Category Archives: January to June 1917

121. Messines: G Martin & W E Babington

 

Two ‘locals’ – Gordon Martin and William Edward Babington – were killed in action on 8 June 1917 at Messines.

The fighting at Messines was heralded by the detonation of 19 mines under the opposing German lines. The German troops were demoralised and many surrendered. The allied troops were able to secure their objectives. Messines also saw the more accurate and effective use of artillery. The ‘creeping’ barrage was used to significant effect, although there were still casualties when the advancing troops went forward too quickly. A large number of British tanks were employed and there was more effective targeting of enemy positions, thanks in part to better maps and improved observation techniques. Overall, the military operation was judged ‘successful’.

However, if the battle was judged a ‘success’, the casualties were still very high. As Beaumont (pp.323-4) puts it:

Messiness has been heralded as a classic illustration of what could be achieved on the Western Front when an operation was well planned by competent leaders [The planning by Monash, in charge of 3 Division, was said to be exemplary] and the infantry were asked to advance no further than the distance covered by their own artillery. … It should also be remembered that Messiness [7-14 June] cost 26,000 British casualties, of whom almost 14,000 were from II Anzac Corps, many of them victims of gas.

One of the 2 local men – Martin – was from 39 Battalion and the war diary for this battalion described how the men were subjected to heavy gas shelling even before they reached the assembly trenches for the attack. They had to move through Ploegsteert Wood where the gas was incredibly thick. Using their box respirators they struggled though the heavy gas in the dark. According to the account in the Offical History (Vol 4, Chapt XV) many officers collapsed from the effort involved in keeping the men moving.

The total number of casualties for 39 Battalion, to the point when they were relieved early in the morning of 9/6/17, was approximately 470. There were comparatively few deaths, but 300 were wounded and another 145 were missing.

The other local man – Babington – was from 37 Battalion and the overall casualty level was similar. The casualties, to the point the battalion was relieved – 11 am on 9/6/17 – were 492. In this instance there were 67 deaths, 331 men were wounded and only a handful of men missing.

For the AIF, ‘victory’ at such a cost was unsustainable, particularly given the very low recruiting numbers back home.

 

Gordon MARTIN (179)
39 Battalion KiA 8/6/1917

Gordon Martin was a volunteer whose military service was not remembered in the local area. His name does not appear on any memorial in the Shire of Alberton. Yet he definitely enlisted from Yarram. He had his initial medical in Yarram with Dr Crooks on 28/1/16. A railway warrant (#260) for travel to Melbourne to complete the enlistment process was issued in his name by the Shire Secretary on the same date. The address that appeared on the embarkation roll was Barry’s Hotel, Alberton. The occupation given was ‘operating porter’, suggesting that he was employed at the Alberton Railway Station. Possibly he had not been living and working in the Shire very long but the reality is that he did enlist from there. There is no evidence that he was ever given a formal farewell from the Shire.

To make his life even more unknown and unrecorded, there is very little detail of his military service and the circumstances of his death. There is no Red Cross file for him and his family did not complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Nor is there any correspondence in his service file to throw additional light on his life in the AIF.

Gordon Martin was born in Dunolly. His enlistment was completed on 21/2/16 – nearly one moth after the medical in Yarram – and at the the time he was 22 yo and single. His religion was Church of England. His father – John E Martin of Seymour – was given as his next-of-kin. He enlisted as reinforcements for 39 Battalion.

Private Martin embarked for overseas on 27/5/16 and reached the UK on 18/7/16. He joined 39 Battalion in France on 23/11/16 and was killed in action at Messiness on 8/6/17. His family was notified of the death at the start of July (2/7/17). He was buried at Strand Military Cemetery, Ploegsteert, Belgium. Personal kit – Identity Disc, 2 Note Books, Photos, Testament, Prayer Book, Fountain Pen, Scissors, Cigarette Case, Razor – was returned to the family in March 1918.

As already indicated, while the casualties for 39 Battalion at Messiness were very high, relatively few men (24) were killed. Private Martin was one of them.

