100. E T Gay

Edward Thomas GAY (19797)
8 FAB Died of illness 2/1/17

Edward Gay was 19 yo when he enlisted on 31/12/15. He was single and he gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’. He must have been working and living in the local area because his first medical was in Yarram (29/11/15) and, also, he was given a formal farewell from the Shire (23/2/16). He was born at Tarraville (25/4/1896) and grew up in the North Devon area, attending the state school there. His religion was Methodist. When his father, as next-of-kin, completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he gave Devon, South Gippsland as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. Edward Thomas Gay’s name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

Gunner Edward Gay joined 8 Field Artillery Brigade (30 Battery). There was another person with the same surname in the same unit. This was Gunner Allan Richard Gay. It is difficult to establish the relationship between the two of them. They were not brothers but, given that they enlisted in the same unit and they were farewelled together – according to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (1/3/16) there were 200 people at the farewell at North Devon – it is highly likely that they were cousins.

Gunner Edward Gay disembarked at Plymouth on 18/7/16. But at this point there were serious health issues. In fact, he was admitted to hospital the day after disembarkation (19/7/16). He was discharged 2 weeks later but then readmitted on 14/8/16 and it appears he remained in hospital – Military Hospital Fargo, Salisbury Plains – until his death on 2/1/17 (’tuberculosis of lungs’).

The family back in Australia were notified in November (22/11/16) that he was ‘dangerously ill’. Another cable on 2/12/16 advised that the condition was ‘stationary’ and another one at the end of the month (30/12/16) gave the condition as ‘still stationary’. However, the next cable on 4/1/17 brought the news that he had died 2 days earlier (2/1/17). He was buried at Durrington Cemetery, Wiltshire.

The personal kit was returned to the father in June 1917. The kit was extensive – although the items were mainly small –  presumably because he had never seen active service but, instead, had been a patient for most of his service in the UK:

Postcards, 2 shaving brushes, Cards, Hymnbook, Letters, Soldiers’ Guide, Cotton bag, 2 Brushes, Pr. Mittens, 2 Fly nets, Spring razor strop, 4 Badges, Pr. Scissors, Holdall, 2 Mirrors (one in case), 8 Handkerchiefs, 2 Razors in cases, Cycling jersey, 2 Combs, fountain pen in case, Housewife, 2 Knives, Wallet (damaged), 2 straps, Diary, Note book, 3 Devotional Books, 4 Military books, Leather belt, 2 identity-discs, Wristlet watch and strap, 4 coins.

As indicated, when he enlisted, Gunner Gay gave his father – Caleb Thomas Gay – who was then living at Kyabram, as his next-of-kin.  The records indicate that the father did receive all relevant correspondence, including the cables about his illness and death, as well as returned kit, medals, cemetery records etc. The records also indicate that there did not appear to be a will.

Correspondence in the file suggests that family relations were both complex and fraught and this may have been another reason why there was no will.

As already indicated, the father was living at Kyabram at the time Edward was living and working in the Yarram area. The mother – Sarah Gay – and at least one sister were living in Queensland. Moreover it was not just a case of physical separation because essential information did not appear to be shared between family members. For example, the file contains a letter from Gunner Gay’s youngest sister – Helena – seeking information on her brother’s death. She was the sister living in Brisbane. The letter was written some seven months after his death.  Incredibly, it appears that she had only recently found out about the death, and not from any family member but from a friend living in Traralgon.  Her request to Base Records in Melbourne sought the information that normally other members of a family would provide. She also appeared to have scant details on his enlistment.

Would you be so kind in helping me to find news of my only Brother Edward Thomas Gay late of South Gippsland Victoria [.] The news I have received from a friend in Traralgon my poor Brother died in England on 2.1.1917 [.] Will you find me his Battalion and where he enlisted from & also what part of London he died in & could I have a chance of getting one for (sic) his Photos [photographs of the grave ] [.]I am his youngest Sister & would love to get any news about him [.] Hoping to hear from you soon [.]

In May 1917 (19/5/17) there was letter to Base Records from an uncle, Richard Giles Gay of ‘The Willows, North Devon via Yarram’. The uncle was the younger brother of the father. The letter requested a copy of the death certificate and enquired as to whether there was any will:

Will you kindly send me Certificate of death of E T Gay deceased who died in Hospital England January 2nd 1917 and also let me know if he left any Will or Assignment of any kind.

Interestingly, even though the letter did not state that the writer was acting on behalf of the father, the formally designated next-of-kin, the uncle was sent a copy of the death certificate (‘report of death’) and advised that there was ‘no notification of a will to date.’  It also appears that the same uncle at least initiated a claim with the Australian Mutual Provident Society. It appears that even though the father was the designated next-of-kin and was in communication with the military authorities over his deceased son’s affairs, other members of the family were also pursuing their own enquiries and actions independent of the father.

Lastly, there is yet another letter in the file that touches on the same matter and highlights both past and present family tensions. The letter was written in November 1917 (12/11/17) by Edward’s grandmother (Catherine Gibbett) of Devon North. She was obviously seeking some sort of monetary claim against his estate, on the basis that she had cared for him as a child, right through, presumably, to the time he enlisted.

Please can I put in a claim for cash, or the half of money, left by my grandson, late Gunr Edward Thomas Gay son of Mr Caleb Thomas Gay now of Kyabram late of Devon North [,] because I had the said Edward Thomas Gay when a young child [.] His mother Sarah Gay left him without anyone to care for him so the father brought the said Edward Thomas Gay to me before he was old enough to go to school [.] When old enough I sent him to school and kept him seventeen [?] years [.] Surely I have a claim for keeping the said late Edward Thomas Gay.

Uncovering the family dynamics of 100 years ago is obviously a great challenge but it does appear that Edward Gay’s childhood and youth would have been difficult. Perhaps he saw in the AIF the sense of belonging which had eluded him in his own family.


National Archives file for GAY Edward Thomas 19797
Roll of Honour: Edward Thomas Gay
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Edward Thomas Gay

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

99. Flers (4) – G A Cowley

George Albion COWLEY (1331)
22 FAB KiA 31/12/16

George Albion Cowley was nearly 39 yo when he enlisted in August 1915 (5/8/1915). Also atypically, he was married (Marguerite) with 4 children (Albion, Myra, Lindsay and Francis). He had attempted to enlist earlier but had been rejected on medical grounds (knee).

George was born at Cowley’s Creek near Cobden in the Camperdown area. On his enlistment papers, George indicated that he had been a member of the Pomborneit Rifle Club – near Camperdown – for nine years.

The family must have moved to Yarram some time before 1914. From March 1914, he was employed by the Shire of Alberton as the driver of the council’s steam traction engine. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – carried a story on 23/7/15 of his intention to enlist. In it, he was referred to as a ‘local’. He was one of 6 local men given a formal farewell at the shire hall in late October 1915. This event was also written up in the local paper (27/101/15). After his death, there was a brief report in the paper (26/1/17) –  Gunner G. A . Cowley, well known in Yarram, where some time ago he was employed by the Alberton Shire Council, as driver of the traction engine, has been killed in action in France.

