Monthly Archives: April 2015

32. The telegrams begin: William WILSON 515 and Albert Edward WIDDON 803

Lance-Corporal William Wilson (515) was killed in action on 27 April 1915. With no Red Cross report, the only source on the circumstances of his death is the war diary of the 14 Battalion. This indicates that the 14 Battalion landed as reserve troops on 26/4/15. The next day, 27/4/15, it was sent to occupy – and then entrench – the locations that became known as Quinn’s Post and Courtney’s Post. There was heavy fighting and the Turks tried to counter-attack. The fighting that day claimed 32 killed, including 1 officer. Another 65 were wounded. Wilson would have been one of those killed. He was buried on 29 April at Quinn’s Post. The chaplain was Rev. Captain Andrew Gillison, who was himself killed on 22 August 1915. In Wilson’s service file, the site of the grave is described as at the foot of Quinn’s Post (13/8/17) but after the War, the Imperial War Graves Commission workers could not locate the grave and his name was recorded on a tablet in Courtney’s and Steele’s Cemetery.

Private Albert Ernest Widdon (803) was killed in action on 30 April 1915. As for Wilson, there was no Red Cross report so the only insight on the circumstances of his death comes from the war diary of 15 Battalion for 30/4/15. It appears that on that day, most of the 15 Battalion was holding the line near Pope’s Hill and in the afternoon they repelled a major Turkish attack, with their … machines guns inflicting severe casualties amongst the enemy. However on same day, part of 15 Battalion – C Company and 1 platoon of B Company – was fighting under Captain Quinn, in support of the right flank of 3 Brigade. As Widdon was in B Coy, and he is buried at Quinn’s Post Cemetery, it is most likely that he was killed in the fierce fighting at Quinn’s Post.

Unlike others killed at this time, the news of these 2 death appears to have been relayed back to Australia reasonably promptly. The cable with the news of Widdon’s death death was sent on 23 May, less than 1 month after he had been killed. The date of the cable for Wilson appears to be 2 days later on 25 May. In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of 2 June 1915 there is a brief note that tells how Reverend George Cox had been delivering telegrams from the Defence Department to families where the son had been killed. Even though others had been killed by this point, these telegrams were the first confirmed news of the deaths of local men.

One of the families visited by Cox was Albert Widdon’s:

On Sunday [30 May], the relatives of Private A. E Widdon, who enlisted in Queensland, were informed that he had been killed in action on 23rd May. He was the son of Mr. J. E Widdon.

The date – 23 May – obviously related to the date of the telegram, not the date of his death.

The other family to receive a telegram via Cox was Wilson’s. It was delivered to his sister:

Mrs. Jas. Miller of Yarram, was also acquainted of the loss of her brother, Private Wilson.

William Wilson

Little is known of William Wilson. His name is not included on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and while there is a W A Wilson on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, this person is not listed as ‘killed’ on the roll, nor is there any reference, in his service file, to a second name for William Wilson. Notwithstanding the limited evidence to tie him to the district, Yarram was identified as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected ’on the (National) Roll of Honour.

He was born at either Trentham or Talbot. When he enlisted on 12 September 1914 at Daylesford, he indicated that both his parents were dead. He was 37yo and single. His occupation was listed as timber-cutter. He gave his eldest brother – Frederick Wilson of Yarram – as his next-of-kin and all AIF correspondence over the War, right through to the early 1920s, was with this person. The few personal belongings – disc, diary, wrist-watch and gold ring – were also sent to the brother in Yarram. Frederick Wilson of Yarram is on the 1915 Electoral Roll but his occupation is not included.

As indicated, the telegram of his death was delivered to his sister ‘Mrs. Jas Miller’ of Yarram. There is no explanation as to why the telegram was delivered to her rather than her older sibling who was the designated next-of-kin. Mrs. Jas Miller was Maria May Miller, wife of James Alfred Miller, carter of Yarram. Given his occupation, William Wilson had probably worked in the timber industry in the district. Certainly his sister’s family – Miller – worked in the timber industry because on 20 April 1915 her son, James Miller junior, was killed in a tree-felling accident when he was working in a party of sleeper-hewers in Won Wron State Forest. Incredibly, she lost both a son and brother over the period of one week.

There was another individual who appeared in the correspondence, a Mr A Miller of Lyonville. Perhaps this person was related to the Miller family in Yarram. In any event, on the Embarkation Roll, the address given for Wilson is Lyonville PO, suggesting that at the time of his enlistment he was living with this person.

The picture of William Wilson’s identity is incomplete but there is enough evidence to indicate that he was certainly known in the district.

Albert Edward Widdon

Albert Edward Widdon had been born in Yarram in 1892 and attended Devon North and Yarram State Schools. He had also been also active in the Methodist Church in the area. His father was John Edward Widdon, a farmer with land at Devon North. Clearly, Albert was a local boy in the sense that he had grown up in the district and his family was established in the local community. However, by the time the War came and he enlisted, he was living and working in Queensland. He had land at Canaga via Jandowae (near Dalby) Queensland.

He enlisted at Dalby on 21 September 1914. He was 22 yo at the time. It appears that having worked on the family farm at Devon North, probably until his late teens, he had gone out by himself and was setting himself up as a farmer in Queensland. This was a relatively common practice – the sons of established farmers shifted elsewhere – most commonly to Queensland and Western Australia – and tried to set up by themselves. What he did with his farm when he enlisted is not known; but it is possible that he had only been there a short time and hardly anything had been done on the land, and it was relatively easy to leave it. Perhaps he had an arrangement with another local farmer.

Under the terms of his will, everything went to his father. The father moved to Queensland, presumably to sort out his son’s estate, and for a short time his address was Canaga, Queensland. The father then returned to Devon North. This is a striking example of how an individual family’s fortunes could be compromised by the War: where before the War there was expansion and opportunity, the son’s death brought loss and contraction.

Albert Widdon was not included on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial nor was he listed on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. Yet he clearly was regarded as a local. His death was reported locally. On 11 August 1915, the  Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative featured a soldier’s letter home from the Dardanelles written by Private W H Sutton. It reported on the men from Yarram. There was a simple note that Bert Widdon was killed. All the other Yarram lads are alive and well. His name was customarily read out at commemoration services held in the Shire for locals killed in the War. It featured at the major commemoration service written up in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 17 May 1918. Similarly, at the 1917 Anzac Day celebrations held at Devon North SS, his was the first name read out.  (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative 27 April 1917).



Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WILSON William

First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Wilson

Roll of Honour: William Wilson


National Archives file for WIDDON Albert Edward

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Albert Edward Widdon

Roll of Honour: Albert Edward Widdon

Potograph of WIDDON, Albert Edward, from WW1 Pictorial Honour Roll of Victorians



31. ANZAC Day 1915: Walter TIBBS 946

Walter Tibbs was also killed on 25 April 1915. He was in 8 Battalion and while there are few records in his official service file it appears that there was less doubt about the location and time of his death. The first definite reference to his death is dated as early as 2 May 1915 and it states clearly that he was Killed in Action Gallipoli 25/4/15. Nor was there any court of enquiry, as there was for the other 3 men killed (Pallot, Tolley and Ellefsen). There is no Red Cross report for Tibbs so there are no details of his death. For 25 April, the war diary of 8 Battalion records a casualty level of 12 officers and 200 other ranks. It talks of heavy and accurate artillery fire for the whole day which inflicted considerable loss… and, most likely, Tibbs was one of these casualties; however he might also have been killed by one of the many Turkish snipers who were very active. He is buried in a known grave at Shell Green Cemetery.

Tibbs enlisted in Melbourne on 21 August 1914, which was considerably earlier than the first group of volunteers from Yarram (16/9/14). He was one of the very first from the Shire of Alberton to enlist. At the time of enlistment he gave his age as 21 years and 2 months. Like the other 3 men he was single. Also like the others he was a farm labourer, even though he described himself as a ‘farmer’ on the enlistment papers. Unlike the other 3 men, Tibbs went straight into the 8 Battalion. There was no suggestion that he was trying for the Light Horse. Also unlike the others, Tibbs had not been born in Australia. He had been born in Hunslet, near Leeds in the UK.

