84. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part B: Secularism

Post 68. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part A: a natural trinity considered the extent to which the War sharpened the perception for Irish Catholics that the state school was both Protestant and Imperialist. This was particularly the case after Easter 1916.

This post looks chiefly at Catholic attempts from 1915 to establish a school in Yarram. It highlights the significant fault lines that existed in the community, and reveals how the religious division between Catholic and Protestant was exacerbated further by the desire to create a  Catholic school. Catholic opposition to the Protestant proposal to teach the Bible in state schools was another major controversy at the time. The post provides a case study of the bitter sectarianism that became a feature of Australian society and politics as the War progressed, and also in the period after the War.

The Catholic school, St. Mary’s, at Yarram  was not opened until the start of 1918. This meant that in the period leading to the War, and for most of the War, all Catholic children in the Shire of Alberton attended the local state schools. This common experience of schooling helped to reduce the level of religious difference in the local community, at least until Easter 1916. In fact, as noted in earlier posts, over the early period of the War there was little apparent conflict between Catholic and Protestant. Catholics enlisted at rates equivalent to their numbers in the local community. Importantly, the promise of Home Rule had neutralised the key political difference between Great Britain and Ireland.

Arguably, the clearest example of the unity between Catholic and Protestant in support for the War came in March 1916 with the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival. In February 1916, Fr Sterling suggested that the proceeds from the annual sports carnival should go to support wounded soldiers. St Patrick’s Sports was the biggest sports carnival held in the Shire of Alberton and it was normally used to raise funds for various Catholic charities and works. Fr Sterling’s offer was written up in both local papers: South Gippsland Chronicle (2/2/16) and Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (9/2/16). It was seen as a very generous and patriotic offer. There was a large working committee set up to manage the event and, significantly, its membership went well beyond the local Catholics and covered all sections of the community. For example, it included at least 2 members – B P Johnson and A E Paige – from the Church of England Board of Guardians. Alfred Paige was in fact the head teacher of the Yarram State School. As well, many of the committee members also served on the local recruiting committee or other groups such as the local Belgian Relief Committee. Overall, the working committee featured some of the most outspoken Imperialists in the local community.

The total profits raised by the 1916 St Patrick’s Sports Carnival was £720 and the detailed breakdown of the day’s takings were outlined in an article in the  Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 3/5/16. The profits were divided between the Red Cross and the Victorian Sick and Wounded Soldiers’ Fund. The whole day was acknowledged as a stunning success and it was easily the single, most successful fund-raising event for the War effort staged in the Shire of Alberton to that point. As the local paper put it (3/5/16) the effort … will stand for many a year as the district’s biggest effort.

However, by the time the profits were counted the Easter Uprising in Dublin had occurred and long-standing differences were building. Moreover, it is possible that the efforts of the local Catholics in supporting the War effort via the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival were at least partly driven by the sense that there was real pressure on them to prove their loyalty and demonstrate that they understood the need to make financial sacrifice for the war effort.

There was a significant local background issue. Just 2 weeks after the local Catholic community offered the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival as a fund raiser for the War effort, the newly built St Mary’s Catholic Church was blessed and opened in Yarram. The cost of the new church was £3,500 and by the time it was opened most of the funds for it had already been raised. It was a dramatic achievement by the local Catholic community to fund and build the church in only one year. So in early 1915 the Catholics had the newest and most impressive church in Yarram. However, there must have been misgivings, if not opposition, to this development, with the argument that the time was not right for such fundraising and building programs. All attention should have been focused on the War. In his history of Catholic education in the area, Synan (2003, p. 144) makes the claim directly:

In reality World War I was not a prime time for the Yarram Parish to proceed with a new church and school. Because of patriotic fervour, the wider community took a dim view of Catholics using scarce resources to build parish facilities when all the nation’s energies were being directed towards winning a war against Germany.

However, the situation was more complex than this claim. In his account (1/3/16) of the opening of the new church in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, the editor, A J Rossiter, wrote in praise of the local Catholic community and the new church. In Rossiter’s view, other religions in the community needed to follow the Catholics’ example:

The Catholics have set an example worthy to be followed by at least two other denominations in the town. As with them, wooden structures had to suffice in the times when the people were struggling, but all that is changed. People are well off comparatively, many have grown rich, and were that zeal displayed in spiritual matters which was characteristic of our fathers, there would be no wooden churches to-day in Yarram. It is a disgrace that the very worst buildings in the town are certain churches. From Sunday dates a new era in the Catholic Church in this district. There stands on an admirably adapted site a church that is an ornament to the town, and in the minds of all devout Catholics there must abide a feeling of pride and thankfulness.

It is also worth noting that a new Anglican church was also built in Yarram in WW1. The foundation  stone was laid on 6/2/18 and the new church was dedicated on 24/7/18. So the establishment of the new Catholic church was not, in itself, a direct cause of division in the local community. However, the creation of a new church school was a different matter; and from early 1915 the Catholic community was committed to such a move.

There had been a Catholic primary school (St Mary’s) in Yarram from 1885 -1890. However without access to a Catholic teaching order it had not been able to compete against the local state school. The situation changed dramatically with the appointment of Bishop Phelan to the diocese of Sale (1913-26).

Patrick Phelan was born in Kilkenny, Ireland. He was ordained in 1888 and arrived in Melbourne the same year. He was consecrated bishop in 1913. He was a keen supporter of Home Rule. As the new Bishop of Sale, he made Catholic schooling a major focus for his work. He wanted more parish primary schools across Gippsland. In the report from his ad limina visit to Rome in 1914, Phelan noted that there were twice as many Catholic children in state schools across the diocese as there were in Catholic schools (Synan, 2003 p. 138).

Specifically in relation to the Shire of Alberton, Bishop Phelan set out his plans for a Catholic school in Yarram in a visit to the parish in May 1915. The grand scheme was described in detail in a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 5/5/15. Phelan made the initial focus that of the education of girls. He emphasised the importance of a Catholic education for girls … the future women who have the making or marring of the future. If they have the ladies – the real Catholic ladies – they sanctify the home. He spoke of a Catholic school in Yarram where families who lived out of town could send their daughters ‘as weekly boarders’.  Critical to the success of the plan was  his promise that he would attract an order of teaching nuns who would set up a convent and run the school. However, he also made it very clear that there was no chance of attracting a teaching order of nuns to the town until there was a new church. He was reported as stating:

He had spoken of a community of nuns, but for them they needed a decent church. So long as this disgraceful church stood to their credit – or discredit – there was no chance of a convent.

For Bishop Phelan the contract with the local Catholic community was that a new church had to be built before the convent and the school were established. As indicated, the church was funded and built in less than one year.

In early 1915 when Bishop Phelan set down this contract with the local Catholic community, relations between the various religions in the community were, apparently, unremarkable and, as already noted, there was certainly no difference in terms of support for the War. Yet, even then it did not take much to stir religious controversy. In his preaching that day, Phelan focused on what he saw as the evil of ‘secularism’ and he used France as his example. Secularism for Phelan equated to godliness and religious persecution. In fact, secular schooling, as far as Bishop Phelan was concerned, was in large part the cause of France’s parlous situation. In the same sermon he was quoted as claiming:

The present state of France is due to the secular education imparted by a masonic and infidel government in the public schools to the last generation of children. … In his opinion the present awful war was in one aspect due to the iniquities in France, which are directly traceable to infidel education imparted in the schools. It was up to Almighty God to chastise that nation and bring her back to a right sense.

The risks involved with such sweeping condemnations of secularism and secular education became very quickly apparent. One week later (12/5/15)  in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative there was a very extensive letter from Francis Blanc – farmer from Alberton West – highly critical of both Bishop Phelan and his arguments. Not only did he attack Phelan for being hostile to the French, he actually made the claim that Phelan was a ‘friend’ of the Germans. He also aired the (conspiracy) theory that the Vatican was supporting the Germans. As well, based on his own experiences as a school boy in France in the 1860s in Catholic schools, he blasted the failings of the very education system that Bishop Phelan advocated.  Essentially, Blanc argued that in his personal experience the ‘learning’ in Catholic schools in France had covered not much more than religious dogma and indoctrination.  Further, he argued that the weakened state of the Catholic Church in France was the direct result of the Church’s involvement in politics and, in particular, its support for the restoration of the Bourbons. Finally, in praising the contemporary secular system of education in France, Blanc also noted that it was the same as the Victorian model of compulsory and secular schooling.

Two days later (14/5/15), Fr Sterling felt the need to defend Bishop Phelan with his own letter to the editor. Stirling did not engage in the argument on the claimed failures of secular education. Nor did he  tackle the issue of church-state relations in contemporary France. Rather, his primary intention was to defend Phelan against the charge of disloyalty;

I am in a position to know that the Bishop is thoroughly anti-German in the present war, and when in Ireland made several speeches to the Nationalist Volunteers urging them to go to the front.

Additionally, Sterling refuted the claims about the Pope supporting the German side, or, more correctly, the claim that the Vatican had not been prepared to support to the cause of Belgian relief. He also made a point of praising both France and the French, and he pointed to his own family’s close association with the country – at the time he had 3 siblings living and working in France. The letter stands as an urgent exercise in damage control.

Bishop Phelan’s views on the contemporary secular state and, more significantly, its State system of education represented one of the fundamental fault lines in early 20 C Australian society; and this particular episode showed just how much tension and division there was to draw on and how quickly the old enmity could flare up.

The Catholic position on education was that children’s religious growth and development were at least as important as their mastery of the conventional – ‘secular’ – curriculum. For Catholics, both components of education had to be delivered, preferably by a religious order, within a school that was distinctly Catholic in its culture and daily practices. Moreover, the local Catholic primary school was seen as a highly visible manifestation of the strength of the local Catholic parish. Bishop Phelan’s deeper message to the Catholics of Yarram in early 1915 was that they needed first to build a church that truly represented their standing in the wider community, and then establish a Catholic primary school that would develop the Catholic identity of the local children, strengthen Catholic families and serve as proof of the strength of the local Catholic community.

The Catholic position was commonly seen by many as divisive and exclusive. It effectively removed Catholic children from the mainstream, secular state school and denied that a common education could characterise Australian society. It also meant scarce resources were compromised. The push for the Catholic school occurred at the same time as the community was lobbying for a higher elementary school in Yarram.

But there was yet another tension in this overall picture from mid 1916. Under the Education legislation of the time, religious denominations had the option to conduct religious instruction classes in the state school. Even though the option was taken up by all denominations, including Catholics, it was certainly not the preferred option. For Catholics, it could only ever be a compromise solution until a Catholic school became available in the local area. But for Protestants it was also an unsatisfactory arrangements. Their preferred model was that the state school teachers themselves – and not the local clergy coming in to the school on an occasional basis – taught ‘bible lessons’ as part of the school curriculum. But Catholics saw this plan as an attempt to turn the state school into a Protestant institution.