 

William Edward BABINGTON (228)
37 Battalion KiA 8/6/17

Unlike Gordon Martin, William Babington was very well known in the local area and his name appears on many memorials: the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial, and the honor rolls for the Yarram State School, the Presbyterian Charge and Stacey’s Bridge.

William Babington was born on 22/9/1891 at Trentham. He grew up in the local area, attending Yarram State School. His father – William Dunn Babington – was a dairy farmer at Jack River where he had a 114 acre property. The son worked on the family farm and on his enlistment papers he gave his occupation as ‘dairyman’. The mother was Williamina (sic) Babington. There another brother – John Sutherland Babington – who had enlisted very early in the War (16/9/14). He was younger (20 yo) and at the time was also helping on the family farm. All his military service was in the Middle East and he returned to Australia with the rank of sergeant in July 1919.

When the father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he indicated that Stacey’s Bridge was the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. William Babington was also closely identified with Devon, where, prior to enlisting, he had been the captain of the local football club.

At the time William Babington enlisted he was 25 yo and single. His religion was Presbyterian and he appears to have been actively involved in the church as a young person.

Private Babington had his first medical on 21/1/16 in Yarram with Dr Crooks – this was exactly one week before Gordon Martin’s medical – and he was re-examined in Melbourne on 16/2/16. The official date for his enlistment was 8/2/16 and he joined as reinforcements for 37 Battalion. There was a formal farewell for him and 20 other local recruits – Gordon Martin was not there – held at Yarram on 24/4/16. It was reported in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 26/4/16. On the occasion, he and the others were told that, The charge of the Light Brigade faded into insignificance compared with the brave deeds of our Australian boys at Gallipoli. It was one of the many occasions when the farewell was used to appeal for more volunteers. The Shire medallion was handed to the men.

Private Babington embarked from Melbourne on 3/6/16 and reached England on 25/7/16. There was a period of further training before he proceeded to France and joined 37 Battalion in November (22/11/16). He was promoted to lance corporal in March 1917 (5/317).

On 1/11/16 the local paper published a letter written by Private Babington which covered, in detail, the voyage from Australia on the troopship Persic, and first impressions of the enormous military camp on Salisbury Plain near Amesbury. He noted of the camp, You will hardly believe that this camp is 12 miles by 13, nothing but huts as far as the eye can see. He also noted that … there are over 40,000 Australians camped here.

Lance Corporal Babington was killed at Messines on 8 June 1917. One witness statement in the Red Cross file had the date of death as 7 June, the first day of the battle. There are other inconsistencies in the several witness statements but, generally, it appears that he was shot, in the chest, and died within a few minutes. Several refer to him being shot by a German sniper and as he was a lewis gunner it is highly likely that he would have been targeted. Some witnesses reported him being buried but others were unsure, and one even reported that he saw the body still in the field three days after he had been killed. Most agreed that if he had been buried, the grave would have been in Ploegsteert Wood. There is also a record of the grave being SE of Messines. However, in the end, there was no formal identification of any grave and Lace-Corporal Babington’s name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.

The cable to advise the family of the death was dated 22/6/17. However, it appears that the information did not reach the family until 26/6/17. Three days later, on 29/6/17, the death was reported in the local paper:

Mr. W Babington, Stacey’s Bridge, received the sad message on Tuesday night that his son, Lance Corporal W. E. Babington, had been killed in action on 9th (sic) June, 1917, and conveying the sympathy of King and Queen and Commonwealth. Lance Corporal Babington previous to enlisting was a popular young man, a good footballer and captain of the Devon team, and worked with his father as a dairy farmer. … Lance Corporal Babington paid the supreme sacrifice for his country. The sympathy of our readers will be extended to Mr. and Mrs. Babington and family at Stacey’s Bridge in the loss of their son.

The article also described how The night before the sad tidings reached his parents a letter came by mail, saying he was fighting only 200 yards from the enemy.

