Category Archives: January to June 1917

118. G W Paterson

George William PATERSON (5422)
5 Battalion KiA 10/5/1917

George Paterson was born in Yarram and grew up in the area, attending Darriman State School. The family had lived in the area for many years. They were well-known. The mother gave Yarram as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. The father – John Paterson – had been a logging contractor in the Darriman area and he had also had land – approximately 300 acres – in the same area in the 1890s. The father still appeared on the 1915 electoral roll as a farmer of Darriman, but in the rate book from the same time there is no indication of land in his name. However, there was  small holding of 14 acres in the name of the wife, Mary Young. It was a large family with at least 8 children.

Besides George, another 3 Paterson brothers enlisted. One brother, Archibald Paterson, enlisted with George and they both served in the same battalion. The first brother to enlist, in December 1914,  was Colin Robert Patterson (sic). He enlisted in Queensland. The fourth brother to enlist (29/1/16) was Thomas Paterson. In the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 16/8/18 there was reference to yet another brother – Douglas Cameron Paterson – who was not yet 19 yo who had just enlisted. However, there is no service record for him and it appears that this late enlistment did not go through. Of the 4 brothers who enlisted, all but George survived the War.

When George Paterson enlisted he gave his address as Darriman and his occupation as labourer. When his mother gave information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave his occupation as farmer. Most likely, he was helping on the family’s small holding and also working on other farms in the area.  The family was Presbyterian.

He was single and, officially, only 18 years and 6 months at the time he enlisted. He needed his parents’ signed permission and both of them signed the form stating that he was 18 and 6 months. However, when his mother gave the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave his age at the time he was killed as 18 and 9 months, which means that when he enlisted he was only 17 and 6 months. Also, in correspondence the mother refers to him as enlisting when he was only 17 and 6 months. At the time, the AIF disapproved strongly of such under-age enlistments.

George enlisted (10/3/16) in Yarram and his first medical was with Dr. Crooks. He was then re-examined in Melbourne. There was a brief reference in the local paper (28/4/16) to the farewell at Yarram for the 2 Paterson brothers.

Private Paterson was taken on as a reinforcement for 5 Battalion. He left for overseas service on 3/7/16 and reached Plymouth 2 months later on 2/9/16. There was further training in England (2 Training Brigade). There was also a spell in hospital – rubella/pleurisy – for one month in October 1916.

Private Paterson finally joined 5 Battalion in France on 2/1/17. He was killed four months later at Bullecourt 2 on 10/5/17.

5 Battalion’s war diary has the battalion relieving 4 and 9 Battalions in the fighting at Bullecourt on 7/5/17. On the 8th of May they managed to drive off a German counter-attack and another one the next day. The battalion was relieved – by 57 and 58 Battalions – on 9/5/17. It then moved back, first to Vault and then to Biefvillers. For the 3 days in the line the casualties were 19 dead and 60 wounded. The official record has Private Paterson being killed on the 10th of May but it is more likely that he was killed on the 9th, the day the battalion withdrew.

The following witness accounts from the Red Cross file give a graphic description of the fighting and his death, and it is easy to appreciate why there was no recorded grave. Private Paterson’s name is on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

We were in the line at Bullecourt and were about to be relieved. The Germans had been giving it to us thick and fast and Paterson was pretty well shell shocked. He was sitting in a bit of a dug-out in the side of the trench with Vipond. I was at my post only a few yards away, when a shell burst on the bit of dug-out where they were sitting. When we got them out Vipond was wounded and Paterson was dead…. We were then relieved and Paterson would be buried on the spot if another shell did not bury him first, for the shells were dropping fast. He was a tall, slim fellow of about 5ft 9. He was with the Battalion when I joined it eight months ago.
Pte Kearney. 6669 Sept 3rd. 1917

Private Kearney survived the War. The second witness statement, dated 4/9/17, is by Private T R Vipond (6599), the soldier who was with Private Paterson at the time of his death. Private Vipond was a bit older than Paterson. He too survived the War.

I saw him killed by a shell. He was suffering from shell-shock at time of casualty, and I was with him in a dugout looking after him, when the shell landed into the dugout, killing him instantaneously and wounding me. The ground was held, where casualty took place, but I do not know place of burial and cannot refer to anyone. I knew him well, he was the only man of that name in the coy.

The cable advising of the death was dated 24/5/17 and the formal report of death was completed on 15/6/17. The mother received a pension of 30/- per fortnight from 24/7/17. There was no kit returned. This was despite a specific search for the kit. As for 2 recent cases – Sweeney CJ, Post 113 and Slavin JL, Post 117 – the non-return of personal kit was most unusual. Perhaps the clustering of these instances round the fighting at Bullecourt is significant.

Even though Private Paterson had been killed and the family was advised promptly, the mother struggled to accept the news and held out the hope that there had been a mistake and that her boy was not dead. She clung to this hope in extended correspondence with Base Records that lasted for more than one year. Much of her hope turned round the confusion – at least in her mind – over his regimental number. Basically, his original number – 5737 – was changed to 5422 on 22/9/16, but it appears he never informed his parents of the change. Such changes were relatively common. When the fateful telegram arrived, the mother immediately picked up on the different regimental number and wrote, the very next day (25/5/17), to the ‘Defence Department’.

Dear Sir
I wish to let you know my son [is] G.W. Paterson No 5737 5 Battalion
The number I received about his death is not the number he gave me so I don’t believe it, till I hear further information I hope to God the news is not true as he is my full support.
Hoping to hear sooner about him
I remain yours truly
Mrs Mary Paterson

This was just the first letter and the mother’s grief is painfully raw in the extensive correspondence which followed. There was anxious correspondence even before the report of his death that pointed to the intense relationship with her son. She wrote on 31/4/17 – just before the time of his actual death – because she was worried that she had not heard from him. She wanted help from the AIF.

I am writing to you to see if you can find my dear son George W. Paterson
address B Company
5th Battalion
France A.I.F
[I] last heard from him on Feb 20th(?) 17. I am very anxious I cannot sleep at night thinking of him my dear boy so brave as he was [.] I have 4 sons fighting for their country [I] hear from them all except George
Dear Gentlemen I want you to hunt him up for me
trusting you will & let me know as soon as possible
you will greatly oblige me

Despite the efforts of Base Records to convince the mother that her son had been killed, she continued to clutch at straws. For example, she wrote on July 5 that she had had a letter from one of her other boys – Thomas Paterson, serving in France in 21 Battalion – dated 11/5/17 in which he had reported that George was ‘quite well’, presumably when he had seen him some time prior to his death. She combined this with the confusion – at least for her – over the regimental number and the commonness of the name ‘Paterson’  – …there are many Patersons at the war; I read of them getting killed every day…. to convince herself that there was some hope. She declared that she was hoping to … get a letter from him shortly…

The letters to Base Records continued, fixated on the number change. The mother spoke to many other parents but none of them had had their son’s number changed. She wanted to know why the parents were not told when numbers were changed. The concerns were irrelevant, even irrational; but the raw grief behind them is so clear. The following was dated 21/7/17:

We are terrible all broken up over him & it is causing us such worry & and we are very annoyed of the wrong number and we reared [a] fine lot of sons [.] 5 enlisted & 4 passed & all were at the front & I wrote to have George kept back as we made a mistake in his age he was too young to [have] been sent to the front 17 ½ yrs when he went into camp & 18 ½ got news killed [.] so dear Gentlemen we are broken hearted over it.

The reference to the letter requesting George be kept from the front was repeated several times but there is no evidence of it in the file.

Base Records replying to all the letters, reiterated that the son had been killed and that the change to the regimental number was a common occurrence. But the mother was convinced that it was all a question of the wrong number. She wrote on 4/8/17 that she was

… waiting patiently for a letter from him [.] he never wrote very often he said he had no time [.] he was such a good boy [,] the pet of the house but he did want to go & fight for his Country & was so proud to be a Soldier [.] I would like to know how he was killed if it is true & what with [.] he was in a different Battalion to his other brothers [.] he was the only one [who] helped me and cared for home all the rest never cared. I put a claim in to get something but I suppose I will get nothing as I have a little income
Hoping to hear better news later on.

As indicated, the mother did receive a pension, from July, 1917.

In October 1917 it appeared that the mother had accepted her son’s death. In a letter (12/10/17) to Base Records she indicated that she had not had any letter from him since 25/4/17 . She was still upset that he had been sent to the front because he was so young and she had specifically asked that he be kept back, given that she had other sons there. But she did also write,

Dear Gentlemen it is quite true now about him [.] the dear boy is gone forever. We will never get over him [.] we are so broken up over him being so young, far too young.

There is also a reference to another, older, son – Thomas – having told her that George had been killed.

Yet, there is still the ongoing anxiety over the number change. In fact, it was almost the case that in her mind he had been killed because his number had been changed.

In November (28/11/17) she was again fixated on the number change. She wanted his belongings – as indicated no kit was ever returned – as proof that he was dead; and in any case there was also the possibility that he was a prisoner.

I hope you will try & find out about him & his belongings [.] if I receive them that will satisfy me that he is killed but he gave me his No 5737 [his original regimental number] so it seems strange about the wrong number
Hoping you will see into the matter [.] he might be a prisoner.

In 1918 the letters to Base Records continued. The family was distressed. The mother appeared to be convinced that her son had been, as she expressly put it, … killed by a wrong number. (21/3/1918). In April (14/4/1918) she wrote again, this time wanting to know the reason why the regimental number had been changed. Presumably, she believed some conspiracy had been at work and that the death itself was part of the same conspiracy. Certainly, the repeated advice from Base Records that the number – like so many others – had been changed as a matter of routine was not being accepted. In her mind, there had to be some other reason – a sinister one, presumably – and that was why he was dead, or at least the authorities claimed he was dead.

