Category Archives: The dead

213. Sectarianism after WW1

This post provides an overview of the extent, nature and causes of the sectarianism that characterised life in the Shire of Alberton in the immediate years after the War. It is based largely on reports in the local media from the time.

Background

Sectarianism in the local community was hardly new, and it has been covered in numerous earlier posts. Essentially, in terms of causes, there was the centuries old clash between Roman Catholicism and British Protestantism. There were significant differences in terms of dogma, the role and responsibility of the related clergy and fundamentals such as the significance of the Bible in the quest for personal salvation. There was also a long, bitter history between the two religions that had featured persecution on both sides.

There was also the vexed issue of Ireland. In part, this represented a religious clash between Irish (Roman) Catholic and British Protestant. But it also covered Irish nationalism and the fight – both political and military – for an Ireland completely free of British control. There was also the determination by Protestants in the north (Ulster) to remain within the United Kingdom.

Prior to the War itself, there had been the threat of civil war in Ireland. It was largely averted by the British promise of Home Rule after the War. This background was covered in Post 67. Ireland, Empire and Irish-Australians. However after the War and, more particularly, the Easter Uprising of 1916, there was a different political dynamic in play. The 3 years immediately after the War featured armed conflict between Irish nationalists and the ‘occupying’ British troops and Auxiliaries. Then, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and the realisation of a form of Irish independence, the conflict with the British was superseded by a bitter civil war between those who supported the treaty and those who opposed it and wanted a complete break with the UK. Overall, the political situation in Ireland in the years immediately after the War was dire and the obvious hostility towards the British In Ireland was inevitably reflected amongst the Irish Catholic community in Australia. Where in 1914, Australians, including those from the Irish-Catholic community had flocked to join the defence of the Empire, by the end of the War – after two divisive conscription referenda, the Easter Rebellion and the British campaign to crush the rebellion and execute the ring leaders – support for the Empire amongst the Irish Catholic population in Australia had softened considerably. The dynamic situation in Ireland in the years after the War compromised Irish-Catholic Australians’ support for the Empire even more, particularly when Protestant clergy in Australia declared, in effect, that Roman Catholicism itself and the Pope posed an existential threat to the Empire. In part, this argument was a reworking of the conscription debates of 1916 and 1917.

Beyond several centuries of religious differences, the ripple effects of the ever-present conflict in Ireland and the strident claims of Catholic disloyalty to the Empire, there were still further drivers to the increasingly bitter sectarianism that characterised post WW1 Australia. As noted in several previous posts, schooling was a constant flash point and, arguably, its effect was even more pronounced in rural communities. Catholic efforts to establish their own schools, operated by religious orders such as the Sisters of St. Joseph, were viewed negatively by others in the the local community. The negativity was not just because of religious differences or the view that the local Catholics were choosing to remove their children from the local state school and effectively set them apart from the other children, but also because of the challenge of providing schooling in rural communities where the issue of student numbers was always critical. Any new Catholic school made the challenge more difficult. The end of WW1 saw the push for increased secondary schooling in rural communities and, as the likes of Bishop Phelan pushed for Catholic secondary schooling in Gippsland, tensions increased over the impact of such schooling on equivalent state school initiatives.

The sectarian tension associated with schooling went beyond the issue of its provision, because there was also a very significant background issue round the question of Bible or Scripture study or lessons in the state school. For a long time there had been a push from the Protestant Churches for some form of ‘non sectarian’ religious instruction, based on Bible reading or study, in Victorian state schools, even to the extent that such instruction could be given by the teachers themselves rather than visiting clergymen. However, such a position was, in theory at least, at odds with the non-sectarian and ‘secular’ nature of the state school system which had been established in all the various colonies in the 1870s and 1880s. After WW1, in the midst of heightened sectarianism, Protestant groups accused the Romand Catholic Church of undermining their attempts to bring about such Bible instruction in the state school. From the Catholic perspective there was indeed an element of wariness about the motivation behind the push. Beyond issues of dogma and theology associated with Bible reading per se, the wariness stemmed from the degree to which during the War the local state school had been pressed to serve the British (Protestant) Empire. There was Catholic concern that Protestantism, as well as having been declared the ‘natural’ religion of the Empire, was also being proposed as the natural religion of the state school.

There were still more dimensions to the ugly sectarianism of post WW1. Interestingly, one emerging dimension concerned Australian nationalism. Throughout the War, such nationalism had been incorporated within the total commitment to the Empire. The true Australian was one, first and foremost, loyal to the Empire. However, in the sectarianism of post WW1 this simple equation began to unravel. Irish Catholics were increasingly concerned by what they saw as British repression in Ireland. For them, the Empire had become an oppressor. At the same time, on the other side, there were strident claims from some Protestants that Roman and Irish (Australian) Catholics, led by the anti-Christ Pope, were effectively ‘traitors’ to the Empire, and, in fact, had been throughout the War itself. Not surprisingly, the very idea of Australian nationalism came under great pressure and Catholics inevitably looked for an expression of such nationalism outside the (Protestant) Empire.

Another dimension involved national politics. Irish Catholics tended to support the ALP and, obviously, they had been largely identified with the anti-conscription cause – itself interpreted as an anti-Empire push – during the War. Politically, they were seen as left, even radical, and also definitely anti-Empire. On the other side, Protestant Churches were largely represented as politically conservative.

One final dimension worth noting concerned individual personalities. For both sides, the bitter sectarianism both threw up and was itself defined and driven by key personalities. As we will see, such personalities attracted intense interest and their individual appeal and actions definitely shaped what happened.

All these dimensions are evident in what follows.

Loyalty by numbers

One of the key background issues to the intense debates at the time covered the extent to which Irish Catholics had been ‘loyal’ during the War. For many, this question came down to numbers: the numbers of local Catholics who enlisted. Throughout this blog, I have attempted to plot enlistments relative to the religious affiliation described on the enlistment papers. I have also attempted to tie these figures to what we take to have been the levels of religious affiliation in the local community itself. None of this analysis is as simple or easy as it might appear. Take the case of the levels of religious affiliation in the local district. The 1911 Census gave a figure of 21,349 males who were identified as Catholic for the County of Buln Buln. This suggested a figure of 19% of the total male population for the county. We could extrapolate from this and assume the same level for the Shire of Alberton. However, there are some qualifications. First, while the Shire of Alberton is located within the county of Buln Buln, the county is considerably larger than the shire. There could well have been variations in terms of Catholic settlement density across the whole county that affected the precise figure for the number of Catholics within the Shire of Alberton. Second, the overall figures are not broken down by age-cohorts. Such information would help identify the numbers of men who were actually eligible to enlist at points throughout the War. There are also problems with the designation of religious affiliation on the men’s enlistment forms. True, virtually everyone identified with a religion, but there is no way of knowing the strength of the religious conviction or the commitment to the associated religious beliefs and practices. So, strictly speaking, the statistics refer only to ‘in-name’ affiliation. Also, sometimes with brothers you have different religions given and there appears to have been a tendency to use ‘Church of England’ as a sort of generic religion. With all these qualifications in mind, the following points can be made:

The complete list of men with a definite association to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted between 1914 and 1918 and who indicated a religious affiliation – there were only 13 cases where a religion was not given – was 807. Of this number, 109 men described their religion as ‘Roman Catholic’. This number represents 13.5% of the total Shire enlistments.

Previous analysis – in earlier posts – indicates that the percentage of Roman Catholic enlistments varied over time. For example it was at its highest in the first half of 1915 (17%) and it remained around 16% through 1916. It was lower from 1917, but it is difficult to be precise about the exact decline, principally because enlistments as a whole declined significantly from that point and the numbers are too small to be able to make definite observations. For example, whereas total enlistments in the Shire for 1915 were 302, there were only 31 enlistments in the first half of 1917, with 3 of these Catholic. With this significant qualification about the numbers involved, it appears that there was a drop-off in the rate of Catholic enlistments in the Shire from the start of 1917. This is hardly surprising given the background of the conscription referenda.

In a real sense, the issue here is not one of statistics but community perception. With more than 100 Catholic enlistments over the period of the War, the perception in the local community would definitely have been that the Catholic community had ‘answered the call’. It is also worth noting that the local Catholic priest, Fr Sterling, served as a chaplain with the rank of captain in the AIF over 1916-1917. In the local press at the time this service was noted and praised. It would have served as a very visible example for other potential Catholic enlistments.

Also in terms of perception, it is worth noting that of the 79 names on the cenotaph in the main street of Yarram – the memorial to the dead of the Shire of Alberton – 13 of the names are Catholic (16%). The fact might not mean much today, but 100 years ago locals would definitely have known the individual men and noted the significance of their religion.

Overall, in terms of enlistments and sacrifice, the Catholic community in the Shire of Alberton had proved its loyalty over the course of the War.

The following is an overview of episodes that illustrate the nature and extent of sectarianism in the local community in the first few years after WW1.

The test of loyalty and the increasing the number of Catholic schools in Gippsland

The first episode has already been covered in a previous post – 154. The start of the 1918 school year and yet more division – but it is included here because it touches on another aspect of the critical issue of loyalty. Throughout the War years, Bishop Phelan of Sale had pursued an ambitious church and school building program in Gippsland. He had enjoyed significant success with new churches at Bairnsdale, Maffra and Yarram and convent schools at Leongatha and Yarram (opened for the start of the 1918 school year). Further, his ambitious plan for a major Catholic boys’ secondary school – St. Patrick’s – at Sale was keenly promoted. It would open in 1921. Part of the motivation behind the ambitious program was clearly to lift the profile of the Catholic community in Gippsland and emphasise their right to exercise civic and political power. For example, Phelan was quoted – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative, 26/4/18 – in relation to the proposed Catholic boys’ college at Sale:

My ambition is that the Catholic boys of Gippsland should have in their own province a college where they would receive such a secondary education as would equip them to take a leading part in civic and national affairs.

But in the same article, Phelan noted the challenges he had faced in his ambitious building program. He noted the inherent difficulties in the geography of the diocese where the Catholic community was spread thinly over such a vast area. He also noted the competition for funds and specifically mentioned … the innumerable demands made on the people on account of the most terrible war in history. He then stated:

But the greatest difficulty experienced was the wall of prejudice raised by narrow-minded people who endeavored to howl down every movement for raising funds except for Red Cross or Imperial purposes. But the stirling Catholics of Gippsland, like their fighting brothers at the front, did their duty towards all the demands of the Empire, and broke through every barrier that prejudice and bigotry would raise between them and their own field of labour.

The Catholic community in Gippsland was aware that fund-raising on their part during the War for their own parochial interests could be interpreted as an act of disloyalty to the Empire. An earlier post – 84. Schooling, religion & Imperialism, Part B: Secularism – considered the issue in more detail. It described how the proceeds from the St Patrick’s Sports Carnival, held in Yarram in March 1916, were passed in entirety to both the Red Cross and the Victorian Sick and Wounded Soldiers’ Fund. The amount was very significant – £720 – and it was to that point; and probably for the entire period of the War – the single most successful fund-raiser for the War effort. It was also significant that it came just 2 weeks after the official blessing of the new Catholic church in Yarram which itself had been funded by a far more parochial effort.

Clearly, throughout the War years, there was the perception on the part of the Catholic community that its loyalty to the War effort and the Empire was always under question. The loyalty itself was measured in a range of ways and the scrutiny was intense.

Fr Sterling’s ‘loyalty’ comes under question

The second episode involves a letter to the editor published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1/5/18. Again, this was obviously before the end of the War but it is important for setting some background to the hostility directed at the local Catholic priest – Fr. Sterling – in the years immediately after the War. Fr Patrick Sterling had been born in Ireland in 1882. He served as parish priest if Yarram from 1914 to 1949. As already indicated, he also served as a chaplain with the AIF. At the time he volunteered, his service received widespread praise in the local community.

The letter in question, signed ‘Returned Soldier’ wanted to know why Sterling had not been invited to a recent function for returned men. There was a clear inference that his absence was a sleight to the returned Catholics in the district:

Kindly allow me to inquire through your valuable columns of those responsible for the Returned Soldiers’ Smoke Night, why the Rev Father Stirling’s name was omitted from the invitation list. He is as much a returned soldier as any of us and his non-inclusion was keenly felt by at least the Catholics present.

The event had been held in the Shire Hall on Thursday 25/4/18 and the report in the local paper on 1/5/18 indicated that … nearly 100 local and district residents’ received invitations.

There was a letter in response from the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League published in the paper on 3/5/18 which argued that there had been a direction from the State Executive of the organisation that … troopship chaplains are not eligible for membership of the Returned Soldiers’ League and are not classed as returned soldiers by the Defence Department. The letter continued that as there were limited places it was not possible to include Fr Sterling. There are at least two possible interpretations here. One is that the local committee, acting neutrally, was merely applying the letter of the law. The second is that it was exploiting a technicality to exclude Fr Sterling from attending and, at the same time, intimate that his service with the AIF had not been all that significant. It, effectively, did not rate. The significance of the second interpretation will become clearer later. Certainly, there were some in the local community keen to minimise and denigrate Sterling’s service as a chaplain with the AIF

Intensified attacks on Fr Sterling

The third episode also involves Fr Sterling. From the end of 1918 through to the first part of 1919 there was an extended series of ‘welcome homes’ to local men returning from the War. They were written up in the local paper. Typically, they were hosted by a local dignitary, often the local councillor and invariably a recognised Imperial Loyalist. The conventional patriotic sentiments were always evident.

However, the welcome home staged at Stacey’s Bridge on Friday 10 January 1919 was definitely not in the normal style. It was reported at length in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 17/1/19. This report itself prompted a series of animated letters to the editor over the next few weeks. There were several highly divisive issues on show and the degree of hostility evident is revealing. It points to major fault lines in the local community.

The actual welcome at Stacey’s Bridge was put on for two sergeants – John Cantwell and Aloysius Cotter – and a stoker from the RAN named McKenzie. The two sergeants had survived the full war. They were part of the original group of 4 men from Stacey’s Bridge that left from the Alberton Train Station in September 1914. The original four men were Cantwell, Cotter and also Patrick Sexton and John Babington. Cantwell and Cotter made it through the War and were at this reception. Sexton was killed in April 1918. Babington was not finally discharged until October 1919. Of the four from Stacey’s Bridge who enlisted in September 1914, three were Catholics – Babington was Presbyterian – and it appears that this Catholic background was the distinguishing characteristic of the welcome home.

It was a very large community gathering. The paper reported that some 300 people attended the reception and there were at least 3 local councillors present: McLeod, McGalliard and Barry. The focus of the report however was on the comments made by Fr Sterling.

Fr Patrick Francis Sterling was thirty-seven at the time. As already noted, he had been born in Ireland – Thurles – and his mother as next of kin was still living in Borrisokane, County Tipperary. He had been serving in the parish at Yarram for two years when, in October 1916, he applied for and was given a commission as a captain in the AIF and served as a chaplain until April 1917. In that time he served on ships transporting troops to and from the UK. It was not a long period of service; but he obviously did have experience in the AIF and he could claim to speak with some authority.

Father Sterling’s speech is all the more interesting for what was not said, very deliberately not said. In fact, as reported by the paper, he began by stating that he regretted that he … could not do justice to the occasion by speaking exactly what he felt … because … if he did he ran a big risk of getting six months in jail.

By this point, Catholics had had to develop a particular perspective on the War. They were reluctant to support the claim that the War had been fought to preserve the integrity and supremacy of the British Empire. After all, as they saw it, the Empire was the core problem in Ireland. Yet uncompromising and total dedication to the Empire had been one of the constant themes hammered home in Australia throughout the War and well before it. In the popular mind, the defence of the Empire was a given – even a God-given reality. Moreover, 300,000 thousand Australians had enlisted in the AIF – including many from an Irish Catholic background – to defend the Empire. So there was this fundamental dilemma for many Catholics: how to bypass or downplay the issue of Imperial loyalty – and avoid being seen as pro-British – while at the same time honouring the achievements, sacrifices and unique character of all the Australians who had enlisted.

On this occasion, it is clear that Sterling opted for a pro-Australian and anti-British position. Of course, his comments are being reported to us by the local paper and they may have been coloured by the editor; but they certainly do suggest that Sterling was not being as pro-British and pro-Empire as the times demanded.

He [Sterling] reminded the audience that the credit of winning the war was due in one essential matter solely to the Australians. The British authorities have now admitted that on the occasion of the last big German offensive, every preparation had been made to transport back to England every British soldier in France. As a last resort, and as a desperate gamble, four Australian divisions were hurried up at a critical time, and at Villers-Bretonneux stemmed the German advance once and for all. In plain, sober fact the Australians on that occasion won the war, and saved the world’s freedom. (Applause.)

This idea that Australian troops had in effect ‘won the war’ was reflected in other articles at the time. While the claim was greatly overblown, it did at least reflect the high praise accorded to the AIF by various heads of state, newspaper editors, foreign generals etc. The more important observation here is that Sterling’s comments champion the Australian cause while at the same time questioning British efforts and character. Sterling went on to make other highly complimentary remarks about … that gallant fighting force, the A.I.F. which had earned for itself in deeds of bloody glory a monument “more splendid than gold and more enduring than brass.”

