Monthly Archives: August 2017

132. The Great Strike, August 1917

Throughout August 1917, a series of strikes spread along the eastern seaboard. The initial strike involved railway workshop employees in Sydney who went out over attempts to introduce a US style card system, based on Taylorism, intended to speed up work. This first action was on 2 August. However, virtually from the very next day, strike action began to spread to an ever increasing range of industries. In NSW, the strike spread across the railways, collieries and then the wharves. Initially, it took in the full range of workers in the railways, and then miners, wharf labourers and seamen. By mid August, strike action spread to Victoria where the key workers involved were the wharf labourers and seamen. On a lesser scale, other industries and specific enterprises became involved and the unrest spread to other centres including Broken Hill. All the various actions are usually described, collectively, as the ‘Great Strike’ of 1917.

The end to the NSW railway strike on 9 September is taken as the end of the Great Strike, even though some workers continued their action for some time after. For example, the Melbourne wharf workers did not vote to return until 4 December.

The Great Strike of 1917 was a conflict that went beyond industrial action, as large scale as this was. It is possible to see it more as a wider working-class revolt than a series of strikes. Certainly by 1917 there was considerable disaffection in the working class. There was ‘war weariness’ but the War had also eroded real wages. Price rises had been extreme. There was also war profiteering. Above all, there was widespread concern that hard-won, pre-War industrial conditions were being eroded under the cover of patriotism. Opposition to the Yes vote in the recent conscription referendum had been strengthened by the fear that conscription was to be used to weaken organised labour. As pointed out in Post 105 even soldiers on the front line shared this concern that conscription would be used to undermine the working conditions and job security of Australian workers. The sense that the hard-won industrial conditions of the (white) working class were under attack was very strong.

Another interesting feature of the Great Strike was the degree to which the traditional power brokers in organised labor – the union hierarchy and the ALP itself, as the political wing of the movement – were by-passed by more rank-and-file leadership and agitation. The organisation was entrusted to an ad hoc ‘Defence Committee’. Also, in many instances the traditional power brokers were opposed to the specifics of the industrial action. In several key instances, unions voted to strike, against the advice of the union leadership.

Importantly, the industrial unrest was not restricted to just the act of striking. There were very large public demonstrations and marches – portrayed as unruly, mob-like and dangerous by the popular press – in Melbourne and Sydney. The role of women in these highly visible activities was striking. In Melbourne through August there were almost daily demonstrations in locations such as Treasury Gardens, Exhibition Gardens and Yarra Bank. Extra police were brought in from rural areas to maintain public order. To some extent, the month long strife was more an expression of the ‘direct action’ promoted by radical worker groups like the IWW than the conventional strike. Not surprisingly, the press was keen to push the claim that this radicalisation of the workers was the handiwork of the IWW and other extremist labor or socialist groups. There was speculation that the massive social dislocation in Russia could even play out in some form in Australia.

Another important feature of the action was the so-called ‘black doctrine’. According to this doctrine, no unionist could work alongside a ’scab’ worker or handle or have anything to do with goods or services provided by scab labour. The speed with which this doctrine prompted other unions to strike and the way it acted as a rallying call – often against the direct advice of the union hierarchy – suggests that the ever-expanding wave of strikes represented not just specific industrial grievances but also a declaration about the fundamental beliefs of the union movement. Specifically, the focus was on the very definition of the union notion of ‘mateship’. This ties in with the argument that after 3 years of War, and ongoing attacks on the union movement, the working class itself pushed back with the equivalent of a public manifesto of what it stood for and what it would never tolerate.

Ironically, the ‘black doctrine’ was arguably the main reason for the failure of the Great Strike. Essentially it meant that the strikes went too wide, too quick and too shallow. While many industries across state boundaries became involved very quickly there were important segments in these industries, and other whole sectors of the economy, where production and business continued unaffected. From the beginning, union organisers had sensed the inherent weakness of the campaign but, it appears, workers generally were not in the mood to listen to their leadership. Indeed, even when the various strikes collapsed and the workers were forced back under very punitive conditions, many workers believed, unrealistically, that they had been on the point of victory and saw the return to work as a ‘sell-out’. This sense of betrayal was heightened by the severity of the conditions surrounding their return to work; and in many cases they were never taken back.

In a real sense the Hughes Government was always going to win. To begin with, after the split over conscription, the ALP was in a weak position. Further, it was clear that the union movement itself was divided over the strikes. Also, the popular press lined up behind the government. The government also had the very powerful War Precautions legislation to employ as required. Finally, Hughes set up the National Service Bureau which in effect recruited volunteers to act as strike breakers. The large number of such volunteers and the efficient organisation of the scheme were enough to break the strike.

When the strikes collapsed, the workers, if they were re-employed at all, had to accept reduced conditions. In many cases their positions were taken by those who had volunteered for Hughes’ scheme of ‘national service’. The strikers were defeated and a brief period of working-class solidarity and direct action, built round idealistic notions of ‘industrial mateship’, came to a bitter end. At the same time, the victory against the strikers virtually made it inevitable that any second vote on conscription would fail. Arguments that conscription was by its very nature an attack on the working class designed to break the unions and reduce wages and working conditions – as well as open the country to cheap non-White labour – were obviously set to have more appeal. Equally, those who argued that the War was nothing but a sordid trade war were going to attract considerably more attention. For many, the War was turning into a war on the Australian working class.

It is interesting to consider the attention that the strikes over August attracted in the local media in the Shire of Alberton. Overall, the ongoing, daily accounts of the strikes were left to the metropolitan dailies. At the same time, the Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative did highlight how serious the national situation was. The following appeared on 17/8/17:

Industrial Australia is now engaged in the greatest upheaval known in the nation. Emanating from the strike of the railway men in New South Wales it has extended in the past few days to numerous industries in which labor is concerned, and present indications are that serious trouble will ensue before a settlement is effected. The Federal Government is taking a firm stand in the matter, and appears determined to fight the Unions and those who have attempted to disturb and upset railway and shipping facilities. Gradually the strike mania is being extended by the originators to centres of industry which, prior to the outbreak, had no cause for complaint, but are drawn into the trouble by the influence of their fellow workers.