When Private Cowley enlisted in Melbourne on 5/8/15 he gave his permanent address as Camperdown. This was also the address of his wife and family when he served overseas. It appears that he must have moved back to Camperdown at the point he enlisted. However it is also possible that in the few years he worked in Yarram, for the Shire of Alberton, the family had remained in Camperdown. On the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, his wife gave Camperdown as the place with which he was chiefly connected. At the same time, his name appears on both the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial and also the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

On enlistment, Private Cowley joined 13 Light Horse and left Melbourne on 23/11/15. He reached France, via Alexandria, in late March 1916 and transferred to 2 Australian Artillery Division. He was then posted to 22 Field Artillery Brigade (19 Battery) in August the same year and was serving in this unit when he was killed by shell fire on the very last day of 1916. Various unit diaries suggest that while front line troop operations had effectively ceased at this point because of the dreadful weather, there were still ongoing artillery exchanges between the two sides. Although there is no specific reference in any unit diary to the incident in which Gunner Cowley was killed, eye witness accounts taken from Red Cross reports give a clear picture of what happened.

I knew Cowley personally, he was known to us as “George”. He was an elderly man, short and with a dark moustache. I saw him killed by the bursting of a shell, at a place we called “Turks Lane” at Flers. I saw him buried, myself being in charge of the burying party. Cowley transferred from the 13th Light Horse. Cowley was a married man with two or three children, I think a Victorian. He and Reginald Lindsay were killed by the same shell, and buried together at Flers.
Cpl J. Gartrella A.M.C. London. 15.6.17.

I saw them just after they were killed between Guedecourt and Ginchy at 5.30 on December 31st last. I was in a dugout five yards from the one used as Q.M. store. I heard the shell coming and heard it explode right on top of the Q. M. store. I went out at once. All the men in the dugout were dead. I helped to get them out and saw Lindsey’s body taken out. There were 3 others in the dugout and all were dead. Lindsey’s body was badly smashed. He must have been killed instantly. Cowley was just outside the dugout and had got a splinter through the head. He was quite dead. Next morning the other three men were got out …. I helped to bury the 5 together on the spot where they got killed. We put up a cross made of used cartridge cases (brass). It has the 5 names on it. Lindsey’s name is Reginald and he is a brother of Norman Lindsey (sic), artist of the Bulletin. Cowley’s name is George. He used to belong to 13th L. Horse. He talked as if he was a farmer. Came from Victoria. Age about 37. Married, and I think 1 or 2 children.
Gnr J. A. Dunn. 6937 Etaples. 8.6.17

[Reginald Graham Lindsay (11867), of the same unit as George Cowley, was Norman Lindsay’s brother. Lindsay was, at the time, political cartoonist for the Bulletin. He was very pro-Conscription.]

The family was advised of the death by cable in mid January 1917 (16/1/17). The body was subsequently interred at the Guards’ Cemetery, Lesboeufs, France.

The impact that the death of the husband and father had on the family is evident from the following letter written by Gunner Cowley’s mother on 19/2/17. She was writing on behalf of her daughter-in-law and the children. The letter was sent to Andrew Poynton MHR, a key supporter of Hughes and avid Conscriptionist. At the time he was a member of the Federal parliamentary recruiting committee. The script is hard to read:

I am writing to you to know if you could advise me how I may learn the full particulars of my poor sons death [.] We received a cable in January 16th.1.17 stating he was killed in action on December 31st .12.16[.] What the nature of the cause was not stated nor what part of France it happened [.] He was a married man with four little children & a dedicated wife [.] With no home of their own how they are going to manage I do not know as his wife never had to battle before [.] I his mother is also a widow & has to provide for myself that it is impossible to help her [.] So if you would kindly let me know I will forward your answer on to her [.] She is at present paying 8/- per week for the house she now is living in [.] She also has not been getting her full army allowance. I also sent my son a wristlet watch from Merino Post Office on December in the first week and registered it [.] It has his name engraved in the inside [.] It is G. A. Cowley from his mother [?] 4th.12.16 [.] I would like to get it back safe for his sake [.] Since the cable saying he had been killed we have heard nothing else[.]

[?] it is hard to bother you but it is harder still not to know the last of your boy though I am proud he did his duty for King and Country[.]

There was a reply (3/3/17) from Base Records to Poynton’s office indicating that that there was no further information regarding the death but that, hopefully, the next-of-kin – in this case, the wife – … should receive, if the stress of operations permit, a letter from deceased’s Commanding Officer or Chaplain, giving such details as are available.

The soldier’s kit was eventually returned – August 1917 – to the wife in Camperdown and it did contain two wristlet watches, one damaged. The full kit returned was:  Photos, Cards, Letters, Bible, Money Belt, 3 Note books, 3 Razors, Knife, 2 Coins, Button, 2 Badges, Metal Wristlet watch, Pipe, Metal watch (Damaged), Watch Strap.

In terms of tackling the hardship faced by the widow and her 4 children, the following fortnightly pensions were paid from March 1917: widow (Marguerite Cowley) £2; oldest son (Albion Cowley) 20/- ; oldest daughter (Myra Cowley) 15/- ; son (Lindsay Cowley) 10/- ; and daughter (Francis Cowley) 10/-.


National Archives file for COWLEY George Albion 1331
Roll of Honour: George Albion Cowley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Albion Cowley
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Albion Cowley

98. Flers (3) – G E JEFFS

George Edward JEFFS (3362A)
6 Battalion KiA 12/12/16

George Edward Jeffs was born in Boodyarn, near Won Wron. He grew up in the area and attended Won Wron State School. His father – George Edward senior – owned a dairy farm of nearly 200 acres at Won Wron and George worked on the family farm. He gave his occupation as  ‘dairy farmer’ when he enlisted. He was well known in the local area and his name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It is also recorded on the honor roll for Won Wron State School.

George Jeffs had his first medical in Yarram  and the enlistment was completed in Melbourne. His railway warrant (#146) was dated 12/7/15, which is also the formal date of his enlistment. At the time he enlisted he was 22 yo and single. His religion was listed as Church of England.

Private Jeffs joined as reinforcements for 6 Battalion and left for overseas service on 11/10/15, 3 months after enlistment. After further training in Egypt, his group of reinforcements finally disembarked in France on 30/3/16.

In late May (29/5/16), in fighting at Fleurbaix, Private Jeffs was wounded and repatriated to England. The wound appears to have been a shrapnel wound – ankle, leg & head – and there was 3 month recovery period. He rejoined 6 Battalion at the start of September 1916. He survived only another 3 months.

Private Jeffs was killed in action at Flers on 12/12/16. His body was not recovered and his name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

The War Diary of 6 Battalion records that it moved in to the front line at Flers to relieve 16 Battalion on 6/12/16. The troops found the trenches in poor condition and worked round the clock to repair them. However, the diary notes that the shocking weather conditions constantly undid their work and the trenches continued to collapse. The battalion also took over and consolidated some posts only recently given up by the Germans. On 12 December one such consolidation exercise was carried out and the diary records that while the operation was successful, the ‘consolidating party’ was shelled and one soldier killed. While the name of the soldier is not recorded, the reference must have been to Private Jeffs.

Other evidence relating to the death of Private Jeffs comes from the extensive Red Cross report. There are 9 witness statements in the report. While there are the usual inconsistencies in the statements, it is clear that Private Jeffs was killed, by shell fire, when involved in a consolidation operation and that his body was buried near where he fell. It was too dangerous to try to get the body back behind the lines. The most accurate description of the death is that of 2 Lt. N. McLachlan. McLachlan was in the consolidating party on 12 December and his name is recorded in the battalion’s war diary as having done ‘good work’ in the operation. At the time he was a corporal but not long after, he completed officer training in England and received a commission.

We occupied trenches on the right of Gueudecourt Wood and on the night of the 12.12.16. A. Coy. 6th Battn. Took some German Bombing Posts. We were heavily shelled, during which Pte. Jeffs was killed. He was buried on the field, where he was killed. Description, Height about 5’10” [height on enlistment was given as 5’6”], dark with moustache. He was previously wounded at Fleurbaix in May 1916. There is no doubt as to his identity for I had known him personally before leaving Egypt.