Then on 21/9/17 the following additional article on the death of Lance Corporal Babington appeared in the local paper under the heading A Gippsland Hero. The father obviously provided the paper with the correspondence he had received from the UK. It is worth quoting the letter in full because it illustrates how the all-pervasive, background narrative of the sacrifice of the Christian soldier was so commonly applied at the time and in such a highly personal way. No matter how dreadful the loss of the son, there was a strong and comforting religious ‘explanation’ of the tragedy.

Mr. Wm. Babbington (sic), Stacey’s Bridge, has received from the chaplain at the front particulars relating to his son’s death. He writes: – Dear Mr. Babington. – You have had the official word of your son’s death in action, Lance Corporal W. E. Babington, No. 228. on the 8/6/17. It was in the great battle of Messiness, that splendid victory, but won only by much sacrifice, and your fine lad was one. He was a hero. I have just been talking with O.M.S. Redd[?], of his Company, who was beside him when he fell. It was right up to the very forefront of the attack, and your boy was fearlessly brave – was one of those who by their indomitable courage made the attack so successful. A shot from the enemy, however, got him, and he died on the spot. His comrades thought the world of him, and the O.M.S tells me it nearly knocked the heart out of him to see your boy fall. They were fine fellows, these boys of ours, good souled and fine spirited. As their chaplain I thought very much of them, their earnest interest in the real things that count. How keen they were for religious ministrations, and at services and communions they gave splendid attendance. They went into the fight well prepared, and the God above them gave them strength and courage. As He will give to you for your great sorrow. God help you is our prayer. We always pray for you all in our services. Your boy with the rest was keen on these things, yours in much sympathy.
A. Irving Davidson, Presbyterian Chaplain to the Regiment.

Personal kit was returned to the family in March 1918: Calabash Pipe, Folding Scissors, 2 Notebooks, Cards, photos, Letters.

 

The contrast between the 2 men killed on the same day highlights just how significant the locals’ definition of ‘local’ could be.  It also throws light on the fate of the itinerant, working-class volunteers: if a person was not tied to a particular location, his effort and ‘sacrifice’ could easily dissipate, if not disappear.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW.

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 4 – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917 (11th Edition, 1941)

Gordon Martin

National Archives file for MARTIN Gordon 179
Roll of Honour: Gordon Martin
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Gordon Martin

William Edward Babington

National Archives file for BABINGTON William Edward 228
Roll of Honour: William Edward Babington
First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Edward Babington
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: William Edward Babington

120. Soldiers’ farewells and welcomes in the first half of 1917

As indicated in earlier posts, by early 1917 recruitment had fallen away dramatically. Moreover, after the defeat of the conscription referendum in late 1916, even enthusiasm for promoting recruiting had waned. Those who had been enthusiastic members of the local recruiting committee – who had also strongly supported the conscription campaign – felt betrayed by the referendum result and, temporarily at least, withdrew their efforts. This issue will be covered in a future post.

At the same time, there was still the occasional farewell for a new recruit and, increasingly, there were welcome homes for those returning to Australia wounded. This meant that the work of the local ‘send off and reception committee’ – Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee – continued. This post looks at the work of this committee in the first half of 1917. It is also worth recalling that the key members of this committee – the likes of B P Johnson, Councillor C Barlow, E A Paige, H G Bodman, G F Sauer and Rev F Tamagno – were also the key players in the local recruiting committee, and they had also been the key backers of the Yes vote in the recent referendum. They belonged to the group identified as Imperial Loyalists, in that they backed the Empire completely and supported the national government in its every attempt to support Australia’s efforts as part of the Empire.

Farewells

It appears that there were only 3 formal farewells in the first half of 1917.

Benjamin Sutton

The first was for Ben Sutton in April. It was written up in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – on 4/4/17. The farewell was immediately prior to his embarkation for overseas. At the time of his farewell he was married and 28 yo. The marriage must have taken place sometime after his enlistment because his enlistment forms have him as single. He came from a local farming family.

