Because of the numbers involved and the size of tables, I have decided to create a series of the complete list of all those men with an association to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted. The first of the series – those with surnames A to C – is published below. It features 177 names.
it is important to understand that the list takes in a range of ‘associations’ to the Shire. Obviously, the list takes in those who were born in the Shire, grew up and attended school in the Shire, were living and working in the Shire at the time they enlisted and who, after the War, returned to the Shire. But even within this group there were variations. For example, men who were not born in the Shire but who had been living and working there for several years before they enlisted. Essentially, I have used the designation of L (local) to describe anyone who enlisted from the Shire – accepting that in addition to Yarram they might also have enlisted in Melbourne or some other regional centre – and who was living and working in the Shire at the time they enlisted.
At the same time, I have used the designation Le (left) to describe those who had a previous connection to the Shire – born there, went to school there, grew up there … – but who at the time they enlisted were no longer living in the Shire. Typically, the names of these men appear on the various local, state-school honor rolls. Some of these men had left the Shire years before. At the same time, because, typically, they had attended school in the Shire and because the age of enlistment was so young, there were many cases where the interval of time they had been out of the Shire was relatively short – short enough for people to still see them as ‘local’. As has been pointed out before, many of these (Left) names appear on either or both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. One factor that came into play was the question of whether or not there were still family members residing in the Shire.
I have also identified as a separate category those who had come to Australia as immigrants (Imm) . Typically these were young – late teens or early twenties – and they were working as farm workers in the local district. Some had been in the Shire for a few years – in such cases I have also designated them as L (Local) – while others had only very recently arrived. They were mainly from the United Kingdom – most commonly England – although there were several from Ireland.
The last group I have identified covers itinerant workers (IW). This category describes the small number of men where the only piece of evidence to tie them to the Shire was the railway warrant issued by the Shire Secretary for travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process. They were obviously residing – and presumably working or looking for work – in the local area at the time they enlisted but, apart from the warrant itself, there is no other record to indicate how long they had been there.
The table covers all those for whom there is a record of war service. If the service was in the army of another (Allied) nation I have indicated this on the table. In this particular table, George Abraham Bland served with New Zealand. There is one woman in the list below: Alice Cocking who served as a nurse in both Egypt and Salonika.
The family data on the table comes from The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria (BDM). Where the person was born interstate or overseas or where they were born in Victoria but there is no entry for them, the equivalent data, to the extent that it is available, comes from the enlistment and service records. In these cases the data appears in italics.
Entries highlighted in red represent individuals who have not appeared on previous lists.
As always, if there are issues with any of the names or details I would appreciate hearing from you:
The official designation of the list below, which I have referred to as the list of railway warrants, was:
Australian Imperial Force List of Recruits who enlisted with the President of the Shire of Alberton 1914. 1915. 1916, 1917, 1918
The list was hand-written by the Shire Secretary (George C Black) who was delegated to issue the railway warrants for the men to travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process.
The list was obviously completed over the full course of the War. The last warrant or ‘pass’ (474) was dated 11/11/18. The list also includes additional notes: ‘killed’, ‘killed in action’, ‘re-enlisted’, ‘prisoner’ etc.
The original list is held by Yarram & District Historical Society.
In compiling the list, Secretary Black allocated numbers 1 – 474. Another 21 men whose names appear on the list, normally with the note ‘re-enlisted’ were not assigned a number. This gives an overall figure of 495 names on the list. Again, many on the list (approx. 60 ) failed the medical in Melbourne. Also, many men enlisted in other regional centres or directly in Melbourne and therefore did not apply for railway warrant, or at least a railway warrant from the Shire of Alberton.
For all the qualifications, the list is yet another example of a record where the names of those men who ‘answered the call’ – or at least tried to do so – were entered in a routine manner over the course of the War.
On the face of it, the list would have been a very valuable resource when it came to determining a complete reckoning at the end of the War of all those served in the AIF. As noted, in itself it was not a complete record but, obviously, it could have proved a very useful resource for any master list. However, it appears that it was not used. Such an omission seems odd because the person with responsibility for drawing up the WW1 honor roll for the Shire was the Secretary (G C Black) who also drew up this particular list of warrants issued. Whatever the explanation, the list below includes the names of 79 men who were issued with a railway warrant in Yarram, who then completed the enlistment process in Melbourne and went on to serve in the AIF, who are not included on the Roll of Honorfor the Shire of Alberton. The characteristics of this group of omissions will be examined in more detail later but, essentially, the group takes in unskilled workers, young immigrant workers from the UK and itinerant workers. This group of 79 omissions again raises the issue of who was considered ‘local’.
The list reproduced below was located in the archives of the (former) Shire of Alberton. The list is headed, ‘Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors’. There was no additional information to explain its genesis. However, the second page of the hand-written document suggests that it might have been prepared for the ‘Recruitment Unit’. We know that from 1916 recruiting parties involving AIF personnel converged on Yarram to run various recruiting drives. These outside initiatives were in addition to the efforts of the local Recruiting Committee.
As has been noted previously, there are indeed many names on this list who did succeed in enlisting, after one or more additional attempts, either in Yarram or in Melbourne. Moreover, the list only covers medical rejections in Yarram. Men were rejected in Melbourne and other regional towns where they tried to enlist. It is important to highlight such qualifications and note that it is not a comprehensive list of all those who had an association with the Shire of Alberton who were rejected on medical grounds.
There is also reason for believing that the list itself is not complete. In the archives there is a bundle of enlistment forms [File 703B] which includes men – approximately 8 – who failed the medical with the local doctors (Drs Horace Pern and John H Rutter) but whose names are not on the list.
Unfortunately, there is no date recorded to indicate when the list was compiled. However, it does appear to cover medical rejections to at least the start of 1918. Consider number 126 (of 136) on the list, Gilbert Jones. Next to his entry is a note, ‘deferred by Dr Pern for 6 mns. 7/1/18’. At the time – January 1918 – Gilbert Jones was an 18 yo ‘labourer’ living and working at Jack River. Just over 6 months later he did in fact enlist (30/8/18) but it was in Hobart. It appears that he returned there to live with an aunt. When he enlisted he acknowledged that he had been rejected: ‘chest measurement’. So it appears that the list does cover rejections through to at least January 1918.
A further qualification is that there are only 10 names after Gilbert Jones and yet we know from newspaper accounts that there were more than 10 men rejected at various recruiting functions in Yarram after January 1918. Moreover, the names of the men who were rejected on medical grounds at these various recruiting functions tend not to appear on this list. Presumably it was a peremptory medical, with the rejection just as speedy. It is also possible that the medicals at these special recruiting functions were conducted by medical staff attached to the visiting recruiting unit and the local doctors were not even involved.
Putting all these facts together it seems reasonable to suggest that the list below does cover the full course of the War. However, it does not cover every case of rejection for men who were examined by the local doctors in Yarram. It appears that at the various formal recruiting functions held in Yarram in 1918 – and earlier in 1917 and even 1916 – a number of volunteers would answer the call and step forward, and then be failed – virtually on the spot – but their names were not added to this list.
All the preceding discussion points to the significant qualifications that attach to historical evidence. At the same time, it is worth noting the historical significance of the list.
Its existence shows how completely the experience of the War affected all aspects of life in the local community. In this case, the local doctors were acting as de facto recruiting agents. They were performing key roles in ensuring the supply of suitable recruits. They were hardly neutral and their ongoing work demonstrated their support of the local recruiting committee, and their own patriotism. Their local standing as key professionals in the community reinforced the general level of support for the War. Moreover, they had first hand knowledge of those who had tried to enlist but failed. They even compiled – or assisted in the compilation of – lists of these men. Such lists could be used to assist recruiters to focus more precisely on the ‘eligibles’. It is yet another example of the extent to which communities in WW1 were preoccupied with drawing up lists: of those who volunteered and served; of those who tried to enlist but were rejected; of those who applied for exemption; of those who needed to be targeted by the recruiting agents. Every male in the local community was on one of the lists. Everyone was judged by their level of support for the War.
Archives, Shire of Alberton
File: Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee Formed April 26th 1917.
This post is an attempt to give an indication of the number of men who were ‘rejected’ in their attempt(s) to enlist in the AIF. The focus is on the Shire of Alberton. The 181 men are listed in the table below.
