42. Alfred Kitson McDOUGALL 126

Alfred Kitson McDougall enlisted in Melbourne on 17 August 1914. It was a very early enlistment, given that the declaration of war had only occurred two weeks earlier. It was one month before the first large group of enlistments from Yarram on 16 September 1914.

McDougall was 31yo when he enlisted and he gave his occupation as painter. He was single and his religion was recorded as Church of England.

His father – John McDougall – was dead and he gave his mother – Mrs Janet Margaret Hysing – as his next-of-kin.  Her address was 60 Wilson Street, North Carlton and this was the same address he gave for himself.  When his mother completed the (National) Roll of Honour form she indicated that he had attended the state school in Carlton (Rathdowne Street) and on his enlistment papers he gave his place of birth as North Carlton.

He must have moved to Yarram for work and he must have been there for a fair length of time. It appears that he had moved back to Melbourne before the War as there is no entry for him on the Electoral Roll of the time and he does not appear in the Rate Book. However, he must have lived and worked in the local area for some time because he was clearly regarded as ‘local’. He had spent time in the Yarram Rifle Club. His name appears on both the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll – with his death indicated – and the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. As well, when his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honor she gave Yarram as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Lastly, the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – gave the following brief account of his death in the edition of 20 August 1915:

Lance-Corporal Alfred H [sic] McDougall, formerly of Yarram, and only son of Mrs. Janet Hysing, 60 Wilson St., Princes Hill, was killed in action at the Dardanelles on 13th July.

He joined 7 Battalion and his unit left Melbourne on 19 October 1914. His papers show that he was promoted to Lance Corporal on 31 October 1914. In Egypt, he spent one month in hospital at Alexandria – from 7 April to 11 May – with an abscess of his left hand. Discharged from hospital, he embarked for Gallipoli on 20 May and rejoined his battalion on 31 May. L/Cpl McDougall was killed in action on 13 July 1915.

The mother received reasonably prompt advice of her son’s death. The cable back to Australia was dated 31 July 1915 and the official Report of Death of a Soldier was dated 16 September 1915, Alexandria. Both  The Australasian T.&G. Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited and United Ancient Order of Druids made formal requests for the Certificate of Death as early as the second week of August 1915 but had to wait until late September before they received it. There is no record of any personal effects being returned to the mother. The mother received a pension of 30/- per fortnight, which was increased to 40/- from 10 May 1917.

L/Cpl McDougall was buried in Shrapnel Gully Cemetery.  Following the work of the Graves Registration Unit after the War, in May 1921, the mother was advised that her son was buried in Shrapnel Valley Cemetery, Gallipoli plot 2, row C grave 1. As per normal practice she was given a photograph of the grave.

While there is no Red Cross report for L/Cpl McDougall,  the war dairy of 7 Battalion – written by its commander, H E (Pompey) Elliott – gives some indication of what happened. Essentially, his death was the result of another ‘demonstration’ – a limited raid/feint on the Turkish positions, this time in the general vicinity of German Officers’ Trench.

The entry indicates that at 5 AM on 13 July a party of 11 volunteers led by 2Lt Greig attacked and overran an outlying Turkish position. The Turks withdrew and then the raiding party itself came under a sustained bomb and machine gun attack from the main Turkish line. All the men in the raiding party were wounded, 2 were killed and 2Lt Greig went ‘missing’. In fact, 2Lt Norman James Greig – former Master at Scotch College, Melbourne – was recorded, subsequently, as ‘killed in action’. Whilst this action was underway another party of Australians attacked another part of the Turkish line before they were also forced to withdraw with heavy casualties. This second action was confused in its execution and more ad hoc than planned. The end result was that the Turks must have feared that a major assault was imminent and they opened up with … the most severe bombardment we have yet experienced & our trenches were practically destroyed in most places. The casualties from this Turkish bombardment were 7 officers and 37 other ranks. L/Cpl McDougall must have been one of those killed. Not surprisingly, such ‘demonstrations’ were not very popular with the Australian soldiers.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

War Diary of 7 Battalion

National Archives file for MCDOUGALL Alfred Kitson

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alfred Kitson McDougall

Roll of Honour: Alfred Kitson McDougall

40. Edward RADBURN 477

When he enlisted, Edward Radburn gave his place of birth as Lucknow (Bairnsdale). However when the father completed the details for the (National) Roll of Honour form, he gave the place of birth as Boolarra. The father also recorded Boolarra as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. He gave his son’s primary school as Outtrim, near Leongatha. However, the father’s address on the enlistment papers, and also on the embarkation, roll was recorded as Gunyah. Further, when Edward Radburn left for service with the AIF, the brief piece in the Gippsland Standard and AlbertonShire Representative (16 October 1914)  described how he was farewelled from Gunyah. Basically, it appears Edward Radburn and his family were living on the border of the Shire of Alberton and this probably explains why his name is not recorded on either the Shire Honor Roll or the Shire War Memorial. At the same time, the family was certainly known in the district. For example, the Gippsland Standard and AlbertonShire Representative reported on 6 December that James Radburn – the father – who had been a sergeant of police for many years had been sworn in as a Justice of the Peace and that … he is sure to prove a very worthy justice. His appointment will be a great convenience to the residents of Gunyah. Similalrly, there is a Radburn Road in the district. And Edward’s sister, Lucy, and father both appeared at several patriotic concerts held in the Wonyip (Ryton) Hall – he acted as the MC and she performed as a singer.

Edward Radburn enlisted in Melbourne on 1 October 1914. On enlistment, Edward gave his age as 19yo but according to the father, when he completed the Roll of Honour form, his son was only 18 years and 10 months when he died from wounds some 9 months later, on 10 July 1915. There is no sign in his service record of the written permission required of the parents whose son was underage.

Edward was single and his occupation was recorded as farm hand. Presumably he was working with his father. He gave his religion as Church of England.

In correspondence in the service file, the father – James Radburn – referred to himself as an ‘old soldier’ but there is no record of Boer War service under that name. At the same time, as already noted, it appears that the father had seen service in at least the police force. Correspondence in his son’s AIF service file reveals that the father was proud of his son’s enlistment.

Private Radburn was in the 9 Light Horse Regiment. The official record states that he died from wounds on 10 July 1915. The wound was a gunshot wound to the thorax. When he was admitted to the hospital in Alexandria – 17 General Hospital – on 8 July 1915, he was described as ‘dangerously ill’ and he died within 2 days.

The father was informed by telegram of his son’s death on 15 July, less than one week later, which, by the standards of the time, was very prompt. Obviously, the fact that he died in a major hospital in Alexandria meant that the family could be advised promptly. Similarly, the funeral was attended to expeditiously – it happened on the same day that Private Radburn died – and the details were passed back to the family in Gippsland: Rev. S A Marsh officiated and the burial was at Chatby Military Cemetery, Alexandria.  A small number of personal effects – Testament, cigarette case and watch(damaged) –  reached the family in April 1916.

Even though the reporting of this particular death ran far smoother than most of the others we have looked at to this point, there were still discrepancies. All the AIF forms give the date of death as 10 July 1915. Yet, the formal death certificate issued by the Municipality of Alexandria has the time and date of death as 9.40pm on 9 July 1915. More worrying for the family was that the date of death was originally given as 29 June; and this error was not corrected until the end of April 1916. In the intervening 9 months, the father received advice from his son’s friends in 9 Light Horse Regiment on the circumstances of his death. They told him that he had been seriously wounded on 29 June, transferred off Gallipoli and taken to hospital in Alexandria where he died round 10 July, just after having been admitted. It took several letters from the father before the AIF admitted their initial advice was wrong and the record was corrected.

The war diary for 9 Light Horse Regiment does not record any action for 29 June. It does record 2 killed and 4 wounded on 28 June – the day before – when, at Walker’s Ridge, the Australians fired at the Turkish trenches in a sustained manner for 1 hour. It was another feint intended to … assist landing of troops at Cape Helles. The Turks replied with heavy shelling and this was when the casualties were sustained. Private Radburn could have been one of the 4 wounded. The next entry in the war diary is for 30 June. Very early that morning, in the period from just after midnight up to 5.30 am, the Turkish forces mounted a major attack on the 9 Light Horse Regiment’s trenches at Walker’s Ridge. The fighting was intense and after it finished, the Australians counted 54 dead Turkish soldiers immediately in front of their trenches. There was 1 Australian killed and 8 were wounded. Presumably, Private Radburn was one of the 8 wounded. The fact that the action occurred so early in the morning might explain why the 29 June was given as the date he was wounded. He was taken off the Gallipoli Peninsula and transferred by ship to Alexandria, a process that took at least 1 week.

When he died in hospital in Alexandria, Edward Radburn was still only 18yo and he had been in the AIF for not much more than 9 months.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

War Diary of 9 Light Horse Regiment, June 1915
National Archives file for RADBURN Edward
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Edward Radburn
Roll of Honour: Edward Radburn

39. Nathan HEPBURN 584

Nathan (Nathan Walbourne) (William Nathan) Hepburn was another young man who had been born in the Shire of Alberton (Alberton),  attended school (both Yarram and Port Albert State School) and grown up in the Shire, but who, at the time of enlistment was living and working in Queensland. He enlisted at Bundaberg, very early in the War, on 19 August 1914.