The report noted that not many people were there:

Several local residents and visitors met at the shire hall yesterday morning [Tuesday 3/4/17] to bid farewell to Private Ben Sutton, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Sutton, Yarram.

B P Johnson, on behalf of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee presided. In his speech he specifically mention the lack of volunteers:

Mr. B. P. Johnson presided, and referred to the few farewells nowadays. It was evident that young men were content to let the boys fight and die for them, and not go and help. Ben Sutton realised that the boys wanted help, and although a married man he was going to do his part.

This theme about the effect that the lack of volunteers to replace those killed and wounded had on the troops in the front line was very common. Johnson, in his praise of Sutton for volunteering, was quoted as declaring:

A doctor, writing from the trenches, says if the Australians were not soon relieved they will die of sheer exhaustion. Wounded men were sent back to the fighting line. Ben Sutton realised this and goes.

As with all other farewells at the time, Ben Sutton was presented with the shire medallion and the accompanying (prayer) card. And as for all other farewells , those there sang the National Anthem and “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.

Allan Corrie

The second farewell was for Allan Corrie. It was held at Port Albert and it was written up in the local paper on 9/5/17.

Allan Corrie was only 18 yo. In fact, his parents had made him wait until he was eighteen before giving their permission for him to enlist. He was the son of the local police constable in Port Albert, Robert Corrie. Allan was home for his final leave. There was a large crowd there and the farewell was held on a Saturday night.

As the farewell was held in Port Albert, the speakers that night were Port Albert locals. One of the locals – Peter Todd, Palmerston – when praising the loyalty of the young Corrie … made some scathing remarks about shirkers. He then called for volunteers, from the crowd of well-wishers there, to come forward … but none were forthcoming.

Corrie was presented with the shire medallion and also a ‘wristlet watch’. His father responded on his behalf. Private Corrie survived the War and returned to Australia in June 1919. He subsequently also served in WW2.

James Brown

The third farewell took place in June and was for James Edward Brown. It was written up in the local paper on 6/6/17. Brown had only enlisted recently (24/3/17) after he had been rejected earlier for poor teeth. He was 40 yo and married, and it appears his wife was living in Carlton. He was the older brother of Darcy Brown who had also enlisted. The parents were from Stony Creek. The mother died while both sons were on service.

At the farewell, Cr Barlow noted how hard it was for the father. He pointed out how 2 sons had enlisted and one of them had already been twice wounded:

It seemed hard, he said, that the father should have to give up the only eligible son left, but so many would not respond to the call.

James Brown, at age 40 yo, was probably another example of someone the AIF should not have accepted. As things transpired, he never made it to France. After extended illness in the UK he was repatriated and discharged as medically unfit – ‘premature senility’ – in July 1918.

At his farewell, Private Brown emphasised how he was only doing his duty. He told those there that … he thought it was the duty of every eligible man to go to fight. He promised his best, and hoped to return with the other boys after wiping out the Germans (Applause.)

Welcome Home

Over the same period – January to June 1917 – the local paper reported on 5 welcomes. Obviously, these receptions were for men who had been repatriated either wounded or seriously ill. Consequently, the stage was set, literally, for speeches that contrasted, vividly and directly, the differences between those who still refused to do their duty and enlist, and those who had paid a terrible price for their loyalty.

Robert Spokes

The first welcome home reported in the local paper (14/3/17) was for Robert (Tim) Spokes. He was picked up from the train station at Alberton and driven to the Shire Hall in Yarram where there was a large group of adults and school children. E A paige, the head teacher of Yarram SS declared that if their guest had arrived yesterday (Friday) – as planned – the whole school would have been there to welcome him.

Spokes had enlisted as one of a large group (25) in July 1915. He was only 18 yo at the time. He had been badly wounded – GSW rt arm and r thigh – at Pozieres and repatriated to Australia. He was discharged as medically unfit on 17/4/17, about one month after the welcome home at Yarram. His right arm had been amputated following the injury and by the time he reached Yarram, as the paper put it, he had been … provided with a substitute. It would have been a devastating handicap for someone who was probably only 20 yo.

