Author Archives: pcashen

About pcashen

Retired South Australian high school teacher and social historian.

201. Railway warrants 1914-1918

The official designation of the list below, which I have referred to as the list of railway warrants, was:

Australian Imperial Force
List of Recruits who enlisted with the President of the Shire of Alberton
1914. 1915. 1916, 1917, 1918

The list was hand-written by the Shire Secretary (George C Black) who was delegated to issue the railway warrants for the men to travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process.

The list was obviously completed over the full course of the War. The last warrant or ‘pass’ (474) was dated 11/11/18. The list also includes additional notes: ‘killed’, ‘killed in action’, ‘re-enlisted’, ‘prisoner’ etc.

The original list is held by Yarram & District Historical Society.

In compiling the list, Secretary Black allocated numbers 1 – 474. Another 21 men whose names appear on the list, normally with the note ‘re-enlisted’ were not assigned a number. This gives an overall figure of 495 names on the list.  Again, many on the list (approx. 60 ) failed the medical in Melbourne. Also, many men enlisted in other regional centres or directly in Melbourne and therefore did not apply for railway warrant, or at least  a railway warrant from the Shire of Alberton.

For all the qualifications, the list is yet another example of a record where the names of those men who ‘answered the call’ – or at least tried to do so – were entered in a routine manner over the course of the War.

On the face of it, the list would have been a very valuable resource when it came to determining a complete reckoning at the end of the War of all those served in the AIF. As noted, in itself it was not a complete record but, obviously, it could have proved a very useful resource for any master list. However, it appears that it was not used. Such an omission seems odd because the person with responsibility for drawing up the WW1 honor roll for the Shire was the Secretary (G C Black) who also drew up this particular list of warrants issued. Whatever the explanation, the list below includes the names of 79 men who were issued with a railway warrant in Yarram, who then completed the enlistment process in Melbourne and went on to serve in the AIF, who are not included on the Roll of Honor for the Shire of Alberton. The characteristics of this group of omissions will be examined in more detail later but, essentially, the group takes in unskilled workers, young immigrant workers from the UK and itinerant workers. This group of 79 omissions again raises the issue of who was considered ‘local’.

 

Page 1 (numbers 1 – 26)

Page 2 (numbers 27 – 58)

Page 3 (numbers 59 – 89)

Page 4 (numbers 90 – 120)

Page 5 (numbers 121 – 152)

Page 6 (numbers 153 – 185)

Page 7 (numbers 186 – 217)

Page 8 (numbers 218 – 246)

Page 9 (numbers 247 – 276)

Page 10 (numbers 277 – 309)

Page 11 (numbers 310 – 240)

Page 12 (numbers 341 – 369)

Page 13 (numbers 370 – 401)

Page 14 (numbers 402 – 432)

Page 15 (numbers 433 – 461)

Page 16 (numbers ? – 474)

 

 

200. ‘Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors’

The list reproduced below was located in the archives of the (former) Shire of Alberton. The list is headed, ‘Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors’. There was no additional information to explain its genesis. However, the second page of the hand-written document suggests that it might have been prepared for the ‘Recruitment Unit’. We know that from 1916 recruiting parties involving AIF personnel converged on Yarram to run various recruiting drives. These outside initiatives were in addition to the efforts of the local Recruiting Committee.

As has been noted previously, there are indeed many names on this list who did succeed in enlisting, after one or more additional attempts, either in Yarram or in Melbourne. Moreover, the list only covers medical rejections in Yarram. Men were rejected in Melbourne and other regional towns where they tried to enlist. It is important to highlight such qualifications and note that it is not a comprehensive list of all those who had an association with the Shire of Alberton who were rejected on medical grounds.

There is also reason for believing that the list itself is not complete. In the archives there is a bundle of enlistment forms [File 703B] which includes men – approximately 8 – who failed the medical with the local doctors (Drs Horace Pern and John H Rutter) but whose names are not on the list.

Unfortunately, there is no date recorded to indicate when the list was compiled. However, it does appear to cover medical rejections to at least the start of 1918.  Consider number 126 (of 136) on the list, Gilbert Jones. Next to his entry is a note, ‘deferred by Dr Pern for 6 mns. 7/1/18’. At the time – January 1918 – Gilbert Jones was an 18 yo ‘labourer’ living and working at Jack River. Just over 6 months later he did in fact enlist (30/8/18) but it was in Hobart. It appears that he returned there to live with an aunt. When he enlisted he acknowledged that he had been rejected: ‘chest measurement’.  So it appears that the list does cover rejections through to at least January 1918.

