No. 13276 John Francis Deacon
John Francis Deacon was born at Cowes on Philip Island, Victoria around 1875.
Prior to hostilities, John worked as an attendant at a mental hospital at Royal Park, Melbourne. He lived at Moonee Ponds with his wife Louisa and children.
As a student, he had served with the school cadets rising to the rank of colour sergeant which he held for four years.
When he enlisted in Melbourne on 8 July 1915, he was fast approaching his 41st birthday.After basic training John was attached to the Special Australian Medical Reinforcements and then to the 2nd Australian Field Ambulance Brigade. While he served in a number of Field Ambulance units, most of his time in the military was spent with the 13th Australian Field Ambulance.
John and his mates farewelled Australia on 7 March 1916 sailing first to Egypt and then onto France in mid-June of the same year.
He clearly had a larrikin streak, having had a number of brushes with military authority since enlistment. Whilst in France, he was charged with removing a horse from the lines. Sadly, we don’t know what adventures ensued with his new found equestrian friend, but he was charged under that military catch-all 'conduct unbecoming' and faced punishment in the field and loss of wages.
The 13th Australian Field Ambulance was assigned to the Australian 4th Division. Coinciding with John's service in France, the 4th Division was involved in the disastrous first Battle of Bullecourt – an attempt to break through the newly fortified Hindenburg Line in northern France. Two brigades of the 4th Division participated in the failed attack on 11 April 1917. Australia suffered over 3,300 casualties, with 1170 Australian troops caught behind enemy lines and taken prisoner – the largest number of our troops captured in a single engagement during WWI.
John's military record isn't especially clear. We know he was diagnosed with shell shock and returned to Australia in November 1917. He received a medical discharge from military service in April 1918, for which he and his family received a small pension.
It's very likely that he and his mates had come under heavy artillery fire at Bullecourt. While in the medical hierarchy, the regimental aid posts sat in the front line, the Field Ambulance units sat just behind and were the second line of treatment and evacuation for wounded soldiers.
Shell shock was a term that came into use during WWI to describe the impact of the trauma of battle – often associated with long-term exposure to artillery bombardments. For many soldiers, their cases were not accurately diagnosed. Some senior figures in the military and the medical profession viewed it as a lack of moral fibre, insinuating shirking or cowardice. And of course, if it wasn't diagnosed, then no pension was paid.
As a consequence, countless thousands of soldiers who had served their countries faithfully during a time of war – including many Australians - returned home to little understanding and virtually no institutionalised support. Instead, they were left to live with their terrible memories and the trauma of what they had seen and faced for the rest of their days.
In 1938 – some 20 years after the war had ended – there were still 77,000 incapacitated Australian veterans and 180,000 dependents receiving pensions.
After the war, John and Louisa Deacon lived at Moonee Ponds until the early 1920s when they moved to Williamstown, Melbourne. His occupation on various electoral rolls during the 1930s said civil servant. He died in Williamstown in 1947.
Medals & Entitlements:
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
Lest we forget
NAA: B2455 DEACON, J F
Unit history and battle information: Australian War Memorial:
http://naa.gov.au/collection/snapshots/shell-shocked/index.aspx - cost of war