As he was under 21 yo when he enlisted, both parents had to give written permission. The father had written – and both parents signed – the following note. On the face of it, it was an explicit description of Imperial loyalty:

I give my Consent to my son Robert Henry Spokes to enlist as a soldier to serve King George.

Councillor Barlow presided and after a verse of the National Anthem and “God Bless Our Splendid Men” he started by talking of the debt owed to Private Spokes:

When they saw the condition he was in, carrying marks of war to the grave, they felt they could not repay him for what he had done.

Reverend F Tamagno informed those there that Private Spokes’ condition reminded them of the true nature of war and challenged them that they … could not realise the the strains on muscle and mind of the men in battle. Tamagno praised the young soldier as the model of voluntarism. He praised him as one of those … who had not been sent for, but went of their own accord (applause) – men who volunteered from farms and industries, rich and poor, all of the same quality of heart – it was the spirit of voluntarism.

And, of course, there was the criticism of those who refused to volunteer. He wondered aloud whether … many of these brave fellows who come back will chastise, because of the wounds they bear, those citizens who failed to do their duty. (Applause.)

H G Bodman was far more direct and he turned the occasion into a recruiting drive. He declared to all those there:

It was their duty to send all the men available. (Applause.) If men could see a soldier come back, and sit down in their comfortable homes with no incentive to take a part, he would say they were cowards. The boys who went had done their duty, and there were no better soldiers than the Australians. (Applause.) Yet they had men all round the district not game to take this boy’s place. Though old he was willing to do his part. He had one son there, and if he did not come back it would be a sacrifice for his country he would be proud of. It is for all to think, that unless reinforcements are sent to fill the vacant places, they are failing in their duty. (Applause.)

B P Johnson also laboured the theme of reinforcements. It was a stark moral argument: those men who could volunteer but who chose not to – for what in terms of the logic were entirely selfish reasons – were not just not letting down those serving overseas in the AIF – in the sense that they refused to do their ‘share’ and help their ‘mates’ – but they were also effectively condemning them to death:

He [Johnson] wished he could impress on every body that unless reinforcements are sent few of our men will come back. How many eligible to go, and do not go; how they stand back, and let their brothers fall and not be relieved, was more than he could understand.

In light of the ambivalence of the AIF members towards both the War and the issue of conscription – see Post 105 – we can only speculate what Private Spokes made of the way his homecoming was used for recruiting. The newspaper report noted that he himself did not speak. Instead, he replied via the Chair that … he felt proud that he responded to the call when he did.

As per normal, the welcome closed with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”.

Oliver Leemon

The welcome home to Corporal Oliver Leemon was reported in the local paper on 25/4/17. He had enlisted as a 22 yo in September 1915.

Corporal Leemon was another wounded soldier from Pozieres. He had been hit, most likely by shrapnel, in the head, knee and arm. The actual medical discharge was dated 27/4/17, just 2 days after his welcome home at Yarram.

The occasion was chaired by G F Sauer and the paper noted that the crowd was disappointing, conceding that both the weather and the timing of the event were poor. Sauer hoped that their guest … would soon be restored to health.

Sauer also felt the need to attack the ‘scum’ of Melbourne over the way returned soldiers were supposed to have been treated at the time. Without giving any source he related how:

One soldier who returned minus an arm, was told that he was a fool to go over there and come back like that, whereupon the single-armed hero punched him. It was the spirit of the Anzacs and it showed they were of pretty good stuff.

Sauer also felt the need to raise the exploits of the Australians at Bullecourt to epic levels:

He could not express in words all that the soldiers had done on the other side, and especially their achievements during the past few days. Where the Australians had attacked was stated to be an insurmountable barrier. It was marvelous how the Australians went through the German lines, held by the Prussian Guards, the flower of the German army, and supposed to be one of the best regiments in the world. Our boys went on to the fields of France and beat them bad.

By early 1917 it was common practice to describe, unashamedly, the Australians fighting on the Western Front as the best soldiers in the world.