The overall focus of the research for this blog has been on the identification of all those men who had an association with the Shire of Alberton who did enlist in WW1. As already indicated the total number comes to 815. With this group of 815 there has been a comprehensive effort to identify all relevant characteristics, both of their background and their service in the AIF.
In the research there have been many cases where an individual was at first rejected on medical grounds but was then successful at a subsequent attempt. These men are included in the cohort of 815 because, ultimately, they did enlist and serve in the AIF. At the same time, there were men who, irrespective of the number of attempts they made – and in many instances there were multiple attempts – were never accepted for the AIF. This particular post focuses on such men and represents an attempt to give some indication of the number involved.
However, there are some significant problems associated with trying to research this particular group of ‘rejected’ men. The basic problem of course is that 100 years ago all efforts were devoted to identifying and commemorating those who enlisted and served, rather than those who were rejected. Moreover, while there are some records which I have been able to uncover and use they tend to be both indirect and incomplete. The records employed come from the process of enlisting men at the local level, and it is important to understand this process.
The process of enlistment for volunteers in country and regional areas has been covered in earlier posts. Briefly, in the early months of the War the process could effectively be completed at the local level. In the case of the Shire of Alberton, the locus of ‘local’ was restricted precisely to the town of Yarram. The local doctor(s) in Yarram examined the volunteers and passed them as medically fit. The individual volunteer took the oath and signed the attestation papers in Yarram. The Shire Secretary then issued a railway warrant for travel from Alberton to Melbourne so that the person could report to the AIF.
However, very early on, the AIF authorities came to doubt the ‘integrity’ of the medical examination at the local level and formed the opinion that local doctors, overly influenced by patriotic sentiment, were not as diligent as they needed to be. The AIF concern, not surprisingly, was that men with compromised health or below the set standards of the time, no matter how keen and patriotic, would inevitably end up being an unnecessary drain on resources and potentially undermine the War effort. This was particularly the case in the early months when there was no shortage of volunteers and the AIF could be selective. As already noted, when the local doctors in the Shire of Alberton found out that their medical judgement was being questioned by the AIF – along with all other country doctors – there was much outrage and even a refusal, for a time, to conduct the relevant medical examination. However, by 1915 the process effectively involved 2 medicals: the initial local one was followed by one in Melbourne itself; and the enlistment only proceeded if the second medical was satisfactory.
One of the pieces of evidence used to compile the table below is the list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary. The list of railway warrants is a hand-written record entitled Australian Imperial Force. List of Recruits who enlisted with the President of the Shire of Alberton. 1914.1915.1916.1917.1918. It was created and completed by the Shire Secretary (G W Black) and it recorded the name of the recruit and the ‘date of pass’ (railway warrant). Additionally, the Shire Secretary recorded occasional comments against individual recruits such as ‘killed’ or ‘killed in action’ , ‘wounded’, ‘prisoner of war’, ‘died of illness’ , ‘rejected in Melbourne, and ‘re-enlisted’. An example of a railway warrant is included at the end of this post. A copy of the original list of railway warrants will shortly be included as a resource on the blog, under Resources.
It is essential to note that not every volunteer associated with the Shire requested a railway warrant or enlisted locally – that is, via Yarram. Many simply made their own way to Melbourne. Others enlisted via other regional centres. The discrepancy between the number of railway warrants (474) and the total number of enlistments that I have identified as having an association with the Shire of Alberton (815) points to the large number who enlisted ‘outside’ the Shire, or, more correctly, enlisted at a location other than Yarram.
The list of railway warrants issued by the Shire Secretary highlights the significance of the second medical in Melbourne. On the table below there are 64 men who did receive such railway warrants – and who therefore had passed an initial medical at Yarram and formally commenced the enlistment process – who do not have a service record and who therefore must have failed the second medical in Melbourne. Effectively, this suggests that roughly 13% of recruits who were assessed as medically fit by the local doctors were rejected, principally on medical grounds, in Melbourne. It suggests that AIF concerns about local doctors had some validity.
But this rejection figure of 13% needs to be seen in the context of the other key record that has been used to compile the table below. This second key piece of evidence is another hand-written list entitled Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors. Again, it appears to have been prepared by the Shire Secretary. It also will appear shortly on the blog under the category of Resources. It is not clear why the list was prepared or when but it appears to relate to the earlier years of the War. The list simply records the names of the 136 men who failed the medical administered by the local doctors. In about a dozen cases there is a very brief, added comment, most commonly: ‘afterwards enlisted’, ‘afterwards accepted’ and ’afterwards passed in Melbourne’. My additional research suggests that of the 136 men on the list, a significant number – 44 – did subsequently enlist. The fact that we do not know the specific period covered by this list means that we cannot give a definitive number for those who failed their initial medical in the Shire – at Yarram – over the course of the War. However, it does seem fair to argue that contrary to what the AIF authorities in Melbourne might have believed, the local doctors – at least in Yarram – did fail significant numbers of recruits on the basis of the prescribed health standards. Moreover, the situation did not change as the War progressed. Indeed, earlier posts have noted that throughout 1917 and 1918, when special, high-profile recruiting drives were held in the Shire, there was invariably a newspaper report that highlighted both the small number of volunteers who came forward and also the very high number who were rejected because they failed the medical. Even as the medical standards came down, the failure rate remained high. Overall, while Melbourne standards might have been higher, local doctors certainly did reject recruits on medical grounds.
Overall, we have evidence that for the enlistment process centred on Yarram a significant number of volunteers did not meet the medical standards, either initially in Yarram or subsequently in Melbourne. In fact, the table below, based principally on the 2 pieces of evidence described, suggests that the total figure for cases where the enrolment did not proceed is close to 200 men. But, as noted, this figure really only covers the Yarram process and many men enlisted – or tried to enlist – either directly in Melbourne or in some other regional centre (Traralgon, Sale, Toora, Warragul …. ) so, doubtless, there were others rejected on medical grounds elsewhere and the figure of 200 would have to be seen as a minimum number.
The table makes it clear that the majority of rejections involved medical concerns. At the same time, there were cases where age – too young or too old – was a related issue. With those under 21 yo there was also the issue of parental permission. With those in their forties there could be an issue with dependent children. There was also a handful of cases towards the end of 1918 where the enlistment was, effectively, no longer required. In this group there is even the case of James Wenworth Davis – the last entry on the list of railway warrants – whose pass was dated 11/11/18. Lastly, there were ‘one-off’ rejections. For example, Frederick O Gerstenberger – dated 19/7/15 – who was ‘rejected in Melbourne as father is German’.
There are 5 cases on the table below where there is a major discrepancy, in the sense that the name of the rejected person also appears on a memorial of some kind commemorating those who served. E B Couston appears on the honour roll of the Presbyterian Charge, but there is no equivalent record of military service. Similarly, S Wheildon – Won Wron – and David Ross – Blackwarry – appear on local honour rolls but there does not appear to be any evidence that either enlisted. Even more striking, there are 2 names on the table that also appear on the Honor Roll of the Shire of Alberton : Fred Toyne and S C H Emmerson. There does not appear to be any evidence that these men enlisted; although there is the outside chance that there was an enlistment under an alias.
One issue worth touching on was what it meant to be rejected. Any number of previous posts have shown that in the local community there was a strong expectation that men would enlist. Men therefore who wanted to enlist but who were rejected faced a double bind. There was the frustration that they could not enlist and ‘do their part’ and serve with their ‘mates’. They were not ‘good enough’. But there would also have been the self-awareness that they stood out in the local community as not having enlisted. Admittedly they had tried and failed, and this situation would have been known to family and friends but, equally, they would also have often been placed in the awkward situation of justifying to others the fact that they were not serving in the AIF. Moreover, how many times did they have to test their status – ‘rejected’ – by re-taking the medical. If they had been rejected in 1914 was there a community expectation they would try again in 1915, and then again in 1916…. We also know that in the early months of the War there was sympathy for those who tried to enlist but failed the medical. Names of such people were often published in local news reports. They were accorded some form of intermediate status and there was even talk of them being given some sort of ‘badge’ they could wear to show their patriotic commitment. It is also significant that in the table below there were even names included on a school honour roll – Carrajung South SS – with the designation ‘Rej’.
Even some rejected men, known in the community, were singled out for the ‘white feather’. Also, an earlier post (Post 153) has covered the story of Charles Allum an 18 year-old who was prosecuted for impersonating a soldier. In the trial it was claimed that he had tried to enlist many times but was always rejected because of a ‘weak chest’. He claimed that after he was constantly pestered to enlist he invented the fiction of being a returned soldier.
