Category Archives: January to June 1918

173. Enlistments in the first half of 1918: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post continues the analysis of the essential characteristics of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. The preceding posts are:

Post 23: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

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

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

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

Post 103: Enlistments in the second half of 1916: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 128. Enlistments in the first half of 1917: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Post 146. Enlistments in the second half of 1917: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

Religion

There were 12 who gave their religion as Church of England, 9 who gave it as Presbyterian and there was 1 Roman Catholic. There were no Methodists in this particular cohort. The numbers are too small for meaningful comparisons with earlier cohorts, other than to note that the predominance of Church of England and Presbyterian recruits had been a feature since August 1914 and this feature itself reflected the relative breakdown in the 1911 census.

Units

From early 1918, enlistments were assigned to general groups of reinforcements, rather than specific AIF battalions. Even when they embarked they were still listed in these general groups. For example when Private Harold Proctor – he had enlisted on 4/4/18 in 5 General (Victorian) Reinforcements  – embarked from Melbourne on 23/7/18, he was referred to as belonging to 1 to 17 (VIC) Reinforcements (March-November 1918). There were some in the cohort who enlisted in more specialist units, eg artillery, medical corps and even the flying corps (McGalliard).

Service History

As noted, none of this cohort reached the fighting, either in the Middle East or on the Western Front, before the hostilities finished. Two of the group – Cottrell and Cummings – did not even embark. Another 4 men – Callister, Davis, English and Summerfield – were on troop ships that were recalled. Of the rest, it appears that while most reached the UK they did not proceed to France. Two of the group –  Chambers and Clarke – did reach France, well after the fighting, and worked with the Graves registration Unit.

Even though they were spared the fighting, there was still high level of hospitalisation for the group, and 4 of them – Cummings, McGalliard, Neilson and Summerfield – were discharged on medical grounds. Many of the instances of hospitalisation related to influenza and at least 2 of those discharged for medical reasons – McGalliard and Neilson – had experienced complications from the influenza. The prevalence of influenza, and the complications from it, are evident in the case of Norman Spokes who enlisted in Yarram in June 1918 as an 18 yo. In August 1918 he came down with influenza on the troopship to the UK. He was hospitalised again in September with colic and again in October with mumps. In April 1919, there was further hospitalisation – Pleurodynia (Bornholm disease) with attendant injury to the ribs – and then in May he  again came down with influenza. He returned to Australia on 27/11/19 and was discharged – termination of period of enlistment (TPE) – on 20/12/19.

The dates of discharge for this group are generally very late.  Many were not discharged until well into 1919 and 3 of the group – Chambers, Hill and Lay – were not discharged until 1920, with Hill not even returning to Australia until August 1920 before being discharged the following month. At the other end of the scale, those on the troopships that were recalled to Australia after hostilities ceased were generally discharged much earlier, at the start of 1919.

Overall

None of the men who enlisted from the Shire of Alberton in the first half of 1918 saw active service abroad. At the same time, when they enlisted there was certainly the expectation that they would see active service and they were recruited at a time of ‘national crisis’ when the military situation in Europe was dire. There were desperate appeals for recruits made at the time and this particular cohort demonstrates that those who answered the call tended to be the very young – 18 -21 yo – and those both older – in their 30s – and/or married. What is also worth noting, yet again, is the high number of those who came forward to enlist only to fail the medical test. For this group of 22 men who did meet the medical standard, there were at least 10 who did not.

172. Enlistments in the first half of 1918: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

This post continues the analysis, in six-monthly intervals, of several key characteristics of all those with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1. The relevant previous posts in the sequence are:

Post 22: Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 56: Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 62: Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

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

Post 102: Enlistments in the second half of 1916: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 127: Enlistments in the first half of 1917: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

Post 145: Enlistments in the second half of 1917: background characteristics Part 1 – movement, occupation, age and marital status

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

Movement

The cohort is obviously small but it does represent the most ‘local’ of all cohorts analysed to this point. Typically, this group of enlistments were either born in the Shire of Alberton and/or were long-term residents. There were no immigrant farm workers from the United Kingdom. There was not even anyone born interstate.

The only 2 of the group who did not appear to have established links to the Shire of Alberton – in the sense that their names are not recorded on any local memorial – were Sylvester M Callister and Wilfred J Chambers. At the same time, both men had their medicals and enlisted at Yarram. Additionally, Callister’s family had previously been residents in the district and he himself must have still been living there, as he was one of several who stepped forward at a patriotic concert/recruiting meeting in Yarram in mid May 1918. Not much is known of of Chambers but he definitely enlisted at Yarram on 9/3/18 and was given a railway warrant to travel to Melbourne on 13/3/18 to complete the process.

Occupation

There were 2 of the group – Ernest B Matches and Matthew S Thomas who were farmers in their own right, in the sense that they both held land in their own right, as recorded in the 1915 rate book. Both these men were older. There was a large group of 7 younger men who were associated in some way with a family farm. Once again, the association possibly also involved them working on other farms, or in other labouring jobs, depending on the size of the family farm and the number of siblings. The bulk of the remaining men described themselves as labourers or farm labourers. James English who had been in the district for 17 years worked as an ‘engineer’ for the local council. His position was also described as ‘electrician’. Andrew McGalliard was a university student – he had been in the Melbourne University Rifles – and the son of Thomas James McGalliard who had substantial land holdings and who also served as Shire President from July 1918.

Age

The following table gives a breakdown of the ages for this cohort.

Ages of volunteers – first half of 1918

ages

18-20         12

21-25         4

26-30          2

31-35          2

36+              2

total          22

Once again, the concentration of those of the youngest possible enlistment age is striking. Throughout the War, the military authorities had been tightening the system to prevent under-age recruits from enlisting, and certainly from enlisting without their parents’ permission. In the cases of the underage recruits in this cohort , their individual service files contain the signed permissions, from both parents. Typically, there is also a copy of the birth certificate to confirm the age. However, the overall intention in this matter was not to reduce the number of those enlisting under the age of 21- these young men were generally the most enthusiastic patriots and the ‘easiest’ target for recruiters –  but to make sure that when such enlistments did occur they were valid enlistments.

The case of Wilfred J Chambers is typical. At the time he enlisted in Yarram (9/3/18) he was only 18 years and 3 months old. He stated that his father’s whereabouts was unknown and his enlistment form contained signed permission from his mother for him to enlist as someone under 21 yo. The mother lived in Heathcote.  On 20/3/18 the mother received a form notice – addressed to her in Heathcote – from the military authorities advising her that … your son has enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force for Active Service Abroad, and has produced a document which purports to be your written consent.  The notice then asked if she gave her … consent to his going on Active Service before he reaches the age of 19? Otherwise he cannot be sent to camp until he is 18 1/2 years of age. The mother signed, Yes I will consent to his going before he is 19. The process was designed to ensure that the enlistment of those only 18 yo for active service abroad in the AIF would stand a challenge.

Marital Status

Two of the men – Robert A Neilson and Matthew S Thomas – were married and there was also one widower, James English. The 2 married men were in their early 30s, and one of them – Thomas – had a child. However, the widower – English – was 39 yo and he left behind his 4 year-old daughter. She was left in the care of a Mrs Wallace of the Goodwood Sawmills. Even if Mrs Wallace was a relative, the fact that the authorities were enlisting a 39 yo widower, with a young child, is a clear indication of how keenly they pursued potential recruits.

Overall

The numbers from the Shire of Alberton are very small but there is a suggestion at least that the perceived crisis on the Western Front from the end of March 1918 did prompt a lift in recruitment. However those who stepped forward tended to be the very young and the, relatively, very old and even married.

171. Enlistments in the first half of 1918

This post presents the table of those with an association with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the first half of 1918. It builds on the work of 7 earlier posts that have analysed enlistments, in six-monthly intervals, from August 1914:

Post 21: Enlistments to the end of 1914: identifying the ‘locals’
Post 55: Enlistments in the first half of 1915
Post 61: Enlistments in the second half of 1915
Post 81. Enlistments in the first half of 1916
Post 101. Enlistments in the second half of 1916
Post 126. Enlistments in the first half of 1917
Post 144. Enlistments in the second half of 1917

The following summary shows enlistments from 1914. The total figure to the end of June 1918 was 756.

To the end of 1914: 138 enlistments
First half of 1915: 102
Second half of 1915: 200
First half of 1916: 183
Second half of 1916: 70
First half of 1917: 31
Second half of 1917: 10
First half of 1918: 22

The table shows that there was a pick up in enlistments in the first half of 1918 – from 10 in the last 6 months of 1917 to 22 in the first 6 months of 1918. At the time, the call for recruits was desperate. The Allies were under great pressure on the Western Front. From the end of March to the end of April, major German attacks – and successes – on the Western Front posed the greatest threat since the fighting of 1914. In Australia, with conscription having been again rejected, the need for recruits was pressed in every conceivable way. The dire situation facing the Allies and the desperate news reports of the depleted state of the AIF did lead to a short-term boost in recruitment.

The number of enlistments also needs to be seen against the number of men who tried to enlist but failed. Roughly one-third of the potential recruits failed to meet the standard.  Typically, they stepped forward at a recruiting meeting but then failed the medical. There were at least 8 such cases: John Campbell (Yarram), Hugh Douglas (Won Wron), Frank Hutchinson (Yarram), Jack Masters (Yarram), Arthur William Murphy (Yarram), George Cameron (Won Wron) and William Hopkins (Tarra Valley). Arthur Cuffic Thomas of Jack River was 36 yo and he also failed the medical but was, at least, offered the option of joining the Home Service. There was also the case of John Henry Lewis. He must have passed the medical at Yarram because he was issued with a railway warrant but it does not appear that the enlistment was completed. Presumably, he failed the next (final) medical when he got to Melbourne.

