The Great War represents a dark chapter in the history of Europe, claiming all too many sacrifices; four precious years, vast amounts of resources, countless lives. Innumerable families were left grief-stricken upon receiving word that one of their loved ones had not survived the war. Imagine, then, the heartbreak that William and Fanny Seabrook must have felt when they lost not one but three sons in a cruel blow of fate.
The three Australian brothers joined the Australian Imperial Force together in 1916. Theo (age 25) and George (age 24) were both privates, whereas their younger brother William (age 20) was soon promoted to Second Lieutenant thanks to previous military experience. The boys left Sydney in August that year as part of the 17th Infantry Battalion.
In June 1917, the brothers had finally reached Belgium, where the troops were busy preparing for the great offensive at Ypres. The Australian infantry’s first mission presented itself as the Battle of Menin Road, which began on September 20th, 1917 and was eventually won by the allies. For the Seabrook brothers, however, it turned out to be their first, last and only battle.
Shortly after midnight on the day the battle commenced, William Seabrook sustained severe injuries when a phosphorous grenade landed near Hellfire Corner, where he was leading his column to its starting position. William was carried off to a clearing station, but he succumbed to his injuries the following day. Meanwhile, George and Theo had reached their starting positions, and at 5.40 a.m. the attack was launched. As they waited for the order to advance on the enemy, a shell exploded, killing them both on their first day at the front.
While word of William’s death reached the boys’ parents a couple of weeks later, their mother and father never received clear information on what had happened to their two other sons. Although several sources claimed Theo too had died, reports on George’s whereabouts contradicted each other and up until her own death in 1929, Fanny cherished the hope that he might still have been alive.
Each life lost to the Great War is a tragic chapter in a family’s history, and a century later, younger generations still travel to Flanders Fields to pay their respects to their fallen relatives. William Seabrook is buried at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, just west of Ypres, whereas George and Theo, both declared Missing in Action, are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres itself.