Bean covered the operation to consolidate the trench in his Official History (Vol 3, Chapter 26 p 953).

On the 12th [December] Captain Taylor of the 6th Battalion, taking Lieutenant Bill, walked down the gun-pits road into the enemy strong-point and found it abandoned. He was joined there by Lieutenant Rogers, the battalion intelligence officer. The 6th Battalion bombers were next brought up, and the trenches and dugouts searched and before nightfall occupied. The enemy, who through the misty drizzle had seen some movement, now heavily shelled the sunken road, but inflicted only slight damage. [notwithstanding the death of Private G E Jeffs]

Bean then went on and pointed out that this operation was virtually the only fighting on that part of the front between mid November and the close of the year. Private Jeffs, it appears, was extremely unlucky.

Advice on the death of their son to the family back in Australia must have been prompt because the formal report of death was dated 9/1/17 suggesting that the cable preceding this would have reached Australia in late December 1916.

Like so many other parents of soldiers killed in the War, Private Jeffs’ father was keen to recover the personal belongings of his son. On 15/6/17 he wrote to Base Records, Melbourne:

I now take the liberty of writing to you inquiring if my son’s private belongings have come to hand yet or not, and, if so, when I may expect to receive them. My son, No. 3362 Pte. George Edward Jeffs, 6th Inf Batt. A.I.F. was killed in action 12th Dec. 1916, and I have received information from his mate that his private belongings were given in charge of his officer to be despatched to the Kit Depot, London.
Anxiously awaiting the desired information.

The personal effects arrived back in Australia some two months later and on 27/7/17 were despatched to the father at Won Wron. There is no further correspondence on the matter but the father must have been distressed that the only effects returned from the Kit Store in London were a metal watch (damaged) and a brush.

The information for the (National) Roll of Honour was provided by Bernard Raymond Jeffs who gave Won Wron/Yarram as the location with which his brother was ‘chiefly connected’. Also included, were the names of 5 cousins who served in the AIF, 4 of whom were killed in action.

Trooper Patrick Joseph Sweeney 451, 8 LHR: KIA 7/8/15 (see Post 45)
Private Cornelius James Sweeney 1449, 21 B: KIA 11/4/17
Private Albert Henry Whitford 5103, 21 B: KIA 30/3/17
Private Roy Victor Whitford 3449, 10 B: KIA 16/10/17
2 Lieutenant Lewis Edmund Whitford MC, 11 B.


National Archives file for JEFFS George Edward 3362A
Roll of Honour: George Edward Jeffs
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Edward Jeffs
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Edward Jeffs

Bean, CEW Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 3 – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (12th edition, 1941)

97. The war against drink

While the war against drink was waged well before 1914, World War One definitely gave the already strong temperance movement added credibility and influence. The introduction of 6 o’clock closing was held up as the singular achievement of the period.

Prior to the War, the Licenses (Licensing) Reduction Board  had overseen a significant reduction in the number of hotels in Victoria. Figures cited by Public Record Office Victoria show that between 1907 and 1916, 1,054 hotels had been closed.  Additionally, the same legislation, with its provision for future local option polls, held out the promise that, from 1917, localities could vote to reduce the number of licences. It even offered localities the possibility that they could vote to have no hotels. Many temperance advocates believed that, even before the War, the movement was on the verge of ridding the nation of drink. Driven by women’s movements determined to reduce poverty, child neglect, family hardship and domestic violence, and intimately tied to the issue of female suffrage, the temperance movement had achieved a great deal.

The impact that the War had on the existing push for temperance was both significant and complex. The claim that the war against Germany and the war against drink were intimately connected – to the extent that the former required the latter – was a constant message reflected in the newspapers, particularly in the first few years of the War. Further, the success of state-level referenda over 1915-16 on the introduction of earlier closing hours did indicate that there was popular support for the view that drink did constitute a threat – however defined or quantified – to the war effort.

Specifically in terms of the Shire of Alberton, there was a strong history of temperance being actively promoted by the local Protestant churches. There was also a local ‘tent’ of the Independent Order of Rechabites (IOR) which was actively supported by the same churches.  The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/12/14, under heading War Against Alcohol, presented a detailed account of a meeting organised by the local IOR. The other local paper, the South Gippsland Chronicle reported the meeting under the headline No-Licence Campaign, on the same day. The meeting was addressed by Rev Archer Harris, representing the Victorian Alliance. He spoke about the worldwide fight against alcohol and focused on the experience in New Zealand,  where prohibition (no licenses) in the area of Port Chalmers (near Dunedin) had reduced drunkenness and crime. He also cited the success of the prohibition movement in the USA. As well as delivering his public address in the evening, he had also spoken at Presbyterian and Methodist services earlier that day. The vote of thanks was given by Rev W T Johns (Methodist) and Rev Geo Cox (Church of England). At the time, Reverends Johns and Cox were, respectively, the Chief Ruler and Secretary of the local IOR. The meeting declared that drink was ‘the great national foe’ and, at the urging of Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian), decided to form a Yarram branch of the No-License League.

Drink had typically been described in terms of a national threat for many years but the War itself was employed to give this claim additional credibility. The perceived – or constructed – threat that drink posed to the national war effort was highlighted at a public meeting on temperance held in Yarram on 20/4/15. This meeting was again organised by the local IOR tent. It was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/4/15. The audience was estimated to be about 70.

The meeting called for people to take inspiration from, and follow the example set by, the pledge – to not drink – taken by the British Royal Family. Accordingly, the first resolution passed by the Yarram meeting was,

That this meeting expresses its profound admiration of His Majesty the King in banishing intoxicating liquors from the Royal household, and we strongly recommend all loyal subjects to follow His Majesty’s example by individually abstaining from the use of alcohol during the currency of the war.

The person who put the resolution was Ben Percival Johnson. Johnson was the most outspoken supporter of the war effort in the community. He was also the driving force behind both recruiting and the Yes vote in the conscription referendum. Importantly, Johnson acknowledged that he had never belonged to any temperance group. At the same time, he was prepared to move and support the resolution because of the leadership the King had shown. Moreover, as Johnson pointed out, it was not just the King who was opposed to drink. He cited the claims made by Lord Kitchener, the Czar of Russia and British politicians like Asquith and Lloyd George. The latter, he reminded the audience, had told the British people that …  they were fighting Germany, Austria and drink and that the greatest of the three was drink.

Johnson spoke of the thousands of hours lost in the munitions industry because of the drinking problems of the workers. He also spoke of the harm drink did to the soldiers. However, principally, for Johnson at least, the most pressing reason for supporting the pledge was that it was a test of moral strength. If loyal subjects across the Empire could follow the King’s example then this universal act would represent the moral greatness and superiority of the Empire.  As he saw it, only the weak and selfish would not commit to the cause. As has already been pointed out – see Post 26. Soldiers of Christ – for Imperial patriots, the War offered the chance for people to re-commit to their religious beliefs and strengthen and prove their moral character. Moreover, for such people, the War was as much a test of moral fibre as it was a battle of military might.

The second resolution passed at the meeting – also unanimously – was more focused in its intention. It called for 6 o’clock closing, in line with other eastern states:

That in view of the appalling physical and mental deterioration, the grave moral depravity, and serious economic wastage, directly and indirectly traceable to the use of alcohol, this meeting respectfully urges the Government to come into line with the State of South Australia by providing for a referendum concerning the earlier closing of hotel bars and wine saloons.

Again, speakers for the resolution laboured the evils of drink. Drink was spoken of as the curse of the working class – It was pitiable to think the working classes could not do without drink – and again there was the extraordinary claim … that the effect of strong drink upon a country is more disastrous and more far-reaching than a German invasion.