The family dynamic was difficult. His parents had divorced in 1898 when Nathan was about 12 yo. At the time of enlistment his father – Wilfred Alfred Hepburn –  was a fisherman living at Port Albert. His mother – Elizabeth Jane Hepburn – was living in Melbourne at Carlton.  Nathan recorded his mother as his next-of-kin on the enlistment papers, but it appears that the authorities lost contact with her from late 1918. Then in 1920 the father successfully challenged his former wife’s status as next-of-kin and, as a consequence, all medals, the Memorial Plaque and photo of the grave were sent to him. There was a sister – Mrs B  (Elizabeth) W Morris – living at Darriman in the Shire of Alberton, and another sister – Mrs Sheehan – living in South Melbourne.

Private Hepburn’s occupation was recorded as labourer. He was 27 yo, single and he gave his religion as Church of England. Also on his enlistment papers, he noted that he had served 2 years in the senior cadets and 1 year in a rifle club. The rifle club could have been in the Shire of Alberton, but the 2 years in the senior cadets suggests that he could have lived in Melbourne, perhaps with his mother, as a teenager. In terms of his links to the local area, when the Roll of Honour form was completed, Yarram was given as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. His name is included on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and also on the honor rolls for the 2 schools he attended. However, his name is not on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and there is no indication that he – or his father, on his behalf – ever received the Shire Medallion.

Private Hepburn joined the 9 Battalion and embarked for Egypt from Brisbane on 24 September 1914. He was promoted to lance corporal on 19 January1915.

L/Cpl Hepburn went missing on 28/6/1915 and a court of inquiry, held in France one year later on 5/6/1916, determined that he had been ‘killed in action’ on the date he was reported as missing. As in so many other cases, the family had had to wait for a year before his fate was formally determined. Then in early May 1921, the father was informed that L/Cpl Hepburn had been buried at Shell Green Cemetery. The body must have been identified after the War through the work of the Graves Registration Unit.  A small number of personal belongings, including 2 diaries, had been returned earlier, in July 1920.

The action in which L/Cpl Hepburn was killed was a diversionary attack on the Turkish lines. Such ‘demonstrations’  were not popular with the Australian soldiers. They were intended to prevent the Turks withdrawing troops from their lines at Anzac and sending them south to Krithia. The war diary for 9 Battalion describes how on 28 June 1915, 2 companies (B and C) were ordered to attack (1) Snipers Ridge South and (2) Razor Back Ridge.

The attack was made with the object of co-operating with the Southern Force [Cape Helles] and preventing the enemy from sending reinforcements down. The attack of B Coy was well carried out. C Coy was under heavy fire from both flanks, both shrapnel and Machine Guns. This attack was not well carried out and a retirement took place without orders from the Co. Commander.

The diary also gave casualty figures for an action that lasted just 3 hours. B Coy had 12 killed, 46 wounded and 7 missing. C Coy lost 9 killed, 16 wounded and 15 missing. These were high figures – a total of some 105 men – for what was no more than a strategic feint. Interestingly, the casualty figures for C Coy, where the men effectively withdrew towards their own lines without waiting for orders to retire were considerably less than for B Coy which was applauded for following orders.

L/Cpl Hepburn was in C Coy and he became one of the 15 men missing on the day. The battalion war diary offered some additional information on the men missing after the action.

The missing in B Coy are almost certain to be killed. It is possible that of the 15 missing in C Coy the party under Lieut Jordan may be prisoners.

It also noted that over the next few days several attempts  were made to recover bodies but most of these efforts had to be called off because of enemy fire. The only success was on the morning of 29 June, the day after the action: Secured five bodies early this morning, stripped of boots and clothing.

The reference to the party of men from C Coy who were missing with Lt. Jordan is highly relevant in terms of what happened to L/Cpl Hepburn.

Lt. Jordan was 2Lt. Stanley Rupert Jordan. He had been an accountant before enlisting on 22 August 1914. He was only 20 yo and had been promoted to the rank of  2Lt. on 28 April 1915. His file indicates that he was in fact taken prisoner on the day (28/6/15) and it also shows that he was wounded – ‘gun shot wound to right arm’ – on the same occasion. He was held as a POW until November 1918.

There were 12 witness statements in the Red Cross file on 584 Lance Corporal William Nathan Hepburn. Most statements simply claimed that he was missing after the action on the day. However, 3 statements gave additional information on the connection between 2Lt. Jordan and L/Cpl Hepburn and the likely sequence of events. As indicated in the battalion war diary, the retirement of the men from C Coy. to their own trenches was at their own initiative. Once back in their positions, it was realised that Lt. Jordan was not there and another officer – Capt. Young – sent Hepburn to locate Lt. Jordan and inform him that the rest of the Company had retired.  The following witness statement from Pte George Orgill 564 refers to a definite order having been given to retire but, as indicated, the war diary of the battalion notes that, initially at least, no such order was given. In any case, the substance of what happened is clear:

At Anzac about two months after the landing on April 25 Companies B and C were sent out in front of trenches on the right of Anzac to draw the Turks fire. Witness [Orgill] and Hepburn were with them. They were then ordered to retire to the trenches. Capt. Young then sent Hepburn to tell Lieut. Jordan to retire (as Jordan had apparently not heard the order when first given). Neither Hepburn nor Lt. Jordan ever returned.

Another witness – G E Dench 1749 – also stated that Hepburn was with Lt. Jordan when both of them were ‘cut off’.

The following account by Cpl. H Wilson 541 does not mention Lt. Jordan but it does note that Hepburn went out again to try to find missing men:

Informant states that on June 28th at Anzac Cove half of the Company [C Coy.] were sent out in front of our trenches to line the ridge so as to draw reinforcements that were going to reinforce against the British troops at Achi Baba. About 20 men and an officer, (including Informant [Cpl. Wilson] and L/Cpl. Hepburn) went over the hill into the gully. We were then called on to retire, and L/Cpl Hepburn retired with us. He went out again to try and find the others who were missing, and that was the last we saw of him. He could have easily been taken prisoner.

The exact circumstances of L/Cpl Hepburn’s death will never be known. Did he locate Lt. Jordan? Was he killed in the same action in which Lt. Jordan was wounded? Or was he killed before he managed to make contact with Lt. Jordan? On this last point, there was one witness statement – Pte. F E Black 533 – that explicitly recorded his death:

Hepburn was killed on 28th June. I passed him lying dead: shot through the neck.

Perhaps Pte. Black was one of the last men from C Coy to retire and he came across Hepburn’s body as he was returning to the trenches.

Beyond the conjecture, it appears that L/Cpl Hepburn either was ordered or chose voluntarily to return to the battle zone to locate men from C Coy and inform them that all the others had retired. Without doubt, it was an act of bravery. Whether the young Lt. Jordan ever learnt that L/Cpl Hepburn most likely died trying to save him is another of the War’s ironies, on the small but very personal scale.


War Diary of 9 Battalion, June 1915
National Archives file for HEPBURN Nathan
First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Nathan Hepburn
Roll of Honour: William Nathan Hepburn
WW1 Red Cross files: William Nathan Hepburn

41. Pressed to enlist in the first half of 1915

This is the second post that looks at divisions apparent in the local community from the very beginning of the War. Once again it involves a series of letters-to-the-editor in the local paper, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. The common thread to the letters was the claim that young men from the township of Woodside were refusing to do their patriotic duty and enlist.

The first letter was signed anonymously, “Mary Jane” and it appeared in the paper on 21 April 1915.

It appears strange to me that so many able bodied young men are content to remain at home while the best and bravest of our boys have either gone or are going to fight for King and country in the battle fields of Europe. During a recent visit to Woodside I saw a tall, strong, active young man wearing in his button hole a badge displaying the historic words, “England expects every man to do his duty.” That young man is still in Woodside, and so far as he is concerned England stands a big chance of being disappointed. He is only one of many we meet every day. Their duty it appears lies at home; though late, very late at night, they may be heard riding home from the nearest hotel singing “Tipperary.”

The essential charge was that the patriotism of too many young men in the district was hollow.  They hid behind the pretence of patriotism, more interested in heavy drinking sessions at the local pub than fighting overseas.  And, as far as the writer was concerned, there was at least one such young man in Woodside. In fact, from the entire Shire of Alberton, Woodside was the only specific location named.

Two weeks later the same argument was revisited, and once again Woodside was identified. This time the writer signed him or herself as “Patriot”. One interpretation would be that “Mary Jane” and “Patriot” were the same person and that the first letter was intended to establish some sense of credibility – or  serve as a ‘teaser’ – for the more serious charges to come.  If it was not the same person then there was definitely a congruence of views.