In the early days after the War when various peace celebrations were held – well before the troops returned home – rejected men were accorded special recognition. But, inevitably, as the RSL grew and matured, along with the heroic reputation of the returned men, the status and fate of the men rejected mattered less and less. What counted was war service, not rejection. It might not have been the rejected men’s fault that they had not been in the Middle East or on the Western Front; but the telling fact was that they had not been there. Besides, those in the AIF knew that many of those initially rejected had managed to get round the system and enlist. The rejected men hoped that people, in their local community and family, accepted that the rejection was genuine. The issue of family acceptance in this context is important. In the table there are 27 cases where at least one brother enlisted. Clearly, there were many families that had to come to terms with the fact that not every brother or son made the same sacrifice: some served and died on active service; some served and returned wounded or with some other major health issue(s); some served and, apparently, escaped unscathed; and others never even served because they had been rejected on medical grounds. All these variations could apply – even all in the one family – and they represented realities that could not be ignored in the years, and even generations, after the War. The fortunes of the rejected men were truly mixed.
I have spent the last few months trying to finalise the complete list of all those men who had a recognised association with the Shire of Alberton and who enlisted and served in W W 1. At this point the list numbers 826 men. Additionally, there is another list of 182 men who tried to enlist but were rejected, most commonly on health grounds.
The list included in this post is of the 100 men I have not been able to trace. The suggestion – or direct claim – is that they did enlist but I have not been able to tie them definitively to a specific AIF service record.
The names of the men on the list have appeared on honor rolls for state schools or against railway warrants issued to them as part of the enlistment process. In other instances there has been a reference in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative– which indicated that they had just enlisted – the name appeared in a report of a farewell or presentation for them – or they were serving overseas. There are even cases where the name appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. As well, some names appeared on the list of enlistees which was published by another local paper, the South Gippsland Chronicle. In all such instances, after examining a wide range of sources, I have not been able to identify the individual himself or, if I have been able to identify him, I have not been able to tie him to a specific AIF service record.
When you browse through the list you will see some of the challenges. In many cases, the name is too common, even when one or two initials are included. There is also the possibility that the spelling of the name or the initials provided – and often the record has been transcribed – are incorrect. However, even where the name of the person is known – and correct – you can face the situation where there is no corresponding service record or, more commonly, it is not possible to identify the relevant service record because there are too many possibilities. Without a great deal of supporting evidence – where the individual was born, date of birth, parents’ names etc – the task of identifying someone is extremely difficult.
It is also possible that some of these men did not enlist. For example, they may have been given a railway warrant in Yarram to travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process, but they changed their mind or, alternatively, they failed the second medical in Melbourne. However, in relation to the latter possibility there should still have been a basic service record indicating that the enlistment had been terminated. It is also possible that some of those on the list are already included, in the sense that they are on the list of the 826 who did enlist but with a slight variation in name.
It is worth noting the sheer size of the list. The whole exercise is a classic illustration of just how difficult it can be to uncover history at the level of the individual person. Yet, in this instance, the individual does count, precisely because, at the time, the community felt the need to identify and celebrate each and every one of them.
I am hoping that by making this list available there is some chance that current locals might be able to shed some light on the names.
If anyone can provide information in relation to any of those on the list I would appreciate if they contacted me directly:
I am conscious that it has been so long since I have posted anything. Consequently, I want to give some indication where I am with the ongoing background research.
For the past five months I have been trying to finalise the full count of all those men with an association to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. As always, the task has turned out to be more challenging than anticipated. However, the end is now in sight and I anticipate to have this major part of the overall project finalised with another 2-3 months. The final number of enlisted men will be round the 800 mark. Generally speaking, it will match the previous lists that I published at six-monthly intervals over the past 5 years. However, there are some significant differences.
In the first place, I have been able to add, approximately, another 50 men.
Second, I have expanded the range of data items covered for the complete list. I have included additional information relating to the men’s health. I have also included information relating to their experiences with military discipline. This should enable a more comprehensive picture of the cohort’s experience in the AIF.
The third line of enquiry has been to identify all the local men who tried, unsuccessfully, to enlist. This group takes in those who failed the medical – or several medicals – and also those whose enlistment did not proceed for some other reason. I have established that this particular group was large, approximately 200 men. There were, of course, men who failed their initial medical who then did pass a later medical; but these men are included in the group of 800. The group of 200 to whom I am referring covered those who failed their medical(s) and were never accepted in the AIF.
The fourth, and last, line of enquiry has been to focus on all those local men who, in theory at least, did enlist but whose identity I have not been able to trace. In other words, I have not been able to make a match between their name – often this is just a surname and initial – and an enlistment in the AIF. There are many reasons for this situation and while I continue to research these men, it is important to accept that there will likely be some 80 locals who were said to have enlisted but for whom I can find no matching AIF record. At some point I plan to publish the list of these 80 names in the hope that current ‘locals’ might be able to identify past family members. However, in most cases there is so little information from which to work that most of this last group will inevitably remain a mystery.
At least when this research is finally finished there will be a comprehensive and substantive data set covering all enlistments – and rejections – associated with the Shire of Alberton.
As indicated in the last post, this post covers the deaths of 2 local men after the Armistice. The names of both men are recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Additionally, both deaths are acknowledged on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in the main street of Yarram.
PERKINS Harold Claude Albert 13881 4 Aust Div MechTransport Coy Died of illness 26/2/19
Harold Perkins was born in North Carlton in 1892 and attended school at St Peter’s Church of England, Eastern Hill in Melbourne. When his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, she identified North Carlton as the area with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. She also gave his ‘calling’ on the same form as ‘wood carver’ and his attestation papers record that he had completed a five-year apprenticeship with James Roberts & Sons, Collingwood.
It is not clear at what point he moved to Yarram but by the time he enlisted he was certainly well-known in the local area. His name appears in the 1915 Electoral Roll – Harold Claude Perkins, furniture salesman, Yarram – and there were references in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (15/9/15 and 17/5/16 ) which indicate he was conducting furniture sales from an address in Commercial Street, Yarram. The second reference acknowledged that he had recently enlisted and that he needed to sell his furniture stock. The paper called on the locals to support him by buying his stock at sale prices.
He had his initial medical with Dr Crooks in Yarram and was issued with railway warrant number 337 dated 6/5/16. On the list of railway warrants issued, the Shire Secretary added, some time after the War, the single note ‘died’ next to his name.
The enlistment was completed in Melbourne on 8/5/16. At the time he was 24 years-old. He was single and his occupation was recorded as both ‘salesman’ and ‘furniture salesman’. The religion was given as Church of England. At the time of enlistment, the father, George Frederick Perkins, was dead and the mother, Edna Jane Perkins (Quinn), was listed as next-of-kin. She was still living in Melbourne (Drummond St, North Carlton).
Private Perkins was attached to the Field Artillery Brigade. However, when he embarked for overseas service on 16/12/16 he went as a reinforcement for 9 Army Service Corps (17 Divisional Supply Column) and was part of the Mechanical Transport Unit.
His unit reached England in mid February 1917 and he was sent to France one month later as a driver/mechanic for the Motor Transport Section. In early May (7/5/17) he was charged with ‘breaking away from his fatigue duties without permission’ and was confined to barracks for 14 days and forfeited his pay for the same time. There was a period of 2 weeks leave to the UK in February 1918. In March 1918, he was formally transferred from 4 Australian Divisional Supply Company to 4 Australian Divisional Mechanical Transport Company.
After the cessation of fighting, at the start of 1919, there was another period of leave to the UK. However, the very next day after returning to France from leave (18/2/19) he was admitted to hospital. At this point the diagnosis was ‘N.Y.D. Pyrexia’ . Five days later (24/2/19) it was diagnosed as ‘Influenza’ and he was listed as ‘dangerously ill’. He died 2 days later (26/2/19) and the official cause was given as ‘Broncho pneumonia and Influenza’. He died in No. 20 Casualty Clearing Station Charleroi and was buried in the Military Cemetery Charleroi.
There is a Red Cross report for Driver Perkins, prompted by the mother’s request for additional information on the death. One response came from the Officer Commanding, 4 Australian Divisional Mechanical Transport Company (Major F Searle):
…I have to advise that No. 13881 Dvr. Perkins. H.C.A. Died whilst in No. 20 C.C.S. Charleroi and was buried in the Military Cemetery Charleroi. Cause of death, bronchial pneumonia and influenza, contracted while with this unit in Florennes. A cross was erected over his grave by this Unit and paid for out of Regimental funds.
