andrew Strang of the 10th
Battalion, known to his family as Arthur, was from Broken Hill. His wife Rose
announced his death in the Advertiser.
We mourn for you, dear Arthur
No eyes may see us weep,
But many a tear we shed for you
While all are fast asleep.
But it does not matter how we weep,
No matter how we call,
There’s nothing left to answer
But your photo, on the wall
Still grieving the loss of her husband, Rose supported her son by working as a
domestic servant. Jack Mallinson, eleven, also boarded at Mrs Thistleton’s
house with his family. His parents were out that afternoon, and when he went to
their bedroom, ostensibly to look for some allies, he opened his father’s chest
of drawers and found a revolver. Although he had been told never to touch it,
the temptation was too great. Jack slipped the gun into his pocket and returned
to the breakfast room. Jack and Allan resumed their game of soldiers. The room
was chilly, but the boys – absorbed in their game of attack and counterattack
against imaginary Germans – did not notice. They had arranged furniture to form
a bunker. When Mrs Thistleton left them to go into the front room, Allan picked
up a chair and pretended to play the kettledrum.
‘Here comes a German,’ he shouted. ‘Fire!’
Jack Mallinson pulled the revolver from his pocket and lifted it towards
the door. The gun went off and Allan fell. To his alarm, Jack saw blood
running from his friend’s head, and ran into the parlour where the family were
still thumping out popular tunes on the piano.
‘I have shot Allan,’ he cried.
Mrs Thistleton ran to the breakfast room, and found Allan Strang on the
floor, bleeding. A neighbour, Mr Matthews, came in and bathed the boy’s head.
Doctor Lynch was sent for and arrived a few minutes later. Allan Strang was
taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, but died after two hours. His body was
identified by Mrs Thistleton. The city coroner, Dr Ramsay Smith, declared the
death an accidental shooting, and commented that rather than prohibiting the
use of weapons, everyone should be taught to handle them safely, beginning with
Jack’s father, Thomas Sutcliffe Mallinson, had been on the police staff of
the Military Department and carried the gun during escort duty. He had not used
the revolver for five or six weeks and thought he had unloaded it when putting
it away. However, he might have left a cartridge in it. Young Jack Mallinson
told Constable McCabe he did not think the revolver was loaded. Rose Strang
confirmed that the two boys ‘really loved each other’ and she was satisfied the
shooting had been an accident.
Even after almost a century Rose Strang’s grief endures in the memorial
she created for her only child, and Allan Strang’s grave is watched over by one
of the loveliest small angels in West Terrace Cemetery. Born in Jamestown in
about 1884, Rose was eighteen when she married Arthur Strang and we can only
hope that she had some happy years before the terrible events of her later life
unfolded. Two deaths within sixteen months were bound to take a toll, and in
the year following Allan’s accident Rose contracted tuberculosis. She died in
1925 at the age of forty-one, and was buried with her son.
Perhaps Allan Strang’s death should be read as a war story. It certainly
connects Gallipoli in a shocking way with life in Adelaide at the time of the
First World War. During the Gallipoli campaign,
8141 Australians were killed, and Allan’s death is a small sad echo that
attaches to that figure, increasing it by one more very young life. Yet his was
just one of the unacknowledged losses of the war, and there is no knowing how
many other civilian deaths could trace similar connections.
If the Strang family’s story is one of terrible loss, the Mallinsons, too,
moved from one misfortune to another. The boy who pulled the trigger, known as
Jack and described at the inquest as ‘a chubby
little youth’, was John William Mallinson. His father, Thomas Sutcliffe
Mallinson, a Yorkshireman from Halifax, had come to Australia in 1907 aboard
the Orient. His occupation at that time
was listed as ‘butcher’. The ship docked at Fremantle, and from there Thomas
found his way to South Australia’s Mid North, where he established a butcher’s
shop in the town of Terowie.
But the business struggled, and the climate did not agree with Thomas’s
wife, Charlotte. In 1911 she travelled to Adelaide for two months ‘for a change
and for medical advice’; the following year
she went again and stayed longer. By 1913, Thomas’s business had folded, and
after the family had moved from Terowie to Victoria Terrace at Glenelg he made
an appearance in the Insolvency Court.
After Terowie, he had bought a boat in Glenelg in partnership with a man
called Herbert Hunter. The two planned to set up pleasure trips on the bay, but
before they could begin they were
both struck down with typhoid fever and could do nothing at all for four
months. Their boating business, finished even before it was begun, ended with a
debt of £40. In court, the commissioner commented that Mallinson, though
honest, seemed to be dogged by misfortune.
In 1914, Charlotte Mallinson gave birth to a girl, Rita Rose Marie – Rita
was two at the time of the shooting, and its implications were probably lost on
her, but the horror of Allan Strang’s death doubtless made a deep impression on
young John William.
There was to be no respite from sorrow, for the following year the family
was once again plunged into mourning. Charlotte’s trips from the Mid North in
search of medical help had been a portent of
what lay ahead, and that April she died of a cerebral haemorrhage. At the time
of her death, Thomas was listed as a hospital attendant, and the family had
moved from Mrs Thistleton’s house to Glen smond Road at Frewville.
The months after Charlotte died must have been tough ones for Thomas
Mallinson and the children. In November 1917, Thomas enlisted as a cook in the
3rd Light Horse Brigade, 9th Light Horse Regiment. But with a twelve-year-old
son and a three-year-old daughter to care for, he needed a new wife, and in
January 1918, Thomas Mallinson married Rosey Young. Rosey also lived in
Frewville, so perhaps she had been engaged to care for the children and Thomas
decided to make it permanent. At twenty-one, she was sixteen years his junior,
and we must assume she was prepared to
take charge of young Rita, and John William who was entering his teenage years.
Fortunately the war ended before John Mallinson was old enough to enlist
or he might have added to the death toll. He grew up to become a fisherman who
steered clear of marriage until he was
thirty-six, and for many years lived in Capper Street at Kent Town.
On 29 November 1952, he died at sea on board a boat between Whyalla and
Cowell; the cause of death was acute myocarditis. John Mallinson was still a
relatively young man of forty-seven. He
was buried at Cheltenham Cemetery.
Allan Strang’s address is Road 1 South, Path 4; Plot 43 is on the eastern
side and it only takes a minute or two to walk here from the main entrance. Its
child-sized angel clasps a wreath to its chest, and in the fingers of the right
hand a flower is poised to drop in perpetual remembrance. The statue’s
perfection is marred only by a missing little finger, struck off by a blow of
some kind in the
recent past, for the broken edge is still sharp. Soft folds of cloth on the
angel’s dress, its patterned hem, evoke a child’s nightdress. The softly
weathered stone is probably more beautiful now than when it was new, and the
verses chosen by Rose Strang wring one’s heart.
Thomas Mallinson survived the war only to die suddenly in 1935. His last
address was 25 Cypress Street, Adelaide, and he is buried in the AIF Section of
West Terrace Cemetery. Thus, a few
fragments of life and death in Adelaide on a winter’s afternoon in 1916 are
gathered here, to be pieced together, wondered at, and remembered.