As usual, the local paper lined up behind the Hughes Government. It was keen to support the call for volunteers to break the strikes. There was not as much call in Victoria for volunteers from the country as there was in NSW. In Melbourne there were ample volunteers from the metropolitan area, including students from the University of Melbourne and private boys’ colleges. The following appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative on 24/8/17:

The Government is now receiving offers from country volunteers, and many have taken up the work in Sydney. An individual, a former sailor, walked into our offices [Yarram] yesterday and offered to go and help the Government wherever his services might be of any assistance. We believe a number of others have volunteered from this district.

The paper also reported on the Shire Council’s resolve to support the Government. The following resolution appeared on 31/8/17:

That this Council grant all possible assistance to the Government in the matter of providing labor during present strikes and that the [Shire] secretary be instructed to accept applications from volunteers.

And on 29/8/17 it noted the strong support from at least one local branch of the Victorian Farmers’ Union:

Alberton branch of Victorian Farmers’ Union … resolved that, in the event of it [strikes] becoming more serious, the Alberton branch pledged itself to endeavor to obtain volunteer workers to assist the Government.

The paper also reported (24/8/17) when the local police constable was called to Melbourne … to do duty should trouble arise.

The following article appeared on 29/8/17:

Serious Extension of the Strike Trouble to Womerah. Ferns Declared “Black” – “Trouble never comes alone” was demonstrated at the office of a leading grazier in this district last week. The overseer was waited upon by a deputation of three at “Smoko” requesting a substantial increase in wages, or ferns would be declared “black.” The increase was at once acceded to, pending official confirmation. The official presented the objects of the deputation under threat of dismissal. The strike was of short duration, extending from forenoon “Smoko” on Friday, 17th and terminating on Saturday, 18th when at 5 p.m. the spokesman was dismissed, and one of his senior colleagues resenting such treatment left in sympathy. The dismissed agitator when last seen, was making his way toward Morwell Shire seeking ”White Ferns” and “Pastures New.” We are pleased to state that the strike is ended, as it was causing much concern amongst local employers. The call for volunteer labor was quickly answered by one recruit, who has accepted the agitator’s place without the right of spokesman.

Presumably the article is meant to be a parody – albeit a very clumsy one – of the situation in Melbourne and Sydney. Country employers know how to handle unionists. There does not have to be any workplace bargaining, the boss just gets rid of those who cause ‘trouble’. And there are plenty of other workers who will take up the positions of those dismissed.

The article does at least serve to remind that organised labour was very weak in country areas. This was particularly so in areas like the Shire of Alberton, where the nature of settlement and ongoing development had meant that there was little, if any, history of organised labor. With the exception of the timber industry and state-wide industries like the railways, there was no large concentration of workers in the one economic activity or location. Instead, the stronger history of labour in the Shire was that of the struggling selector and the family-based farm.

The history of selection was one characterised by the lack of capital, equipment, technology, and services, including transport. There were major environmental challenges – drought, flood, fire – and the endless struggle to ‘clear the land’. In this  world, the sense of ‘labour’ was the diametric opposite to that which had grown up in the late 19C in the large urban centres of Melbourne and Sydney. In the rural setting, the focus took in, on the one hand, self-help and rugged individualism, with the family as the basic economic unit, and on the other hand a commitment to a form of agrarian communalism. Only by coming together at this second level were ‘settlers’ able to establish schools, community halls and services such as the bush nurse. Their understanding of ‘mateship’ was one of looking out for their own interests and being self-reliant but at the same time supporting the neighbouring farms in times of crisis or against common threats. Local farming families had to rely on each other to establish the necessary social, economic and even political infrastructure for the community survive.

Not surprisingly, in this environment there was an inherent fear of and antagonism to the idea of ‘organised labour’ and the threat of the strike. Moreover, even when casual labour was taken on – for example, the large number of young, single, immigrant English farm workers – the nature of the work, the isolation of the workplace and the living arrangements of the workers – commonly they lived on the farmer’s property – meant that there was a completely different master-worker relationship to the one that existed in the metropolitan factory.

For a more detailed analysis of prevailing attitudes to the unionisation of rural workers in the local area see Post 10.

One industrial action that caused great angst in the rural community was the strike on the railways or at the ports that held up the transport and/or export of their primary produce. It was unconscionable that their livelihood could be threatened by secondary industrial action that had nothing to do with them. They saw their interests exploited by organised labour in an industrial conflict that was not of their making. The appeal in August 1917 to go tho the city and stand in as volunteer wharf labourers was a very powerful and natural call to arms in farming communities.

It is also important to acknowledge that the rural communities also viewed the Great Strike as a direct threat to the War effort. As they saw it, the union movement was undermining the nation’s ability to prosecute the War. At the very least, the series of strikes was a major distraction and drag on the Hughes’ Government’s ability to proceed with its singular focus on maintaining Australia’s commitment to the Empire. At their worst, according to the official narrative, the strikes were intended to cripple the Hughes’ Government and pull Australia out of the War. The strikes were overlaid with accusations of treachery, if not treason. The hand of the mythically powerful and omnipresent Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was said to be behind it all. For its part, the Government was keen to retaliate by employing the considerable force of the War Precautions Act to defeat the strikes.

Even though they have faded from the nation’s memory, the events of August 1917 in Australia were highly significant at the time. The speed with which the strikes spread and the number of industries affected caused considerable anxiety. With only limited support from the union hierarchy – and even less from the demoralised and broken ALP – the workers themselves fashioned the strikes into the radical defence of their hard-won conditions and the commitment to fundamental union principles and values. The strikes were symptomatic of deep and divisive concerns about the true cost of the War and the future of the working class. The strikes became an expression of class solidarity and class conflict. But the strikes were also destined to fail and the Hughes Government was keen to settle scores. For all these reasons the “Great Strike’ of August 1917 was a unique chapter in our history. And at the time, the events of August virtually guaranteed that any second referendum on conscription would be defeated. As the workers saw it, the impact of the War was now being carried disproportionately by the urban working class.


Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative

For general background on the Great Strike see:

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [pp 329-335]

Bollard, R 2013, In the Shadow of Gallipoli: The hidden history of Australia in World War I, New South Publishing, UNSW, Sydney NSW [Chapter 6]





135. J R O’Day

James Robert O’DAY (2691)
2 Pioneer B DoW 29/9/17

James Robert O’Day was born at Darriman. He came from a large family of 14 children. The family had been living in the Darriman area from the 1880s. His father – Samuel O’Day – was a farmer at Darriman with 45 acres.  During the War, the mother – Mary O’Day – was actively involved in patriotic fundraising for causes such as the Australian Sick and Wounded fund.

James O’Day attended the state school at Darriman. He belonged to the Yarram Rifle Club and he worked, as a grocer, at the Co-Op Stores in Yarram.

Private O’Day enlisted on 1/7/15. He had his initial medical at Yarram. At the time he was 24 yo and single. He gave his mother as next-of-kin and his religion was (Roman) Catholic.

He was given a formal farewell from Yarram in early November 1915. There were 2 other locals farewelled at the same time. The event was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (3/11/15). There were few townsfolk at the farewell so the speakers that day were critical of the perceived lack of interest in the young men’s patriotism and sacrifice. They were particularly annoyed that no clergyman was there. One of the speakers … remarked that it was a pity the boys were present to hear the discordant note. At the same time he felt the criticisms needed to be made. Private O’Day thanked those there for the farewell and his medallion. He promised that when he got to the front … he would do his best with the rest of them.

Private O’Day enlisted as reinforcements for 2 Pioneer Battalion. His group left Melbourne on 18/9/16, well over a year after he had enlisted.

On 19/1/17, the local paper published a very detailed letter that Private O’Day had written of his experiences on the voyage to the UK. One short extract gives some of the flavour. The theme about supposed ’equality’ between the officers and other ranks in the AIF was commonplace, as was the casual racism. When the boat reached Dakar, only the officers were allowed to go ashore.

When we got to Dakar the “heads” there would not stand us getting off. The officers were allowed off. We were anchored out in the bay about 200 yards from the wharf. A lot of darkies were around us in their little canoes, selling cigarettes and diving for coins. About 30 of the boys decided to follow the officers, who reckoned they had a right to go if the officers had. So they got the darkies to come in close, and they lowered themselves down a rope into the canoes and the darkies took them ashore. They all came back alright, but they had to pay dearly for their bit of fun. One was fined £6 and 20 days detention as soon as we land [when they reached the UK], which was the heaviest fine, and the lowest was 14 days detention.

The letter finished as Private O’Day reached Perham Downs, Salisbury in a bitter English winter.
His group of reinforcements reached France in January 1917. In February he was hospitalised with mumps and then in April he was hospitalised again, this time with tonsillitis. He did not rejoin his unit until early May. He was appointed lance corporal in the middle of July 1917 and by the end of September he was dead.

2 Australian Pioneer Battalion was working in the area of Bellewaard, near Westhoek, about 5 kilometres from Ypres. They were engaged in the construction, and repair, of both the tramway and the roads. The roads were being re-surfaced with wooden planks (‘planking’). At the time there were major problems with movement of artillery, troops and all necessary supplies because of the state of the ‘roads’. At the same time, the roads, as bad as they were, were more effective than the light tram rail because it was easier and quicker to repair – or detour round – the road when it was hit by artillery. The traffic was tightly congested and there was constant artillery shelling all along Menin Road. Drivers of both horse/mule-drawn wagons and lorries could be caught on the roads in such barrages with no cover and nowhere to go. There were also attacks from the air.

The war diary entry for 2 Pioneer Battalion on 29/9/17 noted that there was … very heavy shelling of Bellewaarde Circuit Road and that the road was broken in several places. It took 3 hours to carry out the repairs. Tragically, a platoon from B Company was hit by an ‘aerial bomb’ when the men stopped for a drink at a ‘comforts’ shelter on Menin Road. An officer and 6 other ranks were killed outright. Another 19 other ranks were wounded and one other rank – Lance Corporal O’Day – died from his wounds.

L/Cpl O’Day was still alive when they got him to the closest casualty clearing station, where his leg was amputated, but he died the same day. He was buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Lijssenthoek, Belgium.

The cable advising of L/Cpl O’Day’s death was dated 8/10/17. On 14/11/17, the following bereavement notice appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative:

Mr. and Mrs. S O’DAY and family, Darriman, desire to sincerely thank all kind friends for calls, cards and letters of sympathy in their sad bereavement.

The paper (5/4/18), reporting on the annual general meeting for the Yarram Co-Operative Society, noted that the chairman – T G McKenzie – paid tribute to Corporal O’Day, a former employee:

I feel sure I am voicing the feelings of all present when I desire to express on your behalf the deepest sympathy for the relatives of the late Corporal Robert O’Day, who has made the supreme sacrifice for his country. Prior to enlisting he was employed by the society, and was a general favourite of all who knew him.

In May 1918, the mother received her son’s personal kit: Letters, Photos, Post-Cards, Wallet, Metal Wrist Watch and Strap, Rosary, Knife, Safety Razor, 1 Mark German Note, Razor in Case, 4 Rings (One- 9 Carat and three – metal), Steel Mirror, 5 Keys on Steel Ring, 3 Coins.

L/Cpl O’Day’s name is recorded on the honor roll for Darriman state school. It is also recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. However his death is not marked on this roll and his name is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Given that he was obviously a local, his family had been in the district for so long and he personally was well known, it is surprising that his name was left off the soldiers’ memorial.

