Category Archives: Extent and nature of casualties

63. Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post continues the analysis of Post 23 and Post 57. It is part of the ongoing work to describe and interpret the essential character of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1.

Religion

The table below shows, in six-monthly intervals, the religious affiliation of enlistments over the period July 1914 to December 1915. The data is set against the religious profile – for males – for the county of Buln Buln in the Commonwealth Census of 1911.

By the end of 1915, the striking predominance of the Church of England had been well established and the rate, from 1914, had been noticeably consistent. Equally, the rate for Presbyterians – the second largest group in the 1911 census – was also consistent; and it closely matched their ranking in the 1911 census.

The picture for the other 2 major religious groupings – Methodists and Roman Catholics – is less clear. However, in this particular analysis, the level of Roman Catholics enlisting in the second half of 1915 – and this was a time of an enlistment ‘surge’ – appeared to be decreasing. This was before the trouble in Ireland and well before the conscription debate. For the Methodists on the other hand, the second half of 1915 appeared to represent a revival in enlistments.

It was virtually unknown for a man enlisting to not give a religion on his enlistment papers. Equally, it was as uncommon for someone to stray from the conventional faiths (Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Roman Catholic … ). Albert McKenzie Boswell who described himself as a ‘free thinker’ was definitely atypical.

Units

As for the previous cohort – first half of 1915 – the majority of enlistments were to serve as reinforcements for existing or newly-created infantry battalions. The greatest single number (43) joined 6 Brigade (Battalions 21, 22, 23, 24) which had been formed at Broadmeadows between February and May 1915. The next largest group (41) were taken as reinforcements for 2 Brigade (Battalions 5, 6, 7, 8), another Victorian unit formed in 1914. And 16 men joined the newly formed 8 Brigade (Battalions 29, 30, 31, 32) which  was created in August 1915, with the battalions coming from 4 different states.

Service History

The table below shows that for this cohort of enlistments the rates for death and medical discharge remained very high. As for the previous cohorts, 25 % were either killed or died in service. Several died of meningitis even before they reached the front. 41% of the complete cohort (200) were given a medical discharge; but this figure rises to 55% when the calculation is restricted to the number of men who survived the War (149).

The complete picture of the casualty rate for this cohort was not apparent until the very end of the War – in fact, the table shows that a large number of deaths (10) occurred in 1918 – but certainly by the end of 1915 the extent of the casualty rates appearing in the media must have removed any simple notions of a short, contained war with limited casualties. The high casualty rates meant that the AIF struggled to maintain itself as a viable fighting unit. There was always the need for reinforcements.

As with the earlier cohorts, the rates of death and medical discharge are only part of the story because the table shows that they were many men who were wounded and/or hospitalised with disease or injury who were not discharged as ‘medically unfit’. Virtually no one survived the full period of the fighting without, at the very least, being hospitalised with disease or injury.

Overall

The point has been made that by the end of 1915 there was an increasing awareness of the impact of enlistment on the size of the available local labour pool. Equally, the death and disability rates highlight the fact that the impact on the labour pool was not a temporary phenomenon. War service was reducing, both significantly and on a permanent basis, the size – and quality – of the labour force. This grim fact was not lost on the workers themselves. For example, as will be shown in future posts on conscription, one of the strongest claims against conscription, made by the enlisted men serving on the Western Front, was that the level of casualties was so high that after the War there would need to be a massive migration program to cover the loss of Australian workers. The men sacrificed on the front line would be replaced by immigrant workers. Within the cynicism and anger there were flash backs to past struggles between labour and capital and even conspiracies to compromise the White Australia Policy by the exploitation of Asian labour.

By the end of 1915, the casualty rates also pointed to the extraordinarily high costs that would be involved in repatriation. The War had proved to be long-term and the number of men who were going to require on-going, specific medical – and financial –  support and general rehabilitation threatened to overwhelm the resources of the Commonwealth. In the mind of PM Hughes, this great cost would have to be covered by German reparations.

Note

2 men in the table above – the brothers Alexander and George McLennan – both have the enlistment date of 28/5/15 which is just outside the dates for this cohort. They should have been included in the previous cohort (first half of 1915). However, as a simple accommodation, I have included them with this cohort. When all the enlistment data is combined in a single data base to cover the full period 1914-18, ‘errors’ such as this will be automatically corrected.

Similarly, the ongoing research continues to uncover men associated with the Shire but who belong to cohorts that have already been covered. Rather than go back and incorporate them in the (statistical) analysis for that particular cohort, I have simply added them at the end of the relevant tables. Realistically, this form of adjustment – as for the 2 McLennan brothers above – does not have any significant impact on the overall analysis. At the same time, it highlights the ongoing nature of the research underpinning the blog. As indicated, there will in time be a single, comprehensive data base that will bring all the data on the men together.

 

 

 

 

57. Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post concludes the overview of the group of 102 men who enlisted in the first half of 1915. It matches the scope of Post 23. Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history.

Religion

Post 23 gave a breakdown of religion in the general community. The relevant data was taken from the Commonwealth Census of 1911 –Table 38. Male Population Of The Counties Of Victoria At the Census of 3rd April, 1911 Classified according to Religion (Exclusive of Full-blooded Aboriginals). – for the county of Buln Buln, Victoria. The data identified 4 key religions for the Gippsland community: Church of England (39%), Presbyterian (23%), Roman Catholic (19%) and Methodist (12.5%). The remaining 6.5% covered relatively small groups of men who identified as: Baptist, Congregationalist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Salvation Army, 7 Day Adventist, Unitarian, Undefined Protestant, Greek Catholic, Undefined Catholic and Other Christian.

