Service for war hero who on died on Western Front

THE memory of a World War I digger Private Benedict Dunstan, who died on the Western Front 98 years ago, will be honoured Sunday at a service at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Rockdale.

Private Dunstan, 23, a canister maker from Connemarra Street, Bexley, in Rockdale parish, enlisted in the 54th Battalion, 14th Brigade of the First Australian Infantry.

He died in the Battle of Fromelles on July 20, 1916.

His family were notified of his death in December, 1916, and he was reported as being buried in an unmarked mass grave.

He was survived by parents William and Catherine and siblings William, Reuben, Margaret, Lavinia, Thomas and Catherine.

His immediate family never found out where he was buried.

It was not until 2010 that his remains were found in a mass grave at Pheasant Wood and identified with DNA sampling.

He was buried with full military honours in the new military cemetery at Fromelles.

Lasting memory: Private Benedict Dunstan, who died on the Western Front in 1916, will be remembered this Sunday at Rockdale.

Lasting memory: Private Benedict Dunstan, who died on the Western Front in 1916, will be remembered this Sunday at Rockdale.

The Dunstan family were parishioners at St Joseph's Church, Rockdale, and donated a baptismal font in memory of Private Dunstan when a new church was built on the site in 1923.

The font fell into disrepair and was stored away when another church was built on the site in 1967. It was only rediscovered in recent years.

The font needed extensive restoration, which was carried out using a $10,000 grant from the Australian government through its Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program and donations by parishioners.

Parish priest Father Brendan Quirk said all baptisms at St Joseph's between 1923 and 1967 would have used the font donated by Private Dunstan's family.

"This included many of his nieces and nephews," Father Quirk said.

"Baptismal fonts are really significant things because they represent all the families of the church over the decades. This is the combined story of our parish."

The restored font will be blessed and rededicated this Sunday, July 20, at 11.30am in the presence of many descendants of Private Dunstan's brothers and sisters. The day will mark the 98th anniversary of his death.

Private Dunstan's grand-niece, Karen Johnson, of Wollongong, will be among up to 20 family members attending.

"This will be a nice closure to the story for us. We all knew about the font but it had disappeared and we thought it had gone forever," Mrs Johnson said.

"I had always known about Benedict because he was the family war hero. I was able to be at Fromelles when he was reburied in 2010.

"I still think of the sadness of my great-grandmother not knowing what happened to him.

"When we found out that the font had been found it was like he was being brought home."

Father Quirk said the blessing and rededication of the restored baptismal font in its new location allows the parish to bring Private Dunstan home to rest spiritually in his church, 98 years after his death.

Do you remember the font?