Fortunately, the parents of Walter Tibbs completed the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour at the end of the War. Without this form we would know virtually nothing about him. Because they did complete the form we know that he gave a false age when he enlisted. He was actually 18 and, he had only been in Australia for a few years. The AIF was not too concerned about the ages of immigrants trying to enlist so his claim to be 21yo would not have been challenged. His parents noted that he had come to Australia as a 15yo. Interestingly, they also indicated that he had attended secondary school – Castleford Secondary School – and had undertaken training as a ‘corresponding clerk’. They also backed up the claim, made on his enlistment papers, that before coming to Australia he had served 2 years in the Royal Engineers, Yorkshire in the area of ‘wireless telegraphy’. His parents also noted the he was an excellent violinist.

Against this remarkable background, when War broke out Walter Tibbs was working as a farm labourer at Tarraville. His parents indicated this on the form, and they gave Tarraville, Gippsland, Victoria as the location in Australia with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. On the Embarkation Roll, his address is given as Tarraville via Yarram. Effectively, these 2 explicit addresses are the only links that tie him to the Shire of Alberton. There are no references to him in the local paper and there are no references in his personal service file that link him to the Shire. Yet, clearly, he enlisted from the Shire. Perhaps he saw enlistment as a chance to return to his family in the UK. Perhaps he had had enough of his Australian adventure.

Beyond conjecture, the relevant point is that he was one of the four men from the Shire of Alberton who was killed in action on 25 April 1914. Of all of them, his death was, in one sense, the most clear cut and presumably – there is no correspondence in his service file from his parents to the AIF – his family was not subjected to the same level of distress that the others were. However, his personal tragedy was to be removed from the collective memory of the place where he had worked and lived. His sacrifice was never acknowledged: his name does not appear on either the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll or the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. He is one of those still ‘missing’ in the Great War.


National Archives file for TIBBS Walter

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Walter Tibbs

Roll of Honour: Water Tibbs



30. ANZAC Day 1915: Thomas Elevious ELLEFSEN 1331

Private Ellefsen enlisted on 3/10/1914, at Ballarat. He was 24 at the time of enlistment. He was a labourer. He had been born at Yarram but, as indicated, he enlisted at Ballarat. His father, over the course of his son’s military involvement, lived at Ballarat, Yarram and Alberton. Thomas had attended the local state schools at Devon North and Lower Bulga. He had also been involved in the local Methodist church. The family originally came from Norway.

Private Ellefsen joined the 7th Battalion and embarked from Melbourne on 2/2/1915. Like many others, his papers suggest that he thought he was enlisting in the Light Horse.

The case of Private Ellefsen involves a major problem. The formal record shows that he was killed on 25/4/1915, the first day of the landing; however as for both Privates Tolley and Pallot this was not confirmed until there was a court of enquiry held more than one year later in France. For Ellefsen, the court of enquiry was held – in the field France – on 5 June 1916 . On the Roll of Honour in the Australian War Memorial he is also recorded as killed in action of 25 April 1915. There is no grave and his name is included on the Lone Pine Memorial. The problem is that the only witness statement, contained in the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing report, does not support either the official date or location of the death. Rather than being killed on 25 April 1915 on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, the witness statement had him killed at Cape Helles about 10 May 1915:

Witness states he knew him well in private life. Saw him lying dead at about 10 yards behind main trenches at Cape Helles about 10th May 1915. He was killed by shell fire. Very badly cut about, chest and shoulders almost blown away. Saw him fall, & seeing that he was dead went on. Ellefsen was about 22 years old, fair and very stoutly built. Came from Bendigo, Victoria. Came over with 2nd Rfts of the 7th Btn. Very quiet fellow but very popular. Left Melbourne 21st February 1915 [21st crossed out and replaced by 2nd], arrived Peninsula 25th April 1915.

The witness was Private James Leopold Julin (1361) and the statement was dated 26/4/16, a year after the events. Both Ellefsen and Julin had been in the same unit – 2nd Reinforcements, 7 Battalion – and both left Melbourne, on 2 February 1915, on the HMAT A46 Clan Macgillivray. They enlisted within a day of each other. There are some slight inconsistencies in Julin’s statement. Ellefsen, for example, enlisted at Ballarat, not Bendigo. Similarly, Ellefsen was closer to 25 years old at the time, but at the same time the physical description given by Julin matched that on the attestation papers. Julin also claimed that he knew Ellefsen in ‘private life’, implying he knew him before enlistment. For all these reasons, Julin would have to be regarded as a credible witness.

Julin was describing the fighting associated with the second battle of Krithia from 6 May 1915, in which the Australian 2nd Brigade was involved. Australian (and New Zealand) troops had been transferred from Anzac Cove to Cape Helles to take part in the battle. The 7th Battalion – together with the other battalions of 2 Brigade (5, 6 and 8)  –  was involved in fierce fighting on May 8. Prior (2009, p.144) rates this particular battle as particularly misconceived and notes that the 2 Australian Brigade suffered some 1,000 casualties, about half its strength.  The war diary of 7 Battalion for that day records casualties of approx. 250.  The troops remained in trenches for the next 2 days and were relieved on 11 May. If Private Julin’s witness statement is correct then Private Ellefsen was killed about 10 May 1915, and most likely 8 May. He was not killed on the first day of fighting in the area of Anzac Cove but nearly two weeks later in the infamous killing fields of Krithia.

Closer examination of the 7 Battalion’s war diary offers a possible explanation for the discrepancy. The entry for 25 April 1915 does give a breakdown of the officers from the battalion killed and wounded. It lists them – 18 in total – by name. But there is no detail on the other ranks. Rather there is a note in the margin – See 22.5.1915 for Casualty List. The approximate casualties for 25.4.15 was 400 killed, wounded and missing. Also, there are many references to the fact that in the general chaos all the battalions had become mixed together. Officers are referred to as trying to muster their men, and this continued for several days. Clearly, the battalion’s officers would have had great difficulty in accounting for their men, both living and dead, in the first few days of the fighting. It was not until 22 May 1915, well after Krithia, that the 7 Battalion gave the detailed breakdown of casualties for the period 25 April to 22 May 1915. The total figure given was 808 and the breakdown was as follows: Anzac – both officers and other ranks – 80 killed, 385 wounded and 70 missing (535 total); Cape Helles – both officers and other ranks – 50 killed, 175 wounded and 48 missing (273 total). This accounting rationalisation increases – by 100+ – the level of casualties for 25 April. Overall, it is clear that, at the battalion level, records of when and where men were killed were somewhat problematic. At the same time, it is hard to believe that this confusion could have lasted over a period as long as the nearly 2 weeks involved in the case of Ellefsen.

Against this background, it was inevitable that AIF communications with the family back in Australia would be deficient and this was again painfully obvious with Private Ellefsen’s family. As with Pallot, the family was informed that he had been wounded. The initial telegram advising that Private Ellefsen had been wounded was received on 9 June. It stated that the case was not reported to be serious and that they would be advised immediately once there were further details. The telegram did not state when he had been wounded. Nor were there any details about the hospital. The response from the family was appreciative in tone:

On behalf of my father Thomas Ellefsen, late of Ballarat now in Yarram Sth Gippsland, I thank you for the telegram concerning Private T. E. Ellefsen 1331 7th Batt 2nd Inf. Brig. Wounded in the Dardenelles (sic). Hoping to hear further progress.

There was another letter on 26 July from the family. They were now … very anxious about him. If he is well enough we should have had letters from him… and they asked specifically about the hospital: We would like to know what Hospital he is in… The response on 28 July stated that there had been no further report but they should therefore assume that he is progressing satisfactorily. The specific hospital … in which he is located is at present unknown.

Two months later, on 13 August 1915, with no additional information, there was another letter to Base Records, Melbourne. The tone was more urgent and someone had even claimed that they had seen Thomas in a procession:

Early in June you notified us that our brother was wounded, could you give us any particulars as we have not had a line from him for over eight weeks.

Someone said they thought they saw him in procession last Tuesday. Please let me know; suspense is dreadful.