The war diary for this particular unit records that they were based at Florennes from 1 February and it also notes in reference to the general health of the men that influenza was very prevalent. However given that Driver Perkins spent the first 2 weeks of February in the UK on leave, and that he was admitted to hospital just one day after re-joining his unit, he could as easily have contracted the (Spanish) flu in the UK.
The cable advising of the death was dated 3/3/19.
The personal belongings reached the mother in September 1919: 3 Handkerchiefs, Letters, photos, Cards, 1 Razorstrop, 1 Wrist Watch and strap, 1 Diamond Ring, 1 Shaving Brush, 2 Brushes, 1 Razor, 2 Discs, 1 Medallion, 2 Collar Badges, 2 Numerals, 1 Comb, 1 Fountain Pen, 1 Cigarette Case, 1 Mirror, 1 Photo Frame, 1 Book of Post Cards, 1 Wallet, 1 one Franc Note
There was another package, a sealed envelope containing … 1 Bank letter dated 11th January 1919 Re remittance £10.
The mother received her son’s medals, but she herself died in May 1922 and, consequently, the remaining official memorabilia – scroll and plaque – were sent to the older brother, F H Perkins of Alphington.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Harold Claude Albert Perkins, courtesy of Australian War Memorial
O’NEILL John Albert 2267 Aust Army Provo Corps Died of Illness 25/11/19
John Albert O’Neill was born in Yarram (1888) and attended the state school at Alberton West. He was also involved with the South Gippsland Rifle Club. He came from a well-known family in the local area, at Stacey’s Bridge. His grandfather – John O’Neill – was one of the first settlers at Jack River.
John O’Neill was one of 6 siblings. There were 2 younger brothers, one of whom – David Francis O’Neill – also enlisted and survived the War, returning to Australia in early 1919. The father – Christopher O’Neill – was a dairy farmer with 150 acres at Devon. He died in 1918 while his son was still serving overseas. The mother – Ellen O’Neill (Nolan) – then became the next-of-kin and she provided the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. She gave Stacey’s Bridge as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. The mother herself died shortly after, in 1922.
While John O’Neill had been born, gone to school, and grown up in the local area, and was clearly recognised as a local, he actually enlisted in Tasmania. On the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor his entry specifically notes that he enlisted in Tasmania. It is not apparent when he left the district and moved to Tasmania. The fact that he was a member of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club suggests that it would not have until his late teens or early twenties.
Private O’Neill enlisted at Claremont, Tasmania on 1/6/15. He was 26 yo and he gave his occupation as ‘laborer’. His religion was recorded as Roman Catholic.
Private O’Neill joined as reinforcements for 12 Battalion and left Australia on 25/6/15. He joined 12 Battalion on Gallipoli in September 1915. After the withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula, 12 Battalion was sent to France and disembarked at Marseilles on 5/4/16.
Over his service in France Private O’Neill received 2 awards. The first was in July 1916 when, together with 4 other privates in 12 Battalion, he was mentioned in despatches for bravery as a stretcher-bearer at Pozieres in July 1916. The citation read,
For conspicuous gallantry & devotion to duty during operations 23/25 July 1916 at Pozieres. They [Private O’Neill and the 4 others ] were stretcher bearers during the whole of this period & with great courage & coolness carried many wounded men across shell swept areas to dressing station.
The war diary of 12 Battalion gives an indication of the enemy shelling at this time ( July 25, 1916) :
Fighting continues POZIERES position heavily shelled from 4 am to 6 pm the trenches dug by us are obliterated & many of our men buried
The diary also records that there were 235 wounded over the 3 days (23-25 July 1916).
Just over 6 months later, Private O’Neill’s bravery was again acknowledged. On this occasion he was recommended for – and received – the Military Medal. The recommendation was dated 1/3/17 and it again involved his work as a stretcher-bearer. The other private recommended at the same time – Private Samuel John Clarke (2229) – was also from 12 Battalion:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Privates Clarke & O’Neill, were stretcher bearers and were untiring in their efforts to carry back wounded men over exceedingly heavy country, the rapid advance of the battalion making this a very long and arduous task. …. Private O’Neill was previously recommended for good work done at Pozieres.
The citation does not give the precise date(s) or location. Presumably, it was referring to late February as the Germans were falling back to the Hindenburg Line and the fighting was again in the area near Pozieres, roughly on a line between Albert and Bapaume.
Back in Gippsland, the local paper reported on 14/9/17 that Private O’Neill’s father had been informed by the Department of Defence that his son had been awarded the Military Medal for ‘bravery in the field’.
Private O’Neil was himself wounded in action on 20/9/17. He suffered a shell wound to his left arm. He was evacuated to England and was discharged from hospital at the end of November 1917.
At the start of August 1918, Private O’Neill transferred from 12 Battalion to the Australian Provost Corps. It appears he continued in this unit, in the UK, through to the end of the War, and then after the Armistice, right through until November 1919 when he died.
The details of the death are limited but the official description given was ‘valvular disease of the heart’. It appears that he was admitted to hospital – Kitchener Military Hospital, Brighton – early in November with ‘acute bronchitis’ and died on the 25/11/19.
The mother had written to Base Records in early August 1919 (3/8/19) asking for details on the ‘welfare and whereabouts’ of her son. Presumably he was not in regular correspondence with the family back in Gippsland. The response – not until 6/8/19 – was, essentially, that there was nothing to report and that,
It is anticipated that he will be returning home very shortly, and upon receipt of advice to the effect that he has embarked for Australia, you will be promptly advised.
Then in the middle of November it appears that the mother received 2 telegrams – both dated the same day, 13/11/19. One stated that he had been admitted to hospital with ‘acute bronchitis’ and the second that he was ‘dangerously ill’ and that a progress report could be expected.
It appears that the cable advising of the death reached Australia on 26/11/19, the day after his death. On the 29/11/19 there was a detailed report of the funeral service held when 2/Cpl John Albert O’Neil M.M. was buried in Brighton Borough Cemetery:
The deceased was accorded a full military funeral. The coffin, draped with the Australian flag and surmounted with wreaths, was borne on a Gun Carriage to the cemetery. A firing party from the 34th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was in attendance. The pall-bearers were 6 of deceased’s comrades from the Australian Provost Corps at Lewes. A detachment from the same unit under the O.C. Major G. L. PHILLIPS (MBE) followed the coffin to the graveside. Three volleys were fired over the grave and the Last Post was sounded.
Detail for the wreaths on the coffin indicate that 2/Cpl O’Neill was based at the A.I. F. Detention Barracks at Lewes.
In early 1920 (20/3/20) the mother wrote to Base Records asking for details on the collection of her son’s Military Medal, other medals and deferred pay. She was advised that the Military Medal would be passed over shortly.
In August the same year, she received her son’s kit – 1 disc, 1 rosary, Military Medal ribbon, 1 leather belt, 1 pipe, 1 pocket book, photos, letters.
The mother did received her son’s Military Medal and his service medals. However, as noted, she died in 1922 and so when the memorial plaque was sent to her, at her Stacey’s Bridge address, in December 1922, it was received and signed for by David Francis O’Neill, the brother who had also served in the AIF. The O’Neill family was another one where both parents and the soldier son all died within a relatively period of each other, in this instance 4 years.
Corporal O’Neill’s name is also recorded on the roll of honour of Stacey’s Bridge and District.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project
Over the last 4 + years I have used the blog to record, against the chronology of the War, the deaths of soldiers from the Shire of Alberton. In this sense the blog has acted as a formal attestation of their service. In six-monthly intervals I have also given an overview of all those who enlisted, and also considered the issue of those who chose not to enlist. More broadly, I have also attempted to analyse the impact of the various crises, pressure points and divisions that either emerged or were exacerbated in the local community – and Australia more generally – during the course of the War.
However, now that the centenary of the Armistice has passed, future posts will not keep to the previous regular time frame but will be posted at progressive intervals.
I still need to cover the cases of 2 local men who died overseas on service. Harold Claude Perkins died of disease in France on 26/2/19 and John Albert O’Neill died of illness in the UK on 25/11/19. Both names are included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ memorial. I will combine the 2 in a single post early next year.
