John Leonard SLAVIN (5200) MM
11 Battalion KiA 6/5/1917
John Slavin was born in Yarram in 1893. At that point, the Slavin family was definitely local. In fact, the father – Edward Slavin – had himself been born in the district, probably in 1864. He married Catherine Lawler in 1887 and there were 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls. All the children were born in the local area, between 1888 and 1900.
The father had land – approximately 200 acres at Woodside – in the early 1880s. However, it appears that in 1887 he was convicted of cattle theft and imprisoned for 3 years. Then at some point between the early 1900s and the outbreak of WW1, the family moved to Western Australia. All 3 sons – Edward Fenton Slavin, Frank Slavin and John Leonard Slavin – enlisted and all were living in Western Australia at the time they enlisted. They all gave their father as next-of-kin, and his address was also Western Australia: Wellington Mills, Dardanup WA. One daughter remained behind in Yarram: Mary Slavin, born 1895. She married (McConville) sometime after 1917 and died, aged 33 yo, in Yarram in 1928.
The three Slavin boys attended state school(s) in the local area. All 3 are on the honor roll for Yarram SS. John and Frank are also on the honor roll for Tarraville SS. Edward Fenton and John are also on the honor roll for Balloong SS. And Frank is also on the honor roll for Carrajung South SS. However, none of the brothers is on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, and John Leonard Slavin – the only brother killed – is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. The mother gave Busselton, WA as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. Even though the family had had a long association with Gippsland, by the time the boys enlisted they identified with Western Australia.
John Leonard Slavin enlisted in Perth on 8/2/16. His 2 other brothers had already enlisted. He was 22 yo and single. His religion was Roman Catholic. He gave his occupation as ‘engine cleaner’. When his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, she gave his occupation as ‘timber worker’. He was obviously involved in the local timber industry and he gave his address as the Wellington Timber Mills, Dardanup WA. As indicated, the father, as next of kin, gave the same address. The movement of families from the Shire of Alberton to WA to work in the timber industry was not uncommon; although the more common pattern was to move to the West for mining.
Private Slavin joined as reinforcements for 11 battalion and left Fremantle on 31/3/16. There was the usual training period in the UK and then he joined the battalion in France in August 1916. He was killed in action on 6/5/17. The body was never recovered and his name is included on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.
Unfortunately, there was no Red Cross report and the details in the war diary of 11 Battalion are not very helpful. It does not, for example, give the casualty figures. At the time of Private Slavin’s death, the battalion was in the front line at ‘Sunken Road near Noreuil’. Beginning at 11.00 pm on 5/5/17 and going through to the morning of 6/5/17, the Germans launched as series of 3 attacks on the Australian lines. All were beaten off but the Australians were pushed, temporarily, from some of their positions. There was heavy shelling. The diary states that, During these attacks the battalion suffered heavy casualties. It was relieved on the night of 7/5/17.
On 15/5/17, just 9 days after his death, Private Slavin was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery on 15/4/17, about 3 weeks before he was killed. It was when the German troops counter-attacked at Louverval. In the same action, there was a Victoria Cross won by Lieutenant Charles Pope, also of 11 Battalion. The citation for Private Slavin read:
At Louverval, France, on the 15th April 1917, Pte. Slavin showed great courage and endurance in carrying messages from picquet posts to Company Headquarters through a fire swept zone; he also on return journeys carried back ammunition thereby enabling the post to hold out and inflict loss on the enemy. He continued this work throughout the night of 15/16th April 1917.
Word of their son’s death would have reached the Slavin family in Western Australian in late May 1917. The cable was dated 23/5/17. His death was reported back in Yarram on 6/6/17. The following appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. The sister, Mary Slavin, would have been 22 yo:
Our readers will sympathise with Miss M. Slavin in the loss of her brother, Private Jack Slavin, at the war, who was killed on 4th May (sic). The sad news reached Yarram on Friday last [1/6/27]. Private Jack Slavin was 23  years of age, and enlisted in West Australia about eighteen months ago. He spent his boyhood in this district and was educated at the Tarraville State school. Frank and Fenton Slavin, brothers of Jack, are on active service…
The local paper also reported on the award of the military medal. On 22/2/18 it noted that … Mr. and Mrs. E Slavin, of Busselton, W.A., have received the military medal won by their late son, Private J. L. Slavin.
There is no record of any personal kit being returned to the family. This was most unusual; although we have already seen one other case – Sweeney C J, Post 113 – from this period.
The Slavin family had left the district before WW1. Probably they had been in WA for at least 5 years. It is therefore, on one hand, easy to see why the Slavin boys were left off the official Shire of Alberton memorials. At the same time, it is equally apparent that over the course of WW1, the family would still have been well known in the district; and the death of Private J L Slavin would have registered with the local community, particularly given that his younger sister was still living there.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project
National Archives file for SLAVIN John Leonard 5200
Roll of Honour: John Leonard Slavin
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Leonard Slavin
Honours & awards: John Leonard Slavin