The reply on 17 August 1915 was typically unhelpful and dismissive:

In acknowledging receipt of your inquiry dated the 13th inst. concerning your brother, No. 1331 Private T. E. Ellefsen, 7th Battalion, I beg to inform you that I am not aware that he has returned to Australia.

Your father was communicated with on 28th ult. and notified that your brother was not reported seriously wounded and in the absence of further reports it was to be assumed satisfactory progress was being made.

Four months later, at the end of 1915 Base Records informed the family (16/12/1915) that further requests on its part to the AIF in Egypt for details on the case of Private Ellefsen had only discovered that … he was reported wounded on 25th April, and his death cannot be confirmed.

Interestingly, one additional piece of information that was not apparently relayed to the family was that at least one letter addressed to Private Ellefsen serving with the AIF in Egypt was returned to Base Records in Melbourne endorsed  ‘killed’ on the envelope. There was no return address on the envelope and consequently it was returned to Base Records. The letter was actually posted in Yarram but it is not possible to make out the date it was posted. This was in November 1915 and possibly explains the reference in the letter to the family in December 1915 – quoted above – … his death cannot be confirmed. By this stage, of course, the family must have assumed that he had been killed.

As indicated, a court of enquiry convened in France on 5/6/1916 determined that Private Ellefsen had been killed in action on 25/4/1915. However, it looks as if the telegram formally advising of his death did not come until October 1916. In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of 1 November 1916 there is a small reference to Private T. E. Ellefsen’s parents, of Devon North, receiving a cable on the 27 October advising of his death in combat on 25/4/1915. The paper noted that the doubt over his death was finally cleared up in a sad way.

A death notice appeared in the same edition of the paper. It stated that Private T E Ellefsen who had previously been reported missing had been killed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He was the third son of Thomas and Elese Ellefsen of Devon North.

The last word on Private Ellefsen comes from his father in 1921. As per normal practice he had been sent the standard form asking for any information or letters that might help in locating the body of the missing soldier. His reply – 21/6/1921 – is a last desperate plea for information; but given the level of confusion over his son’s death, including time and location,there was little chance that correct information was ever going to be forthcoming,

The last I heard from my son was a letter written at sea on the 24th April 1915. In the letter he stated that they had just received word that to be ready to land any time. His friend W. L. Taylor of the 8th battalion was talking to him at the time and both then wished each other good luck & going below then to write to home.
W.L. Taylor never saw my son again & he himself was wounded just a few days after the landing.
That is all I have heard of my son’s death. Trusting and hoping you will be able to find out further particulars.

The questions of where and when Private Thomas Ellefsen 7 Battalion was killed will probably never be truly resolved. However the case certainly highlights, yet again, the chaos that was Gallipoli and the suffering that flowed from this back to the families in Australia.


National Archives file for ELLEFSEN Thomas Elevious

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Thomas Elevious Ellefsen

Roll of Honour: Thomas Elevious Ellefsen

Red Cross Wounded and Missing: Thomas Elevious Ellefsen

Prior R 2009, Gallipoli:The End of the Myth, UNSW Press.

29. ANZAC Day 1915: Charles Samuel TOLLEY 1187

Like Ernest Ralph Pallot, Charles Samuel Tolley was a volunteer who enlisted in the large Yarram group on 16 September 1914. His rail warrant for the trip to Melbourne was number 23. He was twenty-one when he enlisted and his occupation was recorded as farm labourer. He had been born at Drouin and his mother, listed as next-of-kin, was living at Balook. She was a widow. He appeared in the Electoral Roll (Subdivision of Yarram Yarram) as a ‘farm labourer’ of Yarram. His mother – Mary Ann Tolley – was listed as ‘domestic duties’, Balook. Tolley had attended Balook State School and he had been active in the local Methodist church. He had also been a member of the Yarram Rifle Club.

Tolley was another of the group of enlistments at Yarram who was initially put down for the South Gippsland Light Horse but then, after 3 months at Broadmeadows, was assigned to 6 Battalion.

Also like Pallot, Tolley went ashore on 25 April in the second wave, sometime after about 05:30. However there is a significant difference between the circumstances surrounding each death. Pallot was in a group of men who had pushed well inland – in the direction of the ‘third ridge’ – after the landing. He was shot and killed and then, when his comrades had to fall back, his body was left behind. From that point he effectively ‘disappeared’. But with Tolley the ‘disappearance’ was even more surprising because it appears that he was shot and killed either on the beach or not far from it, just a few minutes after landing. He also then ‘disappeared’, but unlike Pallot his body was never recovered. His name is listed on the Lone Pine Memorial.

It is virtually impossible to establish what happened to an individual soldier in a battle that was so obviously chaotic: orders were imprecise and contradicted, troops from different units became hopelessly inter-mixed and the conventional chains of command broke down. As well, casualties were heavy. The fact that the 6th Battalion’s War Diary was not started until May 1915 – there is therefore no account of the action on 25 April – is also a complication. The only evidence to hand consists of 2 witness statements, made nearly a full year after the event. Both witnesses were in 6 Battalion at the time Tolley was killed.

The first statement was from Pte. William Moller 580. It was dated 21 March 1916.

Tolley was killed near the beach soon after the landing at Anzac had been effected. Bullets were flying everywhere. Tolley dropped suddenly, evidently dead. Witness saw and heard nothing further about him.

The second statement was from Cpl. Edward Trayner 526. It was also dated 21 march 1916.

Witness saw Tolley killed in the landing. They landed together and formed a firing-line. Tolley was killed within five minutes after the formation of the firing-line. A bullet went through his head. He was knocked right out and did not move again. This occurred on the right flank at Anzac. Tolley was a quiet fellow, not too robust as regards general health.

Combining the 2 statements it appears that Tolley was killed within minutes of reaching the beach. He was shot through the head and died instantly. Exactly where the firing line was is unclear, but the suggestion is that it was not far inland from the beach. Yet, remarkably, the body ‘disappeared’. Probably the most likely explanation is that the body, like many others, was just left where it fell until there was the opportunity to collect all the dead and bury them as quickly as possible in some protected place. But if this is what did happen there was, apparently, no attempt to keep a record of the men being buried. Or perhaps there was, but the record was lost. There is a lot of conjecture but the general situation certainly points to the chaotic nature of the Gallipoli landings.

It is also hard to understand why, if Tolley was killed on the beach and this was known by his comrades in the battalion, there was such a protracted process to establish that he had been killed in action. Like Pallot, Tolley was treated as ‘missing’ until the court of enquiry at Erquinghem on 24 April 1916.

Remarkably, the official record shows that Tolley was first recorded as ‘missing’ on 10 June 1915, at least 6 weeks after the event. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – picked up on this report and published it on 23 June 1915.

Amongst the “missing” in the casualty list published yesterday, appears the name of Charles Tolley, son of Mrs. Tolley of Balook. He left Yarram with the first contingent of about fifty.

It seems incredible that it took so long to establish that a member of the battalion was ‘missing’ when he went ‘missing’ on the first day, at the very point of the landing. Moreover, there is not even a record in Tolley’s file of any advice from the AIF to his mother that he was missing; however there is a reference from his mother indicating that she received notice that he was missing ‘about 3 months after the landing.’

Like so many of the others ‘missing’ at Gallipoli, the AIF explored the possibility that Tolley had been captured by the Turks. In May 1916 they advised Mrs Tolley that the possibility had been discounted:

“A communication has been received from the War Office in which it is stated that the American Embassy at Constantinople regrets to report that according to an official communication from the Turkish Foreign Office, under date of February 15th 1916, nothing is known of the fate of Private C. S. Tolley, 6th Battalion.”

One important difference between the cases of Pallot and Tolley was that whereas the entire Pallot family actively pursued the AIF for information about their son and brother, Tolley’s mother appeared reluctant to question the situation or make any demand of the AIF. There is no correspondence from her to the AIF requesting information about her son’s fate. The only correspondence came after he had been formally declared to have been killed in action (24/4/16). On 9 June 1916, Edward Wills – a dairyman of Balook – wrote on her behalf requesting the son’s personal belongings. On 10 July 1916, she wrote herself requesting what amounted to a formal certificate of death. The son had left no will and she needed such documentation to access some funds he held in a bank in Yarram. On 15 September 1916 she made another request for her son’s belongings and any ‘back pay’ due. There was a formal response on the issue of the son’s belongings which reassured her that, should any be located, they would be forwarded to her; but, given the length of time that had elapsed, it was unlikely that any such belongings would be found. No belongings were ever returned.