“Patriot’s” first letter appeared on 1 May 1915. It was signed “Patriot” of Woodside. The detail in the letter covering the specifics of life and individuals in the local community of Woodside certainly gives the impression that the writer was a local.  The basis of the argument was that, unlike other local communities, Woodside had seen very few young men volunteer. Moreover, not content with such indifference to their patriotic duty, the same group spent or wasted their lives drinking, fighting and being a general nuisance in the community. The significance of the letter is that of all the small towns and settlements across the Shire of Alberton, attention was turned on the particular township of Woodside. Where “Mary Jane’s” letter had merely hinted that there could be a problem at Woodside, this letter proclaimed boldly that Woodside was some sort of epicentre of patriotic indifference.

I believe out of [the] large crowd of young men in Woodside only about two or three have gone, but I think a couple more started and came back again for some reason or other which I don’t know. Where in other places I know one or two have gone out of every family and more would go if they only could. These boys are different to the boys in Woodside, for I believe at the present time there are about a dozen young men in Woodside that could go and won’t go. They would sooner spend their time fighting one another, and will be seen going about for days or a week after with their eyes and hands neatly tied up after having had them attended to by a doctor. Then of course they have to have a holiday, for they are not able to do anything, but every night they will be seen rolling up to the hotel again, and will be heard going home quite happy at a late hour at night. Perhaps in some future time they may be sorry they never joined the colours, instead of fighting one another about there. I believe one certain young man said he would go only he had to stay to buy his mother’s bread. This, I think, is a poor excuse, for I know his mother has a husband and one or two more sons, and I think if the husband can’t provide her with bread he ought to go to the war and try to his duty there if he can’t do it at home. And many more of these strong young men ought to do the same.

Not surprisingly, the letter prompted a response. Two letters appeared in the edition of 19 May 1915, nearly a fortnight later. One was dated 12 May, Woodside and the other 13 May, also Woodside. The first, by Jas. O’Neill, claimed that in fact ten or a dozen of the Woodside boys had already enlisted and more were going to enlist. Jas. O’Neill appears to have been, according to the Electoral Roll, James Joseph O’Neill, labourer of Woodside. O’Neill made the point that at least those going would be able to fight a enemy they met face to face whereas they were powerless to take on “Patriot” who was nothing more than a backbitter [sic] hiding behind her anonymity. He assumed “Patriot” was a woman or perhaps he wanted to make the point that a real man would not conceal his identity.   He also suggested that more of the … Woodside boys would join the colours if it was only to get away from the likes of “Patriot”.

The second letter was signed by another O’Neill – S J. O’Neill – and this writer explicitly identified himself as the target of “Patriot’s” attack and presented his defence. The writer was 25 yo Simon John O’Neill:

I was commented on as being in a hotel brawl, instead of being at the war. Allow me to say that in trying to avoid a dispute I was drawn into one, but have not, as the writer says, been repeatedly at the hotel at night since the occurrence, and can prove that I have been working and not loafing round the hotel. As for not going to the war, unfortunately I am unfit, or I should have volunteered long ago.

S J O’Neill also challenged “Patriot” to reveal his or her identity:

It would also be interesting to know why “Patriot” does not disclose his or her name, as anyone who speaks the truth has no need for secrecy. On condition that “Patriot” will answer this letter through the press, with his or her name signed in full, I will lodge £5 at the “Standard” [Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative] office in aid of the Belgian Relief, and I think “Patriot” to prove true patriotism should contribute the same amount.

Another 2 weeks passed before “Patriot” replied on 26 May. The reply revealed just how personal the initial attack had been. To begin, “Patriot” dismissed the respondent James O’Neill by stating that the first letter … had nothing whatever to do with him. There was a sense of outrage that this O’Neill has bought into an argument that did not concern him. Presumably he was too old to enlist. But in the next sentence “Patriot” continued the attack on the younger S J O’Neill, claiming that her sources suggested that  … he has not been in Woodside much since then [the brawl at the hotel]. Clearly, J S O’Neill was one of “Patriot’s” initial targets.  He was one of 3 O’Neill brothers, all from Woodside and aged in their early twenties. People in Woodside who read the first letter would have known those being written about.  “Patriot” had no intention of backing down. The claim was made again that only a handful from Woodside had enlisted, and as for revealing his or her identity and the £5 challenge:

As for signing my name, I will not, as it may only cause trouble and perhaps make many people bad friends, but I am sure my statements are just as correct as his, and he can give his £5 if he likes. … I would be quite willing to give mine also, if I could only afford it, but I cannot as I am only receiving a small salary, and having more than myself to keep I find I am not able to do it.

On 4 June, “Mary Jane”, the initial person to call into question the patriotic loyalty of the young men of Woodside, submitted another letter-to-the-editor. It seemed that both “Patriot” and “Mary Jane” had to respond to the O’Neills; and there was the suspicion, again, that the two identities were the same. In fact, “Mary Jane” referred explicitly to this belief in the letter – Some people, I am informed, are quite sure that “Mary Jane” and “Patriot” are one and the same person – and then denied it, but in a most unconvincing manner. She also claimed, again unconvincingly, that she had never intended to target specifically the O’Neill Brothers and that, in effect, they had self-identified:

Only the O’Neill Brothers to whom I had not given a thought when writing, fitted the cap on their own head.

She also expressed regret that … her former letter caused so much bitterness in certain quarters. But it was a sham contrition – It was not intended to arouse such feelings and certainly would not have done so amongst sensible people. – and she drove home again the basic message:

… when married men are leaving wives and children and giving their lives to the service of their country, surely the single man who has youth, health and strength, and has no nearer duty to perform might also consider his country’s claim upon his manhood.

And, finally, there was another parting shot at S J O’Neill:

If he would rather stay home and keep a whole skin, the least he could do would be to refrain from wearing patriotic badges and singing war ditties, especially very late at night when respectable residents wish to sleep.

In turn, this letter elicited responses from 2 of the O’Neill brothers. The first from S J O’Neill appeared on 11 June. He pointed out, correctly, that “Mary Jane’s” first letter – back on 21 April – had, in fact, elicited no response in the paper. It was only the letter of “Patriot” that had prompted response. He queried why she had felt the need to reply when no-one had ever engaged with her in the first place. His clear implication was that “Mary Jane” and “Patriot” were the same person.  He focused on her attack on the young man wearing the patriotic badge – presumably himself –  the character she had originally set up in her first letter in April:

… her deceased [sic] brain has once carried her beyond the sublime when she objects to people wearing patriotic badges and singing war ditties simply because they have not gone to the war. Did “Mary Jane” ever take into consideration the help which every person is giving by procuring one such badge to which she objects, but “where ignorance is bliss it is folly to be wise.”

And he offered as his farewell:

I would advise “Mary Jane” to sink herself into oblivion and stay there for the rest of her life, or until such time as her foul mind has discarded its bitterness, and that she may be fit to come and live with pure-minded people.

The letter from Maurice E O’Neill – the second respondent – appeared on 16 June. He and his 2 brothers had commenced enlistment by this point – they had all passed the medical at Yarram in May 1915 – and he indicated that he was leaving for the camp at Seymour and he wanted … to have a pick at “Mary Jane” for the first and perhaps the last time. He claimed that, despite her denials, she had definitely targeted the O’Neill boys. Given that he was killed in France in 1916, his parting wish was cruelly ironic:

So I will wish “Mary Jane” and “Patriot” farewell. Hoping that they will have recovered from their strange delusions by the time I get home again.

The last word went to “Mary Jane”. Her letter published 23 June admitted some grudging respect for the O’Neill brothers who had enlisted; but at the same time she took on the persona of a poor, defenceless woman, threatened by young louts, and claimed credit for goading the brothers to enlisting:

The O’Neill brothers seem to be suffering from furore scribendi [rage for writing]. I have heard that they are going to the war. On this I congratulate them most heartily. They are setting an example that others, in the same position, might well follow. If it is any satisfaction to them to knock out a poor old woman before they leave Woodside, they are welcome to that. Only let them deal as bravely with the enemy when they met him. So far as this correspondent is concerned they have kept it up very well indeed. Had they not done so it had long since been forgotten. It is no use tickling a frog that won’t jump. Alas! there are many frogs that are too indolent to croak, much less jump.

Trying to interpret these events from so long ago is obviously not easy. However there are several points that can be made. First, the local paper chose to publish the letters of “Mary Jane” and “Patriot”, even though the letters were anonymous, the claims generalised and the reputations of known people attacked.  Again, as with the ‘flag flapping’ of Post 38, the paper gave people a platform to make virtually any claim they liked in relation to real or perceived lapses in patriotic sentiment and duty. The local paper was flexing its political muscle and brandishing its patriotic credentials.