The meeting was, of course, one for the converted and committed, but there was a noticeable confidence to the views of those there that prohibition was within reach. The War itself would finally open people’s eyes to the full horror of drink. Moreover, the legislation was already in place to enable far greater checks to drinking.  At the meeting, Rev Johns declared that, Prohibition was coming in 1917, and the public had had 10 years notice to quit. He was referring to the vote – under the Licensing Act 1906 – which promised localities the opportunity to reduce licences even further or, in fact, vote for no licences. In terms of the legislation, 1917 was the year this vote was to occur. However, it was delayed until after the War, in 1920. When the votes did eventually occur, 2 metropolitan districts in Melbourne – Nunawading and Boroondara – did indeed vote for no hotels.

The war against drink was, unsurprisingly, a favourite subject for sermons. As an example, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (26/7/16) featured a sermon on temperance delivered by Rev Tamagno (Presbyterian). It was headed, Temperance Question.  Tamagno spoke about his own experience, over many years, in tackling the consequences of drink and had no hesitation in declaring that it was … the  cause of more wrong in our Empire than any other. … I have no hesitation in saying that the traffic in strong drink is hellish in its results. It is to my mind a traffic in the blood, brain, body and soul of thousands in our fair land. There’s no wrong like it.

Tamagno praised the efforts of the Licensing Reduction Board and he was also looking forward to 1917 and the promised chance to vote out drink. He praised South Australia and the success of its referendum on 6 o’clock closing. He urged moderate drinkers to give up drink entirely as a sacrifice, on behalf of their ‘weaker brother’ who ‘feels in his blood and bones and brain, he must have it’. There were the customary claims about how drink was weakening the war effort across the Empire. Significantly, Tamagno was not just for curbing excessive drink but rather, as he kept putting it, he wanted to ‘drive drink from the land’. He imagined a future Australia freed from the grip of drink, one of a higher moral and spiritual order –

Think of the boundless moral and spiritual benefit that would come to our fair land by gradually weakening the liquor traffic, and ultimately leaving it no legs to stand on.

and he believed that with God’s help the backers of temperance would eventually triumph:

I know that vast problems are wrapped up in the iniquitous thing; but in the evolution of time God help us to drive it out of our land.

A pastoral letter from the Church of England was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 2/6/16. The church also acknowledged the world-wide efforts to curb drinking and praised the work done by the Licensing Reduction Board.  It threw its support behind 6 o’clock closing, not as just a temporary ban for the duration of the War but as a permanent check on the evil of drink.

For the local Protestant churches, the War brought an increased commitment to temperance, with a specific focus on the introduction of 6 o’clock closing. There was also a general understanding that very soon local communities were to have the power to reduce the number of licensed premises and even to vote drink entirely from their midst.

While the temperance cause was driven by heightened religious fervour, and stirring examples of Imperial sacrifice and duty, the actual behaviour of the members of the AIF was another powerful driver behind efforts to curb drink. The metropolitan and local papers were full of stories of drunken and disorderly soldiers. At a number of levels, the picture of the drunken, aggressive and dangerous digger was a very troubling image.

The Argus, under the headline Soldiers and Drink, reported (15/3/16) on a Rechabite conference held at Bendigo where the Chief Ruler claimed,

… there had never been a time in the history of Australia when alcohol had been used to worse effect than during the past 18 months, since the troops had been in training for active service.

and on the face of it, there was plenty of evidence to support this view.

The dangers of life in the large training camps had been identified right from the start, and religious bodies had been quick to try to establish a presence in the camps to counter the evils that young men would face. For example, Rev Tamagno had a letter-to-the-editor in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/3/15, appealing for donations to help establish a (Presbyterian)  “Soldiers’ Institute” at Broadmeadows. He claimed the facility was needed urgently … in the interests of the spiritual and social welfare of our church’s young troops . He saw the young men at risk far from home and amid the perils of camp life near to the great city. The ‘great city’ was even more of a temptation because there were no wet canteens in the camps.

The most infamous drink-related episode occurred in the training camps at Liverpool and Casula on Monday 14 February 1916. Events that day, particularly in Liverpool and then Sydney, amounted to a major breakdown of military order and discipline. One soldier was shot and killed and there were many injuries. In the aftermath 1,000 men were discharged from the AIF and over 100 prosecuted on a range of charges.

The newspaper accounts of the day were incandescent in their fury and outrage. The riotous behaviour was presented as nothing less than a national disgrace. And drink was said to behind the excesses of what happened. The Age (16/2/16), in unrestrained commentary, declared the men involved to be traitors to the nation and despoilers of the Anzac spirit:

On Monday night, through a trifling grievance about hours of drill, several hundreds of New South Wales troops rebelled against discipline, broke camp, looted hotels, destroyed private property, and entered upon an orgy of violence. For a few hours they attacked the country, the people and the laws they are sworn to defend. These are not the men of Anzac; yet they wear the same uniform and have the same legal right to call themselves Australian soldiers. The honor of the grand young Australian army is as much in their keeping as it was in the charge of the men who fell, while advancing on the Peninsula. It is idle to discuss the merits or demerits of the complaint which led to the riot. There can be no excuses for a citizen who turns traitor to his country, and there can be none for the soldier who revolts against its authority, and temporarily takes up the cause of the foreign enemy…  Assuredly men of British blood seldom covered themselves with so much ignominy.

And the paper highlighted the evil power of drink:

Throughout the riots bottles, liquor, beer and hotels were consistent features. Whenever intoxicants were introduced to the scene the riotous soldiers became more unrestrained and the mischief the greater. Had all the hotels in the neighbourhood been closed before the riot, as they were closed shortly afterwards, the story would have been stripped of most of its sensationalism. Wherever the seeds of disorder may lie, strong liquors stimulate them into a foul and deadly growth. And not only does excessive drinking arouse latent lawlessness, it may debase soldiers of the finest manhood, and lead them in their madness to join the worst elements at the head of the mob. Discipline, therefore, depends to a fair extent upon restricting the opportunities for drinking.

While the Liverpool strike/mutiny/riot was the worst incident, there were many others at the time. For example, just 10 days earlier there had been trouble involving several hundred soldiers near Central Railway Station in Sydney. The Age (4/2/16) reported that the trouble had started over claims that a returned, wounded soldier had been manhandled by staff at a nearby ‘oyster bar’. The Age also reported on riots involving soldiers at St Kilda Beach in January 1916. At the end of February (28/2/16) it featured a story of a drunken riot at Warrnambool involving soldiers from the local camp. The police magistrate who dealt with the aftermath was quoted as declaring that … it appeared that when some men got liquor they went mad, and it was a great pity they got supplies at all. The same edition of the paper featured an account of how a 45 yo soldier – John Heath – had been killed in Melbourne, at the corner of King and Little Collins Street. Apparently, he had been involved in argument with a much younger soldier. In what for us is a depressingly contemporary story, Heath had been trying to talk his mate down when the younger soldier lashed out, unprovoked, and hit him. Heath fell to the pavement, fractured his skull and died instantly. The young assailant managed to disappear.

Post 26. Soldiers of Christ,  looked at the earlier riots involving soldiers in Melbourne in 1914. Drink was a common feature of such riots, both in Australia and Egypt at the time.