The debate was a long-standing one but the War appeared to give it some additional momentum, in the same way that the temperance movement gained considerable traction. Indeed, the backers of bible instruction for (Victorian) state schools advocated a referendum on the issue at the same time as the referendum on early closing. An article in the The Argus on 28/6/16 reported that the (Victorian) Government wanted to make clear that it was not going to follow the advice of the Scripture Instruction Campaign Council on the timing of any such referendum. Indeed, Cabinet also made it clear that it understood how divisive the issue was in both parliament and the community, and that it believed that even those who favoured the idea of the referendum… did not favour it while the war was in progress, and in no circumstances would support at this time a proposal of that kind, which might cause great division among the people.

However, there clearly was lobbying at the time for the referendum for ‘scripture in schools’, and those in favour of the referendum had a very different take on the issue of the timing of the referendum during the War. Ironically, given Bishop Phelans’ earlier attack, the argument ran on the presumed evils of secular France. For example, J Nicholson, Superintendent, Scripture Council, wrote in a letter to the editor in The Argus on 29/6/16:

The plea for postponement of all efforts to honour God’s Word in our national education until after the war is singularly lacking in moral perspective. If ever there was a time for “acknowledging God” in our national “ways” it is surely now! France was the first to lead in “secular” education, and the banishment of God from national thought; but this war has done much to correct that blunder in France. May we do likewise.

Even though the proposed referendum was formally put on hold, it continued to be pushed and  this prompted the Catholic hierarchy to respond. On 2/8/16 the South Gippsland Chronicle reported in detail on a sermon delivered by Bishop Phelan in Sale. In his sermon, Phelan told Catholics that they could not vote – in State elections – for anyone who supported the proposal to conduct the referendum. For Phelan, the backers of the referendum were determined to teach the Protestant religion in state schools and have all taxpayers, including Catholics, pay for the arrangement:

To put such a question to a popular vote would be to ask the people as a whole to say, first of all, whether the State – which has no religion – should in future teach the Protestant religion in the State schools; and whether Catholics should be called on to pay equally with Protestants for the teaching of the Protestant religion.

He added an argument which was to take on far greater meaning at the end of 1916:

No man has a right to record a vote [in a referendum] to coerce the conscience of another.

Not surprisingly, Bishop Phelan’s position attracted criticism. Specifically in relation to the Shire of Alberton, it set off a series of letters-to-the-editor that ran for all of August and into September 1916, with the 2 key letter writers being Rev F Tamagno (Methodist) and Fr. P F Sterling (Catholic). Once again, Sterling was required to step in and defend his Bishop’s comments.

Rev Tamagno’s first letter in the South Gippsland Chronicle was on 4/8/16, just 2 days after Bishop Phelan’s sermon. Tamagno certainly did not back away from the idea of having the Bible … inculcated in the State school curriculum.

The State Government lately decided against a referendum on Scripture lessons in the schools. … We Protestants do not accept the Government’s decision as final. We must organise (like our Roman Catholic friends) to send men into Parliament who will endeavor to have the Bible firmly established in this State’s schools.

Rev Tamagno argued that such scripture or Bible lessons would not equate to the teaching of Protestantism and would not promote sectarianism. He also took exception to the claim made by Bishop Phelan in his letter that the Catholic schools were saving the Victorian taxpayers £300,000 pa. In his view the amount claimed was overblown and yet another of the Catholics’ ‘fanciful grievances’. Further, he held that if the Roman Catholics faced financial hardship it was because of the ‘arrogant claims on education’ made by the ‘Romish Church’. The implication appeared to be the naive and gullible Roman Catholics in Gippsland – and all of Victoria and all of Australia – were being manipulated by the autocratic Roman Pope in the Vatican. On the issue of Church-State relations, Tamagno certainly saw the weakness of the modern, secular state but he argued that Church and State needed to work together – as in the case of the referendum on scripture – and that Protestants were far better placed to do this than Roman Catholics who were ultimately answerable to the (foreign) Pope. However, as indicated, he did admire the political organisation of the Catholics and urged his side to adopt the same tactics.

Fr Sterling replied to Rev Tamagno, in the same paper, on 9/8/16. Sterling argued that Tamagno’s letter was a typical attack on Catholics. He claimed Tamagno wanted to represent Catholics as … a terrible nuisance always growling about their grievances. Sterling’s tone was sarcastic and in his attempt to reveal what he saw as Tamagno’s condescending tone, he put words into Tamagno’s mouth, literally, and had him claim:

We [Protestants] even gave them [Catholics] permission to enlist in the army and fight and die for their country and still they keep on grumbling.

Sterling was making the point, directly, that Catholics were not second-class citizens. Nor could their beliefs be ignored or simply dismissed as the product of unthinking or blind obedience to Rome. In fact, Sterling was pointedly critical of Tamagno’s language:

The church to which I have the honor to belong is known to its members and to most outsiders by the designation of the Catholic church. Officially we are styled Roman Catholics. This term is ridiculous and self-contradictory, but we tolerate it because we must. No gentlemen and no man of education, except a piebald bigot, ever uses such terms as Rome or Romish.

Fr Sterling also covered the main argument that Catholics were right to fight against the teaching of scripture – as part of the curriculum – in state schools because, in his view, this practice would in effect make the schools Protestant. Sterling saw the proposal as an attempt by the Protestants to get their religion into the state schools ‘on the cheap’.

As indicated, this controversy continued in the local press for at least 6 weeks. It would have been impossible to ignore.

The events and positions described in this post show clearly that, leaving to one side both the complexities of the broader conflict between Irish Nationalism and British Imperialism, as played out in Australia, and the divisive issue of the first conscription referendum in late 1916, there was considerable potential for suspicion, mistrust and outright enmity between Catholic and Protestant in the local community, with much of this tied to very particular interpretations of ‘secularism’, particularly in the context of education. As much as people in the local community worked to promote a sense of unity in the face of the War, the fault lines between Catholic and Protestant were very substantial and undeniable. In this particular case, the commitment by local Catholics to reject ‘secular’ education and establish their own school, and at the same time deny Protestant influence in the state school, definitely compromised the ideal of a united local community.


Synan, T 2003, A Journey in Faith: A History of Catholic Education in Gippsland 1850-1981, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

South Gippsland Chronicle

The Argus



83. Enlistments in the first half of 1916: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post continues the analysis of Post 23: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history, Post 57:  Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history and Post 63: Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history. It continues the ongoing work to describe and interpret the essential character of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1.


The table below gives the religious affiliation of all those enlisting from the Shire over the period August 1914 to the end of June 1916. It also shows the equivalent figures for males in the 1911 Census for the county of Buln Buln.

There is no major variation evident in the figures. The broad religious profile of the community continued to be matched with enlistments. However, as noted earlier, 75% of enlistments in the first six months of 1916 occurred between January and March. If the situation in Ireland did affect Roman Catholic enlistment levels then this will only be evident from the next six-monthly analysis (July – December 1916).


As for previous cohorts, the great majority of men (66%) were taken on in the infantry battalions of the AIF. The largest single group (36) were sent as reinforcements for 6 Brigade – Battalions 21-24 – which had been formed in Victoria in early 1915. The second largest group (31) went to the newly formed (February 1916) 10 Brigade which was made up of 3 battalions from Victoria (Battalions 37-39) and one from Tasmania (40 Battalion).

Service History

The comparative table shows an apparently significant drop in the death-in-service rate for this particular cohort. But at this point it would be risky to make too much of this. Admittedly there is a certain logic that holds that the later men enlisted in the AIF, the less – theoretically at least – was their exposure to battle and death. But length of service could only have been one factor. For example, the units the men served in and the particular battles they faced must have been other critical factors.

In this cohort – the first half of 1916 – the number of men who were wounded at least once over the course of their service was 89 or 49%. The equivalent percentage for the previous cohort – those who enlisted in the second half of 1915 – was only 39.5%. At the same time, this previous cohort was the one with the higher death rate. The difference raises the question of whether, apart from chance – one man was shot and wounded, while the one next to him was shot and killed –  there were, over time, other factors involved in determining the nature of casualties in battle. For example, did changes to tactics or technology or medical practice reduce the level of deaths?  And was there some sort of trade-off that saw a lower death rate but, correspondingly, an increase the number of wounded?

Arguably, the number of variables involved makes it virtually impossible to make sense of – and certainly quantify – such situations. However, the more important observation is that the level of casualties continued at shocking levels. Specifically, for this latest cohort, apart from the figure already given of 49% wounded, 66% were hospitalised at least once over their period of service. As well, 41.5% of the cohort were discharged as the result of being wounded or being assessed as medically unfit – from disease or injury – to serve in the AIF. In several cases they were discharged in Australia, not long after enlisting. In other cases it is clear that there were serious medical consequences associated with the increasing number of mature men – in their thirties and forties – being accepted in the AIF.

Further, if you look at just those who survived the War – exclude those died on active service – the percentage in this cohort who were discharged on medical grounds increases to 50%. In other words, for this particualr cohort of volunteers, 17 % died on active service and of the remainder who survived the War, 50% were discharged with serious medical problems.

As already highlighted, the labour pool in the Shire was being dramatically depleted by enlistments. These dramatic casualty figures show that after the War the same labour pool would continue to be seriously depleted, and its overall health would be severely compromised.  It was hardly surprising that in the conscription debate many workers , and also front-line soldiers, feared that a vote for conscription would undermine the future of working-class Australia.

Another feature of this particular cohort is the number of men (6) who are charged with desertion. There is often confusion in such cases, and it is possible that the individual concerned did in fact re-enlist at some point, under a different name. Most of these cases involved the men, often only 18 or 19, going AWL in Australia before embarkation. However there is the more serious case of John William Steward who went missing in France in March 1918 and did not hand himself in to the military authorities in the UK until  November 1920.

Albert John Godfrey was a past student of Alberton State School. At the time he enlisted he was working as a miner in WA. He was a sapper in 1 Australian Tunnelling Company. He died of wounds on 22/7/17 but the wounds were ‘self inflicted’. A court of enquiry convened in February 1917 found that shot himself ‘whilst in an unsound state of mind’. He shot himself in the face. Witnesses at the enquiry reported him as ‘melancholy’ and ‘not right in the head’.

Lastly, this cohort also featured the extraordinary case of Alexander McDonald Atlee. Private Atlee was hospitalised in England in November 1916 suffering from ‘trench feet’. It was at this point that he lost his identification disc. Or perhaps it was stolen. Incredibly, in 1921 the same disc was found on the body of an Australian soldier exhumed in France. It was assumed to be the body of someone killed at Passchendaele. There was no other identification on the body, just Atlee’s lost disc. When the Graves’ Registration Unit established that Atlee had survived the War they contacted him requesting information on the disc. He could only state that he had lost the disc in England in November 1916 before returning to France. Why someone would carry the disc of another soldier as their own disc – or at least have it as the only disc on their person- must remain a mystery; but there was obviously more than mere chance or coincidence involved.


Overall, the characteristics established for the earlier cohorts of enlistments continued into the first half of 1916. The most significant difference appears to have been the changing age profile of the volunteers and the medical compromises associated with this trend towards accepting older volunteers.

82. Enlistments in the first half of 1916: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

This post continues the analysis, in six-monthly intervals, of several key characteristics of all those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. The relevant previous posts in the sequence are: Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status Post 56: Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status and Post 62Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status.

The specific characteristics covered in the attached table are: the place of birth, the place of enlistment, the address of the next-of-kin at the time of enlistment, the address of the individual volunteer at the time of enlistment, the occupation at the time of enlistment, and age and marital status at the time of enlistment. For a more detailed account of the methodology and sources refer to the earlier posts.