The table below shows – in percentage form – the breakdown in religious affiliation between the census of 1911 and the 2 enlistment cohorts of 1914 and the first half of 1915. Clearly the pattern of over-representation from men who gave the Church of England as their religion had been established by the end of the first half of 1915. Arguably, this group identified most closely with the cause of Imperial War. At this point – the end of the first half of 1915 – the numbers involved with the other religious groupings are probably too small to draw definite conclusions. The drop in Methodist enlistments could easily prove to be a one-off aberration. Significantly, the figures continue to show that Roman Catholic enlistments were in proportion to their numbers in the local community.

Units

The unit that appears against each man is taken for the Embarkation Roll.

Once again it is apparent that most men enlisted in infantry battalions. The actual number from this cohort of 102 who left Australia in the Light Horse was only 14. By far the largest group of men (38) enlisted in the 4 battalions ( 21-24) of the new 6 Brigade which were formed at Broadmeadows from February to May 1915.

Service history

Post 23 revealed the very high casualty levels that characterised the first cohort of volunteers to the end of 1914. Basically, 29.5% died on active service and another 38% were repatriated to Australia and discharged as ‘medically unfit’.

The extent of casualties for this second cohort – from January to June 1915 – was only marginally better:  28% died on active service and 31% were repatriated to Australia and discharged as ‘medically unfit.’

Again, this is only part of the story because the table below shows the large number of men who were either wounded or hospitalised with disease or injury but who were not discharged as ‘medically unfit’. After their time in hospital they were returned to their units and they served out the war, typically returning to Australia in 1919. Moreover, some of those men who died on active service had been wounded and/or hospitalised with disease or injury before death. In fact, there is only a handful of men in this cohort – 4 to be precise – who managed to survive the War without being wounded or admitted to hospital with either disease or injury.

The table also shows that most of those killed from this cohort were to die later in the War, many as late as 1918. While casualty figures of alarming proportions were appearing in Australia by the end of June 1915, the extreme levels reflected in the table were not to occur until the AIF moved to the Western Front in early 1916.

As for the first cohort, the most common diseases that saw men hospitalised included: enteric fever, dysentery, pleurisy, pneumonia, tonsillitis, mumps, influenza, rheumatic fever, malaria, scabies, neurasthenia and VD.

The special ‘Anzac Leave’ that PM Hughes instituted in September 1918 did not apply for this group of volunteers who enlisted in the first half of 1915. Those who survived the War, and who were not discharged early on medical grounds, were typically discharged as TPE (‘Termination of Period of Enlistment’) in the second half of 1919.  A small number of men ( 2 ) were discharged in the UK. They had been immigrants to Australia prior to the War.

There was one case of a compassionate discharge. It involved Private G Keillerup. His father had just died and it was believed at the time that 3 of his brothers in the AIF had been killed. Pte. Keillerup was only 18 yo at the time and he had already been wounded.

There was also one case of apparent desertion. Private William Henry Cutts went absent without leave in the UK in early 1916 and then enlisted under an alias in a English unit that was sent to India. The AIF tracked him down and wrote him off their list in June 1916. His record was marked ‘ service no longer required’ and he was marked as not eligible for Australian war medals. Presumably he reasoned that the odds of survival were far better in India than on the Western Front.

Two characteristics not shown in the table are the number of men from this cohort who ‘rose through the ranks’ and became commissioned officers and, second, the extent of awards won by the men generally. Both characteristics were also a feature of the first (1914) cohort of volunteers. Both characteristics will be analysed in detail later.

Overall

There do not appear to be significant difference between the 2 cohorts of volunteers reviewed thus far.

The cohort from the Shire of Alberton was young – typically between 18 and 25 – single, and drawn predominately from the rural working class. The mobility of this group was a striking feature. There was only a relatively small group of sons from local farming families.

Enlistment levels generally reflected the distribution of religious affiliation in the community. The apparent over-representation of those of the Church of England faith will need to be further investigated.

While much was made at the time of the creation of a special light horse unit from South Gippsland, most of the men enlisted in the new infantry battalions of the AIF.

The odds of enlisting in the period from August 1914 through to the end of June 1915, and surviving – alive, unwounded and in good health – to the end of the War, were particularly poor.

Note: in working through enlistment dates with this cohort, there were several cases of inconsistency between what was recorded in the individual service file and the embarkation roll. While I have tried to employ the date shown on the embarkation roll, in a limited number of cases – noted on the above table – I have chosen to use the date recorded on the individual service file. One of the consequences of this work has been that 3 men – Ray Robert Hudson, William Jacobson and Leslie Mcleod – who were originally included in this cohort have been shifted to other cohorts: Hudson and McLeod to the second half of 1915; and Jacobson to the first half of 1916.  The tables in both Post 55 and Post 56, and the related commentary, have been adjusted accordingly . This fine tuning is inevitable in this sort of research.

54. Arthur Charles Valentine KENNEDY 146

Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy, who was born in Yarram, was another of the many young men from the Shire of Alberton who had moved to Queensland before the outbreak of WW1. He enlisted at Oakey – near Toowoomba – on 30 January 1915. At the time of enlistment he gave his address as Jondaryan, about 20K north-west of Oakey, and his occupation as ‘contractor’. He was 25 yo and single. He gave his religion as Roman Catholic.