A further qualification is that there are only 10 names after Gilbert Jones and yet we know from newspaper accounts that there were more than 10 men rejected at various recruiting functions in Yarram after January 1918. Moreover, the names of the men who were rejected on medical grounds at these various recruiting functions tend not to appear on this list. Presumably it was a peremptory medical, with the rejection just as speedy. It is also possible that the medicals at these special recruiting functions were conducted by medical staff attached to the visiting recruiting unit and the local doctors were not even involved.

Putting all these facts together it seems reasonable to suggest that the list below does cover the full course of the War. However, it does not cover every case of rejection for men who were examined by the local doctors in Yarram. It appears that at the various formal recruiting functions held in Yarram in 1918 – and earlier in 1917 and even 1916 –  a number of volunteers would answer the call and step forward, and then be failed – virtually on the spot – but their names were not added to this list.

All the preceding discussion points to the significant qualifications that attach to historical evidence. At the same time, it is worth noting the historical significance of the list.

Its existence shows how completely the experience of the War affected all aspects of life in the local community. In this case, the local doctors were acting as de facto recruiting agents. They were performing key roles in ensuring the supply of suitable recruits. They were hardly neutral and their ongoing work demonstrated their support of the local recruiting committee, and their own patriotism. Their local standing as key professionals in the community reinforced the general level of support for the War. Moreover, they had first hand knowledge of those who had tried to enlist but failed. They even compiled – or assisted in the compilation of – lists of these men. Such lists could be used to assist recruiters to focus more precisely on the ‘eligibles’. It is yet another example of the extent to which communities in WW1 were preoccupied with drawing up lists: of those who volunteered and served; of those who tried to enlist but were rejected; of those who applied for exemption; of those who needed to be targeted by the recruiting agents. Every male in the local community was on one of the lists. Everyone was judged by their level of support for the War.

 

Archives, Shire of Alberton

File: Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee Formed April 26th 1917.
Box 379

File 703B:  Recruiting & Enlisted men
Box 398

Accessed on 8/5/2013

 

199. The rejected

This post is an attempt to give an indication of the number of men who were ‘rejected’ in their attempt(s) to enlist in the AIF. The focus is on the Shire of Alberton. The 181 men are listed in the table below.

The overall focus of the research for this blog has been on the identification of all those men who had an association with the Shire of Alberton who did enlist in WW1. As already indicated the total number comes to 815. With this group of 815 there has been a comprehensive effort to identify all relevant characteristics, both of their background and their service in the AIF.

In the research there have been many cases where an individual was at first rejected on medical grounds but was then successful at a subsequent attempt. These men are included in the cohort of 815 because, ultimately, they did enlist and serve in the AIF. At the same time, there were men who, irrespective of the number of attempts they made – and in many instances there were multiple attempts – were never accepted for the AIF. This particular post focuses on such men and represents an attempt to give some indication of the number involved.

However, there are some significant problems associated with trying to research this particular group of ‘rejected’ men. The basic problem of course is that 100 years ago all efforts were devoted to identifying and commemorating those who enlisted and served, rather than those who were rejected. Moreover, while there are some records which I have been able to uncover and use they tend to be both indirect and incomplete. The records employed come from the process of enlisting men at the local level, and it is important to understand this process.

The process of enlistment for volunteers in country and regional areas has been covered in earlier posts. Briefly, in the early months of the War the process could effectively be completed at the local level. In the case of the Shire of Alberton, the locus of ‘local’ was restricted precisely to the town of Yarram. The local doctor(s) in Yarram examined the volunteers and passed them as medically fit. The individual volunteer took the oath and signed the attestation papers in Yarram. The Shire Secretary then issued a railway warrant for travel from Alberton to Melbourne so that the person could report to the AIF.

However, very early on, the AIF authorities came to doubt the ‘integrity’ of the medical examination at the local level and formed the opinion that local doctors, overly influenced by patriotic sentiment, were not as diligent as they needed to be. The AIF concern, not surprisingly, was that men with compromised health or below the set standards of the time, no matter how keen and patriotic, would inevitably end up being an unnecessary drain on resources and potentially undermine the War effort. This was particularly the case in the early months when there was no shortage of volunteers and the AIF could be selective. As already noted, when the local doctors in the Shire of Alberton found out that their medical judgement was being questioned by the AIF – along with all other country doctors – there was much outrage and even a refusal, for a time, to conduct the relevant medical examination. However, by 1915 the process effectively involved 2 medicals: the initial local one was followed by one in Melbourne itself; and the enlistment only proceeded if the second medical was satisfactory.