The same high levels of mobility of the rural working class are evident with this cohort of men who enlisted. Clearly there are many who were born in the Shire, went to school and grew up in the Shire and who were living and working in the Shire at the time they enlisted. But there were others who were born in the Shire and went to school there but who, by the time they enlisted had moved – or their family had moved – to another part of Gippsland, or Victoria, or another state. Then there were those who had moved into the Shire and were living and working there at the point they decided to enlist and who completed their medical examination in Yarram and were given their railway warrant by the Shire Secretary. Some of this group might only have been there for months or even weeks. Nonetheless,  there were definitely in the Shire when they enlisted.

Once again, there is a large group of men (25) who were born in the United Kingdom. However, the profile of this group appears to be changing. Where before they were predominantly young (18-21 yo), single immigrant farm workers who had only been in Australia for a short time, now there are many who are older – some are in their forties – and in some cases even married. Enlistment by the end of June 1916 was picking up men who had been born in the UK but living and working in Australia for many years. It appears that the more recent, young and single, immigrant workers who had come to Australia immediately before WW1 had, by this point, largely enlisted. The pressure that these young men were under to enlist has already been noted.


As for all previous cohorts, the largest single occupational group (61) is made up of those who describe themselves as either ‘labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’ or ‘farm worker’. There is a ‘bank manager’ (Richard Jeffrey Vicars Foote) but overall the professional/proprietorial/managerial class is hardly represented, apart from 4 school teachers. Overwhelmingly, as before, the cohort is rural working class.

There appears to be an increase in the number of those enlisting who came from the family farm. In this cohort of 183 there were 40 cases where there was evidence – the most common evidence comes from the Shire of Alberton Rate Book – to link the individual to the family farm, whereas in the previous cohort of 200 there were 29 such cases. Again, this linkage is somewhat arbitrary and the table shows that many of those that I have linked to a family farm described themselves as ‘labourer’. Equally, there are others who described themselves as ‘farmer’ whom I have qualified to ‘family farm’.  Clearly there were cases where even though the family held and worked a small acreage, the sons also worked for other farmers in the district.

There are approximately 12 cases where the occupation was given as ‘farmer’ but there is insufficient evidence to determine if the individual was a farmer in his own right – owned the land and farmed as the sole proprietor – or employed the term to describe working for someone as a farm labourer. However, the more important point is that the number of independent, sole farmers was minimal and it was really only those associated with family farming who enlisted.


The table shows the ages for this cohort.

Ages of volunteers – first half of 1916
ages                       %
18-20        37       20.2
21-25        67       36.6
26-30        41       22.4
31-35        18         9.8
36+            20        11.0
total        183      100

The following table shows that the age profile of those enlisting had changed by June 1916. Whereas in 1914, 73.1% of local enlistments came from those aged 25 yo or under, by June 1916 the figure had dropped to 56.8%. Within this shift, there was a marked increase in the number of enlistments from those over 36 yo. In fact, in this particular cohort of the 20 men aged 36 yo or older, 10 were 40 yo or older. Further, some in this sub-group misrepresented their age. For example, George Charles Hall gave his age as 42 yo but the records indicate his true age was 47 yo.

Henry John Gooding was another who lied about his age. When he enlisted in March 1916 he claimed to be just 34 yo but when he was discharged on medical grounds in November 1917 his ‘true age’ was given as 48 yo. Inevitably, there were significant medical risks associated with the enlistment of ‘older’ men. This will be highlighted in the next post which looks more closely at the men’s service history.

Marital Status

The table also shows another increase in the number of married men enlisting. In the cohort for the second half of 1915 the figure was 23 or 11.5% but for the first half of 1916 the equivalent figures are 30 and 16%. These figures do not include the small number of men who married some time between enlistment and embarkation, and those who married in the UK.

In terms of those who were married with family, the case of Wlliam Hickey is rather tragic. He was a farm labourer from Alberton West. When he enlisted at age 41 yo he was a widower with 3 children. He was killed in action 9/10/17. At the time he enlisted it appears that the children were still young. Certainly, one of them, Lawrence, was no more than 9 yo.

Private Hickey gave his sister – Mrs Johanna Harrop –  also living at Alberton West, as his next-of-kin. His parents were deceased so there were no grandparents on his side of the family to help with the children. It is not clear if the 3 children went to live with their aunt when the father enlisted. She did describe herself as their guardian in 1922 when she had to deal with the AIF over the question of the father’s medals.  However, the children do not appear to have been living with her at that point because she gave Lawrence’s address as St. Augustus Orphanage, Geelong. Lawrence was then 15 yo. Perhaps the children were with her until the death of the father. Whatever the situation, there is no doubt that the father’s enlistment and subsequent death would have had led to considerable hardship for the children.


The surge in enlistments post Gallipoli certainly continued into 1916. However, a closer look at the dates of enlistment in the table shows that 135 of the 183 enlistments (75%) took place in the first 3 months of 1916. From April 1916, the rate of volunteers was slowing. The table also shows a shift in the overall age profile of the men, with those over 25 yo increasing in number; and some considerably older volunteers coming forward. Equally, the number of married men was increasing. The number of young, immigrant rural workers who could enlist was also declining. These trends suggest that in the Shire of Alberton the pool of ‘ideal’ volunteers – young, single and healthy – had contracted significantly.

What remained constant was the fact that the overwhelming majority of volunteers came from the rural working class. The second largest group of volunteers was made up of the sons who came from family farms; and in many instances there was overlap between these 2 groups, with some family farming so limited that the sons also worked as agricultural labourers on other farms.

By the end of June 1916, the amount of labour that had been withdrawn from the local economy was so great that the prospect of conscription would, inevitably, be seen as a direct threat to the farming community.


81. Enlistments in the first half of 1916

This post presents the table of all those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the first half of 1916. It builds on the work of 3 earlier posts, Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’ , Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915 and Post 61: Enlistments in the second half of 1915.

It is the fourth six-monthly profile of enlistments and the 183 men in this particular profile take the total number of those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted – from August 1914 to the end of June 1916 – to 619.

As for the previous cohorts, there are at least another 10 men whose names appeared on various honor rolls or memorials but who, as yet, cannot be identified. In such cases, the most common problem is that the only piece of evidence is the name, which, by itself – eg. Williams or Robertson –  is not sufficient to identify the individual. Research on identifying such men continues.

There are also cases of men who can be identified but whose service history is hard to uncover or interpret. Samuel Charles Hammond Emmerson is an example. He was on the electoral roll as a farmer of Binginwarri and he also appeared in the 1915 Shire of Alberton Rate Book. He was issued with railway warrant number 324 on 22/3/16 for travel to Melbourne to complete his enlistment. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported his enlistment in a short piece on 7/4/16. It also reported, on 14/4/16, the farewell he was given at Fairview (Hiawatha). However it then reported (19/5/16) that he had been turned down in Melbourne at the final medical assessment. There is an MT 1486/1 (1916-1916) for SCH Emerson which records only that he was 40 yo and had been born at Foostcray. This certainly suggests that his enlistment did not go ahead. Moreover, he does not appear on the Embarkation Roll and nor is his name on the Nominal Roll. Overall, there is no evidence that he served in the AIF. Yet, strangely, his name – Emmerson S C H – appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. It also appears that he was involved in the Soldier Settlement scheme in the local area at the end of the War. For present purposes, he has not been included in the table.

Another person not on the table is Frederick Toyne. He was given railway warrant 294 on 1/3/16. The local paper subsequently covered his farewell (26/4/16) from the district and noted that he had been awarded the Shire of Alberton Medallion. This farewell would have been after he had been in camp for some weeks. But for some reason he must have been discharged because his name is on neither the embarkation nor nominal roll. There is no record of any service. It appears he tried again, unsuccessfully, to enlist in 1917. Moreover, in October 1916 the local paper carried a story (6/10/16) about him being convicted of being on licensed premises ‘during prohibited hours’ so he was clearly back in the Shire and not serving in the AIF. Yet, for all the evidence that he did not serve in the AIF, his name is included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

There is also the case of John James Lord. He was a carpenter in Yarram and he was given his railway warrant for travel on 25/2/16. His enlistment did not go ahead but there is no indication as to why. Most likely, he failed his medical in Melbourne, but there is no formal record that this is what happened. However, he was  still very keen to serve because there was a report in the  Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/5/17, more than one year later, that he was in fact leaving for overseas – to the UK –  as a volunteer munition worker. While he is not included on the table below, on the grounds that he did not serve in the AIF, there was another munition worker in the UK who is included. Leslie Henry James Hole, who had been born in Bristol, England, enlisted in January 1916 and served overseas but he was discharged in July 1918, as medically unfit, in the UK. On discharge he took up work as a munition worker in the UK . After the War he returned to Australia and applied, unsuccessfully it appears, for the Soldier Settlement scheme.

These brief examples highlight some of the difficulties in creating the definitive table of all those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted and served in the AIF.

For most men, as the table shows, the links are obvious and plentiful, but for others the evidence is very limited – perhaps nothing more than a railway warrant issued by the Shire Secretary – and it can be hard to interpret. Yet it is this latter group – most commonly, itinerant rural workers – who are so important in establishing the complete picture of how the War played out in this particular rural community. Paradoxically, the group easiest to miss or ignore is the most important one when it comes to uncovering the social history of the complete community.





As before, the following records are the ones used in the table to establish the connection to the Shire:

The Shire of Alberton Honor Roll

The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary

The Shire of Alberton Medallion

The Shire of Alberton War Memorial

The honor rolls of state schools in the Shire of Alberton

Community honor rolls in the Shire of Alberton

Newspaper accounts (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative)


80. Pozieres: Moquet Farm from 10/8/16 – G W APPLEYARD, A REEVES, J NEIL & P J MILLS

Gordon William APPLEYARD 865
9 Battalion DOW 24/8/16

Gordon William Appleyard was one of 6 brothers of the Appleyard family from Alberton who enlisted. Gordon and another brother – Charles Courtney Appleyard MM – were both killed in 1916, Gordon in August and Charles in November. In addition, there was a cousin – Edgar Appleyard, from Alberton – who was also killed, in Egypt in 1917. The names of all three are on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

Gordon’s mother – Jane Appleyard – recorded the following when she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour:

Pte. W. G. Appleyard was one of 6 brothers who enlisted with the A.I.F. My Mother’s Father and only Brother served their time under Queen Victoria. This boy said when very young if war broke out when he was a man he would be a soldier. He proved himself one.

Private Gordon Appleyard enlisted on 3/9/14, just one month after the formal declaration of war (4/8/14). At the time he enlisted he was living and working in Queensland. He enlisted at Rockhampton. But even though he enlisted interstate, he was clearly still regarded as ‘local’. He had been born in Yarram, grew up in the district and attended school at Binginwarri. It is not evident when he moved to Queensland, but it was probably in his early twenties because he had been a member of the South Gippsland Rifle Club.  His name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.  Also, his mother gave Binginwarri as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

At the time of his enlistment, Gordon was single and 26 yo. His occupation was listed as labourer. Back in Gippsland, the father had a farm at Binginwarri, with at least some of the boys helping out.

