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Anzac Day holds special meaning for AWU Member Rob Macbeth

April 24, 2022

Rob Macbeth works for Cleanaway and has been an AWU member for almost four years. In the lead up to ANZAC day the AWU were on various sites across Melbourne fundraising and selling pins for the yearly ANZAC day appeal.

This is where coincidently we heard about Rob’s fascinating story of his family history with the ANZACS.

Rob’s great grandfather Hadley Macbeth was a road and rail worker before he joined the Army. He was enlisted in the 24th Battalion Australian Imperial Force. Hadley Macbeth never returned home to Australia, or his family and he was listed officially as deceased not recovered.

On an unassuming day in April 2018 Rob answered the phone and originally thought it was a prank when the person on the other end said they were from ‘The Australian Unrecovered War Casualties Unit’ (UWC-A) after a lengthy conversation Rob said he soon realised it was legit and that there was a chance after 100 years that his great grandfather had been located.

Over 60,000 Australians gave their lives during The Great War and the UWC-A investigates all notifications of the discovery of human remains that are believed to be those of Australian soldiers. The unit also responds to reports or information that may lead to the recovery of human remains of Australian servicemen.

The process from there he says was long and one of elimination, this was due to the number of Australian Soldiers that were of similar age and build that remain unrecovered. The unknown soldier was identified as Australian due to the buttons that were found on him. Rob was then asked to provide DNA samples that were sent to a lab in Queensland, and then on to the United States for analysis and confirmation. In late August of 2018 it was confirmed that it was indeed Rob Macbeth’s great grandfather Private Hadley Macbeth.

Private Hadley Macbeth and Lance Corporal James Rolls were identified as the unknown soldiers. It was found that they both sadly lost their lives in a dug out in the second battle for Bullecourt. Both soldiers were under heavy artillery shelling, machine-gun fire, mortar, and grenade exchanges. Their bodies were found in a dug out that was on the other side of a railway embankment. Private Hadley Macbeth was only 31 years old.

Bullecourt over time has become a place for Australians to gather and remains an important focal point for commemorative ceremonies on ANZAC Day. In a pre and post Covid world hundreds of Australians come together and join locals in wreath-laying’s, and ceremonial speeches in memory of the lives lost. Bullecourt is more commonly known in Australian history because of battles fought there by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in April and May 1917.

Second Battle of Bullecourt (May 1917) – source: Australian War Memorial

Despite the failure of the first attack on 11 April 1917, a few weeks later General Gough once again tried to break the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt. On 3 May 1917 the 2nd Australian Division attacked with the British alongside. Although the brigade on the right faltered under deadly machine-gun fire, the 6th Brigade got into the enemy’s trenches and, despite heavy shellfire and counter attacks, bravely held on. The 1st Division relieved the 2nd, and soon the 5th Division took its turn. Finally, after more than a week, the Germans gave up these blood-soaked fields. Then the depleted Australian battalions were withdrawn to recover. The furious fighting, which in the end only advanced the line a kilometre or so, had been at the heavy cost of another 7,000 Australian casualties.

‘The Second Bullecourt (battle) was, in some ways, the stoutest achievement of the Australian soldier in France’.

Charles Bean, official historian.

In November 2018 Rob and his wife were invited to fly to France for the 100 years celebrations for the end of WWI, this was an opportunity for Rob and his family to bury and lay to rest a long-lost family member who gave his life in the Great War.

At the service Sir Peter Cosgrove presented with his great grandfather’s medals and the Australian flag. They also visited the spot where the body of his great grandfather (Private Hadley) and the body of the other soldier (Lance Corporal James Rolls) was found. Rob said it was an amazing experience and something that we will certainly remember for the rest if our lives, and that the story is often spoken about amongst their families and friends.

The Sir John Monash Centre (SJMC) is in Northern France, near the town of Villers-Bretonneux and the city of Amiens, 140 kilometres north-east of Paris.

You can watch the short story on the service here: via the Sir John Monash Centre.

Watch Here



Rob Macbeth shaking General Sir Peter John Cosgrove’s hand at the ANZAC Day commemoration for unknown soldiers.


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