One of the pieces of evidence used to compile the table below is the list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary. The list of railway warrants is a hand-written record entitled Australian Imperial Force. List of Recruits who enlisted with the President of the Shire of Alberton. 1914.1915.1916.1917.1918. It was created and completed by the Shire Secretary (G W Black) and it recorded the name of the recruit and the ‘date of pass’ (railway warrant). Additionally, the Shire Secretary recorded occasional comments against individual recruits such as ‘killed’ or ‘killed in action’ , ‘wounded’, ‘prisoner of war’, ‘died of illness’ , ‘rejected in Melbourne, and ‘re-enlisted’. An example of a railway warrant is included at the end of this post. A copy of the original list of railway warrants will shortly be included as a resource on the blog, under Resources.

It is essential to note that not every volunteer associated with the Shire requested a railway warrant or enlisted locally – that is, via Yarram. Many simply made their own way to Melbourne. Others enlisted via other regional centres. The discrepancy between the number of railway warrants (474) and the total number of enlistments that I have identified as having an association with the Shire of Alberton (815) points to the large number who enlisted ‘outside’ the Shire, or, more correctly, enlisted at a location other than Yarram.

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary highlights the significance of the second medical in Melbourne. On the table below there are 64 men who did receive such railway warrants – and who therefore had passed an initial medical at Yarram and formally commenced the enlistment process – who do not have a service record and who therefore must have failed the second medical in Melbourne. Effectively, this suggests that roughly 13% of recruits who were assessed as medically fit by the local doctors were rejected, principally on medical grounds, in Melbourne. It suggests that AIF concerns about local doctors had some validity.

But this rejection figure of 13% needs to be seen in the context of the other key record that has been used to compile the table below. This second key piece of evidence is another hand-written list entitled Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors. Again, it appears to have been prepared by the Shire Secretary. It also will appear shortly on the blog under the category of Resources. It is not clear why the list was prepared or when but it appears to relate to the earlier years of the War. The list simply records the names of the 136 men who failed the medical administered by the local doctors. In about a dozen cases there is a very brief, added comment, most commonly: ‘afterwards enlisted’, ‘afterwards accepted’ and ’afterwards passed in Melbourne’. My additional research suggests that of the 136 men on the list, a significant number – 44 – did subsequently enlist. The fact that we do not know the specific period covered by this list means that we cannot give a definitive number for those who failed their initial medical in the Shire – at Yarram – over the course of the War. However, it does seem fair to argue that contrary to what the AIF authorities in Melbourne might have believed, the local doctors – at least in Yarram – did fail significant numbers of recruits on the basis of the prescribed health standards. Moreover, the situation did not change as the War progressed. Indeed, earlier posts have noted that throughout 1917 and 1918, when special, high-profile recruiting drives were held in the Shire, there was invariably a newspaper report that highlighted both the small number of volunteers who came forward and also the very high number who were rejected because they failed the medical. Even as the medical standards came down, the failure rate remained high. Overall, while Melbourne standards might have been higher, local doctors certainly did reject recruits on medical grounds.

Overall, we have evidence that for the enlistment process centred on Yarram a significant number of volunteers did not meet the medical standards, either initially in Yarram or subsequently in Melbourne. In fact, the table below, based principally on the 2 pieces of evidence described, suggests that the total figure for cases where the enrolment did not proceed is close to 200 men. But, as noted, this figure really only covers the Yarram process and many men enlisted – or tried to enlist – either directly in Melbourne or in some other regional centre (Traralgon, Sale, Toora, Warragul …. ) so, doubtless, there were others rejected on medical grounds elsewhere and the figure of 200 would have to be seen as a minimum number.

The table makes it clear that the majority of rejections involved medical concerns. At the same time, there were cases where age – too young or too old – was a related issue. With those under 21 yo there was also the issue of parental permission. With those in their forties there could be an issue with dependent children. There was also a handful of cases towards the end of 1918 where the enlistment was, effectively, no longer required. In this group there is even the case of James Wenworth Davis – the last entry on the list of railway warrants – whose pass was dated 11/11/18. Lastly, there were ‘one-off’ rejections. For example, Frederick O Gerstenberger – dated 19/7/15 – who was ‘rejected in Melbourne as father is German’.