Private Gordon Appleyard joined 9 Battalion, one of the very first units of the AIF. It embarked within a couple of months of being formed and reached Egypt in December 1914. It was involved from the very beginning of the Gallipoli campaign.

Private Appleyard was evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsula to a hospital ship in September 1915. He appears to have been suffering from dysentery and rheumatic fever. He was in hospital in Malta before being transferred to England in October 1915. Hospitalisation and treatment continued right through to July 1916. He left England for the front in late July and rejoined his battalion on 8/8/16, nearly a year after being evacuated from Gallipoli. At Pozieres, and  less than 2 weeks after rejoining his unit, he was wounded on 20/8/16, and then died from the wounds just 4 days later on 24/8/16, at the 44th Casualty Clearing Station. He was buried in a marked grave at Puchevillers British Cemetery.

In terms of the specific action in which Private Appleyard died, the war diary for 9 Battalion indicates that, as part of the 1 Division, it was involved in heavy fighting at Pozieres, in the vicinity of Mouquet Farm, from August 19 – 23. The fighting was characterised by intense enemy artillery barrages. There was one such barrage on the afternoon of the 20 August.  Most likely this was when Private Appleyard was wounded.

Over the course of the 5 days (19-23 August), 9 Battalion suffered 164 casualties. The war diary also offers a telling insight on why the casualty levels from artillery bombardments were so high. Essentially, the shelling was so intense that the front line was being levelled, day after day.

I desire to draw attention to the inadequate arrangements for the improving of the communication trenches to the very forward positions. Owing to the short time a Battalion is in the line it is impossible to secure a continuity of Policy. The main communications should be in the hands of an Officer who has control of Pioneers and salvage men and these trenches should be built in the most concealed position and maintained. Considering the enemy levels them every day, it is difficult work, but it should be done. I consider half my causalities were due to defective communications [trenches].
25th August 1916
Lieut. Col. Commanding 9th Battalion.

The formal Report of Death of a Soldier for Private Appleyard was issued on 30/9/16, five weeks after his death, but it appears that word of the death was passed to the family in mid to late September 1916. The following letter, dated 27 November 1916, again points to the way families were informed via the local clergy. It also clearly reflects the pressing need for as much information as possible in relation to deaths. The letter was written by the father (George Appleyard). It was sent to Senator Hon, G. F Pearce, Minister for Defence.

Will you please give me particulars of the death of my son who died of wounds on the 24th August 1916. That is all the information I received from a telegram sent to the Church of England Clergyman of Alberton. I would like to know where he died. Also particulars of deferred pay and any pay due to him. He sailed from Queensland on 15th Sep.1914 on the troopship Omrah and died on 24th Aug 1916. Hoping you will give this your favourable notice.

The response came from Base Records on 4 December 1916. It was effectively the form letter of the time; and the only additional piece of information offered was the name of the casualty clearing station.

With reference to the report of the regrettable loss of your son, the late No. 865 (1027), Private G. W. Appleyard, 9th Battalion, I am now in receipt of advice which shows that he died at No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station, France, on the 24th August 1916, of wounds received in action.

It is clear from the records that the family continued to try to uncover details of the son’s fate. Even though he was never ‘missing’, it appears that the Red Cross Society (Melbourne) took up the case on behalf of the mother in late 1918 (25/11/18).

The above named soldier is officially reported as died of wounds on the 24th August, 1916 – he is one of five brothers who enlisted and his mother is particularly anxious to get any information that is available concerning his death and burial.

The Red Cross was able to track down the details of the burial – He was buried at Puchevillers Military Cemetery on the 25/8/16 by the Capt. Rev. Knevitt C.E. padre to the Forces.

The Red Cross correspondence of 25/11/18 refers to 5 brothers from the Appleyard family having enlisted. This figure of 5 brothers is one less than previously highlighted. The discrepancy came about because in early October 1916, after word of Private Gordon Appleyard’s death had reached the family, the parents wrote to the Minister of Defence (1/10/16) requesting that the most recent, and the sixth son to enlist, be discharged from the AIF. The request was approved:

I have 6 sons in the A.I.F. The first one [Gordon William] went at the outbreak of the war in Oct 1914. He was in the Dardanelles for 6 months when he was invalided to England. He recovered was sent to France some time ago and was killed on 24th Aug.

Another son was wounded about the same time in France and I cannot hear where he is or any tidings of him. 3 other sons are in the thick of the battle. The 6th son is still here in camp. He was ill and sent to the Base Hospital where he was operated on a month ago. He came home yesterday on sick leave for 14 days. I am writing to ask you to give this son his discharge. He is the only one we have. His Father is too old to look after the farm and I think we have given our share with the 5 boys who we might never see again. Please grant this request and discharge our son. We shall be ever grateful to you. I am yours most respectfully

The son in question, Ernest, enlisted on 26/4/16. He was 30 yo and his occupation was given as farmer. He was assigned to reinforcements for the 46 Battalion but never embarked. He was operated on for ‘varicocele’ in late September 1916 and, as indicated, his recuperation involved being nursed at home for two weeks, from 29/9/16. When he returned to the hospital he was ordered to report to Royal Park, where under instructions from Divisional Headquarters he was discharged, on 20/10/16. Private Appleyard himself recorded as the reason he was requesting his discharge – family circumstances as stated in correspondence already forwarded to D. H. Q. 3rd M.D. The official records show that he was discharged forthwith for family reasons.

Three lots of personal kit for their son – (1) Belt, part of pipe lighter, cigarette holder, Button protector and (2) Identity Disc, Chain, Pipe, Cigarette Lighter, Cards, Photos, Wallet, Note Book, Money belt, Linen Bag and (3) Testament, Fountain pen, letter – were returned to the family over 1917 and 1918.


National Archives file for APPLEYARD Gordon William 865
Roll of Honour: Gordon William Appleyard
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Gordon William Appleyard
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Gordon William Appleyard



Alfred REEVES 3342
24 Battalion DOW 25/8/16

Alfred Reeves was yet another young, English immigrant farm worker who found himself in Gippsland at the outbreak of World War 1. And like so many of them, there is very little detail of his life, both in the Shire of Alberton and in the AIF. His name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton War Memorial or the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Yet he was definitely living and working in the Shire prior to enlistment. He completed his initial medical at Yarram 30/7/15 and was then issued with a railway warrant (No. 190, dated 30/7/15) by the Shire Secretary so that he could travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment. Fish Creek is given as the place of association on the (National) Roll of Honour, but the basis for this association is unclear.

When he enlisted in Melbourne (4/8/15) he gave his age as 18 yo and his occupation as farmer, again reflecting how the descriptors ’farmer’ and ‘farm hand’ or ‘farm labourer’ were often used interchangeably. He would have been younger than 18 yo at the time because he was only recorded as 18 yo when he died one year later (25/8/16) in France. He had been born in Leicester and he gave his father, also of Leicester, as his next-of-kin. His religion was Church of England.

There was some confusion and contradiction in terms of his initial time in the AIF and there is even an incorrect reference to him being a deserter. The very date from which he was said to have been missing – 25/11/15 – was in fact the the day his group of reinforcements for 24 Battalion left Melbourne for the Middle East.  To add to the confusion, the same date is also given as the date he ‘re-attested’ or re-enlisted. Perhaps his initial enlistment papers went missing at the point he embarked for overseas service and, back in Australia, the AIF authorities were searching for a soldier who was in fact on his way to Egypt.

He spent a short time in hospital in Egypt and then reached Marseilles on 18/5/16 and was taken on strength with 24 Battalion on 31/7/15.

Less than one month later he was wounded (25/8/16) – shrapnel wound chest and buttocks – and died the same day. He was another killed by the ferocious artillery barrages that characterised the fighting at Pozieres. The war diary for 24 Battalion for that day reported Heavy shelling all day. The other item to feature in the diary for the same day was a reference – one of the very first – to German soldiers carrying flame throwers – One cylinder when struck exploded & blew the man to pieces.

Private Reeves was buried at Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery, Picardie. The family was advised on his death on 21/9/16. A handful of items from his personal kit – Letters, Wallet, Cigarette Cards – were also returned. The mother received a pension of £2 a fortnight from 25/10/16.

There is no correspondence in the service file from the family in England. Nor did the family complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. So there is very little to add to the short life of this largely unknown and unacknowledged young English immigrant. However, there is a transcribed copy of a letter that Private Reeves wrote to his mother in England when he was in training – at the military camp at Flemington – in August 1915. This does at least serve as some acknowledgement that he was probably a naive, and certainly patriotic, very young volunteer. He was also very close to his mother:

Dear Mother
Just a few lines to let you know that I am alright and happy hoping this letter will find you the same. You will see by the address [Methodist Soldiers’ Institute. Military Camp, Flemington] where I am, and I am under training. I am getting on alright, and I am very glad I got in. I have been in a fortnight and I have had a good bit of training. I have signed papers that in the event of my being killed all my wages go to you and if I get wounded it will go to you just the same. When you [are] writing your letter write this, A. Reeves, 2 Section, 4th Platoon, and then I will get them alright. I am sending you some photos of me and I hope in three weeks I will send some more. You see, I have not got my pay. We only get paid 1 a month and I will have to go another 14 days before I get my money. I have not had a letter from Ada for about 18 weeks but I don’t care. If she doesn’t want to write she need not bother. I am very sorry to hear such a lot have been killed from Home but we will win. I shall probably be gone to the War by the time you get this letter

Well Dearie. Au Revoir. Ever your loving son. Alfie.
remember me to all.


National Archives file for REEVES Alfred 3342
Roll of Honour: Alfred Reeves
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alfred Reeves



James NEIL 3897
22 Battalion KIA 26/8/16

James Neil was born at Tarraville. His father, as next-of-kin, was Richard Neil who was on the electoral roll as labourer of Tarraville. James grew up in the district and attended state school at both Tarraville and Alberton. He had been in the Port Albert Rifle Club for 6 months prior to enlistment. He gave his occupation on the enlistment papers as labourer. His religion was Church of England and he was 21 yo and single. There was an older  brother – William Neil – who had enlisted about one month earlier (29/6/15).

James Neil had his initial medical in Yarram and then completed the enlistment in Melbourne on 29/7/15. He was taken on as reinforcements for 22 Battalion. His group left Melbourne for overseas service in early 1916 (8/2/16) and reached France at the end of March (27/3/16).

Within days of arriving in France, he was hospitalised for two weeks with ‘scabies’. After his discharge from hospital he was finally taken on strength for 22 Battalion on 31/7/16, less than 1 month before he died.

22 Battalion, as part of 2 Division, first saw action at Pozieres on 29/7/16. This attack failed. 2 Division next featured in the attack on 4/8/16. This time there was limited success, but the men were subsequently subjected to a ferocious two day artillery bombardment. By this point, 2 Division had suffered nearly 7,000 casualties. The third appearance was on 26/8/16 and on this occasion it managed to reach Mouquet Farm, one of the key objectives, but was not able to hold it. Private Neil was one of the casualties on 26 August.