Private James Robert O’Day, courtesy AWM


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 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for O’DAY James Robert 2691
Roll of Honour: James Robert O’Day
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Robert O’Day


pix DA09775.jpg

134. Polygon Wood, Sept. 1917: S Jolly, A Jones & J D Robertson

Polygon Wood September 25-26, 1917

Following the ‘success’ of Menin Road, the British high command was keen to push their advantage and cut deeper into the German line on the Gheluvelt Plateau. As before, 2 Australian divisions – 4 and 5 on this occasion – were to support 5 British divisions. Also as before, the use of artillery was to be the defining tactic. At the same time, Polygon Wood was to be a scaled-back attack: there was less artillery, the front was not as wide and the ground to be taken was not as deep.

But events did not go as planned. On the morning of 25/9/17, the day before the scheduled attack, the Germans launched their own attack on the section of the front defended by the Australian 5 Division and the British 33 Division. The German attack, supported by an intense artillery barrage, was eventually contained but not before 3 Australian battalions – 57, 58 and 60 – had suffered heavy casualties. Moreover, the plans for the scheduled attack the next day were thrown into disarray. Brigadier-General Pompey Elliott (15 Brigade: 57, 58, 59, 60 Battalions) wanted the attack called off. Birdwood insisted it go ahead.  Elliott’s forces had to be supported by 2 additional battalions: 29 and 31.

The next morning (26/9/17) the planned attack commenced at 5.50 A.M. The AIF forces captured their targets relatively easily and, again, Bean was fulsome in his praise of the artillery. The barrage was said to have rolled with precision across the German lines and it was so accurate and powerful that the Australians were on top of Germans before they could get out of pill boxes and fortified positions. As at Menin Road the Germans were said to be shell-shocked. Many German prisoners were taken.

However, the British 33 Division ran into difficulties and the Australians were critical of their efforts. They thought the British had failed to protect the Australian flank.

The overall battle was considered another ‘success’. The total cost over the 3 days of fighting from 25 to 27 September – was 15,300 British and Australian casualties. For the 2 Australian divisions the total figure was 5,460: 1,730 dead and 3,730 wounded. 5 Division suffered the higher level of casualties. The running score of AIF casualties – from September 20 to September 27 – was approximately 9,500.


Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume IV – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917, 11th Edition 1941
Chapter XIX – Second Step – Polygon Wood

For a general background on Polygon Wood see,

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [p 343 ff]

Carlyon, L 2006, The Great War, Pan Macmillan, Sydney NSW
[Chapter 30]


Sydney JOLLY (2679)
58 B KIA 25/9/17

Sydney Jolly was born in Brighton, Middlesex and was another young English immigrant to come to Australia prior to WW1. He migrated at the age of 26. At the time of his enlistment he was married (Elizabeth Jolly) and living at Gelliondale. His occupation was variously given as labourer and horse driver. At the same time, he appears to have had a more senior position – a ‘manager’ of some kind – with a butter factory (Handbury & Son) at Gelliondale. His religion was given as Church of England.

He enlisted in July 1916 (6/7/16) in Melbourne in 58 Battalion. At the time he was 33 yo, suggesting that he had been living in Australia for about 7 years. It appears that his wife was also English. It is not clear if she came to Australia with him or joined him later.

Private Jolly had failed the medical test on multiple occasions before finally being accepted in the AIF. His name appears on the list of those rejected by the local doctors and he acknowledged on his enlistment forms that he had been rejected. In the end he underwent some form of operation – it appears to have been on both legs – to meet the medical standard.

His group of reinforcements left Melbourne in October 1916 (2/10/16) and reached England in mid November. Another 2 months of training in England followed. He was finally taken on the strength of the 58 Battalion in France in early February 1917. Barely 3 weeks later he was wounded – shrapnel or gun shot wound to right elbow – and repatriated to hospital in England. He was discharged from hospital at the end of April and at this point was transferred across to 67 Battalion. However he continued to remain in England until the end of June 1917 when he left again for France and finally rejoined his original unit (58 Battalion) at the start of August 1917.

Less than 2 months after rejoining his unit, he was killed in action on 25 September, the day before the attack on Polygon Wood. There was no record of any burial. The only reference at the time was the very general reference that he had been buried …in the vicinity of Polygon Wood.

His wife, as next-of-kin, was advised of the death by cable dated 8/10/17 and the formal report of death was dated 14/11/17. His death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 17/10/17:

Many of our readers will have pleasant recollections. of Private S. Jolly, of Gelliondale whose genial personality won many friends. Eighteen, months ago he was accepted as a soldier, after repeated attempts to enlist, and got his wish gratified to join the boys at the front: -We regret to announce he has paid the supreme penalty for his country.’Word came to Mr: Amos Wood on Friday to break the news to his widow, but being an intimate friend of the deceased soldier his heart failed him. Mrs. Jolly was in Yarram when the wire came and the sad task was entrusted to the Rev. Mr. Raymond. Private Jolly. No. 2697. was killed in action on 25th Sept. He was before enlisting manager for Handbury & Son. Gelliondale.

An in memoriam appeared, much later, on 27/2/18:

JOLLY.-In loving memory of my dear husband, Private Jolly, who gave his life for his country on 25th Sept., 1917.

In the bloom of life God claimed him.
In the prime of his manhood days;
None knew him but to trust him,
None mentioned his name but to praise.
There came a day when the roll was called,
That he did not answer “Here!”
For he slept with comrades his last long sleep.
And he died without a fear.
To live in hearts we leave behind
is not to die.
-Inserted by A. E. Jolly, Gelliondale

Private Jolly’s kit was returned in May 1918. It was very basic: 2 photos, Card, Wallet. His wife received a widow’s pension of £2 per fortnight from 11/12/17. There was no indication of any children.

There was no Red Cross report for Private Jolly, although there was a brief, undated, note from the CO of the 58 Battalion – Major H Lane – indicating that,

No. 2679. Pte. S. Jolly late of this Unit was killed in action on 25.9.17. He was badly wounded about the head and died instantaneously. He was not buried by this Unit. Map location of where he fell is (Sheet. 28. J.9.b. Central.).