There were also several instances where age was the issue. Alfred Joseph Baldwin of Gelliondale was too old at 47 yo. Frank Brown of Yarram was too young at 18 yo. There was also the strange case of William Henry Clemson of Tarra Valley. He claimed to be 19 yo and it appears that he even made it in to camp. Certainly he was farewelled on the basis that he had enlisted and was in camp. However, there is no service file for him and, in fact, it appears he was only 15 or 16yo. Presumably, when the military authorities found out his true age he was quietly discharged. To add to the confusion, there is a W Clemson on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Presumably, his name was included because he had been given a formal farewell and, subsequently, no one realised that he had not served or served for only a very short time.

One striking case involved Tony D’Astoli. The story, from the local paper of the time, was that Antonio D’Astoli had been born in Australia of Italian parents. In 1917 he came to Yarram and took over the confectionary-fruit shop previously run by a family called Liuxxi. It also appears that he married the same year. Then in early 1918 he was called up by the Italian authorities and he then joined the Italian army. His wife stayed behind in Yarram to run the business. He was farewelled from Yarram in May 1918 (7/5/18) and then in January 1920 (7/1/20) he was formally welcomed back to Yarram, as a returned soldier.

As before, there were men in this cohort of 22 enlistments who had previously been rejected because they had failed the medical: Thomas A Clark (1917) and William H Pattinson (1915). Similarly there were others who had enlisted previously but who had subsequently been discharged on medical grounds: Lawrence H W Beagley and Albert J Cummings. In fact, Cummings had been discharged after just 2 weeks service in March 1917, and on this second enlistment, he lasted about 3 months before he was discharged as medically unfit (22/8/18). After this his second enlistment, Beagley, the other volunteer who had previosuly been discharged, managed to serve through to November 1919. There was also the case of Benjamin R Davis. It appears that he first enlisted in June 1916 when he was 18 yo. But he then deserted and was struck off the list. Presumably because of his age – and possibly his parents had not given permission – the military authorities were not interested in pursuing him. Then in May 1918 he re-enlisted. He was formally farewelled from Yarram in October 1918.

When the War commenced in August 1914 there was a common belief that the fighting in Europe would be intense but short and that the newly formed AIF might not even reach Europe before the War was over. When this particular group enlisted in the first half of 1918 – and this was particularly the case for those enlisting from April – the assumption was that they would most definitely be joining the fighting on the Western Front, fighting that had by then raged for nearly 4 years and which showed no sign of ending. Indeed the military situation appeared to be worsening. The irony was that not one of these recruits ever saw fighting. Some were on troopships that were turned back to Australia and while most did embark they did not reach the UK until after the Armistice. Subsequently, one or two did make it to France but they worked with the War Graves Unit.

169. W R Nuttall

NUTTALL William Richard 1999
59 B   DoW 17/6/18

William Nuttall was born in Heidelberg in 1891. Unfortunately the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour was not completed and so there are no details of his early life and schooling.

Private Nuttall enlisted in January 1915 (11/1/15). The enlistment – including the medical – was at Traralgon. At the time he was 23 yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘printer’. His religion was listed as Church of England. He gave his father – William Henry Nuttall – as next-of-kin. Over the time of his son’s service, the father changed address several times: from Collingwood to Lock (Gippsland) and then to Packenham. The mother – Jane Nuttall – appeared to reside in Fitzroy.

It appears that William Nuttall worked at the local paper in Traralgon, the Traralgon Record. There are numerous references in this local paper to his enlistment, his service both on Gallipoli and the Western Front and his death. For example, the edition of 15/1/15 referred to his enlistment and the fact that he had been on the staff of the “Record”. The edition of 16/7/18 referred to his death:

In the list of casualties published in the dailies last week, we notice the name of W R Nuttall. The initials are the same as those of Mr Nuttall who was formerly on the staff of this paper, and we very much regret to hear of his death from wounds. He was a fine, manly young fellow who did not hesitate to step into the ranks of the brave men who have fought and died for their country’s honor. He was wounded several times, and showed such conspicuous bravery on one occasion that he was awarded the military medal [see below]. Mr Nuttall was very popular with the young people, and his death will be much regretted by a large circle of friends.

William Nuttall’s name appears on both the soldiers’ memorial in Traralgon and also on the town’s honour roll. Traralgon was also given as his ‘place of association’. Clearly, he was strongly linked to Traralgon. However, there was also a link to Yarram, approximately 70Km from Traralgon. For example, his death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 12/7/18, earlier than it was in the Traralgon Record (16/7/18):

Yesterday’s dailies report that Private W. Nuttall has been killed. He was highly respected in Yarram, and played football with the Yarram team.

As well as playing football, it also appears that he played cricket for Yarram. He was listed in the Yarram team in a report on a match published in the local paper on 4/3/14. However, the fact that his name appears on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial suggests that his link to Yarram went beyond just sport. Then again, his name does not appear on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Nor does his name appear on the electoral roll for Yarram. Another complication is that while the name Nuttall was not common in the local area, there was a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 18/1/18 about the experiences of an A B Nuttall – probably Alfred Barker Nuttall – who had gone to the UK as a ‘munition-worker’. Most likely, he was some relative but it is not possible to establish this link. Overall, while there was clearly a link to the Shire of Alberton it is not possible to describe exactly what it was; and contemporaneously, there was another, stronger link to Traralgon.

On enlistment, Private Nuttall joined 7 Battalion and his group of reinforcements left Melbourne for Egypt in April 1915 (17/4/15). He joined his unit on the Gallipoli Peninsula in early August, and within 3 days he had been wounded at Lone Pine. It was described as ‘Shock & Wnd Head’. He was taken by hospital ship to Heliopolis and discharged to ‘light duty’ in late September. Early the following month (6/10/15) he was again hospitalised, this time with dysentery, and did not rejoin the battalion until January 1916.

In late February 1916 he was transferred from 7 Battalion to the newly formed 59 Battalion. He was promoted to lance corporal in March. The battalion reached Marseilles at the end of June 1916. It was involved in the fighting at Fromelles in July 1916.

In late October 1916, L/Cpl Nuttall was admitted to hospital with a ‘septic thumb’ from barbed wire and was repatriated to England, to Clacton-on-Sea Hospital. He was discharged 2 months later (19/12/16) and at this point was given some leave. He took another 7 days without permission and was charged as AWL from 21/12/16 to 27/12/16. He was reprimanded and lost 7 days pay. He rejoined 59 Battalion in France in January 1917. There was another lengthy period of hospitalisation (unknown cause) in France from 21/3/17 to 22/5/17 and he eventually rejoined the battalion in August 1917 (2/8/17). At this point, he reverted to the rank of private ‘at own request’.

On 26/9/17 he was again admitted to hospital. This time the official cause was given as ‘shell shock’. It was the second occasion he had been wounded. In the file there is a copy of Army Form W3438. The heading of this particular report reads,

Report to be rendered in the case of officers and other ranks who, without any visible wounds, become non-effective from physical conditions claimed or presumed to have originated from effects of British or enemy weapons in action.

The form was dated 22/10/17 and on it Private Nuttall’s condition is described, explicitly, as ‘shell shock’. The report stated that Private Nuttall was … blown up and buried by a shell in a bunker at Polygon Wood. His condition on admission was described as ‘Tremulous, complains of headache’. The form features a formal declaration:

I certify that the above named was subjected in the course of his duty to exceptional exposure of the following nature: heavy shell fire whilst at Polygon Wood.

The advice sent home (19/12/17) to inform the next-of-kin also explicitly referred to ‘shell shock’.

Private Nuttall did not rejoin the battalion until the end of the year (23/12/17). Then in early 1918 he had leave in the UK from 4/2/18 to 20/2/18.

He was wounded on 16/6/18 – gunshot wound to chest – and although he received emergency attention he died the next day. He was buried at Querrieu British Cemetery, about 20 Km from Albert where he had been wounded. Rev H J G Matthews officiated at the funeral.

Even though there was only one day between the time he was wounded and the time he died from wounds, the family in Australia received two telegrams: the first (28/6/18) advising that he had been wounded and the second (1/7/18) that he had died. The first telegram also noted that this was the third occasion he had been wounded.

The war diary for 59 Battalion for 16/6/18 reveals that the battalion had just moved into the line in the Albert-Morlancourt sector. The overall entry for the day highlighted the relatively quiet nature of activity:

Shelling was light during the previous 24 hours … A few pineapples were thrown on right Company and a Machine Gun was active against the same sector, but apart from these the enemy attitude was relatively quiet – practically no movement was observed.

The official casualty report for the day had 1 killed and 3 wounded. All casualties were other ranks. One of the 3 wounded would have been Private Nuttall.

Two packages of personal items were returned to Australia, in February and March 1919:

1 YMCA Wallet, Cards, 1 Notebook, 1 Metal Wrist Watch & Guard, 1 Letter

and

1 Disc, 1 Whistle & lanyard, 1 Protractor, 1 Badge, 2 metal souvenirs, 1 Button, 1 Razor, 1 Testament, 1 Diary, 1 Wallet, Photos, 1 pipe Lighter, 1 Certificate, Stamp, Belt.

