Alf Boxall and the young lady whose name he couldn’t remember.
When Boxall was asked by Stuart Littlemore in 1977 why the police came looking for him he replied that the ‘somebody’ in Adelaide who had known him previously was a ‘young lady’ and the indications were that the body on the beach was him. He added that this ‘young lady’ had given him a copy of the ‘Omar Kyiam’ sometime before in Sydney.
Boxall remembers visiting the Clifton Gardens Hotel during his time at the nearby Water Base ‘very briefly, if only for half an hour and then get back, do a bit of revision on next day’s work and then go to sleep.’ He stated that his shifts started not long after 5:30 am and finished at 9:pm.
He remembers his first meeting with Jessica at the hotel – ‘one of the (other instructor’s) wives had come down and brought along with her ‘this young lady,’ and during this first meeting he had with Jessica there was some banter about going up north and ‘fighting a war under palm trees and that sort of thing.’
‘About a fortnight later,’ Boxall told Littlemore, ‘the one (instructor) who had the wife turned up at the Rubberty (hotel) and once again this girl came along and I think there was a little present present for each of us – something to read and I remember this girl saying to me “you are going into palm trees or words to that effect, you might as well read about ’em before you go and she gave me the book.’
When Littlemore asked Boxall if the young woman was an Army Nurse, Boxall replied, ‘Quite candidly, she may have been a nurse, but I think had she been a Army nurse, I would have known it, but I just don’t know. She was very young, she was very young, very quiet sort of girl ..’
Littlemore: ‘She gave you a copy of the book at only your second meeting, and I take it you hadn’t been out together or anything like that?’
Boxall: ‘No. no.’
Littlemore: ‘Did it strike you as unusual that somebody – is that the sort of thing people did in those days when they knew people were going away?’
Boxall: ‘I think that my friend’s wife said I’m going to give so and so something’ to read, you know, and this girl said, “Oh well, I’ll give someone somethin’ to read too.” That’s the only assumption I can come to.’
Littlemore: ‘Did it strike you, Mr Boxall, that she was the sort of young woman who might have given away a copy of that book not just to you, but to a lot of other people?’
Boxall: ‘I would say because of her essentially friendly behaviour she could have given a little present of some sort to anybody and not have it misjudged, or her act misjudged.’
Littlemore: ‘In fact, your edition of the book is quite a different one from the one found at Somerton Beach.’
Littlemore: ‘So perhaps there’s no link at all, but you know, have you ever in your mind thought that this was a link between that book and the dead man – I mean, could the dead man have been somebody else to whom the nurse had given a copy of “The Rubaiyat”?’
Boxall: ‘Well, it could be, I suppose, but I would say – in spite of her friendliness in a group which you’d been introduced and whom she knew and trusted, she would be a very reserved young woman.’
Littlemore: ‘Did you ever contact her again?’
Littlemore: ‘Never write to her, or anything like that?’
Littlemore: ‘Are these the things the Police wanted to know about you?’
Boxall: ‘No. They didn’t. Didn’t never asked me anything, I think when they found that I was alive, they lost interest in me.’
Littlemore: ‘What about the young woman. have you got any idea what happened to her?’
Boxall: ‘Not a clue – what I do hope is that I think she had great courage, tremendous courage.’
Littlemore: ‘To tell the Police that she – (overtalk)’
Littlemore: ‘ … when the Police spoke to the young woman, who then told them that she had given you the book. So she remembered your name. Did you remember her name? I know it’s signed in the book under the verse she’s written out. Did you remember her?’
Boxall: ‘At the time, I think when it was first mentioned at the Garage, I don’t think the question of her name came up. I don’t think the police mentioned it.’ I wasn’t quite sure who they were referring to, but this much I do know far as names are concerned, I never – and even today, I don’t know what the girl’s surname was.’
Littlemore: ‘That’s funny isn’t it, because she knew yours.’
Boxall: ‘Yes, I – just something that doesn’t register with me.’
Littlemore: ‘What sort of girl was she? Can you describe her to me as you remember her?’
Boxall: ‘She was petite, she was not very tall I remember that.’
Littlemore: ‘How old?’
Boxall: ‘Oh – just young.’
Boxall: ‘Might have been’ (Stuart says twenty five) – Oh no, no. No, she was just a young girl.’
Littlemore: ‘You didn’t know her at all well?’
Boxall: ‘No … I appreciated the fact she was very pleasant, very pleasant girl – I’ve said she was reserved ..’
Littlemore: ‘You had worked in an Intelligence unit*, just before you came to Sydney and met the girl at Clifton Gardens Hotel. Did you talk to her about that at all?’
Littlemore: ‘Was it not done to speak about these things?’
Boxall: ‘Well, it was not done to speak about any Army affairs.’
Littlemore: ‘So she wouldn’t have known about your involvement with Intelligence.’
Boxall: ‘Not unless someone else told her.’
Littlemore: ‘Because, you see what I’m getting at – there is a theory, isn’t there, about this whole affair. The man on the beach was a spy of some kind.’
Boxall: ‘Mmm. It’s quite a melodramatic thesis isn’t it.’
When Jessica Harkness was interviewed by Detective Canney in July 1949 she was able to tell him she had given a copy of of The Rubaiyat to an Army Lieutenant who she had met on a couple of occasions at the Clifton Gardens Hotel while she was working at Sydney’s North Shore Hospital. The name she supplied was Alfred Boxall and she knew he lived in Para (sic) Street, Maroubra, and that he was attached to the Water Transport Company, Australian Army Service Corp. (Feltus)
Boxall: ‘I don’t think the question of her name came up. I don’t think the police mentioned it.’ I wasn’t quite sure who they were referring to, but this much I do knows far as names are concerned, I never – and even today, I don’t know what the girl’s surname was.’
Littlemore: ‘That’s funny isn’t it, because she knew yours.’
Information taken from Littlemore’s interview transcript.
*The Intelligence unit mentioned was the 2/1 NAOU Nackeroos: a mobile force deployed in northern Australia which used small boats and horses to patrol the coast, looking for signs of any Japanese infiltration into Australia.
The interview between Boxall and Littlemore took place in 1977, almost thirty years after Jessica became involved in the Somerton Body case.