The War Diary of 22 Battalion indicates that in the fighting on that day – 26/8/16 – it reinforced its sister battalion, 21 Battalion, at the two locations known as ‘Toms Cut’ and the ‘Quarry’. The actual level of casualties for 22  Battalion was not very high, only approximately 50; and Private Neil would have been one of the 8 reported as ‘missing’. By contrast, 21 Battalion suffered nearly 300 casualties in the same action.

Private Neil was initially reported as ‘missing’ and then at a court of enquiry held 15 months later – 26/11/17 – this was changed to ‘killed in action’ on the same day. His body was never recovered and his name appears on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

There was only one piece of correspondence from Private Neil’s family in Tarraville over his fate.  In October 1916 (15/10/16)  another brother – John Neil – wrote:

Please supply me with the information of Private James Neil who was recently reported missing a few weeks back and I have not heard anything since.

The response from Base Records – 21/10/16 – indicated that he was still ‘reported as missing on 26-8-16’ and promised prompt communication should any further information ‘come to hand’.

However, it appears that the family knew of their son’s fate well before the official committee of enquiry determined that he had been killed. The Red Cross report for Private James Neil suggests that news of the death was conveyed to the older brother – Private William Neil – by men from 22 Battalion. Private William Neil was in 14 Battalion (4 Division) and he had been wounded – GSW lower extremities and shell shock – in action at Pozieres on 12/8/16. He was hospitalised first in France and then in England. Presumably, while recovering in hospital, with the very many other casualties from the extended series of battles at Pozieres, he heard first-hand accounts of his brother’s death. He would have then conveyed this information to his family back in Tarraville.

Surprisingly, there is no indication that any personal kit was ever returned to the family.

The information for the (National) Roll of Honour was provided by the brother – William Neil – who identified Tarraville as the place with which his younger brother was ‘chiefly connected’.  Strangely, James Neil is listed on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial but his name is not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.


National Archives file for NEIL James 3897
Roll of Honour: James Neil
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Neil
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: James Neil



Patrick Joseph MILLS 4236
7 Battalion DOW 29/8/16

note: Patrick Joseph Mills was the brother of my wife’s grand father (Frederick John  Mills).

Patrick Joseph Mills was born at Gordon, about 25 Km from Ballarat. He came from a very large family of 18 children and one foster child. Similar to the Appleyard family above, at least 5 Mills brothers saw service in WW1. Two served in the New Zealand army – John Francis Mills KIA and George Thomas Mills – and at least 3 served in the AIF: Patrick Joseph Mills, William Mills and Gordon Francis Mills. Of the 3 in the AIF, William Mills returned to Australia in 1919 with an English wife – Margaret New – but the other 2 brothers were killed: Gordon Francis Mills 4/10/17 and Patrick Joseph Mills 29/8/16.

The Mills boys grew up at Gordon. They went to St. Patricks, the Catholic primary school in Gordon. When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour for Private Patrick Mills, he even gave Gordon as the location with which his son – Patrick – was ‘chiefly connected’. However, by the outbreak of WW1, three of the Mills brothers – Patrick Joseph Mills, James Patrick Mills and Frederick John Mills – were living and working in the Shire of Alberton.

Private Patrick Mills (4236) enlisted on 7/8/15 in Melbourne. At the time he was 26 yo and single. He gave his occupation as labourer. He was Roman Catholic.

The records suggest that Private Mills was initially in 10 Battalion but was transferred to 7 Battalion on 25/11/15. He embarked for overseas service at the end of December 1915 (29/12/15). He was not involved in the Gallipoli campaign and his unit reached Marseilles from Alexandria at the end of March 1916.

He was hospitalised in France at the end of June 1916 and rejoined his battalion one month later (29/7/16). He was wounded in action at Pozieres on 18/8/16 and died 2 weeks later on 29/8/16. The wound was described as ‘Shell wound Abdomen and Thigh’. Like Private George Appleyard, he died at the 44th Casualty Clearing Station and, also like Private Appleyard, he was buried in the Puchevillers British (Military) Cemetery.

The war diary for 7 Battalion gives details of the background fighting at the time Private Mills was wounded. On 17 August, 7 Battalion was ordered to relieve 5 Battalion and take over the front line from ‘Tramway to Bapaume Road’. This was completed by 0700 on 18 August and, generally, that day itself passed reasonably quietly with only 3 casualties recorded. However, the Diary also indicates that beginning that night, 7 Battalion was involved in a major attack which involved a far higher level of casualties.

The ‘notes’ reproduced below, are taken from operational orders for 7 Battalion, issued at 5.20 PM on 18th August 1916. They detail the perilous nature of such attacks, particularly when they involved advancing towards the enemy positions as their own side’s artillery barrage was in progress, ‘creeping forward’. All this needs to seen against the background reality that the Australians’ own artillery could fall short and hit the advancing troops. It was certainly not an exact science. Also evident is the need to prevent the troops from panicking and falling back to their own lines at the nearest suggestion of any order to withdraw. Doubtless the last claim [(d)] would have been seen as exceptionally gratuitous advice, presuming of course that the men survived the enemy’s bombardment. There were 164 casualties in this particular action.

(a) Men should be warned to follow barrage closely but not to run into it.

(b) When objective is reached, not to pursue small groups of men, but to follow with fire. If our men rush past the object they will run into our own barrage of artillery and M. Gun fire.

(c) Impress on all ranks that the words RETIRE and EVACUATE are not to be obeyed and no excuse will be accepted for troops withdrawing on such commands. N.C.Os. should particularly be warned that they must not take such orders from anyone, but until received from a known superior they must stick and keep their men with them.

(d) Men who have stood through an enemy bombardment have nothing to fear from his infantry attack when his artillery lifts.

Because Private Mills died at a casualty clearing station, the formalities associated with recording the death and informing the family were discharged relatively quickly. The Report of Death of a Soldier was issued on 20/9/16, about 3 weeks after his death; and in the normal course of events the family would have been notified by either late September or early October, 1916.

However, whenever the notification of death did arrive it would have been a truly cruel blow, because earlier, on 13 September, some 2 weeks after Private Mills had died from his wounds, the family was in fact advised that their son had been wounded. Worse, the letter to the father assured him that the wound was … not stated as being serious and in the absence of further reports it is to be assumed all wounded are progressing satisfactorily. As seen in earlier cases, the father was then given an address for writing to his wounded son, who was, unfortunately, already dead. When the formal confirmation of death came it would have been a brutal reversal in fortune for the family.

The father wrote in March 1917 asking if any of his son’s kit or other effects had ‘come to hand’. Several months later (August 1917) a small number of personal items – Discs (2). Coins (2). Purse. Belt with buttons attached – were returned to the family. After the War, the medals went to the ‘eldest surviving brother’ –  Kenneth Gordon Mills, born 1866 – because by that point both parents had died. The mother died in early 1915 (24/2/15) and the father in late 1920 (29/10/20).

Private Mills’ name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton War Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.


National Archives file for MILLS Patrick Joseph 4236
Roll of Honour: Patrick Joseph Mills
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Patrick Joseph Mills


79. Pozieres: 2 Division, 4-5 August – J E McINTOSH, P J DAVIDSON, G V AUBREY, A G INSEAL & G T MORLEY

James Edward McINTOSH 3897
23 Battalion KIA 4/8/16

James McIntosh was born at Heidelberg. At the time he enlisted in Melbourne (12/8/15) he was 30 yo and single. He had tried to enlist in Yarram earlier but had failed the medical. He was one of the many who were initially rejected by the local doctors but then subsequently passed by army medical staff in Melbourne. At the same time, he did not acknowledge that he had in fact failed an earlier medical. His name was on the electoral roll as a butcher of Alberton. There is no evidence that he owned property at Alberton, or anywhere else in the Shire of Alberton, so as a ‘butcher’ he was most likely to have been an employee rather than the proprietor. His name is recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor but his death is not acknowledged. Nor does his name appear on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

When he completed his enlistment papers he noted that both parents were dead, and as his next-of-kin he gave his brother, John Thomas Macintosh of Clifton Hill. The same brother, with the same address, was also listed as next-of-kin on the embarkation roll. However, the address that Private Macintosh gave for himself on the embarkation roll was Miss Margaret Macintosh, care of J. Dawson, Burgundy Street, Heidelberg. His religion was Roman Catholic.

Private Macintosh embarked for overseas service in early February 1916. He reached France, via the Middle East, at the end of March 1916. His time in the front line was very short. He was admitted to hospital with bronchitis on 13/5/16 and did not rejoin his unit until the end of July 1916. 23 Battalion was involved in the 2 Division attack on the German lines at Pozieres on 4 August from 9.15 PM. The action was rated as more ’successful’ than earlier attacks but 2 Division suffered more that 6,000 casualties in not much more than a week.

At the more personal level, Private Macintosh was one of the many who disappeared at Pozieres. Initially, he was described as ‘wounded and missing’. The status was finally changed to ‘killed in action’, but not until 17/12/17, nearly 18 months later. The cable back to Australia advising of the death was dated 6/1/18.

Incredibly, in September 1916, about 1 month after the battle, the next-of-kin (his brother, John McIntosh) was sent formal advice that Private J E McIntosh had been ‘wounded’. The letter did not specify the nature of the wound. Nor was is it able to give the name of the hospital where he was being treated. However, it did advise that there was no real concern – It [the wound] is not stated as being serious and in the absence of further reports it is to be assumed that all wounded are progressing favourably.

But one year later, In September 1917, the brother was sent the standard form from the AIF asking for any information which the family might have received that could throw some light on what had happened. There was no longer any suggestion that Private Macintosh was recuperating in some unknown hospital somewhere in France or England.

I shall be glad if you will return this letter to me with a statement as to whether you have obtained any news of the soldier from any other source.

If letters or post cards from the soldier have reached you SINCE THE DATE THAT HE WAS POSTED MISSING, the last you have received should be enclosed; it will be returned to you.

If you have received from soldiers or others reports that the soldier is dead or a prisoner of war, you should state the names and addresses of the people who informed you; if they were soldiers you should give their names, numbers, and regiments; if they sent you letters, the letters should be forwarded. Any letters you send will be returned to you in due course.

There was no reply to this request. In fact, it appears that communication with the brother had either already broken down or broke down near the time of this communication. There is no correspondence in the service file from the brother. Also, the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, sent to the brother, was not completed. A few items of person kit – 3 Knives, Belt – were forwarded to the brother in September 1918 but, again, there is no indication that he received them. Certainly, by early 1920, when the authorities were trying to issue medals they were unable to make contact with the brother as next-of-kin. Mail was returned as ‘not at this address’.

It appears that the authorities then placed a notice in the press – December 1921 – calling for relatives to come forward. They also sought to identify if anyone was receiving any war gratuity or pension in relation to Private McIntosh. The Department of Repatriation duly advised that there was no record of anyone submitting a pension claim.

But someone had already come forward claiming to be a family contact. In early 1918 (28/1/18), Miss Margaret McIntosh, care of Mr J Dawson of Burgundy Street Heidelberg – the same person and address identified on the embarkation roll – had written to Base Records, Melbourne stating that she was the mother … of the late No 3897 Private J E McIntosh. Subsequently, on 2 occasions – February 1918 and May 1920 –  Base Records wrote back, noting that Private McIntosh had given his brother as his next-of-kin and that he had also stated that both parents were dead, and requesting that she provide both a statutory declaration and birth certificate to support her claim. There is no evidence in the service file that such documentation was provided.