The second point concerns the accuracy of the basic claim that not many young men from Woodside volunteered. At the time, this claim would have been difficult, if not impossible, to determine, with major problems over who was keeping records and how an individual was to be identified with a particular location. There was no objective, independent tally of enlistments from every location within the Shire kept at that specific time. Nor was one ever kept at any point over the duration of the War.  In such an environment, people’s perceptions were very powerful. While there had been manifestations of patriotic duty all over the Shire at the outbreak of the War, there would also have been inevitable variations in the rate of enlistment between locations. If someone like “Patriot” wanted to claim that such a variation amounted to proof that young men in a particular location were unpatriotic, and that assertion was given credibility by being published in the local press, then no doubt perceptions could readily become commonly accepted beliefs. Doubtless in mid-1915, after the correspondence in the local paper, people throughout the Shire of Alberton would have discussed the possibility/probability/certainty that not enough young men had volunteered from Woodside. And in discussing the situation at Woodside, they would also have looked at their own location and wondered if the same claim could be made about their own young men’s sense of patriotic duty. Presumably, this was exactly what the local paper was setting out to achieve.

The third point covers the possibility, 100 years later, of being able to uncover the identity of the anonymous writer(s).

There is little doubt that whoever wrote the letters to the editor knew about the O’Neill brothers. The O’Neill’s were right in responding to the letters in the belief that they, specifically, were being targeted. Details in the letters of “Mary Jane” and “ Patriot” certainly did identify them. Presumably, the letters were written by one or more persons in the local community of Woodside who knew the O’Neill family and, more particularly, had identified the O’Neill boys as typical of those single, young men who were causing problems – drinking, fighting, out late at night – when they should have already done the right thing and enlisted. One or two people wanted to draw attention to the O’Neill boys and the local paper was prepared to assist, presumably on the basis that the O’Neills represented a problem that was common across the Shire as a whole.

Then there is the issue of the name, “Mary Jane”. The boys’ mother was typically referred to as Mrs W(illiam) Kerr. Her first husband, and the boys’ father, was James O’Neill but he had died and she had remarried, to William John Kerr who also lived in Woodside. Mrs William Kerr was in fact Mrs Mary Jane Kerr (O’Neill). It seems that the pseudonym of “Mary Jane” was a deliberate choice, with the intention, clearly, to identify the O’Neill boys. This again pointed to someone in the local community who knew the O’Neill family history.  Moreover, given that the local paper was prepared to publish both sets of anonymous letters – from both “Mary Jane” and “Patriot” – it seems reasonable at least to suggest that perhaps the editor of the paper – A J Rossiter – played a role in the affair. Perhaps, even, he had heard of the O’Neill boys and decided himself to craft a series of letters that appeared to come from concerned locals. It was his chance to raise an issue that people were talking about. As will become evident in future posts, Rossiter was certainly prepared to take an active role in promoting patriotic duty in the local community. Perhaps this whole episode was a underhand way of doing just that. There would have been little chance that his ruse could ever have been uncovered. But there is no proof of any such strategem. Besides, there is even the possibility that the writer might have been a relative: an aunt or uncle keen for the brothers to do what they saw as the ‘right thing’, rather than bring dishonour on the extended family.

Leaving conjecture to one side, the actual fate of the O’Neill boys is known. There were 3 O’Neill brothers. They were all single and they enlisted together in June 1915. The oldest was Simon John O’Neill (1958) who was nearly 25yo when he enlisted on 16 June 1915. The middle brother – Maurice Edward O’Neill (1960) – was 23yo when he enlisted on 18 June 1915. The youngest brother was Joseph Geoffrey O’Neill (2062) who was nearly 21yo when he enlisted on 22 June 1915. All 3 brothers had their initial medical at Yarram and were issued with railway warrants (105-107) on 31 May 1915 to travel to Melbourne. All 3 had been born at Sale and all gave their religion as Roman Catholic. All had as their next-of-kin their mother Mrs W(illiam) [Mary Jane] Kerr of Woodside.  Presumably the father was dead by the time they enlisted. All 3 gave their occupation as labourer but the 2 older brothers featured in the 1915 Rate Book with each holding a few acres of land at Woodside. The 2 older brothers had been involved in the Woodside Rifle Club and the oldest (Simon John O’Neill) had spent 18 months in the Light Horse unit based in Sale. All 3 brothers enlisted in 24 Battalion and all served overseas. Simon John O’Neill returned to Australia in March 1919 and Joseph Geoffrey O’Neill in April 1919. The middle brother, Maurice Edward O’Neill, was killed in action in France on 29 June 1916.

What influence the writings of “Mary Jane” and “Patriot” had on the decision of the O’Neill boys to enlist is not possible to determine. Certainly there was a surge in enlistments once the casualty levels associated with Gallipoli became commonly known. Moreover, the background of at least 2 of the 3 brothers, in the Woodside Rifle Club and other military training, suggests that they were always potential volunteers. At the same time, being identified in the local press as unpatriotic would have been hard to withstand. Even when they did enlist, their critics could only offer half-hearted praise, and rebuke them for taking so long.  Overall, their reputations were seriously damaged and enlistment at least removed them from the local area. As James O’Neill suggested right at the start, they might well have enlisted to escape the likes of “Patriot”.

In 1920, on the anniversary of her son’s death (29/6/16), Mrs Mary Jane Kerr inserted the following In Memoriam in the local paper:

O’Neill – In loving remembrance of my dear son, Private Maurice Edward O’Neill, killed in action on 29th June, 1916. R. I. P.

We all miss him, for we loved him,
And shall always feel the loss
Of our fair-haired darling, sleeping
‘Neath a little wooden cross.

Inserted by his mother.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for O’Neill Simon John

National Archives file for O’Neill Maurice Edward

National Archives file for O’Neill Joseph Geoffrey


38. ‘Flag flapping’ patriotism

This is the first of 3 short posts that look at divisions within the local community that began to form from the very beginning of the War. From 1916, with the push for conscription, the division would reach levels unparalleled to that point, however from the very beginning of the War the signs of tension were there. This first post looks a ‘flag flapping’. The second looks at early ‘shirkers’; and the third at Germans in the local community.

In the early stage of the War, division arose over the proper display of patriotism. In the heightened anxiety and bravado of the times, the standards of patriotism demanded – of both individuals and institutions – encouraged true ‘patriots’ to go looking for and expose those whose loyalty could be called into question. Local newspapers were keen to assist, and had the power to legitimise and also intensify the debate. This was the opportunity for them to present themselves as the voice of the community.

On 2 December 1914, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published a letter to the editor from an anonymous correspondent going by the name of  “Patriot”. The letter called into question the patriotic loyalty of the head teacher of Port Albert State School. The basic issue was the claimed reluctance of the head teacher to fly the flag, literally, and show an appropriate level of patriotism.  His indifference was compared with the enthusiasm apparent in all other schools across Australia. The possible counter claim that the school’s flag was old and tattered was already being discounted. It was a full-on attack on the head teacher’s sense of patriotism and the local paper chose to print it. “Patriot” wrote:

What has struck me forcibly for a considerable time, is the attitude of the head teacher of the State School, compared with that of other teachers all through the States. In every school in the State the teacher thinks it an honor for the national flag to be flying, and for the scholars to salute it. At Port Albert it is never seen now (when it should be proudly displayed more than ever) the excuse being the flag is tattered. In the days of Nelson and Wellington a torn flag signified honourable service. The teacher may probably be forgetful in such matters, but I would like to see patriotism installed in my children whatever happens.

The head teacher – Gerald Russell – had little choice but to reply in the next issue (4/12/14). He criticised the parent for writing under a pseudonym and then pointed out that the local school committee had …  already arranged for the purchase of a new flag. However, he was not prepared to leave the matter there and, given the very public attack on his sense of patriotism, he fired back at his detractor’s own patriotism, arguing it was more show than substance. It was clear that he knew who “Patriot” was because he went on to accuse him of not contributing to the school’s patriotic fund. He also questioned if “Patriot” had expected him, as head teacher, to purchase a flag with his own money, and then suggested that perhaps “Patriot’, if he was so keen on the idea, could himself have paid for the replacement flag:

Did “patriot” expect me to provide, from my own pocket, funds for that object? Had I known that gentleman was so keen on getting patriotism instilled into the minds of his children I might have deliberately suggested such an opening for himself. The wonder is that the children of such a parent should feel such a need. Let me suggest a practical way of achieving the same laudable result. There is a patriotic fund at the school for the purpose of receiving  children’s small offerings. “Patriot’s” children have not paid in a red cent. Is “patriot’s” patriotism of the blatant variety?

Thanks to the local paper, this was now a very public dispute across the district and the potential for arguments over the display of patriotic fervour to poison relations between a head teacher and his parents – with the students in the middle – was very obvious.

