Warning: this story discusses suicide. If you are struggling and need help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.
On 24 November 1929, His Excellency the Governor, Colonel Sir William Campion, officially unveiled Western Australia’s War Memorial in Kings Park. Built on a high point of the park, it overlooked the Swan River and the city of Perth. For most people, it was a place of remembrance. However, perhaps for some, it was a reminder of the pain they endured.
Eleven days later, at 8:30 am on 5 December, park ranger, Ernest Harwood, found a man’s body lying face down against the memorial. He looked to be about 28 years old and was five feet nine inches tall. He was sturdily built and neatly dressed in a navy blue serge suit. He was also wearing a white linen shirt and collar, white cotton singlet, light blue tie with purple spots, blue suspenders with white stripes, black shoes and socks, and a grey felt hat with a light-coloured band.
The man had a high forehead, full face, small nose, brown eyes, and was missing his top front teeth. He had brushed back his curly auburn hair. Police noted two identifying features: he was missing the tip of his right little finger, and there was a tattoo on the inside of his right forearm – a picture of a woman’s head and shoulders above an anchor.
The cause of death was evident. Clasped in his right hand was a six-chamber revolver with five bullets and a spent cartridge. A bullet wound on the right side of his temple indicated that he had taken his life.
There was nothing in the man’s pockets to help with identification. The police found a set of keys, gold cufflinks, an imitation ruby tie pin, and a small amount of change. The most interesting object was an envelope lying nearby containing half of a purple-bordered handkerchief cut on the diagonal. Written on the envelope in neat handwriting were the words, ‘Semper Fidelis Ad Finem.’ The Latin quotation in English: ‘always faithful to the end.’
Police assumed the owner of the other half of the handkerchief was a woman, and they encouraged them to make contact to identify the body. Once they completed their investigations, they removed the body to the morgue at Perth Hospital. Several people visited, but they were unable to identify him.
On 7 December, he was still unidentified. A photographer took a photo of the handkerchief and envelope and the side of the man’s face. The newspaper ‘Mirror’ printed both on the front page. On page three, a small article provided additional details. Anyone who recognised him from the description or photo was encouraged to contact the police.
Ernest Harrington saw the photo and, two days later, visited the police station. He thought it looked like his friend, Alfred Paris, and he took his own photo to compare. His wife, Margaret Harrington, also looked at the photo. She, too, was confident it was him. The Harringtons knew Alfred when he was living with them and working for Holden’s motor works in Adelaide. He was a native of the Shetland Islands off Scotland, and they thought his parents were still living there. Ernest last spoke to him two weeks before and had not seen him since. He showed the photo to Inspector Douglas and plain-clothes Constable McIntyre. Both believed it resembled the deceased.
The police shared the name with the newspapers, and Constable McIntyre requested that anyone who knew Alfred to please get in touch. He specifically wanted to know where he stayed in Perth and hoped that finding his belongings would lead to a precise identification.
On 14 December, ‘Mirror’ ran a feature article questioning, “Where is Alfred Paris?” On page one, they printed a full portrait photo of Alfred. They claimed that hitherto, police had identified all people who died violently in Perth. The identity of the man found in Kings Park baffled them. Resuming contact with Ernest, he told his story of how he knew Alfred.
Alfred and Ernest were workmates in South Australia. They knew each other for three years and lost contact when they moved. On Tuesday, 26 November, Ernest was walking along Hay Street in Perth when he came upon Alfred, who had recently moved to Western Australia to try his luck. Surprised to see his friend, they agreed to meet up at 12:30 pm on the same day, in the same spot. Ernest returned, but Alfred did not. After that chance meeting, he never saw him again.
Ernest recalled the conversation and Alfred’s demeanor. He was out of work, but seemed cheerful and happy to see an old friend. He was single, had no family in Australia, no worries, and not considered a ‘ladies’ man.’ In his opinion, he was “the last person in the world to be contemplating suicide.” Nevertheless, Alfred Paris’s whereabouts were unknown, and the police assumed that he was the deceased man.
No other people came forward with additional information. The police did not hear from the person in possession of the other half of the handkerchief. A month later, Acting Coroner John Lloyd conducted an inquest at the Perth Courthouse. He examined the facts and the evidence given by witnesses, Ernest Harrington, Margaret Harrington, and Constable Fullerton. He concluded that Alfred Paris “died from a wound probably self-inflicted when deceased was in a despondent state of mind.”
