LOWTHER Frank William 156
(42 B) 41 B Died of Illness 24/11/18
Frank William Lowther enlisted in Queensland but both he and his large family had strong links with the Shire of Alberton. His father – Thomas Cormac Lowther – had been the head teacher at the state school at Yarram prior to 1878. The father also had land in the Devon district. Frank himself was born at Woodside in 1882, grew up in the district and attended the state schools at Devon North and Yarram. While it appears that there were initially 12 siblings in the family, three had died by the time of the War.
There was an older brother – Louis Anthony Lowther – who also enlisted in Queensland and who had also attended the same local schools. Both these brothers were also listed on the Devon North District honor roll and the Presbyterian Charge.
The father died in 1883 just one year after Frank was born and it appears that the family farm was sold in 1899. It is not known when 3 of the Lowther brothers – Frank William, Louis Anthony and Clare Cormac – moved to Queensland but the fact that the names of the 2 brothers who enlisted appear on the Devon and local Presbyterian honor rolls suggest that it was probably not until about 1910. Some of the female siblings married in the local area. The second eldest child – Eleanor Ann Lowther, born 1862 – married a local (Lowe) and was living at Woranga during the War. Additionally, another married sister – Kate Clara Lowther (Martin), born 1879 – was also still living in Yarram, as was another unmarried sister, Blanche Lowther, born 1876. Overall, the Lowther family was certainly well known in the district.
Frank Lowther enlisted in Toowoomba on 25/11/15. He joined 42 Battalion. He was 33 yo, single and he gave his religion as Presbyterian. His brother, Clare Cormac Lowther, was listed as his next-of-kin. This brother, older than Frank, was farming at Jandowae near Chinchilla in Queensland and it appears that Frank was living and working with him. The other brother who enlisted – Louis Anthony Lowther – was also farming in the same area prior to his enlistment. He returned to Queensland, at least initially, after the War. There is a note on the form completed for the (National) Roll of Honour – completed by Clare Cormac Lowther – that Frank was … working with his brother [Clare Cormac], but later took up photography. The same form also reveals that Frank was an accomplished musician who had played with the North Devon Brass Band – at least until 1905 – and won competitions. It noted that he had had ‘good’ musical training and he … excelled on cornet and saxophone. Then, when he enlisted, he was … one of the members of the original Band of the 42 Battalion continuing so till his death.
There is not much information in Private Frank Lowther’s service file on his war-time experience. He left Australia in early June 1916, reached the UK in late July 1916 and moved to France in January 1917. According to the war diary of 42 Battalion, on 23/10/18, the battalion – 42 Battalion – merged with or was ‘taken on the strength of’ 41 Battalion. This was at the time of the ‘mutiny’ when several battalions refused to disband as part of the re-organisation or ‘cannibalisation’ forced on the AIF. Private Lowther was never in trouble with the military authorities, nor was he ever wounded and, until the very end at least, he was never even admitted to hospital.
The same war diary (31/10/18) also noted that just before the Armistice the health of the men was generally good but it also cautioned that … the greatest care was, and still is being exercised, to prevent “Spanish Influenza” which has made its appearance, from assuming alarming proportions. On 18/11/18 the diary recorded that the men were ‘inoculated this morning’. There was also a passing reference on 29/11/18 – Influenza proving troublesome.
Private Lowther was one of those for whom ‘Spanish Influenza’ was ‘troublesome’. He was admitted to the hospital at Abbeville (3 Australian General Hospital) suffering from ‘influenza’ on 17/11/18, was described as ‘dangerously ill’ on 22/11/18 and died of ‘Bronchial Pneumonia’ on 24/11/18. Interestingly, in his file there is a Red Cross report which lists 3 other men who died in the Abbeville Hospital round the same time from ‘Spanish Flu’. The earliest was 28/10/18 and the last 17/12/18. In all 4 cases the patient was admitted with ‘influenza’ but then, within 5-8 days, died from ‘broncho-pneumonia’. In addition to these 4 deaths, other records in Private Lowther’s service file – from Graves Registration Unit – indicate that at least another 3 men from the Abbeville Hospital (3AGH) died from ‘broncho-pneumonia’, following ‘influenza’, in November 1918.
Private Lowther was buried in the Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension. It appears that the family in Australia was advised of the death in early December 1918 (3-5/12/18). The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported his death on 13/12/18, noting that … Private Frank Lowther, formerly of this district, has lost his life in the service of his country. A death notice appeared on 18/12/18:
LOWTHER.- On November 24th of bronchial pneumonia, Private Frank William Lowther, No. 156, C Coy., 42nd Battalion, bandsman, A.I.F., youngest son of the late Thomas Cormac Lowther, and dearly loved brother of Mrs. Wm. Jas. Lowe, Woranga, and C. C. Lowther, Jandowae, Queensland. Age 36 years and 11 1/2 months.