Tolley’s mother was sent, in June 1921, the formal request for any information she might have that could assist the work of the War Graves Unit. She replied:

The last letter I received from my Son was from Lemnos Island. After leaving there I received no further communication from him. About 3 months after the landing at Gallipoli I was advised that he was missing & 12 months later that the was killed. … Should you gain any further information as to how he met his death I will be very pleased if you will let me know.

News of his death passed through the local community. It was mentioned in the local paper on 18 August 1916 in a small piece on the Yarram Rifle Club where the captain of the club noted the death, with regret. He advised that Tolley had been killed in action at the Gallipoli landing but that official news was only issued a month or two ago. Earlier, in the edition of 9 June 1916 there had been a small piece, based on second and even third-hand reports from men on Gallipoli at the time (25 April 1915) that confirmed and linked the deaths of both Pallot and Tolley.

From 28 January 1916 Mary Ann Tolley was granted a pension as a ‘widowed mother’ of £2 per fortnight. It appears that Charles was the only adult child. His death, quite apart from the personal grief, would have been a serious threat to the mother’s livelihood.


National Archives file for TOLLEY Charles Samuel

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Charles Samuel Tolley

Roll of Honour: Charles Samuel Tolley

Red Cross Wounded and Missing: Charles Samuel Tolley

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative


28. ANZAC Day 1915: Private Ernest Ralph PALLOT 2164

The next few posts look at the men killed on the first day of the Gallipoli campaign. There were 4 men from the Shire of Alberton officially recorded as ‘killled in action’ on 25 April 1915: Ernest Ralph Pallot, Charles Samuel Tolley, Thomas Elevious Ellefsen and Walter Tibbs.

Only one of the 4 men – Ellefsen – is both recorded as ‘killed’ on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and listed on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. Pallot is listed on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, but he is not marked as ‘killed’ on this record nor is his name included on the Shire War Memorial. Tolley is included on the Shire Honor Roll but he is not recorded as ‘killed’ on this record, even though he is listed on the Shire War Memorial. Tibbs does not appear on either the Shire War Memorial or Honor Roll. Taken together, the 4 names illustrate the inconsistencies associated with record-keeping at the time, and serve as a salutary reminder of the problematic nature of historical research. The situation also highlights the way in which not everyone’s sacrifice has been acknowledged equally, or not even acknowledged at all.

Ernest Ralph PALLOT (1169/2164)

Ernest Pallot was one of those who completed his medical and enlisted at Yarram on 16 September 1914. He was issued with railway warrant number 10 for the train trip from Alberton to Melbourne on 21 September 1914.

At the time he enlisted, Pallot was nearly twenty-four. His occupation was given as labourer. He had been born in Maldon. His father, as next-of-kin, was George Pallot who was living at Heyfield. Two of Ernest’s brothers also enlisted after him: George Alfred Pallot in July 1915 and Clarence Pallot in September 1916. Both brothers were born at Heyfield and one – George Alfred Pallot – enlisted at Heyfield. Ernest himself had also had a strong association with Heyfield. The information presented for the (National) Roll of Honour form indicated that he had attended the state school at Heyfield, and the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ was given by his family as Heyfield. Lastly, his name is recorded on the war memorial at Heyfield. At the time he enlisted, Pallot must have working in the Yarram district. However, it is also possible that he specifically went to Yarram to enlist there because he had heard that the Shire was recruiting for a South Gippsland Light Horse and he was keen to join such a unit. Certainly his enlistment papers, completed at Yarram, recorded that he was joining the ‘Light Horse Gippsland’; however, 3 months later at Broadmeadows, he was attached to 6 Battalion.

The 6th Battalion was involved in the first day of fighting on the 25 April. It was in the second wave that went ashore sometime after 05:30. Private Pallot’s war did not last long. He was shot and killed round 10.00 AM. This detail comes from a Red Cross Wounded and Missing report dated 6 May 1916. The witness statement came from Cpl. A E Young (146 ) also 6 Battalion:

Witness states that he saw him [Pallot] killed on the second ridge at Gaba Tepe on the 25th April. Was shot in the head, killed instantaneously – never moved.

However, as succinct and final as this witness statement still reads one hundred years later, the details relayed back to his family in Gippsland were anything but clear and conclusive. It was to be more than a year (July 1916) before the family was to learn that the AIF had determined that Private Pallot had been killed in action on 25 April 1915, and another eight years after that (June 1923) before they received definite proof of his death.

The service record for Pte. Pallot is extensive and it is therefore possible to track through the correspondence and other files to establish how and why the processes to do with the recording and reporting of battlefield causalities were so prone to error at that time.

From our position, one hundred years on, we know that Pallot was killed within hours of the landing but, at the time, the first piece of formal news the family received was a telegram on 16 June 1915 advising that Private E R Pallot had been wounded, but not seriously, and that they would be contacted immediately when further advice was received. The father wrote back on the same day asking for details on the hospital where his son had been taken. His tone was appreciative and polite: I would be pleased to obtain from you any further particulars that may come to hand at your earliest convenience.

The reply to the father’s letter was written from the Base Records’ Office of the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force, Melbourne on 19 June. It was short and had no further advice. However the admission that … I regret that I am unable to inform you of the name of the hospital to which he has been taken … would, most likely, have alarmed the family.

On 23 August, almost 4 months to the day after Private Pallot’s death, and 2 months after the first official advice from the military authorities, Clarence Pallot, one of the brothers, wrote to the local member of the Victorian Parliament, James Weir McLachlan (MLA, Gippsland North, 1908 -1938) seeking his support. The letter also reveals that another brother had made a recent visit to the Defence Department in Melbourne to request, again, information about the location of the hospital, …but they could not tell him because they did not know where he was.

It is clear by this point that the family held grave fears for their son and brother:

We have been waiting anxiously for a letter from him but up to the present have not received any tidings of him. It is well over two months since he was reported wounded and we think that [it] is time we heard more about him. We are quite sure if he was in a position to write we would have received a letter before this as he was so deeply attached to his mother as to keep her in anxiety.

The reference to not receiving any letters is telling. As will be shown with many future cases, the lack of correspondence from the son serving in the AIF would be taken as a sign that he had been killed. It became accepted that even if the man had been wounded he would still manage to have someone correspond on his behalf; or even if a POW there would be some notification. Where a soldier had kept up regular correspondence back home, the sudden cessation of such letters was an ominous sign. The family also often found out about their son’s fate from letters sent by men in the same unit who came from the same location back in Australia and who knew the family.

Either from civility or desperation, Clarence Pallot had enclosed a stamp for a return letter.

McLachlan referred the letter to Base Records and marked it boldly as very urgent.

Nearly one month after his letter to McLachlan, Clarence Pallot received a reply from Base Records Office. It was dated 20 September. The letter began with the claim that since the first telegram sent to the father, as next of kin, on 16 June no further news had been received. However it then, somewhat perversely, attempted to turn this lack of information to good news:

He is not reported as having been seriously wounded, however, and in such cases the Egyptian authorities advise me to assume the absence of further particulars is indicative of satisfactory progress, but, at the same time, it is their invariable practice to notify me immediately should serious symptoms develop.

The letter then sought to calm the mother’s worries. The tone is condescending:

I do not think that, in the circumstances, there is any real need for undue anxiety on the part of your mother. Your brother has, since being taken to hospital, no doubt, received the most skilled and careful attention possible, with the object of again making him for for active service.

The letter concluded with detailed advice on how to address both cables and letters to Private Pallot. Again, there was no address for a particular hospital. The very detailed particulars on where to place the word ‘wounded’ on the envelope, as part of the address, is truly poignant, given that the addressee had by then been dead for some five months:

The word “wounded”, which should also be legibly endorsed on the top left-handed corner of the envelope, is necessary only during the period he is in hospital.