Faced with ongoing accounts of soldiers behaving badly it is not surprising that there there was popular support for the introduction of 6 o’clock closing. In jurisdictions where the issue did go to a referendum – South Australia and New South wales – there was strong support. Clearly, the threat of soldiers on leave, descending on the city for heavy drinking sessions and causing havoc did play on the minds of civilians. Many saw it as outrageous behaviour and wanted the culprits made an example of. For example, after the Liverpool trouble the local Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (23/2/16) fulminated in its editorial,

Over 1000 men have been discharged from Liverpool and Casula camps for misconduct, drunkenness and absence without leave, and 116 men are held in custody for trial by court-martial. Rather should the men be made to fight, and placed in the front trenches, as the Germans do with this class of soldier.

At the same time, there were some who saw the problem as one caused, ironically, by temperance advocates. They argued that Senator Pearce had bowed to the pressure of temperance advocates and not allowed wet canteens in the camps. This ensured that when men went on leave, they were were bound to make the most of their limited chance to drink. As the writer of the Melbourne Letter – published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (22/10/15) – had put it back at the end of 1915:

The soldier, who is a civilian, has been accustomed to drinking at any odd time that he feels so disposed, will not drink any less when in town because he is made to imbibe only “soft stuff” in the camp. Rather is he prone to make certain that he uses the opportunity, while it offers, to get a fill of his favourite beverage, before he returns to another week or a fortnight of “raspberry and lemonade”.

Similarly, after Liverpool, many called for wet canteens in camps where soldiers’ drinking could be better controlled. Some also wanted tighter curfews and regulations that prohibited the sale of drink in licensed premises to any man in military uniform. Even temperance advocates could see the need for wet canteens. For example, Archdeacon Martin who worked in the Sydney camps with the Home Mission Society was quoted – The Age 22/2/16 – as advocating a wet canteen ‘under strict military discipline’,

These men become irritated when they are deprived of what they have been accustomed to, and when they get the chance they overdo it, and take more than they would if a wet canteen existed in the camp.

Six o’clock closing was first introduced in South Australia in March 1916. This followed a referendum held in 1915 (27/3/15). In the referendum only one-third of voters favoured keeping the present arrangement (11.00 o’clock) and 56% opted specifically for 6 o’clock. In New South Wales a referendum was held a few months after the Liverpool riot and the press campaign in particular drove the result. There was virtually no support for retaining the current hours, and 60% voted specifically for 6 o’clock. Accordingly, 6 o’clock closing was formally introduced in July 1916. In Victoria, 6 o’clock closing was finally introduced in October 1916. Initially it had been proposed to hold a referendum but in the end the decision was taken by the parliament. The Government judged that there was clear popular support for the action.

Some people acknowledged that drink could harm the War effort in a number of ways and they were prepared to support early closing on the basis of war-time necessity. Similarly, others recognised that drink and the AIF represented a dangerous mix, particularly if the effects played out in the streets of the cities, and they were prepared to limit drinking hours. At the same time, the fact that what many saw as an appropriate, temporary, war-time restriction was to remain in place well after 1918 – in some instances for up to 50 years – highlights the way temperance advocates at the time viewed 6 o’clock closing. For them, it was another major, non-reversible step on the way to a truly drink-free Australia.

Specifically in terms of the Protestant churches, the temperance push in WW1 was another example of the way the War itself was seen as a call by God for people to recommit to their religious beliefs and lead a more moral, socially responsible and  decent life. Protestantism was committed to both a moral and military war; and it was seen as perfectly natural that, as was evident in the case of the Shire of Alberton, the local Protestant clergy called for recruits and support for the Yes vote in the conscription referendum at the very same time they were calling for temperance and 6 o’clock closing.

The issues surrounding the push for temperance in the local community will be taken up again in a future post, where the focus will be the attempt by temperance advocates to remove the liquor licence from the local Co-Operative Store in Yarram.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

The Age

For 1916 NSW referendum results see NSW Electoral Commmission.

For 1915 SA referendum results see SA Electoral Commission.







96. Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial

The Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial – also referred to as the Yarram War Memorial – was unveiled by Major-General C F Cox, assisted by G H Wise MP, on Wednesday 10 August 1921.

At the ceremony, reference was made to 700 men who had enlisted from the district and the 80 who had not returned.  However, nearly another 9 years passed before the names of the dead were added to the memorial (April 1930). This was 15 years from the time the first men had been killed at Gallipoli.


material relating to the design and construction of the Soldiers’ Memorial, and the subsequent inscription of the names, comes from The Shire of Alberton Archives

Box 377, Files 285-292 (viewed in Yarram, 30/3/2012)



George Matson NICHOLAS Major DSO
24 Battalion KIA 14/11/16

George Matson Nicholas was born in 1887 at Coleraine. He was educated at St. Patrick’s College Ballarat (Catholic) – his religion was given as Church of England – and then at Melbourne University where he completed the BA. At the time of joining the AIF, he was a teacher (master) at the Melbourne Junior Technical School. He applied for and received his a commission in early 1915. He was 28 yo and single at the time. His parents lived at Trafalgar in Gippsland.

There was a younger brother – Bryon Nicholas – who also worked as a teacher in the Victorian Education Department and who also joined the AIF, on 10/3/15.  Both brothers received awards for bravery and both were killed in action. There were another 3 brothers from the family who served in, and survived, WW1.

The 2 Nicholas brothers – George and Bryon – who were killed had been teachers in the Shire of Alberton. Both had taught at Gormandale East State School and the younger brother – Lt Bryon Nicholas – prior to joining the AIF, had been in charge of part-time schools at Carrajung South and Willung South.  It appears that whereas the younger brother remained teaching in the local area, George Nicholas moved to Melbourne to pursue his teaching career.

On the strength of their teaching in local schools prior to the War, both brothers were included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Their names also appear on the relevant state school honor rolls.  However, neither brother appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

Prior to receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in 24 Battalion, George Matson Nicholas held the rank of lieutenant in the senior cadets and he had completed qualifications in military training. He embarked for overseas service on 10/5/15, just two weeks after securing his commission.

2 Lt Nicholas was promoted to full lieutenant on 26/6/15, a few days before he proceeded to Gallipoli (30/8/15). He was recommended for the French military award, the Croix de Guerre, for his conduct at Lone Pine on 4/10/1915. The citation read:

For his conduct at Lone Pine on 4th October 1915, when he directed the work of the battalion grenadiers during an attempted reconnaissance by the enemy, though to do so it was necessary for him to expose himself to the enemy’s rifle and machine gun fire. 

However the award was not given, even though it appears the recommendation was re-submitted in December 1916. By that point Major Nicholas was dead.

Lt Nicholas was wounded – ‘Shell wound, right arm. Severe.’ – on 12/12/15 in the closing days of the Gallipoli campaign. He spent the next six weeks in hospital in Egypt convalescing and rejoined 24 Battalion on 26/1/16. In March the battalion proceeded overseas to France and reached Marseilles on 26/3/16.

Lt Nicholas was promoted to the rank of captain on a temporary basis on 1/4/16 and this appointment was made permanent on 1/5/16.

For his bravery on 5/8/16 in the fighting at Pozieres, Captain Nicholas was recommended for, and this time awarded, the Distinguished Service Order. The citation read:

After the capture of the German trenches OG1&2 on the 5th August a patrol commanded by Captain George Nicholas found on returning from a reconnaissance in front that an enemy machine gun in a shell hole had been seriously menacing our men in the front lines. Captain Nicholas as soon as he located this gun gallantly went out again alone and by great dash and initiative succeeded in capturing the gun.