There are 2 pieces of correspondence in the file worth noting. One is from a Miss Doris Kinna of Traralgon dated 30/11/17. She writes seeking information about the condition of Private Nuttall,

Reports of various kinds have reached us and we are very anxious to receive something definite. Trusting to receive a reply as soon as possible & thanking you in anticipation.

This was just after L/Cpl Nuttall had been hospitalised with shell shock. The reply from Base Records (5/12/17) was very general:

In reply to your letter of the 30th ult. I have to inform you that Lance-Corporal William Richard Nuttall, was in October last, reported to be suffering from an illness, the nature of which had not been diagnosed.

The other item of correspondence is an earlier letter written by a Mrs Maria Lear of James Street, Yarram in November 1916. It suggests a connection between Private Nuttall and Yarram.

Could you let me have the present address of Private W. Nuttall when left Melbourne was in 7th Batt. 5th Reinforcements. But I believe was transferred to 59 Battalion D Company 15 Brigade Signaller Sect.
I want his number as he knows of my son 4130 I J Lear which (sic) was missing on 19th saw him wounded.
I cannot communicate as I have not got the last address..Hoping you will oblige me at your earliest…

Base Records replied on 8/11/16 with the address details.

Private Isaac James Lear 4130, who was also in 59 Battalion, went missing at Fromelles on 19/7/16. [See Post 74] He was determined to have been killed in action on the same day by a court of enquiry, but this was not until August 1917. Obviously, the mother at the time she wrote this letter (November 1916) was trying to establish her son’s fate. There is a presumption that Mrs Lear recognised Private Nuttall as a local (Yarram) boy who would have known her son. Further evidence of this connection comes from the earlier reference to Nuttall having played cricket for Yarram, because it appears that at that time – 1914 – he played against at least one Lear cousin – William John Lear who enlisted in June 1915. It is not known if Mrs Lear ever managed to contact Private Nuttall over the fate of her son.

There is a suggestion in one of the reports in the Traralgon Record (3/11/16) that L/Cpl Nuttall was recommended for the Military Medal. Further, as noted above, the same local paper claimed (16/7/18) that he had, in fact, been awarded this honour. While there is no official record of this having been the case, recommendations for such awards were often something of a lottery. Further, there is no doubt that Nuttall’s overall service record saw him involved in some of the heaviest fighting of the War, including Gallipoli, Fromelles, Polygon Wood and Villers-Bretonneux.

References

Traralgon Record
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for NUTTALL William Richard
Roll of Honour: William Richard Nuttall
First World War Embarkation Roll: William Richard Nuttall

168. H S Davis & T A Wilson

DAVIS Herbert Stanley (13491 – 2/Lt.)
5 B KIA 16/6/18

Herbert Davis was from Tasmania. His parents lived at Battery Point, Hobart and his enlistment papers showed that he was born in Sandy Bay, Hobart. Unfortunately the (National) Roll of Honour was not completed so there is no indication of where he went to school or of his early life. The enlistment papers do however indicate that he spent one year in the senior cadets in Tasmania so, presumably, he left Tasmania and went to the Shire of Alberton in his later teens or early twenties

Private Davis was nearly 22 yo when he enlisted in July 1915 (6/7/15) and at the time he gave his occupation as farmer. Interestingly, the occupation listed on his embarkation papers is ‘engineer’. His religion was given as Church of England.

On enlistment Herbert Davis was married. He married in 1915 and there was a daughter – Phyllis – born the same year. His wife – Myrtle Lily McKenzie – was the daughter of Thomas George McKenzie, a successful local farmer. On enlistment, his wife was shown as living with her mother, Elizabeth Lily Ann McKenzie of Devon. At the time, it appears that the Davis family in Tasmania did not know that the son was married and that there was a child.

Private Davis enlisted in Melbourne and, like many others, he had had his first medical in Yarram, with Dr Pern. There was a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire (3/11/15) on his formal farewell from Yarram:

Private H. S Davis was met at the shire hall on Friday morning by a few townsmen, and presented with the usual card and medallion by Mr. V. S. Lalor. Private Davis is attached to the Army Medical Corps.

Vivian Sherry Lalor was the local chemist and member of the committee responsible for soldiers’ farewells.

Private Davis joined the Army Medical Corps but did not move overseas until April 1916 (1/4/16). It looks as though there was a short period in Alexandria because he did not reach England until 16/7/16. Once in England he moved quickly to France where he was taken on strength of 1 Field Ambulance (31/7/16).

One year later (22/7/17) Davis was selected for officer training and sent to England (Cambridge University). In February 1918, he was appointed 2/Lieutenant and posted to 5 Battalion. He joined his unit, in the field, on 21/4/18. There was a brief period of hospitalisation with German Measles in May 1918.

On 16 June he was reported ‘wounded and missing’ and then at the end of 1918 (27/12/18) there was a Court of Enquiry held at Bouffioulx, Belgium which found he had been ‘killed in action’ on the day he was originally reported as wounded and missing. It appears that his wife was advised in February 1919 (24/2/19).

The war diary of 5 Battalion shows that the battalion relieved 7 Battalion in the line in the Strazeele Station – Mont de Merris area very early in the morning of 13 June 1918. Over the next few days patrols were sent out. The Germans were described as ‘alert’ but they were said to have adopted ‘a strictly defensive attitude.’ It was against this background that 2/Lt Davis took out a patrol (himself and 3 other ranks) on 16 June. The diary tells how the patrol found a machine gun post in a house and another post in a shell hole. The patrol engaged the enemy and killed three of them but 2/Lt Davis was wounded. It then says that 2/Lt Davis was not able to get back to the lines but that one of the men stayed with him while the others returned. It concludes the report of the incident with,

Later 16 men crawled out to try and get Lt Davis but were unsuccessful. Enemy more alert than usual. 2nd Lieut Davis wounded & missing. 1 OR missing. 1 OR wounded.

There is a very detailed Red Cross report that throws more light on the incident; and it appears that some of the statements were provided to the Court of Enquiry at the end of 1918.

Essentially all the witness statements present a common scenario: early on 16/6/18 2/Lt Davis led a small patrol to reconnoitre the German lines. The patrol came into contact with the enemy very close to their (German) lines and in the fighting 2/Lt Davis was seriously wounded. He was left behind, very close to the German lines, as close as a few yards. Subsequent attempts to reach him failed and there was no trace of him from that day on. Most of the witness statements concluded that he had been taken prisoner, on the grounds that he was lying so close to the German lines and there was no trace of him when relief patrols were sent out. The Court of Enquiry at the end of the War determined that he had not been taken prisoner and that he had therefore been killed in action on the day, with the body never recovered.

The following witness statement essentially matches the account from the war diary,

At 05.30 on the 16.6.18 Lt Davis and a party of 3 O.R. left our lines to reconnoitre an enemy Machine Gun post. On approaching it the enemy opened fire on it and Lt Davis was hit. The remainder of the party reported back and another party left our lines at 0800 to try to locate Lt. Davis, and reached within 20 yards of the enemy post and the enemy opened fire on us and we had to withdraw without seeing any signs of Lt. Davis and he has not been seen since.

This statement, undated, was made by Private H Trevenna (6364) who was batman to 2/Lt Davis. In fact, Trevenna provided four witness statements. He gave another, more detailed statement in September 1918 (5/9/18),

He was of A. Coy. 3rd Pltn. On or about 16th June at Strazeele he took 5 men out in the morning about 5-30 to try and locate an enemy M.G. post. One of the men who returned reported to us, that one of them drew a waterproof sheet off one of the Germans in the post, and fired at him. Enemy started then to fire their M.G., and another who came up from behind the post started throwing bombs. It was reported that Lt. Davis had been hit by M.G. bullets in the groin. I was on a volunteer party that went out at 8-30 a.m. to try and find Lt. Davis. He was nowhere to be seen. Pte. L.G. Bursill, 540A was lying dead about 10 yds. from post, killed by bomb. Lt. Davis had German decorations in his pockets when he went out on patrol. If alive he is a prisoner. I was his batman. Four men got back out of the patrol.

The Private L. G. Bursill (540A) referred to in this statement by Pte. Travenna appears to have been the ‘other rank’ referred to in the Battalion’s war dairy as ‘missing’. He is officially listed as killed in action on 16/6/18 and there is also no known grave. He was a bugler in 5 Battalion and in the previous month (May), he had been recommended for – but was subsequently not awarded – the Military Medal.

Private Trevenna’s account has Bursill ‘lying dead about 10 yds. from post, killed by bomb’. However this was not supported by other witness statements. For example, in the statement by Pte C. A. Shepherd (6577) the view is that both 2/Lt Davis and Private Bursill were alive when last seen,

He [2/Lt. Davis] was in A. Coy. On this date at Strazeele he led a small party out on patrol, at about 5030 a.m. They ran into a German post. Lt. Davis and Pte. L. G. Bursill, 540A were both wounded by bomb. They were left in a shell in “No Man’s Land”, the other two in the party, names forgotten, got away. They were 5 to 6 yds. in front of enemy’s post at the time. Lt. Davis and Pte. Bursill were both reported alive by the two men who came in. We were relieved that night by 10th Battn. If alive he [2/Lt Davis] is a prisoner.