The event itself was taking place just 2 months after the end of fighting. To this point, most other welcome-home events or Armistice celebrations had promoted a conventional narrative of God’s grace in bringing victory, the final triumph of good over evil, the resoluteness of the British fighting spirit, the unvanquished greatness of the Empire, the final defeat of German militarism, the outstanding achievements of the AIF etc. But Sterling started to raise the more awkward questions to do with what, in the end, had been achieved. He argued that for a war that had been waged for … freedom and democracy, and a lot of other high sounding things … the outcomes were decidedly uncertain. He even suggested that the ‘four years of hell’ that the Australian boys had been through ‘to make the world fit to live in’ were currently being compromised by the actions of some of the Allied powers themselves. He singled out France for its determination to maintain conscription and the USA for its declared intention to create a navy which, as Sterling put it, … will make her boss cocky of the seas. Sterling also included an attack on the ‘repatriation scheme’, which he referred to as a ‘huge farce’. The criticism was that the boys had volunteered for war on the solemn promise that they would be looked after when they came home. But now the promise appeared false:

The departing soldiers were told that nothing would be too good for them on their return, and the best would not be good enough for them. And so on ad nauseam. If they wait until these promises materialise they had better make Rip Van Winkle their patron saint. (Applause.)

He then gave an account of a returned soldier who, only recently, had had to cadge from him the ‘price of a bed and a feed’. Coincidentally, less than two weeks later there was a detailed story in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on the plight of a returned soldier who had well and truly fallen through any repatriation safety net. It is not clear if the subject of the article on 29/1/19 is the same person with whom Fr Sterling dealt. However, it is very evident that both the challenge of repatriation and the implicit fear that the returned men were not being sufficiently supported were very much in the public mind.

Fr Sterling also could not let the occasion pass without mentioning that he had been … blackballed from the Yarram Club … and … passed over at Armistice celebrations.

There was singing – ‘Coming Home’, Mother Macree’ etc – and dancing at the function. But there was no mention of standard Imperial tunes, nor any mention of the National Anthem.

Unsurprisingly, the article on Fr Sterling’s comments at the welcome home at Stacey’s Bridge prompted a response. A letter appeared in the very next edition of the local paper on 22/1/19 by an anonymous correspondent who signed himself as ‘Loyal Australian’, with the clear implication that Fr Sterling on the other hand was not loyal. In fact, the gist of the letter was that if he – Fr Sterling- risked six months gaol for speaking his mind then, clearly, his sentiments must have been disloyal. ‘Loyal Australian’ also challenged the priest’s remarks about the British preparedness to evacuate from France and he suggested that no one would believe such a claim. He appeared to confirm that Fr Sterling had been banned from the Yarram Club and passed over for Armistice celebrations. He also claimed that Sterling had also been … turned down by the Returned Soldiers’ Association.

Fr Sterling responded in the next edition of the paper (24/1/1919). By now the debate was indeed heated. Sterling began by attacking ‘Loyal Australian’ for hiding behind the mask of anonymity. He argued that without any idea of the writer’s identity there was no way of testing his own loyalty. Sterling implied that the claimed loyalty might be fake. In fact, he suggested that the cloak of anonymity certainly pointed to a lack of courage. Sterling talked about varieties of loyalty and it is clear what he had in mind:

Loyalty… has so many meanings and ramifications. Loyalty to pocket and flag-flapping loyalty are common specimens. There is also the loyalty of the man who sools others on to fight for him, and who tells his substitute what a fine fellow he is, and what a lot of things will be done for him on his return – if he ever returns.

Fr Sterling continued his claim that the Yarram Club was selective and discriminatory by alleging that a sergeant involved in recruiting [presumably, William Newland] had also been blackballed; and he used this claim as a justification for questioning the very integrity of members of the Club. The criticism was full-on:

Did “Loyal Australian” resign from the Club when a recruiting sergeant was subjected to the indignity of being blackballed? They must be a hard lot to please in that exclusive club of aristocrats. Possibly the sergeant with his honourable wounds was deficient in the Club brand of loyalty. How many shirkers are on the roll call of the Club? Is “Loyal Australian” himself one of them? Is he in good health and physically strong, and as well able to endure the hardships of campaigning, as many others on the too-young-side and the too-old-side have done? Has he enlisted, or tried to do so, even for home defence? Let us wait and see if the boasted loyalty is merely camouflage for humbug.

Fr Sterling also attacked the ‘War Precautions Act’ and Hughes whom he referred to as the ‘livery P.M.’ Sterling referred to national politicians – Hughes, Cook and Pearce – as the ‘tin gods’ of the likes of Loyal Australian. He also made another specific reference, in the context of the repatriation system not working, to a returned soldier living in a tent at the back of newspaper office waiting for a job. The reference in important because the same theme – possibly even the same case – was taken up the paper itself in a major article the next week (29/1/1919).

Not surprisingly, given what he had said about the Yarram Club, there was a response to Fr Sterling’s letter in the next edition, 29/1/1919. It was long, over-written and pompous in tone. Once again the writer was only given as ‘Loyal Australian’. But this letter included a piece of doggerel, penned by another anonymous scribe, ‘Spokeshear’.

The effort was clearly intended to damage the priest’s reputation and image in the community and make him look a fool. Amongst other insults, it questioned both his military service and his religious life. It mocked his Irish brethren. Aimed at a highly public figure in the local community and penned anonymously it was a nasty effort. It is surprising that the paper published such anonymously vindictive attacks. Perhaps the editor believed Sterling’s ‘disloyalty’ justified the attack. The complete effort – under the title of ‘Cinderella’s Voyage’ – is included below. It is worth reflecting that while the Great War was over, longer and deeper conflicts that touched on issues of class, nationality and religion were still very much alive. Those from the land of ‘bogs and hogs’ would have been less than amused.

Cinderella’s Voyage
I’ll tell you of a brave, bold Sterling chap
Who was spoiling for a scrap,
And was soon on board a transport
On a fairly decent job,
With clothes and boots and tucker free,
And a daily one and twenty bob.
And when he reached the land of bogs and hogs
His cobbers came to meet him by the score
But they couldn’t sight his togs,
They seemed to make ‘em sore,
But chappy didn’t care a dam-
For sure those togs were only sham.
And bad luck he didn’t stay,
But he wasn’t sorry that he went,
For he had a bonzer trip,
And it didn’t cost a cent,
And we know this Cinderella chappy
Didn’t mix up in a scrappy,
And wicked people say
He didn’t even – pray.
And soon he reached Australia fit and well,
And if he didn’t fight like hell or pray too well,
He surely wasn’t qualified to be supplied
With bread and beef and beer at a patriotic club,
So now perforce he lines up at the “pub”
And soaks his beer and damns the Club.
And now, alas, this poor Cinderella youth
Declines to mingle with these men uncouth,
Whom you’ll find among the “angels” at the Yarram Club.

Formation of local branch of the Protestant Federation

The fourth episode worth attention involved the formation of a local branch of the Protestant Federation in Yarram in August 1919. The motto of the Protestant Federation was ‘For God, King and Empire’. It had been established in Ballarat at the time of the second conscription referendum in 1917. By the time the local branch was set up in Yarram the Federation claimed a membership of 100,000. In part, it was influenced by the Protestant revivalist movement of the time. It spoke out against moral decline and population peril, and it actively supported causes like prohibition and social justice initiatives such as social housing. Imperial loyalty was its very DNA. Lastly, it was stridently anti-Roman Catholic. Archbishop Mannix was a particular target, as was John Wren.

The local branch was formed in Yarram on 1/8/19 at a meeting held in the Shire Hall with about 50 people present. The local meeting was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 6/8/19. The meeting was presided over by Rev W E Lancaster (Methodist). In his remarks Lancaster noted that the federation … had done a great deal to check different menaces to the country, and to prevent many things that did not tend to promote the welfare of the Protestant community. One particular ‘menace’ that Lancaster highlighted was the Roman Catholic Church. He quoted Gladstone to claim that … where the Church of Rome is weak it is crafty, and where it is strong it is tyrannical. He added:

The past of the Roman Church was dark with intrigue and red with the blond of martyrs.

Then he launched into claims that the Protestant Federation was promoting at the time. They were claims about Roman Catholic perfidy in the recent War. The Roman Church was an enemy of the Empire:

During the war evidence was available to show conclusively that the Roman Church had had a hand in the awfulness that had taken place. The speaker [Lancaster] advised those present to study the Rev. F. A. Hagenauer’s pamphlet describing the relationships of the Papacy to the Kaiser in the war. When Belgium was over-run and France was outraged no protest had gone out from the Vatican, nor was there any papal protest when the Lousitania (sic) was sunk. While Germany was busy submarining Allied and neutral vessels, ships flying the papal flag were immune from attack. While masquerading in the guise of a church the Romanish sect dishonoured the King and endeavoured to bring about the destruction of the Empire. Politically that Church was prepared to sell its influence to the highest bidder, and Protestants should be careful to combat its evil influence wherever and whenever possible. (Applause).

Also present the meeting were Rev M G Opper (Church of England) and Rev S Williams (Presbyterian). Opper spoke briefly about the aims of the Federation: … to substitute liberty for bondage, truth instead of error, and purity instead of corruption. He also mentioned threats to the Empire – ‘social unrighteousness’ and ‘industrial unrest’ – and, again, one such threat was the Pope. He noted that the Federation … wanted to rule out the supremacy of the pope. The first principle of Protestantism was loyalty to God and loyalty to the King.

It was resolved that the president of the local branch was to be George Bland (Methodist) and the 3 vice-presidents would be the three local Protestant clergymen: Revs Melchior George Opper (Church of England, appointed to Yarram October 1918), Samuel Williams (Presbyterian, appointed to Yarram November 1917) and W E Lancaster (Methodist, appointed to Yarram early 1919).

There had been earlier connections to Yarram for some of the influential figures in the Protestant Federation. Rev F A Hagenauer, who at this point (1919) was at Castlemaine, had earlier ministered in Yarram and, in fact, he had recently been relieving in the district when Rev S Williams had been on holidays. Rev G A Judkins, another key figure, had also served for a term in Yarram. He had left in 1904. As we will see, Judkins returned to Yarram to speak on behalf of the Protestant Federation.

The decision to establish a local branch of the Protestant Federation prompted a letter to the editor (8/8/19) from Fr Sterling criticising what he saw as the group’s anti-Roman Catholic bias. Sterling’s letter attempted to make fun of the allegations about the Roman Catholic Church working in concert with Germany. Essentially, Sterling dismissed the claims as nonsense. He also gave his version of what the real motivation was:

Now that the big war is over, and there is no sensational subject for the Sunday sermon, it is not unexpected that a local sectarian war will be dragged in to do duty. Anything to fill the empty pews. However, it won’t worry us. There will be mass at St. Mary’s as usual next Sunday, and the local annual collection for the Pope will most certainly eclipse all records this year. That is the best reply to make to the snuffling slanderers.

Sterling’s letter set off a minor war of correspondence with Rev F A Hagenauer. Hagenauer (13/8/19) challenged Sterling to shown where the Protestant Federation had given ‘false or unreliable’ evidence. He also added the allegation that Stirling, personally, had spoken ‘disrespectfully’ of the Prince of Wales.

In turn, Sterling replied on 15/8/19. It was clear that he was not keen to pursue a debate that he considered nonsensical. He also claimed that the debate was designed to boost sales of Rev Hagenauer’s book(s). Then Stirling tuned his attention to the claim that he had shown disrespect to the Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales has proven himself during the war to be above all things – a man among men. He is no namby-pamby drawing-room fop, nor yet a tin god on a swirling piano stool. From what we have learned of his character he is not the type that wants grovelling slobberers running after him labeled as spittoons.

But as well as praise, there was also the clear rejection by Sterling of any sense of mandated servility. He continued:

His [Prince of Wales] manly character and his exalted position demand the ultimate expression of respect, but it is not necessary for me to stand on my head every time his name is mentioned.

On 20/8/19 Hagenaeur followed up with another letter but the debate with Stirling had effectively petered out.

Then in the local paper on 24/9/19, there was advice of an address by Rev G A Judkins on ‘The Papal Army in Australia’. It was to be held on behalf of the local branch of the Protestant Federation. The paper also noted that Judkins had previously ministered in Yarram, that he was key figure in the Methodist Church and that he was … held in high esteem in Protestant circles.

The meeting took place on 26/9/19 and was written up in the local paper on 1/10/19. The paper’s report was extensive and noted that it was the first, formal function of the local branch. The address took place in the Mechanic’s Hall and ‘there was ‘a very satisfactory attendance.’ The meeting began with the National Anthem and prayers. Rev Opper, vice president, presided and set the tone. It was the Empire against Roman Catholicism.

The speaker deplored the apathy manifested by Protestants in the fight against the influences of Roman Catholicism which was a great menace to the Empire and to Australia.

For his part, Judkins claimed it was the Roman Catholics not the Protestants responsible for the conflict. Again, the Roman Catholic Church was trying to destroy the Empire:

The conflict would never have come into existence had it not been for the wicked aggression of the Roman Church. Rome had promised faithfully to lay aside her weapons during the progress of the great war, but she had not done so. While they were giving their sons in order that the Empire might be saved and liberty preserved for themselves and heir children, the great organisation of Rome was doing its utmost to spoil the Empire, and praying that it should be beaten down to the very dust.

According to Judkins, there was a universal conspiracy:

A papal army existed in Australia, and not only in Australia, but in every other land; and its definite object wherever it existed was to bring that country under the absolute control of the church of Rome.

Amongst other wild accusations, Judkins claimed that because France had ‘thrown off the papal yoke’, Rome had been keen to bring about the defeat of France and had allied with the Kaiser. Rome was behind the War itself:

France was to be punished because she had broken away. The intriguing hand of Rome was responsible for the great war, just as it was responsible for some of the other greatest tragedies in history.

With such a shocking history, Judkins warned that the threat of Rome could not be taken lightly. Rome was the Devil’s agent:

People did not realise it but an organised minority was infinitely more powerful than an unorganised majority. People talked foolishly when they argued that Romans compromised only a fifth of the Australian population, and they could not do anything. Rome was one of the mightiest forces that the devil employed; and it was working to bring the whole world to the feet of the Pope. He [Judkins] appealed to those present to organise and to keep organising, in order to combat the great menace which existed in their midst today.

Judkins continued on about papal espionage, the Church of Rome as the ‘anti-Christ’, a papal plot for world domination and, specifically, the conquest of all Protestant lands, with England the chief target.

Specifically in relation to the situation in Australia, Judkins claimed that Mannix had been reported to have said,

If I had my wish there would not be a Protestant in Australia.

There were additional attacks on the local Catholic clergy as being under the control of Rome and … working to injure our country. The Catholic Church was also said to be in alliance with the ALP … which she was using as a tool to be cast side when it had outgrown its usefulness. Similarly, Rome was in alliance with ‘Sinn Feinism and Bolshevism’.

Judkins also argued that Protestant attempts to bring scripture back into the State schools were being undermined by Catholics. The Catholics had even deliberately left some of their students in State schools so they could oppose the introduction of scripture. The Catholic Church was also ‘… cramming our [State] schools with Roman Catholic teachers.

The local paper noted the applause at the end of the address.

It was hardly surprising that local Catholics were upset by Judkins’ attack. On 3/10/19, there was a letter from John W Biggs a local Catholic who had had 3 sons serve in the AIF: Robert Biggs (2616), Charles Ignatius Biggs (1313) and John William Biggs (427). All survived the War.

Biggs recorded his ‘disgust’ at Judkin’s address which he described as … a tirade of abuse of the Catholic Church and all belonging to it. He identified Judkins and his supporters as ‘pro-conscriptionists’ from the War who had tried … to force our young Australian youth (boys merely) to fight for the defence of the Empire. He rejected the claims of disloyalty and claimed 60,000 of the AIF had been Catholic. He claimed this figure of 60,000 was … their full quota according to population. Biggs asked … did ever a body get such abuse as the Catholic parents of such soldiers?

Biggs briefly revisited the conscription debate:

No doubt a good many Catholic young men did not join the army but could you blame them when the majority of the Press and the wowser parsons were abusing their religion right and left.

Biggs also claimed that many young Protestants had not wanted to join AIF and had also opposed conscription; but they had not had to bear the same level of abuse as the young Catholics.

Biggs also disputed many of Judkins’ historical claims and was critical of the conditions of the British working class – housing, wages, living conditions – under Protestantism. He suggested that Judkins should focus on substantial issues, such as the housing problem in Melbourne and ‘profiteering’ and ‘race suicide’. Biggs finished his letter:

I will now conclude by informing you, that being the father of three soldiers, I was very much hurt on reading the insults and abuse showered on Catholics by Mr Judkins, to which denomination my boys belong. I may state that the Catholic percentage of population of Australia is 20.68, and the Methodist 16.3. The percentage of enlistments of Catholics is 18.9 and Methodists is 13.8.