Arthur Kennedy recorded his brother, Patrick Christopher Albert Kennedy, as his next-of-kin. This brother, who was married, was living and working at Barcaldine, suggesting that the 2 brothers had moved to Queensland together. Both parents were dead, but there were several siblings back in Gippsland. The eldest brother of the family, Alexander Kennedy, lived at Morwell. There were 2 sisters, one of whom – Mrs Felix Donnolly – also lived at Morwell. The other sister, Mrs Maria Baxter, lived at Mack’s Creek via Yarram. It also appears that there was another sister living in Melbourne.

When Patrick Kennedy – the brother nominated as next-of-kin – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he identified Yarram as the ‘town or district’ with which his brother had been ‘chiefly connected’. There is other evidence to indicate that Arthur Kennedy was still regarded as a local in the district. Most significantly, his name appears on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. However the entry on this roll does not indicate that he was killed. His name also appears on the honour rolls of 2 local primary schools, Yarram SS and Balook SS. On the Yarram SS roll A C Kennedy is recorded as having been killed, and at the ceremony to unveil the roll at Balook SS, Arthur Kennedy was  acknowledged as one of those who had made the ‘supreme sacrifice’. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted in its edition of 15/11/16 that the Shire Medallion for Arthur Kennedy had been given to his ‘nearest relative’, presumably the sister living at Mack’s Creek. Overall, Arthur Kennedy was definitely regarded as a ‘local’ and his name featured on numerous memorials. However, his death on active service was not universally noted and, as a consequence, his name is not recorded on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

The fact that the names of those killed were not added to the Shire of Alberton War Memorial until some 10 years after the War suggests, at least in part, why Arthur Kennedy’s name was omitted. In fact, by the time the names were added to the memorial some 13 years had passed since his death on the Gallipoli Peninsula in November 1915.  However, there may have been other factors at work. Obviously his memory could only be represented in the local district by family or friends who were keen to advocate on his behalf; and there is evidence to suggest that, after his death, communication between his siblings, only one of whom was actually living in the immediate district, was poor. It is possible that his memory was compromised not just by time and distance but also by family dynamics. For example, Arthur Kennedy had nominated as his next-of-kin, his brother who was living in Queensland, and so his few personal belongings – Photos, Purse, Religious book – were duly returned to him (Patrick Kennedy of Barcaldine). However when it came to the distribution of the medals there was a problem. The relevant legislation – Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act 1918 – required that in this case – the parents were deceased – the medals went to the eldest brother. Consequently, Base Records in Melbourne wrote on 2 March 1921 to the eldest brother, Alexander Kennedy at Morwell, asking if the younger brother, as next-of-kin, should receive the medals or whether they should go to him.

Will you kindly favour me with advice as to whether you would care to have the late soldier’s war medals etc., as the person entitled to receive them, in keeping with the instructions under the Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act of 1918, or whether you have any objections to these items being handed over to your brother, Mr. Patrick Kennedy, who was nominated as next-of-kin.

The file indicates that, remarkably, Base Records received no response to this explicit request. Consequently, in line with the legislation, the medals were in fact despatched to the eldest brother.

Similarly, in July 1916, nearly 2 years after the death of her brother, the sister in Yarram, Mrs Maria Baxter, wrote to Base Records in Melbourne asking for any personal belongings of her brother. Additionally, claiming that he had told her that he had made a will in her favour, she sought advice on … what course I should take to secure his assets. She was also keen to learn details of his burial. In reply, Base Records noted that ‘certain personal effects’ had already been returned to the next-of-kin – the brother living in Queensland – and that there was no record of any ‘will’. In relation to her brother’s financial affairs she was told to communicate with the Military Paymaster, Victoria Barracks, Brisbane.

It is difficult to interpret this very limited range of written evidence from 100 years ago, but it does at least suggest that there was not much communication between this particular set of siblings and that this could have been a factor that compromised the memory of Arthur Kennedy in the local community.

The official record states that Private Arthur Kennedy ‘died of wounds’ on 27 November 1915. However, the actual details recorded in his service file are, on the face of it, confusing.  The file states that Private Arthur Kennedy rejoined his battalion from the 7th Field Ambulance on 3 November 1915 and the next, and only other, entry states that he ‘died of wounds’ on 27 November 1915. Without any additional evidence, interpreting these two details would be fraught. For example, did he die of wounds received sometime before 3 November?  Or was there no causal relationship between the two details? Fortunately, the war diary for the 25 Battalion over this period featured a detailed list of those men who were killed or wounded. This list indicates that Private Arthur Kennedy did not die of wounds but was in fact ‘killed in action’ on 27 November.

The 25th  Battalion did not reach the Gallipoli Peninsula until early September 1915. In early November it was in the front line at Gallipoli, engaged in reinforcing trenches and mining the Turkish lines. There was a steady flow of casualties and, as indicated, these were recorded in detail in the war diary. There is no record in the war diary of Arthur Kennedy being wounded at this time. This suggests that his stint in the 7th Field Ambulance in early November was not related to any wound received in battle. It was more likely to have been a common field sickness such as diarrhoea.

On 10 November 25 Battalion was withdrawn to the relative safety of Reserve Gulley and started work constructing bomb proof dugouts and quarters for Winter. This work continued until 25 November when the battalion was told to prepare to embark immediately for Mudros. In the end, it did not leave the Peninsula until the complete evacuation of all Anzac forces in mid December.