Like so many others, Private McIntosh disappeared at Pozieres. With no grave, his name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. However, it also appears that his disappearance in France served to magnify family dislocation back in Australia. On the face of it, in the end, for Private McIntosh, there was no real formal link to anyone.


National Archives file for McINTOSH James Edward 3897
Roll of Honour: James Edward McIntosh
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Edward McIntosh
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: James Edward McIntosh



Percy James DAVIDSON 140
22 Battalion KIA 5/8/16

Percy James Davidson was one of the first 20 who enlisted at Yarram on 16/9/14. He was only 18 yo at the time and his mother, as his next-of-kin, who was living at Clifton Hill, had to telegraph her permission for his enlistment. His enlistment form indicated that he was to join the ‘Light Horse Gippsland’ but when he reached Broadmeadows he was appointed to 14 Battalion. His medical report indicated that his teeth had to be ‘attended to’.

Percy Davidson gave his occupation as gardener. He had been born at Auburn in Tasmania. His religion was Church of England.

Private Davidson’s first stint in the AIF did not last long because he was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ on 29/10/14. When his mother completed the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour she explained what happened:

This young lad joined up Sept 1914.  … was injured through over lifting and rendered unfit for duty discharged, four months under medical treatment at home joined up again Feb 1915.

When he enlisted the second time on 8/2/15 Percy Davidson recorded his previous service and the fact that he had been discharged as ‘medically unfit’. This time he was appointed to 22 Battalion, A company.

22 Battalion left Melbourne on 10/5/15 and joined the campaign at Gallipoli at the end of August 1915. After the evacuation it arrived back in Alexandria at the start of January 1916 and then left for France on 19/3/16 and disembarked at Marseilles on 26/3/16.

In France, Private Davidson was hospitalised with influenza at the end of March and early April. At the end of July he was promoted to temporary Corporal.

On 5/8/16 he was listed as missing and after more than one year, as a result of a court of enquiry held on 26/11/17, he was found to have been killed in action on the day he was first listed as missing.

22 Battalion went to the front line trenches at Pozieres on 27/7/16 and was involved in the attack from 9.15 PM on 4/8/16. The attack was successful but it provoked an intense artillery barrage that was responsible for heavy causalities. The war diary of the battalion shows that the casualties for the period 27 July to 8 August were 650, with 90 killed, nearly 150 missing and over 400 wounded. The war diary also noted that on 10 August, the battalion – or what was left of it – was inspected, en route, with the rest of 6 Brigade, by His Majesty King George V.

There is a Red Cross report for Corporal Davidson but there is only one witness statement:

At Pozieres in the 2nd Line in Reserve he was killed by a shell. It buried three or four but he was the only one killed. We were about [?] yards away from him at the time and word came down about it.

The statement came from Private Waters 278, 22 Battalion on 11/10/16, two months after the fighting. Private Waters was in hospital in England having been wounded in the same action. There is some confusion over the date when Private Waters was wounded and, as a consequence, it is possible that Private Davidson was killed on 4/8/16 rather than 5/8/16.

In mid August 1917, Corporal Davidson’s mother received from the AIF Kit Store in London some of his personal belongings: Photos, and Hair, Cards, Letters, Diary, 3 Note Books, Prayer book, Wallet, Scissors, Alabaster, Strop, 3 Brushes, Pouch, Metal ring, Handkerchief, Pipe.

The inventory list referred to her son as ‘the late 140 Pte Davidson. P. 22 Batt’n. A.I.F.’ She immediately wrote back:

I see per inventory he is spoken of as the late etc. I have never been notified by the defence department of my Son’s death. Would you give me Official information of the same if you have it.

The official reply on 24/8/17 was that there had been a ‘typographical error’ and there was still no official confirmation of the death.

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your communication concerning No. 140 Corporal P. J. Davidson, 22nd Battalion, and have to state that so far no report other than “Missing 5/8/16” has yet come to hand. The endorsement on the inventory which appears to indicate that [he] is no longer alive is evidently a typographical error on the part of one of the clerks in the London Office. It is understood the overseas authorities are endeavouring to obtain all the evidence there is possible with a view to finalizing these unsatisfactory cases at an early date, and any later reports received will be promptly transmitted.

Official confirmation of Corporal Davidson’s death would have reached his mother in late November 1917. His name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

Even though he was one of the first to enlist at Yarram, Percy Davidson’s name is not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Nor is his name on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial; and when his mother supplied the information for the (National) Roll of Honour of Australia she gave North Fitzroy as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

At the same time, there were clear links to Yarram. He was living and working in the district when he first enlisted. As well, he was known to the locals. For example, on 18/4/16 he wrote to the parents of Lance-Corporal Percy Wallace of Goodwood expressing his sympathy at the death of their son and giving an account of the circumstances of his death. He related how close he had been to Percy – I mourn his loss very much , as we have been like brothers to each other – and he closed the letter,

If there is anything I can do to make his last resting place comfortable, be assured I will do it. When I find out where he has been buried, I will write and let you know, also any particulars I get. I shall be glad to hear from you when you have time.

The letter, in its entirety, was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/6/16.

As already indicated Corporal Davidson gave his mother – Mrs Louie M Davidson – as next-of-kin. He also listed her as sole beneficiary of his will. She was the one who communicated with the AIF authorities. However, instructions under the Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act 1918 meant that the mother was not the automatic recipient of her son’s medals. The AIF informed the mother, The provisions of a Will have no bearing upon the distribution of Medals unless they are specifically mentioned therein… and in the required order of distribution, the father took precedence over the mother. In line with this policy, the AIF, on 18 October 1920, requested details of the father’s address.

The mother replied immediately (23/10/20) and explained that she did not have the father’s address. But she also went considerably further and challenged the integrity and decency of the very policy:

… I am unable to give you the information you require [the father’s address]. I held no communication whatsoever with Mr James Davidson for the past eight years and I certainly dispute his rights in anything relative to my Boy.

As you say my Boy left everything to his Mother. I was all He had. He was only eighteen when he enlisted and you will see it was My consent He obtained thereto. And in spite of all laws My Boy’s wishes I consider should be given effect to.

How could such things be mentioned in a will when the poor lads did not possess them or know anything about them.

What funny laws our politicians make, but you Sir are a soldier & I think my claim will meet with approval.

In the end her claim did meet with approval and all medals and memorial items were sent to her.


National Archives file for DAVIDSON Percy James 140
Roll of Honour: Percy James Davidson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Percy James Davidson
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Percy James Davidson



George Victor AUBREY 546
22 Battalion KIA 5/8/16

George Aubrey was born at Heyfield. When he enlisted in Melbourne on 15/2/15 he had been living and working in Gormandale for some time. He had also attended school there. He noted on his enlistment papers that he had been in the Gormandale Rifle Club for 6 years. His mother gave Gormandale as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. In the Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative on 4/6/15 he was named as one of the … Gormandale boys who are on active service or in training.

At the time of enlistment he was 29 yo and single. He gave his occupation as labourer and his religion was Church of England. His mother – Adelaide Jane Aubrey – was listed as his next-of-kin and there are references to the father being dead, but it is not clear when he died; and it could have been after the time of his son’s enlistment. The father was definitely deceased by 1920, and the medals  were returned to the mother.

Private Aubrey embarked for overseas service on 10/5/15 and saw action on Gallipoli. He was medically evacuated from the Peninsula in mid December – Cellulitis (legs) – not long before the complete evacuation of Australian troops. He had been promoted to lance corporal in August 1915 but then in France in May 1916 had ‘reverted to the ranks’ at his own request.

He was initially reported as ‘missing’ on 5/8/16 and then, one year later, following a court of enquiry convened on 11/8/17, the status was changed to ‘killed in action’ on the same day. The following extracts from witness statements from the Red Cross report, some of which were included at the court of enquiry, make it clear that he was killed, notwithstanding some significant differences in the specific circumstances.

… a shell burst and I saw him struck over the heart by a piece that killed him instantly.

He [my brother] told me that he saw Aubrey blown to pieces. We both knew George Aubrey well.

I was at Pozieres on Aug. 5th.1916 when Pte. Aubrey 546 was killed. The Germans made a counter attack. A bullet struck him in the head. He was not buried as far as I know, but left in the trench.

He was killed at Pozieres on August 5th. according to information given to me by Pte. Hoye… . I believe Hoye was near him when he was killed and buried by a shell. When he was dug out he was dead.

McDonald, Machine Gunner told me Aubrey was on a stretcher wounded and was being brought in by Sergt. Williams when a shell killed both of them, blew them both up.

The body was never recovered and his name is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. In terms of the Shire of Alberton, his name is recorded on the Roll of Honor but he is not marked as ‘killed’ and he is not included on the War Memorial. His name is also listed on the honor roll for Gormandale SS and the war memorial in Gormandale, and in both instances his death on active service is acknowledged.

The mother received his kit – Diary, Cards, Letters, 2 Religious Books, Mirror, Dictionary, Brush, Knife, 3 Handkerchiefs – in October 1917. Even though the court of enquiry in August 1917 – 2 months earlier – had determined that he had been killed in action, the inventory list for the personal kit still referred to him as ‘reported missing’.

The mother applied for a pension but the claim was apparently rejected, on the basis that … claimant [mother] was not dependent on the earnings of deceased 12 months prior to enlistment. Possibly he had not been living with his mother at Gormandale for one or more years before he enlisted. Or, more likely, the mother’s financial position prior to enlistment was such that she had not had to rely on support from her son. In relation to this scenario, the timing of the father’s death could have been a consideration.


National Archives file for AUBREY George Victor 546
Roll of Honour: George Victor Aubrey
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Victor Aubrey
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Victor Aubrey



Arthur George INSEAL 1914
22 Battalion KIA 5/8/16

Arthur Inseal was born 23/1/1891 at Felton, near Hereford, England. He migrated to Australia and prior to enlisting he was working as a farm labourer in Carrajung. He must have been in the district for some time because his name is recorded in the 1915 electoral roll for the sub division of Yarram. On the (National) Roll of Honour, Carrajung is given as the ‘place of association’.

He enlisted in Melbourne on 16/6/15 and gave his age as 25 yo. He was single and his religion was stated to be Church of England. He gave his mother – Emma Inseal – as next-of-kin. She was living near Worcester, England.

Private Inseal embarked from Melbourne on 26/8/15 and served with 22 Battalion at Gallipoli. He was repatriated to Australia in early January 1916 for 3 months after having contracted enteric fever. He returned to duty on 21/3/16, re-embarked on 29/3/16 and eventually rejoined 22 Battalion in early July 1916. He was killed one month later.

As for so many at Pozieres, he was initially listed as ‘missing’ on 5/8/16. A court of enquiry held on 26/11/17, more than one year later, changed this to ‘killed in action’.

There is an extensive Red Cross report for Private Inseal. The eye witness accounts date from November 1916. From the start it was evident that men who had been with him had seen him killed.

Informant states the “Inseal was about 2 yards from me when he was hit right through the head by a machine gun and killed on the spot. He had only joined us about a month before. He was a short man and hump-backed.  December 1916.