St Patrick’s Day processions

The next episode to highlight the bitter sectarianism evident in the local community after the War involved St Patrick’s Day processions in 1919 and then 1920. The first covered events in Sale, Gippsland and the second in Melbourne.

Sectarianism was strong in Sale where Bishop Phelan was based. Against this background, the civic authorities insisted that for the 1919 St Patrick’s Day procession through the town the Union Jack had to be carried at the head of the procession. The flag also had to be larger than any other flag in the procession. Additionally, no ‘Sinn Fein colours’ were to be worn or displayed by members of the procession. Lastly, there was to be ‘no allusion’ in any display in the procession to the ‘unhappy incidents of Easter, 1916, in Dublin, or any sequel thereof’. The organisers of the march agreed to the obviously ‘political’ terms, but when Phelan heard of the demands made by the mayor he railed against them. He described the mayor as a ‘petty tyrant’ and a ‘fool’. The local press – Gippsland Times, 27/2/19 – reported that Phelan called off the procession because of the demands and the manner of the local authorities:

We will not march to the grounds [where the associated St Patrick’s sports carnival was to take place] under the humiliating conditions which our local ruler would impose on us this year. (Tremendous Applause).

Phelan then organised an alternative garden fete. He invited Mannix to attend the event and it was clear that this was a definite strategy to raise the profile of the occasion, underline the perceived attacks on the Catholics in Gippsland, and encourage a large attendance. Additional trains were put on to bring people from Bairnsdale and Traralgon. Mannix arrived at Sale by train on 5/4/19 and was met by very large crowd. Led by a car carrying Phelan and Mannix, the large crowd then processed thorough Sale to the cathedral. There was no Union Jack. The Gippsland Times (7/4/19) reported on comments by Mannix:

His Grace expressed his great pleasure at being present. In Melbourne they had been hearing a good deal of Sale lately – (laughter) – and some of the trouble arose in connection with St. Patrick’s Day. Here, as in other places, obstacles had been placed in the way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. They wanted to prevent the people of Sale from marching in their own streets, but today a great part of Gippsland had marched in spite of them. (Great cheering).

After the ’procession’ or ‘march’, the mayor of Sale set out to prosecute the organisers, on the basis that clearly a march had occurred – a large one, led by Phelan and Mannix – but that the appropriate permission for the march had not been either requested or given. Some of the councillors saw the episode as an attempt to undermine local authority; and they were incensed by what they saw as Mannix’s gloating. The Gippsland Times, 10/419 reported one councillor:

Cr. Futcher said there was not the slightest doubt that there had been a breach of he regulations. What made matters worse was the fact that Archbishop Mannix went out of his way to gloat over the fact that they had marched in spite of the authorities. … Had it not been for the gloating that had been indulged in by church dignitaries, he would have been prepared to let the matter pass.

The council initially narrowly voted to institute a prosecution against the organisers and Mannix. The 5-4 vote was on sectarian lines. The vote saw all the Catholics on the council walk out and division in the local community reached new levels. In the end, the prosecution did not go ahead.

The following year -1920 – saw Mannix put on his own version of the St. Patrick’s Day procession in Melbourne. This time it was a far grander spectacle than the one staged in Sale the year before.

The St. Patrick’s Day Procession in Melbourne in 1920 was reported extensively in the press. The Argus, 22/3/20, detailed how the route started at St. Patrick’s and ended at the Exhibition Building (the interim Federal Parliament). The crowd watching was a record and the paper noted:

Long before the starting time people commenced to assemble on the streets. Soon after 1 o’clock there was a large crowd behind the barriers, and all available space on Federal Parliament House steps and the Post-office steps was occupied.

The route itself was lined with 400 police on foot and another 100 mounted police accompanied the procession. There were also plain clothes police in the crowd. On the day, there were no reports of any disturbances or problems.

It was a large procession. The paper estimated that 20,000 people participated in the actual procession and that it took an hour and 12 minutes for the procession to pass a given point.

The procession underlined how determined Mannix was to demonstrate not just the sacrifices that the Catholic community had made in terms of the War but how significant they were in terms of state and national politics. At its head, the procession featured the Australian flag, not the Union Jack. In fact, there was much press speculation about how the Union Jack would appear. The report in The Argus noted that it appeared about half an hour into the procession and … it came and went without many people realising it. At the same time, With the exception of one or two isolated individual cases, there was an absence of Sinn Fein colours or emblems. The dominant colours throughout the procession were green and gold.

First in the procession came 14 Victoria Cross winners on grey horses. Next was Archbishop Mannix in a motor car with several returned chaplains, with … a small body of mounted troops as an escort. Then there were 6,000 returned soldiers and sailors. More cars followed with nurses and returned men and other cars with clergy. There was also a long line of Catholic boys from Catholic schools and colleges. There were also Catholic societies and schools with banners and some floats. There were also various bands including the Melbourne Pipe Band. Finally, the paper noted that … the rear of the procession was brought up by a body of about 140 horsemen.

Archbishop Mannix and the VC winners, 1920. Courtesy State Library Victoria

Mannix clearly sought to emphasise the martial character of the procession. He personally ‘took the salute’ in front of Federal Parliament House (Exhibition Building). He stood with the VC winners and was cheered by each section of the procession as it passed.

Following the procession, there was a major sports carnival on Exhibition Oval, which included 4,000 school children giving a physical culture display. Rain in the late afternoon forced the cancellation of the planned concert that night.

By any standard, it was an impressive turn out and certainly demonstrated the ability of Mannix to draw a crowd. It was also very much an expression of Irish-Australian identity.

After the procession, Mannix was quoted in The Argus (22/3/20) as acknowledging the opposition that had been raised. He was keen to state that those who had opposed the procession … will never prevent Irishmen showing their sympathy with Ireland, while yielding in none in their loyalty to Australia and to the Empire. But, clearly, this particular trinity – Ireland, Australia and the Empire – was a hard one to juggle. For Irish Catholics the actions of the Empire in Ireland were a real problem. In fact, the very next day The Argus again covered more of Mannix’s response to the procession. This time it was in relation to the 14 VC winners who had accompanied him on the day. He was keen to use them to boost the cause of Irish independence, or at least ‘self-determination’.

In the course of a long speech, Dr Mannix said that St. Patrick’s Day demonstration last Saturday would remain a memorable one as long as Melbourne was Melbourne. He also stated that the V.C. winners who supported him in the procession had unanimously agreed to a motion which they intended to cable to the British authorities, demanding that England should give to Ireland the self-determination which they fought for on behalf of other nations.

Scripture lessons in State schools

The sixth episode of sectarianism sees a return to Yarram and the activities of the Protestant Federation in the middle of 1920. Ostensibly, the issue was the push for a referendum – at state level – to determine the question of whether scripture lessons were to be taught in state schools. At the end of the meeting, the following resolution was passed.

That this meeting records its conviction that the great majority of Victorian parents desire Non-sectarian and Non-compulsory Scripture lessons in the school course, with equal opportunity for direct religious teaching by representatives of the various churches, under conditions that work smoothly in four other Australian States; claims that this issue should be placed before the Electors by a simple referendum question at the forthcoming elections; protests against a selfish minority [Catholics], largely hostile to national education, being able to continue to deprive the majority of the Non-sectarian Scripture instruction it deems beneficial to the community; and calls upon the Scripture Campaign Council to organise a deputation, at an early date, to urge Government and parliament to provide Referendum machinery for testing the mind of electors at the next general elections.

However, while, as indicated, the meeting was ostensibly about Scripture lessons, it was more remarkable for another full-on attack on the Roman Catholic Church. Judkins’ focus was on the threat the church posed to the Empire. As Judkins saw it, the church was openly and actively plotting to destroy the Empire. He worked from the proposition that the Empire itself was ‘God’s handiwork’. The Empire was also the bulwark against Rome:

God has not only established it [the Empire], but preserved it. This barrier [the Empire] between Rome and the realisation of her principles has been divinely built. It is because the Empire constitutes that barrier, that leaders of Roman Catholicism burn with so intense hatred against all that is British.

The link between the Bible and the defence of the Empire – and therefore the necessary push for the proposed referendum – came from what Judkins saw as the Roman campaign to undermine the Bible as a means of destroying the Empire. He described … two directions in which the energies of the Church of Rome are being exerted in an attempt to establish herself in a position of temporal and spiritual supremacy. She aims at the destruction of the British Empire, and the prohibition of the use of the Bible by the people.

For Judkins, the Bible and the Empire were fundamentally linked. The Bible had a form of geo-political significance:

We shall lose the Empire if we lose the Bible.

Judkins then gave another history lesson going back to the Spanish Armada and Rome’s attempt to subdue England and ending with the supposed alliance between the Pope and Germany in WW1.

Specifically in relation to the then current conflict in Ireland he claimed to see the hand of Rome involved and saw it as yet another attempt by Rome to overcome the Empire. He stated:

The happenings in Ireland, the endeavour to create a state [Irish Free State] close to the heart of the Empire have as their object the realisation of the long-cherished desire of Rome.

He then went further and claimed that the same plot was being played out in Australia:

Attempts are being made to make Australia another Ireland, and with the same object in view.

Whether it was the strongest attack against Roman Catholics made to that point, it was certainly extreme. Interestingly, some allies thought that the likes of Judkins had finally gone too far. One was Rossiter, the editor of the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. As noted before, Rossiter was a firm Imperial Loyalist but, this time, apparently, Judkins had crossed a line. As editor, he would certainly have been aware of the impact this type of address – published in his paper – was having on the community and in particular on the level of sectarian conflict. It did not appear to have been such an issue for him in the past, but this time he intervened. In an editorial (2/7/20), he noted that the issue of Scripture lessons had hardly been covered in Judkins’ address and that it was more just an unbridled attack on Roman Catholicism. He stated:

If Bible lessons are to be taught in our State schools a scheme acceptable to all denominations will not be hastened by violently attacking the Church of Rome for acts done by her devotees hundreds of years ago.

and

If every Protestant clergyman held and enunciated views as does Mr. Judkins, what strife there would be.

On that very point, he singled out Rev Opper who had also been at the meeting. He claimed that Opper had been more ‘temperate’ and ‘constructive’ in his comments than Judkins.

And the apparent backlash against Judkins continued. In the local paper on 2/7/20 Rev Opper had a letter announcing that he had resigned his position as vice-president of the local branch of the Protestant Federation:

With your permission, I wish, through the medium of your paper, to dissociate myself from the violent attack upon the Church of Rome, made by the Rev. G. A. Judkins on Sunday night last, and published in your columns this morning. The meeting was arranged for the purpose of urging support for a referendum on Scripture Lessons in State Schools – a movement which has my fullest sympathy – and not for the purpose for which it was used. In order to avoid being placed again in a false position, I am forwarding to the secretary of the local branch of the Protestant Federation my resignation as president. Still remaining a good Anglican, and, I hope, a good Protestant. – I am …

Previously, Opper too had been a strident critic of the ‘Roman Church’ but perhaps, as a local minister, he had grown concerned at the impact that such wild accusations were having on the community.

But for any local disquiet about the level of sectarian conflict in the community and the impact of extreme accusations being made against Roman Catholicism, the local branch of the Protestant Federation continued the fight. In February 1921, Rev R Ditterich – president of the Methodist Conference of Victoria and Tasmania – addressed about 50 people in the Yarram Mechanics’ Institute. It was written up in the edition of 9/2/21. Ditterich was President of the Australian Protestant Federation and had been previously very involved in the Victorian branch. The talk focused on the question of ‘Why are we Protestants?’ He lamented that few people had a sound understanding of the history of Protestantism. The version of history he gave that night started with the persecution of Protestants by the Roman Church and highlighted the despotic power that Rome had over its faithful:

The Church of Rome exercised a power over the will of their people, who knew no liberty of thought, and no freedom, and they also tried to exercise a power over their politics and education, in fact, the Church exercised a power when and wherever it chose.

In terms of the recent War, Ditterich claimed that … Catholic France was saved by Protestant England.

Overall, Ditterich had nothing positive to say about Rome:

As Protestants they had no thanks to pay the Roman Catholic church for any single liberty which the people enjoyed today.

Perhaps the vote of thanks that night was more circumspect than usual:

Rev. Lancaster said they were deeply indebted for the address, which should inspire them, not in a spirit of hatred, but thankfulness for their freedom.

As noted, Rev Opper by this point had severed contact with Protestant Federation.

Local celebrations at the time Ireland gained ‘Free State’ status

The last episode to cover involved the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. The treaty was to provide for a measure of Irish independence and put an end to the three years of fighting between Irish nationalists and republicans and British troops and special units. The treaty had broad backing in Australia but, in fact, in Ireland itself it presaged the bitter civil war that was to follow very quickly. But certainly at the time, the news of the treaty – even with its qualifications – was received warmly in the Catholic community in the Shire of Alberton.

As an indication of just how close the political situation in Ireland was to Irish Catholics in Australia, the local community in the Shire of Alberton organised a special celebration for the announcement of the treaty. It was written up in the local paper on 23/12/21. There was a ‘large and enthusiastic audience’ at Thompson’s Hall in Yarram. The Yarram Band played before the concert started. Items at the concert included the songs: ‘Ireland I Love You’, ‘Come Back to Erin’ and ‘Irish Eyes Are Smiling’. There was no mention of the National Anthem. There was also dancing. It was a great success and … everything passed off without the slightest hitch.

Finally

The end of WW1 did not see the end of the sectarian conflict in Australian society which had been exacerbated by the conflict over the two conscription referenda. In fact, more extreme Protestant groups doubled down on the fundamental question of ‘loyalty’ (to the Empire) and routinely portrayed Roman Catholicism as inherently anti-British and anti-Empire. They even argued that the Church of Rome had sided with the Germans in the War. Additionally, Roman Catholicism was represented as a form of intellectual, political and spiritual tyranny. And, for good measure, the Pope was the anti-Christ. Similarly, the struggle for Irish independence was portrayed as an existential threat to the Empire itself.

In response to such criticisms, and constantly looking to the political situation in Ireland, the Australian Catholic community chose to become more assertive in their role in society and politics, and more determined to protect their religious and cultural identity. Most significantly, they moved to a sense of Australian nationalism that effectively sought to remove the previously core element of the Empire.

The sectarianism experienced in the local community was intense and often highly personal.

References

Synan. T 2003, A Journey in Faith: A History of Catholic Education in Gippsland 1850-1981, David Lovell Publishing, Ringwood Victoria


Various. 1992, Companions on the Journey 1892-1992, Centenary of St. Mary’s Parish Yarram 1892-1992, St. Mary’s Parish, Yarram


The Argus
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Gippsland Times

Note 1: for more background on the 1920 St Patrick’s Day Procession in Melbourne see the following article by Paul Daley in The Guardian 22/4/16: Divided Melbourne: when the archbishop turned St, Patrick’s Day into propaganda.

Note 2: Father Sterling’s name often appears as Stirling. The signature on his enlistment forms is definitely Sterling.

212. The Shire of Alberton unveils a memorial to its soldiers

Post 96. Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial gave a brief history of the monument in Commercial Road, Yarram. This post examines in detail the local politics leading up to first the construction and then the dedication of the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. As for the previous post on the establishment of the Diggers’ Club in Yarram, it also highlights the nature and degree of the tension in the local community in the first few years after the War.

The decision to erect a memorial to the soldiers of Alberton Shire was taken at a council meeting on 13 May 1920:

A Soldiers monument (sic) be erected in Commercial Road,Yarram, cost to be referred to next year’s estimates, form and price to be decided at next meeting.

This was just after a presentation by the Melbourne firm of Corben & Sons. The actual cost indicated at the time was £550.

While the Shire’s decision appeared clear-cut, the way forward was to prove difficult.

To begin with, the editor – A J Rossiter – of the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – was keen to influence the debate over a suitable memorial. Indeed, initially at least, Rossiter had an entirely different proposal, which he promoted in the pages of the paper. In a sense, it was all a case of deja vu, as the previous post highlighted similar efforts by Rossiter to push his proposal for a grand, commemorative civic hall over the returned men’s wish for a more exclusive and lower-key Diggers’ Club. This time, Rossiter was keen on ’swimming baths’. Prior to the Shire’s resolution of 13/5/20 on the construction of the memorial on Commercial Road, outside the Post Office, Rossiter had been pushing his ‘public baths’ proposal. An editorial on 10/3/20 – two months before the council meeting – outlined his proposal. It began with an acknowledgement that his previous ambitious proposal had been rejected; but, as far as he was concerned, that was no reason to hold back from yet another bold, public venture:

Since the bold proposal of a public hall, embracing a soldiers’ club, did not find favor, why not a public memorial in the form of swimming baths? We have before advocated swimming baths for the rising generation, and have pointed out the necessity for every child to be taught the art of swimming. The old Mechanic’s Institute was at one time suggested as a suitable site, because of a natural watercourse that intersects that property. The public might well join issue with the Shire council in establishing public baths as a memorial to district soldiers, and the donor roll could be placed at the baths, instead of being hid in a comparatively obscure place in the shire hall which so few enter. Public baths as a memorial would be far before a granite monument in the main street or at the shire hall, because of their utilitarian character. Whatever is done by the shire council must cost a fair sum. No paltry donor board would suffice as a district memorial to the soldiers who fought for their country.