He patiently stayed until victory was won,
Then he laid aside bugle and sword;
Good fight he had fought, life’s race he’d well run,
Now he rests in the arms of his Lord.
Sleep on beloved, sleep and take thy rest
Till the day break and the shadows flee
and an in memoriam appeared on 20/12/18:
On Active Service.
LOWTHER.- On the 24th of November, 1918, Frank Lowther, who died of pneumonia after two years and five months’ active service, loved brother of Messrs. O. T. Lowther, C. C. Lowther, Pte. L. A. J. Lowther, Mrs. W. J. Lowe, Mrs. C. M. Goodaye, Misses R. E. Lowther and B. Lowther, and Mrs. K. C. Martin, all of whom equally mourn their loss.
Beloved by all.
Beyond the shadows and the strife.
Inserted by his loving and sorrowing sister, K. C. Martin
The brother identified as next-of-kin (Clare Lowther in Queensland) received personal kit – Wallet, Y.M.C.A. Wallet, 3 Razors, Safety Razor, Devotional Book, Letters, Cards, Pocket Knife, Coins Value 50 cent. – in August 1919. Another brother, Oswald Thomas Lowther, the oldest male sibling – was sent an ‘identity disc’ nearly one year later, in June 1920. Oswald, again as the oldest surviving son in the family, also received the war medals.
This oldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – who was 51 yo at the time of his youngest brother’s death, was a prolific correspondent with the AIF’s Base Records in Melbourne. Even though he was not the designated next-of-kin, he effectively took on this role; and, in time, this pursuit of his came to create significant family conflict. As an example of his propensity to assume the role of ‘head-of-family’, in February 1919 he wrote to Base Records indicating that he wished to open proceedings to have his brother’s body returned to Australia. He wrote of some promise to his mother on her death bed:
He is my youngest Brother & my Dear Mother on her death-bed made a special request to me, so that if possible, I would like him to be buried in his mother’s grave.
The request is extraordinary and, in fact, in the approximately 140 cases of AIF members killed overseas which I have examined, it is the only such request I have come across. It is hard to believe that it was ever a serious request. In any case, the AIF gave a judicious reply (20/2/19):
Concerning the request that the body of your brother, the late No 156, Private F.W. Lowther, 41st Battalion, be returned to Melbourne I have to inform you that from information received by the Honourable the Minister for Defence it is gathered that the Imperial War Graves Commission have formed the opinion that this will not be practicable. A realisation of the natural feelings of relatives in a matter of such an intimate character increases the difficulty of laying down a rule of a strictly definite character but the Minister trusts that all concerned will be content to accept the principle, a departure from which , the Commission fears, would lead to undesirable discriminations in the treatment of questions of this kind. It is hoped therefore, that you will not press your wishes in this matter but will be satisfied to leave your brother with the comrades buried with him in the Field.
With regard to Private Frank Lowther’s personal property a significant injustice appears to have occurred. When Private Lowther was admitted to hospital in Abbeville he took with him, as his own personal property, his cornet and saxophone. However, neither of these was ever returned to the family. The brother in the AIF – Sgt. Louis Lowther – began to pursue the matter in June 1919. He had been alerted by the brother back in Queensland that neither instrument had been returned and, obviously, both brothers were keen to recover these treasured items. It appears that first the AIF and then the Red Cross were contacted to help resolve the issue. However, despite various reassurances and attempts to locate the items there is no record of them ever being returned. The family was told that the items should have been returned to 42 Battalion but, unfortunately, the battalion had now been ‘demobilised’ and it was therefore … difficult to get any information on (the) subject. Also, The 3rd Australian General Hospital, Abbeville, France, where the late soldier died has now been disbanded thus enhancing the futility of further enquiries at this end. Similarly, the AIF Kit Store in London had no information and, moreover, did not know … of any other source from which information may be obtained regarding same. The official reply (22/8/19) therefore was that … enquiries have been made in every direction without success. At the end of the day, 2 valuable musical instruments which Private Lowther had had with him, probably from his time with the Devon North District Band, and then all through the War years, were most likely taken by someone at the hospital after he died. The 2 items that arguably most identified his life and which meant so much to his family were lost.
Private Lowther’s service file reveals another example of how family conflict could break out over the memory of the dead sibling. After Frank’s death, there were 8 siblings still alive. Some were still living in the Shire of Alberton but others had shifted – for example, to Melbourne – and, as indicated, prior to the War three brothers had earlier moved to Queensland. So, overall, it was still a large family and the siblings were separated by significant distances. However neither of these difficulties was the main problem.