In June (13/6/1918) after Base Records explained that two soldiers had had the same number and that her son’s original number had been changed to avoid the confusion, she wrote back asking for the name and address of this soldier. She thought she might know him. She also asked again for her son’s belongings and explained that if she could get hold of these then she would be able to see all the letters she had written to him, and then she would know he was dead. The boy’s father, she wrote … is nearly mad talking about it. Base Records duly sent the name of the soldier: Private L Mullaly (5737) 5 Battalion. [Mullaly was a factory-hand from Richmond. He was in the same battalion but had gone overseas several months before George Paterson. He survived the War.]

At that point, the preoccupation with the regimental number appeared to stop and there was no further correspondence, until 1921. It was routine practice by this point to send photographs of the graves of soldiers killed in the War, accepting of course that there was a grave. The mother must have heard other families talking about such photographs and had obviously never appreciated that her son’s body had never been buried or, if it had been, the grave had been lost. Communication from Base Records had always indicated that there was no grave. However, on 21/4/1921, the mother wrote,

I am writing these few lines to you kindly asking you, could you send me the photo of my dear beloved son No 5422 George William Paterson which was killed at Bullecourt on May 10th 1917 [.] his mother is very anxious about him, thinking he was never found or buried, I would be very pleased if I was sure he was buried & to have a photo of his grave
Hoping to hear from you shortly
I remain yours truly
Mr John & Mary Paterson

Base Records had to write back (7/5/1921) explaining that …. no particulars of burial have yet been received here in respect of your son, the late No. 5422 Private G. W. Paterson, 5th Battalion …and reassuring the parents that …an intensive search is now being made over all old battlefields with a view to locating unregistered graves, and should these efforts prove successful in this instance you will be advised. Free photographs were to be sent to the next-of-kin in such cases.

Having taken so long to come to terms with her son’s death, the mother was now faced with the harsh reality that there was never to be any trace of him: no grave and not even any of his kit.

Her son had died crouched in a dug-out suffering shell shock, comforted by a twenty-year-old. It appears from one letter in the service file that she actually knew he was suffering from shell shock at the time of his death. It is reasonable to make the point that her wrenching and unhinging grief seemed to parallel his dreadful end.

The same supposed confusion and unfounded hope over the fate of Private Paterson played out in the local paper. On 15/6/17 it reported:

Mr. Thos. Paterson, Darriman has received word that his son, Private G. W. Paterson was killed in action on 10th May. As the No. given is 5422, and Private Paterson’s No. is 5737, there is hope that the report is incorrect. Private Paterson enlisted twelve months ago at the age of 17 1/2 years.

At the end of 1917 (21/12/17) the family placed an in memoriam:

Paterson – In France, at the battle of Boulecourt (sic) on 10th May, 1917. Private George William Paterson, 5th Bat. 6th Brigade, fifth son of John and Mary Patterson (sic), Darriman, aged 18 years and 9 months.
Foremost was he in the thickest strife,
For God, King and Country he laid down his life
Only a boy, he heard the call:
He did his duty – he gave his all.
One of earth’s brightest, one of the best
Like many others he is laid to rest.
Deeply regretted – Inserted by his loving father, mother, sisters and brothers.

The same edition featured a report – with some obvious errors – that apparently confirmed that Private Paterson had been killed, and even formally buried:

The sad news reached Mr. and Mrs. John Paterson, Darriman, about 8 months ago, that their fifth son Private George William Paterson had been killed in action at the Boulecourt (sic) battle. The news was not believed, owing to what was considered to be a different number being given. It has since become known to his relatives that he bore two numbers. Lately word has been received from Private Thomas Patterson (sic), his soldier brother, that just after the battle, when leaving the trenches for furlough, a shell burst over his head and killed him instantly. The remains of this brave soldier are buried in the Boulecourt cemetery.

In January 1918 (23/1/18) the paper published the last letter sent home by Private Paterson. In its preamble to the letter it gave another version of his death. It stated that he was killed on 10/5/17 at the battle of Boulecourt and that he … was killed in “no man’s land”, having with others gone too far owing to misadventure. A shell burst over the dug-out killing him instantly and wounding a mate, just as relief was at hand.

But in August 1918 (16/8/18) there was this commentary which continued the claim that he had not even been killed:

Private George Paterson is reported killed, but another number having been given to the Defence authorities, the parents still hope that he may be a prisoner “somewhere in Germany,” and that, after the war, he will turn up safe and sound, even if somewhat underfed by the enemy. His number was 5737, and 5422 is reported killed.

Overall, the case stands as the classic example of the inability of parents to face the death of their son and, instead, to grab at any piece of potential evidence to challenge the official position. Presumably, from the perspective of the local paper, it was only right that the local community supported the parents in their desperate hopes.

Private George Paterson’s name is recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. The names of all the Paterson brothers who enlisted are on the honor roll for the state school at Darriman. Additionally, George Paterson’s name is also on the honor rolls for the local Presbyterian Charge and the state school at Woodside.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

National Archives file for PATERSON George William 5422
Roll of Honour: George William Paterson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George William Paterson
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: George William Paterson

Additional information

The following photographs and commentary have been provided by Colin Coomber, grandson of Archibald Paterson.

John Paterson and Mary Young had 11 children – 6 of whom were boys. John
and his brother Archibald (married to Mary’s sister) selected adjoining
blocks at Darriman in 1884 (ref: Gippsland Mercury, Feb 7, 1884, Sale
Land Board report) Both lots fronted Warrigal Creek and were believed to
be roughly where the 1843 Warrigal Creek massacre occurred. John made
some poor decisions involving purchase of a large amount cattle during
the 1890s recession which left him virtually bankrupt and so he spent
the rest of his working life in the employ of major landholder Patrick
Brennan on his Woodside run. Brennan also owned Warrigal Creek run
between 1875 and 1879. His bother Archibald had returned to Learmonth
but retained the Darriman property for some years and it is possible
John ran some cattle there.

Older brother Colin Patterson spelt his name with a double T all his
life although in the family’s birth registrations there is a mix of
single and double Ts. John Paterson may have had limited literacy
because his wife Mary wrote most letters and in registering births the
spelling of the surname was whatever the registrar decided.
Interestingly John had a sister who signed her wedding certificate with
the double T even though it was filled out with a single T.

Another interesting fact is that of the four brothers who served in WW1,
Tom, Arch and George all sailed on the one troopship HMAS Ayreshire on
July 13, 1916. Tom enlisted two months before his younger brothers.

The extended Paterson family was hit hard by the war. John and Mary had
their son George killed at Bullecourt, and a nephew Albert Rands (son of
Janet Mary Paterson and John Alexander Rands) was killed at Bullecourt
seven days before George. To add more to this story, John Rands’ sister
Lydia Lyon died in childbirth and the baby Israel Edward Lyon survived
and was brought up as a child of John and Janet Rands) Israel (known as
Ned) was killed at Gallipoli on November 29, 1915. A second sister of
John Rands, Sarah (m William Grey of Dunolly) had a son Horace (sometimes
spelt Horris) killed at Gallipoli on August 1, 1915.

Regards Colin Coomber
(Grandson of Archibald Paterson, son of John).

117. J L Slavin

John Leonard SLAVIN (5200) MM
11 Battalion KiA 6/5/1917

John Slavin was born in Yarram in 1893. At that point, the Slavin family was definitely local. In fact, the father – Edward Slavin – had himself been born in the district, probably in 1864. He married Catherine Lawler in 1887 and there were 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls. All the children were born in the local area, between 1888 and 1900.

The father had land – approximately 200 acres at Woodside – in the early 1880s. However, it appears that in 1887 he was convicted of cattle theft and imprisoned for 3 years. Then at some point between the early 1900s and the outbreak of WW1, the family moved to Western Australia. All 3 sons – Edward Fenton Slavin, Frank Slavin and John Leonard Slavin – enlisted and all were living in Western Australia at the time they enlisted. They all gave their father as next-of-kin, and his address was also Western Australia: Wellington Mills, Dardanup WA. One daughter remained behind in Yarram: Mary Slavin, born 1895. She married (McConville) sometime after 1917 and died, aged 33 yo, in Yarram in 1928.

The three Slavin boys attended state school(s) in the local area. All 3 are on the honor roll for Yarram SS. John and Frank are also on the honor roll for Tarraville SS. Edward Fenton and John are also on the honor roll for Balloong SS. And Frank is also on the honor roll for Carrajung South SS. However, none of the brothers is on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, and John Leonard Slavin – the only brother killed – is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. The mother gave Busselton, WA as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. Even though the family had had a long association with Gippsland, by the time the boys enlisted they identified with Western Australia.

John Leonard Slavin enlisted in Perth on 8/2/16. His 2 other brothers had already enlisted. He was 22 yo and single. His religion was Roman Catholic. He gave his occupation as ‘engine cleaner’. When his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, she gave his occupation as ‘timber worker’. He was obviously involved in the local timber industry and he gave his address as the Wellington Timber Mills, Dardanup WA. As indicated, the father, as next of kin, gave the same address. The movement of families from the Shire of Alberton to WA to work in the timber industry was not uncommon; although the more common pattern was to move to the West for mining.