This citation appeared under the signature of Birdwood, ‘Lieut-General, Commanding 1st Australia and New Zealand Army Corps’, with the date of 6/8/16, one day after the fighting. Interestingly, the military honour first entered against the citation was the Military Cross, but this was crossed out and the D.S.O. had been added in its place. Also of interest is the fact that there is a second citation for the same award for the same incident. The second citation is undated but it appears against the recommendation of Brigadier General Gellibrand of 6 Infantry Brigade. A note next to the citation appears to read ‘already awarded’ which tends to suggest that the actions of Captain Nicholas had been drawn to at least two separate sources. Whereas the first citation had a focus on bravery or gallantry, the second citation focuses more on leadership.

For ability and skill in leading his company in the attack on the 4/5th Aug. For excellent work in consolidating the captured trenches on the following days and for his gallant reconnaissance already reported. A most capable officer who possesses the absolute confidence of his men.

Captain Nicholas was promoted to the rank of major soon after, on 12/8/16. There followed a short period attached to 2 Division Headquarters Staff and during this time, on 7/10/16, he married Hilda Rix in London.

Hilda Rix (Nicholas) was a significant Australian artist who studied under Frederick McCubbin. She left Australia in 1907 and studied in both London and Paris. Prior to the outbreak of the War, she regularly spent time in northern France in an artists’ colony at Etaples. She returned to Australia after the War and remarried (Edgar Wright, 1928). Her post-War art played a role in the development of the emerging ANZAC legend. As an example, her 1921 work, A man, in part based on her husband, is a striking study of the resoluteness of man, as soldier, faced with the certainty of his inescapable frailty and vulnerability in war.

Tragically, the marriage was very short. He returned to the front 3 days after the marriage. One month later on 10/11/16 he rejoined 24 Battalion and took over command. Just 4 days later (14/11/16), he was killed. According to the war diary of 24 Battalion, he was hit by a shell in Cobham Trench as he was leading 2 companies from 24 Battalion to relieve 5 Brigade. C E W Bean referred to the death of Major Nicholas in his diary – AWM38, 3DRL 606/66/1 – for November 1916,

Another who was lost … was Maj Nicholas of the 24th Btn – the youngster who for a time commanded his battalion & who made his name by going out himself scouting into no-mans-land in Pozieres.

In a footnote in his Official History, Bean (1941, p. 937) records Nicholas’ name together with those of at least another 30 officers who were killed at Flers over the short period of 13 -16 November 1916.

The cable of Major Nicholas’ death was dated 22/11/16, just 8 days after the actual death. The official ‘Report of Death of an Officer’ was completed on 20/12/16.

Prophetically, in Major Nicholas’ service file there is a letter dated 20/10/16 written by a Vernon Williams of Newport (Victoria) to Base Records in Melbourne asking for confirmation of a report that Major Nicholas has been killed in France. This was some 3 weeks before he was killed.

I have received a letter from France dated last August stating that my friend Captain George Matson Nicholas of 24th Battalion, 6th Infantry Brigade, A.I.F, has been killed. I should be obliged if you will be so kind as to let me know if this is, so far as known, correct.

Base Records replied on 23/10/16 that they had no such record; but the full reply points to the highly problematic nature of the information flow for the AIF between Australia and the Western Front,

In acknowledging receipt of your letter dated 20th instant, I have to state since the report he had been discharged to local Camp 8/5/16, from 24th General Hospital, Etaples, France no further reports have been received concerning Captain G. M. Nicholas, 24th Battalion, but if you will forward to this Office authentic evidence to the effect that he has been “killed”, upon receipt of same, and if such action is warranted, enquiries will be instituted and the result communicated to you, as well as to next-of-kin.

The reference to a period of hospitalisation in Etaples in May corresponds with an entry in his service record which has Major Nicholas in hospital in Etaples for about two weeks. However there is no indication of the injury or sickness at the time. It is likely that at this time in Etaples Major Nicholson came across some artwork of his future wife. There is a family story that he saw some of her work in Etaples and then sought her out when he was in London.

The personal kit of Major Nicholas reached his wife in January 1917. It came in one valise (sealed) and one box (sealed). In all, there were approximately 50 listed items, mainly articles of clothing. There were some more personal items such as 1 novel, Book of Poems and French Grammar.

There was some confusion over the location where Major Nicholas was buried. His wife must have received two different locations. When she queried the obvious contradiction, she was assured that a simple recording error was the problem and that,

There does not appear to be the slightest doubt that Grave 29, Row H, Flat 4, Grass Lane Cemetery, Gueudecourt is the last resting place of your late husband…

Unfortunately, and surprisingly, information for the (National) Roll of Honour was not supplied for either of the Nicholas brothers.


National Archives file for NICHOLAS George Matson Major
Roll of Honour: George Matson Nicholas
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Matson Nicholas

Honours and Awards
Mention in despatches – Award
French Croix de Guerre – Recommendation
Distinguished Service Order – Award
Distinguished Service Order – Recommendation
Military Cross – Recommendation
French Croix de Guerre – Recommendation (2)

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, 12th edition 1941

For more on Hilda Rix Nicholas see the entry on Nicholas, Emily Hilda (1884-1961) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.



Charles Courtney APPLEYARD 3751 MM
23 Battalion DOW 15/11/16
Charles Appleyard was one of 6 Appleyard brothers from Alberton who enlisted. One of these brothers, Gordon William Appleyard of 9 Battalion, had been killed at Pozieres, at the end of August 1916 (see Post 80).

On his enlistment papers, Charles gave Carlton as his place of birth. However, his mother gave it as Alberton when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Even if he was born in Carlton, it appears he grew up in the Shire of Alberton. For example, his name is the honor roll for Binginwarri SS.

At the time of the outbreak of the War, the father was still farming in the area but Charles had moved to Melbourne. He was living at Carlton and working as a builder/carpenter. He had married (Rose Appleyard) and had three children (Clement, Merle, Lorna). Even though he was living in Melbourne, he was still regarded as local. His name is featured on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Soldiers’ Memorial. The notice of his death which appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1/12/16 described him as … a well known identity in this district. It also noted that he was … a fine, athletic young man. The consolation for his parents was that … he had died a hero’s death.

At the time of enlistment, he gave his age as 28 yo but information from his wife indicated that he was at least 5 years older. His religion was listed as Church of England.

He enlisted in Melbourne on 15/7/15 joining 23 Battalion. His group of reinforcements left Melbourne in early February 1916 (8/2/16) and reached France, via Egypt, in March 1916.

23 Battalion was involved in the fighting at Pozieres where, as mentioned, Charles’ brother was killed (DoW 24/8/16). Charles survived and in fact was awarded the Military Medal. The citation read,

At Pozieres on 4/5th August 1916, for gallant reconnaissance in daylight of the enemy’s trench, returning with valuable information.

By the time the medal was awarded – 2/9/16 – L/Corporal Appleyard had been promoted to the rank of sergeant (23/8/16) against a Sergeant Grantham who had been killed in action.

Sergeant Appleyard was wounded at the end of the first major attack at Flers. On 6/11/16, 23 Battalion’s war diary records how it took over part of the front line from 21 Battalion. The casualties that day were ‘1 killed 10 wounded’. Sergeant Appleyard had a shrapnel wound to the right shoulder. He was evacuated to 36 Casualty Clearing Station the next day but he died there 8 days later, on 15/11/16. He was not evacuated further back through the lines to a field hospital. Possibly, this was because of the difficulties of movement in the appalling conditions at Flers. C E W Bean (1941 ) raised this issue in his account of the fighting at Flers. He noted that it could take hours to get wounded men to any sort of medical post.