By this point, the family must have realised that the AIF knew very little about their son’s fate. They were being blocked or deflected at every turn. This probably explains why the next letter seeking information came from another party. On 16 October 1915, Mrs G Elton of Gould – some 70K from Heyfield – wrote to Base Records requesting … any information concerning the where abouts of Private E R Pallot of Heyfield reported wounded some time back & if still living would you forward his address to yours truly.... Possibly, this person was a family friend or relative. Again, the letter raises the distinct likelihood that Private Pallot has been killed.

There was a prompt reply written on 21 October; and for the first time, there was the acknowledgement that Private Pallot …is now reported as wounded and missing on 25th April. The critical point is that the charade about Pte. Pallot being in a un-named hospital has been dropped. Now he is ‘wounded and missing’, which must have seemed a strange combination to the family. This latest information was also cabled to the father on the same day, October 21.

The letter still recommended hope because there was now the strong suggestion that Private Pallot has been taken prisoner by the Turks; and the AIF was trying to gain a clearer picture of the Australian troops who could be involved. The hope was held out that … no complete list of members of the Australian Imperial Force, who were taken prisoner and are present interned in Turkey, is yet available. However, the Turkish authorities have established a War Information Bureau at Constantinople, and the American Ambassador is advising the Imperial authorities of all obtainable information concerning prisoners, etc. Any particulars relating to Australians, will be communicated to relatives immediately upon receipt.

However, a letter from the father to the Base Records Office just a few days later on October 30 reveals that the family’s confidence in the AIF’s advice had pretty well been exhausted, as had their hope for their son and brother. What is also remarkable about the letter is its formally polite tone. Presumably, whatever they may have thought about the AIF’s competence and its commitment to discovering the fate of their boy, they still recognised that the final, formal word had to come from the military. Perhaps also, this whole wretched business was seen as some sort of burden that the family had to carry as part of its individual war effort. By this point – late 1915 – the idea of sacrifice, required from both the soldier and family, had become entrenched across the community.

I have this day received returned letter written to my son Private E R Pallot No 2164 A Company 6th Battalion 2nd Infantry Brigade Australian Division Abroad dated April 18th 1915. The envelope addressed as above is endorsed by your office “Killed in Action”. On 16th June we received intimation from the Defence Dept “Reported wounded not seriously” on October 21 we received a wire from the Defence Dept saying “Wounded & Missing” on April 25th 15 and now you report my son as “Killed in action” As you will no doubt realise these conflicting reports leave us in a very distressed state of mind as parents and would esteem it a favour if you will let us know at your earliest opportunity as to when your latest information came to hand and if the source of same is really such that we can rely upon it and thus be relieved from the terrible suspense endured ever since April last. Awaiting your kind attention to the foregoing.

It appears that the letter to Private Pallot had been returned by Lieutenant Stanley Berry, 6 Battalion. Stanley had been in the same company – A Company – as Pallot. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant at Gallipoli on 28/4/1915 and then Lieutenant on 15/7/1915. Given his close association with Private Pallot, Lieutenant Berry’s very direct endorsement on the letter deserved to be treated as credible; but the family was probably unaware, at the time, of this background. Even so it would have been a confirmation for the family of what they had long suspected.

However, if the father was expecting some closure to the matter he would have been bitterly disappointed by the response he received a few days later. It was written on November 3. It acknowledged receipt of the father’s letter but merely reiterated that …there is no later news of your son…. It went on, If you will forward me the envelope of the letter which has been returned to you endorsed “killed in action” I will cable the authorities in Egypt requesting them to investigate the matter.

The father immediately forwarded the returned mail endorsed ‘killed in action’ and hoped that …the result from the cable message you intend sending will be that we shall know definitely which of the conflicting reports is the true one.

On 9 November, Base Records advised the father that they had cabled the ‘Egyptian authorities’ to investigate the case. They followed up on 24 November to reassure him that they had been advised from Egypt that the matter was being investigated. Then on 11 January 1916, Base Records wrote to inform the father that the authorities in Egypt had been in touch with the 6 Battalion whose Commanding Officer had stated that he was not able … to confirm the report, killed. Incredibly, on that very same day, the father forwarded to Base Records another letter which had just been returned to the family in Heyfield endorsed, as before, with ‘KIA’. The father added that he was sending it …as it might possibly assist you in your search for definite information regarding my son. As before, he finished in an expression of thanks – Thanking you for your efforts already put forth. Presumably, the two letters, each with a very different view on Private Pallot’s fate, crossed in the post.

The response to the father, written on 14 January, represents a classic bureaucratic stone wall. The AIF acknowledged receipt of the letter but merely reiterated the advice that according to the CO of 6 Battalion… the report of his death cannot be confirmed. Of course, one interpretation the family could have made of this statement was that the AIF believed he was dead, but they could not yet confirm the death or had not yet confirmed the death. Faced with this official block, the family stopped writing.

Then 7 months later, on 27 July 1916, there was a very short but, at long last, definite letter to the father, advising that No. 2164 (1169) Private E. R. Pallot 6th Battalion had been killed. The copy of the formal report – Report of Death of a Soldier – concluded that Private Pallot had been killed in action on 25 April 1915. This report was itself the outcome of a Court of Enquiry held in France at Erquinghem on the Western Front – near Armentieres – on 24/4/16.

The family would have been advised by cable of the formal report of death, probably in late June or early July, but written confirmation obviously took longer to reach them. Finally, 15 months after he had been killed in action and 3 months after a court of enquiry had determined that he had been killed in action, the family in Heyfield had the official version of their son’s fate. At this point there was no indication where he was buried, if in fact he was buried. His few personal effects were returned to the family in February 1918.

At the end of the War there was an enormous effort by the Graves Services Unit to locate and then re-bury, in designated war cemeteries, the remains of Australian soldiers. Routinely, in the case of soldiers for whom there was no record of burial, the authorities wrote to the family requesting …if you will let me have on loan any letters or communications that contain any reference to the circumstances surrounding his death, particularly the exact locality at which it occurred or where he was last seen alive.

This standard form was sent to the Pallot family in June 1921, and the response it elicited (16/6/1921) makes it clear that following the official confirmation in July 1916 of Private Pallot’s death, the family continued to pursue the full story as to how he died and the circumstances of his burial. The father’s reply is revealing:

I am sending enclosed in this a letter we received from the Australian Red Cross Society. As you will see Corporal Young was the Informant. He also gave the same statement to my son Ex Corporal GC Pallot when they met in Egypt and also stated that he was the only one that could give the Information as these three mates were together, Corporal Young also said that the reason the Body was not found was that almost immediately after my Son was killed orders were given to retire & the Allies never got on that ground again & that it was quite probable that he was buried by the Turks. The death occurred about 10 a.m on the morning of the landing. It would be a great relief to us to know that [the last line is damaged, but it appears to read as] the body was decently buried.

The short witness statement by Corporal Young is featured at the start of the Post. As the statement was given in Cairo on 8 May, 1916 it would not have been available for the court of enquiry at Erquinghem held on 24 April 1916. It has not been possible to establish the identity of the third person there at the time Private Pallot was shot. The brother referred to was George Alfred Pallot (3121) who enlisted in July 1915 and served in Egypt.

The father’s hope about the decent burial is worth noting. While it is clear that Private Pallot was not given a proper burial by his own unit at the time, it is possible that he was buried by the Turkish soldiers. At the same time, there is the broader notoriety that Gallipoli attracted as a battlefield where many dead remained unburied. CEW Bean accompanied the Graves Registration Unit to Gallipoli in 1919. He estimated that the number of unburied Australian soldiers at the end of the War was in the order of 3,500. George Lambert, the Australian War Artist, was also there at Gallipoli with Bean and he was shocked by the sight of so many unburied soldiers and human remains scattered everywhere. Bean cautioned the Australian Government about letting soldiers’ families and visitors anywhere near Gallipoli until the work of the Graves Registration Unit had been finished.

In April 1923, 8 years after his death, Private Pallot’s family was informed that his remains had been buried in the Lone Pine Cemetery (Plot 1, Row C, Grave 4). Then on 2 June, the same year, the family received advice from Base Records, Melbourne that gave the final closure they had been after for so long:

With further reference to the recent report of burial of your son, the late No. 2164 Private E.R. Pallot, 6th Battalion, I am forwarding herewith an identity disc recovered from his person at the time of his re-interment in the Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli.