Private Slavin joined as reinforcements for 11 battalion and left Fremantle on 31/3/16. There was the usual training period in the UK and then he joined the battalion in France in August 1916. He was killed in action on 6/5/17. The body was never recovered and his name is included on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Unfortunately, there was no Red Cross report and the details in the war diary of 11 Battalion are not very helpful. It does not, for example, give the casualty figures. At the time of Private Slavin’s death, the battalion was in the front line at ‘Sunken Road near Noreuil’. Beginning at 11.00 pm on 5/5/17 and going through to the morning of 6/5/17, the Germans launched as series of 3 attacks on the Australian lines. All were beaten off but the Australians were pushed, temporarily, from some of their positions. There was heavy shelling. The diary states that, During these attacks the battalion suffered heavy casualties.  It was relieved on the night of 7/5/17.

On 15/5/17, just 9 days after his death, Private Slavin was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery on 15/4/17, about 3 weeks before he was killed. It was when the German troops counter-attacked at Louverval. In the same action, there was a Victoria Cross won by Lieutenant Charles Pope, also of 11 Battalion. The citation for Private Slavin read:

At Louverval, France, on the 15th April 1917, Pte. Slavin showed great courage and endurance in carrying messages from picquet posts to Company Headquarters through a fire swept zone; he also on return journeys carried back ammunition thereby enabling the post to hold out and inflict loss on the enemy. He continued this work throughout the night of 15/16th April 1917.

Word of their son’s death would have reached the Slavin family in Western Australian in late May 1917. The cable was dated 23/5/17. His death was reported back in Yarram on 6/6/17. The following appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. The sister, Mary Slavin, would have been 22 yo:

Our readers will sympathise with Miss M. Slavin in the loss of her brother, Private Jack Slavin, at the war, who was killed on 4th May (sic). The sad news reached Yarram on Friday last [1/6/27]. Private Jack Slavin was 23 [24] years of age, and enlisted in West Australia about eighteen months ago. He spent his boyhood in this district and was educated at the Tarraville State school. Frank and Fenton Slavin, brothers of Jack, are on active service…

The local paper also reported on the award of the military medal. On 22/2/18 it noted that … Mr. and Mrs. E Slavin, of Busselton, W.A., have received the military medal won by their late son, Private J. L. Slavin.

There is no record of any personal kit being returned to the family. This was most unusual; although we have already seen one other case – Sweeney C J, Post 113 – from this period.

The Slavin family had left the district before WW1. Probably they had been in WA for at least 5 years. It is therefore, on one hand, easy to see why the Slavin boys were left off the official Shire of Alberton memorials.  At the same time, it is equally apparent that over the course of WW1, the family would still have been well known in the district; and the death of Private J L Slavin would have registered with the local community, particularly given that his younger sister was still living there.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

National Archives file for SLAVIN John Leonard 5200
Roll of Honour: John Leonard Slavin
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Leonard Slavin
Honours & awards: John Leonard Slavin

116. W S Filmer

Walter Stephen FILMER (4426/2Lt)
22 Battalion   KiA 3/5/1917

Walter Stephen Filmer was born at Noradjuha near Horsham. However he grew up south of Horsham, closer to Hamilton. He attended the state school at Byaduk and when he enlisted his mother – his father was dead – was still living there. Similarly, on the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, his mother gave Byaduk as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

At the time of enlistment in February 1916, he was single, 22 yo and he gave his occupation as school teacher. His religion was Presbyterian. On his enlistment papers he indicated that he held the rank of 2nd lieutenant in the Citizen Forces. His mother also recorded – for the (National) Roll of Honour – that he had had two and a half years experience, as an officer in the Senior Cadets, in the Hamilton and Casterton district before he joined the AIF.

Walter Filmer trained as a teacher in the Hamilton area which was where he had the involvement with the senior cadets. Then, as a very young man, he was appointed to the state school at Womerah in the Shire of Alberton. The school had only been opened in 1906. Filmer would have been appointed there in 1914. He was the head teacher at the school when he enlisted. He was well known in the district. Initially, he played football for the local team West Alberton but then in April 1915 he transferred to the team based on the local Fire Brigade. He was a member of the local branch of the ANA and his name is recorded on the their honor roll.

He played a key role in the raising of the first group of recruits from the Shire.  There are numerous references in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – from the period. Given his recent experience with the senior cadets he was soon playing the role of drill instructor and giving the young volunteers their introduction to military discipline. The following appeared on 9/9/14:

A capable instructor [ for drill] has volunteered in the person of Lieut. Filmer, who has had charge of the citizen forces in Hamilton and Casterton district, and he will be assisted by helpers who have had military experience in various arms of the service, and a suitable building has been arranged, viz, the new stables at the Co-operative Store, by the courtesy of the directors. It is proposed to start forthwith, and a parade of all interested is called for Friday evening [11/9/14] at 7.30 p.m. at the place named. This movement has the co-operation of the rifle club and ambulance association.

Another report (11/9/14) noted that his position as drill instructor had been approved by the military authorities:

Lieut. W. S. Filmer has received a letter from the headquarters of the 3rd military district stating that his offer to instruct local riflemen and civilians is much appreciated, and expressing the hope that a great number will avail themselves of the offer. Drill starts this evening in the Co-operative Store stables at 7.30.

Other reports (16/9/14, 18/9/14) made it clear that he also played a role in vetting the initial large group of recruits and conducting their formal enlistment. In fact, the following assessment by the editor (Rossiter) which appeared in the paper on 23/9/14, just after the first large group of recruits had left, made it clear that Lieutenant Filmer’s role had been very significant:

Arrangements [for drill sessions] were made with the directors for use of the large stables at the Co-operative Store, which made a first-rate drill room. Each Friday evening Lieutenant Filmer gave instruction, and to him and the gentlemen mentioned [Rev. Geo Cox, Mr. Jas. Farmer and Mr. Geo Davis] is credit due for having started the recruiting movement in this district. But for Lieutenant Filmer’s efforts we doubt whether as many young men would have responded to the “call to arms’.

At the time, Filmer could only have been 20 yo and it is reasonable to speculate how the local men and boys would have responded to his drill instruction. Certainly, the Shire of Alberton had been an exempt  area under the universal compulsory military training scheme then in place – senior cadets were not introduced in the local area until August 1915 – and so the response by the young locals to military instruction and notions of military discipline might have been challenging. Also Filmer’s youthfulness would have set up some natural antipathy. Besides, he played football with many if not most of the recruits; and they were probably disinclined to take his military rank and bearing all that seriously. It does appear that for all his enthusiasm and commitment, there were some issues. For example, one report in late August 1914 talks about Lieutenant Filmer still ‘persevering’ with the drill instruction. Another discussion, reported in the local paper nearly one year later (6/8/15),  suggested that Lieutenant Filmer’s efforts were not up to the mark:

Mr. Fleming fired a telling shot. He explained that unless drill was conducted by a warrant officer sworn in until termination of the war, the effort would be in vain. It must be under military authority.

At this very point in time, Filmer was involved in the establishment of the local senior cadets. However, the concern seemed to be that his military qualifications and status, while suitable for the cadets, were not up to the mark for those enlisting in the AIF. He would have found this criticism harsh.

Through 1915, Filmer was a strong advocate for the recruiting campaign. At a farewell held at Womerah for 3 new recruits – D Brown, J Loriman and J Morgan – he praised the loyalty of the men, championed the Australian soldiers and made it clear that he also intended to enlist. His comments were recorded in the local paper on 4/8/15:

These men [the 3 recruits] were certainly doing their duty. Personally he envied them very much, but trusted that before long he would be permitted to go with them. He advised them to try to emulate the example set by the brave Australians on Gallipoli, of whom the naval men said, “Fiercer fighters God never made.”

When the Education Department approved of his enlistment, he was given a large send-off from Womerah. It was reported in the local paper in detail on 3/3/16. He was praised as a dedicated and very popular teacher, a selfless and highly regarded member of the local community who went out of his way to help others, and a true patriot. The night of the farewell saw atrocious weather and the road to Womerah was described as unsafe. Yet despite the dreadful conditions, it was noted that people travelled from Yarram to attend. Those there from Yarram included A J Rossiter, editor of the local paper, and A E Paige, head teacher of Yarram SS. ‘Sergeant’ Filmer, as he was referred to that night, was presented with the Shire Medallion and a ‘valuable pair of prismatic field glasses’. The field glasses would be returned in his personal kit after his death.

Private Filmer enlisted in Melbourne on 2/2/16. He was taken on as reinforcements for 22 Battalion. He gave his address as ‘Helensville’, Yarram. He included his previous military service with the Citizens Forces. While he was enlisted as a private, by early March 1916 he was made sergeant, the rank by which he was referred at his farewell.

His group of reinforcements left Melbourne at the end of March 1916. There was further training in England and then in September 1916 he finally joined 22 Battalion in France. His promotion history was complex and in the end there had to be an enquiry and formal ruling. Effectively, he was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 16/12/16.

In February 1917, 2nd Lieutenant Filmer spent about 3 weeks in hospital with parotitis/mumps but rejoined the battalion on 9/3/17. Two months later he was killed in action on 3/5/17, the first day of the Second Battle of Bullecourt.