There is a critical issue here. If in fact both men were only wounded and then captured by the Germans in the outpost directly in front of their lines, it is at least possible that, rather than being taken prisoner, they were killed on the spot. Private Trevenna, the batman to Lt. Davis, made a point of stating that Davis had ‘German decorations in his pockets’. Moreover, the following witness statement in relation to Bursill’s fate that day suggests that the German troops could well have decided to apply some sort of summary ‘justice’. The statement was made by Private. Kilbey (7037) on 15/8/18,

This was at Strazeele in front of Merris. He [Bursill] went over the top on a raid on the Boche lines with Lt Davis and Cpl MacKay. They got their post and gained objective but two of the party were missing. I saw the Boche bombing them and open up machine gun fire. This was about daybreak, and I saw everything from my watching post. I saw Lt Davis hit but Bursill took cover in a shell hole. Bursill may have been taken prisoner but he was dressed up from all sorts of things taken from German prisoners, German boots, German waistcoat and Fritz revolver and I therefore think he was killed. We went out afterwards but could not get closer because of the machine guns.

Back in the Shire of Alberton, news of Lieutenant Davis was reported in early July 1918. In the editorial section of 5/7/18, the following appeared:

Mrs. Davis of Womerah, received word on Wednesday that her husband, Lieutenant H. Davis, was wounded on 16th June, and was missing. This soldier, who may be a prisoner, was formerly in the employ of Mr. D. Wright, Carrajung, and played with the Yarram Football Club.

And on 10/7/18 there was further confirmation:

We learn from yesterday’s dailies that H. S Davis, North Devon is reported wounded and missing …

The question of Lieutenant Davis’s fate was not resolved until the end of the War. News that his status had been changed from ‘wounded and missing’ to ‘killed in action’ was reported in the paper on 28/1/19. The same report noted that his parents were in Hobart and that he left behind his wife (Myrtle) and daughter, Phyllis.

Earlier, it was only after Lieutenant Davis had been reported wounded and missing that his parents in Tasmania had learned that he was married and had a child. There was a younger brother – Lieutant James Davis – in 12 Battalion, who also rose through the ranks. In fact, he was also sent to Officers’ Training College in England, just one month before his brother disappeared at Strazeele. The younger brother survived the War and returned to Australia in December 1919.

James Davis heard about his wounded and missing brother and wrote to his parents back in Hobart. Not surprisingly, the father – (Ret) Captain James Davis – wrote to the AIF asking why he had not been informed. On 23 August he wrote,

Have received letter from my son Lieut. James Davis who states that his brother Lieut. Herbert S. Davis 5th Battalion was wounded and missing about June 12th. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we have not been notified from your Office and would be pleased if you will kindly give us all the information in reference to same.

On the face of it, the lack of communication was a major failing. However, Base Records replied on 29/8/18 that –

I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 23rd inst., and in reply to state your son, 2nd Lieutenant H. S. Davis, 5th Battn., is reported wounded and missing since 16/6/18.
Notification of the above report was on 2/7/18 conveyed to the Military Commandant, Melbourne, for transmission to next-of-kin, shown as Wife, Mrs M, Davis, c/o Mrs McKenzie, Whitelaws Track, Devon North, Victoria, who will receive advice of any further cable reports which may come to hand regarding your son.

There are, of course, many unknowns in the relationship between the young family in Gippsland and the in-laws in Hobart. However, it is worth pointing out 2/Lt Davis did make a will, in June 1917, and in it he nominated his father – Captain James Davis – as the sole beneficiary. He appears to have been caught between loyalty to his old and new families.

In the division of the military estate, the wife received the medals, memorial scroll and plaque and the actual ‘Commission for the late 2nd Lieutenant H. S. Davis, 5th Battalion’.  Through BP Johnson – Barrister and Solicitor, Yarram – she wrote (13/6/19) requesting the personal kit, only to be informed (17/6/19) that it was to be … forwarded to Captain J. Davis, Hobart, Tasmania, he being the sole legatee under deceased’s will. The kit comprised:

One brown valise (sealed) containing:- 1 wallet, Photos, 1 Small Diary, Postcards, Ties, 1 “Sam Browne” Belt, 1 Pr Puttees, Socks, Collars, 1 Handkerchief, 1 Safety Razor, 1 Razor Strop, 2 Prs boots, 1 Towel, 1 White Sweater, 1 Haversack, 1 S.D. Tunic, 1 Pr S.D. Slacks, 1 Pr Breeches.

There are two other pieces of correspondence in the file. The first was a letter written in April 1918 from a Miss Marjorie Oke (?) – possibly Gladys Marjorie Oke, born 1899 – of Flemington. The letter to Base Records asked for contact details for H S Davis. The two were obviously corresponding. Perhaps he had met her when he was in Melbourne in the period before embarkation.

Would you kindly oblige me with H. S. Davis’s (Tasmania) proper address, his previous was
No. 13941
Private H. S. Davis
1st Field Ambulance A.M.C.
But since then he has been in Cambridge College England, and obtained his commission.
I received a letter from him this mail, stating he has sent me, his new address, but unfortunately I have not received it, as the mail was on the boat that was sunk. Hoping you will let me know it at your earliest convenience.

Base Records replied, with the address, two days later.

The second letter was written much later – 1966 – and it suggests that relations between the young family 2/Lt Davis left behind in Gippsland and his own parents and siblings remained difficult, or at the very least there was little communication between them. At the time (1966), the child – Phyllis – of Herbert Davis and Myrtle McKenzie would have been 51 years old. The letter also suggests that the family in Hobart did, subsequently, send the personal kit to the wife in Gippsland. The writer was Mrs Elvera Cullinger, younger sister of Herbert Davis.

As a Trustee for some money left by my parents to be given to their grand-child Phyllis Davis, I would solicit your help in helping me to trace this young lady through the last address, or otherwise address, left by my brother who was later reported missing at Strazeele in the first world war.
My father died in 1933 & my mother in ’59.
I am getting on in years & feel this matter should be settled as soon as possible. …
My brothers name is Herbert Stanley Davis, son of Capt. James Davis Hobart (Mrs Violet Ella).
I understand he married a Myrtle MacKenzie (sic) of Yarram. We knew nothing of this wedding until after he was reported missing. Our informant was from military Headquarters as far as I know (I was a child at the time). She [the wife] received the personal effects.
My brother served first in the Ambulance Brigade later being transferred & when missing it was as a Lieutenant.
I will be very grateful for any help you can give me in this search

2/Lt HS Davis’s name appears on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. His name also features on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It also appears on the memorial for the Carrajung Residents.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for DAVIS Herbert Stanley
Roll of Honour: Herbert Stanley Davis
First World War Embarkation Roll: Herbert Stanley Davis
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Herbert Stanley Davis

 

 

WILSON Thomas Anderton 3984
6 B DoW 16/6/18

Thomas Wilson was another of approximately 100 young men born in the United Kingdom who enlisted in the AIF from the Shire of Alberton in WW1. The majority of these were working as farm labourers in the district before their enlistment.

Thomas Wilson was born in Beetham, Westmoreland (Cumbria). His mother – Dora Agnes Varley – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour and on it she indicated that her son came to Australia aged 22. When he enlisted in July 1915 he was nearly 24 so it appears he came to Australia in late 1913 or early 1914. The mother recorded his school simply as ‘Beetham’ and she listed his occupation as ‘agricultural labourer’. There had been no previous military service. He was single and his religion was given as Church of England.

Thomas Wilson enlisted in Melbourne on 20/7/15. On his enlistment form he stated that he had not previously been ‘rejected’ but there is a MT 1486/1 for him suggesting that he had been rejected earlier in 1915. His occupation was listed as ‘farm hand’. He gave his mother’s address – Sedgwick, Kendal, Westmoreland – but on the embarkation roll there was an address from the local area: Miss E. Smithers, Mack Street, Yarram, Gippsland. In fact, this should have read: Mrs Emma Smithies, Mack’s Creek, Yarram. This must have been his boarding address.

There was a formal farewell for him from the district which was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 29/10/15, under the headline: Another Soldier

Yesterday [28/10/15] word was hurriedly sent round that another soldier was to be farewelled, and, soon after 10.30 a number of townsmen and visitors assembled at the shire hall.
Mr. Elder was asked to take command as chairman, and introduced Private T. A. Wilson as from the Old Country, who had enlisted to fight with the Australians. He presented him with a card and medallion, and hoped he would live long to enjoy the honor of victory.
Mr. B. P. Johnson stated Private Wilson had been in the employ of Mr. W. H. McKenzie, who would have come in to the farewell function but for indisposition. He wished him a successful career, and hoped to welcome him back to Australia with the other boys.
Mr. Lakin, as a fellow countryman, wished him Godspeed. Mr. Black stated that of the 230 recruits from this district a large proportion were immigrants from the Old Country. He trusted the young Englishman would return to the district.
After a rousing “Jolly Good Fellow” and cheers, Private Wilson thanked them for the farewell. He felt he was doing his duty …

William Hodgson McKenzie was a local farmer with over 300 acres at Lower Bulga/Mack’s Creek.

Private Wilson joined as a reinforcement for 6 Battalion. He embarked for overseas 4 months later (23/11/15). The record of his service in Egypt is sketchy but it looks as if there was one period of hospitalisation. He left Alexandria in late March 1916 (29/3/16) and reached Marseilles on 4/4/16. It appears he finally joined 6 Battalion in the field one month later on 5/5/16.

At the start of 1917 (23/1/17) he was admitted to hospital with quinsy but was discharged and rejoined his unit after about a fortnight (7/3/17). There were 2 periods of leave in the UK: one from 31/8/17 to 12/9/17 and the second from 11/2/18 to 2/3/18. Presumably he caught up with his family at these times. Then on 4/6/18 he was wounded – gunshot wound to the face – and admitted to hospital where he died from his wounds on 16/6/18. He was buried in the Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France. This particular cemetery only opened in June 1918. It served the many military hospitals in that part of France.

