Female Relative Badges were issued by the Department of Defence during the First World War.

Female Relative Badges were issued by the Department of Defence during the First World War.

Life sentences: A tale of two mothers

With the centenary of the First World War upon us, Australian Dictionary of Biography's MELANIE NOLAN considers the female relatives at home.

The First World War was a brutal affair.

About 61,720 out of 330,000 Australian personnel died.

Some women in Australia did not find out about the deaths of loved ones until sometime after the war and, even then, they often had no details of the circumstances of their death, or where their bodies were buried.

Often the ravages of a battle meant there was no body to recover.

For women, it was a step into the unknown.

The three sons of Fanny and William Seabrook - Theo (25) George (24) and William (20) - left Sydney on the same day as part of the 17th Infantry Battalion.

All three died at Passchendaele on the Western Front in the course of 24 hours in September 1917.

Initially the family was informed that William had been fatally wounded and the two older sons were missing; by November Fanny was told all three of her sons were killed.

Poignantly, staff at the Tenth Casualty Clearing Station found a photo of Fanny in William's breast pocket after he died.

It had a hole through it made by the fatal bullet.

The photo was returned to Fanny.