The Fry family story: service and sacrifice

Topic: Why Australians enlisted to fight, their experiences at war, and the impact of WWI on Australia.
Learning Activity
Schools & Teachers
Stage 5
Australians at War: World Wars I and II

Through analysis of collection of primary sources related to the lives and war service of brothers Alan and Dene Fry, including diaries, letters and photographs, students consider the motivation of soldiers to enlist and fight in World War 1, experiences of battle on the Western Front, and the impact of the war on the families left behind.

Key inquiry question #1

What can the story of the Fry family tell us about the attitude of Australians enlisting to fight and the experiences of many Australian families during WW1?


An overview of the causes of the wars, why men enlisted and where Australians fought (ACDSEH021, ACDSEH095, ACDSEH024)


  • explain why Australians enlisted to fight in both wars 


Significance of the wars to Australia (ACDSEH110)


  • explain the impact of the wars on returned soldiers/civilians 

Background Information for Teachers and Students

Learning intention 

Students are learning to: 

  • Demonstrate skills in sources interrogation through 
    • Reading and interpreting primary sources with their historical terms and concepts 
    • Identifying, extracting and processing relevant information from historical sources in order to communicate effectively about the past in response to targeted questions 
    • Identify, through an empathetic understanding of the existence of different perspectives in history, some of the reasons men and women enlisted to fight in WWI 

Success criteria 

Students will be successful when they can: 

  • Describe the attitudes of Alan and Dene Fry to enlisting with the Australian armed forces, as representative of broader attitudes of Australians towards WWI 
  • Explain some of the ways in which WWI impacted on the families of soldiers engaged in the conflict, over the course of the war, as evidenced by family correspondence with Alan and Dene Fry 

The Fry Brothers

Dene and Alan Fry were both brothers and the best of friends. They enlisted separately to fight in WWI, and died on battlefields not more than 30km apart, far from their family and home.

Alan Fraser Fry was born in Sydney in 1895. He enlisted in December 1914 and left Australia in February 1915 with the 13th Battalion on board the transport "Seang Bee".  Whilst fighting in Egypt, Alan contracted malaria and influenza and was detained in hospital there while his Battalion went on to Gallipoli. Alan was invalided back to Australia, before returning to Egypt with the 10th reinforcements, 13th Battalion in late 1915. Alan Fry reached France in June 1916; he was wounded on the 13 August and died the following day at the South Midland Clearing Station, Warloy. He was buried in the local cemetery. 

Dene Barrett Fry was born in Sydney in 1893. A keen amateur naturalist since boyhood, he joined the Australian Museum as a cadet in 1908 and studied zoology at Sydney Technical College; he was a member of the Linnean Society of NSW and the Australasian Ornithologists' Union. Dene left the Museum in 1914 to study science at Sydney University and was appointed Junior Demonstrator in Zoology in 1915, but left the University in May to enlist with the Australian Imperial Forces. After one voyage to England and Egypt with the Army Medical Corps, Dene transferred to the Infantry in 1916. He trained back in Australia at Liverpool and Duntroon, before leaving Sydney again in August 1916 with the reinforcements to the 3rd Battalion on board the transport "Wiltshire". Dene Fry was killed in action at Hermies, France, on 9 April 1917.

Postscript: Alan and Dene’s much younger brother James Rollo Fry (known by his family as Rollo and, later, Bill) would join the RAAF in World War II and on the 13 June 1944, returning from a bombing raid in Germany, Bill Fry and all the crew were killed when their aircraft was shot down over Holland.

Student Activities

Source Interrogation

Students analyse a range of primary sources, conducting research in order to provide evidence-based answers to questions regarding Alan and Dene Fry's attitudes towards enlisting, and the impact of the war on their friends and family.

Number of set tasks:

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum History K-10

A student:

  • HT5-5 identifies and evaluates the usefulness of sources in the historical inquiry process
  • HT5-7 explains different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the modern world and Australia
  • HT5-9 applies a range of relevant historical terms and concepts when communicating an understanding of the past


Comprehension: chronology, terms and concepts

  • read and understand historical texts
  • use historical terms and concepts in appropriate contexts (ACHHS165, ACHHS183)

Analysis and use of sources

  • process and synthesise information from a range of sources as evidence in an historical argument (ACHHS170, ACHHS188)

Empathetic understanding

  • interpret history within the context of the actions, values, attitudes and motives of people in the context of the past (ACHHS172, ACHHS173, ACHHS190, ACHHS191)


  • plan historical research to suit the purpose of an investigation
  • identify, locate, select and organise information from a variety of sources, including ICT and other methods (ACHHS168, ACHHS186)

Explanation and communication

  • develop historical texts, particularly explanations and historical arguments that use evidence from a range of sources (ACHHS174, ACHHS188, ACHHS192)

Cause and effect: events, decisions and developments in the past that produce later actions, results or effects

Perspectives: people from the past may have had different views and experiences

Significance: the importance of an event, development, group or individual and their impact on their times and/or later periods

Learning across the curriculum

  • Ethical understanding
  • Intercultural understanding
  • Literacy
  • Personal and social capability
  • Information and communication technology capability