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Memento : Issue 35
MEMENTO ISSUE 35 3 Researcher Terry King has uncovered some fascinating stories in the service records of Australians who fought and diedinWorldWarI--butwhodidso under a false name. Eighteen-year-old Stanley Howard O'Neill (photo left), from Launceston, died in France in August 1918. According to a comrade, O'Neill was killed instantly by a bullet to the head while at his machine gun. The military authorities reported his death as that of Sydney Harold Smith, for that was the name under which he had enlisted. William Mansfield, of Maclean in New South Wales, enlisted in January 1916. When he died, in February 1917, it was under the alias of William Joseph Jones. These were not exceptional cases. A browse through the more common surnames on the Australian War Memorial's World War I Roll of Honour reveals a host of other men enlisting, and sometimes dying, under aliases. It is impossible to determine the number of men who served in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) under false names, but military historian Neil Smith estimates that more than 15,000 employed some sort of alias. Why would a man serving his country choose to do so under a false name? An exploration of World War I service records held by the National Archives can provide some fascinating answers. The reasons are not clear in every case, for even the soldier's nearest and dearest were often unable to explain his actions, but frequently the files include letters and other documents that reveal why the soldier acted as he did. Boy soldiers For some, an alias was primarily to help them elude their parents. In Stanley O'Neill's case, this was his widowed mother. Stanley Alias Smith and Jones The Weekly Courier, 31 October 1918, courtesy of Launceston Library, State Library of Tasmania