There are only limited details in 6 Battalion’s war diary for June 4 1918. At 8 p.m. on that day the battalion moved into the line in the Strazeele sector to relieve 11 Battalion; but the relief was not without incident –

Whilst our boys were moving up, the lines of communication were heavily barraged by the enemy, this made the relief very difficult; we suffered 20 casualties.

Presumably, Private Wilson was one of the 20 casualties.

It appears the family in England were advised of the death about one week after it occurred (27/6/18). On the enlistment form the mother – Mrs D Varley – had been given as next of kin and a will made in July 1917 named the mother – Mrs. Varley, Old Row, Sedgwick, Nr. Kendal, Westmorland, England. – as the sole beneficiary. All the medals, and memorial plaque and scroll, and details of the grave were sent to the mother. Personal kit was returned to the mother in July 1918 but there was no separate list of the items.

The mother wrote (August 1918) to the AIF in London stating that her son’s ‘pre-military effects’ had been left in the custody of a Mr W. H. Mackenzie (sic) , Tanna Valley (sic), Lower Bulga, South Gippsland’. Acting on her behalf, the AIF in London requested that the property be collected and then sent to them in London. There is a copy of correspondence, probably October 1918, from W. H. McKenzie of ‘Calrossie’, Yarram, indicating he had handed over all the belongings of T. A. Wilson to the Superintendent of police at Yarram. It appears that this property reached the mother in England in May 1919.

Lastly, there is another piece of correspondence in the file that indicates at least one person was sufficiently close enough to Thomas Wilson, from his time in Yarram, to be concerned about his fate. It was from Mrs Emma Smithies of Mack’s Creek, Yarram – as indicated it seems likely that he boarded with her before enlistment – and was written in July 1918. In part, the letter requested,

As this is the first I knew of No. 3984. Pte. T. A. Wilson being deceased would you, if you could, kindly let me know any particulars.

In the 10 years after the War there was still a strong enough collective memory of Private Wilson to ensure that his name was included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It was also included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Back in England, his family ensured that his name was included on the memorials in his original village (Beetham). His name, – as a member of 6 Battalion, 1 Australian Division – is included on the memorial at the entrance to the village and also in the local church (St. Michael and All Angels Church).

Private T A Wilson 3984, courtesy Yarram and District Historical Society

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WILSON Thomas Anderson
Roll of Honour: Thomas Anderton Wilson
First World War Embarkation Roll: Thomas Anderton Wilson

167. The search for ‘eligibles’, May 1918

It appears that by the end of 1917, the local recruiting committee for the Shire of Alberton had ceased to operate. As had happened after the failure of the first referendum, the members of the recruiting committee no doubt considered that their efforts, in the face of what they saw as national apathy and opposition, were neither valued nor effective. From the start of 1918, Shire of Alberton council papers indicate that all correspondence from the State Recruiting Committee was being tabled at council meetings, suggesting that the Council itself had taken over responsibility for recruiting. Also, there is no correspondence in the relevant Shire of Alberton archives that deal with the local (Yarram) recruiting committee past early September 1917. On that occasion, there was a letter from the regional recruiting officer, based in Sale, seeking funds to cover the fitting out of a waggon – … of a nature similar to a drovers waggon – that he could use to travel to the more remote ‘back blocks’ so that he could … gain access to eligibles remote from the railway. He was seeking funds from all 23 local recruiting committees in Gippsland. The proposal was that after the trip the waggon would be sold and the money raised would be returned to the committees. The officer – Lt Radclyffe – received the following, rather terse, reply from G Black, Secretary of the Yarram Recruiting Committee. It was dated 6/9/17.

In reply to your letter of the 3rd inst., soliciting a contribution towards a turn out to travel the back blocks, I have to inform you that this Committee has no funds.

From the end of 1917, the only time that the local recruiting committee reprised its role, albeit in a limited way, was in May 1918. This was when the (Victorian) State Recruiting Committee launched a recruiting drive focused on country Victoria. The scheme was referred to as the Itinerary Training Scheme and, over a period of two months, 3 recruiting teams covered the entire state. Each team consisted of approximately 35 AIF soldiers, with an army band of 16 members and a ‘platoon’ of another 15 soldiers – made up of both returned men and those about to embark – as well as a small headquarters staff. Each team also had a Victorian federal politician – J H Lister MHR, J W Leckie MHR and G A Maxwell MHR.

The 3 teams travelled from country town to country town – normally via train – and over a period of between 2 and 4 days, depending on the size of the town, conducted a recruiting drive. There was a standard program for each visit which included some form of civic reception for the AIF members, at least one major concert, several recruiting appeals, a major march/procession though the town and a (Protestant) memorial service as well as a requiem mass organised by the local Catholic priest.

The Itinerary Training Scheme – sometimes referred to as the Itinerary Recruiting Scheme – was specifically targeted at ‘eligibles’ and, in theory, the intention was to identify all the local eligibles and make a personal appeal to each of them. But this was difficult, particularly where the eligibles resided in outlying areas and also, of course, when the eligibles did not want to be contacted. The following extract from the 27/6/18 edition of the Swan Hill Guardian and Lake Boga Advocate highlights some of the challenges. As indicated, J W Leckie was one of the 3 members of federal parliament attached to the recruiting teams.

Mr. J. W. Leckie, M.H.R., who is touring the country with one of the parties under the itinerary training scheme, tells some amusing stories of the experiences of the party.

At a small country town out of Ballarat, members of the party were “beating” the outlying parts for eligibles, when a baker’s cart was seen standing outside a house about 100 yards away. As the party approached, an athletic looking young driver came out of the house, and was about to mount the step, when he saw the “khaki” in the distance, and instantly disappeared. The party was mystified at his quick disappearance, but when the door of the cart was opened he was found crouched among the loaves.

In another instance a couple of soldiers visited a farm house to interview an eligible whose name had been submitted by the recruiting committee. As the soldiers approached the farm house they saw a young fellow bolt into the stables. They searched for him, and eventually he was discovered hiding under a bundle of bran bags in the loft.

Two eligibles were reported in another town to be working in a garage, and the recruiting sergeants paid the garage an unannounced visit. The eligibles, however, got the “tip,” and the sergeants saw them scale a high fence and escape into an adjoining property. They did not return to work until the party left the district.

There were claims in the media at the time that the Itinerary Training Scheme was very successful and up to 500 men were recruited. However, the numerous accounts in country newspapers suggest otherwise. They indicate that while the visit of the AIF party prompted feelings of patriotism in the local community – and certainly the soldiers were well received – the actual number of eligibles who could be persuaded to enlist was very small. As will become obvious, this was certainly the case in relation to Yarram.

The Itinerary Training Scheme came to the Shire of Alberton in mid May 1918. And at this point, the local council appears to have requested that a separate committee be formed to manage the arrangements. This was when the previous recruiting committee was reformed. B P Johnson called a public meeting at the start of May and a committee was set up – it gave itself the title Itinerary Recruiting Committee – with the sole purpose of organising the visit. The key people involved in the committee were B P Johnson, E T Benson, J W Fleming, H C Evans and W F Lakin and, with the single exception of Herbert C Evans, all of these had been involved in the previous local recruiting committees.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative outlined the agreed program in its edition of 1/5/18. The AIF team was to arrive at Alberton Railway Station on Monday 13/5/18 at 3.00 PM. Jonson’s committee had to organise a fleet of private cars to transport the men to Yarram. The men were to be dropped on the outskirts of town where they were to form up and then march, with the band leading, down Commercial Street to the Shire Hall for a civic reception. The committee had to make sure that the town was decorated with flags and bunting. Businesses were to be closed and the townsfolk were expected to join in. After the civic reception the men were to be taken to their billets – the organisation of billets for all the men was another responsibility of the committee – and then later that evening they were to stage another town parade which immediately preceded the major concert to be put on by them. In the morning of the next day -Tuesday 14/5/18 – there was to be another town march and a special Appeals Parade. The afternoon was set aside for what was termed ‘Personal appeals to eligibles’. Again, the committee was to organise transport for this so that the AIF recruiters could go to the outlying townships. Presumably, the committee – or perhaps the council – also provided names and addresses. That evening there was to be another parade and recruiting rally back in Yarram. On the Wednesday, 15/5/18, the Catholic community was to organise a requiem mass in the morning, and this was to be followed by another parade and appeals. In the afternoon, yet another parade was to herald the 3.00 PM Memorial Service which was to be held at the Showgrounds or, if the weather was bad, in the Shire Hall. That evening there was to be another parade and then the final recruiting rally. On the Thursday – 16/5/18 – the team was to leave from Alberton for Leongatha at 11.45 AM, after they had been transported by private cars from Yarram, and after the final parade set down for 10.30 AM. Obviously, the whole affair required a significant degree of planning and preparation. The so-called Itinerary Recruiting Committee was set up as a short-term working group and it disbanded after the visit of the AIF.

The local paper featured extensive reporting of the events associated with the recruiting drive in Yarram from 13 to 16 May, 1918. The reports appeared in the editions of 15/5/18 and 17/5/18.

The AIF contingent arrived as planned and, having been transported by private cars from Alberton, the men formed up and marched into town, with the AIF band leading. The town’s main street had been extensively decorated with flags and the troop was followed by a large number of townspeople. The men were under the command of a Lieutenant Smith.