On the 26 November the weather broke and there was a major storm. Its impact was recorded in the battalion war diary:

Weather broke and storm lasted about 24 hours – first rain – afterwards snow during night 26/27. Snow on ground – mens bivouacs bad – much discomfort experienced by Bn. The first time many men of the Bn. saw snow. [ 25 Battalion had been formed in Queensland]

Despite the atrocious weather – Prior (2009, p.226) claims that in the storm as many as 8,000 Allied troops suffered frostbite and perhaps 500 drowned in their trenches and dugouts – there was little let up in the fighting. An appendix in the war diary of 25 Battalion – List of men killed in action for November – records that on 27 November Private Arthur Kennedy was killed in action. It appears he was the only battle casualty in the battalion that day. The records states: S.W. in dig-out Reserve Gulley. Presumably he was hit by a shell and died from his wounds soon after, before they could get him to a casualty clearing station. It is academic whether his death should have been reported as ‘killed in action’ or ‘died of wounds’ (within a very short time of being hit by shrapnel). He was buried the next day by Chaplain Canon H S Reid at New Zealand Point Cemetery.

Arthur Kennedy died a very long way from Yarram where he was born. He was clearly identified as a ‘local’ but the actual memory the local community had of him was destined to be imperfect.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Prior, R  2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney

National Archives file for KENNEDY Arthur Charles Valentine

Roll of Honour: Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy

War Diary 25 Battalion

 

 

 

51. Walter George PEEL 962

Walter George Peel was born at Stratford.  He grew up in the Blackwarry district in the Shire of Alberton and attended the state school at Blackwarry. His parents – Ernest William and Maria Peel – operated a family farm in the district and before he enlisted in the AIF, Walter worked on the farm. On his enlistment papers, he gave his occupation as ‘farmer’. The family was well known in the local area. On the (National) Roll of Honour form, Blackwarry was given as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

He completed his medical and enlisted at Yarram on 27 November 1914. His age on enlistment was 19 years and 10 months and so parental permission was required. It was dated 25 November 1914: I hereby give my consent to my Son Walter Peel enlisting in the expeditionary force.

He was single and his religion was given as Church of England. He was issued with a railway warrant (64) for travel to Melbourne on 30 November and he joined the 4 Light Horse Regiment reinforcements.

Prior to leaving for overseas, he was given a community farewell at Blackwarry. On 10 March 1915 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative detailed a farewell for a young local patriot, Walter Peel which had been held at the Blackwarry hall the previous week.

A subscription list was taken round the district, and all showed their gratitude and patriotism by liberally responding to the call. The local hall, though large, was taxed for space with friends and relations, who had a merry time. Mr Cooke presided, and ably addressed the gathering in a neat speech in favour of the chocolate soldier. Mr. Peel responded thanking everyone for their kindness. He did not expect anything, but thought it everybody’s duty, who was young, able and free, to help the British Empire.

The reference in the article to ‘chocolate soldier’ is odd. Presumably, it is an idle reference to the German operetta The Chocolate Soldier (1908) which was based on Shaw’s Arms and the Man. At some point, and certainly in WW2, the term took on the uncomplimentary meaning of ‘not a real soldier’.

Trooper Peel embarked from Melbourne for overseas on 7 May 1915 and joined 4 LHR on Gallipoli on 5 August 1915. Within less than a month – 2 September – he was badly wounded at Lone Pine – Gunshot [probably shrapnel] wounds leg, eye, nose and neck. Dangerous. He was evacuated from the Peninsula but died of wounds – carotid aneurysm r. side of neck –  in hospital at Alexandria on 5 September. He was buried the next day (6/9/15) at Chatby War Memorial Cemetery, Alexandria, with the Rev. C.P. Triplett officiating. On the (national) Roll of Honour form, his mother gave his age at the time of his death as 20 years and 8 months.

At the time he was injured, the war diary for 4 LHR indicates that the 2 Light Horse Brigade was drawing men from each of the light horse regiments to garrison Lone Pine. It was done on a rotation basis and each group of men went in for 48 hours before being replaced. Approximately 20 men from 4LHR were on duty at Lone Pine on 2 September 1915. The diary indicates that 2 September was quiet with ‘nothing to report’. However there were 2 casualties and one of these must have been Trooper Walter Peel. He was probably hit by a Turkish ‘bomb’ or hand grenade. The detailed history of 4 LHR (Holloway 2011, p.90) notes that Trooper Walter Peel died from wounds on 5 September. He had been with the regiment less than a month when severely wounded by shrapnel in the leg, eye, nose and neck. Given that Trooper Peel joined the regiment on 5 August this account matches him being wounded on 2 September at Lone Pine. On the (National) Honour Roll the mother also recorded Lone Pine as the place where her son was ‘killled or wounded’.

A certificate of death, with the date of death as 5 September 1915, was issued by the civil authorities in Alexandria on 6 September. The official AIF report of death, with the same date of death, was not issued until 6 October, but the cable advising of the death appears to be dated 12 September 1915 and the parents appear to have been informed round 16 September. Personal effects were sent to the parents in April – Disc, Handkerchief. – and May 1916: Testament, Note-Book, Cards, H’chief.

The family placed a death notice in the local paper on 24 September 1915:

On Active Service
PEEL- On the 5th September, died of wounds, at the Dardanelles, Private Walker [sic] George, 5th Reinforcements, 4th Light Horse Regiment, dearly loved son of Maria and Ernest William Peel of Blackwarry. Aged 20 years 8 months.