“Patriot” returned fire in the next edition (9/12/1914). This time he revealed his identity – “Patriot.” Otherwise known as Jack Robertson. Robertson was a fisherman from Port Albert. In his reply, Robertson takes on the persona of a parent forced, reluctantly, to call out the head teacher for lack of patriotic loyalty.  The attack on the head teacher, as one of the leading members of the local community, is severe; and the threat in the last couple of sentences is clear:

It has been common talk for weeks about our school teacher never displaying the Union Jack. I stood it as long as possible, but last Monday week was the limit. Three young men left on that day for Broadmeadows. They were born and educated here. There was no demonstration whatever at the school. Surely the time was opportune. A few of the bigger boys, who asked permission, were allowed to go to the station a few minutes before train time. The rest of the school were disappointed at not seeing their chums off. Another illustration: Last Empire Day every school in the shire had a celebration: Port Albert – nil. Mr. G. Russell says “Patriot’s” children never paid a cent into the Patriotic Fund at the school. They never did and never will. I prefer to send mine otherwise. I have contributed in a dozen different ways, besides making shirts, handkerchiefs, etc. If he has given as much (which I doubt) as I have he has not done too badly. He “delicately suggests”  I should install patriotism in my children myself. I have, from the time they were able to understand. I would not like that task left to him. He might only “delicately suggest” patriotism. I maintain a good teacher has a great influence over a child, and very often the making or marring of a child is started at school. We can look back with pride on a lot of our past teachers, men who were first and foremost in everything. Mr. G Russell wants to know if my patriotism is of the “blatant variety”? My patriotism is through every fibre of my body, and will stand the wear and tear. Will his? Mr. G. Russell never mentioned in his letter whether he is loyal or not. Probably he will when the new flag comes, if he doesn’t ——.

The 3 young men, former students of the school, referred to were Harry Lewis (1639), James Lindsay (1566) and Jack Robinson (1602). They enlisted together at Yarram on 24 November and they were given consecutive railway warrants (numbers 61- 63) for travel to Melbourne on 30 November 1914. The whole issue about farewells for young men who had enlisted was certainly topical at the time and no clear protocol had yet emerged. In fact, over the entire course of the War there was significant variation between local communities across the Shire in the way such farewells – and later on, welcome homes – were handled. As will become apparent in future posts, in some instances the local school did become the centre for such farewells, but this arrangement was not universal. Basically, the claim that the school did not give a decent farewell to the 3 young men was, in terms of practice at the time, somewhat opportunistic and even unwarranted; but the claim did reflect genuine concern that not enough was being done to farewell the young men. Certainly, people at the time would have read the letter and agreed that the school should have done something.

One week later on 16 December,  Russell replied. Inadvisedly, he determined to give the readers a lesson on the various forms of patriotism. Almost certainly, the locals were never going to welcome instruction by the local school master on the nature and varieties of patriotism. He drew the distinction between the true patriotism of the “young hero” who faced death on the battlefield, and the contrived patriotism of the likes of his opponent, “Patriot”. Labouring metaphors, the head teacher dismissed the “Patriot” as …  entrenched behind an ink pot and a sheet of paper … who could only … wield a bad pen, venomed by spite, and hurl mud bombs on all and sundry.

Russell also laid on the sarcasm, another ill-advised tactic:

We have it on the highest authority- his [Patriot’s] own: “Patriotism [is] through every fibre of my body.” Is it any wonder there is little left for me when he has such a superfluity of it? How fortunate we are in the possession of such a one. Slumber sweetly, ye babes of Port Albert. No danger of “Louvains” while “Patriot” … is with us.

The letter ends with a palpable sense of outrage that one of his own school committee has turned on him:

The most regrettable thing about the whole affair is that a member of the school committee should treacherously attack one whom, by virtue of his office, he was honourably bound to assist.

In the next edition (18/12/1914) Robertson replied, with what was to be his last missive. It was short but sharply pertinent. He obviously felt that he had won the contest. He claimed that the head teacher, with his talk of varieties of patriotism, was merely trying to dissemble and that for all his clever words he had repeatedly refused to address the basic charge, namely that under his leadership the school was not putting on the sort of patriotic display common in other schools, and which the community expected and wanted. As far as Robertson was concerned, the head teacher could be as smart as he wanted with his arguments and repartee, but he could not conceal this major failing.

Head-Teacher Russell replied in the next edition. He felt the need to emphasise his practical loyalty and pointed out that he had been … contributing five per cent of my salary to the State School Patriotic Fund since its inception. He welcomed the closest scrutiny of this claim and wrote that he doubted that Robertson was making the same sort of financial sacrifice.

Perhaps Russell sensed by this point that he had lost the argument; but he was still keen to point out the hollowness that could so easily characterise displays of patriotism:

Flag flapping is very well in its place, and it is the most blatant patriot that shouts “God save the King” the loudest.

However, the problem the head teacher faced was that flag flapping was precisely the type of patriotic display that the community expected from the local state school. The issue was not whether it was Russell or Robertson who had the finest sense of what true patriotism represented, or even who of the pair was making the greatest financial contribution to patriotic fund-raisers, but, rather, the key issue turned on what sort of visible patriotic display the local community could expect to see at the school. And the short answer was that they definitely wanted to see something; and they did not feel the need to argue this with the head teacher. Russell might have been the finest and most generous patriot in his private life, but the local community wanted the public manifestation of patriotism.

The last letter published on the matter appeared on 23 December 1914. It was another anonymous effort, this time signed Foreman of Jury. There is no way of ever knowing its provenance, but it looks like the sort of final word or verdict that an editor – in this case, A J Rossiter – could impose on a dispute that had seized the attention of the local community, a dispute that the local paper had enabled and promoted. Irrespective of whoever wrote the short letter, it is very clear that the head teacher had been found guilty as charged:

On the main points at issue, neglect to fly the flag, and failure to have any patriotic demonstrations on Empire Day and other suitable occasions throughout the year, the plaintiff, Patriot, gets the verdict. Penalty £5: to be paid into Empire Patriotic Fund, half by defendant, Russell, and and half by members of the school committee.

To some extent this last letter makes light of the whole episode and dismisses it with some gentle mockery. However, it is apparent that the background issue was not seen as trivial. The local head teacher had been publicly attacked over his perceived lack of patriotism and his reputation had been severely damaged. Doubts about his patriotism would have coloured the community’s dealings with him from then on. At another level a clear warning had been issued to all other local schools and head teachers that the local community did expect a highly visible form of patriotism to be on display.

The last point to make is that there was in fact a formal farewell for the 3 men referred to earlier. It came in the following January. It was written up in the local paper on 6 January 1915. This time the school children were involved. It is interesting to speculate whether (a) this formal farewell would have occurred and (b) the Port Albert State School would have been involved, had it not been for the earlier agitation of the “Patriot”.

The Port Albert railway station presented an animated scene on Monday last, when a large crowd assembled to bid farewell to three local soldier boys, James Lindsay, Harry Lewis and Jack Robinson. The school children sang, and the whole crowd joined in “Tipperary” and “God Save the King.” Detonators were placed on the line in honor of the volunteers.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

37. “They Rose To The Occasion” : the AIF’s image emerges victorious

This post looks at the narrative of the AIF at Gallipoli as it was presented in 2 newspapers of the time: The Argus as a Melbourne metropolitan daily and the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, published twice weekly, as the local paper for the Shire of Alberton.

At the time, newspapers were the only media source of information. From the very start of the War they were subject to strict censorship, and the release of information covering ‘war news’ was highly controlled. In Australia, there was intense interest in the AIF’s fortunes, matched with the understanding that its first engagement in the War would represent a defining moment in the young nation’s history. Before Gallipoli there were 2 overriding preoccupations: would the AIF prove itself as equal to the British army on the field of battle; and how would the AIF mark itself as a distinctive Australian fighting force? Further, the first major campaign involving the AIF represented the chance to counter the negative publicity it had drawn to itself in Egypt. Overall, even before the first shot was fired, the legendary status of Gallipoli was assured.

The first reports of the landings at Gallipoli came very early. On Monday 26 April 1915 The Argus reported on the ‘allies’ landing in the Dardanelles. The troops were described as British and French and the Australians were not specifically listed. There were significant inaccuracies in relation to the landing sites given. Two days later – Wednesday 28 April – there were more accounts of the landings: they had taken place at several points on the Gallipoli Peninsula, covered by a naval force. The reader was reassured, falsely, that:

In spite of serious opposition from the enemy behind strong entrenchments and entanglements, the Allied forces were completely successful.

On 30 April there was a map of the Dardanelles with landing sites, but there were still major inaccuracies.

On 4 May came the first indication of casualties – the Roll of Honour – giving the AIF dead as 10 officers and 42 other ranks, plus another 96 wounded. In the same edition came the first of the congratulatory telegrams. The Governor General was reported to have congratulated Birdwood on the Australian troops’ … successful entry upon active field service. Birdwood’s cable responded that the … troops have all done splendidly. Importantly, there was also reassuring praise from the British. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, speaking on behalf of the Admiralty, cabled praise for the Australian troops. The First Lord of the Admiralty (Churchill) was reported as extending congratulations to both Australia and New Zealand … on the brilliant and memorable achievements of their troops in the Dardanelles. Churchill was also reported as claiming that Admiral de Roebeck in charge of the British Fleet had expressed the fleet’s … intense admiration of the feat of arms of the Australian land forces.