This memento while possibly impaired to some extent through long exposure will doubtless be highly prized by you on account of its former intimate association with the late Private Pallot.

In every way, Gallipoli was the first test of the new Australian army. The account above suggests that the scale of casualties at Gallipoli quickly overwhelmed the administrative capabilities of the AIF. It is a painful insight into how both the AIF and the families back home had to come to terms with death on a scale which, even if it had been theoretically entertained, was never anticipated. The men were killed on the very first day, within hours – possibly even minutes – of landing, but for the families this was just the beginning of drawn out false hopes, confusion and in some cases cruel obfuscation, deliberate or otherwise. Throughout all this the families were expected to remain stoic and, of course, patriotic.

To some extent, the inability of the AIF even to ‘manage’ the deaths of its own soldiers pointed to its overall amateur status at the very beginning of the War. By the end of 1918 it could claim to be a highly professional, efficient military force, but its early efforts were well short of that mark.

National Archives file for PALLOT Ernest Ralph

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Ernest Ralph Pallot

Roll of Honour: Ernest Ralph Pallot

Red Cross Wounded and Missing: Ernest Ralph Pallot

C E W Bean’s Gallipoli Mission 1919

27. ‘The lions of the evening – the men in khaki’: farewells to mid 1915

An earlier post (11) covered the farewell in September 1914 of the first large group of recruits, approximately 50, from the Shire of Alberton. Other posts have pointed out that many more volunteers left the Shire individually and without any sort of formal farewell. Judging by newspaper reports, it appears that after the September 1914 farewell from the Alberton Railway Station there were only 2 additional formal farewells through to May 1915. Both of these farewells came at the end of 1914 and they are the subject of this post.

The 2 farewells came about when recruits were given final leave to return home and bid farewell to their families before being sent overseas. Given this, it was inevitable that the men involved were ‘locals’ in the sense that they had strong, long-standing and on-going association with the district. They were coming ‘home’ before being sent overseas. Other men who had enlisted from the Shire but who had had only passing or limited association with it, as well as those whose association with the Shire had been in the past, would hardly return for such farewells.

One of the farewells was held in the small community of Stacey’s Bridge and the other in Yarram, the most populous and chief town of the Shire. The one at Stacey’s Bridge was more a relaxed, community celebration whereas the one at Yarram was a more stylised and formal farewell. This difference between more community-focused farewells in the smaller townships and settlements of the Shire, as opposed to the more formal farewells conducted at Yarram, was to continue throughout the War.

The farewell at Stacey’s Bridge on Wednesday 4 November 1914 was written up in both local papers – the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and the South Gippsland Chronicleon 6 November 1914. Both accounts mentioned that word of 4 men coming home for a final farewell was received with only a few days warning and that preparations, not just for the farewell but also for an appropriate ‘souvenir’, had to be organised very quickly. On the night there was a ‘three-fold programme’. First there was a (roller) skating carnival, with prizes for ‘best dressed’ and ‘best skater’. This was followed by the actual farewell presentation ceremony for the 3 local lads who were home on final leave from Broadmeadows before leaving for overseas. Finally, there was a dance social for everyone.

It was a very hot night but nonetheless the skaters, bathed in perspiration, managed to keep up a lively performance, many of them in fancy dress. The four local lads acknowledged that night were: Jack Cantwell (21yo), Aloysius Cotter (19yo), Patrick Sexton (19yo) and Jack Babington (20yo). The last of these – Jack Babington – had not managed to get leave but his presentation gift was accepted by his father and he was certainly acknowledged in the speeches. For their ‘souvenir’ gifts, the men had been given the choice of a ‘gold locket’ or field glasses. After the presentation ceremony the assembled crowd sang a verse each from Rule Britannia and the National Anthem. The dancing that followed ran well into the small hours.

The speech making that night emphasised pride in the fact that ‘boys’ from Stacey’s Bridge had joined the AIF. According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative : It was a credit to the Stacey’s Bridge district that four young fellows had volunteered, and they might well feel proud of them. The same paper noted the young age of the volunteers – only 18 or 19 years of age – and remarked that people remembered them as local school boys. There was also praise for their parents .. who did not raise the slightest obstacle to their sons’ desire to go to fight. All of them had been members of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club. Overall, those there noted the young locals were … – straight, honorable young fellows, who were determined to fight for their homes, their relatives and their friends.

At the same time, there was a level of naiveté evident in comments made that night. People were not even convinced the boys would have to fight. Mr Robert Lee was quoted as hoping … they would not have to fight, but if they had to, he felt sure they would give a very good account of themselves. He wished them a pleasant trip and no fighting. The reality, as already indicated (Post 23), was that the death rate in this first group of volunteers from the Shire would be 1 in 3. Of this group, it would be Patrick Sexton. He managed to make it right through to April 1918 before he was killed. On that night of farewell from Stacey’s Bridge, the last night he spent with his family, his sister (Margaret Sexton)  took out the prize for the best dressed skater.

Those who spoke that night at Stacey’s Bridge were all local farmers. There were patriotic sentiments expressed and notions of duty stressed, but the overwhelming sense was that of pride in, and best wishes for, the local boys who had grown up known to everyone and were now off to war, not that people at that point had had any first-hand experience of what the War meant.

The only other major farewell to locals, up to May 1915, took place one month later at Yarram on the night of 9 December. According to the detailed article in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of 11December 1914, the 7 men farewelled were: Sergeant Newlands (sic), and Privates Harry Bett, W. Sweeney, P. Sweeney, W. O. Sutton, H. Coulthard, and J. Babington. Obviously, this time Jack Babington was able to get his leave. In the detailed account of the same event published in the South Gippsland Chronicle – also on 11 December 1914 – the names of the men themselves were not included. The only reference made was to Sergeant Newlands (sic) who responded to the toast. One consequence of not including the names – and it must have upset the families at the time that the names were not recorded – is that it is not possible to identify precisely who the men were. The definites were (Sgt) William Andrew Newland (34yo), who had spent 4 years in the light horse in South Africa, Henry Drysdale Bett (19yo), Patrick Joseph Sweeney (28yo), William Owen Sutton (19yo) and John Sutherland Babington (20yo). The W. Sweeney was either William Henry Sweeney (28yo) or William Patrick Sweeney (21yo). It was probably William Henry Sweeney, the brother of Patrick Joseph Sweeney, but it is not definite because the other William (Patrick) was also a local who could well have returned for a farewell. He was most likely a cousin of the Sweeney brothers. The problem with the name H. Coulthard is that there was no H Coulthard who had enlisted. It must have been either Eric Osborne Coulthard (20yo) or Samuel Francis Coulthard (31yo) who were most likely cousins.

In terms of the war service of this group of 9 men (5 definites and 4 possibles) only one – Patrick Sweeney – was killed in action (August 1915); but only 2 of the other 8 managed to serve the entire period of the War. The most common experience was that they were discharged early after being wounded. For example, Sgt Newland, wounded at Gallipoli, was back in the Shire by August 1915. Subsequently, he became the local recruiting sergeant.

The farewell at Yarram was a very formal affair and once again it was put together with little notice. The organisers even managed to place an ad for the event in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on the day it was held. The ad noted that it was to be a Farewell to Our Soldiers, that there would be Speeches by Prominent Residents, and that admission would be by a small donation at the door to defray expense of refreshments.

Both local papers reported the event in detail on 11 November 1914.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative set the scene under its heading: Our Soldier Boys. FAREWELL. PRESENTATION OF SOUVENIRS. MONSTER GATHERING IN THE MECHANICS ‘ HALL.

Short as was the notice – about 24 hours – the Mechanics’ Hall on Wednesday evening was crowded to its utmost capacity by a gathering of local and district residents, met to honor the young men who were, perhaps, giving their lives for their country. It was an enthusiastic assemblage, an air of patriotism being imparted by the flags representing England, Australia, Belgium and Russia. While on the stage sat the lions of the evening – the men in khaki.