David Muir

There were 2 welcomes for Sergeant David Muir. One, at Yarram, was reported in the local paper on 16/5/17 and the other, at Alberton, on 25/5/17.

David Muir had been a well known sportsman in the local area. Before the War, he had been secretary of both the football and cricket clubs at Alberton. He had enlisted in April 1915 as a 23 yo.

However he was certainly not fit when he returned home. The reports of the Yarram welcome referred to his ‘broken health’ and noted that he was no longer … the once active Dave of football fame. He was suffering from rheumatism, trench fever and heart problems. As well, the report noted, he had been on the troopship Southland when it was torpedoed in September 1915 in the Agean Sea. He was said to have spent 2 1/2 hours in the water.

The Yarram welcome was held on a Monday afternoon. The Shire Hall was packed and there were many school children present.

At this welcome, B P Johnson set out to use Sergeant Muir’s story as a recruiting narrative. Interestingly, even though it hard been rejected not much more 6 months earlier, conscription was again being openly spoken about:

… Sergeant Muir, cricketer and footballer, went in for a sterner game. It would be noticed that he bore the letter A on his shoulder, a proud letter which showed he was an Anzac a name known throughout the world (Applause.) Dave is not the robust man he was, and we must remember that he made himself what he is for us. The obligation is on each and everyone not to allow the boys to suffer on their return. Dave’s place is vacant at the front, and anyone who can should go and fill that place. A number of returned men have fought, returned wounded, and are going back again to help their mates. That was the proper spirit. It was said that conscription would be brought in. Those who do not want conscription should go and make the voluntary system a success, and all should work to win the war.

After the speeches, Geo Davis had to respond on behalf of Sergeant Muir because …. what he had been through was so nerve-racking that he could not speak at a home-coming welcome.

Like all the others welcomed home, Sergeant Muir was presented with the shire medallion.

As indicated, not long after, there was another welcome staged at Alberton for Sergeant Muir. It was a social evening held at the Alberton Hall. The paper noted people came from Yarram, Port Albert and Tarraville.

All the speakers that night referred to his health. They all hoped that he would son be ‘restored to health’, and many wanted to see him again on the football field.

The local police constable, Robert Corrie, said of Sergeant Muir:

He went away to do his bit for his country, and he is home again proud to think he has done his duty. It was lads like Serg. Muir and Private Spokes who were upholding the name of Australia, and they who are at home cannot do enough for them. He hoped Serg. Muir would regain his usual strength.

Similarly, another local, Mr Todd from Palmerston, was keen to employ the commonly expressed sporting – particularly football – analogy:

… Sergeant Muir [was] an honest player on the football field, like all Australian lads, and he was glad that they were also honest in going and fighting for their country.

This time, Sergeant Muir did speak on his own behalf. He stated that even though he had returned with broken health, he was better off than many of those still in France. He urged those there to not forget …the boys at the front, as they could not realise what they were going through. He reminded everyone of the need to write to the men and he even mentioned the importance of such basics as sending them cigarettes and newspapers.

John Robinson

John Robinson had enlisted very early in the War (24/11/14) as a 21 yo fisherman from Port Albert. He has already been mentioned in a previous post – Post 38 – where he was one of 3 volunteers from Port Albert, former students of the Port Albert SS, who, according to locals, were not given an appropriate farewell by the school. His welcome was written up in the local paper on 27/6/17.

He had been badly wounded – gsw rt thigh severe – in July 1916. At the time of his welcome in the Mechanics’ Hall at Port Albert he had already had 3 operations and the local paper noted that he was about to have yet another … to have more lead taken out. He was discharged as medically unfit on 4/10/17. He was yet another young man returning from the War with a serious disability and the rest of his life before him.

Robinson was well known in the local area. In fact, the paper made the claim:

It is safe to say that no local lad was better liked than Jack Robinson.

It also noted that many people were there and that,

Two car loads of his relatives, including his grandfather 80 years of age, came from Paynesville at a few hours notice.