The war diary for 58 Battalion indicates that on the morning of 25/9/17, the day before the scheduled major attack by the Australians on Polygon Wood there was a heavy enemy artillery barrage which was followed by an all out German assault on the lines. The Germans made some advances but by early afternoon, after heavy fighting, the original lines had been retaken.

The war diary also records the very high casualty levels sustained by the battalion over the 3 day period 25/9 – 27/9. Total casualties were 290. Private Jolly was one of 54 killed.

It is clear that at the time of his death there was no formal burial and, like so many others killed at Menin Road and Polygon Wood, there was little chance of his body ever being recovered. However, in 1921, as part of the work of the Graves Registration Unit, the body of Private Jolly was recovered. He was then re-buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

It is not entirely clear how the body of Private Jolly was identified, but it appears that a diary belonging to him was found on the remains. There may well have been other evidence – for example, his medical report from the time of enlistment was very detailed, even including the observation that a portion of his first finger on the right hand was missing.

When it was recovered with the body, the diary was in a poor state of preservation. However it is possible to read some entries that cover the time when he was recovering in England in the first part of 1917. There are several entries about ‘doing nothing’; and he was obviously trying to get himself returned to France. There is one entry, apparently June 11th 1917, when he wrote … Saw Colonel playing golf so went right up to him and asked to be transferred to France. The day before he had written, Still going for my transfer. He wrote elsewhere how he didn’t like the idea of being in England while … someone else is doing my bit. Far from being relieved to be out of the fighting and back in England with a ‘blighty’, the diary suggests that Private Jolly was keen to get back to his unit and do his ‘share’ of the fighting.

Private Jolly’s determination to rejoin his unit after being wounded and then hospitalised in England was also referred to in a letter written to his wife by one his officers in 58 Battalion. The letter was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 27/2/18.

Lieutenant George Wood, France, writes Mrs. Jolly, Gelliondale, 7/10/17, as follows:-You will have been notified ere this of the death of No. 2679 Private S. Jolly, who was killed in action near Polygon Wood on 25th September 1917. He was killed instantaneously by a machine gun bullet through the head, and we buried him just behind the front line. He was doing splendid work in the brilliant engagement fought by our battalion. He came over from Australia with me and when transferred to the 6th division in England, after being in hospital, pleaded to get back to our company, and to my platoon. All through he earned the highest respect and reward of all his officers and mates. I regarded him as a personal friend, and he was due for promotion. He always worked with enthusiasm and cheerfulness, and in battle showed no trace of fear. He died a hero’s death and earned the admiration of his comrades by his gallant actions. On behalf of the officers and men of A Company I beg to tender you our deepest sympathy in your sad bereavement.

Similarly, his determination to enlist was common knowledge in the local community. The following account of a farewell for him was published in the local paper on 1/9/16:

The residents of Gelliondale gave their old friend, Private S. Jolly, a send-off in the West Alberton hall on 30th ult. This soldier tried no less than five times to pass the medical test, and eventually got fit by undergoing an operation, necessitating 66 stitches. He would not accept leave from camp—only final—for fear he would not get back again. Private Jolly is a married man, having married an old sweetheart whom he met in the Old Country. He gave her the choice of returning to England, or remain at Gelliondale. She chose the latter. At the social Mr. F. Blane presided, and eulogised Private Jolly for his tenacity of purpose. He was presented with a marble clock, wristlet watch, and a purse of sovereigns is to follow. Mr. N. H. Lowe congratulated the popular soldier on the step taken. Private Jolly excelled himself in his response, and pleasingly referred to all kind friends he was parting with for a time.

Private Jolly’s name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.



Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for JOLLY Sydney  John 309B
Roll of Honour: Sydney Jolly
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Sydney Jolly



Alfred JONES (2198)
59 B KIA 26/9/17

Alfred Jones was born in Bung Bong near Maryborough. When he and his older brother – Arthur Jones – enlisted together in March 1916, they gave their father’s address, as next-of-kin, as PO, Bung Bong. However, by that point the brothers themselves were living and working at Madalya. The 1915 rate book indicates that they had some land – 10 acres, held in joint names – at Binginwarri, but the extent to which they were farming in their own right is unclear. Probably they were trying to establish themselves as farmers and working on other local properties at the same time. Nor is it clear what happened to their small holding when they enlisted.

The farewell of the 2 brothers from Madalya was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 19/5/16. The tension at the time associated with recruitment and the prospect of conscription was very evident:

The residents of Madalya and the surrounding district gathered in the hall on Friday night last to enjoy a social dance. Mr. Recruiting Sergeant Newland happened to be there, and somewhere about midnight a halt was called for the business of the evening, to bid farewell to the recruits, Messrs. Alf. and Arthur Jones, and Ernest Anderson. …

The boys were then presented with wristlet watches, fastened on by three young ladies.

The Chairman then called on the recruiting sergeant-to make a few remarks, which was done in full earnestness. He expressed pleasure at being present to wish the three men good luck, but by the appearance of the hall he felt sure there were at least a dozen more eligible to go than the three who had enlisted. The Jones Bros, were only just making a start in life, and as to young Anderson, he was only a boy. It was, he thought, a shame that one so young should have to go, when older and more mature men hung back. …

Mr. Alfred Jones replied on behalf of himself and brother. When he got his card [as part of the Government’s ‘Call to Arms’] he replied flippantly, but after speaking to the recruiting sergeant his views had changed. He thanked the people for the present and the nice evening’s entertainment. Personally, he would prefer to have gone as a conscript, knowing that everyone eligible would be doing his share.

The brothers had their initial medical in Yarram and then completed their enlistments in Melbourne. They both enlisted on 17/3/16 and they both joined as reinforcements for 59 Battalion. Alfred was 22 yo and Arthur 24 yo. Both were single and their religion was given as Church of England.

Arthur Jones survived the War but he was badly wounded in March 1917 – shrapnel wounds to both legs – and was repatriated to Australia and given a medical discharge in April 1918. After the war he became a soldier settler in the local area.

The 2 brothers embarked for England at the start of August 1916. They joined 59 Battalion in France in early December.