There are 5 cases on the table below where there is a major discrepancy, in the sense that the name of the rejected person also appears on a memorial of some kind commemorating those who served. E B Couston appears on the honour roll of the Presbyterian Charge, but there is no equivalent record of military service. Similarly, S Wheildon – Won Wron – and David Ross – Blackwarry – appear on local honour rolls but there does not appear to be any evidence that either enlisted. Even more striking, there are 2 names on the table that also appear on the Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton : Fred Toyne and S C H Emmerson. There does not appear to be any evidence that these men enlisted; although there is the outside chance that there was an enlistment under an alias.

One issue worth touching on was what it meant to be rejected. Any number of previous posts have shown that in the local community there was a strong expectation that men would enlist. Men therefore who wanted to enlist but who were rejected faced a double bind. There was the frustration that they could not enlist and ‘do their part’ and serve with their ‘mates’. They were not ‘good enough’. But there would also have been the self-awareness that they stood out in the local community as not having enlisted. Admittedly they had tried and failed, and this situation would have been known to family and friends but, equally, they would also have often been placed in the awkward situation of justifying to others the fact that they were not serving in the AIF. Moreover, how many times did they have to test their status – ‘rejected’ – by re-taking the medical. If they had been rejected in 1914 was there a community expectation they would try again in 1915, and then again in 1916…. We also know that in the early months of the War there was sympathy for those who tried to enlist but failed the medical. Names of such people were often published in local news reports. They were accorded some form of intermediate status and there was even talk of them being given some sort of ‘badge’ they could wear to show their patriotic commitment. It is also significant that in the table below there were even names included on a school honour roll – Carrajung South SS – with the designation ‘Rej’.

Even some rejected men, known in the community, were singled out for the ‘white feather’. Also, an earlier post (Post 153) has covered the story of Charles Allum an 18 year-old who was prosecuted for impersonating a soldier. In the trial it was claimed that he had tried to enlist many times but was always rejected because of a ‘weak chest’. He claimed that after he was constantly pestered to enlist he invented the fiction of being a returned soldier.

In the early days after the War when various peace celebrations were held – well before the troops returned home – rejected men were accorded special recognition. But, inevitably, as the RSL grew and matured, along with the heroic reputation of the returned men, the status and fate of the men rejected mattered less and less. What counted was war service, not rejection. It might not have been the rejected men’s fault that they had not been in the Middle East or on the Western Front; but the telling fact was that they had not been there. Besides, those in the AIF knew that many of those initially rejected had managed to get round the system and enlist. The rejected men hoped that people, in their local community and family, accepted that the rejection was genuine. The issue of family acceptance in this context is important. In the table there are 27 cases where at least one brother enlisted. Clearly, there were many families that had to come to terms with the fact that not every brother or son made the same sacrifice: some served and died on active service; some served and returned wounded or with some other major health issue(s); some served and, apparently, escaped unscathed; and others never even served because they had been rejected on medical grounds. All these variations could apply – even all in the one family – and they represented realities that could not be ignored in the years, and even generations, after the War. The fortunes of the rejected men were truly mixed.

Shire of Alberton Railway Warrant (Pass)

198. List of those not able to be traced

I have spent the last few months trying to finalise the complete list of all those men who had a recognised association with the Shire of Alberton and who enlisted and served in W W 1. At this point the list numbers 826 men. Additionally, there is another list of 182 men who tried to enlist but were rejected, most commonly on health grounds.

The list included in this post is of the 100 men I have not been able to trace. The suggestion – or direct claim – is that they did enlist but I have not been able to tie them definitively to a specific AIF service record.

The names of the men on the list have appeared on honor rolls for state schools or against railway warrants issued to them as part of the enlistment process. In other instances there has been a reference in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – which indicated that they had just enlisted – the name appeared in a report of a farewell or presentation for them –  or they were serving overseas. There are even cases where the name appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. As well, some names appeared on the list of enlistees which was published by another local paper, the South Gippsland Chronicle. In all such instances, after examining a wide range of sources, I have not been able to identify the individual himself or, if I have been able to identify him, I have not been able to tie him to a specific AIF service record.