You answered to your country’s call,
But the voice of the cable tells
That a dauntless boy in khakee clad
Died at the Dardanelles.

On the first anniversary of his death there were 2 in memoriams for him in the local paper. They were obviously from close personal friends, and there is again the strong sense of the young life lost.

The first was placed on 6 September 1916:

In Memoriam
On Active Service
Died of wounds at Gallipoli, 5th Sept., 1915. Private W. G. Peel
A hero he lived, a hero he died,
Though only a lad, he fought for his side:
He gave his young life for a cause that was true,
Fighting for his country – what more could he do.
A better pal never lived, not one so true and kind,
His equal in this world we very rarely find.
-Inserted by his dear friends, M.M. May, E. May, and Little Henry.

M. M. May was probably Margaret May of Mack’s Creek and E. May, Elizabeth May of Stacey’s Bridge

The second was placed on 8 September:

In Memoriam
PEEL – In fond and loving remembrance of my dear friend, Walter George Peel, who died of wounds at Gallipoli, Sept. 5th, 1915.
Dear is the grave where my friend is laid,
Sweet is the memory that will never fade;
Gone and forgotten by some you may be,
Others may have forgotten you, but never by me.
-Inserted by his loving friend. Clarice Warren, Tarwin Meadows.

Tarwin Meadows was near Inverloch.

As indicated the family was well known in the local district and the son’s name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and War Memorial. His name is also included on the Blackwarry Kjergaard Roll of Honor 1914-1918.

Another son – Allan Peel 2440 – enlisted in July 1915. This was before his younger brother had been wounded, or even seen action. Allan Peel was 23yo and single. He had his medical in Yarram and completed his enlistment in Melbourne. He joined 23 Battalion. He was wounded – severe – on the Western Front but survived the War and returned to Australia in January 1919.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Holloway, D 2011, Endure and Fight: A detailed history of the 4th Light Horse regiment, AIF, 1914-19, The 4th Light Horse Regiment Memorial Association.

National Archives file for PEEL Walter George

Roll of Honour: Walter George Peel

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Walter George Peel

War Diary of 4 Light Horse Regiment

 

50. David Jeffrey WILLIS 62nd Company

David Willis’ service in the AIF lasted only 6 weeks. He enlisted at Rosedale on 14 July and died in the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne on 26 August 1915. He was a victim of the 1915 outbreak of cerebro-spinal (meningococcal) meningitis and was in the Seymour training camp when he contracted the disease.

On enlistment he gave his age as 26yo. He was married – Edith Ann Willis – with 2 children. He had been born in Alberton but he gave his address as Rosedale. His occupation was labourer and his religion was recorded as Presbyterian. He was in 62nd Company at Seymour.

He was one of 4 siblings to enlist. Two brothers had already enlisted: Sydney Walter Willis on 18 January 1915 and Albert James Willis on 22 May 1915. Both were in their early twenties and single. The third brother, Henry Victor Willis, enlisted, at Yarram, the same day – 14 July 1915 – that his older brother, David, enlisted at Rosedale. Henry Victor Willis was also single and he was 20yo. He was killed at Fromelles on 21 July 1916.  All 4 brothers gave their occupation as either ‘labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’.

The 3 single brothers all gave their mother – Mrs Janet Willis of Alberton – as their next of kin. The mother also signed the necessary permission for her underage son – Henry Victor Ellis –  to enlist, and after his death all his medals went to her. There is no reference to the father in any of the service records of the sons.

All 4 Willis brothers appear on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and the 2 who died – David and Henry – are included on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. Additionally, all 4 appear on the honor roll for  the state school at Alberton and the honor roll for the local Presbyterian Charge. The brothers were obviously well known in the local community.

The meningitis epidemic that hit in August 1915 was particularly virulent. While the organism responsible for meningococcal meningitis had been identified by the late 19C, there was no vaccine available at the time.  The disease was especially alarming in the community because it had such a high mortality rate, and throughout August and September the names of those who had died from the disease were routinely published in the press. Invariably, the names of those who died were soldiers in the various training camps. David Willis’ name appeared in The Age (p.8) on Friday 27 August 1915.  The headlines were: Meningitis Outbreak. Five More Deaths. Fourteen Fresh Cases.

The improved weather has not brought with it the abatement of the meningitis outbreak that was expected to accompany it. Fourteen fresh cases were yesterday admitted to metropolitan hospitals, and five deaths were reported at these institutions. Of the new cases, nine were soldiers, one was a civilian, two were women and two were children. With one exception, the deaths were all of patients who had been not more than two days in hospital.

There are now at Alfred Hospital 65 patients under treatment. Ten were admitted yesterday – four from Seymour camp, five from Broadmeadows camp, and a civilian case from Glen Huntley.

The article gave the particulars for Private Willis, one of the 5 who had died the day before: Private DAVID WILLIS, aged 28, of Rosedale. Admitted on 13th inst. from Seymour camp. Interestingly, he was the single exception to the observation in the article that victims died within one or two days of being admitted to hospital. According to the article, he lasted for 2 weeks before he died. In fact, the official death certificate noted that he had had the disease – cerebro spinal meningitis – for 3 weeks before his death.