Those who spoke at the welcome were locals, including Constable Corrie. As was common, the speakers turned the wounds the soldier bore into some sort of badge of honour. One of them noted that he (Robinson) had gone to the front at a time when he knew the dangers and that he had … returned a soldier and a man. Another referred to him as bearing … the honored scars of battle.

One prominent identity who spoke that day was Father Sterling, the local Roman Catholic priest. Sterling had finished his work as an army chaplain by this point and had again taken up his duties as parish priest. Robinson was Church of England and it appears that the only reason Sterling spoke was because he was asked to. The following report, as published in the local paper, makes clear what Sterling thought of the standard farewell and welcome functions held in the shire. The comments also begin to explain the overt hostility that was directed at him from this point on.

He just happened to be in Port Albert, and accidentally heard of the welcome home to the returned soldier, and dropped in to show his sympathy with the gathering. He thought that the Government ought to apply the War Precautions Act to stamp out a public nuisance which had become very accentuated since the war started. He referred to the dreary drivel poured out by every local orator on the occasion of a farewell or welcome-home social. The singing and dancing were held up while one person after another got up and gave interminable speeches, trying without success to spend a quarter of an hour or more in saying what the chairman could easily say in five minutes or less. How often had they been present at or read of such gatherings. The chairman generally opened proceedings by saying everything it was possible to say about the guest of the evening; the next person spoke of the guest as a citizen; the next as a neighbour; the next as a sport; the next as a member of some friendly society; the next as a white man and Nature’s gentleman, and so on ad nauseum. The only person who does not come forward nor say anything is just the one person who could tell the exact truth, and that person is his wife. If she was to speak of him as a husband. (Laughter.) He had no intention, therefore, of prolonging the agony for the young soldier, or desecrating the honoured name of Anzac by referring to what they all felt gloriously proud of – the immortal deeds of our soldier boys.

In one sense, Sterling’s criticism is simply that the proceedings are too drawn-out, repetitive and ponderous. However, some at least would have heard in his comments the belief that a particular group of locals had turned these occasions into very public – and highly reported – demonstrations of support for the War, including conscription, and thinly disguised recruiting meetings. The members of the Soldiers’ Farewell and Welcome Committee would hardly have appreciated having their efforts trivialised and ridiculed in such a manner.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

 

119. E E Morley

Ernest Edward MORLEY (5882)
21 Battalion  DoW 14/5/17

The Morley family was from Gormandale and at the time of WW1 the family had been in the area for 40 years. Gormandale itself, whilst in the Shire of Alberton, was on the border with the Shire of Rosedale. It was much closer to Rosedale than Yarram. The boundary between the 2 shires had been changed as recently as 1914. So the question of local identity was problematic. In the case of the Morley family, it appears that the primary link was to Gormandale per se, rather than Gormandale as part of the Shire of Alberton.  The names of all the Morley brothers – there were at least 4 who enlisted and 3 of them were killed – are on the Gormandale War Memorial. This particular memorial was unveiled by the mother – Mrs Sarah Morley – in 1923.  The names are also on the honor roll for the Gormandale state school. However, the names of the brothers are not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

In addition to this particular branch of the Morley family, there were also cousins, with the same name, who enlisted. However, for all the members of the Morley family from Gormandale, there is only one Morley – Archie Cortnege Morley – who appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Also, references to the family appear more frequently in the Traralgon papers than in the Yarram papers. At the same time, the tragic story of the Morley brothers from Gormandale was certainly well-known in the Shire of Alberton. For example, on 4/12/18 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative featured a detailed account of the unveiling of the honor roll at the state school at Gormandale. In the account it states that of the 45 former scholars who enlisted from the school – plus 2 teachers – 6 were killed and … three of these were members of the Morley family.

