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