Sergeant Appleyard was buried near the town of Albert (Heilly Station Cemetery) and the cable advising of his death was sent on 22/11/16, with the final, formal notification of the death dated 27/12/16. Six months later (18/6/17) the Military Medal was forwarded to Sergeant Appleyard’s widow. In the letter, the Officer in Charge, Base Records, writing on behalf of the Minister, noted … the gallantry of a brave Australian soldier who nobly laid down his life in the service of King and Country. He added,

I am also to ask that you accept his [The Minister’s] deep personal sympathy in the loss which, not only you, but the Australian Army has sustained by the death of Sergeant Appleyard, whose magnificent conduct on the field of battle helped to earn for our Australian soldiers a fate which will endure as long as memory lasts.

A few days later, a family friend replied on behalf of an appreciative Mrs Appleyard,

Mrs Appleyard wishes me to return her heartfelt thanks to you and all concerned in your prompt attention dealing in all matters relating to her late husband.

The personal kit – Disc, Metal cigarette case, Comb, Pr nail scissors, Razor, Whistle, Brooch (metal), Metal wrist watch, 3 Note books, 3 Badges, 4 Coins, Letters. – reached his wife in August 1917.


National Archives file for APPLEYARD Charles Courtney 3751
Roll of Honour: Charles Courtney Appleyard
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Charles Courtney Appleyard

Honours and Awards

Military Medal – Recommendation
Military Medal – Recommendation (2)
Military Medal – Award

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, 12th edition 1941


Alexander ROBINSON 2095
23 Battalion DOW 20/11/16

Alexander Robinson was born in Melbourne (Carlton) but by the time he enlisted he was living and working in the Shire of Alberton. According to the electoral roll, in 1915 he was a labourer at Blackwarry.

He had his first medical at Yarram on 27/3/15 but did not complete the enlistment until 14/6/15 in Melbourne.  There is no record of any medical issue involved with the delay. At the time he enlisted, he was 23 yo and single. He gave his religion as Presbyterian.

Private Robinson embarked for overseas on 26/8/15 as reinforcements for 23 Battalion. He was taken on strength of the battalion at Anzac on 12/10/15.

Following evacuation from Gallipoli, he was charged in early January 1916 in Egypt with being AWL for 39 hours. The punishment was 3 days detention and 3 days pay. Shortly after, he was hospitalised with mumps for 1 month. 23 Battalion reached France – Marseilles – on 26/3/16.

The war dairy for 23 Battalion for 18/11/16 records only that it was snowing and 2 men were wounded. One of the them must have been Private Robinson. His wounds were described as SW Loin & Buttock. He was taken to the casualty clearing station the next day (19/11/16) and then died of wounds there on 20/11/16. Presumably, he was another of the wounded at Flers who succumbed to their wounds because of the great difficulties in transporting the wounded to medical help. He was buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbe, Picardie.

His mother – Mrs Agnes Robinson, Fitzroy – received his personal kit in August 1917: Wallet, Letters, Photos, Note Book, Cigarette Holder.

Unfortunately, there is very little information available for Private Robinson. However the mother did complete the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour and on that form she recorded that in fact 3 brothers enlisted in the AIF, and all 3 were killed. As well as Alexander Robinson 2095 (DoW 20/11/16) there was Albert Douglas Robinson 2889 (KIA 19/7/16) and Edward Robinson 986 (DoW 11/9/18).

The brother – Edward Robinson – who was not killed until September 1918, was also on the electoral roll as a labourer of Blackwarry. He will be covered in a future post. There is no indication that the other brother killed in July 1916 (Albert Douglas Robinson) had any connection to the Shire.

The 2 brothers who were living and working at Blackwarry are both recorded on the Blackwarry Roll of Honor. They also have their names on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, but they are not marked as ‘Killed’ on this record.  Neither brother is included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Overall, there is little to show for such an extraordinary family sacrifice.


National Archives file for ROBINSON Alexander 2095
Roll of Honour: Alexander Robinson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alexander Robinson



Francis Henry SEBIRE 5441
60 Battalion KIA 20/11/16

Francis Sebire was born at Port Melbourne and grew up in Melbourne and attended Melbourne High School. As a student and young man he was heavily involved in the cadets and held a commission.

Francis Sebire’s connection to the Shire of Alberton was chiefly as a local teacher. He taught at Binginwarri and Wonyip state schools between 1911 and 1914. Binginwarri was his first appointment. In the time he was a teacher in the district, he was also a member of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club. Further, he married a local girl. His wife, nee McInnes, came from one of the original pioneering families in the district.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative gave a detailed report (22/4/14) when Francis Sebire was transferred from Binginwarri to Taggerty, near Marysville.  He was obviously well known in the local area and there is even a report (13/1/15) of when he returned to the district for New Year’s celebrations in January 1915. But for all the obvious links, his name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or Soldiers’ Memorial. His name does appear on the honour rolls for both Binginwarri and Wonyip state schools. When his father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he gave Taggerty as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. As indicated, this was where he was appointed after Binginwarri but he could have only been there for a maximun of one year before he enlisted.

There is confusion over the date of his enlistment. The embarkation roll shows 6/11/15 but the attestation papers show it as 29/6/16. On the papers there is a reference to an earlier failed medical:  ‘defective teeth’.  Possibly, the 29/6/16 date involved a ‘re-attestation’. Either way, he joined as reinforcements for 5 Battalion and embarked for overseas, almost immediately, on 3/7/16. The embarkation roll also indicates that he left as acting sergeant. Presumably this was because of his extensive involvement in junior and senior cadets.

On his enlistment papers he indicated that he was married – Flora Margaret Sebire – and there was a son. His wife was then living at Middle Brighton. He was 25 yo and his occupation was given as state school teacher. His religion was Church of England. His parents were John and Christina Sebire.

When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he noted that his son … was acting Sergeant till arrival in England. Gave up his stripes to get into action without delay. In support of this claim, the records indicate that Sergeant Sebire reached Perham Downs for training on 15/9/16 and then reverted to private on 23/10/16. Soon after, he was taken on strength of 60 Battalion in France (12/11/16).

Private Sebire was reported missing on 20/11/16 but it was not until 21/3/18 – 16 months later – that a court of enquiry determined that he had been killed in action on the same day. There is no clue in the war diary of 60 Battalion as to his fate. At the time, 60 Battalion was at Needle Trench and the pressing issue was ensuring rations – including water – reached the men. There is a brief reference to casualties – 1 killed 6 wounded – on 20/11/16 but no mention of any men missing.

There is extensive correspondence in the file covering the attempts by both his wife and parents to uncover what happened. The Red Cross was contacted and the father also sought the support of John H Lister, M.P. However they had little success. The transfer to 60 Battalion in mid November 1916 did not appear to have been known to the family in Australia and this added to the confusion. The following letter- formal and respectful in tone – was sent to Base Records in Melbourne by the wife, Mrs Flora M Sebire, in late April 1917, nearly 6 months after her husband went missing.

Having received no communication since one dated Nov. 10th 1916 from my husband who is serving with the A.I.F. in France I am writing to ask you to be so good as to let me know whether you have any information to give me respecting his condition and whereabouts. He was then (Nov.1916) going into the trenches in France.
His No and Name are
5441 Pr. Francis Henry Sebire
He left here as Sergt. in the 18th Reft. of V Batt last July but returned to the ranks voluntarily after being in Eng. a few weeks in order to go to the front.
Some 6 weeks ago a cablegram was sent through the Red Cross Information Bureau by Mr Chormley, but no reply has reached me.
This absence of news extending over 6 months is causing his family and me intense anxiety and I respectfully request that the Defence Dept. be so good as to make further effort to obtain tidings of him.
I am
Your obedient servant

The most likely account of Private Sebire’s fate was given to the Red Cross, nearly one year after his disappearance, by Private Fred Marr (5404). The statement was dated 23/10/17. The reference to the men he was supporting probably not knowing him – presumably because he had so recently joined 60 Battalion – appears very pertinent.

