Such was life

Samuel Figgis, librarian and soldier

In August 1914, a young Samuel Figgis joined the Victorian Public Library as a library assistant, just after the outbreak of the Great War. Less than a year later he died on the beaches of the Dardanelles on his 20th birthday.

Photo of Samuel Figgis.

Samuel Douglas Johnstone Figgis was born in Balaclava on 10 August 1895, eldest son of Arthur Figgis and Ada Stephens. He went to Canterbury State School and later attended Trinity Grammar in Kew where he played cricket and football. During this time he joined the Citizens Military Forces in Kooyong for 2 years and trained as a machine gunner.

According to the Public Service returns, Samuel joined the Victorian Public Library (now called the State Library of Victoria) on 20 Aug 1914, just after his 19th birthday. He was employed as a Junior Library Assistant (on probation), receiving an annual salary of 60 pounds.

Seven months later he enlisted as a Private in the Australian Infantry Force, joining the 6th reinforcements for the 5th battalion. His enrolment papers described him as being of medium height with blue eyes, fair hair and a fresh complexion. Figgis joined battle on the Gallipoli peninsula on 5 August 1915 where his battalion had been fighting since the famous landing on 25 April that year.

Only five days later, Samuel Figgis sadly died of shell wounds to the neck on 10 August 1915, on his 20th birthday. He was buried in the New Zealand A Beach Cemetery on the Gallipoli Peninsula that day.

The Argus newspaper also lists a couple of poignant death notices from his parents and aunt. On this ANZAC Day we remember and honour those Library staff who served Australia in the Great War.

The notice placed by Figgis' parents in The Argus, Monday 6 September 1915.

You can read more about Samuel Figgis’ war experience by viewing his service record which is digitised and available online at the National Archives of Australia website. It lists his personal effects (including a school badge) as well as letters between the Army, the Library and Samuel’s father. The State Library has an honour board of Library and Museum volunteers who served in the Great War (below). It is displayed near the La Trobe Reading Room reference desk, on level 3 of the Library.

Figgis' name is listed on the Great War honour board at the State Library of Victoria.

The Library holds many resources related to war and a guide to researching soldiers, as well as a book on the Fifth Battalion titled Forward with the Fifth: the story of five years’ war service Fifth Inf. Battalion A.I.F.

*Our photo of Figgis has been taken from the book For the green and the gold and the mitre: Trinity Grammar School 1903-2003, page 171. This book can be requested for use by all registered Library users.

Written by Chris Wade, Newspaper Librarian

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