22 Battalion’s involvement in Bullecourt 2 is covered in its war diary. The strength of the battalion that went into the battle – another 200 men had been detached for other divisional duties – was 21 officers and 618 other ranks.  Zero hour was 3.45 a.m. on 3/5/17 and the troops went in with a covering barrage. The enemy replied with its own barrage at 4.49 a.m. The battalion was able to push through to its second objective after approximately 2 hours of heavy fighting but, as the diary records, because of the failure of the British troops – 185 Brigade – to take the left flank they were left hopelessly exposed and forced back. The fighting was intense, with bombing parties from both sides moving along the German trenches which the battalion had initially been able to take, or, at least, gain some foothold in. The battalion came out of the line the next day at 4.00 a.m. when it was relieved by 3 Battalion. The casualties – ‘killed, wounded, missing, died of wounds, wounded and missing’ – for just that one day of fighting were 438 or 70% of the force committed. Of the 21 officers, 16 (76%) were casualties, including 2nd Lieutenant Filmer who was killed. There was no chance to recover bodies. Lieutenant Filmer’s name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

There is a detailed Red Cross report for Lieutenant Filmer. There were several witness statements to the effect that he was wounded, severely, and that he died shortly after. All agreed that the body had been left when the Australians fell back. The points of difference were over whether he had been hit by shrapnel or a bullet, how long he survived after being wounded, and whether he was conscious or not. One statement had him conscious and even telling those there that he ‘knew he was done for’.  The following statement by Private H A Morris (4498) gives the basic information:

I saw him lying dead on 3rd May, just on the 1st. trench we took (old German trench 1.) at Bullecourt, just at daylight. He had been hit by a shell and I believe only lived a very short time. Someone whose name I cannot recall spoke to him before he died. I was knocked out later the same morning near by and his body had not been brought in when I left about 7 a.m. I knew him before he got his commission and came out with him. He was a fine chap.

Tellingly, there were many similar testimonials to his character in the witness statements. He was commonly described as a fine chap, a good sportsman/footballer and someone who was popular.

In the Red Cross report there is correspondence from February 1918 from the mother, at Byaduk, asking that they – the Red Cross – carefully check POW records. She stated that she had had a letter from a Captain L A Kennedy, of the same battalion (22 B), giving an account of her son’s fate. She wrote that Kennedy stated that … my son was wounded & left in a trench on the Hindenburg line on the 3rd of May 1917. Captain Kennedy says that they applied a field dressing to his wounds & made him as comfortable as possible but they were driven out of the trench by the enemy & could not take him with them. Capt K. did not think my son would live but the fact remains that he was alive & left in the hands of the enemy and if he did live he must be prisoner of war.

The mother’s interpretation of Kennedy’s account, not surprisingly, was that it left open the possibility that the had been taken prisoner. The Red Cross replied in April 1918 that they very much regretted that there was no trace of her son as a POW and that there was no reason to doubt the official report of his death.

Lieutenant Filmer’s death was specifically noted in the battalion’s war diary at the time. The cable advising of his death was dated 19/5/17, just over 2 weeks after his death. The official report of death was dated 10/6/17.

His death was reported back in Gippsland in the local paper on 25/5/17. His success in the AIF as an officer was emphasised, as was his record as head teacher at Womerah. In fact, Lieutenant Filmer had kept in contact with the school while in the AIF. In March 1917 (7/3/17), about one month before he was killed, the local paper reported at the opening of the new Womerah school that a letter from Lieutenant Filmer had been received by the local district school inspector (R H Greenwood). In the letter Filmer was reported to have said that … he would rather put in another two years in the Womerah mud than be in the trenches. He had kindly recollections of the old place in the hills.

The local paper also reported (1/6/17) that the school had erected a ‘fine flag pole’ and that … On Tuesday [29/5/17] the flag was flown at half-mast in memory of the late Lieut. Filmer. The local paper also reported (14/9/17) on further commemorations:

An enlarged photo of the late Lieut. Filmer, formerly head teacher at the Womerah school, has arrived in Yarram. The enlargement, which is a handsome piece of work, suitably inscribed, is being presented to the Womerah school by the pupils of late Lieut. Filmer, as a tribute to the respect in which he was held by them…

Another enlargement of the Lieut. Filmer has been sent to Mrs. Filmer, mother of the late soldier, by parents of the children of Womerah school.

Even though he had only been in the district for not much more than 2 years, Lieutenant Filmer had obviously made an impression on the local community. Probably what struck people was the seriousness of his manner and commitment, and this impression would have been reinforced by his relatively young age.  His name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

Personal kit, including the binoculars, was returned to the mother in October 1917. It came in a sealed valise: Numerous Books, Letters, Cards, Photos, Maps, 1 pen Knife, 2 Pencils, 1 Collapsible Cup, Binoculars in Case, 3 Sword Frogs, 1 Revolver in Holster, Ammunition Pouch, 1 Bolt, 2 Scarfs, Cigarette Case, 1 Pyjama Coat, 1 Mirror, 1 Testament, Regimental Colours, 1 Pipe, 4 Collars, 1 Pr Mittens, 1 Tie, 6 Handkerchiefs, 1 Pr Riding Breeches, 1 Linen Bag, 1 Kit Bag Handle, 1 Leather Purse, 1 Disc, 1 Badge.

There was a brother – Albert George Filmer – who also enlisted (14/2/17). He was farmer and he enlisted in Queensland. He was wounded in September 1918 and invalided to the UK. But he did survive the War, returning to Australia in January 1919.




Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for FILMER Walter Stephen 4426/2 Lt
Roll of Honour: Walter Stephen Filmer
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Walter Stephen Filmer
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Walter Stephen Filmer

115. E J McCarthy

Edgar James McCARTHY (5422)
8 Battalion   DoW 22/4/1917

Edgar James McCarthy is something of a mystery. There is an E McCarthy on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. However, there is no McCarthy at all on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. In terms of the national record,  there is only one E McCarthy who was killed on active service. On this basis, the E McCarthy on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial must be Edgar James McCarthy who died of wounds on 22/4/16. This person was born and grew up in in Rosedale. According to the Embarkation Roll, he was living at Rosedale when he enlisted and his name is recorded on the honour rolls of both the Shire of Rosedale and the state school at Rosedale. When the father, Henry McCarthy, completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he gave Rosedale as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. In the Traralgon Record on 8/5/17 there was an in memoriam to Edgar James McCarthy … dearly loved only child of Harry McCarthy, Rosedale and loving nephew of Mr. and Mrs. Grace, Traralgon. The notice was inserted … by his Auntie Dollie and Uncle Jack, Traralgon. Yet for all the obvious connection to Rosedale, there must also have been some link to the Shire of Alberton. Presumably, he was working in the district as a farm labourer immediately prior to enlisting.

When Private McCarthy enlisted in Melbourne on 10/2/16 he gave his occupation as labourer. He was single and his religion was listed as Church of England. At the time he was only 19 yo and his father had to give consent.  Ordinarily, both parents had to sign, but on the enlistment papers, the local recruiting officer had written that the mother – Alice Emily McCarthy – was ‘not mentally fit to sign’. There is other official correspondence indicating that in the early 1920s the mother was a patient at Kew Hospital for the Insane (Kew Asylum).  Possibly the uncle and aunt referred to above had looked after the boy when he was growing up. Certainly, it appears that the father might not have always been there. In the service file, the father’s address changed many times (Rosedale, Upper Pakenham, Cranbourne, Carrum Downs, Cockatoo) and by the mid 1920s the authorities were not able to trace him.  Overall, it appears that Edgar McCarthy would have had a difficult childhood and youth.

Private McCarthy joined as reinforcements for 8 Battalion. He left Melbourne for overseas service just 2 months later (4/4/16). There was further training in the UK – 2 Training Brigade –  and he then joined 8 Battalion in the field in February 1917. He was wounded in action 2 months later (16/4/17) and died from his wounds in hospital on 22/4/17. The hospital report suggests that he had little chance of surviving,

He was suffering from very severe Gunshot wounds of the head and back, his spine being badly injured.

He was buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.

On the day he was wounded (16/4/17), 8 Battalion was located on the front line near Morchies. This was the day after the German counter-attack on the Australian positions along the Hindenburg Line. The German advance was halted and they were pushed back to their original line by the close of that day (15/4/17). The day after this major German attack (16/4/17), the war diary for 8 Battalion records the casualties as 3 killed and 10 others wounded. Private McCarthy must have been one of the 10 wounded.  There is a Red Cross file for Private Edgar James McCarthy 5422, but it does not provide any additional information.

It appears that the family was advised of his death on 26/4/17. The personal kit – Wallet, Letters, Cards, Photo, Note Book, Fountain Pen, 2 Shaving Brushes, Metal Cigarette Case, Comb –   was returned in March 1918.

Unlike the great majority of those who were killed on active service, there is no correspondence from the family – or any other interested party – in the service file of Private McCarthy. The father did sign for the receipt of the personal kit but that is the apparent extent of his communication with the AIF over his son’s death. It seems that Private McCarthy was pretty much by himself.

Sadly, there is not much detail on the life and service of Edgar McCarthy. Yet there must have been a link to the Shire of Alberton.


Traralgon Record

National Archives file forMcCARTHY Edgar James 5422
Roll of Honour: Edgar James McCarthy
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Edgar James McCarthy
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Edgar James McCarthy

114. O Patterson

Owen PATTERSON (3221)
8 Battalion   DoW 21/4/1917

Owen Patterson is one of the more surprising omissions from the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Also, while his name is included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor he is not marked as ‘killed’. At the same time, his name and death are recorded on the honor roll of Stacey’s Bridge. Overall, there was only limited recognition of the true nature of his sacrifice.

He was born and grew up in Melbourne and when he enlisted he gave his address as care of his sister in South Melbourne. The address of his father, as next-of-kin, was also in Melbourne.