On 6 May there was an article with the headline Heavy Losses of Officers. The death toll had doubled to 108, the majority of whom were officers. The Argus noted that if so many officers had been killed the number of deaths from the other ranks must have been far greater. It stated that despite the level of casualties, people appeared determined to see the campaign through; and it claimed that the true extent of casualties needed to be revealed as soon as possible. The tone of grim determination was being established.

On May 7 The Argus gave the first account of the actual Australian landings on 25 April. It was sourced from the Reuter’s correspondent in Cairo and it claimed to be the … first report of the actual fighting during the landing of the Australasian troops at Gaba Tepe. There was an accompanying map, showing the point of landing near Suvla Bay. The key headline was “Nothing Stopped Us”. The account highlighted the fighting qualities of the Australians:

When approaching the shore the Australians and the New Zealanders jumped from the boats into water that was often neck deep, and waded to land. They found the Turks occupying the ridges, and took three of these in succession in a running fight, extending over a length of three miles.

The picture of the Turkish defenders was far less complimentary. Prior to the campaign it been widely and popularly believed that the Turks, an inferior race, would be no match for the superior forces of the white British Empire. Now this seemed to be exactly what had happened:

One Australian said afterwards: – “Nothing stopped us. Our big lads lifted some of the Turks on the end of their bayonets and the other Turks ran screaming and howling in fear.”

The inferior Turks were also uncivilised:

The ambulance men were under fire, the Turks making a dead set against them, and shooting them down mercilessly. … It has been established that the Turks used dum-dum bullets.

The Turkish losses were great:

The Turks’ losses were enormous, the bayonet rushes of the Australians and New Zealanders causing great slaughter.

The same article made the incorrect claim that Krithia was practically captured.

May 7 also saw the first article in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – to do with the Gallipoli campaign. There was a brief reference noting that the list of dead was increasing and that as only officers’ names had been released to that point, the true casualty rate must have been far greater and worse news was to come. There was a local connection because one of the dead officers, whose name had been published, was a Major Hamilton from Malvern who had married a local girl – Una Bland, daughter of Mr & Mrs W Bland of – Yarram. He was described as … a brave man who had died for his country.

The local paper was always keen to promote the link to the local community and one of its preferred options was to include the letters sent back to Australia from local men serving in the AIF.

The same edition of the local paper reprinted an article from the The Age about men flocking to recruiting stations as the list of casualties grew. Rates of volunteering seemed tied directly to casualty levels. This was said to be the British way and another example of true British determination in the faced of tragedy:

Last week the recruiting figures were growing smaller and smaller, and fears were raised that there were few men left to come forward voluntarily. On Monday [3 May], simultaneously with the publication of the lists of Australia’s killed and wounded, the men came forward again in the old way, eager to do their part in the fighting.

Then on 8 May – some 2 weeks after the event – The Argus published the extensive account by Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett of the initial landing on 25 April. This piece turned out to be one of the most significant newspaper reports in Australia’s history.

Ashmead-Bartlett was a war correspondent for the British. He had seen service as a lieutenant in a British unit in the Boer War in and had worked as a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese War (1904). In its introduction to the article, The Argus emphasised his credentials, noting that he was … chosen to represent the British press at the Dardanelles … and claiming that he was at … the very forefront of war correspondents. This claimed status as the British expert was employed to give credibility to his account. Ashmead-Bartlett went ashore at Gallipoli on the night of 25 April.

Any reader of the account by Ashmead-Bartlett would have been left in no doubt that the Australians had proved themselves on the field of battle to be the equal of the British troops. Apart from anything else, the claims were highlighted in the headlines of the article: They Rose To The Occasion and No Finer Feat in the War. Equal to Mons and Neuve Chapelle.

The article described in detail the fighting qualities of the Australians who had morphed into a race of athletes:

The Australians rose to the occasion. Not waiting for orders, or for the boats to reach the beach, they sprang into the sea, and, forming a sort of rough line, rushed the enemy’s trenches.
Their magazines were not charged, so they went in with cold steel.
It was over in a minute. The Turks in the first trench were either bayoneted or they ran away, and their Maxim was captured.
Then the Australians found themselves facing an almost perpendicular cliff of loose sandstone covered with thick shrubbery. Somewhere, half-way up, the enemy had a second trench, strongly held, from which they poured a terrible fire on the troops below and the boats pulling back to the destroyers for the second landing party.
Here was a tough proposition to tackle in the darkness, but those colonials, practical above all else, went about it in a practical way.
They stopped for a few minutes to pull themselves together, got rid of their packs, and charged their magazines.
Then this race of athletes proceeded to scale the cliffs without responding to the enemy’s fire. They lost some men but did not worry.
In less than a quarter of an hour the Turks were out of their second position, either bayoneted or fleeing.

He was impressed by the reckless and ruthless pursuit of the enemy – But then the Australians whose blood was up, instead of entrenching, rushed northwards and eastwards, searching for fresh enemies to bayonet. – and the courage of the wounded. He claimed he had never seen the like of it before:

The courage displayed by these wounded Australians will never be forgotten. Hastily placed in trawlers, lighters and boats, they were towed to the ships, and, in spite of their sufferings, cheered on reaching the ship from which they had set out in the morning.
In fact, I have never seen anything like these wounded Australians in war before.
Though many were shot to bits, without the hope of recovery, their cheers resounded throughout the night. You could see in the midst of the mass of suffering humanity arms waving in greeting to the crews of the warships.
They were happy because they knew that they had been tried for the first time and had not been found wanting.

While the Turks were referred to as a brave enemy, there were other less flattering descriptions of them:

Amidst the flash of bayonet and the sudden charge of the Colonials, before which they broke and fled, and amidst a perfect tornado of shells from the ships, the Turks fell back, sullen and checked.


Early in the morning of April 26 the Turks repeatedly tried to drive the colonials from their position. The colonials made local counter-attacks, and drove off the enemy at the point of the bayonet, which the Turks would never face.

Interspersed with the account of the fighting there was more commendation from the British. The British PM (Asquith) was quoted as declaring in the House of Commons:

The landing of the Australians and New Zealanders was opposed by a heavy fire at point-blank range, but they carried their positions with a rush, and their attack was pushed forward with the greatest dash.

Lastly, there was the greatest of claims, under the headline, No Finer Feat in the War. Equal to Mons and Neuve Chapelle.

There has been no finer feat in this war than this sudden landing in the dark and storming the heights, above all holding on whilst the reinforcements were landing.
These raw colonial troops in these desperate hours proved worthy to fight side by side with the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres, and Neuve Chapelle.

Both the tone and intention of Ashmead-Bartlett’s account were that of the Imperial Boys-OwnAt 3 o’clock, when it was quite dark, a start was made for the shore. There was suppressed excitement. Would the enemy be surprised or on the alert? – but the more relevant point is that the report suited the time perfectly. Here was what was accepted as definite, independent and expert proof from a British war correspondent that the AIF had come though its ‘baptism of fire’ and could count itself as a genuine part of the British Army. Moreover, here also was the beginning of something special: a fighting force that had its own, unique qualities. And now that the ‘truth’ had been presented in the paper it could never be undone. Ashmead-Bartlett’s account became the incontestable foundation for everything that was to follow.

There was more of Ashmead-Bartlett in The Argus on 10 May. Again he portrayed the Turks as not having the nerve to stand up to the Anzacs. And under the heading “These Colonials are Exceptions” he wrote:

Most troops, when under fire, especially volunteers with only a few months’ training, keenly feel losses at the beginning, more especially if these occur before they have had time to settle down, but these colonials are the exception to the rule.
Despite their heavy losses, the survivors were as keen as ever.

There was more praise for the AIF from Birdwood:

General Birdwood told Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett that he could not sufficiently praise the courage, endurance, and soldierly qualities of the colonials. The manner in which they hung on to the position day and night was magnificent, considering the heavy losses, the shortage of water, and the incessant fire of shrapnel to which they were exposed in a position where they were without cover. They also had to face incessant infantry attacks of the enemy, after they retired to a contracted line. They set their teeth, and refused to budge a foot.

Ashmead-Bartlett found the Australians reckless, careless and dismissive of danger. He wrote, under the headline, Bathing Under Shrapnel Fire:

These colonials are extraordinarily good under fire, often exposing themselves rather than take the trouble to keep under shelter of the cliff. One of the strangest sights was to see the numbers bathing in the sea with the shrapnel bursting all around them.

On 11 May, in The Argus under the headline – The Dardanelles Australians’ Bravery. Disdain Of Cover. – an unnamed correspondent continued the same theme of reckless indifference:

An account has been received at Athens from an eyewitness of the recent fighting in the Dardanelles. He states: “The heaviest losses were borne by the Australians and New Zealanders, whose one fault was a complete disdain of cover. Their bravery and dash were amazing. In some cases the men, after rushing the first Turkish trenches in ten minutes, charged ahead despite the appeals of the officers, penetrating several miles inland and suffering heavily when Turkish reinforcements compelled them to retreat.

