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).

 

References

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

 

 

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