However, he was definitely living and working in the local area when he enlisted. His name is even recorded on the Electoral Roll (1915) as a labourer of Jack River. His first medical (24/7/15) was in Yarram. His enlistment was noted in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 28/7/15. There are also other references in the same paper to his involvement in local sport, particularly football. He played for the local Devon team. In March 1915 he was on the committee for the Womerah & District Sports.

The last local reference to Owen Patterson appears to be a ‘soldier’s letter’ written by ‘Private J. D. Loriman, formerly of Whitelaw’s Track’ which was published on 24/11/16. In the letter there is a reference to Owen Patterson as one of those locals who ‘came out all right’ from Pozieres.

Private Patterson enlisted on 2/8/15. He was 24 yo, single and he gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’. His religion was Church of England. He joined as reinforcements for 24 Battalion and left Melbourne 26/11/15. After further training in Egypt he transferred to 8 Battalion on 24/2/16 and left for Europe. His unit disembarked at Marseilles on 31/3/16.

Private Patterson spent 10 days in hospital in December 1916 with bronchitis. He rejoined his unit in mid December.

He died of ‘wounds received in he field’ on 21/4/17. This description of the cause of death suggests that he was wounded on 21/4/17 and died the same day. The witness statements in the Red Cross file provide some additional information. At the time, he was working  in the company quarter master store, assisting with the distribution of rations. He was possibly in the reserve trench at the time he was wounded. He was hit by a shell and he died at a dressing station very shortly after. The dressing station was just yards from where he was hit. He was buried nearby, but recollections of exactly where he was buried were confused and the grave was lost. Shortly after his death, the lieutenant in charge of the QM store was in communication with his father and sister. As indicated earlier, Patterson gave his father as next-of-kin and the address of his sister as his address on enlistment.

The following statement from Pte J A Wheeler 5772 gives the essential details:

I knew him. His name was Owen. He was Q.M’s assistant. He came from Yarram, Gippsland. He was very young [perhaps he had put his age up by a few years on enlistment] pretty dark and about 5 ft 4” in height. He was guiding a ration party coming up with rations at Lagnicourt, and a shell burst behind him, and hit him under his tin hat. It knocked him senseless, and he died at a dressing station near Lagnicourt within an hour or two.

There is no specific detail in the battalion war diary about Private Owen’s death. The battalion was near Lagnicourt. There is a report of 3 men wounded and 1 missing on the day before (20/4/17); and, on the day after (22/4/17), the casualties for a patrol that attacked German positions were 1 dead and 14 wounded. No casualties were recorded for 21/4/17; but the diary does state, Enemy shelling fairly active during the day.

The cable advising the family of his death was dated 11/5/17. No one in the family completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. With no grave, Private Patterson’s name was included on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

Personal kit reached his father in early November 1917: 2 Identity Discs, Cap Comforter, Tie, Writing Pad, Card.

Owen Patterson enlisted in Yarram as a young, itinerant farm labourer. At the time he was exhorted to enlist and do his duty, and he was promised, solemnly, that his name and sacrifice would never be forgotten. Unfortunately, there was only ever partial recognition of his story.

Note: Owen Patterson’s personal history has been compromised even more by the fact that his name in the National Archives has been entered, incorrectly, as PETTERSON. Also, the wrong service number (3121 instead of the correct 3221) has been ascribed for the search on the AWM’s First World War Embarkation Rolls.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for PATTERSON Owen 3221 (see note above)
Roll of Honour: Owen Patterson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Owen Patterson (see note above)
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Owen Patterson

113. C J Sweeney

Cornelius James SWEENEY (1449)
15 Battalion   KIA 11/4/1917

Cornelius Sweeney was the brother of Patrick Joseph Sweeney who had been killed in 1915 at Gallipoli (Post 45).  Besides the 2 brothers who were killed, there was another brother- William Henry Sweeney (645) – who survived the War. William was badly wounded, also at Gallipoli. It was described as a ‘bombwound’ and it was obviously severe:  compound fracture skull and left tibia burns and wounds face and left arm. He was repatriated to Australia after medical treatment in the UK and discharged on medical grounds at the end of 1916. In all, this particular family suffered great loss.

The Sweeney family, Irish-Catholic, had been in the local district from the late 1850s or early 1860s. Two brothers – Cornelius and Patrick – both born in Ireland, had moved to the settlement at Alberton after serving their sentences as convicts transported to Van Dieman’s Land. This first generation of the family established themselves as successful farmers in the local district. The success of the second generation of the family was more qualified. One line was definitely successful and, in fact, this success continued through to the third generation. For example, in 1915 this branch of the family had extensive land holdings – approximately 500 acres – of land at Woranga. At the same time, success for the family branch which took in the 3 brothers who enlisted in WW1 was more problematic. Initially, their father – Patrick Sweeney 1855-1932 – was a successful business man in a stock-agency partnership. He was also prominent in local politics. For example, in 1889 he was president of the Yarram branch of the Australian Natives’ Association. In 1901 he was Shire President. He was described as a grazier of Waronga. However, from the early 1890s his fortunes appeared to change. He gave up his partnership in the business. Unlike the other branch of the family, there is no indication that his family held any land  at the time of WW1 and, in fact, the 3 brothers who enlisted simply gave their occupation as ‘labourer’. Admittedly, on one enlistment form, one of them did refer to himself as a ‘dairy farmer’; but, as indicated, there is no evidence that any of them held land and, most likely, they were all working as farm labourers on other properties, possibly even on an uncle’s farm.

Obviously, all 3 brothers were well-known in the district. All had their names recorded on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and the 2 who were killed – Patrick Joseph Sweeney (8/8/15) and Cornelius James Sweeney (11/4/17) – had their names included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. All 3 were also included on the honor roll for the Yarram State School. The father gave Yarram as the location with which his son – Cornelius – was ‘chiefly connected’.

Cornelius Sweeney enlisted on 16/9/14 as one of the original group from Yarram.  He was 35 yo and single. He had been in the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club prior to enlistment.

When Dr Rutter carried out the medical examination at Yarram, he wrote on Private Sweeney’s enlistment papers that he was ‘strongly recommended’ with ‘splendid stamina’. Like others from that first group of volunteers, it appears that Private Sweeney enlisted in the belief that he was joining the ‘Light Horse Gippsland’, but in fact he was taken on the strength of 15 Battalion. He left for Egypt on 22/12/14.

Private Sweeney was wounded twice, both times seriously, before he was killed at Bullecourt on 11/4/17. On Gallipoli in July 1915, he suffered a shrapnel wound to the back of his neck and was taken off the peninsula to hospital in Malta. He did not rejoin his battalion until October that year. The battalion moved to France the following year (June 1916) and he was again wounded, 2 months later, with another shrapnel wound to the right hip. His hip was fractured. This time he was hospitalised in England and did not rejoin the battalion until February 1917, some 6 months later. Then 2 months later he was killed in action at the first battle of Bullecourt.

The war diary of 15 Battalion for April 11 is depressing reading. There is a separate ‘narrative of action’ , dated 15/4/17, included in the diary which details the attack on the ‘Hindenburg Line South of Riencourt on morning of 11th. April 1917’.  Tanks were supposed to cut he barbed wire defences. The narrative explains how the tanks could be heard clearly by the enemy as they laboured towards the first stretch of wire. The tanks then failed to reach their objectives and the wire remained intact. Subsequently, the attacking troops, moving forward without the tanks, were cut down on the wire by enfilade machine gun fire. The report details 100 casualties on the first stretch of wire, and the losses on the second stretch were also heavy. Despite the losses, the battalion made it to the second German line and was part of the brigade that managed to seize about 900 yards. However, it proved impossible to hold the ground gained. The Australian troops were subjected to enemy bombing parties and enfilade machine gun fire down the trench and they were effectively cut off from their line, and supplies – particularly bombs and rifle grenades – could not reach them. The report details all the failed attempts to establish communication and supply lines between the troops in the German lines and their own forward lines. As the report grimly noted,

No runners have returned from Front Line and judging by the number of enemy Machine Guns playing in enfilade fire across No Man’s Land it was impossible to get back from captured position.

At round 11.00 in the late morning, the report noted that the men began to fall back to their lines, across the murderous no-man’s-land. There were more casualties. The battalion was relieved that night and moved back to Favreuil, approximately 10K from the front.

The overall casualties for the battalion from the single day’s fighting were severe: ’19 officers and 364 other ranks’. The following brief note from the report gives a stark assessment of the fate of those who took part in the assault and made it through to the German line.

None of the officers who reached objective returned and of the troops who took part in the assault only 52 have returned.

It appears that Private Sweeney made it across the two stretches of wire to the second German trench. He was then wounded by one of the bombs thrown by German bombing parties who were gradually dislodging the Australians from the captured position. He was one of many left behind when the battalion withdrew. There were many prisoners taken, but he was not one of them. The following is a witness statement from the relevant Red Cross file. It was given by Cpl. T McBratney (1973) on 26/2/18.

There was a Sweeney in B. Co. killed on 11th April. I knew him well. He was a 1st. or 2nd. Rft. And his number started 14… He was of medium height and dark. We called him Paddy. He was hit during the German counter attack at Bullecourt about 11 a.m. by a bomb in the stomach. This was in the German positions which we had taken earlier in the morning. I was alongside him when he was hit. Lt. Jones B. Co. (since killed) bandaged him. He had to be left behind in the trench when we retired.

There is no way of knowing when Private Sweeney died from his wounds but, most likely, it was within a short time of being was wounded. Certainly there is no record of him being taken as one the many prisoners. He was listed as missing after the battle and then a court of enquiry in early November (2/11/17), seven months later, determined that he had been killed in action on the same day. The family was advised by cable on 8/11/17. Presumably they had prepared themselves for this news over the intervening months. The fact that he was ‘missing’ was reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative–  as early as 11/5/17.