Back in Gippsland, the account by Ashmead-Bartlett was published, in full, in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 12 May, 4 days after it appeared in The Argus. The same edition ran a short report on local casualties. It gave total losses to that time as 172 dead and 936 wounded and specifically referred to several locals who had been wounded:

Private A .W. C. Avery, son of Mr. and Mrs. Geo Avery, Port Albert and Private F. W. Butler, Jack River and Private H. George, Murrumbeena, who some years ago was a resident of Port Albert, and later was employed in a store at Yarram.

Both Butler and George were subsequently killed. Avery was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ in 1917.

The local paper also began to publish its own accolades for the AIF. On 14 May, it reported a Reuter’s cable:

The “Times” states: – ‘The essence of the Dardanelles enterprise is the resource and vigour of the Australians and New Zealanders, who have been asked to carry out a task which would test the mettle of the most seasoned soldiers. They have already done well, and are now facing more deadly obstacles with the passion of enthusiasm.

In The Argus, Bean’s account of the Gallipoli landing did not appear until 15 May and by that point Asheamd-Barlett’s account had already effectively written the history of the event. Bean’s report – dated Alexandria, May 13 – was introduced as an account of the later stages of the landing of the Australian troops at Gaba Tepe. It was described as supplementing the earlier account by Ashmead-Bartlett. Bean’s account was more precise and while it lacked the jingoism of Ashmead-Bartlett’s style it did reinforce the heroic efforts of the AIF:

“Early on the second morning the 8th Battalion (Victoria) repelled four Turkish charges, and the 4th Infantry Battalion (New South Wales) made a most gallant attack with the bayonet. They drove the Turks back through the scrub till they came on the Turkish camp. Nine-tenths of our men went straight through that, until they were faced by three machine-guns in position farther back, and came under the fire of a battery. This battalion (the 4th) was afterwards ordered to retire somewhat, as its position was difficult to support.

On 19 May in The Argus there was more from Ashmead-Bartlett. This time he was keen to present failure as success. The British had been well and truly been checked in the south (Cape Helles) but he managed to represent this defeat as follows:

”The British,” he reported, “are not yet in possession of Achi Baba, at the southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsula, but have forced the Turks to disclose the strength and character of the defences, and we are in a position to estimate the difficulty of the task.

For Ashmead-Bartlett the failure had been a stunning success:

Our successful landing administered a staggering blow to the Turco-Germans, who, not without reason, regarded the peninsula as impregnable.

Also, on this occasion, Ashmead-Bartlett acknowledged that the Turks had fought with extreme bravery.

On 19 May, the local paper featured more international congratulations for the AIF. Under the heading of War News an unsourced report noted:

General Sir Ian Hamilton says the Australian troops are fit to meet any troops in the world. Outside the Guards they are the largest and heaviest army in the world.

Another also unsourced report claimed:

The heroism of the Australians at the Dardanelles is stated to be unique in the history of modern war.

The paper reported casualty levels as 255 dead and 1841 wounded. Intentionally or otherwise, the casualty level was increasing in proportion to the praise bestowed on the AIF.

The first poem to feature in The Argus on the action in the Dardanelles did so on 20 May. Predictably it touched on death in the cause of the Empire, with gallant souls set free by death in battle.

On 2 June, Bean’s account of the death of General Bridges featured prominently in the local paper. The tone was heroic: Bridges had scorned danger and had been dodging snipers for months. When he was hit, he did not want his men endangered taking him down to the beach:

General Bridges had proved himself a capable and strong commander, absolutely imperturbable amidst the turmoil of operations and wholly without fear.

There was a reference to the Turks not firing on the stretcher as Bridges was evacuated:

The enemy, probably because he saw it was a party carrying a wounded man, did no fire any shots in this direction till the stretcher had passed.
We have noticed that the Turk, whilst not always a scrupulous or humane fight[er], has sometimes acted very fairly and humanely. It probably depends on the individual.

In the same article Bean wrote about the Turkish attack on the morning of 19 May and the huge losses:

Our men were in magnificent spirits, never shooting without a good target, even sitting on the parapet or traverse, laughing and firing as fast as they could load. The next morning the Turks lying in front of our position were far thicker than I have ever seen. There cannot be less than 1500 dead. Our loss was trifling – certainly not more than one to ten of the enemy, and probably only one to twenty.
I have never seen men in better fighting form. They are earnestly hoping the Turks will attack again, which probably they will in spite of the severe lesson, as they are ready to stake a great deal on driving the Australians into the sea.

In The Argus on 7 June there was a report that set out to explain why earlier optimistic forecasts about the British and allied fleet’s ability to destroy the forts and force the Dardanelles had been wrong. The forts were proving too hard to hit and destroy and the mines and guns of the Turks were too great an obstacle and had caused major ship losses. Therefore the current land invasion, supported by artillery, was required. But the Turkish force by itself was only ever portrayed as a second-rate opponent. Without the leadership of the Germans it would have failed:

The Turkish soldier fights very well behind entrenchments, but he is a very bad gunner, and possesses absolutely no knowledge of the science of war. Had the defence of the Straits been left in his hands alone the Allied fleet would most probably have taken Constantinople by now. But the Turkish army, directed by highly trained German officers, and having advantage of their science and technical skill, is a very different enemy.

On 16 June, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published a lengthy soldier’s letter home from the young – 18 yo – Syd Collis who was serving in the Medical Corps. He had written it in early May to his father, Mr Geo. Collis of Alberton. At the time, he was based at Heliopolis. He described his work tending to those who had been wounded at Gallipoli:

Soldiers will be returning to Australia now disabled, some with arms and lefts shot off. I saw a chap get his leg amputated. Some have their toes and hands shot off. It was awful that some of them got shot before they landed. Shrapnel is doing the damage. They are standing the pain like Britons, and wishing to get back to the front – quite as anxious as we are. Light Horse is no good, and all of them have volunteered to go to the front as infantry, our crowd included.

Collis focused on the claimed perfidy of the Turks. He told his father that the general consensus was that if you were wounded you needed to keep a bullet to shoot yourself:

They all say keep one bullet for yourself, because if you see the Turks coming and are wounded shoot yourself, because they have gouged our boys eyes out, and cut their heads off with the bayonet.

He also claimed the Turks also shot stretcher bearers, and they were scared of the Australians and ran from them:

The Turks run when the Australians make the bayonet charge. The Australians slaughtered thousands of them, and took lots of prisoners. They have great name and intend to keep it up.

Another report from Bean – dated 13 May, Gallipoli – appeared in The Argus as late as 18 June 1915. It gave a detailed account of the landing and fighting on the first day. The detail covered the specific action of each battalion on the day and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of individual officers. The language was more restrained than Ashmead-Bartlett’s. Bean described how the men pushed inland, with the Turks reluctant to face their bayonets:

With a shout the first boat-loads fixed bayonets, on the inner edge of the beach, and rushed straight up at it, and the Turks did not wait. Later he wrote: The enemy could be seen quite thick upon the third ridge, but they did not attack. … They did not advance; on the contrary, when parties of our men overshot the general line on the second ridge and went up to the third, they retreated before them and waited for reinforcements.

Bean also made the point about the battalions being mixed up and how the men formed small parties and then headed inland under the command of any available officer. It was an example of the men themselves exercising judgement and initiative in the heat of battle. These were troops who could think for themselves.

On 11 August the local paper featured more reports from Ashmead-Bartlett. He was keen to emphasise not just the physical prowess of the Australians:

The colonials are of amazing physique. No European nation possesses anything to compare with them. The Prussian Guard consists of picked men, but they are fat and ungainly. The colonials are great big-limbed athletes, with not a pound of superfluous flesh among the lot.

but also the collective and independent way they discharged their military responsibilities:

It is not so much an army as a community which has come together for the job, and framed its own laws to carry it out. They work in little groups, which are united either by home ties or mutual regard. These groups discipline themselves.

The preceding analysis shows how, in the weeks following 25 April 1915, Australians reading their newspapers were left in no doubt that the AIF’s first major engagement of the War had been an outstanding success. The men of the AIF had proved themselves to be true ‘Britons of the South’. They were at least the match of the British soldiers. They had proved their worth to the Empire. They had also began to craft a distinctive identity: ruthless in battle; contemptuous of danger; physically bigger and stronger than other soldiers; self-disciplined and enterprising; and with a natural cynicism that brought out the larrikin. It was a very tough, reassuring picture of the AIF, infinitely preferable to that of out-of-control, poorly disciplined rabble destroying Cairo, trashing the reputation of Australia and even being sent home in disgrace with VD. It was also a picture that both helped offset the grief generated by rapidly increasing casualty levels and promoted a surge in enlistments.

The preceding analysis also suggests that what was lacking over this period was any independent, objective analysis of the campaign. The reports were filtered through tight censorship, the tone was celebratory and jingoistic and no criticism of the campaign was even entertained. There was no place in the press for doubt, disbelief or question, at least at this early point. The simple motif throughout was the heroic struggle of the Australian soldier, in difficult circumstances, against an enemy who was in every way inferior and who could be treacherous.