Day after day, more cases and more deaths were reported in the metropolitan papers. Medical authorities did know that the disease was spread by human contact – coughing, sneezing etc – and they also knew that it was prevalent in crowded conditions, which was exactly the environment created in the military camps that had sprung up. In fact, there were equivalent outbreaks of the disease in military camps in many other countries at the start of the War. One strategy applied in Melbourne was to reduce the size of the largest camps – the one at Seymour seemed to have a very high incidence of the disease – and send the men to smaller metropolitan and country centres. In some cases men were sent home on leave. Potential carriers were isolated. The Alfred Hospital had to be taken over as a military hospital and there was talk of it needing to accommodate 600 men. The outbreak meant major disruption to the AIF’s training program. The focus on personal hygiene – including on behaviours such as teeth cleaning – was intensified. Doctors advocated the therapeutic benefits of eucalyptus oil.

As already demonstrated – see Post 48 on the death of Private Leslie John McLeod on the troopship HMAT Kyarra – men also came down with the disease on troop transports as they sailed to the Middle East. It was even more difficult to separate and isolate men on these ships.

Private David Willis was buried at Coburg Cemetery.

News of his death was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1 September 1915:

One of the Alberton soldiers, Private David J. Willis, fifth son of Mrs. Janet Willis, succumbed to meningitis in the Alfred Hospital on Thursday last [26 August]. He leaves a widow and two young children.

One year later an in memoriam appeared in the same paper:

On Active Service.
Willis – In loving memory of our dear son and brother, Private David Jeffrey, who passed away at the Alfred Hospital on 27th August, 1915. Age, 26 years.
– Inserted by his loving mother, sisters and brothers.

Your picture hangs upon the wall,
The dear face we love to see;
And in the hearts of those you loved
It ever dear shall be.

Silence is no certain token
That no hidden grief is there;
Sorrow that is seldom spoken
Is the hardest grief to bear.

It is not clear why the family gave the date of death as 27 August because the death certificate and all AIF correspondence has the date as 26 August 1915. Another inconsistency in the records concerns the number of his children. While the attestation papers clearly state that he was married with 2 children, pensions were allocated to his wife – Edith Ann Willis – 2 daughters – Mavis Beatrice Jean Willis and Isabel Edith Willis – and a son, David J Willis. All were from Rosedale. Presumably, one of the children was born after his death. This would mean that the wife was left with 3 young children. At this point in the War it was very unusual for a married man with children to enlist. Possibly, David Willis was desperate to join his three brothers, and he simply discounted the fact that he was married with young children.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WILLIS, David

Roll of Honour: David Geoffrey Willis

 

For more information on the graves of those members of the AIF who died in the meningitis outbreak in 1915 and were buried in the Coburg Cemetery, see this following post from the blog:

Fighting the Kaiser: Coburg and the First World War

49. William Scoones DEWELL 1153

Wliiam Dewell was another English immigrant farm worker. He enlisted on 8 October 1914. He had been born in London (Hackney). He was single, described himself as ‘labourer’ and gave his age as 20 years and 10 months. He had completed some military training in England –Territorial Forces – before coming to Australia.

It is possible that his parents were both dead because he gave his next-of-kin as an aunt, Miss Jane Scoones of London. She also completed the (National) Roll of Honour form – she gave his occupation as ‘clerk’ – and all his military decorations went to her, as did his personal kit – Brass Bowl, Hair & Clothes Brushes, New Testament, Military Books, Shaving Brush, Photos, Letters. She also applied for a pension after his death but this was rejected. Unfortunately, there is no family correspondence in his service file so it is not possible to uncover his personal circumstances or the impact of his death on those back in England. Like many of the young, immigrant English farm workers, he was very definitely on his own in his newly adopted country.

He was first reported ‘missing’ on 21 August 1915 and then, after a court of enquiry held at Serapeum (Egypt) on 28 April 1916, his status was changed to ‘killed in action’. The cable to his aunt officially notifying her of his death was dated 10 May 1915.

The action in which Private Dewell lost his life was part of the last major campaign on Gallipoli. Both Australian and British units were involved. The war diary for the 14 Battalion describes how 3 lines of men from both 13 B and 14 B attempted to move on Hill 60 immediately after a heavy artillery bombardment, mid afternoon of 21 August. All the lines suffered heavy casualties from Turkish machine gun fire and the third line was not able to make any movement at all. The troops had to dig trenches and fortify their positions that night, but they were well short of their objective. The men from 14 B who were out in the advanced position under heavy fire from the Turks, were relieved by 16 B very early in the morning of 23 August. Presumably, Private Dewell was killed on 21 August but his body was not recovered when his unit withdrew. The casualties just for 14 B were given as 103.  There was a Red Cross report completed for Private Dewell. One witness – Pte A Stuckey 129, A Co., 14th Btn. – described Dewell’s fate:

Witness said Dewell was killed on Aug 21, on the left toward Suvla. Pte W. Hartigan, 1472, A Co., 14th Btn., was wounded at the same time. Hartigan told witness soon after the charge that as he was lying wounded he saw Dewell drop, shot dead near him. Dewell was running down the hill in the charge at the time. He was a young fellow of 20, with fair hair.

Hartigan’s service record indicates that he was wounded the same day – ‘abdominal wound’. He also was first listed as missing on 21 August, but at some point he must have been able to get back to the Australian lines.

Prior (2009, pp 206-207) is highly critical of these last actions of the Suvla campaign:

A common feature of these operations was their poverty of purpose. All of them were designed only to improve the local tactical situation on various parts of the line. None were attempts to seize the Anafarta Ridge and so could have made no substantial difference to the overall position of the IX Corps. What they did was add to the casualty bill.

