Valda Willmot and Carol Rogers in front of the grave of their great-grandfather, William Keen Bryant.
Valda Willmot and Carol Rogers in front of the grave of their great-grandfather, William Keen Bryant. Sarah Harvey

Veterans legacy to be kept alive

ONE of Australia’s earliest war veterans may lie in an unmarked grave at Ipswich, but he is certainly not forgotten.

William Keen Bryant served aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Victory and HMS Shannon after enlisting in the British Navy at the tender age of 11.

He took part in six major conflicts before settling in the Ipswich region and fathering 11 children.

And perhaps most curiously, Mr Bryant fought in the American Civil War for the Confederate Army.

The Queensland Times ran a story earlier this month calling for any living relatives of Mr Bryant to come forward.

Flinders View resident Carol Rogers and her sister Valda Willmot (both nee Carmody) are Mr Bryant’s great-granddaughters and were pleasantly surprised to see their relative honoured in the paper.

“I was quite proud of it when I discovered his history,” Ms Rogers, 62, said.

“I thought he was a bit of a hero.”

Ms Rogers, who had delved into her family’s genealogy, said Mr Bryant fought for both sides during the American Civil War.

He was originally a blockade runner for the Confederate forces, but after being captured he was given the option to fight for the Union States.

It is also believed that Mr Bryant received the Victoria Cross when he was 20 years old in China in 1859, although the records cannot be located.

Mr Bryant died aged 97 on March 27, 1936 and was buried without a headstone in the Ipswich General Cemetery.

“He died because he got a lemon thorn in his finger and he got blood poisoning,” Ms Rogers said.

“That just seems ridiculous that after all those wars and everything he went through, to be killed by a thorn on a tree.”

Brisbane historian James M Gray is determined to ensure the Confederate veteran is remembered, and prompted The QT article.

Mr Gray heads a group named the William Kenyon Australasian Confederates Camp 2160, which is the Australian chapter of the US-based Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Mr Gray said he hoped to honour the veteran with a headstone or bronze memorial plaque.

“We want to contact some of the descendants and make them aware of what we’ve found out for them,” he said.

Mr Gray hopes to hold a dedication ceremony for Mr Bryant next year.

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