About a month after receiving formal advice of his son’s death, Private Sweeney’s father – Patrick Sweeney – wrote (8/12/17) to Base Records in Melbourne asking for help in locating and administering the will:

As your Department has informed me some weeks ago of the unfortunate death of my son (C. J. Sweeney) and he has a few belongings (horses, jinker etc) will you kindly do me a favour by letting me know if there is a will and whose duty it is to administer. I consider it is mine but I ask you as a special favour to let me know at your earliest convenience all particulars and you will confer a very great favour on
Yours truly
P. Sweeney
Father of the late C. J. Sweeney

There is no record of the response from Base Records and the father eventually employed the services of B P Johnson, one of the local solicitors, to manage the business of the will. The will left …the whole of my property and effects to my Mother & two sisters.

Surprisingly, there is no record of any personal kit being returned to the family.

There was no grave and Private Sweeney’s name appears on the Villers-Bretonneux memorial.

On Anzac Day 1918, there was a commemoration held at Yarram State School and one of the returned soldiers who was there that day, as a former student, was Trooper W H Sweeney. It was just over one year since his second brother had been killed on active service at Bullecourt and about two and a half years since his first brother had been killed at Gallipoli. Much was made in the speeches that day about the sacrifices made by families, like his, where so many sons had enlisted. As much was made of the idea that the ‘spirit of Anzac’ was ‘self sacrifice’ and  that, as Rev C. J. Walklate put it, … the 25th April three years ago was the beginning of Australian history. Sentiments like these were meant to comfort those families, like this one branch of the Sweeney family, where the losses had been so devastating.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

National Archives file for SWEENEY Cornelius James 1449
Roll of Honour: Cornelius James Sweeney
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Cornelius James Sweeney
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Cornelius James Sweeney

112. H M Raymond

Harold McCheyne RAYMOND (2675)
12 Battalion   KIA 9/4/1917

Harold McCheyne Raymond was born in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton. He attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School [Melbourne Grammar School] and Geelong College. As a boy and young man, he had no contact with the Shire of Alberton and his father gave Melbourne as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. Harold Raymond’s name is not recorded on any memorial in the Shire of Alberton. However, there was a very strong indirect connection to the local area because Harold Raymond was the son of Reverend Arthur Rufus Raymond who, between January 1917 and October 1918, was the Church of England minister in Yarram.

As the local Church of England minister over 1917 and 1918, the father was called on to deliver the fateful telegrams informing the next-of-kin of the death of their loved ones. For example, the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported (27/4/17) the following in relation to the death of Gunner John Gellion who was the focus of the last post (Post 111):

The sad news reached Yarram on Wednesday evening of the death of Gunner John T Gellion, killed in action on 3rd April. The Rev. Mr. Raymond, Church of England minister, received a telegram from the Defence Department, asking him to kindly inform his brother, and to convey the sympathy of King and Queen and Commonwealth.

More ironically, the local paper reported (13/4/17) Rev. Raymond playing the same role for the parents of Private Percy David Boddy – Post 109 :

The Rev. Mr. Raymond performed the sad duty on Monday [9/4/17] of breaking the news to Mr. and Mrs. Boddy, Balloong, of the loss in battle of their son Reginald (sic).

The cruel irony was that, most likely, Rev. Raymond’s own son – Harold Raymond – was killed on 9/4/17 (Easter Monday, 1917), the very day he (Rev. Raymond) delivered the telegram to the Boddy family.

When it came the turn of Rev. Raymond himself, a fellow clergyman – Rev Tamagno, the local Presbyterian minister – delivered the telegram. The local paper (2/5/17) reported it thus:

The Rev. F Tamagno on Monday night had the sad duty of breaking the news to the Rev. A. Raymond, Church of England minister, Yarram, of the loss of his son in battle on 10th ultimo. Private H. McC. Raymond enlisted in Queensland, and would have attained his 25th birthday on 21st Inst. … The deepest sympathy will be extended to Mr. and Mrs. Raymond in the loss of their youngest son.

As indicated, Private Raymond enlisted in Brisbane, on 13/7/15. He was 23 yo and single and he gave his occupation as bank clerk. His father, given as next-of-kin, was then the Church of England minister in the town of  Ross in Tasmania. This was 18 months before the father moved to Yarram.

There was a brother – Rev. Charles Hedley Raymond – who was also a Church of England minister, at Parkville, Melbourne. Religion was a significant influence in the young man’s life and the father, on the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour noted that, He was a loyal churchman & a Christian and that, He enlisted in response to a powerful appeal made in his own parish church in Brisbane by the present Bishop of Tasmania, Dr. Hay.

Private Raymond joined as reinforcements for 26 Battalion but he transferred to 12 Battalion in March 1916. He was hospitalised – I. C. T. Feet – in July 1916 and then rejoined his unit on 16/9/16. He was killed 6 months later. There was some doubt over the circumstances of his death. The Roll of Honour has his death as ‘killed in action’ on 9 April 1917 but the official report of death has the date as ‘between 6th /10th April’. There is no record that he was initially listed as ‘missing’. The body was never recovered. His name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. According to information in the service file, there was also, for a short time at least, a memorial cross erected in the Hermies Hill British Cemetery.

There is a Red Cross report for Private Raymond and there is also a detailed report in the war diary of 12 Battalion for the action at Boursies from 7-10 April 1917. At the time, the Australians were pushing the Germans as they were withdrawing to the Hindenburg Line. The Germans managed to inflict very heavy causalities as they gave up ground. In the 4 days of fighting, the casualties for 12 Battalion were 62 dead, 184 wounded and 10 missing. The fighting was also at close-quarters and brutal. For example, the war diary records that early on Sunday 8/4/17 (Easter Sunday) a party of 6 Germans surrendered to the Australians but then one or more of the group threw a percussion bomb. The diary records that the German prisoners were … immediately killed as a result.

In terms of the Red Cross report, the most reliable witness statement, dated 13/11/17, came, arguably, from Sgt. Huxley (4957). Sgt. Huxley, like Pte. Raymond, was in 12 Platoon, C Company of 12 Battalion:

He was in my platoon. No. 12. and was killed on Easter Monday [9/4/17] morning riddled with machine gun bullets, death was certainly instantaneous. I saw him just after. I saw the burial party going out the same morning. I know he was buried on the field. I do not think there was any proper cross or that  the grave would be registered, though I know the exact spot between [Louveral] and [Boursies] … Our Sgt. Major and several others wrote to his people and have had an acknowledgement. I think they have all possible particulars.

As indicated, word of the death reached the family in Australia at the very start of May 1917. The personal kit – Wallet, Photos. 2, Letters, 2 Discs, Wrist watch & strap (damaged), Wrist strap, Pendant, Photo, Scarf, 3 Handkerchiefs, 3 Testaments, Comb, Purse, Razor, Prayer Book. – arrived in January 1918.

Faced with the death of his son, Rev. Raymond continued to call for enlistments and support for the War. Three months after his son’s death, the local paper reported (11/7/17) his comments at the farewell of an another local, J L Dennison, from Womerah:

Rev. Mr. Raymond said his whole heart went out to the men who fought for the Empire, Home and Country, and referred to the death of his son at the front. Private Dennison was going to do his part. May God go with him and keep him safe, and may he return decorated with a Victoria Cross.

In normal circumstances the reference to winning the Victoria Cross would have seemed odd. Certainly, many local men had received military awards but the possibility of winning the VC was always very remote. However, at that time, 2 VCs had been recently awarded for the very action in which Private Raymond had been killed. One of the recipients was Captain James Ernest Newland, in charge of A Company,12 Battalion. Captain Newland himself had no direct contact with the local area; but he was the brother of the local recruiting sergeant, William Andrew Newland. There was also another Newland brother – Alfred Lindsay Newland – who had been killed in action at the end of 1916. He had also lived and worked in the local district before the War. Overall, the Newland family was well-known locally and, not surprisingly, the award was written up in great detail in the local paper (13/6/17; 21/9/17). It must have also been weighing on the mind of the Rev. Raymond.

As indicated, Rev Raymond left the Shire of Alberton at the end of September 1918. He served less than 2 years. There were many farewells and, on the face of it, he was was well-liked and respected. He was praised, in particular, for his work in improving the finances of the local church: a feat his predecessors had not achieved. People spoke of his genuine interest in, and care for, his parishioners. However, for all the praise, a letter-to-the-editor appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 16/10/18 which suggested another side to the shift from Yarram. It was anonymous – just signed ‘Church Goer’ – but the fact that it appeared was significant. Rossiter, the editor, was closely involved with the local Church of England. He had been, and was probably still serving, on the Board of Guardians for the local Church of England and it seems hard to believe that he would have tolerated the following anonymous letter if there was nothing to it. In fact, it is conceivable that Rossiter himself wrote it. The casual or background racism in the letter is reflective of the time.