Future posts will show how doubts over the worth of the Gallipoli campaign inevitably arose and a complex play of blame and counter-claim developed to cover what came to be seen as an unqualified military disaster. Indeed the historical debate over Gallipoli – certainly in Australia – continues to the present. See, for example, Robin Prior’s defining work, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth.

At the same time, there has never been any chance that the qualities of the AIF, identified and pushed so hard in the popular press in the first few weeks of the campaign, would ever be seriously questioned or significantly qualified.  True, the Turks could be humanised, over the years, to become a more worthy and noble foe; but, realistically, there was little, if any, chance that the hyperbole of Ashmead-Bartlett and others, once published, could ever be scaled back.

For the press of the time, Gallipoli established Australia’s complete loyalty to the Empire, and proved to all back home that its soldiers were at least the equal of the British. For Australia, Gallipoli was – and has continued to be –  more a proof of national character than a military campaign.


The Argus

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Prior, R  2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney

36. David George SUTTON 1552

David George Sutton (1552) enlisted in Brisbane on 31/12/1914. He joined the 15 Battalion. At the time of enlistment, he gave his occupation as labourer. He had been born in Gippsland (Devon North) and at the time of enlistment his father – Thomas Sutton – as next of kin, was living at Tarra Valley. According to the 1915 Rate Book for the Shire of Alberton, the father was a dairy farmer with 71 acres at Devon North. There were 3 Sutton brothers who enlisted, with David the youngest. When he enlisted he gave his age as 22yo but when his father completed the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour he gave his son’s age at death as only 19yo so it would appear that he had put his age up by a couple of years when he enlisted. The father also indicated that his son had attended Max Creek State School and he gave Yarram as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. Of the 3 brothers who enlisted, it appears that 2 of them had moved to Queensland for work, probably not very long before they enlisted, while one had stayed behind to work on the family farm. The 2 brothers who enlisted in Queensland both described themselves as ‘labourers’, although the father specifically described David’s occupation as ‘bush labourer’. Presumably, there was not enough work for all the sons on the family dairy farm so 2 brothers had moved to Queensland – the most common destination for young men from Gippsland – to start out on their own.

Private David George Sutton was killed on 29/5/1915. The war diary for 15 Battalion reveals that very early (3.15AM) on 29 May the battalion was rushed from Monash Valley to Quinn’s Post where the Turks had ‘blown in’ some of the Australian trenches and occupied them. Some 100 men of the 15 Battalion were ordered to charge the occupied trench. The men were successful in re-occupying the trench but in the engagement the enemy threw a large number of bombs which inflicted severe casualties. 17 Turkish soldiers surrendered and the bodies of another 23 were removed from the trenches. On the Australian side there were 11 men killed – including Major Hugh Quinn himself – and another 14 wounded.

Private Sutton was buried the same day in the New Monash Valley Cemetery, with the Rev. Green (Church of England) officiating. The New Monash Valley Cemetery became in time the Shrapnel Valley Cemetery.

On the face of it, there was little chance of either error or confusion over Private Sutton’s death. However, on 18 June 1915 – some 3 weeks after the death – the father, as next of kin, was advised by cable that his son had been wounded. The cable stated: Regret Son Private D. G. Sutton Wounded Not Reported Seriously No Other Particulars Available Will Immediately Advise Anything Further Received. This was followed up by a letter on 31 August 1915 stating that No. 1552, Private D. G. Sutton, 15th Battalion, was wounded on the 29th June (sic), and there is no further report regarding him. It was not until 29 October 1915 that a formal report of his death, stating that he had been killed in action on 29 May 1915, was issued. Presumably, even though the final, formal report stated that he had been killed in action, Private Sutton must have been wounded on 29 May and this detail was recorded and passed on, prompting the cable a few weeks later. The fact that he actually died from the wounds on the same day must not, again presumably, have cancelled the advice about being wounded. It is hard to believe the mistake but, once again, the episode points to the poor record-keeping on the part of the AIF in the opening months of the fighting. More than this, both the enormity of the error and the length of time it continued, suggest that the battalion commanders were struggling to keep up with what was happening to their men.

Even though official confirmation of the death did not come until October 1915, the family back at Tarra Valley knew by early August 1915 what had happened. As for so many other families, news of the death came from a letter sent by a relative or friend. In this case, the letter was from one of his brothers – William Henry Sutton – who was in fact in the same battalion. He had also enlisted in Brisbane, but not until January 1915. The letter was published in full in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11 August 1915. The other Sutton brother referred to in the article was Thomas James Sutton (2025) who enlisted in Melbourne in June 1915. The ‘W. Sutton of Yarram’ who was witness to David Sutton’s death on 29 May at Quinn’s Post, was William Owen Sutton (1253) who had enlisted at Yarram on 16 September 1914. He was serving in the 14 Battalion. He had been born in Footscray and, as far as is possible to determine, he was not related to the 3 Sutton brothers. The article was headed: Private D. G. Sutton Killed. Letter from His Brother.

Mr. Thos. Sutton of Tarra Valley, who had three sons in the firing line, received a wire on June 19th from the Defence Department: – “Regret son, Private D. G. Sutton, wounded, not reported seriously. No other particulars available. Will immediately advise anything further received.”
No further information was received, until a letter came to hand last week from Private W. H. Sutton, to his mother, giving an account of his brother’s death.
June 22nd.
Private W. H. Sutton writes:- Just a few lines to let you see that I am all right, and I am hoping this will find all well at home. I have not been able to write since I landed at the front, 2nd May, and I have been wondering whether you were cabled about George being killed. It happened on the morning of 29th May. We made a bayonet charge to re-take part of our trench from the Turks. They had mined it and blown it up, with the Australians in it at the time, killing some, and then rushed the trench with bombs, which drove out the remaining Australians, and got in the trench themselves. We soon pulled them out with the bayonet – not one escaped. It was just after we had charged the trench that George was hit with two bombs. His right leg was broken above the knee, and left leg blown off above the ankle almost half way to the knee. He died from loss of blood three hours afterwards. I did not see him at all, and did not know it had happened (and he was only 50 yards from me) until next afternoon, 30th; but he died alongside of W. Sutton, of Yarram, who told me about it. The few things found on him were handed to headquarters to be sent home to you by the Church of England chaplain who buried him. His deferred pay is left to you in a will in his pay book. No doubt you will be notified about it. I hope you have been cabled, as I suppose you have been by this anyway.

This account confirms that Private David Sutton had, strictly speaking, not been ‘killed in action’(kia) but, rather, ‘died of wounds’ (dow).

Of the 3 Sutton brothers – David George Sutton (1552), William Henry Sutton (1559) and Thomas James Sutton (2025) – only Thomas James Sutton, the middle brother, survived the War. William Henry Sutton – the oldest of the brothers – survived right through to the second half of 1918. He was killed in action on 11 August 1918. By that point he had been wounded 3 times. All 3 Sutton brothers appear on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, with both David and William recorded as killed; and both David and William are listed on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

Notwithstanding his brother’s comments about the recovery of personal items after the death, there were no personal belongings returned to the family. But then in 1920 the family received a letter advising them that, per separate post, they were to receive … a Bible, the property of your son, the late No. 1552 Private D. G. Sutton, 15th Battalion, which was discovered amongst the personal effects of the late No. 1214 Private N. Matheson, 15th Battalion. Private Matheson was killed in the same action as Sutton. While it is possible that Sutton had given Matheson his copy of the bible, the more likely scenario is that when others went looking for the personal belongings of both men the various items were mixed up. The bible only came to light because the authorities were not able to locate a next-of-kin for Matheson – he was an immigrant from Scotland – and, again presumably, at some point in the multiple handling of his personal belongings someone finally noticed that the name in the bible was Sutton’s not Matheson’s. This also raises the possibility that other items in Matheson’s kit – ring, wallet, papers, cards, medals – belonged to Sutton. Both this apparent confusion over the personal property of the men, and the far more significant confusion over Sutton’s death, point to the highly problematic quality of the AIF’s organisational capacity at the time. On this point, the letter from William Owen Sutton published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11 August 1915 also highlights the significant problem that men were having with mail deliveries. The sense of frustration, if not anger, is evident:
You people complain of us not writing, but we were always writing and getting no letters in return in Egypt. I wrote 17 letters home to you people. George would not get his photo taken, as he said nobody would write to him, so I did not get mine taken when he would not have his done.
The editor of the paper added as a footnote:
Mr. Thos. Sutton informs us that letters were written from home every day, and he is at a loss to account for the non-delivery. The authorities appear to be at fault.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

War Diary of 15 Battalion, May 1915

National Archives file for SUTTON David George

First World War Embarkation Rolls: David George Sutton

Roll of Honour: David George Sutton

WW1 Red Cross files: David George Sutton

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 1 – The Story of ANZAC from the outbreak of war to the end of the first phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915, 11th Edition.
Chapter VII – May29th -The Turks break into Quinn’s