In the AIF, Private Frank Lowther had nominated as his next-of-kin one of his older brothers – Clare Cormac Lowther – but, as already pointed out, the oldest surviving brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – appeared keen to establish himself as the family head. Moreover, under the legislation covering the distribution of medals, in the case where both parents were deceased, it was the oldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – who had the first claim. However, as things turned out, the conflict that did arise was not over the distribution of medals – although some of the female siblings did take great exception to what they regarded as discrimination on the basis of their sex – but, rather, over the wording of the inscription on the grave stone.
As the next-of-kin, Clare Cormac Lowther was given the task of organising the inscription for the grave stone. He was sent the official form in February 1920. However, at the same time as he was asked to provide an inscription, the eldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – initiated contact with Base Records enquiring about how he could create his own inscription. From this point, there was family division, or more correctly, based on all the correspondence in the service file, the issue of the inscription appeared to focus all the family division that had been there, probably from the time of the father’s death (1883) and certainly from that of the mother (1900).
Essentially, the family split into two camps: 6 siblings supported Clare Lowther, while Oswald Lowther was supported by one sister. Those who supported Clare Lowther wrote, in extensive correspondence to the AIF, that he was the sibling who had done the most for Frank, right from when he was born and that he was the one who always had had his interests at heart.
As far as the AIF was concerned, it obviously did not want to get involved in family disputes. Its position was that it would accept whatever the family decided, so long as it conformed to the requirement of 66 characters, including spaces. The AIF presumed that the siblings could and would come to an agreement.
At this point there were 2 basic proposals: one from Clare Lowther representing the 6 siblings which read:
In memory of Frank, dearly loved son of Thomas & Margaret Lowther, Yarram, Victoria
and another from Oswald Lowther and his sister (Caroline Gooday) which read:
[Revelation 14.13: Then I heard a voice from Heaven say to me, ‘Write down: Happy are those who die in the Lord! Happy indeed, the Spirit says; now they can rest for ever after their work, since their good deeds go with them’]
It is not clear if Oswald Lowther saw his inscription as an addition or alternative to the one backed by the majority of his siblings. He argued that he had not been consulted over the original inscription.
The AIF then wrote to Clare Lowther (1/12/20) and advised him of his brother’s request. They requested that he re-write the inscription, incorporating the additional request, still ensuring that the 66 character limit was observed. They also wrote to Oswald Lowther (2/12/20) advising him of what they had done.
This request prompted a series of letters from the 6 siblings stating that they disapproved strongly of the eldest brother’s actions. They expressed embarrassment at his actions; re-affirmed their belief that the only sibling who had the moral right to represent Frank’s interests was his brother Clare; were angry that this brother’s selfless actions had been challenged; were outraged that, as proposed, only 2 of the siblings’ names would appear in the inscription; and even made allegations about the past conduct of Oliver Lowther and how he had damaged the family’s name. In defending his original proposal, Clare Lowther wrote to the AIF (23/12/20):
Regarding the two members of the family (C. Goody & O. Lowther) I will say nothing except that they have adopted a hostile attitude toward me since my brother died.
The AIF must have realised that majority support obviously rested with the original inscription and that there was definitely no such support for any additional comment. Consequently it edited the inscription to read:
In memory of the dearly loved son of T. & M. Lowther, Yarram, Victoria.
It then forwarded (1/3/21) the inscription to the Imperial War Graves Commission in London.
Oswald Lowther wrote (28/2/21) wanting to know if anything had happened regarding his proposed change to the inscription. He was informed by the AIF on 9/3/21 that the final inscription was:
In memory of the dearly loved son of T. & M. Lowther, Yarram, Victoria.
However, the matter did not rest there. When Oswald Lowther found out about the final inscription (9/3/21) he immediately wrote back to the AIF requesting the following change – that ‘Yarram’ be removed and replaced by ‘Rev. 14,13’ which he indicated was a … favourite text of my Dear Mother’s. He added that the same text had been used at the funeral service of another brother who had died as an … Elder in the Kirk. He followed this request up with another in May 1921. However, in relation to this latest proposed change to the inscription, he also made representation directly to the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) in London. Presumably, he did so in what he saw as his capacity, or right, as the oldest male sibling and therefore the head of the family. It is also possible that he sought the intervention of the Minister of Defence (G Pearce). This time his representation was successful and the IWGC advised the AIF back in Melbourne that the wording had been changed in line with Oswald Lowther’s advice.