As matters progressed, the call for the memorial swimming baths appears to have slipped away. However, Rossiter had yet another proposal to replace the baths – the extension and refurbishment of the Shire Hall so that it could accommodate 1,500 people. In another editorial on 2/6/20, Rossiter raised the £550 figure for the proposed memorial in Commercial Road, and claimed that it would represent money ‘thrown away’. He wanted … something better done with the money. He had a far more beneficial and utilitarian proposal:

The town does not possess a hall worthy of the name, and none has the facilities which the public are justly entitled to. The proposal we have in mind as a fitting memorial to our soldiers is to re-model the shire hall, and build at the rear a balconied hall to seat about 1,500 people.

In the same editorial, Rossiter called for a public meeting to discuss the whole issue:

A memorial, in the form suggested, would for all time commemorate the deeds of not only the fallen, but those who have been spared to us. If remodelling the shire hall find favour amongst our readers, in place of the proposed monument, we would suggest that a public meeting be called as early as possible.

And there was yet another option. The third option focussed on the so-called (Soldiers’) ‘Memorial Park’.

When a new cemetery had been established at Yarram in 1902, the graves from the ‘Old Yarram Pioneer Cemetery’ had been relocated to the new site. In 1911, an act of the Victorian Parliament had provided for the old cemetery site to be converted to a park. Subsequently, from August 1914 several, local Friendly Societies – the local branch of the Australian Natives’ Association appears to have been the major player – undertook to turn the ‘old local burial ground’ into a ‘pleasure place for the populace’ . The details appeared in the local paper on 21/8/14. The Friendly Societies were to take advice from Shire personnel and organise working bees. The plan called for … the planting of palms, trees and shrubs in preference to flowers, and suggested a large grass plot in the centre where children could play, and where a bandstand could be erected. It was recognised that the amount of work involved was considerable and that a time frame of at least 2-3 years was required.

Over the period of the War, not a great deal of remediation work in the park was undertaken. Then, in mid 1918, a public meeting was held to consider … the question of beautifying the old burial ground, south of the town, and form a memorial park. By the end of October that year, there was a formal committee of the ‘Yarram Memorial Park’. There was also an agreed schedule of work to be undertaken by volunteer organisations, including the ANA, the Returned Soldiers’ Association, the Soldiers’ Fathers Association, the IOR and the local Traders’ association. It was all detailed in the local paper (25/10/18). Again, the scope of the remediation work was extensive. In fact, the scope was arguably too ambitious. In June 1921, in the South Gippsland Chronicle (1/6/21), the ’Soldiers’ Memorial Park’ was described as a ‘carefully fenced thistle patch’. The account described how, after an enthusiastic start, the effort slipped away:

The area was cleared and graded, the paths were laid out and gravelled, a fence was erected, and then – Yarram’s short-lived energy “petered out”

So, in mid 1920, the third option for the district soldiers’ memorial was to focus efforts on what was being described as the Soldiers’ Memorial Park and, potentially, include in the park a dedicated memorial of the kind proposed for Commercial Road. The Shire President at the time (J J O’Connor) was a strong backer of this proposal.

Given the range of proposals and what appeared to be strong community interest, the Shire council undertook in June 1920 to defer the decision on the soldiers’ memorial for two months, on the understanding that in the interim there would be a public meeting to canvas views in relation to, at least, the three proposals being put forward. The meeting was scheduled for 21/6/20. In the ads that appeared in the local press there were calls for a large attendance:

A large attendance is requested, and relatives of fallen soldiers are specifically invited to attend.

It is relevant here to point out that in the lead up to this public meeting on the soldiers’ memorial, the local paper was again targeting the politics associated with the Diggers’ Club. The point is that in the background to the local politicking over the soldiers’ memorial, there were ongoing charges being made against the local returned men. This situation could well have affected the locals’ interest and involvement in the whole business. As we will see, hardly anyone attended the public meeting on 21/6/20, despite all the publicity on how important it was.

In an editorial on 26/5/20, Rossiter had been almost gleeful in reporting trouble at the Diggers’ Club. He commenced with,

Has the Yarram Diggers’ Club so soon met trouble?

He then retold the story of how the returned men had held themselves ‘aloof’ from the local community by insisting on their own club rooms. He also argued that the resulting Diggers’ Club, as it was set up, was supported by local subscriptions; and those who had contributed financially understood they were contributing to a facility that would be available to all returned men, with the only restriction being a ‘small members’ fee’. The previous post revealed that, in time, the membership was also extended to include fathers’ of men who had served and also those men who had been ‘rejected’ on medical grounds.

Rossiter then claimed that there were significant divisions within the club over the very issue of membership. There was a ballot system to determine membership and Rossiter claimed that ‘certain rejects’ had been ‘black balled’ in the ballot process. This in turn had led to the resignation of the ‘chief officers’ of the club’s management committee. There were no further details on the men denied membership, nor on the fate of those said to have resigned from the committee. Obviously, the issue of which ‘rejects’ would be admitted to the Diggers’ Club was always going to be contentious. Rossiter was quick – and also keen – to point to the potential outcome for the club. He warned that … the public will be quite alienated, and the club too soon become a white elephant.

Overall, in the lead up to the public meeting on 21/6/20, the background politics associated with returned soldiers had become both public and contentious.

There was a detailed account of the public meeting in the local paper on 23/6/20. As indicated already, the attendance was very small. In fact, the number given was only twelve, ‘including one lady’. The paper claimed it was ‘farcical’ to suggest the meeting was either ‘public’ or ‘representative’. In any event, the meeting proceeded and the Shire President outlined the three proposals:

The three proposals that had been made were a monument in the public street, to cost about £500; the completion of the public park and the erection of a smaller monument in it; and the erection of a memorial hall.

The President declared that he favoured the second proposal – the Soldiers’ Memorial Park – but acknowledged that the Shire had already settled on the first, the monument in Commercial Road. He doubted that the memorial hall proposal would receive public support. Rossiter then spoke to his proposal of the hall, pointing out the benefits for the wider community. However, he also made the point that should his proposal not win support then he would finally quit his ‘effort to get a public hall for Yarram’. This was to be his last effort for the commemorative public hall for Yarram, which he had been pushing from the end of the war.

Councillor Barlow was obviously perturbed by the whole business. He argued that such a small meeting could hardly make any decision of import. Further, he maintained, the basic issue related to the whole of the Shire of Alberton and the narrow focus on Yarram – for the hall proposal – was inappropriate. Further, in relation to the same proposal, he had trouble reconciling what he saw as a business venture – the Shire would take out a loan and then seek to repay it by charging usage costs etc – with the commemoration of the soldiers’ sacrifice. He even went as far as accusing the backers of trying to … make money out of the lives of their fallen soldiers’ lives that had been given for their freedom. It was a strong claim. Barlow was obviously not about to change his support for the Shire’s initial vote to to establish the monument in the main street of Yarram, where the total cost would be covered by the Shire.

There followed further discussion over the merit of even considering alternative proposals if the councillors’ minds were already made up. In the end, the meeting closed without any motion being put. From that point, Rossiter’s proposal for the memorial hall in Yarram was dropped.

After the agreed two months for public discussion had passed, the matter was taken back to council. At the meeting on 12/8/20 the discussion focused on whether the monument was to in the park or in the main street. Incredibly, the vote was tied at four each way. The deciding vote of the President determined that the monument would be erected in the park. So notice was then given that there would be a vote to rescind the original council resolution of 13/5/20 – the one that had the monument in Commercial Road – at the next meeting. However, at the next meeting (9/9/20), the resolution to rescind the original vote was lost. At the same meeting, the following resolution was passed:

That the design for [the] soldiers’ memorial, submitted by H. B. Corben & sons, and numbered 5, to cost £550, be adopted; that it be surrounded by a bluestone and chain railing at an additional cost of £50; and that it be erected in Commercial Road, Yarram, opposite the post office.

Finally, there was a definite decision on the form and location of the soldiers’ memorial for Alberton Shire. It would be dedicated just under one year later. The back story to this decision highlights simmering divisions in the local community over the key question of ownership of the business of commemoration.

The unveiling of the memorial

The Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled on Wednesday, 10 August 1921. The ad for the event specified that it would occur … immediately after arrival of train from Melbourne (about 3.30 p m). The train station at Yarram had been opened earlier the same year (February 1921). The event was written up in the local papers – both Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative and South Gippsland Chronicle – on 12/8/21. The number of locals who attended was put ‘between 400 and 500 people’.

The two dignitaries presiding at the unveiling were the local Federal member G H Wise and Major-General C F Cox. Cox had served on Gallipoli, and then throughout the Sinai-Palestine campaign, with distinction. After the War he was elected to the Senate as a Nationalist.

The account in the local paper noted that the Shire President – John Barry – opened the proceedings by referring to the 700 men who had left the district to fight and the 80 who had died. In his comments, Senator Cox described the memorial as … a credit to the district and a fitting tribute to the boys who saved the country.

For his part, Wise was more political with his remarks. He was keen to refute the claim – it was most commonly identified with Archbishop Mannix – that the War had been waged for merely economic reasons or, more specifically, over trade. Wise insisted that … Those people who thought the past war was a trade or financial was were making a great mistake. For Wise it had been a war to check German power and militarism. It had been a war … fought to end all inhumanities and guarantee freedom and liberty. Arguably, the most significant point here was that Wise felt the need to make the comments. Wise also referred to what he saw as the ‘levelling’ effect of the War:

One of the aftermaths of the war was that it brought all classes on a more equal footing.

At the actual unveiling of the memorial, the Last Post was played. And at the conclusion, B P Johnson gave a ‘hearty vote of thanks’ on behalf of the community.

That night, there was a formal dinner for Wise and Cox and other invited guests in the Yaram Club Hotel, put on by the Shire President, John Barry JP. Prior to the event, newspaper articles had made it clear who was to be invited:

Invitations are being issued to members of the soldier land settlement committee, the repatriation executive, and representatives of the Returned Soldiers’ League.

In the Archives for the Shire of Alberton there is a list of those who were invited. The actual list runs to approximately 55 guests but there is no corresponding list of those who did actually attend. It was an all-male affair. In the write up in the papers the number who were present was described thus:

Between 40 and 50 of the most representative citizens sat down to the dinner at the Club Hotel that would have done credit to a city caterer.

What is clear though is that the single largest group of invited guests consisted of members of the Soldier Land Settlement Committee. There were 18 of them. The second largest group – approximately 15 – would have covered all the Shire representatives: councillors, Shire Secretary, Shire Engineer, Clerk of Works, Treasurer … There was also a small number from the local repatriation Committee. Finally, in terms of distinct groupings of guests, there were approximately 10 returned men. Presumably, they were all associated with either the Diggers’ Club or the local branch of the RSSILA; although it does appear that one or two of them might also have been soldier settlers.

What this all means is that the returned soldiers themselves were a definite minority at the function. Precedence was given to what effectively was the previous generation, the very one that that committed the men to the War. It was something of a classic example how even the commemoration of the War was dominated by the earlier generation. Further, as we will see later, the local Soldier Land Settlement Committee exercised considerable authority over the returned men or, more specifically, those who tried to set themselves up as successful soldier settlers. Not surprisingly, many of the returned men would have felt that everything was skewed to the interests of the previous generation, the one that had not done the fighting.

At the formal dinner there were the usual toasts – ‘The king’, ‘health of the federal Parliament’, ‘the AIF’ … – and B P Johnson appears to have served as MC.

Wise spoke again at the dinner and it was evident that he was defensive over the range and intensity of disquiet in the community about the Government’s management of post-War expectations. For example, he referred to what he saw as the folly of the ‘public indignation meetings’ that were increasingly being called across the country. He defend the Government’s record on ‘soldier service homes’ and claimed the Government had ‘done their best’. And there was criticism of those – he referred to the ‘wealthy’ – who attacked the Government over the level of the War debt.

Another speaker that night was William G Pope. Pope had been a prominent Imperial Loyalist during the War and a backer of the returned men’s push for their own club rooms after the War. He was responsible for the toast to the AIF. His comments reflected those of Bean in that he saw the legacy of the AIF becoming a driving force in Australian history. He acknowledged that the AIF had officially ceased to exist, but then launched into the following, mutli-themed panegyric:

… it [The AIF] will live in Australian hearts and have a beneficial influence on our national life and character for all time, as in every true Australian heart the glorious deeds of the A. I. F. are enshrined for ever. There imperishable glory is the beaconllght on the hill, to which in future all who love and would serve Australia must turn for inspiration, and in the men who lighted it are the descendants of those men and women of British stock whose never-failing courage has laid the foundations of that Commonwealth or British nation, which is the hope of the world.

Returning to a more mundane level, Pope finished with a critique of those upset about the level of war indemnity or reparations that Australia was not going to receive from Germany. The background here was that there had recently been reports -for example, South Gippsland Chronicle, 20/7/21 – that Australia’s share of war indemnity had been reduced from £30M to £400,000, compromising overall repatriation efforts. Pope dismissed the concerns, arguing that the potential of reparations was hardly the reason Australian had gone to war.

It is interesting that even at such formal, commemorative events, the general disquiet in the community about the overall situation in Australia, just short of three years after the Armistice, kept intruding.

For his part, Senator Cox did not have much to say. He was full of praise for the 700 men from the Shire who had all left as volunteers. But even he finished with a call for a significant increase in immigration, as a matter of urgency.

There were several letters touching on both the unveiling ceremony, and the formal dinner, published in the local press immediately after. Predictably, there were complaints about the guest list for the dinner. A letter (12/8/21) from ‘A Dinkum Digger’ intimated that not only were the diggers generally under-represented but some of the diggers invited were not ‘genuine diggers’:

… I would like to ask who was responsible for the issuing of the invitations? Why was it that several Diggers were invited and partook of a hearty meal (and doubtless felt the effects of a bad head the following morning), and other real Diggers were quite overlooked? Why this state of things should be is puzzling. We hear of a dinner and on looking round the guests we see people with no claim to a seat as a Digger, and we also see many with no claim at all as a guest on such an occasion. What was the controlling influence in the choosing of the guests? Did it not count that a man who had really seen service for 4 1/2 years, from first to last, and who had ‘borne the burden and heat of the day,’ should not be asked. Why was it that so many of these real Diggers were not invited, while there were guests with no such record partaking of the good things and ‘eating the fatted calf.’ It seems evident that the same old trouble, class distinction, must have crept in. It is painful to think of such a thing after hearing the address of Mr Wise in the afternoon, when he commented on the fact of how the war had done away with this, and instanced a case of where he had seen hundreds of men on a transport all on an equal footing. Surely it must have pricked the consciences of some of the guests last night when they must have noticed the absence of some Diggers, men perhaps not holding ‘soft jobs’ or clerkships, but Diggers all the same, and justly entitled to a seat at the festal board.

The idea of the ‘genuine’ digger had history. For example, Johnson himself had fought off claims earlier in the War that his son had a secured a position away from the front lines. The AIF had regularly sought to ‘comb out’ men involved in clerical and support roles to reinforce those at the front. But, more generally, there was always the question of whose service in the AIF counted the most or, at least, for more than others’ service. Clearly, in this instance the claim was that some of he diggers at the dinner did not have the same entitlement as others who had served throughout the entire War. Perhaps it was a criticism on those who had taken on positions of responsibility in the local organisations to do with returned men. Clearly, there was politics associated with the operation of the Diggers’ Club. It was always going to be a vexed question. There were even shades of the same dilemma in the case of those ‘rejected’. For example, how many formal attempts and rejections did it take it take before someone became a genuine ‘reject’? Arguably, the more important point here is that the issues of entitlement and status were being raised publicly. The point was being made that not all diggers were ‘equal’.

It was not only the local returned men who were put out by events associated with the dedication of the memorial. One other criticism was that the local school children had not been sufficiently involved in the unveiling ceremony. In the South Gippsland Chronicle of 17/8/21 there was a letter from the head teacher (A M Parratt) of the Yarram State school. He was obviously upset that the children had not been asked to have a formal presence at the ceremony. There was some important history here. All through the War, the then head teacher, A E Paige, had ensured that the school children were always available, even at short notice, to attend formal and semi-formal functions. For example, Paige would quickly organise for a group of school children to attend a farewell organised for a departing recruit. The school children had become a feature of all such public occasions. But, on this occasion, they had been passed over. The new head teacher made the point that … the school was never asked to attend. Had there been an invitation, the school, most definitely, would have been there. In fact, it had a right to be there, and at the dinner as well:

The teachers and children were all willing to march down had we been asked. After all that the children did for the soldiers we were conceited enough to expect an invitation; we also thought that the schools of the district might have been represented at the dinner, either by a teacher or a member of the school committee, but those in authority thought otherwise.

There were even other letters with advice on how the whole ceremony could have been better staged.

The critical observation in all this was that even the acts of commemoration were capable of creating and stirring division. And while some of the tension and division was superficial, manufactured and even trivial, there were other issues that were deep and serious.