When his aunt completed the (National) Roll of Honour form, she indicated that her nephew, William Scoones Dewell, came to Australia  as a 20yo. This suggests that he had only been in Australia for a short period – only months – before he enlisted. Obviously, his time in Australia – before enlisting, going overseas and dying on Gallipoli – was very short. In such circumstances, his chances of ever becoming a ‘local’ in some specific location were very limited. Certainly his service file gives no indication that he had an association with any location, and his aunt just listed Melbourne as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Similarly, she merely gave the ‘Dardanelles’ as the place where he was killed.

But there is one specific piece of evidence that ties William Scoones Dewell to the Shire of Alberton. In the correspondence files of the Secretary of the Shire of Alberton – G W Black – is a letter from William S Dewell, dated 18 November. He had tried to enlist at Yarram but was told by Black to go to Melbourne.

I applied to you for enlistment but as you were not enlisting at that particular time you advised me to apply to the A.A.G. Victoria Barracks.

Presumably, after the large group of volunteers enlisted in late September 1914, there was something of a hiatus, and in this interval extra volunteers were told to report to Melbourne.

Prior to enlisting Dewell had been working at Wonyip. As indicated, he could not have been working in the district as a farm labourer for long, but he definitely was working in the Shire before he enlisted.

100 years on, it is hard to understand the motivation behind the letter. There was certainly no requirement to advise the Shire Secretary that he had enlisted. Presumably, this young man wanted someone, from the district where he had been working and living, to know, officially, that he had enlisted. Perhaps, away from his own family, he was simply after some acknowledgement: his patriotic action counted and someone needed to know.

However, as things turned out, the letter did not do much good. His name is not recorded on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, nor the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. There was no Shire Medallion. Without the evidence of the letter, there would be no association whatsoever with the Shire.

As indicated, Private Dewell’s body was never recovered. His name is recorded on the Lone Pine Memorial. He passed with hardly a trace, first in Australia and then on Gallipoli.

References

Correspondence, Shire Secretary.
Shire of Alberton Archives, Archive One, File Number 703B, Recruiting & Enlisted Men (Box 398)

Prior, R  2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney

National Archives file for DEWELL William Scoones

Roll of Honour: William Scoones Dewell

First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Scoones Dewell [surname is, incorrectly, DOWELL on this record]

WW1 Red Cross files: William Scoones Dewell

War Diary of 14 Battalion

48. Alexander John McLEOD 1709 and Leslie John McLEOD 1077

Tragically, the 2 McLeod brothers died within 11 days of each other. Alexander John McLeod 1709 was killed in action at Lone Pine on 18 August 1915 and his younger brother, Leslie John McLeod died on 29 August 1915 of disease. He was on the transport ship HMAT Kyarra when he died of ‘cerebro spinal meningitis’ just before it reached Fremantle on the voyage to Egypt.

The 2 brothers were the sons of Senior Constable Alexander Mcleod who had been appointed to Yarram in September 1914. There was a brief note in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 25 September 1914 relating to his appointment.

The new “senior” made his first appearance in the court, and was greeted with words of welcome from the bench and clerk of courts. In returning thanks he expressed a determination to do his duty fearlessly, and to put down the use of obscene language in the town.

The issue of obscene language in the town will be taken up in a later post.

Obviously, Senior Constable McLeod was very well known in the local community. However, the extent to which his 2 sons were commemorated in the Shire was limited. Alexander John McLeod is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll or the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. His younger brother, Leslie John McLeod, is included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll but he is not noted as ‘killed’, and nor does his name appear on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. Presumably there are 2 reasons for this situation. The first is that the family did not arrive in Yarram until September 1914 and it was as soon as January 1915 – just a few months later – when the older brother, Alexander, enlisted in Melbourne. It was perhaps too short a period of time for him to be regarded as ‘local’. Perhaps he never even lived in Yarram. He gave his occupation as clerk and, even though he was only 18yo at the time of enlistment, perhaps he was boarding with relatives in Melbourne and working there. However he certainly gave Yarram – his father’s address – as his address when he enlisted. Moreover the younger brother – Leslie – was definitely living in Yarram because he was given a railway warrant – number 117, dated 24 June 1915 – to travel to Melbourne to enlist. The second reason for the limited recognition of the 2 brothers was the fact that the family moved out of Yarram at the end of the War when the father was posted to Daylesford. There was no one there in the period after the War to represent the interests of the family in acknowledging their sons’ service..

Whilst the brothers might not have been well known in the Shire of Alberton, the picture below indicates that they were certainly remembered in Yarra Glen. Yarra Glen was, in fact, given by the parents on the (National) Roll of Honour form as the place with which both sons were ‘chiefly connected’. Presumably it was the place where the father had had a previous posting. The picture is of 3 stained glass windows in St Paul’s Anglican Church Yarra Glen. The windows commemorate the 2 sons – Alexander John and Leslie John – killed in WW1 and also a third son – Othel (Keith) McLeod – who was killed in WW2.

Alexander John McLeod

Alexander McLeod enlisted 5 January 1915. He was 18yo, single and, as indicated, he gave his occupation as clerk. He had spent 2 years in the senior cadets at South Melbourne. On the enlistment form his religious denomination was entered as ‘Pres’. The permission from the father for his under-age son to enlist simply stated: I hereby give my permission to my son joining the Expeditionary Force. 1/1/15

His unit – 7 Battalion reinforcements – left Melbourne 0n 13 April 1915 and he joined the battalion on Gallipoli on 26 May . At the same time, his appointment as lance corporal was cancelled and he reverted to private. There was no explanation for this reversion. His file does not indicate that it was at his request, which was a relatively common practice.