Private Alfred Jones was hospitalised with mumps just before Christmas 1916 and did not rejoin his battalion until mid February 1917. Then on March 3 he was wounded – gunshot wound left elbow – and repatriated to hospital in England. As indicated, his brother was also wounded round this time (20/3/17) and also transferred to England. The 2 brothers were charged with being absent without leave for 1 day in July 1917 when they were recovering in hospital. Each received the fairly severe punishment of 8 days field punishment No. 2 as well as losing 11 days pay. As indicated, after this Arthur was repatriated to Australia while his brother went back to the front.

Private Alfred Jones rejoined 59 Battalion in August 1917 (26/8/17). Exactly one week later, he was killed in the battle of Polygon Wood (26/9/17).

It appears that the family was advised of the death in late October. The cable was dated 25/10/17. The formal report of death was dated 7/11/17. Correspondence from a member of the family shows that the father had died in May 1917, 4 months before his son was killed.

There is no record of any burial or grave and Private Jones’ name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial. Nor was there a Red Cross report completed on his death. There was not even any kit returned to the family. A letter from Base Records in March 1921 acknowledged that …no personal effects of any description have been received here in connection with the late No. 2198 Private A. Jones 59th Battalion. It went on to point out that given the length of time already elapsed … it is considered improbable that any of his personal belongings were recovered at the time of the casualty.

As already indicated, the particulars for the (National) Honour Roll were not completed. There is also a declaration from Private Jones dated 19/9/17 – just a week before he was killed – that he did not desire to make a will. It was as if fate conspired to leave hardly any trace of Private Alfred Jones.

The war diary for 55 Battalion gives some indication of the events surrounding his death. Prior to the battle there had been training to rehearse the attack at Polygon Wood. 59 Battalion launched its attack 3 minutes after the barrage started at 5.50AM on 26 September and quickly captured its first objective; but its flank was exposed and there was specific criticism of the effort and effectiveness of the British troops in the adjoining sector. There were numerous German counter attacks throughout the day that were repelled. The following day there was a heavy German bombardment:

The whole of this day [27/9/17] we endured the heaviest of shell fire which hardly ceased all day. The enemy had excellent observation by balloon. It was remarkable that the casualties were not more than they were. I think it was because the men were distributed in irregular shell hole positions. They showed wonderful endurance; I did not see a man stir.

The battalion was relieved on the night of 27 September. Casualties were very high. For just 2 days of fighting the battalion suffered 268 casualties. The diary gave a more detailed breakdown: 48 killed, 203 wounded and 17 missing. The diary also gave the battalions strength prior to the battle – 22 officers and 694 other ranks – and calculated a casualty rate of 37.4%. Basically, over just 2 days, the battalion lost one third of its fighting strength.

Private Alfred Jones’ name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. The 2 brothers’ names are also recorded on the Madalya School and District honor roll.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for JONES Alfred 2198
Roll of Honour: Alfred Jones
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alfred Jones


John Douglas ROBERTSON (7244)
14 FCE KiA 26/9/17

John Douglas Robertson was born in Glasgow, Scotland. It is not clear when he came to Australia. On his enlistment forms he recorded that he was a widower – again, it is not known when or where, he married – and that both his parents were dead. He gave as his next-of-kin a sister – Mrs Grace Hanley – who was living in Scotland. This sister completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour and noted that her brother had moved to Australia when he was 32 yo.

On the same form, the sister was obviously not sure about her brother’s location in Victoria as she gave ‘Melbourne, Gippsland’ as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. In fact, there is no doubt that John Robertson was living and working at Mullundung. His name appears on the local (Yarram) 1915 electoral roll as a carpenter of Mullundung. On his enlistment papers he described himself as a carpenter working for the Goodwood Sawmill Company, Port Albert.

He was obviously well known in the local area and received, in absentia, the Shire of Alberton medallion. In fact, on 3/3/16 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published a short piece acknowledging his gratitude for receiving the medallion:

Sapper J. D Robertson, writing to Mr. G. F. Sauer from Egypt, says: – I received the shire medal and card alright, and I must thank you and the shire people for the kindness. I am very proud of them both. I only hope I will be able to show you the medal if I come back from the front, as I expect to be sailing in a fortnight’s time. Give the Alberton shire people my best thanks.

John Robertson’s name appears on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. However, his death on active service is not acknowledged on this roll and nor is his name included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It is hard to believe that word of his death never made it back to Gippsland but, at the same time, because the sister in Scotland was the next-of-kin, news of the death and other formalities – e.g., return of personal kit – would have been directed to her rather than anyone back in Australia. In his file there is latter from someone in Australia enquiring after him, in June 1918. However, the person – Mrs M Campbell – who stated that she had not heard from him for 12 months was in NSW. She was then informed of his death but, again, people in Gippsland could have remained in the dark and assumed that, like many others, John Robertson was given his discharge from the AIF in the UK and did not return to Australia.

Sapper John Robertson enlisted in Melbourne on 29/12/15. He had been rejected earlier. His name appeared on the list, compiled in July 1915, of those rejected by the local doctors at Yarram. He was 34 yo when he enlisted and he gave his religion as Presbyterian.

He enlisted as reinforcements for 5 Field Company Engineers and left for overseas from Melbourne in late March 1916. His unit proceeded to France in August 1916 and he was taken on strength for 14 Field Company Engineers on 1/9/16. He was hospitalised for about one week in December the same year.

Initially he was reported as wounded in action on 26/9/17. On 2/11/17 this was changed to ‘wounded and missing’ and then on 5/11/17 it was changed to ‘killed in action’ on 26/9/17. The body was never recovered and Sapper Robertson’s name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial.

There is a detailed Red Cross report and, allowing for the usual inconsistencies, it appears that he was caught in an artillery barrage when the engineers were digging strong points as part of the infantry advance towards Polygon Wood very early on the morning of 26/9/17. Witnesses saw him fall – they were unsure if he was dead or wounded – but he was left lying in a shell hole as the advance continued. Later that day they tried to locate him but there was no trace. A couple of the witnesses, from his unit, thought that he came from, and had enlisted in, Sydney. Probably he had spent some time working in Sydney before he moved to Gippsland.

The war diary for 14 Field Company Engineers does not provide much detail for 26/9/17 but it does state that one of the strong points it was tasked to set up was only … partially dug but not garrisoned, a failure owing to swampy ground and heavy casualties.

The following witness statement gives some idea of the intensity of artillery fire on the battle field. Essentially it suggests that Sapper Robertson, either dead or wounded and lying in a shell hole, left behind when his unit continued its advance, was buried not by human hand but by the shell fire itself:

He was badly wounded in the head [others claimed it was the stomach], about 6 o’clock on Wednesday morning 26.9.17, whilst going through Glencorse Wood. He was left there whilst the remainder of No. 3 Section went on. At 10 o’clock, 4 hours later, I passed over the ground, but could not find any trace of him. Enquiries were made at the dressing station near by, but he had not passed through. No. 3 Section officer and some sappers made a thorough search next morning, but could not trace him. It is probable that he was buried by the heavy shell fire at the time of being wounded.
Sapper R H Mitchell 2614 (No. 3 section,14 FCE)

As indicated, the sister, as next-of-kin, was advised on 12/10/17 that her brother had been wounded. The on 29/11/17 this was changed to ‘wounded and missing’. Finally, the cable advising of the death was sent on 8/12/17.

It appears that personal kit was returned to the sister in Bathgate, Scotland in April 1918 but there is no list in the file of the actual items. On 4/6/17, Sapper Robertson 7244 had formally advised the Estates Branch of the AIF that he had ’no desire to make a will’. There is no record of any pension being issued to anyone – e.g. dependent children – in his name. Sapper Robertson was yet another member of the AIF who in so many ways ‘disappeared’ in the intense fighting near Ypres in September 1917.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for ROBERTSON John Douglas 7244
Roll of Honour: John Douglas Robertson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Douglas Robertson
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: John Douglas Robertson


131. E J Appleyard

Edgar John APPLEYARD (609)
8 LHR   DoW 3/8/1917

Edgar John Appleyard was born in Alberton in 1888 and grew up in the district. He attended the Alberton State School. He was a cousin of the six Appleyard brothers, also from Alberton, who enlisted. Two of these cousins (Gordon William Appleyard and Charles Courtney Appleyard) like Edgar, died on active service. Edgar Appleyard had 2 brothers, one of whom – Frank Appleyard – also enlisted, and survived the War.

Edgar Appleyard’s father – Arthur Horatio “Crib” Appleyard – had been the Shire Engineer for the Shire of Alberton. He had died in 1898. The mother – Mary Ann Appleyard – was listed as next-of-kin on the enlistment forms. When her son enlisted her address was given as Alberton but she changed address several times from that point and, at the time of his death, she was living at Windsor in Melbourne.

Edgar was nearly 24 yo when he enlisted and he gave his occupation as ‘labourer’. The father had held land in the local area but there is no indication that, after the father’s death, the wife or sons held land and were farming. Presumably, Edgar was working on other local properties as a farm labourer.

He enlisted in Melbourne, early in the War, on 20/10/14. He was single and he gave his religion as Church of England. It appears he nearly failed the medical because of poor teeth. He was taken on in the newly formed 8 Light Horse Regiment.

His unit left for Egypt in February 1915 and was involved in the fighting at Gallipoli from mid May. 8 LHR was involved in the disastrous attack on the Nek on 7 August 1915. At the end of October Trooper Appleyard was hospitalised for a week. He was returned to duty but after only a few days was hospitalised gain. This time he was taken off the peninsula, transported to Alexandria and admitted to hospital in Heliopolis with ‘debility’. By the time he rejoined the unit in mid December the Gallipoli campaign was effectively over.

On 19 April 1917, 2 years after arriving in the Middle East, Trooper Appleyard was wounded in action. The wounds were serious and he subsequently died of them in early August (3/8/17).
The action in which Trooper Appleyard was wounded was the second unsuccessful attack on Gaza. The war diary of the 8 LHR recorded 6 killed and 67 wounded in the action on that day (19/4/17). The diary also made a point of explaining how the use of two armoured cars in the operation increased the number of casualties. The 2 armoured cars were driven to an advanced position in the Australian lines and, not surprisingly, drew intense enemy fire thereby increasing the number of casualties. The diary was dismissive of the overall value of the armoured cars, both of which were easily put out of action by the enemy, but not before one of them had run over and seriously injured an Australian trooper.

There is an additional reference in the diary that might be highly relevant to trooper Appleyard’s fate. Essentially, the diary notes that the regiment was at that time using the new ‘H. K. Auto Rifles’ – Hotchkiss M1909 – and while this light machine gun had proved ‘invaluable’ it had also been responsible for deaths and injuries amongst the Australians themselves. Poor training in its use had meant that in some cases it was being fired from the shoulder, with deadly consequences for those nearby. There is the possibility that Trooper Appleyard, whose wound was described as a gunshot wound to the back, was in fact the victim of ‘friendly fire’.

Trooper Appleyard was transferred to hospital in Cairo via various casualty posts. He reached there on 24/4/17, 5 days after he had been wounded. It appears that his mother back in Australia learnt of his serious injury by cable on the 26 April. He was described as ‘dangerously ill’. He lived for more than 3 months and over this period there were at least 10 further cables back to Australia to advise that he remained on the ‘dangerously ill list’. There was one cable early on (5/5/17) that advised that he was ‘out of danger’ but this was definitely the exception. The following letter makes it clear that from the start there was no chance of survival. It was written in September 1917 by the Registrar of the hospital in which Trooper Appleyard was nursed and died (14 Australian General Hospital, Cairo). It was written in response to a Red Cross appeal for information on Trooper Appleyard’s death and, presumably, the contents, in some form or other, would have been forwarded to the mother.