The last point to note is that when the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled on 10/8/21, the actual names of the dead had not yet been added. Provision had been made for the names of 80 dead to be inscribed. But it was to be nearly another 10 years before the names were added. This detail will be the subject of a future post.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
South Gippsland Chronicle

Archives, Shire of Alberton

Minute Book October 1913 – April 1921

File: 285-292

Box: 377

 

 

196. Deaths after the Armistice

As indicated in the last post, this post covers the deaths of 2 local men after the Armistice. The names of both men are recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Additionally, both deaths are acknowledged on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in the main street of Yarram.

PERKINS Harold Claude Albert 13881
4 Aust Div MechTransport Coy                 Died of illness 26/2/19

Harold Perkins was born in North Carlton in 1892 and attended school at St Peter’s Church of England, Eastern Hill in Melbourne. When his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, she identified North Carlton as the area with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. She also gave his ‘calling’ on the same form as ‘wood carver’ and his attestation papers record that he had completed a five-year apprenticeship with James Roberts & Sons, Collingwood.

It is not clear at what point he moved to Yarram but by the time he enlisted he was certainly well-known in the local area. His name appears in the 1915 Electoral Roll – Harold Claude Perkins, furniture salesman, Yarram – and there were references in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative  (15/9/15 and 17/5/16 ) which indicate he was conducting furniture sales from an address in Commercial Street, Yarram. The second reference acknowledged that he had recently enlisted and that he needed to sell his furniture stock. The paper called on the locals to support him by buying his stock at sale prices.

He had his initial medical with Dr Crooks in Yarram and was issued with railway warrant number 337 dated 6/5/16. On the list of railway warrants issued, the Shire Secretary added, some time after the War, the single note ‘died’ next to his name.

The enlistment was completed in Melbourne on 8/5/16. At the time he was 24 years-old. He was single and his occupation was recorded as both ‘salesman’ and ‘furniture salesman’. The religion was given as Church of England. At the time of enlistment, the father, George Frederick Perkins, was dead and the mother, Edna Jane Perkins (Quinn), was listed as next-of-kin. She was still living in Melbourne (Drummond St, North Carlton).

Private Perkins was attached to the Field Artillery Brigade. However, when he embarked for overseas service on 16/12/16 he went as a reinforcement for 9 Army Service Corps (17 Divisional Supply Column) and was part of the Mechanical Transport Unit.

His unit reached England in mid February 1917 and he was sent to France one month later as a driver/mechanic for the Motor Transport Section. In early May (7/5/17) he was charged with ‘breaking away from his fatigue duties without permission’ and was confined to barracks for 14 days and forfeited his pay for the same time. There was a period of 2 weeks leave to the UK in February 1918. In March 1918, he was formally transferred from 4 Australian Divisional Supply Company to 4 Australian Divisional Mechanical Transport Company.

After the cessation of fighting, at the start of 1919, there was another period of leave to the UK. However, the very next day after returning to France from leave (18/2/19) he was admitted to hospital. At this point the diagnosis was ‘N.Y.D. Pyrexia’ . Five days later (24/2/19) it was diagnosed as ‘Influenza’ and he was listed as ‘dangerously ill’. He died 2 days later (26/2/19) and the official cause was given as ‘Broncho pneumonia and Influenza’. He died in No. 20 Casualty Clearing Station Charleroi and was buried in the Military Cemetery Charleroi.

There is a Red Cross report for Driver Perkins, prompted by the mother’s request for additional information on the death. One response came from the Officer Commanding, 4 Australian Divisional Mechanical Transport Company (Major F Searle):

…I have to advise that No. 13881 Dvr. Perkins. H.C.A. Died whilst in No. 20 C.C.S. Charleroi and was buried in the Military Cemetery Charleroi.
Cause of death, bronchial pneumonia and influenza, contracted while with this unit in Florennes.
A cross was erected over his grave by this Unit and paid for out of Regimental funds.

The war diary for this particular unit records that they were based at Florennes from 1 February and it also notes in reference to the general health of the men that influenza was very prevalent. However given that Driver Perkins spent the first 2 weeks of February in the UK on leave, and that he was admitted to hospital just one day after re-joining his unit, he could as easily have contracted the (Spanish) flu in the UK.

The cable advising of the death was dated 3/3/19.

The personal belongings reached the mother in September 1919: 3 Handkerchiefs, Letters, photos, Cards, 1 Razorstrop, 1 Wrist Watch and strap, 1 Diamond Ring, 1 Shaving Brush, 2 Brushes, 1 Razor, 2 Discs, 1 Medallion, 2 Collar Badges, 2 Numerals, 1 Comb, 1 Fountain Pen, 1 Cigarette Case, 1 Mirror, 1 Photo Frame, 1 Book of Post Cards, 1 Wallet, 1 one Franc Note

There was another package, a sealed envelope containing … 1 Bank letter dated 11th January 1919 Re remittance £10.

The mother received her son’s medals, but she herself died in May 1922 and, consequently, the remaining official memorabilia – scroll and plaque – were sent to the older brother, F H Perkins of Alphington.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for Perkins, Harold Claude Albert
Roll of Honour: Harold Claude Albert Perkins
First World War Embarkation Roll: Harold Claude Albert Perkins
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold Claude Albert Perkins

Harold Claude Albert Perkins, courtesy of Australian War Memorial

 

 

O’NEILL John Albert 2267
Aust Army Provo Corps           Died of Illness 25/11/19

John Albert O’Neill was born in Yarram (1888) and attended the state school at Alberton West. He was also involved with the South Gippsland Rifle Club. He came from a well-known family in the local area, at Stacey’s Bridge. His grandfather – John O’Neill – was one of the first settlers at Jack River.

John O’Neill was one of 6 siblings. There were 2 younger brothers, one of whom – David Francis O’Neill – also enlisted and survived the War, returning to Australia in early 1919. The father – Christopher O’Neill – was a dairy farmer with 150 acres at Devon. He died in 1918 while his son was still serving overseas. The mother – Ellen O’Neill (Nolan) – then became the next-of-kin and she provided the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. She gave Stacey’s Bridge as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. The mother herself died shortly after, in 1922.

While John O’Neill had been born, gone to school, and grown up in the local area, and was clearly recognised as a local, he actually enlisted in Tasmania. On the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor his entry specifically notes that he enlisted in Tasmania. It is not apparent when he left the district and moved to Tasmania. The fact that he was a member of the Stacey’s Bridge Rifle Club suggests that it would not have until his late teens or early twenties.

Private O’Neill enlisted at Claremont, Tasmania on 1/6/15. He was 26 yo and he gave his occupation as ‘laborer’. His religion was recorded as Roman Catholic.

Private O’Neill joined as reinforcements for 12 Battalion and left Australia on 25/6/15. He joined 12 Battalion on Gallipoli in September 1915. After the withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula, 12 Battalion was sent to France and disembarked at Marseilles on 5/4/16.

Over his service in France Private O’Neill received 2 awards. The first was in July 1916 when, together with 4 other privates in 12 Battalion, he was mentioned in despatches for bravery as a stretcher-bearer at Pozieres in July 1916. The citation read,

For conspicuous gallantry & devotion to duty during operations 23/25 July 1916 at Pozieres. They [Private O’Neill and the 4 others ] were stretcher bearers during the whole of this period & with great courage & coolness carried many wounded men across shell swept areas to dressing station.

The war diary of 12 Battalion gives an indication of the enemy shelling at this time ( July 25, 1916) :

Fighting continues POZIERES position heavily shelled from 4 am to 6 pm the trenches dug by us are obliterated & many of our men buried

The diary also records that there were 235 wounded over the 3 days (23-25 July 1916).

Just over 6 months later, Private O’Neill’s bravery was again acknowledged. On this occasion he was recommended for – and received – the Military Medal. The recommendation was dated 1/3/17 and it again involved his work as a stretcher-bearer. The other private recommended at the same time – Private Samuel John Clarke (2229) – was also from 12 Battalion:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Privates Clarke & O’Neill, were stretcher bearers and were untiring in their efforts to carry back wounded men over exceedingly heavy country, the rapid advance of the battalion making this a very long and arduous task. …. Private O’Neill was previously recommended for good work done at Pozieres.

The citation does not give the precise date(s) or location. Presumably, it was referring to late February as the Germans were falling back to the Hindenburg Line and the fighting was again in the area near Pozieres, roughly on a line between Albert and Bapaume.

Back in Gippsland, the local paper reported on 14/9/17 that Private O’Neill’s father had been informed by the Department of Defence that his son had been awarded the Military Medal for ‘bravery in the field’.

Private O’Neil was himself wounded in action on 20/9/17. He suffered a shell wound to his left arm. He was evacuated to England and was discharged from hospital at the end of November 1917.

At the start of August 1918, Private O’Neill transferred from 12 Battalion to the Australian Provost Corps. It appears he continued in this unit, in the UK, through to the end of the War, and then after the Armistice, right through until November 1919 when he died.

The details of the death are limited but the official description given was ‘valvular disease of the heart’. It appears that he was admitted to hospital – Kitchener Military Hospital, Brighton – early in November with ‘acute bronchitis’ and died on the 25/11/19.

The mother had written to Base Records in early August 1919 (3/8/19) asking for details on the ‘welfare and whereabouts’ of her son. Presumably he was not in regular correspondence with the family back in Gippsland. The response – not until 6/8/19 – was, essentially, that there was nothing to report and that,

It is anticipated that he will be returning home very shortly, and upon receipt of advice to the effect that he has embarked for Australia, you will be promptly advised.

Then in the middle of November it appears that the mother received 2 telegrams – both dated the same day, 13/11/19. One stated that he had been admitted to hospital with ‘acute bronchitis’ and the second that he was ‘dangerously ill’ and that a progress report could be expected.

It appears that the cable advising of the death reached Australia on 26/11/19, the day after his death. On the 29/11/19 there was a detailed report of the funeral service held when 2/Cpl John Albert O’Neil M.M. was buried in Brighton Borough Cemetery:

The deceased was accorded a full military funeral. The coffin, draped with the Australian flag and surmounted with wreaths, was borne on a Gun Carriage to the cemetery. A firing party from the 34th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was in attendance. The pall-bearers were 6 of deceased’s comrades from the Australian Provost Corps at Lewes. A detachment from the same unit under the O.C. Major G. L. PHILLIPS (MBE) followed the coffin to the graveside. Three volleys were fired over the grave and the Last Post was sounded.

Detail for the wreaths on the coffin indicate that 2/Cpl O’Neill was based at the A.I. F. Detention Barracks at Lewes.

In early 1920 (20/3/20) the mother wrote to Base Records asking for details on the collection of her son’s Military Medal, other medals and deferred pay. She was advised that the Military Medal would be passed over shortly.

In August the same year, she received her son’s kit – 1 disc, 1 rosary, Military Medal ribbon, 1 leather belt, 1 pipe, 1 pocket book, photos, letters.

The mother did received her son’s Military Medal and his service medals. However, as noted, she died in 1922 and so when the memorial plaque was sent to her, at her Stacey’s Bridge address, in December 1922, it was received and signed for by David Francis O’Neill, the brother who had also served in the AIF. The O’Neill family was another one where both parents and the soldier son all died within a relatively period of each other, in this instance 4 years.

Corporal O’Neill’s name is also recorded on the roll of honour of Stacey’s Bridge and District.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

National Archives file for O’Neill, John Albert
Roll of Honour: John Albert O’Neill
First World War Embarkation Roll: John Albert O’Neill
Honours and Awards file: John Albert O’Neill

 

 

194. F W Lowther

LOWTHER Frank William 156

(42 B) 41 B  Died of Illness 24/11/18

Frank William Lowther enlisted in Queensland but both he and his large family had strong links with the Shire of Alberton. His father – Thomas Cormac Lowther – had been the head teacher at the state school at Yarram prior to 1878. The father also had land in the Devon district. Frank himself was born at Woodside in 1882, grew up in the district and attended the state schools at Devon North and Yarram. While it appears that there were initially 12 siblings in the family, three had died by the time of the War.

There was an older brother – Louis Anthony Lowther – who also enlisted in Queensland and who had also attended the same local schools. Both these brothers were also listed on the Devon North District honor roll and the Presbyterian Charge.

The father died in 1883 just one year after Frank was born and it appears that the family farm was sold in 1899. It is not known when 3 of the Lowther brothers – Frank William, Louis Anthony and Clare Cormac – moved to Queensland but the fact that the names of the 2 brothers who enlisted appear on the Devon and local Presbyterian honor rolls suggest that it was probably not until about 1910. Some of the female siblings married in the local area. The second eldest child – Eleanor Ann Lowther, born 1862 – married a local (Lowe) and was living at Woranga during the War. Additionally, another married sister – Kate Clara Lowther (Martin), born 1879 – was also still living in Yarram, as was another unmarried sister, Blanche Lowther, born 1876. Overall, the Lowther family was certainly well known in the district.

Frank Lowther enlisted in Toowoomba on 25/11/15. He joined 42 Battalion. He was 33 yo, single and he gave his religion as Presbyterian. His brother, Clare Cormac Lowther, was listed as his next-of-kin. This brother, older than Frank, was farming at Jandowae near Chinchilla in Queensland and it appears that Frank was living and working with him. The other brother who enlisted – Louis Anthony Lowther – was also farming in the same area prior to his enlistment. He returned to Queensland, at least initially, after the War. There is a note on the form completed for the (National) Roll of Honour – completed by Clare Cormac Lowther – that Frank was … working with his brother [Clare Cormac], but later took up photography. The same form also reveals that Frank was an accomplished musician who had played with the North Devon Brass Band – at least until 1905 – and won competitions. It noted that he had had ‘good’ musical training and he … excelled on cornet and saxophone. Then, when he enlisted, he was … one of the members of the original Band of the 42 Battalion continuing so till his death.

There is not much information in Private Frank Lowther’s service file on his war-time experience. He left Australia in early June 1916, reached the UK in late July 1916 and moved to France in January 1917. According to the war diary of 42 Battalion, on 23/10/18, the battalion – 42 Battalion – merged with or was ‘taken on the strength of’ 41 Battalion. This was at the time of the ‘mutiny’ when several battalions refused to disband as part of the re-organisation or ‘cannibalisation’ forced on the AIF. Private Lowther was never in trouble with the military authorities, nor was he ever wounded and, until the very end at least, he was never even admitted to hospital.

The same war diary (31/10/18) also noted that just before the Armistice the health of the men was generally good but it also cautioned that … the greatest care was, and still is being exercised, to prevent “Spanish Influenza” which has made its appearance, from assuming alarming proportions. On 18/11/18 the diary recorded that the men were ‘inoculated this morning’. There was also a passing reference on 29/11/18 – Influenza proving troublesome.

Private Lowther was one of those for whom ‘Spanish Influenza’ was ‘troublesome’. He was admitted to the hospital at Abbeville (3 Australian General Hospital) suffering from ‘influenza’ on 17/11/18, was described as ‘dangerously ill’ on 22/11/18 and died of ‘Bronchial Pneumonia’ on 24/11/18. Interestingly, in his file there is a Red Cross report which lists 3 other men who died in the Abbeville Hospital round the same time from ‘Spanish Flu’. The earliest was 28/10/18 and the last 17/12/18. In all 4 cases the patient was admitted with ‘influenza’ but then, within 5-8 days, died from ‘broncho-pneumonia’. In addition to these 4 deaths, other records in Private Lowther’s service file – from Graves Registration Unit – indicate that at least another 3 men from the Abbeville Hospital (3AGH) died from ‘broncho-pneumonia’, following ‘influenza’, in November 1918.

Private Lowther was buried in the Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension. It appears that the family in Australia was advised of the death in early December 1918 (3-5/12/18). The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – reported his death on 13/12/18, noting that … Private Frank Lowther, formerly of this district, has lost his life in the service of his country. A death notice appeared on 18/12/18:

LOWTHER.- On November 24th of bronchial pneumonia, Private Frank William Lowther, No. 156, C Coy., 42nd Battalion, bandsman, A.I.F., youngest son of the late Thomas Cormac Lowther, and dearly loved brother of Mrs. Wm. Jas. Lowe, Woranga, and C. C. Lowther, Jandowae, Queensland. Age 36 years and 11 1/2 months.
He patiently stayed until victory was won,
Then he laid aside bugle and sword;
Good fight he had fought, life’s race he’d well run,
Now he rests in the arms of his Lord.
Sleep on beloved, sleep and take thy rest
Till the day break and the shadows flee

and an in memoriam appeared on 20/12/18:

On Active Service.
LOWTHER.- On the 24th of November, 1918, Frank Lowther, who died of pneumonia after two years and five months’ active service, loved brother of Messrs. O. T. Lowther, C. C. Lowther, Pte. L. A. J. Lowther, Mrs. W. J. Lowe, Mrs. C. M. Goodaye, Misses R. E. Lowther and B. Lowther, and Mrs. K. C. Martin, all of whom equally mourn their loss.
Beloved by all.
Beyond the shadows and the strife.
Inserted by his loving and sorrowing sister, K. C. Martin

The brother identified as next-of-kin (Clare Lowther in Queensland) received personal kit – Wallet, Y.M.C.A. Wallet, 3 Razors, Safety Razor, Devotional Book, Letters, Cards, Pocket Knife, Coins Value 50 cent. – in August 1919. Another brother, Oswald Thomas Lowther, the oldest male sibling – was sent an ‘identity disc’ nearly one year later, in June 1920. Oswald, again as the oldest surviving son in the family, also received the war medals.

This oldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – who was 51 yo at the time of his youngest brother’s death, was a prolific correspondent with the AIF’s Base Records in Melbourne. Even though he was not the designated next-of-kin, he effectively took on this role; and, in time, this pursuit of his came to create significant family conflict. As an example of his propensity to assume the role of ‘head-of-family’, in February 1919 he wrote to Base Records indicating that he wished to open proceedings to have his brother’s body returned to Australia. He wrote of some promise to his mother on her death bed:

He is my youngest Brother & my Dear Mother on her death-bed made a special request to me, so that if possible, I would like him to be buried in his mother’s grave.

The request is extraordinary and, in fact, in the approximately 140 cases of AIF members killed overseas which I have examined, it is the only such request I have come across. It is hard to believe that it was ever a serious request. In any case, the AIF gave a judicious reply (20/2/19):

Concerning the request that the body of your brother, the late No 156, Private F.W. Lowther, 41st Battalion, be returned to Melbourne I have to inform you that from information received by the Honourable the Minister for Defence it is gathered that the Imperial War Graves Commission have formed the opinion that this will not be practicable. A realisation of the natural feelings of relatives in a matter of such an intimate character increases the difficulty of laying down a rule of a strictly definite character but the Minister trusts that all concerned will be content to accept the principle, a departure from which , the Commission fears, would lead to undesirable discriminations in the treatment of questions of this kind. It is hoped therefore, that you will not press your wishes in this matter but will be satisfied to leave your brother with the comrades buried with him in the Field.

With regard to Private Frank Lowther’s personal property a significant injustice appears to have occurred. When Private Lowther was admitted to hospital in Abbeville he took with him, as his own personal property, his cornet and saxophone. However, neither of these was ever returned to the family. The brother in the AIF – Sgt. Louis Lowther – began to pursue the matter in June 1919. He had been alerted by the brother back in Queensland that neither instrument had been returned and, obviously, both brothers were keen to recover these treasured items. It appears that first the AIF and then the Red Cross were contacted to help resolve the issue. However, despite various reassurances and attempts to locate the items there is no record of them ever being returned. The family was told that the items should have been returned to 42 Battalion but, unfortunately, the battalion had now been ‘demobilised’ and it was therefore … difficult to get any information on (the) subject. Also, The 3rd Australian General Hospital, Abbeville, France, where the late soldier died has now been disbanded thus enhancing the futility of further enquiries at this end. Similarly, the AIF Kit Store in London had no information and, moreover, did not know … of any other source from which information may be obtained regarding same. The official reply (22/8/19) therefore was that … enquiries have been made in every direction without success. At the end of the day, 2 valuable musical instruments which Private Lowther had had with him, probably from his time with the Devon North District Band, and then all through the War years, were most likely taken by someone at the hospital after he died. The 2 items that arguably most identified his life and which meant so much to his family were lost.

Private Lowther’s service file reveals another example of how family conflict could break out over the memory of the dead sibling. After Frank’s death, there were 8 siblings still alive. Some were still living in the Shire of Alberton but others had shifted – for example, to Melbourne – and, as indicated, prior to the War three brothers had earlier moved to Queensland. So, overall, it was still a large family and the siblings were separated by significant distances. However neither of these difficulties was the main problem.

In the AIF, Private Frank Lowther had nominated as his next-of-kin one of his older brothers – Clare Cormac Lowther – but, as already pointed out, the oldest surviving brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – appeared keen to establish himself as the family head. Moreover, under the legislation covering the distribution of medals, in the case where both parents were deceased, it was the oldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – who had the first claim. However, as things turned out, the conflict that did arise was not over the distribution of medals – although some of the female siblings did take great exception to what they regarded as discrimination on the basis of their sex – but, rather, over the wording of the inscription on the grave stone.

As the next-of-kin, Clare Cormac Lowther was given the task of organising the inscription for the grave stone. He was sent the official form in February 1920. However, at the same time as he was asked to provide an inscription, the eldest brother – Oswald Thomas Lowther – initiated contact with Base Records enquiring about how he could create his own inscription. From this point, there was family division, or more correctly, based on all the correspondence in the service file, the issue of the inscription appeared to focus all the family division that had been there, probably from the time of the father’s death (1883) and certainly from that of the mother (1900).

Essentially, the family split into two camps: 6 siblings supported Clare Lowther, while Oswald Lowther was supported by one sister. Those who supported Clare Lowther wrote, in extensive correspondence to the AIF, that he was the sibling who had done the most for Frank, right from when he was born and that he was the one who always had had his interests at heart.

As far as the AIF was concerned, it obviously did not want to get involved in family disputes. Its position was that it would accept whatever the family decided, so long as it conformed to the requirement of 66 characters, including spaces. The AIF presumed that the siblings could and would come to an agreement.

At this point there were 2 basic proposals: one from Clare Lowther representing the 6 siblings which read:

In memory of Frank, dearly loved son of Thomas & Margaret Lowther, Yarram, Victoria

and another from Oswald Lowther and his sister (Caroline Gooday) which read:

Rev, 14.13
C. Gooday
O. Lowther

[Revelation 14.13: Then I heard a voice from Heaven say to me, ‘Write down: Happy are those who die in the Lord! Happy indeed, the Spirit says; now they can rest for ever after their work, since their good deeds go with them’]

It is not clear if Oswald Lowther saw his inscription as an addition or alternative to the one backed by the majority of his siblings. He argued that he had not been consulted over the original inscription.

The AIF then wrote to Clare Lowther (1/12/20) and advised him of his brother’s request. They requested that he re-write the inscription, incorporating the additional request, still ensuring that the 66 character limit was observed. They also wrote to Oswald Lowther (2/12/20) advising him of what they had done.

This request prompted a series of letters from the 6 siblings stating that they disapproved strongly of the eldest brother’s actions. They expressed embarrassment at his actions; re-affirmed their belief that the only sibling who had the moral right to represent Frank’s interests was his brother Clare; were angry that this brother’s selfless actions had been challenged; were outraged that, as proposed, only 2 of the siblings’ names would appear in the inscription; and even made allegations about the past conduct of Oliver Lowther and how he had damaged the family’s name. In defending his original proposal, Clare Lowther wrote to the AIF (23/12/20):

Regarding the two members of the family (C. Goody & O. Lowther) I will say nothing except that they have adopted a hostile attitude toward me since my brother died.

The AIF must have realised that majority support obviously rested with the original inscription and that there was definitely no such support for any additional comment. Consequently it edited the inscription to read:

In memory of the dearly loved son of T. & M. Lowther, Yarram, Victoria.

It then forwarded (1/3/21) the inscription to the Imperial War Graves Commission in London.

Oswald Lowther wrote (28/2/21) wanting to know if anything had happened regarding his proposed change to the inscription. He was informed by the AIF on 9/3/21 that the final inscription was:

In memory of the dearly loved son of T. & M. Lowther, Yarram, Victoria.

However, the matter did not rest there. When Oswald Lowther found out about the final inscription (9/3/21) he immediately wrote back to the AIF requesting the following change – that ‘Yarram’ be removed and replaced by ‘Rev. 14,13’ which he indicated was a … favourite text of my Dear Mother’s. He added that the same text had been used at the funeral service of another brother who had died as an … Elder in the Kirk. He followed this request up with another in May 1921. However, in relation to this latest proposed change to the inscription, he also made representation directly to the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) in London. Presumably, he did so in what he saw as his capacity, or right, as the oldest male sibling and therefore the head of the family. It is also possible that he sought the intervention of the Minister of Defence (G Pearce). This time his representation was successful and the IWGC advised the AIF back in Melbourne that the wording had been changed in line with Oswald Lowther’s advice.

When the AIF discovered that the wording had been changed it wrote (10/8/21) to Clare Lowther – now working as an auctioneer at Hamilton, back in Victoria – explaining that without their knowledge his brother had communicated directly with the IWGC and that the inscription had been changed. The AIF pointed out that time was short but it still hoped that the family could come to an agreed position. Essentially, the AIF wanted the family to accept the change. Presumably, it did not see any significant problem with the change: a country town in Victoria had simply been replaced with a reference to a well-known scripture text.

It is to be regretted that your brother should have acted thus contrary to the expressed wishes of the surviving relatives but it is hoped that even at this juncture to obtain some degree of unanimity respecting the acceptance of the inscription in the revised form.

Clare Lowther replied immediately (15/8/21). He described his brother’s action as ‘contemptible’. He stated that he would inform his siblings about what had happened. He strongly rejected the change:

It was the particular wish [of the siblings] that the name of the town in which he [Frank] lived and was well and widely known should be inscribed on the headstone. My late brother’s parents were resident for a considerable number of years in this same town where their memory is cherished.

By this point there were urgent time constraints. Also, presumably, the AIF had had enough of being caught in the middle of family politics. It wrote back to Clare Lowther (24/8/21) pointing that there was no time for another round of family consultation and that the only option left for him was to write directly to the IWGC … with a view to obtaining, if possible, a reversal of their present decision.

While this was the course of action that Clare Lowther followed, it did not prevent the AIF receiving extensive correspondence from the siblings, in response to Clare Lowthers’ advice to them about what their brother had done. Such correspondence made it clear that they did not approve. Again, some attacked the integrity of their brother Oswald Lowther and, as a minimum, described his action as ‘underhand’. Others attacked the text itself and declared that it was … not worthy of a soldier’s honour. Others were outraged that the dispute had been revised by their brother and simply could not see why anyone would even object to the inscription as decided upon by the majority. As far as the inclusion of Yarram was concerned there were very strong feelings expressed, similar to Clare Lowther’s earlier comments. One sister wrote that Frank had been looking forward to returning to both Yarram and Devon when he returned home from the War. One of the sisters still living there, wrote of Yarram that it was … the town where he spent his childhood and boyhood and entered manhood and where he was and is loved and respected by all who knew him. She added that Yarram was … in the vicinity of the old house [the parents original house at Devon] where Frank had his most sacred and most cherished associations. There was consensus that Yarram had to stay in the inscription and that, in effect, nothing was to change.

On 3/9/21 Clare Lowther write to Base Records in Melbourne advising them that he had written to the IWGC informing them that it was the … unanimous wish of the majority of the members of the family that the name of Frank’s home town should be inscribed on his Memorial Stone.

That, presumably, was the end of the matter. The inscription on the grave stone today reads:

In Memory of the Dearly Loved Son of T. & M. Lowther
Yarram, Victoria.

The preceding account illustrates how fraught the commemoration of those killed in the War could become. Possibly, in this particular case, the commemoration was compromised because of pre-existing divisions and tension within a large family, which meant that even the death of a loved sibling could not be an uncontested or neutral event. Clearly, those involved were embarrassed, ashamed and even outraged by what happened but, equally, they could not stop it.

The case also offers insight on the importance of place. Possibly, some at least of the siblings’ opposition to the plan to replace ‘Yarram’ with a reference to scripture was directed by anger at Oswald Lowther’s attempt to thwart the expressed wishes of the majority of siblings. However, equally, several of the siblings clearly articulated the need to tie the memory of their brother to a particular location, in this instance Yarram. They considered it was important to tie him, not to Queensland, where he had been living and working, but to the location to which his family ‘belonged’.

As we have seen throughout this blog, transience in Australia in late 19 C and early 20 C was a constant, across society as a whole. Yet for all the mobility, the need to identify with a particular location remained very powerful. Arguably, the dead of WW1 threw this fundamental need into much sharper focus. The need to place the names of the many dead on rolls and memorials – in cities, suburbs, country towns, settlements and even schools all across Australia – and literally make that connection to place, was overpowering; and even more so because the bodies were buried ‘overseas’ in the poetic corner of a ‘foreign field’.

However, the ‘rules’ for determining the specific location were vague and inconsistent and often local politics was the key driver. As well, after the War, there lapses in both effort and memory. Many of the dead missed out, as we have seen, repeatedly. Even in this particular case, despite all attempts to make the connection to Yarram, neither of the two Lowther brothers who served in the AIF were included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the name of Frank William Lowther who died on 24/11/18 is not included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for LOWTHER Frank William
Roll of Honour: Frank William Lowther
First World War Embarkation Roll: Frank William Lowther
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Frank William Lowther

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

187. W D Glanfield

GLANFIELD William Donovan 191
8 LHR Died of Illness 15/10/18

William Glanfield was the last of the Shire men to die in the War. He was also one of the ‘originals’ who had enlisted in September 1914 which meant that he survived on active service for just over 4 years.

William Glanfield was born in Fitzroy and attended the state school at Preston. When his father completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he specifically identified Preston as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. While William grew up in Melbourne he must have moved to Alberton several years before he enlisted. His enlistment papers show that he was working as a ‘telegraph operator’ at Alberton and his occupation on the 1915 electoral roll appeared as ‘railway employee’. Other forms described his occupation in terms of ‘assisting station master’. Presumably he had started in the Victorian Railways after school and when War broke out he was working at the Alberton Railway Station, which was the station from which the first mass group of volunteers from the Shire of Alberton – including William himself– departed in September 1914.

William’s father – George H Glanfield – was listed as next-of-kin and at the time of the enlistment the father was living in Sydney. There was another, younger, brother – George Frank Glanfield (6230) – who also enlisted, in Sydney. He survived the War and returned to Australia in March 1919.

While William Glanfield may only have been working in the Shire for a short period before he enlisted, his name was included on both the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial and the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative in 1914, there are many references in the local paper to William Glanfield playing football for the Alberton team. In fact he was often in the best players and he was even referred to as the team’s ‘topnotch’ player. He also played district tennis for Alberton. Also, over the course of the War, Glanfield wrote letters back to people in Alberton and these were sometimes published in the local paper. The publication of these ‘soldiers’ letters’ shows how important such information was for people at home. For example, on 23/2/16 the local paper published extracts from one of Glanfield’s letters – he had written to Mr. Geo. Barry of Alberton – under the headline: Soldiers’ Letter (sic) Tidings of District Lads. The letter was written at Heliopolis. It described how … a good many Yarram boys are camped here with the Brigade and it specifically – by name – mentioned 17 local men. One man mentioned was Edgar Appleyard. Private Glanfield also described how relieved the men were to be out of the trenches and looking forward to the next stage of fighting, given that it was to be on their terms:

We are now, with the aid of reinforcements, to go once more (mounted this time) in to the firing line to avenge our fallen mates. It will be fighting after our own style, not the monotonous trench warfare of Gallipoli.

In the same letter there was an account of the stunning success of the evacuation from Gallipoli – a marvellous piece of strategy . There was also outrage over the killing of Nurse Cavell and the pledge to defend Australian women. Overall, the tone was positive and proud but also naive:

By all accounts our boys are having great sport on the western frontier (sic), and we are hoping they will have us into it. They have worked our brigade pretty hard, but we will take all they can give us, and we have the name of giving more than we get.

There was also the suggestion of resigned prescience:

The boys are looking forward to the time when they will return, and I hope they all do, but it will be a lucky man who does.

There was another report in the local paper on 10/8/17 which detailed how Sergeant Glanfield had written to the parents of Edgar Appleyard (above) who had died of wounds on 3/8/17.  In fact, the various articles in the paper suggest that Glanfield played an important role in maintaining contacts across all the various locals serving in the Light Horse.

There was also a specific reference in the local paper – 25/8/16 – to William Glanfield himself. No indication of the source of the information was provided.

Footballers will be pleased to hear that Glanfield, who is at the front, received a commission as lieutenant. He scored in the examination 99 1/2 out of a possible 100 points.

Like others who ‘rose through the ranks’, before enlisting in the AIF, Trooper Glanfield had held ranks in the senior cadets/citizens forces. On his enlistment papers he indicated that he had had previous military experience. There is a note that he had been Colour Sergeant, Cadets at the Alfred Crescent State School and he had also held the rank of Petty Officer in the Preston Naval Brigade.

As indicated, William Donovan Glanfield enlisted in Yarram on 16/9/14. He had his initial medical with Dr Pern and was re-examined in Melbourne, where it was noted that his ‘teeth [needed] to be attended to’. As with most of the other ‘originals’ who enlisted at the same time he was put down for South Gippsland Light Horse. However, in Melbourne he formally joined 8 Light Horse Regiment. He was 22 yo at the time, single and he gave his religion as Church of England.

His unit left Melbourne for Egypt on 25 February 1915. The embarkation roll shows him as holding the rank of corporal (signaller).

He reached Gallipoli in May 1915 but after 2 months he was taken off with influenza and admitted to hospital on Mudros (26/7/15). He returned to Gallipoli in August (22/8/15) but was taken off again the next month (13/9/15) with colitis and ‘Acute dysentery’ and did not return to duty until early December.