He was killed in action on 16 August and buried the same day at Beach Cemetery, Shrapnel Gully by Rev. W. E. Dexter. Walter Ernest Dexter was a Church of England chaplain in the AIF. He was from South Melbourne and was 41yo. He had served previously in South Africa.

At the time, 7 Battalion was involved in the ongoing fighting at Lone Pine . The action described in the war diary for 16 August is, by the standards of the time, rather low key.

During yesterday we sniped a good deal inflicting losses on the enemy. The enemy was evidently annoyed at out activity & replied with frequent bursts of Machine Gun fire which damaged our sand bags a good deal & about 4pm the enemy’s 75mm fired 6 rounds which however did no damage. During the night a few bombs were thrown by each side. We also secured some rifle grenades which we fired with good effect into the enemy’s trenches. Improved and deepened our trenches.

The only casualties recorded that day were: 1 killed, 2 slightly wounded. The one killed must have been Private Alexander John Mcleod.

It appears that the parents received advice about their son’s death on 11 September 1915. Even after 100 years, the following letter – dated 14 September 1915, Yarram – from the Rev George Cox, the local Church of England minister, reads as a desperate cry from the mother for it all to be wrong. It cannot be her son:

I am writing on behalf of Mrs McLeod of Yarram to ask if you think any mistake has been made in notifying her of the death of her son for the following reasons.

Notification gives death of Private A. J. McLeod, but her son left here as a corporal.

The mother always signed as “A.” McLeod, the notice came addressed Mrs “E” McLeod. [The son had in fact given his mother’s name on his enlistment papers as ‘Elizabeth McLeod’. Her full name was Elizabeth Margaret Loftus McLeod]

The lad enquired after was in 4th Reinforcements 7th Batt. 2nd. Aust. Inf. Brig.

He was a confirmed member of the Church of England, as also is his mother, yet the notification was sent to the Presbyterian minister. [as indicated, ‘Pres’ was entered as his religious denomination on the enlistment forms]

Intimation came to hand last Saturday, 11th. inst.

Thanking you in anticipation

The formal reply came on 24 September. It discounted each of the apparent anomalies, and concluded:

It is regretted that there does not appear to be any doubt about the accuracy of the report conveyed to Mrs. Mcleod.

Personal items – Testament, purse, coins 2, letters  – were returned to the family at the end of 1915. In fact, additional items were sent at the end of 1916, but the mother had what must have been the distressing task of returning them to Base Records. She wrote on the form that the items did not belong to her son, and that, instead, they needed to be sent to the family of the late James McLeod 1787 of the same Battalion.

Leslie John McLeod

The service record for the younger brother, Private Leslie John McLeod 1077, is very brief. He enlisted in Melbourne on 1 july 1915 in the 9 LHR. His group of reinforcements left Melbourne on HMAT Kyarra on 20 August, and he died at sea just before the transport reached Freemantle –  or possibly it was when the vessel was moored in Freemantle Harbour – on 29 August. He was given a military funeral and buried in the Freemantle Cemetery on 30 August. His entire service was just short of 2 months.

It appears that the family were notified of the death on 31 August. Two weeks later, the family was to learn that the other son had been killed earlier, on 16 August.

When he enlisted Leslie gave his age as 18 years and 3 months. He was single and he gave his occupation, like his brother, as clerk. His religion was recorded as Church of England. Both brothers had attended unnamed state schools.

The following article from the local paper on 1 September 1915 gives more detail on his age:

Yesterday morning Senior-Constable McLeod received a wire, per the Rev. Geo. Cox, announcing the death of his son Leslie John on the troopship off Freemantle, at the age of just 16 years. The cause was meningitis. This lad had joined in Melbourne some months ago, in his 15th year, but was persuaded by his parents to leave camp on account of his youth. He had passed the Bankers’ Institute examination, and it was hoped he would accept a position in a bank. He came to Yarram, but his heart was fixed on a soldier’s life, and having gained the consent of his parents, again enlisted. Unfortunately he never reached the fighting line. His remains were to have been buried with military honors at Freemantle yesterday.

When his mother completed the (National) Roll of Honour form, she gave his age at death as 17yo.

The news of the death of the second son was reported on 15 September:

Our readers will sympathise with Senior-Cons. and Mrs. McLeod, of Yarram, who received word last week of the death of their second son, at the front. Only recently Private Leslie John McLeod died on the troopship, when off Freemantle, of meningitis. Closely following on the sad news came the announcement of the death of Private Alexander John McLeod, who was killed in the big battle at the Dardanelles on 18th August. He was 19 years 3 months old. The Defence department wired expressing regret and sympathy of King and Queen and the Commonwealth.

As indicated, there was a third brother killed in war. Othel (Keith) McLeod (VX 122632)  was born in 1909. He died on 9 September 1943 when serving in New Guinea. A US bomber loaded with bombs crashed on take-off and he was badly injured (burns). He died from injuries 2 days later. In his peacetime work he had been a bank-teller. He was single.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Alexander John McLeod
National Archives file for McLEOD Alexander John

Roll of Honour: Alexander John McLeod

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alexander John McLeod

War Diary of 7 Battalion

Leslie John McLeod
National Archives file for McLEOD Leslie John

Roll of Honour: Leslie John McLeod

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Leslie John McLeod