Occasions such as this in the early days of the War served the dual purpose of recognising the sacrifice of the individuals who had volunteered and providing a platform for declarations of patriotic loyalty. The latter function was very evident that night in Yarram. There were 6 designated speakers. As has been noted earlier, the speech making at such functions in Yarram was dominated by the class of proprietors, managers and professionals.  It was this group that, effectively, had taken responsibility for articulating the narrative of the War on behalf of the Shire. The local papers disseminated – and also augmented – the narrative. Admittedly, there were 2 local graziers who spoke that night but one of them was Neils John Christensen who spoke as the then Shire President and the other, Arthur Hugh Mooore, had very little to say beyond wishing the men a safe return. The key speakers were Rev. George Cox, Fr. Patrick Francis Sterling, George Frederick Sauer, draper from Yarram and also the President of the local Australian Natives’ Association branch and Ben Percival Johnson, solicitor of Yarram.

Rev. Cox was keen to emphasise religious justification for the War, arguing that Germany was, effectively, no longer a Christian nation. The account from the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted:

The Rev. Cox was called upon first. He did not know if this form of gathering was unique in Yarram, or had been held in connection with the South African war. To many it was an unusual experience to have a number of citizens going from amongst them in the name of God and the Empire, to fight in the greatest battle in history. It was fitting, he thought, that the church should be first to speak, because he believed the war was a religious one fundamentally. He realised that it was a war of Christianity against a philosophy born of hell. … These young men were going to fight in the name of God. May He give them His sheltering care, and may they be instruments for His glory.

The fact that Fr. Sterling was called upon to offer a speech reflected the common support, at that time, across all Christian denominations for the Nation’s and the Empire’s commitment to the War. Sterling had been born in Nenagh, Tipperary. He would have left his audience in no doubt about his patriotism. The paper wrote:

He had a letter from his old Irish mother the other day, whom he had never heard swear, but she was hot when she wrote that letter. She said, speaking of the sinking of the Emden, “I notice your country has sent the poor devils to hell.” (laughter). He echoed those sentiments, and hoped the young men from this district would send many a German to heaven. (Loud Applause)

On the face of it, Sterling’s reported hope that the locals would be despatching Germans to heaven does not appear to match his mother’s sentiments and, not surprisingly, the version in the South Gippsland Chronicle is a better fit:

He had lately had a letter from his mother in Ireland and she had said, commenting on the Emden, “I see some of your people have blown some of the devils to hell.” (Laughter) He had never known his mother to swear before. (Laughter). He hoped the Yarram soldiers would send many of the Germans to hell. (Loud laughter and cheers)

Whether the German dead were heading for heaven nor hell there was clearly popular support for killing them. Given the comments of both Cox and Stirling it is worth reflecting on just how difficult it would have been at the time for any clergyman to question either the justification or conduct of the War.

Sauer, as President of the local ANA, laboured the idea that Australians could always be relied on now, just as they had been in the Boer War – they were there when wanted every time – and that they were natural fighters: The fighting blood in our veins came from the old stock, and they would find that Australian boys at the front would keep their end up with the best troops in the world. (Applause).

Johnson, the local solicitor, had the task of presenting the souvenir to each soldier – a wristlet watch . He was keen to stress their youth:

He preferred to call them boys; he had known some of them as toddlers. Some had attended the local state school, and other schools in the district and now they were about to depart to fight in the greatest war the world had ever known.

Johnson pressed the common themes of the Empire – they were going to fight alongside their kinsmen, the British of Canada – the sacrifices being made by the men, and their families – particularly their mothers and wives and sweethearts – and the confidence that everyone had in their fighting abilities. Johnson also touched on another of his favourite themes: the belief that very few people, even including the people in the UK, really understood the seriousness of the situation unfolding in Europe. People needed to wake up to the enormity of the danger they faced.

The musical items presented that night – and there were very many – were as patriotic as the speeches. The following list is compiled from the account in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative : The Veteran’s Song, Sons of the South, Harlequenade, The Soldier’s Pardon (recital), (It’s a Long Way to)Tipperary, Flight of Ages, John Bull (repeated), Bianca, (It’s)The Navy, The Englishman, The Sergeant of the Line, Jonathon Jones, Home sweet Home. The South Gippsland Chronicle added to the list: Trooper Johnnie Ludlow. All told, and with lively audience participation, the items must have stretched for at least one hour.

The morning after the farewell there was another short send-off immediately before a scheduled meeting of the Shire Council. It was attended by about forty people. There was a toast to ‘The King’ and those there sang one verse of the National Anthem. Speeches were short but there was mention of how the men from the ‘back blocks of Gippsland’ were going to hold their own and show the British soldiers how good they were. Everyone wished them a safe return home and, again, some even hoped they would not have to face battle. Events were concluded with one last toast. In the words of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative:

Glasses were charged, and the health of the soldier boys drunk, musically honoured with “Jolly Good Fellows” and “Tipperary.” Good-byes, bugle calls, and they were soon off to Alberton, to catch the train.

There were no further organised farewells in the district until May 1915 when one of the local doctors, John H Rutter joined the army medical corps. Then, after Gallipoli, the rate of farewells increased dramatically and the whole process of farewelling the locals who had enlisted became more organised and, over time, more directed to the process of recruiting.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

26. Soldiers of Christ


The Great Sacrifice, by James Clark [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

ed 2 church window

Detail of stained glass window by William Montgomery in St. Martin’s Chapel, based on The Great Sacrifice. Photo courtesy of Saint George’s Anglican Church, Malvern (Victoria).

In December 1914, just before Christmas, a commemorative print of the painting – The Great Sacrifice – by James Clark (1858-1943) was issued in the (British) illustrated weekly publication, The Graphic. The print had an immediate appeal and became one of the key religious images of WW1. It was picked up and adapted across the Empire. For example, the basic image appears in the stained glass window in St. George’s Anglican Church at Malvern (Victoria). In this particular work a distinctly Australian slouch hat has been included.

Some idea of how influential the poster was and just how quickly it was pressed in to service across the Empire comes from the following article which appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 8 January 1915.

Special services in connection with the Empire’s Day of Intercession concerning the war were held in the Anglican churches throughout the district on Sunday last. At Yarram the pulpit was flanked with the Union Jack draped round a copy of the new painting by James Clark, entitled “The Great Sacrifice,” depicting the Saviour on the Cross, at the foot of which lies a dead soldier, in the uniform of the present-day British infantry, whose hands rests on the Saviour’s feet, as though seeking to identify himself with the “Great Sacrifice.”

Reverend Cox (Church of England, Yarram) was still employing the image of The Great Sacrifice in a sermon that was reported in detail in the paper in May 1915 (7/5/15). It is difficult for us, 100 years on, to appreciate just how influential the idea of the British or Australian soldier as a ‘soldier of Christ’ was at the time. In a far more religious Australian society and at a point in the War well before the AIF had established its own more secular ideology that represented sacrifice as an expression of ‘mateship’, it was seen as natural that religious leaders like Cox explained such sacrifice in war in terms of religious teaching. Cox stressed in this particular sermon:

“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

He was definitely not talking about secular notions of ‘mateship’ but about Christian love and duty.

For Cox, the soldier lying dead at the foot of the cross, his hand touching the foot of the crucified Christ, was at one with the Lord who had sacrificed His Life for the sins of the world and the One who would rise triumphant over death. In his death, fighting the just war, the soldier had also won his eternal life with the Saviour. The soldier’s individual sacrifice was an expression of The Great Sacrifice.

On this particular occasion Cox was also keen to emphasise that Christ Himself identified with the dead soldier. Referring to the text quoted and the actual picture of The Great Sacrifice, Cox told his congregation: I want by means of this text, illustrated by the picture, to show you Christ suffering, bleeding, dying, thereby identifying Himself with suffering humanity. For Cox, Christ in His compassion was taking the soldier to Himself. We might find all the imagery overdone – perhaps uncomfortable and even unfathomable – but for religious congregations of the time, the sermon would have been easily understood; and later in the War as death became so common, parents, families and whole communities could take consolation in such religious teaching. As tragic as the death of a soldier fighting overseas was in the bitter world of everyday reality, there was higher purpose to all the suffering and Christ would take to himself those who died in His name. These were profoundly powerful religious beliefs.