The civic reception incorporated afternoon tea and the men were welcomed by the Shire President – Cr T J McGalliard – who hoped that their efforts at recruiting would be successful. McGalliard highlighted what he saw as the dire situation on the Western Front and claimed that the British army was … now far too small an army to stand up against the mighty German hordes. He urged that the struggle had to be maintained until the American troops could make the critical difference. Referring directly to recruiting, he commented proudly on the extent to which the locals had done their duty and enlisted. But he also declared that … every man who was fit and eligible … needed to enlist.

Cr Barlow then expressed gratitude for the size of the crowd at the event and expressed pride in the AIF members who had joined them. He noted that some of them … were going to the front … and he declared that everyone owed ‘a debt of gratitude’ to the returned men also there. Another councillor, Cr O’Connor, expressed anger at the current political situation – he appeared to blame Hughes for not moving quickly enough on second conscription referendum – and frustration over those who refused to enlist:

There were plenty who had good reason for not enlisting, but there were hundreds of thousands of shirkers still in the country, and would be there after the other men had done their duty. They could not be induced to join the colours. They were going to let the other fellow do their work.

B P Johnson also spoke and gave the example of Port Albert where, he claimed, there was not one ‘eligible’ left. He declared that the rest of the district had to copy the example of Port Albert. The claim that every eligible in Port Albert had already enlisted was common at the time.

The officer in command, Lt Smith, thanked everyone for their hospitality. He declared that he was more optimistic than the speakers who had preceded him and was sure that the people of Gippsland would support recruiting. He noted that Gippsland was ‘God’s own country’. He also explained how he had a competition going with the equivalent team then in Echuca. He reassured them that Gippsland was just in front and he declared that he would be able to rely on the local people and … was sure that the citizens of Yarram would be second to none.

That night what was billed as a ‘patriotic concert’ was held in Thompson’s Hall. The local paper described how when the stage curtains were drawn back there was a ‘big display of flags of the Allies’ and seated on the stage were the uniformed men. The AIF Band then struck up the National Anthem.

There was a strong negative tone to all the speeches that night. The way the paper described it, the speakers appeared to vent their frustration over the failure of the 2 conscription referenda and therefore the need to appeal for voluntary enlistments. For Imperial Loyalists, the situation was one of national shame and typical of this sentiment were the opening remarks from the Shire President (McGalliard). He claimed to have received recently 3 letters from relatives who were serving overseas. From one letter he quoted the writer’s belief that … Australia was divided into one lot white, and one lot a dirty, motley yellow. From the second letter he quoted the claim that … Australians did not think as much of their soldiers as the Canadians did, and what was more – it was true. The third letter was from a doctor … who was so disgusted at Australia fighting over petty things instead of considering the sacrifice being made by the boys at the front that he stated “that if it was not for you, mother, I would not come back to Australia again.”

According to the local paper, the most common argument presented that night was the claim that those who had enlisted had been promised, at the time they enlisted, they would be reinforced, yet now that promise was being broken. The chair, in his opening remarks, … emphasised the great need of sending reinforcements to relieve those over there, or they would either have to die or be maimed. The local MP – J McLachlan MLA – one of the invited speakers, declared:

The men who went away had gone with an assured promise, but had not been reinforced to the extent that they ought to be.

Sergeant Perry, a returned soldier and one of the key AIF recruiters there that night, referred back to the very start of the War and declared that:

The one and only thing they [the initial volunteers] were told was that they would be supported. That was the obligation and responsibility placed on those who remained. Not one of them raised any objection to the Government and the pledge that those men would be supported to the last man and and last shilling.

Sergeant Perry went on to labour the point that the lack of reinforcements was having dire effects on the men at the front. He noted that … Those Australians who were fighting in France were becoming physical wrecks for the want of a spell. Some of them had been in the battle since since 1914. He then proceeded to give personal examples of the effects that the lack of reinforcements had. He said he knew of … one boy who was wounded ten times, and on the last occasion had to have an arm and leg amputated. He then made the point that this lad … should have been back 18 months ago. Perry gave statistics on the extent to which casualties had more than decimated battalions. He claimed that of the 1,000 men of 2 Battalion – the unit he left Australia with in October 1914 – only 5 originals remained.

Other themes touched on that night included the bravery and very recent success of the AIF in Europe which had … averted a calamity by driving back the Huns. There was also the usual contempt for those ‘cowards’ who refused to enlist as … the meanest things God ever gave breath. Building on the fear of the ‘enemy within’ and the direct threat posed by Germany – given more credibility at that point by the talk of German raiders off the coast and the claimed activities of local agents and spies – speakers referred to Hughes’ comments about the War being … on our shores, showing that the Germans were at work here. There was also the claim that Australia was an obvious target for Germany acquisition:

This country was most suitable for the enemy with all its great resources, and with a limited population of 5,000,000 the enemy desired this country.

Speakers also criticised those who wanted a ‘negotiated peace’:

Some people were crying out for peace by negotiation, but no man in Yarram could raise his head if they had such a peace. What they wanted was a peace by victory by drawing from all sources of the Empire that man power which they think is available.

On the night, people would have been confused over the question of how many eligibles still remained in the district. The conventional wisdom was that there were very few ‘eligible’ men left in the district. As noted, B P Johnson, for example, was fond of citing Port Albert as an example of a town in the district where there was not one single eligible left. There was also the high number of recorded enlistments from the area. The previous series of posts covering enlistments associated with the Shire of Alberton puts the number of enlistments to the end of 1917 as close to 750. Also, figures from the State Recruiting Committee of Victoria at the end of 1917 revealed that, between January and December 1917, Gippsland had been the country electorate with the highest number of enlistments. The common belief was that country Victoria had done very well with recruiting, Gippsland had been the most successful of all the country regions and that, by contrast, metropolitan Melbourne was the place where all the eligibles resided. This was the gist of comments made at the concert that night by J McLachlan MLA:

In Melbourne there were 20,000 eligible men, who were called upon daily to take the places of their brothers, and there were many eligibles in Gippsland; although Gippsland had done remarkably well.

However this conventional wisdom was turned on its head by comments made by Sergeant Perry who claimed he … knew from official figures that in the subdivision of Yarram there were 839 eligible men and fit to go. On top of that, they had failed to send 65 recruits a year. They had failed badly.

On Perry’s figures, the Shire of Alberton generally, and Yarram specifically, had major concentrations of men who refused to enlist. In fact, on his figures there were more eligibles still in the area than men who had enlisted. Perry’s figures came from a Commonwealth report prepared for the Department of Defence in April 1918. It claimed to show – by subdivision of federal electorates – the ‘Estimated Number of Males between 19 and 44 years at present in Australia’ . It was used, as part of the Itinerary Training Scheme, to highlight just how many eligibles remained. It came with the appeal that … it behoves every individual in the Commonwealth to do his or her best to induce the eligible men to offer their services as early as possible… [letter from State Recruiting Committee of Victoria, 22/4/18]. But the figures were only estimates and, given all the variables involved, vague estimates at that.

Overall, there was certainly no evidence that there were 839 eligibles just in the Yarram subdivision. When the Exemption Court had been held in Yarram in October 1916 – see Post 93 – there were 124 applications for exemption and, based on this figure, it seems reasonable to argue that the number of eligible men who had not enlisted was in the general order of one hundred. Nor is there any evidence that there was an isolated, outlying settlement where there was a concentration of eligibles. Moreover, as has been noted previously, many of these so-called ‘eligibles’ failed medicals when they did try to enlist. The preoccupation with identifying and shaming eligibles meant that under-age and already ‘rejected’ young men were often unfairly targeted. The other complication with country towns was the number of itinerant workers who moved though the district.

In fact, events at the concert that night helped demonstrate the lack of eligibles in the district. At the end of the patriotic concert, after all the exhortations, the call went out and 16 ‘men’ stepped forward. Dr Rutter examined the men afterwards and, immediately, 7 failed the medical. Of the others, some were rejected because they were underage and others must have failed subsequent medicals. In the end, only 4 of the 16 were accepted as genuine recruits; and of the 4 it appears that only 2 – George Clarke from Wonwron and Silvester Callister form Devon North – actually enlisted. Admittedly, eligible men who had no intention of enlisting were not going to attend such a ‘patriotic concert’ and draw attention to themselves but, for all the qualifications, by that point in the War there was not a large pool of eligibles in the Shire of Alberton. At the same time, in the heightened paranoia and patriotism of the time, the quest for eligibles was relentless.

Outside the men who answered the call at the patriotic concert, there were only an additional two or three local men who volunteered in this period of mid May 1918. Even if this additional handful of enlistments was influenced by the presence of the AIF recruiting party in Yarram, it is clear that the overall success of the visit was very limited.

Those attending the concert that night were treated to a full program of popular entertainment. The formula of items had been tried and tested all over country Victoria and the show was designed both to attract the locals and make the soldiers on stage the focus. Newspaper accounts from other towns stressed how much the locals enjoyed having the soldiers in their town and how entertaining the concerts and parades proved. The type of entertainment that featured in Yarram that night was recorded, in detail, by the local paper. For example, after the opening remarks by the Shire President, the paper reported:

The A.I.F. Band then contributed a selection, followed by a chorus “One Man went to Row” by the members of the A.I.F, which was received with loud encores, and they sent out another volley, “Has Anybody here seen Kelly.” The local humorist, Mr. C. E. King-Church, amused the audience with “I had a row with my Wife last night.” The chairman then introduced Private S. Cooke, the hand-cuff king, who gave some clever exhibitions, releasing himself from a straight-jacket, and ropes, chains and hand-cuffs, after being securely (?) fastened by a body of gentlemen from the hall. His feats brought forth rounds of applause. Another selection was rendered by the A.I.F Band.