In June 1916 he was made 2nd Lieutenant and it appears he was appointed the Regimental Signal Officer. Then in September he was back in hospital, with another bout of dysentery. He did not get back to 8 LHR until the end of October (31/10/16).

In December (17/12/16) he was confirmed as full Lieutenant and it appears that throughout 1917 he undertook training at the Imperial School of Instruction (Zeitoun). He was back with his unit by the end of March 1918 and then in April he was given temporary command of 3 Signal Troop.

His service record shows that he was admitted to hospital (German Hospital in Damascus) on 8/10/18 and then died one week later on 15/10/18. The cause of death was given as cholera.

The war diary for the unit (3 Signal Troop) – the unit of which he was the commanding officer – throws some light on Lieutenant Glanfield’s fate. The general background involved the occupation of Damascus early in October 1918 and the major health crisis that followed with ‘broncho-pneumonia and malignant malaria’. Bean covered the situation in his Official History (Vol VII, Chpt XII). The situation in all the hospitals in Damascus at the time was dire and being admitted to hospital posed considerable risk. Bean gives a very bleak picture of the conditions in the hospitals in Damascus, for both the Allied and Turkish sick whose numbers ran into the thousands. The extent of the medical crisis is evident in the war diaries of the various units involved. For example, the diary for the 8 LHR shows that in October 1918 from an original troop strength of 391 officers and other ranks, 106 – nearly 30% – were evacuated to hospital.

As indicated, Lieutenant Glanfield had taken command of 3 Signal Troop in April 1918. When he was evacuated to hospital the former OC – Lieutenant Latham – re-assumed command (21/10/18) and it was this officer who completed the war diary for October 1918. In the diary there is a reference to Lietenant Glanfield’s medical evacuation:

(8/10/18) Lieut Glanfield (OC 3rd Signal Troop) evacuated sick to hospital.

It is clear from the diary that many men were coming down with sickness. In fact, the casualties were so high that the troop was having difficulty in discharging its responsibility to maintain the ‘cable lines’ between the various units. The ‘natives’ were constantly cutting out whole sections of the line.

(10/10/18) Continuous trouble through day on Divn line. Linesmen report many pieces of cable cut out by natives. Owing to evacuations to hospital unit now 12 deficient, making task of maintaining communications particularly difficult.

While the diary does refer directly to the death of one member of the unit – 3054 Sapper Gunter, S E – at the English Hospital Damascus on 15/10/18, there is no reference to the fate of Lieutenant Glanfield, who died the same day.

It is also worth noting that the cause of Gunter’s death was described as malaria. However, for Glanfield the cause was given as cholera. Bean makes the point that it was not until about 12 October that the medical authorities in Damascus had the facility to identify the true nature of disease and prior to this … Some cases of malarial diarrhoea were diagnosed as cholera (737).

Lieutenant Glanfield was buried in the Damascus Military Cemetery, which was in the grounds of the German Hospital.

The cable advising of his death was dated 22/10/18. All kit, medals etc were sent to the father as next-of-kin who, as indicated, was living in Sydney. As an officer, the personal kit was extensive. It came in 3 lots:

(1) one paper package:
one wallet cont. stars, badges, photos, & 1 letter.

(2) one small wooden box:
1 pr top boots, 1 woollen warm, 1 shirt, 1 pr. gloves, 1 balaclava, 1 pr. putties, Military books, 1 notebook.

(3) one black steel trunk in hessian:
1 pr. Scissors. 1 box Visiting cards. 2 shirts. 4 prs. Trousers. 1 pr. Breeches. 2 Sword frogs. 1 S.B. Shoulder strap. 1 pr. Braces. 1 pr. Suspenders. 3 prs. Socks. 1 Pack Playing Cards. 10 collars. 3 ties. Safety Razor & case. 2 prs. Shoes. 1 pr. Boots. 1 pr. Leggings. 1 Belt. 1 tin contg stars. Visiting cards. 1 testament. 1 Photo frame. 1 tunic. 1 military book. 2 writing pads maps. 1 luggage tag. Box contg. Photos. Military notes.

On 6/11/18, just 5 days before the Armistice, the following notice appeared in the local paper:

ALBERTON.
The sad intelligence has reached the many Alberton friends of the death on active service of Signalling (sic) Lieutenant William Donovan Glanfield, at the age of 26 years, after nearly four years active service with the A.I.F. in Palestine. Lieutenant. Glanfield was amongst the first to enlist from this district, prior to which he was employed by the Victorian Railways, in which capacity he was widely known to all for the courteous and civil manner in which he fulfilled his duties. As a man, apart from his many public duties, he was all that could be desired, and will be remembered by all the sporting fraternity of the district as one of the leading footballers of the Alberton Football Club, and was instrumental in placing this club at the head of the premiership list during the year that they were so fortunate in having his valued services.The community has, indeed, lost a valued friend, and extend to his relatives their sympathy in their sad bereavement.

As noted, Lieutenant Glanfield, one of the very first to enlist, was the last of the volunteers from the Shire of Alberton to die before the fighting ceased. Several deaths – from wounds or illness – occurred after the Armistice but he was the last to die on active service before the end of hostilities.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume VII – The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914-1918, 10th Edition 1941

National Archives file for GLANFIELD William Donovan
Roll of Honour: William Donovan Glanfield
First World War Embarkation Roll: William Donovan Glanfield

183. A P Christensen

CHRISTENSEN Allan Patrick 2824
2 FAB  KIA 28/9/18

Allan Christensen’s father – Anton Christensen – was an immigrant from Norway. The father married Mary Ann Margaret Sherry at Devon in 1890. It appears that the family ran a dairy farm at Alberton in the 1890s. There were 7 children and Allan, born in 1896, was the fourth. A second brother – Walter – also enlisted and survived the War, although he was seriously wounded and had his right leg amputated.

The children grew up in the local area and attended several local state schools. Allan’s name appears on the honor rolls of both Devon North and Yarram state schools. His name also appears on the honor roll for the district of Devon North. And it is also on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. On the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, Yarram was listed as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

Allan Christensen had his initial medical and enlisted at Yarram on 2/2/16. On his enlistment form there is a handwritten note signed by A(llan). Christensen:

Father born in Norway & naturalized. Mother’s address unknown.

While the mother’s address was, apparently, unknown, the father was working in the local area. He appears on the electoral roll (1915) as a carpenter of Mullundung. Similarly, he was also listed as next-of-kin on the enlistment papers where his address was given as the Goodwood Timber Company at Mullundung. Allan Christensen’s occupation was simply listed as labourer.

On enlistment Private Christensen was single and he was nearly 21 yo. His religion was given as Roman Catholic. However, his brother’s religion on enlistment was given as Church of England.

Private Christensen enlisted as reinforcements for 4 Light Horse Regiment and his group of reinforcements left Melbourne in late July (28/7/16). The details of his time over the next year are sketchy but, presumably, he spent the latter part of 1916 in Egypt.

At the very end of 1916 his file shows that he was in hospital in the UK. It is not clear why he was sent to the UK from Egypt – perhaps he was already ill – but he definitely was hospitalised after arrival ( 26/12/16) in the UK. The condition was described as ‘bronchitis’ and ‘influenza’. An extensive period of sickness and hospitalisation followed, through to the end of September 1917.

Over the first 6 months of 1917, when he was in hospital in the UK, Private Christensen was obviously very sick. In his file, there is a detailed medical report from Tidworth Hospital, dated 15/3/17, which lists his condition as ‘T.B. of lung’ and dates the disability from December 1916. The report states:

Patient states that he was never ill previous to enlistment. Was ill on boat en route for England from Australia for a few days with Influenza and one week after arrival here he was taken ill with present complaint. He complained of weakness, cough and pains in chest and abdomen.

The same medical report gave ‘exposure’ as the cause of the ‘disability’ and found that it had been ‘aggravated by military service’. The report also noted that he was ‘very anaemic’, was experiencing ‘night sweats’ with elevated temperatures and had lost some 2 stone in the past 2 ½ months.

The recommendation of the Medical Board at the time was that Private Christensen be discharged. However this obviously did not take place. Possibly the TB was a mis-diagnosis, in as much as there is a references in the report that … (4) Sputum looks tubercular though so far no TB germs have been found.

Far from being repatriated to Australia for medical discharge, Private Christensen was discharged from hospital mid 1917 and returned to duty. Interestingly, there is a reference to him in a letter sent by Laurence Irvine. The letter was dated 5/6/17 and it was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 3/8/17. Irvine , before he enlisted, had worked at the local Co-Operative Store in Yarram and he was writing to his fellow workers in Yarram informing them of other locals they would have known. Irvine was stationed at Candahar barracks at the same time as Christensen.  Clearly, in Irvine’s opinion, Christensen was suffering from chronic ill health, there was little chance of his recovery and he should have been repatriated:

Allan Christensen was boarded to go home, but was found fit for duty, but I think that as soon as the cold weather comes he will be in hospital, where he was this last four months.

In late August 1917, when he was still in the UK, stationed at Candahar Barracks, Christensen was picked up by the military police in Tidworth and charged with being AWL. His punishment appears to have been nothing more than an admonishment.

In September 1917, Gunner Christensen, now attached to the Artillery – 2 Field Artillery Brigade – moved to Larkhill and in November he proceeded to France where at the very start of December (1/12/17) he was finally taken on the strength of 102 Battery.

Gunner Christensen was sent to France in mid November 1917. Then in February 1918 he was again repatriated to hospital in the UK, this time suffering from ‘trench fever’. After recovery he was posted back to France and rejoined his unit mid June (14/6/8). He was subsequently killed in action less than 4 months later on 28/9/18.

The war diary for 2 Field Artillery Brigade gives a picture of the situation at the time of Gunner Christensen’s death. The unit was involved in the major assault on the Hindenburg Line near Jeancourt on the morning of 28/9/18. The assault also involved American units. Over the period of the afternoon of 27 to the morning of 28 September, Gunner Christensen’s unit – 102 Howitzer Battery – fired some 600 rounds at the wire of the Hindenburg Line trying to cut ‘lanes’ for the attacking troops. When the attack began at 5.50 a.m. on 28 September, with a covering barrage, the diary records how the advancing American troops were able to move through the wire that had been cut. The unit diary also highlighted the perils of their over-enthusiasm:

As the barrage lifted the American attacking troops kept well up but after passing the wire and trenches to the West of Bellicourt, the attacking troops got into our own barrage and many casualties were inflicted by shrapnel. This was apparently owing to eagerness on their part and no fault of the artillery.

The German response to the barrage on the morning of 28 September was described as ‘weak’. Similarly, the day before, the German response to the wire cutting efforts of 102 Battery had been only ‘intermittent’. Notwithstanding these qualifications, Gunner Christensen was killed on the morning of 28 September by German artillery fire. It appears that he was the last man of his unit to die in action.

There is a Red Cross Report which provides a detailed account of Gunner Christensen’s death:

I was on the same gun with him. We were at a place which was called “Dan’s Gully”, between Jeancourt and Nouroy, when a shell landed on the dugout in which Christensen was resting. He was killed instantly. I pulled his body out which was taken away, but I know nothing of the burial place.

D. Worrell (9997) 2 Field Artillery Brigade 2/5/19

I saw Christensen of 102nd How. Bty. Killed instantly by gas shell (hit in back) in a dugout abt. 7 or 8 a.m. between Jeancourt and Bellicourt (near Jeancourt). I don’t know about burial but I think he was buried in Hancourt. He was the last man in the Bty to be killed in action.

Dvr. A. C. Collins (29716) 102 How. Bty. 28/4/19

I saw Christensen’s (of 102nd How. Bty.) body after he was killed by shell through back in a dugout near Jeancourt abt. 7 a.m. He was the only man in the dugout. We got him out unconscious and he died a minute of two after. I don’t know where buried. Padre Major Webb will have buried him.

Gnr V. K. Clark (31842) 102 How. Bty. 14/5/19

Gunner Christensen was buried at Hancourt British Cemetery, 6 ½ miles from Peronne.

The cable advising of the death was dated 2/10/18. The death was reported in the local paper on 18/10/18:

We regret to record the death of Gunner A. P. Christensen, son of Mr Anton Christensen, who was killed In action on 28th Sept. last. Gunner Chrlstensen, who enlisted in Yarram, had seen just over two years’ service. The sad message was sent to his mother, 412 William St., West Melbourne , on 11th inst.

The mother inserted a death notice in the same edition of the paper:

CHRISTENSEN.- No. 2824, Gunner A. P. Chrlstensen, killed in action on 28th Sept.,1918, after two years and two months’ service.

A soldier and a man, sadly missed.
One of the best, a loving son.
So kind and true,
So dearly loved, so sadly missed, by everyone he knew.
The hardest part is yet to come,
When the other boys come home, .
For we’ll miss among the happy throng, dear Allie,
Who will never come.
-Inserted by his loving mother.

There is no record of any personal kit being returned, nor any request from his family regarding same. The AIF had difficulty in tracing the father, as next-of-kin, to receive the medals and other memorials. The father changed address at least 3 times over the period from the end of the War to the early 1920s. In the end, it appears that the medals were entrusted to the mother.

The brother, Walter Christensen, was given a medical discharge in early 1920. That year, on the second anniversary of his brother’s death he inserted the following in memoriam. It appeared in the local paper on 29/9/20:

CHRISTENSEN – In sad and loving memory of my dear brother, Gunner Allan N. C. (sic) Christensen, killed in action 28th Sept.,1918, at Grandprie[l] Wood, France.
His King and country called him,
The call was not in vain;
On Australia’s roll of honor,
You will find my dear brother’s name.
– Inserted by his loving brother, Wallie (late A.I.F.)

Gunner Christensen was the last of the Shire of Alberton men killed on the Western Front.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for CHRISTENSEN Allan Patrick
Roll of Honour: Allan Patrick Christensen
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Allan Patrick Christensen
WW1 Red Cross files: Allan Patrick Christensen

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

Additional family information provided by Di Christensen, relative.

182. T C F McCarthy

McCARTHY Terence 353
4 Machine Gun Battalion KIA 19/9/18

There is nothing in his service file to tie Terence Charles Francis McCarthy to the Shire of Alberton. He was born in the Melbourne suburb of Kensington. He went to school in Kensington and served for 2 years in the junior cadets there. When his father – John Henry McCarthy – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he also gave Kensington as the location with which his son was chiefly connected. Moreover, the name of Terence McCarthy does not appear on any memorial in the Shire of Alberton, most notably the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. However, there is no doubt that Terence McCarthy was working as a farm labourer in the Shire of Alberton at the outbreak of WW1 and was amongst the very first group of ‘locals’ to enlist. He received railway warrant number 33 from the Shire Secretary to travel to Melbourne on 21/9/14. The date of his enlistment in Yarram was 16/9/14 and his next-of-kin was given as his father, John H McCarthy of Kensington.

Terence Charles Francis McCarthy was born in 1895. His early family story was revealed in a formal statement made by his step-mother in 1922 when she applied to receive his war medals. The statement described how Terence’s mother – Marie McCarthy – died when he was just two years old (1897). His step-mother – Amy Elizabeth McCarthy – first worked as housekeeper for the husband – John Henry McCarthy – and then married him after 2 years. The father died in September 1920. The same statement also refers to an ‘eldest’ brother, Eugene McCarthy. More information on other siblings came from a copy of his will that named his sister – Augusta Mary McCarthy – as the sole beneficiary. Additionally, the (National) Roll of Honour form gave information on an additional 2 older brothers who had also enlisted. Maurice August Dorman McCarthy (6539) was 24 yo and single when he enlisted in November 1915. He was a labourer and was living at Kensington. He survived the War and returned to Australia in July 1919. David Owen McCarthy (5596) was 22 yo and single when he enlisted in July 1915. His occupation was given as printer and he too lived at Kensington. He died of wounds on 1/10/17.

Terence McCarthy, even though he was the youngest brother, enlisted first. As indicated, he was one of the first group of recruits from the Shire and his name – T C F McCarthy – was published in the initial list which appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 23/9/18. On his enlistment papers his occupation was given as ‘farm labourer’. He was only 19 yo so, most likely, he had been working in the local area for just a few years. His religion was Roman Catholic. His medical was also completed at Yarram and there was a note from Dr Pern, one of the local doctors, that his ‘teeth [needed] to be attended to’.

When he enlisted in Yarram on 16/9/14, Terence McCarthy gave his age as 19 years and 4 months. As he was ‘under age’, he should have provided some form of written consent signed by both parents. Often this appeared on just a slip of paper and there was no consistent wording. Unusually, there is no such document in Private McCarthy’s service file. Presumably, he promised such a consent when he enlisted in Yarram but, once he reached camp at Broadmeadows, neither he nor the AIF ever followed up on it.

Like many others in the first group of volunteers from Yarram, Private McCarthy thought he was joining the Light Horse. In fact , ‘Light Horse S. Gippsland’ was crossed out on his enlistment form and he was attached to the newly formed 14 Battalion. His unit embarked for Egypt from Melbourne at the end of 1914 (22/12/14).