When the AIF discovered that the wording had been changed it wrote (10/8/21) to Clare Lowther – now working as an auctioneer at Hamilton, back in Victoria – explaining that without their knowledge his brother had communicated directly with the IWGC and that the inscription had been changed. The AIF pointed out that time was short but it still hoped that the family could come to an agreed position. Essentially, the AIF wanted the family to accept the change. Presumably, it did not see any significant problem with the change: a country town in Victoria had simply been replaced with a reference to a well-known scripture text.
It is to be regretted that your brother should have acted thus contrary to the expressed wishes of the surviving relatives but it is hoped that even at this juncture to obtain some degree of unanimity respecting the acceptance of the inscription in the revised form.
Clare Lowther replied immediately (15/8/21). He described his brother’s action as ‘contemptible’. He stated that he would inform his siblings about what had happened. He strongly rejected the change:
It was the particular wish [of the siblings] that the name of the town in which he [Frank] lived and was well and widely known should be inscribed on the headstone. My late brother’s parents were resident for a considerable number of years in this same town where their memory is cherished.
By this point there were urgent time constraints. Also, presumably, the AIF had had enough of being caught in the middle of family politics. It wrote back to Clare Lowther (24/8/21) pointing that there was no time for another round of family consultation and that the only option left for him was to write directly to the IWGC … with a view to obtaining, if possible, a reversal of their present decision.
While this was the course of action that Clare Lowther followed, it did not prevent the AIF receiving extensive correspondence from the siblings, in response to Clare Lowthers’ advice to them about what their brother had done. Such correspondence made it clear that they did not approve. Again, some attacked the integrity of their brother Oswald Lowther and, as a minimum, described his action as ‘underhand’. Others attacked the text itself and declared that it was … not worthy of a soldier’s honour. Others were outraged that the dispute had been revised by their brother and simply could not see why anyone would even object to the inscription as decided upon by the majority. As far as the inclusion of Yarram was concerned there were very strong feelings expressed, similar to Clare Lowther’s earlier comments. One sister wrote that Frank had been looking forward to returning to both Yarram and Devon when he returned home from the War. One of the sisters still living there, wrote of Yarram that it was … the town where he spent his childhood and boyhood and entered manhood and where he was and is loved and respected by all who knew him. She added that Yarram was … in the vicinity of the old house [the parents original house at Devon] where Frank had his most sacred and most cherished associations. There was consensus that Yarram had to stay in the inscription and that, in effect, nothing was to change.
On 3/9/21 Clare Lowther write to Base Records in Melbourne advising them that he had written to the IWGC informing them that it was the … unanimous wish of the majority of the members of the family that the name of Frank’s home town should be inscribed on his Memorial Stone.
That, presumably, was the end of the matter. The inscription on the grave stone today reads:
In Memory of the Dearly Loved Son of T. & M. Lowther
The preceding account illustrates how fraught the commemoration of those killed in the War could become. Possibly, in this particular case, the commemoration was compromised because of pre-existing divisions and tension within a large family, which meant that even the death of a loved sibling could not be an uncontested or neutral event. Clearly, those involved were embarrassed, ashamed and even outraged by what happened but, equally, they could not stop it.
The case also offers insight on the importance of place. Possibly, some at least of the siblings’ opposition to the plan to replace ‘Yarram’ with a reference to scripture was directed by anger at Oswald Lowther’s attempt to thwart the expressed wishes of the majority of siblings. However, equally, several of the siblings clearly articulated the need to tie the memory of their brother to a particular location, in this instance Yarram. They considered it was important to tie him, not to Queensland, where he had been living and working, but to the location to which his family ‘belonged’.
As we have seen throughout this blog, transience in Australia in late 19 C and early 20 C was a constant, across society as a whole. Yet for all the mobility, the need to identify with a particular location remained very powerful. Arguably, the dead of WW1 threw this fundamental need into much sharper focus. The need to place the names of the many dead on rolls and memorials – in cities, suburbs, country towns, settlements and even schools all across Australia – and literally make that connection to place, was overpowering; and even more so because the bodies were buried ‘overseas’ in the poetic corner of a ‘foreign field’.
However, the ‘rules’ for determining the specific location were vague and inconsistent and often local politics was the key driver. As well, after the War, there lapses in both effort and memory. Many of the dead missed out, as we have seen, repeatedly. Even in this particular case, despite all attempts to make the connection to Yarram, neither of the two Lowther brothers who served in the AIF were included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the name of Frank William Lowther who died on 24/11/18 is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
National Archives file for LOWTHER Frank William
Roll of Honour: Frank William Lowther
First World War Embarkation Roll: Frank William Lowther
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Frank William Lowther
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project