Such a religious perspective on the thousands of Australian deaths that, in early 1915, were still to come was based on several key beliefs. The first was that God was on the side of the Allies: it was a just war against an enemy that had turned its back on Christian principles and conducted war in a barbaric manner. The second belief was that there had to be both a moral and martial campaign against Germany. The War called for religious renewal because for the Christian believer it did not make any sense to see the War simply in terms of competing armies. There had to be a higher, more divine purpose to all the suffering and horror. True Christians had to turn again to God in prayer and commit to leading upright lives. The third belief was that those on the front line facing the enemy were acting selflessly to protect those at home, and their sacrifice would be recognised by God. Therefore they were under His protection. However, the significant qualification here was that the individual soldier, exercising his free will, had to stay true to his religion and live a decent life as a soldier. He could not allow himself to be corrupted, or even seduced, by the evil that war inevitably spawned. War could destroy innocence and the young and impressionable had to be both warned and protected.

All these beliefs could be seen in the sermon Reverend Cox delivered that day in May 1915. He reminded his congregation of the suffering of those in Belgium and he then added the outrages inflicted on those in Poland, alluding to the sexual predations of the German army on the women and girls of that nation. Continuing the theme of German perfidy, he turned to the treatment of British prisoners of war: We read almost daily of the treatment meted out to British prisoners in Germany of their being fed on stuff that we would scorn to give to our pigs, of their being insulted, cruelly treated and murdered in cold blood. He even gave an example of the brutality of German colonising methods, citing an incident from 1897 when a leading German colonial officer ridiculed British attempts to deal ‘fairly’ with the Massai and proceeded to shoot dead any native who challenged – even in the most moderate and reasonable way – German authority. Germans were ruthless tyrants and Cox warned his congregation that because Australia had pledged such strong support for the Empire against Germany, and had already done everything possible to exasperate the enemy, they could expect no mercy if ever Germany overcame Britain; and therefore God must always be their last refuge: If ever the enemy gets a foothold we will have to look to God for help. So for Cox, prayer – and the attendant recognition of God’s supremacy above everything – was the primary line of defence: Prayer – earnest, believing prayer. Why do I put this first? Because we are fighting not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of evil. Therefore no other weapon will avail. But as Cox saw it, people were not turning to God in this hour of national crisis and the power of prayer was not being realised. As Cox, lamenting the size of congregations, noted … it seems as though prayer has lost much of its meaning nowadays.

Faced with this indifference, Reverend Cox believed strong action was required to force people to wake to the national crisis at hand. Sacrifices had to be made and, again, football was high on his list. He declared:

And what do we see? Many a man who ought to be on the battlefield, fighting for the sufferings and honor of womanhood staying home to play football, and women and girls flocking to watch them play. I have no quarrel with football. I have played the game, I like the game, but under present conditions! no, certainly not.

The local football competition in the Shire would be wound up several months later, under the relentless pressure from patriots. Cox was also keen to push the cause of temperance and hoped that many more would follow the lead of King George V who had only recently pledged to abstain for the duration of the War. There was also a passing shot at trade unionists undermining the war effort by holding up ships with war supplies.

For the young men who could enlist, Cox had the simple message that they should: Go, because your country needs you. Go, above all, because Christ needs you. As such ‘soldiers of Christ’, they needed encouragement and direction and therefore Rev. Cox was keen that young man enlisting had access to the Scriptures:

There is one object for which I would ask. The men who are going to the front are going to face death – they know it – they volunteer with that in mind, and at such times men are prepared to receive divine truth. There is then a unique opportunity presented to us of helping them. The British and Foreign Bible Society undertakes that every man who cares to have it receives a copy of the Scriptures. This requires funds, and I will gladly forward any contributions for that purpose handed to me.

The sermons of Reverend Cox were repeated from countless pulpits across the nation. Protestant churches tended to have a sharper focus on Imperial duty but the Catholic clergy definitely preached for the War. There was a collective sense of turning to God in the hour of need. God Himself was enlisted in the cause. The AIF was charged with doing God’s work to overthrow evil. And death in war was seen as an expression of Christian sacrifice.

However, the AIF – idealised as some sort of righteous army of God, with its individual members, as soldiers of Christ – could easily fall short of religious benchmarks. It was inevitable that the pressured creation of the AIF would concentrate the very anti-social behaviours – drunkenness, gambling, ‘filthy’ and blasphemous language, disrespect for proper authority, larrikinism .. – that religious leaders had railed against for years. Certainly in the early months of the War, the image of the AIF was not as wholesome as the sermons suggested.The following account is taken from The Argus of 21 December 1914. It covered one of the riots in Melbourne by soldiers from Broadmeadows. The headlines read: SOLDIERS ATTACK CHINESE. TUMULT IN THE CITY. ORGY OF WINDOW BREAKING. POLICE USE THEIR BATONS. SEVERAL ARRESTS MADE.

Little Bourke street, the scene of many a conflict, probably never witnessed such a serious disturbance as that which occurred last evening in consequence of certain members of the Expeditionary Forces acting on a desire to wreck the place. From Swanston street to Russell street hardly a window which was not sheltered remains whole, and during the conflict, which in this quarter lasted for more than an hour, many extraordinary scenes were witnessed.

The article claimed that the trouble began when a story circulated that a soldier had been treated roughly on the previous night by a Chinese shop owner. The story eventually had the soldier involved dying from his injuries in the Melbourne Hospital. There was no such death, nor possibly even any injury, but as the paper pointed out, … the indignity of having been kicked by a Chinese evidently rankled so bitterly that the story became magnified… .

The paper suggested that the attack on Chinese business along Little Bourke Street was an organised affair:

About half-past 6 o’clock last evening a number of soldiers assembled in Little Bourke street , and shortly afterwards a brick hurtled through the plate-glass window in Wallach’s furniture shop. The crowd then dispersed, but returned to the same place about an hour later, and there were then indications that the disturbance was more or less organised. Several men carried bandages and Red Cross outfits to salve the wounds of those who might come into conflict with the police, and the bugle call to assemble brought hundreds of men to the lane. The soldiers by this time had reached a state of extreme anger, and talked openly of running all the Chinese out of Little Bourke street at the point of the bayonet. It was stated on all sides that 7,000 men had broken camp, and were marching from Broadmeadows to avenge their comrade’s death.

The picture that the paper gives of the men’s sense of military discipline was not encouraging:

Major MacInerney, provost marshal, was on the scene shortly after the disturbance became general, and many of the men obeyed his command to fall in and march away. Every time, however, that a missile found its objective, the men would break their ranks and cheer vociferously. On one occasion, when being marched away from a side lane, the soldiers came upon a heap of stones and bricks which almost seemed to have been placed there for some fell purpose. On seeing them, joy filled their hearts, and they instantly broke their ranks, and made a dash for Little Bourke street, where hostilities were resumed.

It appeared that the larrikin defence of the White Australia Policy proved far stronger than military discipline.

The episode in Little Bourke Street was not the only such ‘riot’. The most serious one was the ‘strike’ at the Liverpool camp in NSW in February 1916.

Historians -e.g., Stanley, P (2010) – have written extensively of the struggle military authorities faced with the new volunteer army – made up primarily from the working class – that was the AIF. In time, however, some of the very qualities that proved so intractable at the beginning -for example, attitudes towards military authority – would come to be extolled as the distinguishing strengths of the AIF.

The larrikin soldier of the early AIF hardly appears compatible with the idealised image of the soldier of Christ, but the more important observation is that both realities were at play, in obviously complex and often contradictory ways.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

The Argus

Stanley, P 2010, Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial Force, Pier 9 (Murdoch Books Australia), NSW.

For more on The Great Sacrifice see this entry in Wikipedia

For more on the stained glass window in St George’s Anglican Church, Malvern see this entry on the collection of Stained Glass in the Church.

The attached image of a memorial card based on ‘The Great Sacrifice’ was kindly supplied by the Stratford and District Historical Society. It comes from a photograph album kept by a family in memory of their son, and it shows just how common the imagery of ‘The Great Sacrifice’ was in WW1.