Monthly Archives: January 2017

101. Enlistments in the second half of 1916

This post presents the table of all those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the second half of 1916. It builds on the work of 4 earlier posts that have analysed enlistments, in six-monthly intervals, from 1914:

Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’ ,

Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915 ,

Post 61: Enlistments in the second half of 1915 

Post 81. Enlistments in the first half of 1916.

The enlistment in the second half of 1916 of 70 men with a link to the Shire of Alberton takes the overall number of such enlistments from August 1914 to 693. The following summary shows enlistments from 1914. It also shows how dramatically enlistments fell off in the second half of 1916:

To the end of 1914: 138 enlistments
First half of 1915: 102
Second half of 1915: 200
First half of 1916: 183
Second half of 1916: 70

Moreover, it was not just the case that enlistment numbers fell because in this cohort of 70 men, 16 of them – 23% of the total – had been rejected, medically, at least once before their enlistment was accepted. Additionally, 8 of the cohort were discharged from the AIF, on medical grounds, before they saw active service overseas. Overall, at least in the Shire of Alberton, by the end of 1916 there were far fewer men enlisting; and the general health and fitness of the recruits had also declined.

As an example of the efforts that some men went to enlist, this cohort featured 2 men – Charles Field and Clarence Stuart McLeod  – both of whom had been rejected on the basis of ‘hernia’ who had then undertaken operations, and as the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (20/10/16) put it, had made a ‘great sacrifice’ to become a ‘fit soldier’. The medical notes for McLeod refer to operation scars both groins.

As for the previous cohorts, there are several men whose names appeared on various honour rolls or memorials but who, as yet, have not been identified. In such cases, the most common problem is that the only piece of evidence is the name, which, by itself, is not sufficient to identify the individual. Research on identifying such men continues.

Once again, it is often hard to see the logic in the way men were included on various honor rolls and other commemorations.  For example, the local Roman Catholic priest, Fr Patrick Sterling, enlisted in September 1916. At the time, his enlistment was written up in the local paper and there were several formal farewells. He was certainly well known in the local district and, after the War, he remained in the district for many years. At the time he enlisted, he was presented with the Shire of Alberton medallion. Yet, his name does not appear on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

Similarly, William Smith who died of disease – ‘malignant malaria’ – at Damascus on 17/10/18 did not have his name included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial; but it was included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

Lastly, George Edgar Withinshaw who, before he enlisted was working as a butcher in Yarram, was killed in action on 19/9/17. He was a young English immigrant. On his enlistment form he gave Yarram as his permanent address in Australia. And when his family completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour they gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Yet despite the obvious links to the district, his name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

The Table below shows that in most cases there were several items of evidence to link the individual to the local area. At the same time, in a few cases it was only the individual’s inclusion on the honour roll of a local school that linked him to the district. As well, there were several cases where the name of an individual appeared on a list prepared by local doctors of men whom they had medically failed. In many of these cases the men had subsequently passed the medical elsewhere and enlisted. They had moved to locations such as Warragul or Sale or Melbourne. However they have been included here because, in the interests of the full picture, it is important to identify and track the itinerant, rural working class who, overwhelmingly, made up the majority of all those who enlisted. The men had been working and living in the district at the time they failed their first medical.


As before, the following records are the ones used in the table to establish the connection to the Shire:

The Shire of Alberton Honor Roll

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

The Shire of Alberton Medallion

The Shire of Alberton War Memorial (Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial)

The honor rolls of state schools in the Shire of Alberton

Community honor rolls in the Shire of Alberton

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)

100. E T Gay

Edward Thomas GAY (19797)
8 FAB Died of illness 2/1/17

Edward Gay was 19 yo when he enlisted on 31/12/15. He was single and he gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’. He must have been working and living in the local area because his first medical was in Yarram (29/11/15) and, also, he was given a formal farewell from the Shire (23/2/16). He was born at Tarraville (25/4/1896) and grew up in the North Devon area, attending the state school there. His religion was Methodist. When his father, as next-of-kin, completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he gave Devon, South Gippsland as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. Edward Thomas Gay’s name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

Gunner Edward Gay joined 8 Field Artillery Brigade (30 Battery). There was another person with the same surname in the same unit. This was Gunner Allan Richard Gay. It is difficult to establish the relationship between the two of them. They were not brothers but, given that they enlisted in the same unit and they were farewelled together – according to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (1/3/16) there were 200 people at the farewell at North Devon – it is highly likely that they were cousins.

Gunner Edward Gay disembarked at Plymouth on 18/7/16. But at this point there were serious health issues. In fact, he was admitted to hospital the day after disembarkation (19/7/16). He was discharged 2 weeks later but then readmitted on 14/8/16 and it appears he remained in hospital – Military Hospital Fargo, Salisbury Plains – until his death on 2/1/17 (’tuberculosis of lungs’).