Sir, – In your issue of Wednesday last I was very pleased to notice an allusion to Rev. A. R. Raymond, and the esteem in which he was held. The wonder is with so many warm friends (as shown in the practical manner described by you) that he got the move on. Surely it must have been a very small minority that was the cause of it. Well, I do not envy them their success, or would like to incur their responsibility, for in my humble opinion Mr. Raymond was one of the best ministers that ever came to Yarram. Possibly he was too evangelistic for them. It is the fashion in these days for some ministers to preach smooth things, so as not to ruffle the feelings of their hearers. Mr. Raymond was not of that sort. This small minority would probably delight in a more fashionable church with a parson to match; something like one in America, of which it was said that an old darkey wished to join. The minister thought it was hardly the correct thing to do. Not wishing to hurt the old chap’s feelings, he told him to go home and pray over it. In a few days the darkey came back. “Well what do you think of it by this time?” asked the preacher. “Well, sir,” replied the darkey, “I prayed and prayed, and da good Lawd, He says to me, Richard, I wouldn’t bother ma head about dat no more. I’ve been trying to get into dat church myself for da last twenty years, and I aint had no luck at all.”

Rev. Raymond had been one of the local clergymen to push for the local Co-Operative Store to give up its licence to sell alcohol as part of the renewed push to promote temperance in WW1. Perhaps that position cost him some support. Perhaps he had pushed too hard for financial contributions from the locals. Whatever the case, it does seem that there was some sort of pressure exerted behind the scenes for his move. In his farewell speeches he certainly gave the impression that he was disappointed to be be moving after such a comparatively short time.

But beyond the local politics of the church, you cannot but wonder – to continue a theme initially presented in Post 26: Soldiers of Christ   that the bigger challenge facing Rev. Raymond was to reconcile, at every Easter that followed, the death of his son for ‘Empire Home and Country’ with the joyous celebration of the resurrection of the Son of God.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for RAYMOND Harold McCheyne 2675
Roll of Honour: Harold McCheyne Raymond
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Harold McCheyne Raymond
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold McCheyne Raymond

111. J F Gellion

John Farquhar GELLION (846)
4 FAB  KIA 3/4/1917

John Farquhar Gellion was the grandson of one of the first squatters in Gippsland. His grandfather (John Gellion 1811-1884) drove cattle overland from Melbourne to Port Albert in 1844. Gellion’s trip took 6 weeks and was one of the first such cattle drives from Melbourne. At the time, most cattle were coming in to Gippsland from the ‘Sydney side’. John Gellion had been born in Scotland and arrived in Victoria in 1840. ‘One Tree Hill’, the Gippsland station he established, was on the banks of the Albert River. Rev George Cox featured the exploits of the pioneer John Gellion in one of his articles – ‘Notes on Gippsland History’ – in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 17/9/15. The article appeared just a couple of months after the grandson had enlisted in the AIF.

The father of John Farquhar Gellion – Farquhar, was the grandmother’s name – was also John Gellion (1852—1892)  and he too was a grazier at West Alberton. Indeed, there were several brothers from the same – the second – generation who were also graziers and farmers in the district.

John Farquhar Gellion – the third generation of the Gellion family in Gippsland – continued the family tradition and variously described himself as farmer or grazier. He held land (128 acres) at Alberton West. Obviously, the name Gellion – the township of Gelliondale was named after the family – was well known throughout the Shire of Alberton.

Not surprisingly, John Farquhar Gellion’s name was included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It also appeared on the honor rolls for Stacey’s Bridge, the Yarram Club and the Alberton State School. When his wife – M C Gellion – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, she gave Alberton as the location with which her husband was chiefly connected.

John Gellion was born in Alberton (1888) and grew up in the area. As indicated, he attended the local state school. However, given the family background, it was hardly surprising that, first, he continued his education beyond primary school and, second, that he undertook it at Geelong Grammar. He also attended Hawkesbury Agricultural College. At the time he enlisted he was back in the Shire of Alberton where he was working with his brother, Henry Gellion. The two brothers jointly held the land at Alberton West and, presumably, there was an agreement that John would enlist while Henry stayed behind and managed the property. Henry was given as the initial next-of-kin. John had also been a member of the rifle club at Gelliondale.

John F Gellion was 27yo when he enlisted in July 1915 (8/7/15). He was taken on as reinforcements for 13 Light Horse Regiment. The initial medical was at Yarram on 7/7/15. At the time he was single and, as indicated, he gave his brother, Henry Gellion, as his next-of-kin. His religion was Presbyterian.

Two months later, on 7/9/15, Trooper Gellion married Mary (Molly) Bodman. She was the daughter of William Edward Bodman, one of the largest and most successful graziers in the Shire of Alberton. Bodman’s property was ‘Trenton Valley’ and the family also had a residence (‘Bangalore’) at Toorak in Melbourne. Gellion’s mother had in fact been a Bodman herself — Emily Alice Bodman – but she had remarried – James McKenzie – after John Gellion’s death in 1892. She lived in Melbourne at her residence, ‘Lianos’ at Brighton. Obviously it was a wedding that featured 2 of the most notable families in the Shire and while the ceremony itself was small and celebrated in Melbourne – St. John’s Toorak – there was a detailed report in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 17/9/15. The reception was held at the bride’s parents’ residence at Toorak. There was a short honeymoon in Ballarat. The report noted that the bridegroom was expected to leave shortly for the War.

In fact, Trooper Gellion left for overseas service on 10/9/15, just 3 days after the wedding.  On the embarkation roll his wife was listed as next-of-kin and her address was given as that of her parents’ Melbourne residence: Bangalore, Toorak.

Trooper Gellion served in Egypt in both the Composite Light Horse Regiment and 13 Light Horse Regiment to March 1916 when he transferred to the artillery (2nd Divisional Ammunition Column) and embarked for France. He reached France in late March 1916 and then in July that year he transferred to 4 Field Artillery Brigade. He was serving in this unit (12 Battery) when he was killed in action on 3/4/17.

Gunner Gellion’s death occurred at the time of the Australian push to the Hindenburg Line over the period late March to early April 1917. Presumably, the death was the result of a German artillery barrage directed at the Australian artillery which was covering the Australian advance.

There is no war diary available for 4 Field Artillery Brigade for the time of Gunner Gellion’s death. The reason for this shortcoming makes for grim reading. The war diary of 4 FAB appears only to start with an entry dated 10 April 1917 at Vaulx, the immediate area where Gellion was killed just one week earlier. This first entry records that on that day (10/4/17) in the afternoon … a high velocity shell about 15cm calibre landed in the Office of Brigade Headquarters. All the officers of the Brigade’s headquarters were killed instantly. The entry also noted … At the same time all records and documents relating to the Brigade were destroyed. Presumably, all previous war diaries were destroyed in this incident.

There was a report of Gunner Gellion’s death in the local paper on 27/4/17, nearly one month after he had been killed. It noted that word of the death was passed to the brother – Henry Gellion – by Rev Raymond, the local Church of England clergyman. There were references to how well known Gunner Gellion was in the district and how he had married just before he left for overseas. It also noted how the young wife had only very recently returned to her mother at Toorak. She had been staying at Trenton Valley for the past several months.

In June 1917 (22/6/17), the local paper published a detailed, first-hand account of the actual death; but, oddly, it was all based on unidentified sources:

A Yarram soldier [unidentified] writing from France, thus refers to the late lamented death of Trooper [sic] John Gellion: – There is bad news to tell this time. Poor old Jack Gellion got a piece of shell in the head and was killed instantly. He was on scout duty, and was putting in his time cleaning the gun. There were no shells falling near at the time, but just by chance a stray one landed a couple of yards away, and he got a big piece of it in the back of his head. We are thankful to know that he did not suffer at all. He would hardly have known there was a shell coming. We went up and saw him decently buried, and are getting a substantial cross made. We have an artist, and a man that is pretty good at carving, in the tent with us, and between them they are going to do it up in a manner that will last. Don’t let this make you any more anxious about us. Another soldier boy [unidentified], writing home, says that Jack Gellion was the best liked in the whole regiment.

It is possible that the information for the story in the local paper came from a cousin, Henry Crawford Bodman (1253) who was also in the artillery.  He enlisted within a fortnight of his cousin and, although seriously wounded in August 1918, he survived the War. The claim is based on a letter from this cousin, Henry C Bodman, written after the War, in 1922. He wrote, from Darriman, seeking information on the location of his cousin’s grave. Specifically, he wanted to know if the body of his cousin … was ever recovered and moved to one of the central cemeteries for soldiers in France. He noted that his cousin – J F Gellion No. 846 of the 12th Battery A.F.A. – … was killed at Vaulx-Vraicourt, France and buried there by myself and friends. In reply, Base Records informed him that the body had been exhumed and re-interred at Vaulx Hill British Cemetery.

The cable advising of the death was dated 20/4/17, just over two weeks after the death. The formal AIF report of death was completed on 10/5/17. Personal kit was returned in March 1918: Letters. Gospel. Air cushion. Photos. Even though the records indicate that the change in the next-of-kin had been noted, the kit was returned to the brother – Henry Gellion – who had been the next-of-kin prior to the wedding.

Incredibly, in addition to Henry Crawford Bodman the cousin referred to above, there were another 3 cousins – David J Gellion (4240), Thomas John Gellion (34999) and Alfred Charles Gellion (38967) –  who served in the artillery. It appears that this branch of the Gellion family had moved out of Gippsland by WW1. Their names do not appear on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and all three gave their address as Toorak, Melbourne on their enlistment forms. It is another example of the complex web of enlistments within a family. In this particular case, of the 5 cousins who served in the artillery, only John Farquhar Gellion was killed.