When you browse through the list you will see some of the challenges. In many cases, the name is too common, even when one or two initials are included. There is also the possibility that the spelling of the name or the initials provided – and often the record has been transcribed – are incorrect. However, even where the name of the person is known – and correct – you can face the situation where there is no corresponding service record or, more commonly, it is not possible to identify the relevant service record because there are too many possibilities. Without a great deal of supporting evidence  – where the individual was born, date of birth, parents’ names etc – the task of identifying someone is extremely difficult.

It is also possible that some of these men did not enlist. For example, they may have been given a railway warrant in Yarram to travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process, but they changed their mind or, alternatively, they failed the second medical in Melbourne. However, in relation to the latter possibility there should still have been a basic service record indicating that the enlistment had been terminated.  It is also possible that some of those on the list are already included, in the sense that they are on the list of the 826 who did enlist but with a slight variation in name.

It is worth noting the sheer size of the list. The whole exercise is a classic illustration of just how difficult it can be to uncover history at the level of the individual person. Yet, in this instance, the individual does count, precisely because, at the time, the community felt the need to identify and celebrate each and every one of them.

I am hoping that by making this list available there is some chance that current locals might be able to shed some light on the names.

If anyone can provide information in relation  to any of those on the list I would appreciate if they contacted me directly:

pcashen@bigpond.net.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

197. Update

I am conscious that it has been so long since I have posted anything. Consequently, I want to give some indication where I am with the ongoing background research.

For the past five months I have been trying to finalise the full count of all those men with an association to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. As always, the task has turned out to be more challenging than anticipated. However, the end is now in sight and I anticipate to have this major part of the overall project finalised with another 2-3 months. The final number of enlisted men will be round the 800 mark. Generally speaking, it will match the previous lists that I published at six-monthly intervals over the past 5 years. However, there are some significant differences.

In the first place, I have been able to add, approximately, another 50 men.

Second, I have expanded the range of data items covered for the complete list. I have included additional information relating to the men’s health. I have also included information relating to their experiences with military discipline. This should enable a more comprehensive picture of the cohort’s experience in the AIF.

The third line of enquiry has been to identify all the local men who tried, unsuccessfully, to enlist. This group takes in those who failed the medical – or several medicals – and also those whose enlistment did not proceed for some other reason. I have established that this particular group was large, approximately 200 men. There were, of course, men who failed their initial medical who then did pass a later medical; but these men are included in the group of 800. The group of 200 to whom I am referring covered those who failed their medical(s) and were never accepted in the AIF.

The fourth, and last, line of enquiry has been to focus on all those local men who, in theory at least, did enlist but whose identity I have not been able to trace. In other words, I have not been able to make a match between their name – often this is just a surname and initial – and an enlistment in the AIF. There are many reasons for this situation and while I continue to research these men, it is important to accept that there will likely be some 80 locals who were said to have enlisted but for whom I can find no matching AIF record. At some point I plan to publish the list of these 80 names in the hope that current ‘locals’ might be able to identify past family members. However, in most cases there is so little information from which to work that most of this last group will inevitably remain a mystery.

At least when this research is finally finished there will be a comprehensive and substantive data set covering all enlistments – and rejections – associated with the Shire of Alberton.

196. Deaths after the Armistice

As indicated in the last post, this post covers the deaths of 2 local men after the Armistice. The names of both men are recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Additionally, both deaths are acknowledged on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in the main street of Yarram.

PERKINS Harold Claude Albert 13881
4 Aust Div MechTransport Coy                 Died of illness 26/2/19

Harold Perkins was born in North Carlton in 1892 and attended school at St Peter’s Church of England, Eastern Hill in Melbourne. When his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, she identified North Carlton as the area with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. She also gave his ‘calling’ on the same form as ‘wood carver’ and his attestation papers record that he had completed a five-year apprenticeship with James Roberts & Sons, Collingwood.

It is not clear at what point he moved to Yarram but by the time he enlisted he was certainly well-known in the local area. His name appears in the 1915 Electoral Roll – Harold Claude Perkins, furniture salesman, Yarram – and there were references in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative  (15/9/15 and 17/5/16 ) which indicate he was conducting furniture sales from an address in Commercial Street, Yarram. The second reference acknowledged that he had recently enlisted and that he needed to sell his furniture stock. The paper called on the locals to support him by buying his stock at sale prices.

He had his initial medical with Dr Crooks in Yarram and was issued with railway warrant number 337 dated 6/5/16. On the list of railway warrants issued, the Shire Secretary added, some time after the War, the single note ‘died’ next to his name.