He was killed outright just in front of me at Moquet Farm on August 4th [sic]. I was following him up in the same wave. He was killed by Machine Gun fire. His body had to be left there as we went on in the charge.   January 1917

Inseal was killed in action at Pozieres alongside me on the 4th Aug [sic]. He was hit by machine gun fire in the open. He fell beside me but I do not know whether he was picked up. We held the ground. He was short, stout, fair hair, clean shaven and about 28. He went to Australia from England some years ago.   January 1917

There were more eye-witness accounts, with most giving the date he was killed as 4 August rather than 5 August. There was no doubt that the witnesses knew Private Inseal and had observed his death at close hand.

Casualty was well known to me, called “Arthur”. He returned to Australia with enteric fever in 1915, and rejoined us on the 4th July, 1916, at Armentieres, and then went out to the charge at Pozieres on the Ridge on August 4th where I saw his dead body. He was not buried so far as I know, but I think he was bound to have been as the body was easily obtainable.  June 1917

As these witness statements were collected, the (Australian) Red Cross provided updates to the mother. She had made a formal request to the Red Cross in January 1917. The Red Cross always emphasised that the information was ‘unofficial’, but with every additional batch of witness statements they become more direct in their assessment of his fate. For example, in February 1917 they wrote,

We deeply regret to have to send you this information and if any further reports come to hand we shall at once inform you. In the meantime we can only offer you our sincere sympathy.

However, by October 1917 – this was still prior to the formal court of enquiry (26/11/17) – the outcome, as far as the Red Cross was concerned, was far more definite:

You will realise that this report is surely unofficial although we greatly fear that there is very little chance that your son is alive as more than a year has passed since his casualty occurred.

There is no correspondence from the mother in Private Inseal’s service file and she did not complete the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour. Kit was returned to her in February 1918 but there is no record in his service file of what personal items were in fact returned.

There is no grave and Private Inseal’s name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. Even though he was obviously living and working in the local area, Private Inseal’s name is not included on any Shire of Alberton memorial, with the single exception that his name is listed – spelled incorrectly – as Ensil – on a memorial to residents of the Carrajung district. On this list he is marked as having been killed.


National Archives file for INSEAL Athur George 1914
Roll of Honour: Arthur George Inseal
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur George Inseal (1915)
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur George Inseal (1916)
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Arthur George Inseal



George Thomas MORLEY 4479
26 Battalion 5/8/16

George Morley was born at Gormandale and grew up in the local district, attending Gormandale State School.

However, by the time he enlisted (6/12/15) he was living and working in Queensland at Coalstoun Lakes via Biggenden. He was another of the many young men from the Shire of Alberton who had moved to Queensland prior to the outbreak of WW1. On his enlistment papers he gave his occupation as farmer but it is difficult to establish for this group of locals who went to Queensland whether they specifically held land or worked as farm labourers. Given that a lawyer from Brisbane acted in the execution of Private Morley’s will, it is likely that he did hold land.

When he enlisted Private Morley was 29 yo and single. He gave his religion as Church of England. He listed his mother – Sarah Ellen Morley of Gormandale – as next-of-kin. His father was dead.

Private George Morley was taken on in reinforcements for 26 Battalion and his unit embarked for overseas on 30/3/16. His service record indicates that his particular group of reinforcements only joined 26 Battalion in France, via Egypt, in early August 1916. The 2 Division attack at Pozieres on 4/8/16 would have been the very first, and last, action Private Morley saw. The fact that he had only recently joined 26 Battalion in France possibly explains why the Red Cross file for him is so scant. He would have been relatively unknown to others in his unit. The report has nothing more than the inclusion that he was reported missing as of 5/8/16 and that the status was changed to killed in action on 31/7/17, one year later. The actual date for the court of enquiry that determined this status was 29/6/17.

There is not much commentary provided in the war diary of 26 Battalion for the attack on 4/8/16. Casualty figures for the period 31 July to 31 August 1916 show 32 killed, 203 wounded and 148 missing. However the diary does reveal how difficult it was to retrieve wounded from the battle field and, presumably, why those dead had to left where they fell. It was this latter group who then became ‘missing’. The diary talks about the ‘great difficulty’ faced in evacuating the wounded. It argues that the allocation of ’8 stretchers and 16 bearers per battalion’ was ‘totally inadequate’.  This limitation was made much worse at Pozieres by the great distance the bearers had to cross – up to 2,300 yards – to get the wounded to the aid posts. On this particular occasion, 26 Battalion more than doubled the number of stretchers and bearers, and made extraordinary efforts over 2 days to make sure that all wounded had been removed from the battle field before the unit was relieved. The priority was obviously on the wounded, not the dead. Recollections of Pozieres always focused on the dead: those quickly or only partially buried and those not buried; and those buried but then uncovered by artillery fire.

The mother in Gormandale must have followed up the issue of kit because there is correspondence in the file stating that the personal items – 4 Brushes, Gladstone Bag – were returned to a Mr. H Driver of Coalstoun Lakes, near Biggenden, as per the provisions of her son’s will. All medals – including the Memorial Scroll and Memorial Plaque – were sent to the mother in 1922, after she had advised Base Records in Melbourne that there was no ’nearer relation’ than herself. She also noted that her husband had been dead for ‘many years’.

There is also extended correspondence in the service file from Miss J Marshall of Dundarrah via Biggenden. She was keen to hear any news of Pte. G. T. Morely of Coalstoun Lakes and her brother Pte. John Marshall of Cessnock, NSW. In response to her first letter of 8/9/16 she was informed (21/9/16) … No. 4479 Private G. T. Morley, 26 Battalion, reported missing since 5/8/16. Her brother was wounded and in hospital.

She wrote back on 2/10/16 seeking more information on Private Morley:

Dear Sir, the last letter I had from Pte. G. T. Morley No 4479 was dated 23rd July so he was not at the front then so could you please give me any information about Pte G. T. Morley if he has been to the Front since that date & will you kindly let me know, if you receive any later Information about the Missing Soldier
Anxiously awaiting the latest Report

But the letter she received from Base Records (16/10/16) made it very clear that there would be no further information:

In acknowledging receipt of your letter dated 2nd instant, I have to state since he was reported missing 5/8/16, no further particulars have been received concerning No. 4479 Private G. T. Morley, 26th Battalion. It is evident that this soldier went to the firing line after 23rd July.

As you are not shown as next-of-kin to above soldier, and as this Branch undertakes to advise the person so nominated only, your request that you also be advised of any later reports cannot be complied with.

When the mother supplied the information for the (National) Roll of Honour after the War, she gave Traralgon as the location with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. She also noted that 3 of her sons had died in the fighting:

George Thomas Morely KIA 5/8/16
Ernest Edward Morley DOW 14/5/27
Robert Herbert Morley KIA 31/10/17

While George Thomas Morley is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or War Memorial, the fate of the Morley brothers from Gormandale was well known in the district and was highlighted at the unveiling of the honor roll for Gormandale State School in late 1918, as reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 4/12/18:

The honor list of the Gormandale school contains 45 names of old scholars who enlisted, and two teachers, and of these six have been killed; and it is remarkable that three of these were members of the Morley family.

The body of Private George Thomas Morley was never recovered. His name is included on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.


National Archives file for MORLEY George Thomas 4479
Roll of Honour: George Thomas Morley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Thomas Morley
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George Thomas Morley

78. Pozieres: 2 Division, 28 July- early August – H C HOW & R H NEBBITT

Harold Christopher HOW 367
24 Battalion KIA 28/7/16

Harold Christopher How was born in Greenwich, England. When his father (George How) supplied the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he wrote that his son came to Australia at the age of twenty. However, at the time of enlistment in the AIF, the son’s age was recorded as 19 yo. Accepting the inconsistency, Harold How could not have been in Australia very long before enlisting.

Even though Harold How enlisted at Yarram – 19/2/15 – and his father identified Alberton West as the town in Australia with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’, the name is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. Yet Harold How was definitely one of the many young, single, English immigrants working in the local area who enlisted when the War broke out.

Harold How’s occupation was given as ‘farm laborer’ on his enlistment papers, ‘labourer’ on the embarkation roll and his father described his work as ‘land worker’. Interestingly, the father recorded that Harold had attended ‘higher grade’ schooling in England and that his ‘calling’ before coming to Australia was ‘printers reader’. The father was the Divisional Inspector of the Tilbury Docks Police, London.

When he enlisted in early 1915 Private How joined 23 Battalion, B Company. The unit left Melbourne for Egypt on 10/5/15 and was engaged at Gallipoli, from late August until the end of 1915. 23 Battalion left Alexandria for the Western Front on 19/3/16 and disembarked in Marseilles on 26/3/16.

Prior to Pozieres, Private How’s service file shows that he … took part in a raid on enemy’s trenches on night of 29/30 June 1916.  The war diary for 23 Battalion for the same action gives some idea of how violent such raids were. It was a raiding party of 252 men drawn from 4 battalions, including 23 Battalion. The raiding party was only in the enemy trenches for 8 minutes but in that time 80 enemy soldiers were killed and 5 were taken prisoner.

23 Battalion was in the line at Pozieres from 26/7/16. B Company, Private How’s company, was in the first wave of the second major offensive at Pozieres that began just after midnight on the morning of the 29 July. Private How was listed as missing on 28/7/16 but, presumably, he went missing in the early morning of 29/7/16. The war diary of 23 Battalion reveals the level of casualties sustained over the period of late July at Pozieres. The Battalion’s strength at the start of the fighting on 28/7/16 was 36 officers and 968 other ranks but just 3 days later (31/7/16) it had been reduced to 32 officers and 645 other ranks. This amounted to more than 300 casualties.

Even though he was listed as missing on 28/7/16, it was not until 17/12/17, nearly seventeen months later, that Private How was determined to have been killed in the same action; and the formal Report of Death of a Soldier was only issued on 15/1/1918. The length of time involved was greater than for others missing at Pozieres, and this particular case certainly highlighted the degree of confusion that could apply. The correspondence in the relevant Red Cross Society file is extensive and it is clear that the family, and others acting on behalf of the family, pursued the case vigorously. However it is also clear that several of the ‘leads’ pursued involved confusion over names: Private CH Howell 2798 was from the same battalion and there was also Private WJ Howe 3148 of 28 Battalion who was taken prisoner by the Germans at Pozieres on 29 July 1916.

The most significant complication was the conviction by officers in 24 Battalion that Private How had been taken prisoner. The following two letters set out this scenario. The first was written to Private How’s father on 10/9/16 by then current commanding officer of B Company, Captain J. Briscoe. The original CO of B Company – Major Brind – had also been reported as missing after 28/7/16. The typed letter did not come via the Red Cross but was sent directly to the father. It is in Private How’s service file. It appears to have been dictated in haste.

I regret to say I can but give you very little information concerning your son. On the date referred to Major Brind was O.C. B Copy, and unfortunately he is missing together with your son and several others. …. From circumstances Sir I am led to hope that your son may be a prisoner. This is borne out from the fact that your sons pay-book was found in a dead Huns pocket, who was shot just outside our trench. We think this same Hun lost his way and walked towards our trenches. As the shell fire at the time was intense, we think your son and others lost their way and wandered towards the enemy lines. To a certain extent to find your sons pay-book so soon afterwards on a German justifies the belief that he was taken prisoner and at once searched for papers etc, and sent to the rear of the enemy trenches.