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 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for GELLION John Farquhar 846
Roll of Honour: John Farquhar Gellion
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Farquhar Gellion

110. A H Whitford

Albert Henry WHITFORD (5103)
21 Battalion KIA 20/3/1917

Albert Whitford was born in Won Wron in 1887 and grew up in the Shire of Alberton, attending no less than 4 local state schools: Alberton, Devon North, Won Wron and Yarram. His name is recorded on the honor rolls for all 4 schools. It also appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It is also on the separate honor roll for the Devon North District. His mother gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

The Whitford family name was well known in the district. The father –  John Joseph Whitford Jnr – had been born  in Gippsland (1854). He had been a selector with land at Boodyarn and Won Wron. But he faced significant health problems and had sold his properties just before he died in 1899. His wife, Mary Jane Whitford, retained a house in Yarram and 12 acres at Devon.

There were 10 children in the family. The oldest – Emily, born 1876 – died as a 5 yo from burns she received in a bushfire in 1881. Of the 6 sons, 3 enlisted and the other 2 – Thomas Joseph Whitford and Reginald James Whitford – survived the War.

At the time of his enlistment in January 1916, Albert Whitford gave his occupation as labourer. Presumably, he was working on farms in the local area. He was 28yo and single. He listed his widowed mother – Mary Jane Whitford – as his next-of-kin. She was living in Church Road, Yarram. He gave his religion as Church of England.

The first medical was in Yarram and he was then re-examined in Melbourne 2 days later (24/1/16) when the enlistment was completed. The medical papers indicate that he was missing the second finger on his left hand.

Private Whitford joined 21 Battalion and left Melbourne on 3/7/16. After an additional training in the UK, his group of reinforcements were taken on strength in France in late November (22/11/16). In late January 1917 he was wounded and hospitalised for two weeks. He rejoined the battalion on 7/2/17.

Private Whitford was killed in action on 20/3/17. However there was initial confusion over his fate. He was reported as both ‘wounded’ and ‘missing’. The family received advice in mid April (13/4/17) that he had been wounded. It was the standard form letter that did not provide any details, but reassured the next-of-kin that the case was not serious and that … it is to be assumed that all wounded are progressing satisfactorily. The cable advising the mother that her son had in fact been killed did not reach Australia until mid May (15/5/17) nearly 2 months later.  When, later that same month (May, 1917), the Devon North State School honor roll was unveiled, the name of A H Whitford appeared with a cross, as one of the ‘brave boys who have paid the supreme sacrifice’ (Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 25/5/17). The formal report of death was not completed until 3/9/17.  The body was never recovered and Private Whitford’s name is recorded on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

The war diary for 21 Battalion in mid March 1917 traces the movement of the battalion to the Hindenburg Line in pursuit of the Germans as they staged their tactical withdrawal as part of Operation Alberich.  On March 18, in the early afternoon, the battalion passed through Bapaume and by 11.30 that night they had reached and occupied Vaulx-Vrarcourt, and were only about 10 K from the Hindenburg Line itself. The next day they encountered enemy patrols near Ecoust-St-Mein when they pushed forward another 5 K and then on the 20 March – the day Private Whitford was killed – the battalion came under artillery and machine gun fire from the villages of Ecoust, Longatte and Noreuil. An attack planned for Noreuil on that day ‘failed to develop’. There was enemy shelling all afternoon. The casualties were heavy: 21 killed, 139 wounded and 11 missing. All this fighting was taking place very close to the Hindenburg Line and not far from the village of Bullecourt where the next great tragedy for the AIF was soon to unfold.

Witness statements from the Red Cross file for Private Whitford tell how he was shot near Longatte and buried, with others, near the village. Even though the grave was identified, it was subsequently ‘lost’.

He was in B Co. I knew him in Victoria. I come from the same town, Yarram, Gippsland. He was killed on March 20th, 1917 at Longatte and buried on the right hand side of the road near the village close to a big crater. There are a number of graves there. His grave has a cross on it. I could point out the spot.    Pte. T Paterson 5066

Private Thomas Paterson (5066) enlisted in 21 Battalion round the same time as Private Whitford. Paterson was from a farming family from Darriman and would have grown up with Whitford. He survived the War and returned to Australia in July 1919.

Another witness statement – Cpl D Matheson – provided additional details:

I saw him wounded in the leg at a place called Langote (sic). It happened during an advance. I was told by Pte. W.[?] Smith, 21st Battn. B. Coy 8th Platoon that while he was crawling back endeavouring to get to the dressing station, the Germans turned their Machine guns on to him and killed him. I saw his grave near place of casualty, and it was marked by a cross bearing his number, name and unit.

But this statement did not line up with the one actually given by the same Pte. W Smith:

I am pleased to say that I can give you all the information required as I was close to him when he was killed. I am pleased to say he died without pain as he shot through the heart. I would have seen that he was buried properly only the circumstances did not permit., as it was he was buried after the charge on the filed near some of his mates. There can be no doubt as to his identity as I was in camp with him and his brother Reg for over 12 months.

When she completed the Roll of Honour information, the mother – Mary Whitford – listed 4 cousins of her son who were also were killed in the War. It is a striking illustration of how families, and the wider local community, were affected. Three of the cousins appear on the Soldiers’ Memorial in Yarram: the Sweeney brothers – Patrick and Cornelius- and George Jeffs. The fourth cousin killed – Roy Whitford – grew up in Won Wron but by the time the War started he was farming in Western Australia at Narrogin. There was also a younger brother, Reginald James Whitford, who also enlisted in 21 Battalion within a month of Albert. He reached the rank of corporal, survived the War and returned to Australia in September 1919.

The relevant personal kit – 3 Testaments, Gospel, 3 Military Books, Novel, Razor strop, Housewife, Wristlet watch strap, Writing pad, Mouth organ, Photos. – was returned to the family in early March 1918.

In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/3/18, the first anniversary of Private Whitford’s death, the following in memoriam appeared:

WHITFORD – In sad and loving memory of my dear son, Pte. A. H. Whitford, killed in action in France on 20th March, 1917, aged 30 years. Sadly missed.

He sleeps not in his native land,
But under foreign skies
Far from those who loved him
In a hero’s grave he lies.
No loved ones stood around him
To bid a fond farewell,
No word of comfort could we give
To him we loved so well.

– Inserted by his sorrowing mother, sisters and brothers.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

National Archives file for WHITFORD Albert John 5103
Roll of Honour: Albert John Whitford
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Albert John Whitford
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Albert John Whitford


109. P D Boddy

Percy David BODDY (4983)
24 Battalion KIA 13/3/17

Percy Boddy was born in Balloong in 1890. He grew up in the Shire of Alberton, attending the state primary schools at Balloong and Woodside. His name is recorded on the honor rolls of both schools.  His name is also recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. His father gave Yarram as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’.

When he enlisted in early 1916, Private Boddy gave his father – David Boddy – as next of kin. The father was farming (55 acres) at Balloong. According to the 1915 rate book, Percy Boddy also had a small holding – 5 acres – at Balloong. The son also gave his occupation as farmer and, presumably, he was working with his father.

On his enlistment papers Percy Boddy was 25 yo and single. However, there are papers in his service file which indicate that there was an ‘ex-nuptial’ child, a son. The file shows that after the War this child and the child’s mother both received pensions against Private Boddy’s death on active service. The boy was living with his mother from the early 1920s but there was a period prior to this when he had been in the care of the Neglected Children’s Department in Melbourne. There is no indication in the file that Private Boddy’s parents knew of the child and it is possible that Private Boddy himself never saw his son. In June 1922, it appears the mother thought the medals should go the father (David Boddy) who, in fact, died in 1923.

Private Boddy enlisted in Melbourne on 10/2/16. He joined as reinforcements for the 24 Battalion and left Australia in late July (28/7/16). After further training in England, he reached France in the middle of November (17/11/16) and was finally taken on strength on 10/2/17. He was killed in action on 13/3/17, just over one month later. The father would have been advised by cable in early April (5/4/17) of his son’s death and the formal report of death was completed on 18/4/17. The death was reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – in April (18/4/17):

Private Percy David Boddy, son of Mr. David Boddy, of Balloong, killed in action in France on 13th March, was well-known in this district as owner of The Barb trotting stallion, and took a great interest in trotting stock. One of his many friends the other day remarked that at Easter 1916, they were only talking together over the war, and Perce was wished good luck across the sea. It proved to be his last Easter. [Presumably, Percy Boddy had gone home on leave for Easter 1916].

The war diary for 24 Battalion indicates that Private Boddy was one of 5 killed and 18 wounded on the day. On the day, the battalion was operating in the area round Grevillers/ Le Barque (near Bapaume), employing patrols to probe the German line as the Germans themselves were systematically falling back to the newly created Hindenburg Line.

The picture below shows the original grave of Private Boddy. Its location was described as ‘between Le Sars and Le Barque 2 3/4 miles s.w. of Bapaume’. In time, the remains were exhumed and re-buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery. The picture also suggests the difficulties associated with retaining the precise identity of those buried in such temporary graves, and it does appear that there was some confusion during the exhumation process. However, in July 1926, the Imperial War Graves Commission determined that Private Boddy 4983 was buried in ‘Plot VIII, Row “D”, Grave 49. Warlencourt British Cemetery’.

In September 1918, one and a half years after his son’s death, the father wrote to Base Records in Melbourne enquiring why he not received any of his son’s kit. The reply from Base Records pointed out that a package containing the personal effects had in fact been sent via ‘registered packet’ in February that year. The father was advised to contact the local Post Office (Woodside). The file does not reveal what subsequently happened; but it does reveal that the inventory of the personal effects, as despatched from the AIF Kit Store in London, showed that the only items returned to Australia were a ‘Testament’ and ‘3 photo proofs’.




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 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for BODDY Percy David 4983
Roll of Honour: Percy David Boddy
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Percy David Boddy