As indicated, 3 of the 4 brothers who enlisted were killed on active service. In addition to Ernest Edward Morley (5882) DoW 15/5/17 there was George Thomas Morley (4479) KiA 5/8/16  – see Post 79 – and Robert Herbert Morley (1501) KiA 31/10/17. However, this was not the extent of family tragedy over the course of the War because another brother – Jesse Morley – died in Melbourne in August 1917 and there were 2 other family deaths; one was an infant grandson (July 1916) and the other was an older, married sister. Specifically in relation to the sister’s death, the obituary notice – Traralgon Record 15/6/17 – noted that the news from France of her brother’s death – Ernest Edward Morley – was a contributing factor.

Ernest Morley enlisted in Melbourne on 5/5/16. He was 28 yo and married with 3 children. There is an indication that he might have previously enlisted – his enlistment form states that he had served 42 days in the AIF ‘prior to re-attestation’ – but there is no corresponding service file. He gave his occupation as labourer and at the time he appears to have been working and living at Beeac, well outside the local area. However, he gave his wife – Mrs Doris Louisa Morley – as next -of-kin and her address was Gormandale via Rosedale. His religion was listed as Church of England.

Private Ernest Morley enlisted as reinforcements for 21 Battalion. He left Melbourne on 2/10/16 and reached the UK on 16/11/16. There was further training in the UK then he joined 21 Battalion in France on 4/3/17. He was dead just over 2 months later.

21 Battalion went into the front line at Bullecourt very early on 3/5/17 and was not withdrawn until very late on 4/5/17. In that relatively short period of time it suffered 340 casualties, with 31 dead, 260 wounded and 49 missing. Another indication of the savagery of the fighting is an estimate in the diary of 200 casualties between 3.15 am and 8.45 am on 3/5/17. The diary describes the fierceness of the fighting, the failure of the English attack – on the battalion’s immediate left – the inability of the troops to hold the ground they initially won and the hopeless state of the battle-field communications.

There is a Red Cross file for Private Ernest Morley.  It appears that it was initiated by his cousin – Archie Cortnege Morley (5883) – who in September 1917 wrote requesting information about his cousin’s death. Private Archie Morley was in the same battalion, and the 2 cousins had enlisted round the same time – they even had consecutive regimental numbers – and embarked from Melbourne together.

The Red Cross report does not provide a great deal of information. It appears that after he was wounded sometime on 4/5/17, Private Morley was evacuated by ambulance train the same day. However, he did not reach a hospital – 9th General Hospital BEF – until 6/5/17, by which time the wound was septic. He died just over a week later (12.30 pm on 14/5/17). The hospital report described how Private Morley,

… was admitted to this hospital on 6/5/17 suffering from severe gun shot wounds of the left thigh. The septic condition of his injuries on admission were very extensive and gradually increased. He died at 12.30. p.m. 14/5/17 and was buried at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, his grave number being 2599.

The family was advised by cable – dated 18/5/17 – of the death, just 4 days later. In time – February 1918 – a small amount of personal kit reached Gormandale: Disc, Metal Watch, Scissors, Letters, Photo, Cards, Pipe, Pr Goggles.

The wife and 3 children received pensions from 18/7/17. The combined amount was £4/5/- per fortnight.

The family did not complete the (National) Roll of Honour form for Ernest Morley. However they did complete the form for the 2 other brothers killed and in each case they noted that 2 (other) brothers had been killed, as well as one cousin and one nephew.

An in memoriam notice appeared in the Traralgon Record on 1/6/17:

Morley. – Died at 9th General Hospital, France, on 14th May, from gunshot wounds received in action, Pte. Ernest Edward, loved husband of Doris Louisa Morley, and loved son of Mrs S. Morley, Gormandale. Aged 28 years.
He died, the helpless to defend,
A noble soldier’s noble end.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Traralgon Record

Adams, J 1990, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, Victoria

National Archives file for MORLEY Ernest Edward 5882
Roll of Honour: Ernest Edward Morley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Ernest Edward Morley
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Ernest Edward Morley

Note: the post was updated 18/5/17 with some corrections to the family history provided by Annette Power, a descendant of the Morley family.

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.

References

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.

References

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.

 

 

References

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.

References

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