The enlistment was completed in Melbourne on 8/5/16. At the time he was 24 years-old. He was single and his occupation was recorded as both ‘salesman’ and ‘furniture salesman’. The religion was given as Church of England. At the time of enlistment, the father, George Frederick Perkins, was dead and the mother, Edna Jane Perkins (Quinn), was listed as next-of-kin. She was still living in Melbourne (Drummond St, North Carlton).

Private Perkins was attached to the Field Artillery Brigade. However, when he embarked for overseas service on 16/12/16 he went as a reinforcement for 9 Army Service Corps (17 Divisional Supply Column) and was part of the Mechanical Transport Unit.

His unit reached England in mid February 1917 and he was sent to France one month later as a driver/mechanic for the Motor Transport Section. In early May (7/5/17) he was charged with ‘breaking away from his fatigue duties without permission’ and was confined to barracks for 14 days and forfeited his pay for the same time. There was a period of 2 weeks leave to the UK in February 1918. In March 1918, he was formally transferred from 4 Australian Divisional Supply Company to 4 Australian Divisional Mechanical Transport Company.

After the cessation of fighting, at the start of 1919, there was another period of leave to the UK. However, the very next day after returning to France from leave (18/2/19) he was admitted to hospital. At this point the diagnosis was ‘N.Y.D. Pyrexia’ . Five days later (24/2/19) it was diagnosed as ‘Influenza’ and he was listed as ‘dangerously ill’. He died 2 days later (26/2/19) and the official cause was given as ‘Broncho pneumonia and Influenza’. He died in No. 20 Casualty Clearing Station Charleroi and was buried in the Military Cemetery Charleroi.

There is a Red Cross report for Driver Perkins, prompted by the mother’s request for additional information on the death. One response came from the Officer Commanding, 4 Australian Divisional Mechanical Transport Company (Major F Searle):

…I have to advise that No. 13881 Dvr. Perkins. H.C.A. Died whilst in No. 20 C.C.S. Charleroi and was buried in the Military Cemetery Charleroi.
Cause of death, bronchial pneumonia and influenza, contracted while with this unit in Florennes.
A cross was erected over his grave by this Unit and paid for out of Regimental funds.

The war diary for this particular unit records that they were based at Florennes from 1 February and it also notes in reference to the general health of the men that influenza was very prevalent. However given that Driver Perkins spent the first 2 weeks of February in the UK on leave, and that he was admitted to hospital just one day after re-joining his unit, he could as easily have contracted the (Spanish) flu in the UK.

The cable advising of the death was dated 3/3/19.

The personal belongings reached the mother in September 1919: 3 Handkerchiefs, Letters, photos, Cards, 1 Razorstrop, 1 Wrist Watch and strap, 1 Diamond Ring, 1 Shaving Brush, 2 Brushes, 1 Razor, 2 Discs, 1 Medallion, 2 Collar Badges, 2 Numerals, 1 Comb, 1 Fountain Pen, 1 Cigarette Case, 1 Mirror, 1 Photo Frame, 1 Book of Post Cards, 1 Wallet, 1 one Franc Note

There was another package, a sealed envelope containing … 1 Bank letter dated 11th January 1919 Re remittance £10.

The mother received her son’s medals, but she herself died in May 1922 and, consequently, the remaining official memorabilia – scroll and plaque – were sent to the older brother, F H Perkins of Alphington.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for Perkins, Harold Claude Albert
Roll of Honour: Harold Claude Albert Perkins
First World War Embarkation Roll: Harold Claude Albert Perkins
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold Claude Albert Perkins

Harold Claude Albert Perkins, courtesy of Australian War Memorial

 

 

O’NEILL John Albert 2267
Aust Army Provo Corps           Died of Illness 25/11/19

John Albert O’Neill was born in Yarram (1888) and attended the state school at Alberton West. He was also involved with the South Gippsland Rifle Club. He came from a well-known family in the local area, at Stacey’s Bridge. His grandfather – John O’Neill – was one of the first settlers at Jack River.

John O’Neill was one of 6 siblings. There were 2 younger brothers, one of whom – David Francis O’Neill – also enlisted and survived the War, returning to Australia in early 1919. The father – Christopher O’Neill – was a dairy farmer with 150 acres at Devon. He died in 1918 while his son was still serving overseas. The mother – Ellen O’Neill (Nolan) – then became the next-of-kin and she provided the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. She gave Stacey’s Bridge as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. The mother herself died shortly after, in 1922.

