Charles William Frederick Allum was convicted at Yarram on 20/9/17 of impersonating a returned soldier. He was ordered to enter into a good behaviour bond of £10 for 12 months and pay the court costs. The police magistrate on the day, Vivian Tanner, was lenient on him and pointed out that he could have been imprisoned for 6 months or fined £100. He was prosecuted for … falsely pretending to be a returned soldier, contrary to para. 45 B (2) of the War Precautions Regulations 1915, made in pursuance of the War Precautions Act, 1915-1916.
The case was reported in detail in the local paper, Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, on 21/9/17 and even appeared in The Age (24/9/17). The other source of evidence is the individual ‘Security and intelligence record’ [MP 16/1, 1917/807] from the National Archives of Australia.
At the time of his court appearance, Allum was reported to be only 18 yo. Incredibly, he had been passing himself off as a returned soldier since March 1917. Further, he claimed to have seen service both at Gallipoli and in France.
Allum was from Brunswick but for several months from March 1917 he worked at Yarram, at W C Growse’s store. The evidence presented in court detailed how he had told customers that he was a returned soldier who had been injured in France – shrapnel in his back – but who, after 10 months leave, was to return to camp. It was also claimed in court that he had received gifts from several young ladies in Yarram, on the strength that he was returning to camp. When he was arrested he had on him a letter, undated, which he had written, but not sent, to a Miss F Gibbs at Foster. The letter is barely coherent but he claimed to be in camp (Broadmeadows). The address he gave on the letter was his parents’ address at Brunswick.
As noted in an earlier post (Post 148) the first meeting of the local branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia took place in Yarram in late June 1917 (27/6/17). Allum was working in Yarram at the time and, in terms of the identity he had created for himself, he obviously felt the need to attend the first meeting. However the told those there that he would not join the association because he was heading back to camp. His attendance at his meeting was the beginning of his undoing because he came to the attention of 2 office bearers of the new association: E T Benson and W A Newland. Both these men took it upon themselves to interview him and they questioned him about his service record and the specific details of his regimental number and battalion. In evidence in court, both men stated that his answers were ‘wrong’, in that he gave the wrong colour patches for his unit and the embarkation details were also wrong.
The issue of timing is not clear but there is a report in the intelligence file that states that Allum attended one of the early meetings of the local branch of the RSSILA – the date given is 2/8/17 – at which he was accused by both Benson and Newland of not being a returned soldier. The report notes that he [Allum] … cleared out by early train next morning. Presumably, even though he had left the town, the men went ahead and reported him to the authorities.
The authorities caught up with him in late August (27/8/17) when he was working as a steward on a boat – SS Bulla – at Victoria Dock, Melbourne. When he was challenged, he freely admitted that he had presented himself as a returned soldier when he was in Yarram. He was taken into custody – Victoria Barracks – and eventually returned to Yarram for the court appearance on 20/9/17.
According to the report in the local paper, the authorities, in the person of W P Jones, Intelligence Officer, wanted the court to make an example of the young man:
Mr. Jones asked the P. M. [Police Magistrate, V Tanner] to deal with accused as would act as deterrent to others who may come to a far distant town and pose as returned men.
However, evidence presented in the court made it difficult for the magistrate to come down too hard on on the young offender. Representing the young man in the court was B P Johnson, local barrister. Johnson was – see previous posts – one of the most outspoken Imperial Loyalists of the community.
On behalf of his client, Johnson admitted the wrong doing but he claimed the offending was more the act of a ‘fool’, and that his client had become trapped in his own lies. Importantly, Johnson maintained that his client was … not like a lot of young men – cold footers and traitors. Rather, the young man … was a mere boy, of good parentage, and had tried to enlist seven or eight times, but was turned down owing to a weak chest. He at last succeeded, but his mother would not give her consent. He tried again, and was taken out of camp. He had three brothers at the war. This lad had been pestered so much about enlisting, and having tried so often, he foolishly said he was a returned soldier, and having told a lie stuck to it. He did not so act to get any benefit from it.
The young man then confirmed that he had tried to enlist before he was eighteen and then, when he finally was accepted, his parents would not give permission. He stated that he had a ‘chest complaint’ and that his mother was a chronic invalid. He claimed that the fiction about being a returned soldier came because he ‘was pestered to enlist’ by recruiting sergeants. Cross-examined by Jones, Allum admitted that he had received presents from 3 girls at the time he said he was leaving Yarram to go back to camp.
The lad’s father was also called as a witness and he confirmed that his wife was a ‘chronic invalid’. He added that her condition was the result of a railway accident and that his son had been in the same accident. The father stated that he was prepared to pay the court costs, about £ 3.
The other critical detail that helped the young man’s defence was the fact that during the Great Strike (Post 132) he was said to have worked on the Melbourne wharves as a volunteer ‘National worker’. This would have been after he fled Yarram. This display of patriotic support was specifically cited in the newspaper report as one of the reasons the magistrate was inclined to leniency. The other reasons given were the young age, the admission of guilt and the demonstrated attempt(s) to enlist.
As indicated, there was no fine or imprisonment. The father had to pay costs and there was a good behaviour bond for 12 months.
There are some aspects of this case that are baffling. Most times when young men tried to enlist but were unsuccessful there is some record of the attempt. Commonly, in the National Archives database, there will be a MT 1486/1 (1) with minimal details: name, age, address. Moreover, when a person did enlist and go into camp, but was then discharged – on medical grounds or there was a challenge by a parents on the issue of age – there is inevitably a formal record, as brief as it may be. Allum is not a common name and in fact there are only 13 records in the NA database for this name; and there is no record at all for Charles William Frederik Allum. Nor is there any record of any brothers serving in the AIF, at least under the name of Allum.
Lastly, in the intelligence file there is letter from the parents – Esther Ann Allum and Alex C Allum – giving their permission for their son – Charles William Allum – to join the AIF. It was dated 8/9/17. It must have been supplied after their son had been arrested and was waiting trial. But there is no record of Charles William Allum ever having been accepted in the AIF.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
National Archives file for ALLUM Charles William Frederick ‘Security and intelligence record’ [MP 16/1, 1917/807]
(1) This series consists of records for those individuals who applied to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, and were either rejected, discharged while still in training, or went on to serve within Australia only [usually as depot troops or camp guards]. The most common reason for rejection is on medical grounds.