The family back in Australia were notified in November (22/11/16) that he was ‘dangerously ill’. Another cable on 2/12/16 advised that the condition was ‘stationary’ and another one at the end of the month (30/12/16) gave the condition as ‘still stationary’. However, the next cable on 4/1/17 brought the news that he had died 2 days earlier (2/1/17). He was buried at Durrington Cemetery, Wiltshire.

The personal kit was returned to the father in June 1917. The kit was extensive – although the items were mainly small –  presumably because he had never seen active service but, instead, had been a patient for most of his service in the UK:

Postcards, 2 shaving brushes, Cards, Hymnbook, Letters, Soldiers’ Guide, Cotton bag, 2 Brushes, Pr. Mittens, 2 Fly nets, Spring razor strop, 4 Badges, Pr. Scissors, Holdall, 2 Mirrors (one in case), 8 Handkerchiefs, 2 Razors in cases, Cycling jersey, 2 Combs, fountain pen in case, Housewife, 2 Knives, Wallet (damaged), 2 straps, Diary, Note book, 3 Devotional Books, 4 Military books, Leather belt, 2 identity-discs, Wristlet watch and strap, 4 coins.

As indicated, when he enlisted, Gunner Gay gave his father – Caleb Thomas Gay – who was then living at Kyabram, as his next-of-kin.  The records indicate that the father did receive all relevant correspondence, including the cables about his illness and death, as well as returned kit, medals, cemetery records etc. The records also indicate that there did not appear to be a will.

Correspondence in the file suggests that family relations were both complex and fraught and this may have been another reason why there was no will.

As already indicated, the father was living at Kyabram at the time Edward was living and working in the Yarram area. The mother – Sarah Gay – and at least one sister were living in Queensland. Moreover it was not just a case of physical separation because essential information did not appear to be shared between family members. For example, the file contains a letter from Gunner Gay’s youngest sister – Helena – seeking information on her brother’s death. She was the sister living in Brisbane. The letter was written some seven months after his death.  Incredibly, it appears that she had only recently found out about the death, and not from any family member but from a friend living in Traralgon.  Her request to Base Records in Melbourne sought the information that normally other members of a family would provide. She also appeared to have scant details on his enlistment.

Would you be so kind in helping me to find news of my only Brother Edward Thomas Gay late of South Gippsland Victoria [.] The news I have received from a friend in Traralgon my poor Brother died in England on 2.1.1917 [.] Will you find me his Battalion and where he enlisted from & also what part of London he died in & could I have a chance of getting one for (sic) his Photos [photographs of the grave ] [.]I am his youngest Sister & would love to get any news about him [.] Hoping to hear from you soon [.]

In May 1917 (19/5/17) there was letter to Base Records from an uncle, Richard Giles Gay of ‘The Willows, North Devon via Yarram’. The uncle was the younger brother of the father. The letter requested a copy of the death certificate and enquired as to whether there was any will:

Will you kindly send me Certificate of death of E T Gay deceased who died in Hospital England January 2nd 1917 and also let me know if he left any Will or Assignment of any kind.

Interestingly, even though the letter did not state that the writer was acting on behalf of the father, the formally designated next-of-kin, the uncle was sent a copy of the death certificate (‘report of death’) and advised that there was ‘no notification of a will to date.’  It also appears that the same uncle at least initiated a claim with the Australian Mutual Provident Society. It appears that even though the father was the designated next-of-kin and was in communication with the military authorities over his deceased son’s affairs, other members of the family were also pursuing their own enquiries and actions independent of the father.

Lastly, there is yet another letter in the file that touches on the same matter and highlights both past and present family tensions. The letter was written in November 1917 (12/11/17) by Edward’s grandmother (Catherine Gibbett) of Devon North. She was obviously seeking some sort of monetary claim against his estate, on the basis that she had cared for him as a child, right through, presumably, to the time he enlisted.

Please can I put in a claim for cash, or the half of money, left by my grandson, late Gunr Edward Thomas Gay son of Mr Caleb Thomas Gay now of Kyabram late of Devon North [,] because I had the said Edward Thomas Gay when a young child [.] His mother Sarah Gay left him without anyone to care for him so the father brought the said Edward Thomas Gay to me before he was old enough to go to school [.] When old enough I sent him to school and kept him seventeen [?] years [.] Surely I have a claim for keeping the said late Edward Thomas Gay.

Uncovering the family dynamics of 100 years ago is obviously a great challenge but it does appear that Edward Gay’s childhood and youth would have been difficult. Perhaps he saw in the AIF the sense of belonging which had eluded him in his own family.


National Archives file for GAY Edward Thomas 19797
Roll of Honour: Edward Thomas Gay
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Edward Thomas Gay

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative