155. R H Hofen

HOFEN Robert Henry 363
23 B  DoI 18/3/18

Robert Hofen was born in Orbost. His mother and sister were living at Orbost at the time he enlisted and then right through to the end of the war and beyond.

At the time he enlisted – 19 February 1915 – Hofen was 33 yo and living at Woodside. His name appeared on the electoral roll (1915) as  ‘labourer’ of Woodside. His enlistment form recorded that he had been a member of the Woodside Rifle Club for 3 years and his name was mentioned in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 1/9/15 in a detailed account of a smoke social held at Woodside for the local rifle club. The event was held to issue club trophies – Hofen was listed as a recipient – and acknowledge those locals who had already left – he was acknowledged by name as one of this group – or who were about to leave for the front. His medical was in Yarram with Dr Rutter. His name even featured in a timely warning that was included in an editorial in the local paper on 24/3/15. It would have been about one week after he enlisted and headed off to Broadmeadows:

People who purchase bicycles on time payment should know better than dispose of them before the final payment is made. R. Hofen, of Woodside, recently sold his bicycle to Mr. Burris, and left for Broadmeadows. This particular bike had been supplied by Mr. I. Hetherington, local agent for the Canada and Cycle Co., on time payment, portion of which is due. A warrant has been issued on a charge of larceny as a bailee. Hofen will be brought to Yarram.

There is no further record on the matter so, presumably, Hofen settled it before any court proceeding.

Clearly, Robert Hofen was living and working in the Shire of Alberton at the time he enlisted, and he was well known. However, his name does not appear on either the Roll of Honor for the Shire of Alberton or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

At the time he enlisted, Hofen was single and he gave his mother – Mrs Kate Hofen – as his next-of-kin. In his will, dated 1/8/17, his mother was listed as the sole beneficiary. His religion was Church of England.

He joined the newly formed 23 Battalion and left Melbourne on 10/5/15. His record of service for the period that 23 Battalion was involved on Gallipoli is sketchy but there is a reference to him having dysentery in late August 1915, round the time the battalion moved to Gallipoli. There are references in his file to the effect that his next-of-kin, or some other member of his family, was eligible to receive the Gallipoli Medallion, which was awarded to those who had served at Gallipoli.

His service through 1916 is also sketchy. There is a reference to him attached to 6 Training Battalion in England in July 1916. There is also a record indicating that he was hospitalised for a month with mumps at the end of 1916. He then proceeded overseas to France in March 1917. He was with 23 Battalion at Bullecourt 2 and was wounded (3/5/17) – ‘GSW right wrist’ – in the fighting. He was hospitalised for one month and rejoined the battalion on 10/6/17. Then, at the end of 1917 (26/2/17), he transferred to 2 Divisional Salvage Company.

In February 1918 (9/2/18) Private Hofen was given leave and proceeded to England. Just over a week later (18/2/18), he married May Charlotte Sergent at the Register Office, Wandsworth London. She was 23 years old – he was then 36 – and she was from Tooting. Her occupation on the marriage papers was given as ‘printer’s assistant’.

Just two days after the wedding, Private Hofen was admitted to the Tooting Military Hospital, not far from his new wife’s family home where he was staying. His condition was identified as an abscess of the liver and he was operated on the next day (21/2/18) but his condition gradually deteriorated and he died without leaving hospital on 18/3/18. He died exactly one month after his wedding.

There are extensive medical notes in his file, including those from the post mortem. The preliminary notes made on his admission indicate that he ‘felt well’ when he left France on 9 February. However they also reveal that the trip across the Channel left him ‘wet through’ and that he had then endured a ‘cold ride’ to London. From the time of his arrival in London his condition obviously worsened and by the time of his marriage he was in a bad way. In fact, for at least 2 days before his marriage he had only been able to drink milk. By the time he was admitted to hospital (20/2/18), he was suffering from acute pain in his abdomen, was not eating and was subject to coughing fits and bouts of vomiting and could not lie on his left side because of the pain. The medical history also reports his claims that he was a ‘slight smoker’, had ‘never been drunk’ and was a ‘rare drinker’. It also noted the case of mumps followed by pleurisy some 14 months earlier, as well as the dysentery at Gallipoli, for which he had been hospitalised for 6 weeks.

There are accounts of his new wife, and her family, attending to the welfare of Private Hofen. One of them is contained in a detailed letter from Base Records, written in June 1918 to the mother in Orbost. Essentially, this was the letter to give details on both the funeral and the location of the grave.

With reference to the report of the regrettable loss of your son, the late No. 363 private R. H. Hofen, 2nd Divisional Salvage Corps, I am now in receipt of advice which shows that he died at Military Hospital, Tooting, England, on 18/3/18, of abscess on liver, and was buried on the following day at Brookwood Cemetery, Brookwood, consecrated ground, section – Australian Military Burial Ground, grave No. 180, 715, Chaplain Shannon officiating.

The following relatives were present at the funeral: – Mrs. Hofen (wife), Mr. & Mrs. J. D. Sargent (sic) (father & mother-in-law) Misses Rosalie and Jessie Sargent (sisters-in-law) and Miss F. E. Gough (friend), all residing at 19 Totterdown Street, Tooting.

The deceased soldier was accorded a Military Funeral. The coffin of good polished elm with brass fittings, was covered with the Australian Flag. Several beautiful wreaths were placed on the coffin by the relatives and Nursing Staff of the Military Hospital, Tooting. Band (Pipers), Firing Party, Bugler and Pallbearers under the command of Lieutenant Hennessey were supplied by the 2nd South African Regiment stationed at Brookwood.

There is also a letter written by Matron M A Maxwell of the Tooting Military Hospital. It was written in June 1918 to the Red Cross Society. It points to the wife’s close attention to her husband.

Concerning the illness and death of R. H Hofen who died on the 18th March last. He was taken ill when on leave and admitted to the hospital Feb 20th suffering from internal trouble which necessitated operation, it was then found he had an abscess of the liver and he also developed pneumonia. His condition was most serious from the commencement and although he rallied a little after the operation, his recovery was always regarded as doubtful. His wife who lived near here was with him constantly and she intended writing to his relatives in Australia all about it, most probably they will have heard from her by this time. He was buried in Brookwood Cemetery with Military Honours on March 23rd 1918.

In terms of the family back in Australia, Private Hofen’s mother – as next-of-kin – was informed that he had been hospitalised by letter at the end of February 1918 (28/2/18). In the letter his condition was described as ‘severe’. Then came the cable advising of his death. This was dated 18/3/18, the day of his death.

What is not clear from the file is whether the mother knew of the marriage before it occurred. Nor is there any indication as to whether the wife wrote to the mother following the death. Certainly, the mother knew about the marriage after her son’s death. In fact, the cable advising the mother of the death specifically indicated that his wife was aware of the death. Also, as already indicated, the detailed description of the funeral highlighted the presence of the wife and her family. But there is no way, from the file, of establishing whether the marriage would have come as a surprise to the family in Orbost.

Two pieces of correspondence in the file suggest that neither the mother nor sister had come to terms with the marriage, in the sense that they did not appear to appreciate its significance in terms of replacing them. The first letter was written to Base Records by the mother – Kate Hofen, Orbost – a couple of weeks after her son’s death. In the letter, she requested details of his will. Basically she wanted to know how he had left his money. The issue was not resolved, at least in terms of what is in the file. However, as pointed out earlier, the mother was the sole beneficiary in the will written up at the start of August 1917, suggesting that the marriage was only organised in the 6 or 7 months before his death.

The second letter was written by the sister – E. E. Hofen, Newmerella via Orbost – several years later (January 1923). In it she requested, presumably on behalf of her mother, the “Bronze Plaque” issued to Mothers of Deceased Soldiers and any other medals for which her brother was eligible.

The response from Base Records (20/1/23) to this second letter described the general situation in relation to memorabilia and medals following the marriage.

With reference to your enquiry making application for a Memorial Plaque in respect of the late No. 363 Private R. H. Hofen, 2nd Divisional Salvage Company, I have to inform you that only one is issued in connection with a deceased member of the A.I.F., and in this instance same was forwarded to the London office for disposal to the soldier’s widow, who is the actual next-of-kin. Similar action is being taken with regard to war medals issuable on account of the late soldier’s service.

However, to complicate matters further, there is another record in the file which suggests that the Gallipoli Medallion for Private Hofen was sent to the sister.

There is no record of any personal kit being returned, either to the widow or the mother but, presumably, whatever personal kit Private Hofen had with him in hospital was handed to the wife after the death.

There is at least a suggestion in all this of misgivings held by the mother and sister over the way their son and brother’s memories and affairs had been taken over by a wife of just a few weeks whom they had never even met.

The young widow had remarried by the time she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. She gave her name as Mrs May Charlotte Tibbles, late Hofen.

Robert Hofen passed very quickly from local memory. In May 1918, just 2 months after his death, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (17/5/18) featured a detailed report of a memorial service held in Yarram for all … those from the Alberton Shire who have fallen in the service of their country. The names of fifty men were read out but Private Hofen’s name was not included.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for HOFEN Robert Henry
Roll of Honour: Robert Henry Hofen
First World War Embarkation Roll: Robert Henry Hofen
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Robert Henry Hofen


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