I have to state that this soldier [Trooper E J Appleyard, 609] was wounded on the 19th April at Gaza by a rifle bullet which entered the spine and injured the spinal cord, causing complete paralysis of the lower limbs immediately.

He was admitted to this hospital on the 24th April in a paralysed condition and his general condition was naturally serious from the start. The damage to his spinal cord was irreparable, and there was never any prospect of his recovering or of his being sufficiently strong to travel to Australia on a hospital transport.

He lived until the 3rd of August growing progressively weaker all the time. During these months he was always cheerful, was a great reader and wrote a large number of letters. He was entirely free from pain and never made any complaint, and his death was a gradual and very easy one….

Trooper Appleyard’s file contains extensive medical notes, including a post mortem report, which make for graphic reading. In a sense, this material is the medically objective – and far more confronting – version of the letter written by the Registrar, who was presumably trying to give some sort of comfort and our modern day sense of ‘closure’ to the family. The post mortem gives as the cause of death … GS wound of spinal cord – myelitis and Septic cystitis & extensive bed sores. The bed sores were described as … large deep excavating bed sores on buttocks extending to the sacrum. There were similar lesions on the heels. The medical notes reveal the ongoing, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to control infection in the bladder. They also indicate that the patient was being treated on a water bed.

The mother was advised by cable within two days of her son’s death. His funeral service was conducted by Chaplain Captain E Warren Tompkins and he was buried in the British Military Cemetery, Cairo. Uncharacteristically, there is no record of any personal kit being returned to the mother.

Death notices appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 15/8/17:

APPLEYARD – Died of wounds 3rd August, at 14th A.G. Hospital, Cairo, Gunner Edgar John, fourth son of the late Arthur H. Appleyard, of Alberton, South Gippsland, and dearly loved brother of Alice, Annie, Harriet, Fred, Frank (on active service), and Muriel, aged 28 1/2 years.

A call to duty, ’twas nobly done,
In doing his duty a crown he won:
No fear for self, in trying to save
The lives of others his life he gave.
For him, our gallant hero,
We breathe a silent prayer:
We love and honour his noble name,
We know he is in God’s care.

APPLEYARD. – Died of wounds on 3rd Aug. at 14th A. G. Hospital, Cairo, Gunner Edgar John, 4th son of the late Arthur H. (formerly shire engineer) and Mary Ann Appleyard, of Alberton, Sth. Gippsland, and brother of Alice, Annie, Harriet, Fred, Frank (on active service) and Muriel, aged 28 1/2 years.

Though Thou hast called me to resign
What most I prized, it ne’er was
I have but yielded what was Thine:
Thy will be done.

Ironically, these notices of his death appeared just 2 weeks after the local paper had encouraged locals to write to Trooper Appleyard in hospital in Egypt. The mother by this point was living in Melbourne and it appears that it had taken time before people in the district knew that he had been wounded and that his condition was so serious. The information appeared in a short article on 1/8/17, just 2 days before he died and, obviously, far too late for his benefit:

Mrs. Appleyard, Windsor, has received word from the Australian Red Cross Information bureau that her son, Private Edgar Appleyard, of the 8th Light Horse, is in the 14th Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis. His legs are paralysed and his condition is regarded as dangerous. Those of his friends in this district who would like to write to him, should address letters No. 609, Private E. Appleyard, !4th Australian General Hospital, Heliopolis, c/o Officer Commanding Australian Section Base, Cairo, Egypt.

On 7/9/17 the local paper published another article on the death of Trooper Appleyard. It is worth reproducing in full because it shows the incredible paths that information on serving soldiers could take to reach the family back in Australia. The episode also shows the power of the local paper to present the narrative of the War, at the immediate level of individual soldiers, including those who as locals had until recently lived among them. The lessons from this particular section of the narrative are all about kindness, compassion and courage:

Tribute To A Brave Soldier
Mrs M. A. Appleyard, Windsor, has received the following letter from Private T. P. Payne, Melbourne, referring to the death of her son: –
Dear Mrs. Appleyard. – You will please pardon me intruding upon you at this time, but you will understand my reasons when I tell you that it is my great admiration for a gallant gentleman and sympathy for his loved ones that impels me to write you. By the last mail from Egypt I received a letter from my brother who is attached to the staff of the 14th A.G.H. In it he states: “I am now engaged in attending a very serious case. It is a laddie named Appleyard, who comes from Albertan, near the Lakes. He was wounded on 19th April at Gaza, and since that time has been partially paralysed from hips down. The injuries are most serious, and it takes us an hour each day to dress them. “Appy” is the gamest boy I have ever seen, and although his case is helpless he is always laughing and joking whilst we are dressing him; never a word of complaint escapes his lips. Just as I am writing (2.15 a.m.) he is sitting up in bed as happy as can be puffing a cigarette. His chief thought is of his home.” I might tell you my brother was very fond of him, and I’m sure nothing that his mind could suggest would be omitted to comfort and cheer your boy. Jim used to go to Cairo every chance to get sweets, etc for him. In another letter he described the bed upon which your lad was, and it will surely interest and somewhat console you to know that all that science and goodness could produce was at his disposal. Jim says: “In bad cases water beds are used – that is an india-rubber mattress is filled with water; his hips are on an air cushion, and he is packed up up in the most convenient way with pillows.” It is indeed a very sad duty to write you in this way, but I felt it would be somewhat of a comfort to hear from a stranger of the wonderful courage of your son. I do trust that you are bearing your sorrow with a spirit as brave as that of your boy. I am sure that you all are, and you in particular. If you should care to correspond with to my brother I am enclosing his address, and I am sure he will be as happy to serve you as he was proud to assist your gallant soldier son. Once again I ask your pardon for intruding myself.

Trooper Appleyard’s name is included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in the main street of Yarram. His name is also included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, but, inexplicably, the entry does not mark his death on active service.

Trooper Edgar John Appleyard, courtesy Yarram and District Historical Society.


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 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for APPLEYARD Edgar John 609
Roll of Honour: Edgar John Appleyard
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Edgar John Appleyard
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Edgar John Appleyard