Around a year after the outbreak of World War One, John signed up for active service at Cootamundra, on 31 August 1915. On his Attestation Form he wrote that he was single, and an ironmonger by trade; he was initially assigned to the 15th Reinforcements to the 2nd Battalion (B Company) as a Private (Service Number: 4726).
In early 1916, John married Florrie Lawson in Redfern, and they went to live at William Street in Junee, NSW (though Florrie moved into the family home at Hunter Street, Maitland soon after John left Australia). A short time after marrying, John embarked at Sydney on the ‘Star of England‘ on 8 March 1916, having been already promoted to Corporal by this time, then on 19 June 1916, he embarked on the HT ‘Caledonian‘ at Alexandria, Egypt, joining the British Expeditionary Force in Marseilles, France on 29 June 1916.
John was with B Company of the 2nd Battalion until 19 April 1916 at which point he was transferred to the 54th Battalion at “Ferry Post“. He was appointed Acting Sergeant on 2 August 1916 and killed in action on 13 August 1916.
From the movements of the 54th Battalion, we can accurately reconstruct John’s final weeks. According to Wikipedia, “After arriving at Marseilles in June 1916, the 54th Battalion was committed to the fighting the following month. Amidst heavy fighting on the Somme [during the First Battle of the Somme], the 5th Division made the Australian Imperial Forces’s debut in Europe, launching a diversionary attack at Fromelles. The attack was disastrous for the Australians, and it was later described as ‘the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history’. Having gone in during the first wave of the assault, the 54th suffered heavily, losing 65 percent of its strength, equating to 20 officers and 518 other ranks.“
John survived that catastrophe, and the loss of so many officers was presumably the reason that he was promoted to Acting Sergeant on 2 August 1916.
Wikipedia continues “After the battle, the 54th battalion regrouped at Bac-St-Maur before taking up defensive positions to the right of Bois Grenier. Reinforced, they remained at the front until September 1916“. Hence John’s death “killed in action” on 13 August 1916 was during fighting whilst defending positions near Bois Grenier, Northern France.
The ‘Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate‘ newspaper on 16 September 1916 reported “Maitland District Casualties”: ACTING SERGEANT ANSTEY.-Mrs. McKenzie, of Hunter Street, West Maitland has been advised of the death of her son, Acting Sergeant J. Anstey, who was killed in action in France on August 13. He enlisted in August last year with the 15th reinforcements of the 2nd Battalion, but was transferred to the 54th Battalion. He was 24 years of age.”
The ‘Maitland Weekly Mercury‘ newspaper on 23 September 1916 reported, “Local News”: Mrs. McKenzie, of Hunter Street, has been notified by the Defence authorities that her son Acting-sergeant J. Anstey was killed in action in France on August 13. Acting-sergeant Anstey was 24 years of age last December. He enlisted in August of last year, and sailed with the 15th reinforcements to the 2nd Battalion, but was later transferred to the 54th. He was promoted to the rank of Corporal before leaving Australia“
John was buried in Wye Farm Military Cemetery in Bois Grenier, France, “6,000 yards south of Armentieres, Row A Grave 6” (later renumbered Plot 1 Row F Grave 6). His death is also commemorated on the family gravestone in East Maitland Cemetery, New South Wales, where it states “John Percy Morris Anstey Killed in Action in France 13 August 1916 aged 24 years“
For his services, John’s widow Florrie received a Memorial Scroll, Memorial Plaque and the Victory Medal (and probably the British War Medal too). John’s name can be found at Panel 158 of the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial. His name also appears on the ‘Congregational Church Roll of Honour’ in Maitland.
Note: In 1941, John’s widow Florrie’s mother Mrs C. K. Darooen, who had been living at 89 Corunna Road, Stanmore NSW with her daughter, requested a ‘Certificate of Report of Death’ for John, which was needed in relation to a claim regarding Florrie Anstey’s death earlier in 1941 in Annandale.
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