With the cause of death and the identification complete, there was no other need to delve into the meaning behind the handkerchief or the Latin message. Looking at Alfred’s life offers no further clues.
Alfred William Paris was born in Shetland, Scotland on 17 July 1895 (making him older than the estimated age of 28) to parents James and Jane. He had numerous brothers and sisters, one of whom (George) immigrated to New South Wales and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in 1914. He was killed in action at Gallipoli in 1915.
On 12 May 1914, Alfred joined the Royal Navy and, for the next seven years, he served on various ships. On 15 January 1916, he was serving on the ‘SS Appam‘ when Germans captured the ship near Madeira and took him as a prisoner of war. Along with details of his service, his record at the Royal Navy provides physical characteristics such as wounds, scars, marks, etc. The description of the tattoo and the missing tip of his finger match the description provided by the Western Australian police.
Upon discharge from the Royal Navy, Alfred continued working on ships as a merchant seaman until the mid-1920s when he immigrated to South Australia. He knew the Harringtons for about three years and worked for Holden for some, if not all, of that time. He eventually resigned and moved to Western Australia. It is not known how long he was in Perth before he took his life.
The mystery of the envelope, the handkerchief, and the Latin phrase were not investigated in great depth. Alfred appears to have lived his life quietly, leaving us with questions. Who was faithful to the end? Alfred? Or the holder of the other half of the handkerchief? Did the handkerchief have particular significance? Was there a reason Alfred chose to end his life at the War Memorial?
It is easy to speculate as to what may have happened. Perhaps Alfred had a lover in South Australia who moved to Western Australia and left him with a parting memento. Could Alfred have followed them west, only to find that they moved on? Perhaps he was struggling to find employment, and the difficulties became too much. Did his time in the war leave him in physical or mental pain? Ultimately, unless by some miraculous occurrence (such as the other half of the handkerchief or the other half of the story still exists), it is likely we will never know.
On 7 December 1929, Government officials arranged for Alfred’s burial in the Presbyterian denomination of Karrakatta Cemetery. As he was unidentified at the time, the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board (M.C.B.) database recorded him as ‘Unknown Unknown.’ For over 90 years, he was part of a long list of people falling under that category. There is no doubt, considering the details on his death certificate, that he was the unknown man buried in gravesite number 164. With some of his story missing, there is not a lot I can give back to Alfred. I can, however, help others to find his burial place. Having provided the M.C.B. with his death certificate, officials have since amended the database to include his name.
- 1929 ‘STATE WAR MEMORIAL.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 25 November, p. 19. , viewed 06 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32332752
- 1929 ‘KING’S PARK SUICIDE’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 5 December, p. 1. (HOME FINAL EDITION), viewed 09 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83120944
- 1929 ‘Suicide in King’s Park.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 6 December, p. 14. , viewed 10 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32336009
- 1929 ‘KING’S PARK SUICIDE’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 6 December, p. 1. (HOME FINAL EDITION), viewed 10 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83125565
- 1929 ‘MYSTERY SUICIDE’, Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), 7 December, p. 1. , viewed 10 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76194982
- 1929 ‘MYSTERY SUICIDE’, Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), 7 December, p. 3. , viewed 10 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76195061
- 1929 ‘KING’S PARK SUICIDE’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 9 December, p. 6. (HOME FINAL EDITION), viewed 10 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83126402
- 1929 ‘KING’S PARK SUICIDE’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 10 December, p. 2. (HOME FINAL EDITION), viewed 11 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83122809
- 1929 ‘KING’S PARK SUICIDE’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 14 December, p. 6. (FINAL SPORTING EDITION), viewed 11 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83122081
- 1929 ‘MYSTERY SUICIDE’, Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), 14 December, p. 1. , viewed 12 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76191537
- 1930 ‘”ALWAYS FAITHFUL.” [?]’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 20 January, p. 1. (HOME FINAL EDITION), viewed 13 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83820882
- 1930 ‘SUICIDE IN KING’S PARK.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 21 January, p. 12. , viewed 13 Jan 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31061172
- The National Archives; ADM 188/1098/4987; British Royal Navy Seamen 1899-1924; Alfred William Paris; Service Number: SS4987