There is also further work to do on the complete database of all those locals who enlisted. This always has been, and still remains, a work-in-progress. As already indicated, as the research has continued over the course of the blog I have uncovered additional names and I need to add this number – approximately 20 – which will take the final tally so nearly 800 men. I will include the additional men as a separate post.
Also, I intend to carry out additional analysis of the complete data base. To now, the data has been released, and interpreted, in intervals of 6 months but it now needs to be looked at as a whole. It represents a significant data set – nearly 800 men of the AIF who can be tied to a particular location – and it deserves more attention. I am also considering including additional characteristics, in order, for example, to provided a greater focus on the issue of the men’s health. However, there is a significant technical problem here because throughout the blog I have struggled to find a sufficiently sophisticated online data base to use alongside the blog. What I want to do might not be possible. At the same time, I should at least be able to use the blog to release additional insights from the data.
Then there are all the issues associated with the men’s return to Australia and the local area. There are questions about how easily they were able to fit back into their former lives and the local community, and the extent to which they wanted to retain the experience of ‘mateship’ fashioned in the AIF, even if this bond was ‘exclusivist’ in nature. There were certainly major disputes in the local community over the issue of the commemoration of the men’s service and sacrifice. And all this was taking place within a community where much of the division seen over the course the War, particularly that over religion, was actually intensifying not diminishing.
The soldier settlement scheme was also critically important. It promised so much after the War. But one of the most interesting features of the program was the way the ex-soldiers, representing the younger generation, succeeded or failed in their ventures within an administrative and political context that gave power to the older generation of established farmers and town elders. In a real sense, the former soldiers swapped the authority of the AIF – where most of them were relatively young and never rose above the rank of private – for the generational authority of the established social and political order of the community to which they returned; and the power of the local authority overseeing the settlement scheme was considerable. I hope to give at least an overview of the success or otherwise of the scheme over the first 10 or so years.
I would also like to look in more detail at the whole question of the White Australia Policy, particularly in the context of the end of the War and the widespread conviction that victory had secured this fundamental national commitment. In this context I also hope to revisit the local history written at the time by Rev George Cox.
It is important, at the very least, to begin to show that the full legacy of the War – even within the confines of just the one local community of the Shire of Alberton on which I have focused these past 4 + years – went far beyond the preoccupation with memorials and commemorations, and all the associated myth-making.
LOWTHER Frank William 156 (42 B) 41 B Died of Illness 24/11/18
Frank William Lowther enlisted in Queensland but both he and his large family had strong links with the Shire of Alberton. His father – Thomas Cormac Lowther – had been the head teacher at the state school at Yarram prior to 1878. The father also had land in the Devon district. Frank himself was born at Woodside in 1882, grew up in the district and attended the state schools at Devon North and Yarram. While it appears that there were initially 12 siblings in the family, three had died by the time of the War.
There was an older brother – Louis Anthony Lowther – who also enlisted in Queensland and who had also attended the same local schools. Both these brothers were also listed on the Devon North District honor roll and the Presbyterian Charge.
The father died in 1883 just one year after Frank was born and it appears that the family farm was sold in 1899. It is not known when 3 of the Lowther brothers – Frank William, Louis Anthony and Clare Cormac – moved to Queensland but the fact that the names of the 2 brothers who enlisted appear on the Devon and local Presbyterian honor rolls suggest that it was probably not until about 1910. Some of the female siblings married in the local area. The second eldest child – Eleanor Ann Lowther, born 1862 – married a local (Lowe) and was living at Woranga during the War. Additionally, another married sister – Kate Clara Lowther (Martin), born 1879 – was also still living in Yarram, as was another unmarried sister, Blanche Lowther, born 1876. Overall, the Lowther family was certainly well known in the district.
Frank Lowther enlisted in Toowoomba on 25/11/15. He joined 42 Battalion. He was 33 yo, single and he gave his religion as Presbyterian. His brother, Clare Cormac Lowther, was listed as his next-of-kin. This brother, older than Frank, was farming at Jandowae near Chinchilla in Queensland and it appears that Frank was living and working with him. The other brother who enlisted – Louis Anthony Lowther – was also farming in the same area prior to his enlistment. He returned to Queensland, at least initially, after the War. There is a note on the form completed for the (National) Roll of Honour – completed by Clare Cormac Lowther – that Frank was … working with his brother [Clare Cormac], but later took up photography. The same form also reveals that Frank was an accomplished musician who had played with the North Devon Brass Band – at least until 1905 – and won competitions. It noted that he had had ‘good’ musical training and he … excelled on cornet and saxophone. Then, when he enlisted, he was … one of the members of the original Band of the 42 Battalion continuing so till his death.
There is not much information in Private Frank Lowther’s service file on his war-time experience. He left Australia in early June 1916, reached the UK in late July 1916 and moved to France in January 1917. According to the war diary of 42 Battalion, on 23/10/18, the battalion – 42 Battalion – merged with or was ‘taken on the strength of’ 41 Battalion. This was at the time of the ‘mutiny’ when several battalions refused to disband as part of the re-organisation or ‘cannibalisation’ forced on the AIF. Private Lowther was never in trouble with the military authorities, nor was he ever wounded and, until the very end at least, he was never even admitted to hospital.
The same war diary (31/10/18) also noted that just before the Armistice the health of the men was generally good but it also cautioned that … the greatest care was, and still is being exercised, to prevent “Spanish Influenza” which has made its appearance, from assuming alarming proportions. On 18/11/18 the diary recorded that the men were ‘inoculated this morning’. There was also a passing reference on 29/11/18 – Influenza proving troublesome.
Private Lowther was one of those for whom ‘Spanish Influenza’ was ‘troublesome’. He was admitted to the hospital at Abbeville (3 Australian General Hospital) suffering from ‘influenza’ on 17/11/18, was described as ‘dangerously ill’ on 22/11/18 and died of ‘Bronchial Pneumonia’ on 24/11/18. Interestingly, in his file there is a Red Cross report which lists 3 other men who died in the Abbeville Hospital round the same time from ‘Spanish Flu’. The earliest was 28/10/18 and the last 17/12/18. In all 4 cases the patient was admitted with ‘influenza’ but then, within 5-8 days, died from ‘broncho-pneumonia’. In addition to these 4 deaths, other records in Private Lowther’s service file – from Graves Registration Unit – indicate that at least another 3 men from the Abbeville Hospital (3AGH) died from ‘broncho-pneumonia’, following ‘influenza’, in November 1918.
Private Lowther was buried in the Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension. It appears that the family in Australia was advised of the death in early December 1918 (3-5/12/18). The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported his death on 13/12/18, noting that … Private Frank Lowther, formerly of this district, has lost his life in the service of his country. A death notice appeared on 18/12/18:
LOWTHER.- On November 24th of bronchial pneumonia, Private Frank William Lowther, No. 156, C Coy., 42nd Battalion, bandsman, A.I.F., youngest son of the late Thomas Cormac Lowther, and dearly loved brother of Mrs. Wm. Jas. Lowe, Woranga, and C. C. Lowther, Jandowae, Queensland. Age 36 years and 11 1/2 months. He patiently stayed until victory was won, Then he laid aside bugle and sword; Good fight he had fought, life’s race he’d well run, Now he rests in the arms of his Lord. Sleep on beloved, sleep and take thy rest Till the day break and the shadows flee
and an in memoriam appeared on 20/12/18:
On Active Service. LOWTHER.- On the 24th of November, 1918, Frank Lowther, who died of pneumonia after two years and five months’ active service, loved brother of Messrs. O. T. Lowther, C. C. Lowther, Pte. L. A. J. Lowther, Mrs. W. J. Lowe, Mrs. C. M. Goodaye, Misses R. E. Lowther and B. Lowther, and Mrs. K. C. Martin, all of whom equally mourn their loss. Beloved by all. Beyond the shadows and the strife. Inserted by his loving and sorrowing sister, K. C. Martin
The brother identified as next-of-kin (Clare Lowther in Queensland) received personal kit – Wallet, Y.M.C.A. Wallet, 3 Razors, Safety Razor, Devotional Book, Letters, Cards, Pocket Knife, Coins Value 50 cent. – in August 1919. Another brother, Oswald Thomas Lowther, the oldest male sibling – was sent an ‘identity disc’ nearly one year later, in June 1920. Oswald, again as the oldest surviving son in the family, also received the war medals.
This oldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – who was 51 yo at the time of his youngest brother’s death, was a prolific correspondent with the AIF’s Base Records in Melbourne. Even though he was not the designated next-of-kin, he effectively took on this role; and, in time, this pursuit of his came to create significant family conflict. As an example of his propensity to assume the role of ‘head-of-family’, in February 1919 he wrote to Base Records indicating that he wished to open proceedings to have his brother’s body returned to Australia. He wrote of some promise to his mother on her death bed:
He is my youngest Brother & my Dear Mother on her death-bed made a special request to me, so that if possible, I would like him to be buried in his mother’s grave.
The request is extraordinary and, in fact, in the approximately 140 cases of AIF members killed overseas which I have examined, it is the only such request I have come across. It is hard to believe that it was ever a serious request. In any case, the AIF gave a judicious reply (20/2/19):
Concerning the request that the body of your brother, the late No 156, Private F.W. Lowther, 41st Battalion, be returned to Melbourne I have to inform you that from information received by the Honourable the Minister for Defence it is gathered that the Imperial War Graves Commission have formed the opinion that this will not be practicable. A realisation of the natural feelings of relatives in a matter of such an intimate character increases the difficulty of laying down a rule of a strictly definite character but the Minister trusts that all concerned will be content to accept the principle, a departure from which , the Commission fears, would lead to undesirable discriminations in the treatment of questions of this kind. It is hoped therefore, that you will not press your wishes in this matter but will be satisfied to leave your brother with the comrades buried with him in the Field.
With regard to Private Frank Lowther’s personal property a significant injustice appears to have occurred. When Private Lowther was admitted to hospital in Abbeville he took with him, as his own personal property, his cornet and saxophone. However, neither of these was ever returned to the family. The brother in the AIF – Sgt. Louis Lowther – began to pursue the matter in June 1919. He had been alerted by the brother back in Queensland that neither instrument had been returned and, obviously, both brothers were keen to recover these treasured items. It appears that first the AIF and then the Red Cross were contacted to help resolve the issue. However, despite various reassurances and attempts to locate the items there is no record of them ever being returned. The family was told that the items should have been returned to 42 Battalion but, unfortunately, the battalion had now been ‘demobilised’ and it was therefore … difficult to get any information on (the) subject. Also, The 3rd Australian General Hospital, Abbeville, France, where the late soldier died has now been disbanded thus enhancing the futility of further enquiries at this end. Similarly, the AIF Kit Store in London had no information and, moreover, did not know … of any other source from which information may be obtained regarding same. The official reply (22/8/19) therefore was that … enquiries have been made in every direction without success. At the end of the day, 2 valuable musical instruments which Private Lowther had had with him, probably from his time with the Devon North District Band, and then all through the War years, were most likely taken by someone at the hospital after he died. The 2 items that arguably most identified his life and which meant so much to his family were lost.
Private Lowther’s service file reveals another example of how family conflict could break out over the memory of the dead sibling. After Frank’s death, there were 8 siblings still alive. Some were still living in the Shire of Alberton but others had shifted – for example, to Melbourne – and, as indicated, prior to the War three brothers had earlier moved to Queensland. So, overall, it was still a large family and the siblings were separated by significant distances. However neither of these difficulties was the main problem.
In the AIF, Private Frank Lowther had nominated as his next-of-kin one of his older brothers – Clare Cormac Lowther – but, as already pointed out, the oldest surviving brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – appeared keen to establish himself as the family head. Moreover, under the legislation covering the distribution of medals, in the case where both parents were deceased, it was the oldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – who had the first claim. However, as things turned out, the conflict that did arise was not over the distribution of medals – although some of the female siblings did take great exception to what they regarded as discrimination on the basis of their sex – but, rather, over the wording of the inscription on the grave stone.
As the next-of-kin, Clare Cormac Lowther was given the task of organising the inscription for the grave stone. He was sent the official form in February 1920. However, at the same time as he was asked to provide an inscription, the eldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – initiated contact with Base Records enquiring about how he could create his own inscription. From this point, there was family division, or more correctly, based on all the correspondence in the service file, the issue of the inscription appeared to focus all the family division that had been there, probably from the time of the father’s death (1883) and certainly from that of the mother (1900).
Essentially, the family split into two camps: 6 siblings supported Clare Lowther, while Oswald Lowther was supported by one sister. Those who supported Clare Lowther wrote, in extensive correspondence to the AIF, that he was the sibling who had done the most for Frank, right from when he was born and that he was the one who always had had his interests at heart.
As far as the AIF was concerned, it obviously did not want to get involved in family disputes. Its position was that it would accept whatever the family decided, so long as it conformed to the requirement of 66 characters, including spaces. The AIF presumed that the siblings could and would come to an agreement.
At this point there were 2 basic proposals: one from Clare Lowther representing the 6 siblings which read:
In memory of Frank, dearly loved son of Thomas & Margaret Lowther, Yarram, Victoria
and another from Oswald Lowther and his sister (Caroline Gooday) which read:
Rev, 14.13 C. Gooday O. Lowther
[Revelation 14.13: Then I heard a voice from Heaven say to me, ‘Write down: Happy are those who die in the Lord! Happy indeed, the Spirit says; now they can rest for ever after their work, since their good deeds go with them’]
It is not clear if Oswald Lowther saw his inscription as an addition or alternative to the one backed by the majority of his siblings. He argued that he had not been consulted over the original inscription.
The AIF then wrote to Clare Lowther (1/12/20) and advised him of his brother’s request. They requested that he re-write the inscription, incorporating the additional request, still ensuring that the 66 character limit was observed. They also wrote to Oswald Lowther (2/12/20) advising him of what they had done.
This request prompted a series of letters from the 6 siblings stating that they disapproved strongly of the eldest brother’s actions. They expressed embarrassment at his actions; re-affirmed their belief that the only sibling who had the moral right to represent Frank’s interests was his brother Clare; were angry that this brother’s selfless actions had been challenged; were outraged that, as proposed, only 2 of the siblings’ names would appear in the inscription; and even made allegations about the past conduct of Oliver Lowther and how he had damaged the family’s name. In defending his original proposal, Clare Lowther wrote to the AIF (23/12/20):
Regarding the two members of the family (C. Goody & O. Lowther) I will say nothing except that they have adopted a hostile attitude toward me since my brother died.
The AIF must have realised that majority support obviously rested with the original inscription and that there was definitely no such support for any additional comment. Consequently it edited the inscription to read:
In memory of the dearly loved son of T. & M. Lowther, Yarram, Victoria.
It then forwarded (1/3/21) the inscription to the Imperial War Graves Commission in London.
Oswald Lowther wrote (28/2/21) wanting to know if anything had happened regarding his proposed change to the inscription. He was informed by the AIF on 9/3/21 that the final inscription was:
In memory of the dearly loved son of T. & M. Lowther, Yarram, Victoria.
However, the matter did not rest there. When Oswald Lowther found out about the final inscription (9/3/21) he immediately wrote back to the AIF requesting the following change – that ‘Yarram’ be removed and replaced by ‘Rev. 14,13’ which he indicated was a … favourite text of my Dear Mother’s. He added that the same text had been used at the funeral service of another brother who had died as an … Elder in the Kirk. He followed this request up with another in May 1921. However, in relation to this latest proposed change to the inscription, he also made representation directly to the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) in London. Presumably, he did so in what he saw as his capacity, or right, as the oldest male sibling and therefore the head of the family. It is also possible that he sought the intervention of the Minister of Defence (G Pearce). This time his representation was successful and the IWGC advised the AIF back in Melbourne that the wording had been changed in line with Oswald Lowther’s advice.
When the AIF discovered that the wording had been changed it wrote (10/8/21) to Clare Lowther – now working as an auctioneer at Hamilton, back in Victoria – explaining that without their knowledge his brother had communicated directly with the IWGC and that the inscription had been changed. The AIF pointed out that time was short but it still hoped that the family could come to an agreed position. Essentially, the AIF wanted the family to accept the change. Presumably, it did not see any significant problem with the change: a country town in Victoria had simply been replaced with a reference to a well-known scripture text.
It is to be regretted that your brother should have acted thus contrary to the expressed wishes of the surviving relatives but it is hoped that even at this juncture to obtain some degree of unanimity respecting the acceptance of the inscription in the revised form.