While John O’Neill had been born, gone to school, and grown up in the local area, and was clearly recognised as a local, he actually enlisted in Tasmania. On the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor his entry specifically notes that he enlisted in Tasmania. It is not apparent when he left the district and moved to Tasmania. The fact that he was a member of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club suggests that it would not have until his late teens or early twenties.

Private O’Neill enlisted at Claremont, Tasmania on 1/6/15. He was 26 yo and he gave his occupation as ‘laborer’. His religion was recorded as Roman Catholic.

Private O’Neill joined as reinforcements for 12 Battalion and left Australia on 25/6/15. He joined 12 Battalion on Gallipoli in September 1915. After the withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula, 12 Battalion was sent to France and disembarked at Marseilles on 5/4/16.

Over his service in France Private O’Neill received 2 awards. The first was in July 1916 when, together with 4 other privates in 12 Battalion, he was mentioned in despatches for bravery as a stretcher-bearer at Pozieres in July 1916. The citation read,

For conspicuous gallantry & devotion to duty during operations 23/25 July 1916 at Pozieres. They [Private O’Neill and the 4 others ] were stretcher bearers during the whole of this period & with great courage & coolness carried many wounded men across shell swept areas to dressing station.

The war diary of 12 Battalion gives an indication of the enemy shelling at this time ( July 25, 1916) :

Fighting continues POZIERES position heavily shelled from 4 am to 6 pm the trenches dug by us are obliterated & many of our men buried

The diary also records that there were 235 wounded over the 3 days (23-25 July 1916).

Just over 6 months later, Private O’Neill’s bravery was again acknowledged. On this occasion he was recommended for – and received – the Military Medal. The recommendation was dated 1/3/17 and it again involved his work as a stretcher-bearer. The other private recommended at the same time – Private Samuel John Clarke (2229) – was also from 12 Battalion:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Privates Clarke & O’Neill, were stretcher bearers and were untiring in their efforts to carry back wounded men over exceedingly heavy country, the rapid advance of the battalion making this a very long and arduous task. …. Private O’Neill was previously recommended for good work done at Pozieres.

The citation does not give the precise date(s) or location. Presumably, it was referring to late February as the Germans were falling back to the Hindenburg Line and the fighting was again in the area near Pozieres, roughly on a line between Albert and Bapaume.

Back in Gippsland, the local paper reported on 14/9/17 that Private O’Neill’s father had been informed by the Department of Defence that his son had been awarded the Military Medal for ‘bravery in the field’.

Private O’Neil was himself wounded in action on 20/9/17. He suffered a shell wound to his left arm. He was evacuated to England and was discharged from hospital at the end of November 1917.

At the start of August 1918, Private O’Neill transferred from 12 Battalion to the Australian Provost Corps. It appears he continued in this unit, in the UK, through to the end of the War, and then after the Armistice, right through until November 1919 when he died.

The details of the death are limited but the official description given was ‘valvular disease of the heart’. It appears that he was admitted to hospital – Kitchener Military Hospital, Brighton – early in November with ‘acute bronchitis’ and died on the 25/11/19.

The mother had written to Base Records in early August 1919 (3/8/19) asking for details on the ‘welfare and whereabouts’ of her son. Presumably he was not in regular correspondence with the family back in Gippsland. The response – not until 6/8/19 – was, essentially, that there was nothing to report and that,

It is anticipated that he will be returning home very shortly, and upon receipt of advice to the effect that he has embarked for Australia, you will be promptly advised.

Then in the middle of November it appears that the mother received 2 telegrams – both dated the same day, 13/11/19. One stated that he had been admitted to hospital with ‘acute bronchitis’ and the second that he was ‘dangerously ill’ and that a progress report could be expected.

It appears that the cable advising of the death reached Australia on 26/11/19, the day after his death. On the 29/11/19 there was a detailed report of the funeral service held when 2/Cpl John Albert O’Neil M.M. was buried in Brighton Borough Cemetery:

The deceased was accorded a full military funeral. The coffin, draped with the Australian flag and surmounted with wreaths, was borne on a Gun Carriage to the cemetery. A firing party from the 34th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was in attendance. The pall-bearers were 6 of deceased’s comrades from the Australian Provost Corps at Lewes. A detachment from the same unit under the O.C. Major G. L. PHILLIPS (MBE) followed the coffin to the graveside. Three volleys were fired over the grave and the Last Post was sounded.