And interspersed between the calls for recruits, dire warnings about the state of the fighting in France, praise for the men of the AIF and the haranguing of eligibles, there was an ongoing series of popular items. Some of the items would have appeared very exciting, particularly for any children in the audience. There was certainly a martial theme to it all:

Mr. Evans sang “John Bull” in his capable style, and meeting with loud encores favoured the audience with “When the Boys Come Back.” An exhibition of bayonet charging was given by several members of the A.I.F. Mr. King-Church again humorously treated his hearers by singing “Picking Poppies.” Another band selection was rendered by the Military Band.

The other key event that was written up in the local paper (17/5/18) was the memorial service held the day after the concert. It was held – indoors because of the rain – in the afternoon after the Catholic requiem mass had been held in the morning. Returned men were seated on the stage with the clergy. The visiting AIF band provided the music.

The 3 Protestant ministers involved were Rev A R Raymond (Anglican), Rev S Williams (Presbyterian) and Rev C J Walklate (Methodist). Rev Raymond’s son had been killed in action (9/4/17) and Rev Walklate’s brother had also been killed (22/10/17). Rev Williams drew attention to these deaths when in his opening remarks he noted he was … fully conscious that they had on the platform ministers whose family circle had been broken as a result of the war.

During the service, the names of 49 local men who had been killed were read out by Rev Walklate.

The first prayer was for ‘King and Country’ and the focus in the address delivered by Rev Williams was the Empire. As noted previously, many times, Protestantism was the religion of the Empire. Williams tied the deaths of the local men to unquestioning support for Britain and the Empire:

When he read that list of the dead they remembered they were men who stood as soldiers irrespective of creed or denomination to maintain and reserve for Britain the glory of her exalted position, a position that had come by her noble work.

He reminded the audience how they had to … remember their boys as they remember great men and their sons as men who stood to make Britain what she is. These men have handed their life over for the whole world. They were men who had, unflinchingly, answered the call from the ‘mother country’:

When the shadow began to fall on the British Empire, as it crept away and reached to Australia, and the call came from the old mother, the boys in their hearts turned to their parents and said they were going to the war.

Williams set the proud reputation of the Australian soldier within its Imperial context:

Another characteristic in the Australian soldier was that he could take his place alongside the armies of the world. They possessed courage that made them not afraid to take their part. Courage of the kind that General Gordon possessed when he was in the midst of the savage races of Africa. Their courage was shown on Gallipoli, and in France where the men went forth to raid the camps of the enemy at night. In the words of Nelson, who said “We are brothers, we are men, and we conquer to save.” That was the spirit. They were not fighting for the extermination of any race, but liberty, peace and righteousness in all its quarters, to bring about the universal brotherhood of the world.

The focus on Empire was an absolute given in any recruiting campaign. As an example, in early January 1918, when the State Recruiting Committee of Victoria wrote to all the local recruiting committees – at a time when it was trying to re-establish confidence in the voluntary system after the defeat of the second referendum – it made a classic declaration of commitment to the Empire:

It would be superfluous to expatiate on our duty to the Empire because in addition to our being an integral part of the Empire, no sacrifice made by us would be adequate to compensate the Motherland for the assistance and protection she has always unconditionally given.

As indicated, the memorial service – and requiem mass – were intended as set pieces in the overall theatre of the Itinerary Training Scheme and Lieutenant Smith, from the visiting AIF party, gave a short appeal for recruits:

He asked all in this time of grave crisis, when the fate of the Empire hung in the balance to realise their duty.

The AIF band played the popular and moving ‘Dead March’ and the service concluded with the National Anthem.

The Itinerary Training Scheme over April – May 1918 was, in theory at least, designed to boost recruiting by sending out 3 specialist AIF teams to cover all of country Victoria and track down all eligibles. Again, in theory, when these eligibles were confronted with the realities of the present state of the War and their innate sense of patriotic duty was revealed to them, by way of a personal interview with the AIF recruiters, they would enlist.

The actual experiences in the Shire of Alberton in mid May 1918 suggests that the scheme failed. Certainly, estimates of the number of eligibles were overblown, at least in part because many who were seen as eligible had no chance of meeting the medical standard or they were underage and their parents refused to give permission. Moreover, the previous 4 years of recruiting had shown that locals in the Shire of Alberton had enlisted in great numbers and it was definitely not the case that there remained a vast, untapped pool of eligible recruits. Doubtless, there were some genuine eligibles in the local area but, on the face of it, the visit of the contingent from the Itinerary Training Scheme appeared to be out of all proportion to the potential number of recruits. At the same time, the visit by the AIF was a wonderful opportunity for the locals to demonstrate their support for the War effort, their belief in the greatness, newly won, of the AIF itself, their sense of the debt they owed to the soldiers and, of course, their loyalty to the Empire. Moreover in a local community that had – twice – strongly supported the Government’s push for conscription and constantly proclaimed its total support for the War effort, many would have seen the problem with recruiting as not of their making. They were more than happy to participate in the likes of patriotic concerts and support all recruiting appeals, but they hardly felt guilty for the overall situation.

One week after the AIF visit to Yarram, the following letter appeared in the local paper. It was signed by B P Johnson, Chairman and E T Benson, Hon Secretary of the Itinerary Recruiting Campaign Committee:

Sir, – It has been brought under the notice of the committee that a certain gentleman in the town has been accused of supplying names of eligibles to the recruiting officers. This is altogether untrue and in order to remove any misconception, we are directed by the committee to inform the public through your column, that the gentleman gave no information of that kind at all.

There was no further correspondence on the matter and no other related report in the local paper. The claim in the letter is hard to understand. As noted, the very purpose of the whole Itinerary Training Scheme was to identify and then confront all the eligibles in a district. Local recruiting committees were meant to provide names and it was the role of committees such as the one chaired by Johnson to provide the transport so that teams of recruiters could visit the eligibles, even if they resided outside the town limits. Even if the local (Yarram) recruiting committee was no longer actively functioning, its previous work – to the end of 1917 – would have meant that the names of local eligibles were known. Moreover, notices like the one below appeared in virtually every edition of the local paper. Everyone’s attention was focused on the local eligibles. Therefore it seems odd that there were these claims and counter claims over the actions of a single – unnamed – individual in revealing the names of eligibles. Perhaps Johnson and Couston were concerned that just one individual had been singled out as the guilty party. However, overall, the letter merely confuses the larger reality that extraordinary pressure was being applied to force the enlistment of those young men identified as eligibles.

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 28/6/18 p4.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Shire of Alberton Archives (viewed  Yarram, May 2013)

File: Correspondence etc of Recruiting Committee. Formed, April 26th 1917 (Box 379)

State Recruiting Committee of Victoria

Circular Memo No. 226, 10/1/18

Circular Memo No. 287, 22/4/18

166. Smoke Social April 25, 1918

The local RSSILA branch held a ‘smoke social’ to coincide with Anzac Day celebrations in April 1918. It was reported in detail in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1 May 1918. It was an all-male affair.

The function was significant for 2 reasons. The first was the singular focus on the issue of repatriation and the second was the apparently eclectic mix of guests, featuring as it did a Victoria Cross recipient who was a pilot in the Royal Australian Flying Corps – F H McNamara – together with a small party of Royal Australian Navy personnel. On the face of it, none of these guests had any association with the Shire of Alberton.

Repatriation

By early 1918, the quest for repatriation had become a national holy grail. Generally, there were 2 broad target groups. There was the increasing number of men being repatriated to Australia for medical discharge, because of wounds, injury or illness. These were men returning to civilian life who were going to face all manner of difficulties. They might face further periods of hospitalisation and treatment. There was the challenge – or impossibility – of securing employment. They would have to live with ongoing disabilities – amputated limbs, blindness, chronic disease – and in general they were still relatively very young. They were to be forced to become reliant on others – on either a temporary or more permanent basis – and in many cases this burden would fall on the parents. If this first group was not ‘looked after’ their position would be dire. The second group of those for whom repatriation had become the national ideal was the much larger core of the AIF itself. These were the men who had ‘answered the call’ and proved themselves heroes. They were to return ‘soon’ and the Nation had to repay the debt owed them. As a minimum, it was totally unacceptable that such men would return to unemployment and hardship. Moreover, they had to be rewarded over those who had refused to enlist.

It is impossible to downplay the strength of the sense that there had to be some sort of national reckoning or settlement for those who had volunteered for the AIF. From April 1915, the Anzacs had been feted as super-humans. Their deeds and character had been celebrated constantly. Their reputation had been used as an integral element in the Government’s narrative of the War. It had been employed in every recruiting campaign and it had served as the essential backdrop in 2 conscription referenda where the basic message was that the heroes of the AIF had to be reinforced. Politically and morally, it was impossible for any government not to commit to repatriation.

But for all the commitment, by early 1918 there was considerable disquiet. It was clear that whatever form repatriation was to take, there was considerable confusion and little evidence that anything was being done. This disquiet was very evident at the Smoke Social held in Yarram in April 1918. As one speaker (G F Sauer) observed:

[Returned] Men had come to him and complained that they had to wait about for weeks before anything was done for them. Their pay was fizzling away and many of them were in want.