Clare Lowther replied immediately (15/8/21). He described his brother’s action as ‘contemptible’. He stated that he would inform his siblings about what had happened. He strongly rejected the change:
It was the particular wish [of the siblings] that the name of the town in which he [Frank] lived and was well and widely known should be inscribed on the headstone. My late brother’s parents were resident for a considerable number of years in this same town where their memory is cherished.
By this point there were urgent time constraints. Also, presumably, the AIF had had enough of being caught in the middle of family politics. It wrote back to Clare Lowther (24/8/21) pointing that there was no time for another round of family consultation and that the only option left for him was to write directly to the IWGC … with a view to obtaining, if possible, a reversal of their present decision.
While this was the course of action that Clare Lowther followed, it did not prevent the AIF receiving extensive correspondence from the siblings, in response to Clare Lowthers’ advice to them about what their brother had done. Such correspondence made it clear that they did not approve. Again, some attacked the integrity of their brother Oswald Lowther and, as a minimum, described his action as ‘underhand’. Others attacked the text itself and declared that it was … not worthy of a soldier’s honour. Others were outraged that the dispute had been revised by their brother and simply could not see why anyone would even object to the inscription as decided upon by the majority. As far as the inclusion of Yarram was concerned there were very strong feelings expressed, similar to Clare Lowther’s earlier comments. One sister wrote that Frank had been looking forward to returning to both Yarram and Devon when he returned home from the War. One of the sisters still living there, wrote of Yarram that it was … the town where he spent his childhood and boyhood and entered manhood and where he was and is loved and respected by all who knew him. She added that Yarram was … in the vicinity of the old house [the parents original house at Devon] where Frank had his most sacred and most cherished associations. There was consensus that Yarram had to stay in the inscription and that, in effect, nothing was to change.
On 3/9/21 Clare Lowther write to Base Records in Melbourne advising them that he had written to the IWGC informing them that it was the … unanimous wish of the majority of the members of the family that the name of Frank’s home town should be inscribed on his Memorial Stone.
That, presumably, was the end of the matter. The inscription on the grave stone today reads:
In Memory of the Dearly Loved Son of T. & M. Lowther Yarram, Victoria.
The preceding account illustrates how fraught the commemoration of those killed in the War could become. Possibly, in this particular case, the commemoration was compromised because of pre-existing divisions and tension within a large family, which meant that even the death of a loved sibling could not be an uncontested or neutral event. Clearly, those involved were embarrassed, ashamed and even outraged by what happened but, equally, they could not stop it.
The case also offers insight on the importance of place. Possibly, some at least of the siblings’ opposition to the plan to replace ‘Yarram’ with a reference to scripture was directed by anger at Oswald Lowther’s attempt to thwart the expressed wishes of the majority of siblings. However, equally, several of the siblings clearly articulated the need to tie the memory of their brother to a particular location, in this instance Yarram. They considered it was important to tie him, not to Queensland, where he had been living and working, but to the location to which his family ‘belonged’.
As we have seen throughout this blog, transience in Australia in late 19 C and early 20 C was a constant, across society as a whole. Yet for all the mobility, the need to identify with a particular location remained very powerful. Arguably, the dead of WW1 threw this fundamental need into much sharper focus. The need to place the names of the many dead on rolls and memorials – in cities, suburbs, country towns, settlements and even schools all across Australia – and literally make that connection to place, was overpowering; and even more so because the bodies were buried ‘overseas’ in the poetic corner of a ‘foreign field’.
However, the ‘rules’ for determining the specific location were vague and inconsistent and often local politics was the key driver. As well, after the War, there lapses in both effort and memory. Many of the dead missed out, as we have seen, repeatedly. Even in this particular case, despite all attempts to make the connection to Yarram, neither of the two Lowther brothers who served in the AIF were included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the name of Frank William Lowther who died on 24/11/18 is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
This is the third post in a short series that has looked at various celebrations held in the Shire of Alberton in the week after the signing of the Armistice. The focus of this post is a victory celebration held in the Mechanics Hall on Monday evening,18 November 1918. It was a ‘men-only’ show and it was organised by the local branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ League [Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia] (see Post 148). It was put on ‘to celebrate the glorious victory over the Huns’. The report of the evening appeared in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on Wednesday 20/11/18.
The report does not indicate exactly how many of the returned men were there that night. I estimate that by November 1918, about 150 men from the Shire of Alberton had returned to Australia for medical discharge. This was from the approximately 800 men with a link to the Shire who had enlisted. However, not all those who enlisted from the Shire – for example, itinerant farm workers – returned to the Shire. Further, the event was held in Yarram on a week night and returned men from outlying towns and settlements would have faced difficulty in attending. Also there would have been returned men who for variety of reasons chose not to attend, or were not able to attend. At the same time, there was a functioning local branch of the RSSILA operating in Yarram and, allowing for all the qualifications, it is reasonable to suggest that there would have been up to 50 returned men there that night.
Also present were the fathers and (younger) brothers of those who enlisted and who were still overseas. Various ‘fathers’ associations’ had operated over the period of the War. The other major group of men there that night was made up of those who had been ‘rejected’ when they had tried to enlist. They belonged to an association identified in the newspaper report as the ‘Rejected Volunteers Association’. The paper made it clear that while the ‘rejected’ were glad to be present they certainly did not see themselves as the equal of the Anzac and their celebrations were therefore more restrained.
Noticeable in the gathering was the number of rejected men – we might almost say dejected men, by the thought that they were unable owing to some physical defect to join the boys at the front. But they were triers, at all events. With the fathers they enjoyed the fun more soberly, glad to see the returned boys as happy as juveniles.
Obviously the event was focused on the returned men and their ‘victory’. It was their opportunity to celebrate this victory and be recognised by the local community. The first item that night set the tone. It was a performance by some of the returned men:
A number of boys from “over there,” in merry mood, favored the company with a round of trench songs, quaint and original, which served to prove that in the midst of battle, and housed in trenches, there was that exuberance of spirit characteristic of the Australians, a spirit that was never dormant, even at the door of death.
The accompanist on the piano was described as the ‘dinkum oil’.
The Union Jack was pinned to the stage curtain and below it was a large banner declaring ‘God Save Our King’ [George V] and all the tables were adorned with the colours red, white and blue.
The program for the night involved a series of toasts, each accompanied by a speech. The first toast was to the Empire, given by Mr B Couston. Couston was the manager of the Yarram branch of the Bank of Victoria. He had been active in recruiting and also the push for the Yes vote in the 1917 referendum. He was an outspoken Imperial Loyalist.
While there were several references to a distinctly Nationalist (uniquely Australian) sentiment that night, such displays were very much set within the pervading sense of imperial loyalty and destiny. Couston, for example, outdid himself with praise for the Empire. He took the final victory as unshakeable proof of Britain and the Empire’s greatness. Extracts from his speech suggest how little had changed since the same ‘boys’ were farewelled in 1914:
The British Empire was one of the best and greatest empires that had ever existed, and during the past four and a half years the traditions of this great empire had been nobly upheld.
Britain was essentially a peaceful nation, and always strove to maintain peace throughout the world. She only went to war to see that justice was meted out; the rights of small nations should be protected.
Wherever the British flag was flying the people got justice, and they had faith in her. She had come out of this great struggle with more glory than in any other conflict she had been engaged in. She was opposed to the nation who respected neither life nor anything else, and the lads who had responded to the call of the mother land had nobly stood for and upheld the tradition of the great British Empire. Now they could glory in the victory, and could develop the resources of their country at the expense of those who had been subdued.
There was nothing that could make them [the ‘hearts of Britishers’] forget the violation of justice by Germany, the trampling down and outraging of Belgium and Servia. The Germans stopped at nothing, outraging women and children, and even went into the monasteries and defiled them.
For Couston, the War had established that Australia had proved itself worthy of membership of the Empire and that Australians were worthy of the title ‘British’:
…the people of the dependencies of Britain were just as loyal as the old countrymen. Colonials knew they came from the noblest and purest of blood, and had flocked round the grand old flag showing how proud they were to belong to the greatest nation the world had even seen. (Applause.)
Perhaps Couston allowed himself to be carried away in the last burst of patriotic praise but the claim about the ‘colonials’ belonging to the ‘greatest nation the world had ever seen’ set definite limits to any notion of a unique variety of Australian nationalism. For Couston, Australia’s national identity, national interest and even national destiny did not exist outside the Empire.