He [Sebire] was a hard worker. I last saw him at Needle Trench beyond Flers on Nov 20th. It was then dusk and I spoke to him and asked him what he was doing, and he told me that he was guiding ration parties to the front line; he had one or two more journeys to make. Two of our companies were in the front line and our other two companies took rations to them from Needle Trench which was in the support line. The Germans put up rather a heavy barrage fire that night. I often asked about him afterwards but could learn nothing definite. Some of the men he was guiding very likely did not know know him.

As late as July 1921, the AIF was still keen to know if the family had received, over the period since the war had ended, any further information about Private Sebire’s fate. The father’s reply – It is practically certain that my son was killed at or near Needle Trench near Flers between 20-22 Nov. 1916. – was based largely on his own investigations. He had personally contacted Private Marr after he returned to Australia in 1920. He had also followed up the report of another soldier (Smith).  Smith had put the date of Private Sebire’s disappearance at 22 November and this was reflected in the extended time frame in the father’s reply.

The personal kit of Private Sebire – 1 Brief Bag (containing: – 3 Handkerchiefs, Field Glasses in Case, 1 Scarf, Cap comforter, 3 Khaki Collars, 2 Ties, 1 Mitten, 1 Shirt. – was not returned to the wife until October 1918.

It is obviously difficult to uncover family dynamics, employing only correspondence, from so long ago; but there is one letter in the file that suggests that over time – and distance – relations between the wife and her parents-in-law became strained. It appears that she and her son shifted quite a bit and eventually settled in Queensland. It also appears, based on the letter, that the parents effectively ‘reclaimed’ their son. The letter was dated February 1936, nearly 20 years after her husband’s death. It was in response to advice she had received on the inscription that appeared in the register for the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial: Son of John and Christina Sebire, of 94, Marine Parade, St. Kilda, Victoria. Born at Port Melbourne, Victoria

In reference to your notification regarding the inscription on the Memorial for members of the AIF who have known graves, I was leaving Victoria and my husband’s father, who is now dead, offered to attend to the matter for me, and promised that my name and that of my son would be inscribed but [he] has substituted his own and his wife’s. Under the circumstances there is nothing to be done.

If true, it is a striking example of how the impact of the War continued to work its way through people’s lives long after the death of the soldier and loved one.


National Archives file for SEBIRE Francis Henry 5441
Roll of Honour: Francis Henry Sebire
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Francis Henry Sebire
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Francis Henry Sebire


Arthur Vincent FARTHING (5685)
13 Battalion DoD 9/11/16

A V Farthing remains a mystery. His name does appear – as Farthing, A. V. – on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor; but he is not marked as ‘Killed’ on this list. He is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Nor are there any references to him on any other memorial in the Shire, and there is no mention of him in the Gippsland Standard and Albeton Shire Representative. The family name Farthing was not common in the Shire at the time, and it did not appear on the 1915 electoral roll for the sub-division of Yarram. There are limited references to the name Farthing in local genealogical references – Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901 – but the references are to the 1860s.

In terms of AIF records, there is only one A V Farthing on the Nominal Roll. The full name is given as Albert Vincent Farthing (5685) but this is a mistake and it should be Arthur Vincent Farthing (5685). The correct name appears on the Embarkation Roll. Importantly, there were only 11 men with the family name Farthing who served in the AIF in WW1, and of the eleven, there was only one with the initials of A V Farthing. So there is no question that reference to a member of the AIF with the name A V Farthing is to Arthur Vincent Farthing (5685).

While there is nothing to tie Arthur Vincent Farthing to the Shire of Alberton – apart from his name on the Shire’s roll of honor – there is abundant evidence to tie him to Bective (near Tamworth) in NSW.

Arthur Vincent Farthing was born at Tamworth, NSW. He grew up at Bective and attended the public school there. When he enlisted on 12/1/16, at Liverpool, he was 19 yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘farm hand’. His religion was Church of England.

Arthur gave his father – Henry Farthing – as next-of-kin. The father was well known in the local district of Bective. He was involved in the Bective Farmers and Settlers’ Association and in fact the monthly meetings were held in his home.

The Tamworth Daily Observer (3/5/16) recorded the farewell organised for Private Arthur Farthing at Bective. It was held just before he embarked for overseas. He was presented with a luminous wristlet watch. In response, Private Farthing expressed his gratitude and stated that he … would do his best to uphold the name of Australia.

Private Farthing’s service was very short. He enlisted on 12/1/16 and embarked as reinforcements for 13 Battalion on 3/5/16. He reached England from Alexandria in early August and started further training with 4 Training Battalion at Perham Downs. He was admitted to hospital – King George Hospital – on 26/8/16 with pneumonia. It appears he stayed in this hospital until 6/11/16 when he was transferred to 1st Auxillary Hospital, Harefield. He ‘died of disease’: cerebral abscess on 9/11/16.

Cables sent to the parents in Australia, over the period the son was in hospital with pneumonia, reveal a rather grim story. On 2/10/16 they were advised that their son was ‘seriously ill pneumonia’. On 13/10/16 his status was described as ‘condition stationary’. On 26/10/16 they were informed he was ‘progressing favorably’. Again, on 1/11/16, the news was positive: ‘now progressing favorably’. Just over one week later he was dead. The parents also did not even know the name or address of the hospital where he was a patient. On 30/10/16 they had written seeking these details.

There is strong evidence that Private Farthing should never have even been in England with the AIF. In his service file are the records of the medical board, dated 14/1/16, which recommended he be discharged from the AIF. This was just 2 days after he had enlisted. The suggestion is that in fact he had enlisted before (8/6/15) but then came down with ‘double pneumonia’ and was discharged. Perhaps he was not formally discharged – there is no record of an earlier enlistment- and it was more the case that the initial enlistment did not go ahead when he became ill with pneumonia. Then he (re) enlisted (12/1/16) and either the same problem flared again or the ongoing medical debility from the earlier sickness became more obvious. At the medical board it was stated his disability would continue for ‘at least 12 months’. Moreover, the board … recommends his discharge as unfit for military service. It is not clear why the recommendation was not carried out but it is possible that the necessary paper work was held up and he embarked for overseas service before it could be actioned. What is clear is that he was affected by a significant, ongoing medical condition long before he was hospitalised in England in August 1916. The  medical advice was that he should have been discharged immediately after he enlisted.

Private Farthing was buried in the Australian Section, Harefield Churchyard, Harefield.

After the death, his parents placed a personal notice in The Tamworth Daily Observer (18/11/16, p.7):

Roll of Honor
Farthing – At 1st Australian Auxillary Hospital, London. Private Arthur V Farthing, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. H. Farthing, Bective. Aged 20 years. At rest.

In May 1917, the parents received the following personal items:

Scarf, Belt, 9 Foreign Coins, Devotional Book, Hairbrush, Piece Crewel Work, Wallet, Photos, Razor, Shaving Brush, Identity Disc, 2 Badges, Handkerchief, Pipe, Fountain Pen, Letters.

When they completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, the parents gave Tamworth as the location with which their son was ‘chiefly connected’. On the face of it, there is nothing to suggest a link to the Shire of Alberton. However, the name definitely appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor; and there was only one Farthing A V. The only plausible explanation appears to be that he worked in the local area as a farm labourer for some time before mid 1915.


National Archives file for Farthing Arthur Vincent 5685
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur Vincent Farthing
Roll of Honour: Arthur Vincent Farthing

The Tamworth Daily Observer

O’Callaghan, G 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901