Not surprisingly, for many in the Shire of Alberton, the idea of repatriation involved putting the returned soldiers on the land. It was an appealing vision: the hero soldier could be rewarded by being assisted to set himself up as an independent farmer on a modest landholding. The qualities that had made the AIF such a formidable fighting force – toughness, resourcefulness, independence, mateship … – would be the same ones that would ensure success as the soldier transitioned, easily and even naturally, to the life of the farmer. The existing local farming community would welcome them eagerly and support them. It would be their chance to repay the debt. The increased economic activity would create a more prosperous and ever-growing community. Of course, the reality was that there were to be significant problems at every step of the way. The scheme would in time prove to be ruinous for many. Behind the idealism, the scheme was open to exploitation and even victimisation. But that night in Yarram, the dream of land for the returning men was paramount. Thomas Livingston MLA spoke for many:

Gippsland had done splendidly in regard to recruiting, and had perhaps sent more men than any other part of the State. The men were coming back and must have help. He wanted to know the number of men present who wanted land, and would use his best endeavours in Parliament to see they got it.

Later he declared, dramatically:

There was plenty of land about Yarram where the soldier could do well on. They were entitled to it and should get it if they wanted it.

But there were others who were keen to question the commitment of the State Government to the idea of soldier settlement. Councillor Barlow, talking immediately after Livingston, argued that, from his personal experience, the efforts of local councillors to facilitate land acquisitions were routinely blocked by the State Government. On the specific issue of land, he claimed that the very next morning he was going to ride … twenty or thirty miles to inspect land that had been offered the committee for repatriation purposes. But then he aded:

However, his past experience with the [State] Government was that it was bound up so tightly with red tape that many of the labors of local bodies went for nothing. The Government was making a farce of the repatriation problem. Let everyone be up and doing to assist those men who were sent away with so many promises of what was going to be done for them when they came back. There had been a succession of broken promises.

Clearly, the view of local government was that it was all the fault of the State Government. But then the very next speaker – B P Johnson – poured scorn on the commitment of the local council. Firstly, he complained that not enough councillors were present at the function and their absence was typical of people’s indifference to the plight of the returning men. Then he complained about the Shire’s indifference to creating the commemorative record of the men who had enlisted. Admittedly, this issue was not directly concerned with repatriation, but it was, in his mind, indicative of the Shire’s overall indifference to the status and plight of the men. It would certainly have hit raw nerves. It was yet another example of the gulf between what the men had been promised and what they were now experiencing:

As has been said before, there had been a lot of talk, but very little done. He [Johnson] had noticed that in nearly every other place honor rolls were in existence. They should have one to commemorate the men who had gone from the Shire of Alberton. The council had passed a resolution in 1915 to have this done, but so far it had not materialised. … The council should tackle the matter at once, and not only an honor roll, but a book with full particulars of each man who enlisted.

Other speakers that night identified those they saw as the ‘natural’ enemy of the men returning: those who had not ‘answered the call’. Speakers declared that these men – variously described that night as ‘rotters’ and ‘cold footers’ – posed a threat to the ideal of repatriation because they had taken the jobs of the men who enlisted and they would not easily give them up.

Other speakers sensed the indifference and opposition the returning men faced and urged them to ’stick together as a solid body and demand justice’. They needed to become political. Livingston’s advice was reported:

His advice to the Returned Soldiers’ Association was to hang together and vote together. They had the whole political situation in their own hands. They had sacrificed themselves for their country and should force Parliament to redeem its promises. This they could do if they combined together. He hoped to see the majority of seats held in Parliament by returned soldiers. They had fought and bled for their country, so should have the biggest say in the policy of the government.

There were other speakers keen to push an argument about class. Power and privilege could compromise the men’s access to a decent system of repatriation. J W Biggs, a local Catholic with 3 sons in the AIF, spoke on behalf of the Fathers’ League and his sentiments were very clear:

He [Biggs] had three sons at the front and trusted to see them back. As a British subject he appreciated the liberty of living under the flag. There were a lot who talked loyalty in Yarram and then subscribed half-a-crown to a patriotic fund. He endorsed the remarks of sticking together. Let the boys stick together and they would have the fathers solidly behind them. He did not know what might happen to his boys, but he had seen some examples of the injuries sustained and it was appalling. What had the men of wealth done? They went on to platforms and urged the boys to go and fight, while they stayed home and made money, and kept it. This class of man thought very little of other men’s lives as long as it saved their own money. He felt warm on this matter, and had he known as much when his last boy enlisted (he was only eighteen) he would have refused consent until he was twenty-one. He was disgusted the way the returned boys were treated. He hoped those who had promised that evening to do so much for the boys would keep their words and do their duty to the lads. (Applause.)

Finally, there was an immediate insight that night which demonstrated, at least for those there, just how poorly the returning men were being treated. It came in the speech by G F Sauer, late in proceedings. Sauer expressed disappointment that the function, which was obviously for the returned men, had in fact been put on by the men themselves. He believed that this arrangement was the reverse of what should have happened.

In regard to the entertainment that evening, he thought things were topsy-turvy. Instead of the boys giving the social it should have been the people. He trusted next year that the public would give the lads a rousing demonstration, and in the meantime assist in every way to make the lot of the returned men a happy one. (Applause.)

When Livingston, one of the invited guests, heard this, he expressed shock and stated he had been under the ‘misapprehension’ that the community had put on the event for the men. He even offered to pay out of his own pocket.

It is clear that the picture to emerge that night was not an overly positive one. Repatriation – and in particular the call to settle returned men on the land – was certainly both an ideal and an urgent priority – in the community and at every level of government – and there was, apparently, universal commitment to it. However, the lines of division, the political infighting, the threats of recrimination were all coming into focus. Repatriation, as a moral ideal, was about to be hammered into shape as a political compromise. The true worth of the heroes of Anzac had to be tested in the real world. As future posts will show, the situation was going to become ugly and in one of the greatest ironies, where all the advice that night was for the men to stick together and become their own political masters, in the end when the soldier settlement scheme finally became established in the Shire, it would be the ‘old guard’ – the local councillors, existing landholders and other established vested interests – who would have the real power. The heroes would have their repatriation, but only on the terms set by their betters: the generation of Imperial Loyalists who had waved them off.

McNamara, Frank Hubert VC

As indicated, one of the guests that night was Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC, Australian Flying Corps. He was then 23 yo and while he had seen service in the Middle East he had not been at Gallipoli. In fact, he drew attention to this fact in remarks which he made in praise of those men there that night who had been original Anzacs:

In looking round the hall he [McNamara] felt proud to see so many in khaki, and what thrilled him more was the number of boys with the letter A on their shoulder. That spoke volumes, and he would consider himself an honored man had he that letter on his uniform.

McNamara had been awarded the Victoria Cross in June 1917 for his action in rescuing another downed Australian pilot in March 1917. The downed Australian pilot was in danger of being shot or captured by the Turks when McNamara, himself already seriously wounded, landed and effected a very difficult and dangerous rescue. Subsequently, because of his serious wounds, McNamara had been repatriated to Australia in early 1918 and discharged on medical grounds. However in April 1918, he was appointed ‘Officer Commanding, Air Reconnaissance, South Gippsland’ and it was in that capacity that he attended the smoke social.

The background to McNamara’s appointment involved the German raider, Wolf. In March 1918 the Wolf returned to Germany with the revelation that it had sailed along the east coast of Australia. The captain even claimed to have have used the ship’s own aircraft – it carried a small plane – to fly over Sydney. Moreover, several months earlier, in July 1917, a ship – SS Cumberland – had sunk near the Victoria-NSW border in July 1917 after it hit a mine that had been laid by the German raider. Not surprisingly, the press in Australia whipped up considerable hysteria. To calm matters, Defence decided to mount a series of reconnaissance flights over the south-eastern sea lanes. There were 2 areas of operation: one covering the area round Eden and the other Wilson’s Promontory. For the aerial reconnaissance covering Wilson’s Promontory, Yarram was selected because it had the best location for an airfield. McNamara was appointed the Officer Commanding, and he was supported by radio operators from the RAN and a guard provided by the army. McNamara’s unit operated from 21/4/18 – just a few days before the smoke social on Anzac Day – to 10/5/18. The aircraft in use at Yarram – an FE2b – was damaged on one landing and was out of action for about one week. On the days that flights were not conducted McNamara’s detachment assisted civilian police in following up various reports of enemy activity in the area, e.g. sensational reports of local Germans using wireless to communicate with raiders off the coast. After his time in South Gippsland, McNamara took up duties as a flying instructor at Point Cook.

There must have been some embargo on the reporting of McNamara’s work in Yarram at the time because there is no report in the local paper of his mission. He was identified, but only as a guest, at the smoke social. Moreover, there was only one other reference in the local paper (8/5/18) and this occurred in a speech to students at the local school – Yarram State School – given by a school inspector. McNamara himself had been a state school teacher before enlistment and the inspector (Mr Greenwood) was keen to remind students of the fact:

The Education Department had supplied a big number of soldiers from within its ranks. Captain McNamara, the winner of the Victoria Cross, who was at present in Yarram, was an old school teacher.

Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC, courtesy of Australian War Memorial

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Australian Dictionary of Biography, McNamara Frank Hubert (Francis) 1894-1961

Coulthard-Clark, C 1997, McNamara VC: A Hero’s Dilemma, Air Power Studies Centre, RAAF Base Fairbairn ACT

Aviation Heritage Vol 25 No 4, Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia.

Watson, D 2000, ‘In the Shadow of the ‘Wolf’: Enemy Activity and the Internment of a Gippsland Fisheman’, Gippsland Heritage Journal, No. 24 pp. 2-9

For film of the type of plane (FE2b) flown by McNamara see here and here.