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THE LITTLE SOLDIER


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 toy guns.

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.




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