Detail for the wreaths on the coffin indicate that 2/Cpl O’Neill was based at the A.I. F. Detention Barracks at Lewes.

In early 1920 (20/3/20) the mother wrote to Base Records asking for details on the collection of her son’s Military Medal, other medals and deferred pay. She was advised that the Military Medal would be passed over shortly.

In August the same year, she received her son’s kit – 1 disc, 1 rosary, Military Medal ribbon, 1 leather belt, 1 pipe, 1 pocket book, photos, letters.

The mother did received her son’s Military Medal and his service medals. However, as noted, she died in 1922 and so when the memorial plaque was sent to her, at her Stacey’s Bridge address, in December 1922, it was received and signed for by David Francis O’Neill, the brother who had also served in the AIF. The O’Neill family was another one where both parents and the soldier son all died within a relatively period of each other, in this instance 4 years.

Corporal O’Neill’s name is also recorded on the roll of honour of Stacey’s Bridge and District.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for O’Neill, John Albert
Roll of Honour: John Albert O’Neill
First World War Embarkation Roll: John Albert O’Neill
Honours and Awards file: John Albert O’Neill

 

 

195. Update: the blog after the centenary of the Armistice

Over the last 4 + years I have used the blog to record, against the chronology of the War, the deaths of soldiers from the Shire of Alberton. In this sense the blog has acted as a formal attestation of their service. In six-monthly intervals I have also given an overview of all those who enlisted, and also considered the issue of those who chose not to enlist. More broadly, I have also attempted to analyse the impact of the various crises, pressure points and divisions that either emerged or were exacerbated in the local community – and Australia more generally – during the course of the War.

However, now that the centenary of the Armistice has passed, future posts will not keep to the previous regular time frame but will be posted at progressive intervals.

I still need to cover the cases of 2 local men who died overseas on service. Harold Claude Perkins died of disease in France on 26/2/19 and John Albert O’Neill died of illness in the UK on 25/11/19. Both names are included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ memorial. I will combine the 2 in a single post early next year.

There is also further work to do on the complete database of all those locals who enlisted. This always has been, and still remains, a work-in-progress. As already indicated, as the research has continued over the course of the blog I have uncovered additional names and I need to add this number – approximately 20 – which will take the final tally so nearly 800 men. I will include the additional men as a separate post.

Also, I intend to carry out additional analysis of the complete data base. To now, the data has been released, and interpreted, in intervals of 6 months but it now needs to be looked at as a whole. It represents a significant data set – nearly 800 men of the AIF who can be tied to a particular location – and it deserves more attention. I am also considering including additional characteristics, in order, for example, to provided a greater focus on the issue of the men’s health. However, there is a significant technical problem here because throughout the blog I have struggled to find a sufficiently sophisticated online data base to use alongside the blog. What I want to do might not be possible. At the same time, I should at least be able to use the blog to release additional insights from the data.

Then there are all the issues associated with the men’s return to Australia and the local area. There are questions about how easily they were able to fit back into their former lives and the local community, and the extent to which they wanted to retain the experience of ‘mateship’ fashioned in the AIF, even if this bond was ‘exclusivist’ in nature. There were certainly major disputes in the local community over the issue of the commemoration of the men’s service and sacrifice. And all this was taking place within a community where much of the division seen over the course the War, particularly that over religion, was actually intensifying not diminishing.

The soldier settlement scheme was also critically important. It promised so much after the War. But one of the most interesting features of the program was the way the ex-soldiers, representing the younger generation, succeeded or failed in their ventures within an administrative and political context that gave power to the older generation of established farmers and town elders. In a real sense, the former soldiers swapped the authority of the AIF – where most of them were relatively young and never rose above the rank of private – for the generational authority of the established social and political order of the community to which they returned; and the power of the local authority overseeing the settlement scheme was considerable. I hope to give at least an overview of the success or otherwise of the scheme over the first 10 or so years.

I would also like to look in more detail at the whole question of the White Australia Policy, particularly in the context of the end of the War and the widespread conviction that victory had secured this fundamental national commitment. In this context I also hope to revisit the local history written at the time by Rev George Cox.

It is important, at the very least, to begin to show that the full legacy of the War – even within the confines of just the one local community of the Shire of Alberton on which I have focused these past 4 + years – went far beyond the preoccupation with memorials and commemorations, and all the associated myth-making.