Beyond this Sir I am sorry to say I cannot enlighten you further, other than we know for certain that a Officer who was on his left on that night is reported a prisoner. …  I understand how you feel as his parents. He is well spoken of by his Officers and his platoon feel that they have lost a comrade and a pal.

I am pleased to say Sir that your Sons Battalion and Company were not forced back, they gained their objective and held it, and from there further successes have been gained.

Major Brind (Eric T.) the former CO of B Company referred to in the statement was in fact killed at Pozieres, as is graphically evident from the following witness statement supplied on 5/9/16 by one of his men, Private Chalmers 3798.

This officer was an exceedingly brave man. He was missing on the 28th July during the attack at Pozieres, on the other side of the Cemetery which was where we were at the time. Since that [time] a body has been found without a head and with no mark of identity except a crown on the shoulder to mark his rank. I did not see the body myself but everyone was full of it at the time. They thought it must be his body because it was lying very near where he was last seen and it is therefore generally believed that Major Brind is dead. Another Regiment found the body and notified us. He was one of the best men in the world and we were very sorry to lose him.

The second letter – also in the service file of Private How – to support the claim that Private How had been taken prisoner was written by the Chaplain of 23 Battalion, Percy Bladen. He wrote it on 19/9/16 and it was addressed to a J W Dowdeswell of London who was, presumably, a relative or family friend of Private How. The letter was probably written under pressure and there are some contradictions evident.

Your letter… reached me today. I am the Chaplain attached to the 23rd Batt. … I wish I could send you some good news about private How, he was reported missing on July 28th too often that means that the one so reported will not return, in the case of private How, however there is some hope that he may still be living as a wounded prisoner in the hand of the Germans; that hope is based upon the fact that his identity disc was found on a German whom we took as a prisoner. The German said that the man to whom the disc belonged and he remembered him because of his extraordinary height was wounded and taken prisoner, that is all that we know. it would perhaps be unwise to conclude that the statement is quite correct and that private How is safe, and in the absence of any evidence of his death it certainly gives ground for some hope. I deeply sympathise with his people who must suffer terribly while they do not know their boy’s fate. he was a good lad and a fine brave Soldier and all the better Soldier because he was an earnest Christian. I very earnestly hope that it may yet be found that he is alive and that he will ultimately be restored to his loved ones. Again please convey to them my sincere sympathy and my wish, one thing we do know that whether he is in Germany or whether he died he is in the safe keeping of the good Father of all whose love will never let him go.

The possibility that both letters hold out is that Private How had been taken prisoner. The problem is that the items claimed to have been recovered from German soldiers could just as easily have been removed from the body of a dead Private How. Further, it is possible, given that a Private Howe of 28 Battalion was taken prisoner in the same general area at the same time, that the items recovered from German soldiers did not even belong to Private How. The reference to Private How being, according to the German prisoner, of ‘extraordinary height’ does not really help: Private Harold How (23 Battalion) was described as 6’ on his enlistment papers and Private William Howe (28 Battalion) was described as 5’10¼” on his. The case for mistaken identity was definitely put by the AIF’s Wounded and Missing Department in response to inquiries from the British Red Cross Society. The following was written on 12/10/16,

…we beg to inform you that we have no information respecting No. 367. Pte Harold Christopher How, 23rd Battn, A.I.F than that he is officially missing since July 28th. Yours is the first intimation that we have had that he may be a prisoner as his name has not appeared on any lists of prisoners. We have on our list of prisoners No. 3148 Pte. William John Howe, 28th Battn. A.I.F. who was captured on July 29th and we think that possibly it may have been his pay-book and disc that were found and in some way confused with those of Pte. H.C.How.

One witness statement sets the scene for what most likely did happen to Private How early in the morning of the 29th July. It was provided by Corporal Jack Ritchie who was in the same B Company platoon as Private How. Corporal Ritchie had been asked if he knew what had happened to Private How and another soldier, Private A Sparks 3944. He wrote on 15/6/17,

I am sorry to say I cannot give any information about Pte. How or Pte. Sparks, they were both with us in the advance 28.7.16, but a lot of us went too far and in the morning both were missing. 367 Pte. H.C. How was tall and slim, 6 feet high and of dark complexion. Age 24 years, disposition rather reserved.

The likely version of Private How’s fate is that having gone too far ahead of his unit, he was cut off and killed. The three definite points are that his body was never recovered, and his name never appeared on any German list of prisoners or separate German list of the dead.

[The fate of the other Private Howe – the one from 28 Battalion who was definitely taken as a POW – was equally dire. He died as a POW on 17/10/17 from wounds received at Pozieres. The German death certificate states that he died of … gunshot wounds in 11th and 12th vertebrae – spine and general weakness.]

The following letter written by Private Harold How’s father on 26/5/17, ten months after he was reported as missing, indicates that the family was resigned to his fate. He was responding to the Australian Red Cross Society.

I beg to thank you for your letter of the 25th inst. respecting my missing son, Pte H.C. How. 367. 23rd Battalion and your kind expression of sympathy. As he has been missing so long I am afraid there is little hope, but any definite information about the “end” would at least be very gratifying and comforting to all, it is the uncertainty that is so trying.

The following personal items were returned to the mother in London: Devotional Book, Medallion, Letters, Scarf, Cap Comforter, Mitten.

The final, sad twist in the narrative of this young Englishman, who died as an Australian soldier, is that after the War, in 1919, the father wrote requesting the return of his son’s ‘pre-military effects’ that had been left at the ‘Luggage Office railway station, Flinders Street, Melbourne’, presumably at the time he enlisted. Subsequent checking uncovered a trunk and portmanteau in the ‘Lost Property Office, Victoria Railways’. The property was eventually returned to the father. Finally, at that point, the young man’s Australian adventure came to an end.

Private How’s name, as an Australian soldier, appears on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.


National Archives file for How Harold Christopher 367
Roll of Honour: Harold Christopher How
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Harold Christopher How
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold Christopher How


Roy Harry NEBBITT 2720
24 Battalion KIA 29/7/16

Ray Harry Nebbitt was born in Balloong and grew up in North Devon. He attended the state school there and it appears that his mother Mrs Annie Nebbitt was a teacher in the school. At the time of his enlistment both parents were still living in North Devon. The father died not long after his son enlisted.

On enlistment in Melbourne (2/8/15) Ray Nebbitt was single, 21 yo and his occupation was listed as farm labourer. He had had his initial medical in Yarram on 23/7/15. He joined 24 Battalion.

His unit of reinforcements for 24 Battalion left Melbourne on 27/10/15. He did not see service at Gallipoli. 24 Battalion left Alexandria on 20/3/16 and disembarked at Marseilles on 26/3/16.

Private Nebbitt was killed in action on 29/7/16 at Pozieres. The details of his death are very sparse. There is no Red Cross report. There is also limited information on the actual fighting involving 24 Battalion in its war diary. However, the diary states that the battalion was in the front line at the time of the second attack at Pozieres in the very early morning of 29/7/16, the day that Private Nebbitt was killed. The diary reports that from 27 July to 30 July, the battalion suffered 199 casualties, with 43 killed and 156 wounded.

There is an entry in Private Nebbitt’s file that states that he was ‘buried in the vicinity of Pozieres’ and there is a map reference. However when the Report of Death of a Soldier was issued there was no identification of any grave site or burial details, and his name is recorded on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. Possibly, after he had been killed his unit buried him in a temporary grave and subsequently this grave site was lost and never relocated, despite the availability of the general map reference. The fact that there is no Red Cross Society report tends to support this scenario. It suggests that he was never ‘missing’ in the sense that no one knew what had happened to him. His unit knew he had been killed and they had buried the body; but the grave itself had become lost. Other strong evidence to suggest that he had been killed in action and was not missing comes from the promptness of the completion of the Report of Death of a Soldier. The necessary corroborating evidence was supplied on 5/8/16, just a week after the death, and the form itself was completed on 4/1/16. The family was advised by cable on 29/8/16 and the confirmation by mail was sent from London on 4/9/16.

Even though the processing of Private Nebbitt’s death, incorporating the transmission of information to the family, was discharged promptly there was still confusion, anxiety and a dearth of vital information for the family back in Gippsland. Incredibly, on August 14, 1916 the mother wrote the following letter to the Defence Department. This was just 2 weeks after her son’s death, not, of course, that she knew he had been killed.

I got no official word but I have been told that my son is returning wounded so I am writing to know if it is true he is
No 2720 Pte R. H. Nebbitt D Company 24th Battalion 6th Inf. Brigade. France

There is no indication as to the source of the information or when or how it was received and no other details about the nature or severity of the wound(s) or where in France her son was wounded and so on. Base Records responded immediately – 16/8/16 – and, given that it was still some two weeks before they were to receive the cable of Private Nebbitt’s death, they obviously denied the claim. They were also keen to know the source of the information:

In reply to your inquiry dated 14th instant, I beg to inform you no official report that he is wounded, or to any other effect, has been received here concerning your son No. 2720 Private R. H. Nebbitt, 24th Battalion.

If you are in possession of a letter, or other documentary evidence to the contrary, upon receipt of same if such action is warranted, inquiries will be instituted, and the result communicated to you.

If your informant is a member of the Australian Imperial Force it will be necessary to furnish his name, regimental number and rank, together with the unit to which he is attached.

There is no indication that the mother responded and the episode does not appear to have been pursued. It is a curious episode because while no doubt there were those in the 24th Battalion who had connections with friends and family back in Gippsland and who did know at that point that Private Nebbitt was, at the very least, missing, it was simply not possible for them to have communicated, within such a short period of time, with people back home. Only a cable could have provided information within that time frame.

As indicated, the official cable to Australia advising of the death came on 29/8/16, roughly two weeks after the false report. The following letter from the mother, written nearly a year later on 28/5/17 indicates that she received the news in September 1916. It also shows how the Post Master could act in the place of the local clergyman in delivering the sad news. However, most pointedly, it reveals the despair that weighed on parents when they did not know how their son had died. And even in death there was no fairness, because while some families were able to find out details of their son’s death, other families, like hers, were left with nothing, other than the knowledge he was dead.

I am writing to ask if you could tell me how my son’s death occurred, if he was killed outright or wounded and died or anything about it. … All that I was told was that he was killed in action on the 29th of July. I was told by the post master. I did not even get a telegram or anything. I was told last Sept. and I have been thinking I would hear particulars any time [?] neighbours get particulars of their friends causalities that have taken place since then, and I know nothing and have heard nothing of an only son that was my great comfort.

The obviously heartfelt letter elicited only a formal, detached reply,

In reply to your communication of 28th ultimo, I have to state the only information received at this Office [Base Records, Melbourne] to date regarding your son … is that he was killed in action, in France, on 29/7/16. The report of burial has not yet come to hand, but on receipt, will be promptly communicated to next-of-kin, and will be made available to you on application.

But there was never to be any ‘report of burial’.


National Archives file for Nebbitt Roy Harry 2720
Roll of Honour: Roy Harry Nebbitt
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Roy Harry Nebbitt (Nebbit)