There followed a toast to ‘The Allies’, because while it had essentially been a British triumph, the allies had also played a part, at least in reducing the length of the War. The allied powers specifically mentioned were Italy, Servia, Roumania, Portugal, Japan, America, France and Belgium.
In proposing the toast of “The Allies”, the speaker proclaimed,
… all recognised that the British Empire was one of the greatest and best, but at the same time they would all recognise in such a gigantic war as had just been gone through, that without the aid of the Allies hostilities may have gone on for many years.
Clearly, the millions of Russian dead had slipped off the political balance sheet, presumably because, in the end, Tsarist Russia had failed the Allies; and now the world faced the Bolshevik menace.
The toast to the Allies finished with a parting shot at Germany. Germany … deserved not one particle of sympathy, and nothing was too bad for her, and he [the speaker] trusted the Allies would never forgive her for the atrocities committed.
Next, a toast to ‘The Boys at the Front’ was given by E. N. G. Gabbett, one of the returned men. Edward (Goldie) Gabbett enlisted in 4 Light Horse Regiment as a 34 yo in July 1915. He had tried to enlist earlier but had been rejected on the basis of ‘insufficient teeth’. He was married and he came from Sale. His medical was taken at Yarram but the enlistment was finalised at Melbourne. He reached France in March 1916. He was wounded by a high explosive shell in November 1916 and his left leg had to be amputated. He was returned to Australia and discharged on medical grounds in February 1918. He was one of three brothers who enlisted. A younger brother, Norcliffe Gabbett, only nineteen, had been killed at Gallipoli.
Gabbett steered a deft path in praising the various units in the AIF and noting their respective strengths. He singled out the ‘battalion stretcher bearer’ for praise. Gabbett also continued the anti-German theme and pushed it to extreme lengths. He was reported thus,
He did not like speaking about the Germans as it made his blood boil. He had seen their work in Belgium, and he hated them like poison; they were the worst of the worst. He would never trust a German, no matter where he came from. There was only one good German – and that was a dead one. (Applause.)
Lt. Einsiedel, a visitor – and a visitor with a German name – then proposed the toast to the ‘Fathers and Mothers of the Boys’. He spoke about the sacrifice of parents who had lost sons, particularly those who had given permission for their under-age sons to enlist.
Although some parents had lost their sons, those boys were not lost to them and their memory would live forever and be honoured throughout the land. Parents would, in bearing their burdens, know that the sacrifice they had made had not been in vain. (Applause.)
Mr George Bland responded to Lt Einsiedel. Bland was a well-known local farmer and civic leader. He had a played a key role in the soldiers’ farewells and welcomes home. He was also a temperance supporter. He continued with the customary platitude about the dead not really being dead. According to him,
Those lads who had been killed were not lost to the parents. They had only gone before, gone before to join that deathless army which would always live.
The next speaker was Mr. John Biggs. The Biggs family was Catholic and 5 sons had tried to enlist but only 3 were accepted. At the time, one of the sons – Corporal John William Biggs – was a prisoner of war. He had enlisted as a nineteen-year-old in May 1916. He had been captured in the major German push in April (1918).
Biggs managed to combine the two themes of the dead not being lost and Germany’s guilt,
Those lives that were lost were not lost in vain, as it was through those boys victory had been won. He [Biggs] was afraid the Allies were going to be too lenient with Germany. The present was no time to talk of justice to Germany. Let justice be given to France and Belgium first.
Biggs then moved on to more local concerns. Specifically, he started talking about repatriation and his comments took on a decidedly militant, if not agrarian socialist, tone. For Biggs, the past 4 years had seen many promises made and now it was time to deliver. Probably, Biggs was being critical of all those local civic leaders who had called on all the local men to enlist in the name of duty and patriotism. There was an obvious suggestion of class conflict in what he said:
When all the boys come back they should be provided for, and the Government should see they were properly looked after. The Government should compel the wealthy members of the community, those who had made money out of the war, to disgorge. There were men who were living idle lives holding big properties and producing next to nothing. The land should be acquired compulsorily. Let the Government pay a reasonable price for it and give it to the boys. No one had a better right to it than those who fought for it.
Finally, it was the turn of the ‘The Triers’. This toast was proposed by Mr David Muir, another returned local soldier. Prior to enlistment he had been a popular and well-known footballer and cricketer but he had been discharged in mid 1917 with ‘broken health’. Muir referred to those rejected as men …who through no fault of their own, were not soldiers. He spoke of them as …
– the disappointed triers. They had in fact formed an Association and were affiliated with the Returned Soldiers’ Association, being recognised as men who were prepared to do their share. Those who had the glorious privilege of donning the khaki, and enjoying all that the soldiers enjoyed, realised how disappointed these men still felt.
In responding to the toast, the Rev C. J. Walklate touched on a subject which was obviously still very raw. Unlike the ‘triers’ there had been other locals who had been fit and healthy and who could have enlisted but chose not to do so. And there was the related issue of people who continued to deal with these ‘shirkers’ and who therefore condoned their lack of duty and gave them respect to which they were not entitled. Moreover, according to Walklate, the shirker sometimes received even more attention than the genuine soldier:
They had men in their midst who could have left their properties and fought, while their work could have been quite easily carried on without them. These people should have been asked why they did not go. Even now they should be waited on and asked their reasons for failing to enlist. The matter should be taken up at once and settled for all time. If those men had no good reason then they should be relegated to social and political oblivion. Still there were people who hob-nobbed with those who neglected their duty. They had an example of it during the peace celebrations the other evening when in the hall at a dance. It was impossible to pick out the returned man. The favors and smiles were showered on the shirkers. There should be sufficient sense of shame left in those men who had not volunteered to be missing from such gatherings. However, those who had gone and those who had tried should move themselves in the matter, so that the line of distinction could be shown between those who had fought and tried and those who had not; then the public could see how the wind blew. (Applause.)
The fact that those rejected on health grounds had gone to the length of creating their own association indicates how concerned they were by the fear of being labelled a ‘shirker’. On some local memorials the names of those who had been rejected were even included. However, what was arguably more poignant was the naïve belief that there could ever be any sort of ‘comradely’ link between those who had served overseas in the AIF and the ‘triers’. It might have seemed a hopeful premise before the men returned, but once they did return there was obviously no shared experience whatsoever to hold the two groups together.
At the end of the toasts that night, on a more practical note, there was talk of the three associations – Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ League, the Fathers’ Association and the Rejected Volunteers’ Association – coming together behind a proposal to establish some sort of amenity – an ‘institute’ – where, once they had all returned, the local former soldiers could meet and socialise. On the night it seemed the most ordinary of suggestions but, in fact, this proposal was going to prove very divisive in the local community, particularly when the returned men showed signs of wanting the right to do things their way. The ‘mateship’ of the returned men was to prove more exclusive than the locals imagined.
The night ended with a toast to ‘Our Fallen Comrades’ – ‘honoured in silence’ – and, finally … The National Anthem, Rule Britannia and ringing cheers wound up a most pleasant evening.
One final observation is that there is some doubt over the person of Lt. Einseidel who was there as a guest that night. As indicated, he proposed one of the toasts and he was certainly introduced as a special guest:
Amongst the number was a soldier who had gained distinction by gaining at Bapaume a military cross, Lieutenant R. Einsiedel, who saw 2 years 10 months service.
There was no Einseidel who enlisted as a local and no record of the name on the local electoral roll or in the Shire of Alberton rate book. Possibly, he moved to the local area after he was discharged, but it is hard to find evidence of this. Possibly he was passing through Yarram at the time of the celebration. In terms of war service, I have not been able to find anyone of the name Einseidel receiving – or being recommended for – any honour or award. The name itself is very uncommon and the closest match I can find is 2 Lieutenant Rupert Einsiedel. He was born in Victoria but enlisted in Queensland. He served overseas for only a short time – approximately 4 months – before being returned to Australia and discharged, in August 1917, on medical ground – recurrent rheumatism. He did not serve in France but spent all his time in England undertaking officer training. The two versions of Lt Einsiedel obviously do not line up. Perhaps the local paper got the name wrong. Perhaps someone knew of the ‘real’ Lt Einsiedel and assumed – and also embellished – his identity so he could win favour in ‘out-of-the-way’ rural towns. At the same time, we have already seen how returned servicemen themselves were quick to identify ‘fakes’ and ‘imposters’. Lt Einseidel remains a puzzle.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative