Steve McGann, our Explore Your Archive ambassador, uncovers the war record of his grandfather – Liverpool seaman and occasional Australian infantryman Owen Joseph McGann.
‘My paternal grandfather Owen Joseph McGann was always something of a mystery. He died when my dad was only five years old, and so left no living impression on his children. What remained was the usual fog of oral legend that drifts around any family. He was a merchant seaman – routinely voyaging from his native Liverpool to the far-flung Pacific shores of Empire. Though christened Owen, he went exclusively by his middle name of Joseph. Relatives hinted that he wasn’t always the perfect husband to my grandmother. Yet little else could be divined: nothing to indicate his actions, character or lifestyle.
However, there was that photograph. A single brilliant photograph of Owen Joseph, posing in First World War Australian Infantry uniform. Australian Infantry? The McGanns had never lived further than the streets of Liverpool or the fields of rural Ireland. Yet here was my granddad, squatting like a lost Koala in the family tree.
‘He jumped ship in Australia, and signed up early in the war,’ said Auntie Mary. After that, she said, he’d been posted back to a training camp near Liverpool – where the superior pay, easy discipline and healthy rations of the Aussies were the envy of those British recruits from his old neighbourhood.
The photograph was a challenge – a story waiting to be told. Who was this ersatz Aussie? Where did he serve? Was it the gruesome cauldron of Gallipoli, or the churned mud of France? Was his war experience as exotic as the uniform suggested?
My subsequent research would reveal that Joe’s war was every bit as fascinating as I’d hoped. Though not quite in the way I’d imagined… Continue reading »