Unfortunately, the details of Private McCarthy’s service in 1915 and through to the end of 1917 are very sketchy. After Gallipoli, 14 Battalion moved to France in June 1916 and was involved in the major battles on the Western Front, including Pozieres (August 1916) and Bullecourt (April 1917). There is more detail in his service file for 1918. In January 1918 he had a period of leave in the UK and was then admitted to hospital with VD. The pattern of leave in the UK followed by VD was not uncommon. In his case, the period of illness was recorded as 56 days, the period of time for which his pay would have been docked. He was discharged from hospital in early April.

Private McCarthy remained in the UK until late August 1918. In early May (2/5/18) he was charged with and convicted of ‘making a false statement to his superior officer’ and received 1 day of Field Punishment No. 2. There are no details regarding the nature of the ‘false statement’. In early June 1918, after having served in 14 Battalion for more than 3 years, he was transferred to the Machine Gun Training Depot at Grantham. After another 3 months of training, he was sent back to France where he formally joined 4 Machine Gun Battalion at Camiers on 27/8/18. He was killed in action less than one month later (19/9/18) and almost 4 years to the day when he first enlisted in Yarram.

The cable advising of the death was dated 4/10/18. The body was never recovered and his name appears on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. The meagre kit – Rising sun, 1 Wallet, Note book, Post card, Photos – reached Australia one year later in September 1919.

Unfortunately, there was no Red Cross report for Private McCarthy. The War Diary of 4 Machine Gun Battalion describes how the unit was at rest in Longueau (Amiens) until approximately 7 September when it moved to the area near Catelet. The attack opened on the morning of 18 September and was very successful. Casualties were light but there is an specific reference in the account of 12 Australian Machine Gun Company – of 4 MG Battalion – to an officer (Lt E P Prendergast) being wounded and 2 other ranks (Privates Thompson and McCarthy) being killed when the group was hit by a shell in a front line trench. They were the only deaths recorded for the unit on that day. The nature of the death probably explains why there was no grave for either of the two men killed.

There is an interesting letter in Private McCarthy’s file that adds a dramatic note to his death. It was written on 13/10/18 by a Miss M Gray of Malvern. She was his cousin.

Can you give me any information about my cousin Private T. C. F. McCarthy No. 353 14th Batt reportedly killed in action on the 19th of September. I received a letter from him on August 10th at Aus. Machine Gun Training Depot, Park House Salisbury saying he would be home for Xmas, as an order had been published throughout the camp that the 1914 men were to be granted leave he also said that they heard that the 1914 men were not to be sent to the France until definite orders, but if he did his address would alter from the 14th Batt to some permanent Machine Gun unit. He was a Driver in the 14th Batt until a few months ago. So would be very thankful if you could let me know if the 1914 men were sent to France from England after the order was published that they were coming home.

The key point to the letter appears to be the very last sentence. There was obviously a significant tension between the promise after nearly 4 years of war of being sent home on leave and the reality of being returned to the front, with the ongoing possibility of being killed. The story behind this promise of leave back to Australia dates from the decision of the Australian Government in August 1918 to have those who embarked in 1914 – the ‘originals’ – return to Australia for leave. There was a matching recruiting drive urging men to enlist to take the place of the Anzacs being given leave. It was not until September that there was shipping to accommodate this promise. There is no reason to believe that Private McCarthy was not eligible, and the war diary of his unit – 4 MG Battalion – makes it very clear that those who had enlisted in 1914 were in fact being pulled out of the line and sent ‘home’ to Australia. For example, there is an entry for 14 September – 4 days before the attack – that states:

Lieut. Martin and 6 O/Ranks, all 7 having enlisted in 1914, today reported at Btn. H.Q., en route for Italy and so to Australia for six months’ leave.

Similarly, there is an entry for 18 September – the very day of the attack – that notes,

Captain Taylor and 20 O/Ranks left for six months to Australia.

Why Private McCarthy was not one of those withdrawn from the line and sent back to Australia at that point is not known. The poignancy of the situation is all the more powerful given that he was killed at the very time other ‘originals’ were going home on extended leave.

Terence McCarthy was a 19 yo farm labourer who was working in the Shire of Alberton when he enlisted at the very start of the War. He survived 4 years before being killed in action. Someone, presumably the Shire Secretary, wrote in red ink ‘killed’ next to his name on the list of those issued with railway warrants. However, there appears to have been no other recognition of his status as a ‘local’ or his fate. Like many others, he disappeared from the Shire’s history.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for McCARTHY Terence C F
Roll of Honour: Terence C F McCarthy
First World War Embarkation Roll: Terence C F McCarthy

179. R E Cross

CROSS Robert Eric (6785)
24 B KIA 28/8/18

Robert Eric Cross was born in December 1899 in Bendigo. He was the youngest of 3 children of Robert Cross and Mary Alice Meatchem who had married in 1890. The father died at only 31 years of age in 1900 and then the older brother – Frederick William Cross – aged only eleven, died in 1903. The mother remarried in 1904. The step-father was Albert Box who had a dairy farm at Hiawatha.

Robert’s older sister – Elsie May Cross – married William Ellwood in 1915. Ellwood had enlisted in early 1915 and before this, he had been the teacher at the state school at Hiawatha. Elwood rose through the ranks to become a major. After the War he had a very successful career in the Education Department, becoming Chief Inspector. Both William Ellwood and his younger brother-in-law, Robert Cross, served in 24 Battalion.

From the age of five, Robert Cross grew up at Hiawatha and he was one of the first students to attend the new school when it opened in 1907. His name appears on the honor roll for the school.

While he would have grown up, and worked, on his step-father’s farm at Hiawatha, when he came to enlist as an 18 yo in 1917, his occupation was given as ‘motor driver’. When his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she described his ‘calling’ as ‘motor mechanic’. Presumably he was working in Yarram at a motor garage.

Private Cross enlisted in Yarram on 17/8/17. His initial medical was with Dr. Rutter. As he was under nineteen when he enlisted, his mother was formally asked to confirm that she had given written consent to his enlistment and understood that he could be sent on active service before he was nineteen. His religion was given as Church of England.

Private Cross joined as reinforcements for 24 Battalion and left Melbourne 2 months later on 21/11/17. By the time he enlisted, his brother-in-law, William Ellwood, had been serving in the same battalion for 2 years. In fact, Captain Ellwood had recently been awarded the Military Cross. Doubtless, the experiences of his brother-in-law had encouraged Robert Cross to enlist and enlist in the same battalion.

Just before embarkation, Private Cross returned to Hiawatha for a formal ‘send-off’. It was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7/11/17:
Send off to Private R. E. Cross.

At the close of the concert Private R. E. Cross, who is home on final leave, was presented from the members of the Soldiers’ Society with a wristlet watch. Mr. R. Lee, who is president of the society, in making the presentation, spoke in favorable terms of Private Cross as he had known him all his life. He was proud to he able to make the presentation to one who has volunteered for service abroad, and wished him a safe return and speedy promotion. Private Cross, on rising to respond, was received with acclamation. He stated that he did not possess any oratorial qualifications, but would simply thank them for their valuable gift, and assured them that it would he treasured at all times, especially when he was on the other side of the world. “God Bess Our Splendid Men” was then sung by all present.

When his group of reinforcements reached the UK in early 1918, he was attached to 6 Training Battalion at Fovant, near Salisbury. He was finally sent to France and taken on the strength of 24 Battalion in the field in June 1918 (4/6/18). Less than 3 months later, he was killed in action. He was still only 19 years of age.

On the (National) Roll of Honour form, the account given of the death had Private Cross … killed while covering retirement from Sugar Factory at Dompierre [Dompierre-Becquincourt]. As indicated, the official date of death was given as 28/8/18. The mother gave the same date on the (National) Roll of Honour form.

The problem with this version of the death is that it does not line up with the account in the battalion war diary. Certainly, the diary records the attack by 24 Battalion on the Sugar Factory at Dompierre. It describes how B Company took the position without much opposition but then there was a fierce artillery bombardment by the Germans and equally heavy crossfire from their nearby positions in the old trench system. The counter fire was so heavy, and the threat of being surrounded so great, that the troops withdrew. In this particular action there were 2 killed and 8 wounded. However, this action occurred on 27 August, not 28 August. The only casualties recorded for August 28 occurred when one of three patrols sent out to ‘establish touch with the enemy’ ran into … severe M.G. fire from the direction of Assevillers, and 2 men were killed and 1 wounded. Presumably, if Private Cross was killed in the withdrawal from the Sugar Factory then the death occurred on 27 August. If, on the other hand, the date of the death was 28 August, then he was killed in the second action which involved the patrols being sent out to establish the location and strength of the enemy positions.

Unfortunately, there was no Red Cross report completed for Private Cross. Presumably, the brother-in-law (Captain Ellwood) was able to inform the family back in Gippsland about the details of Private Cross’s death.

The cable advising of the death was dated 13/9/18, 2 weeks after the death. Private Cross was buried in Assevillers New British Cemetery.

Oddly, there does not appear to have been a death notice published in the local paper. In early November (1/11/18), there was a column in the local paper which described how the local district Soldiers’ Fund for Hiawatha had requested enlarged photos for a number of local men who had recently been killed, including Alfred Jones (Post 134 ), Albert Sherlock (Post 178 ) and R. Cross. The same article listed the members of this local association and Albert Box, the step-father, was a member.

Private Cross’s mother received photographs of the grave in September 1920. Earlier, the few personal effects reached home in April 1919:

Wallet, Letters, Photos, Cards, YMCA wallet, Photo case.

Well after the War, the mother wrote (29/5/23) to Base Records requesting:

Is it possible for me to get my son’s number disk. I would like to have it very much.

The predictable response would have given little comfort:

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 29th May and regret to inform you that no personal effects of your son, the late No. 6785 Private R. E. Cross, 24ht Battalion, have been received here other than the package transmitted to you on 28.3.19.

In view of the length of time that has elapsed since this soldier’s demise, it is considered improbable that his identity disc will now come to hand.

The mother had made an earlier request – April 1919 – for what she referred to as the ‘Mother’s Badge’. This badge was issued, on request, to the ‘nearest female relative’ of the deceased soldier. The mother also received all the medals and the Memorial Scroll and Memorial Plaque. She was the sole beneficiary of the will. The will included the further provision that … In the event of my Mother’s death I then leave my Property and effects to my Sister Mrs. Elsie May Ellwood.

The (National) Roll of Honour form listed 2 relatives of Private Cross who were also killed in the War. One of these was an uncle on the mother’s side – Sergeant H Meatchem – and the other a cousin, A Tolley. Private Albert Edward Tolley was killed on 5/10/17. He had enlisted from Drouin in July 1915 aged 25 years. He was also in 24 Battalion. It is a striking example of how strong the family links could be in the various battalions. It probably also helps to explains why a 19 yo like Robert Cross would have been so keen to enlist.

Interestingly, the information of the (National) Roll of Honour appears to have been supplied not by the mother but by the older brother-in-law, Major William Ellwood MC.

Private Cross is remembered on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honour and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ memorial.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for CROSS Robert Eric
Roll of Honour: Robert Eric Cross
First World War Embarkation Roll: Robert Eric Cross

178. A Sherlock

SHERLOCK Albert (3571)
14 B  KIA 20/8/18

Albert Sherlock was born at Piggoreet. His father was deceased by the time of his enlistment (July 1915). His mother – Sarah Jane Sherlock (Jobling) – was listed as next-of-kin and her address, throughout and after the War, was also Piggoreet. When she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, she gave Piggoreet as the location with which her son was chiefly connected. However, Private Sherlock enlisted in Yarram and there is evidence of strong links to the local community. His name appears on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor – but he is not marked as ‘killed’ – and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

Albert Sherlock must have been working in the Shire of Alberton for several years before he enlisted. His name appears on the electoral roll for 1915, as a labourer of Madalya. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative regularly featured a short column of news from Hiawatha and Albert Sherlock’s name featured there in relation to the local sports for Madalya (27/3/14), the football club for Hiawatha (5/5/15) and, surprisingly, the local (Hiawatha) debating society (29/7/14). Similarly, when he enlisted his name was written up (21/7/15) – it was incorrectly recorded as ‘Allan’ – as one of the locals who had enlisted and, one year after his enlistment, the paper reported (15/11/16) that, as he was already overseas, his Shire Medallion had been passed to either a relative or friend.

Later, in 1918, there was no mention in the paper of his death and no death notice appeared. However, there was a report (1/11/18) – again, in the section on Hiawatha – to the effect that the local district Soldiers’ Fund had directed the secretary to purchase enlarged photos of several locals who had been killed, including A. Sherlock. Presumably, such photos were to feature in some sort of memorial. However, the only extant memorial from Hiawatha appears to be the state school honour roll and, not surprisingly, Albert Sherlock’s name does not appear on it. At the same time, his name does appear, as a resident, on the honour roll for Madalya School and District.

Private Sherlock enlisted in Yarram on 16/7/15. His initial medical was carried out by Dr Crooks at Yarram, and there was a subsequent re-examination in Melbourne 10 days later (26/7/15). He was issued with a railway warrant (number 151) by the Shire Secretary on 16/7/15. His occupation was recorded as ‘laborer’. Presumably he was working in Madalya as a farm labourer. He was 27 yo at the time and single. His religion was Church of England.

Private Sherlock joined as reinforcements for 7 Battalion and he left Melbourne less than 3 months later (11/10/15). His group of reinforcements then spent time training in Egypt and it was at this time that he was transferred (7/4/16) to the newly formed 14 Battalion. There was also a period of hospitalisation with the mumps at this time.

His unit reached France in July 1916. Nearly a year later, in April 1917, he was hospitalised with nephritis and repatriated to England. He did not return to France until October that year (15/10/17). He was hospitalised again in January 1918 (8/1/18), this time with epilepsy, and, once again, he was repatriated to the UK. He returned to France in April and re-joined 14 Battalion on 27/4/18.

Private Sherlock was killed in action on 20/8/18. He was buried in Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres.

Private Sherlock’s death came nearly 2 weeks after the main battle at Amiens. On the night of 15/16 August, 14 Battalion moved back to the front line to relieve 11 Battalion, and stayed there until the night of 20 August when, in turn, it was relieved by 18 Battalion. Over this 5 day period in the line, the war diary for 14 Battalion indicates that there was ‘fairly heavy’ artillery fire and several instances of aerial bombing on its position. The level of air warfare had increased dramatically by this point. Battalion casualties for this short spell in the front line were only light: only 4 dead and 21 wounded. The greatest concentration occurred on 20 August, the day Private Sherlock was killed, when there were 2 dead and 10 wounded. Unfortunately, there is no Red Cross report for Private Sherlock.

The cable advising of the death was dated 1/9/18.

When it came to the distribution of the service medals, the mother was required, in keeping with relevant legislation, to identify if there were … any nearer blood relations than yourself, for instance, is his father still alive. She replied (30/7/20) that the father was dead and all medals, personal kit and the photograph of the grave were subsequently sent to her.

The personal kit returned to the mother came in 2 parcels. The first contained …  2 Discs, 1 canvas case, 1 wallet, photos, 1 note book. The second had … 5 Pr Woollen socks and I safety razor.

Little is known of Albert Sherlock’s early life or the time he spent in the local area (Madalya) before he enlisted but he definitely was a ‘local’.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for SHERLOCK Albert
Roll of Honour: Albert Sherlock
First World War Embarkation Roll: Albert Sherlock

177. H B Chenhall

CHENHALL Harold Beecher 6482
5 Machine Gun Battalion DoW 12/8/18

Harold Beecher Chenhall was born in Devon, via Yarram in 1893. His parents – John Egbert (Alf) Chenhall and Elizabeth Hardie Chenhall (Grundy) – had been in the local area since the early 1890s when the father had been appointed as head teacher of the state school at Jack River. By the time Harold enlisted, the family had significant land holdings – nearly 200 acres – at Jack Creek and were involved in dairy farming.

It appears that an older brother – Edric – enlisted before Harold. In fact, he appears to have enlisted twice. The first time was at the very start of the War – September 1914 – and the second in May 1916. In both cases the enlistment was effectively cancelled and the second cancellation, at least, was prompted by concerns that the family’s farm could not function without him. This second episode was after Harold had also enlisted (26/8/15). By this point, presumably, the issue of help for the family farm had become more acute. The arrangement appears to have been that the oldest son stayed to help with the farm and the younger one enlisted.

Harold Chenhall was well known as a footballer (Devon) in the local area. In fact, he had attracted a certain notoriety. In August 1914, he had been involved in a serious on-field clash with another player (C Dessent) in a match between Devon and West Alberton. He was given a 2 match suspension. However the issue was pursued in the local court as well and there is a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (14/8/14) of the case before a police magistrate. B P Johnson appeared for Chenhall and argued that the issue was minor and that both players involved were locals of good character. However, the magistrate was unimpressed. He convicted both of them and fined them £5. The report in the paper makes it clear that the magistrate was very mindful of the recent death of a local player (Post 1) following an injury in another local match. The magistrate was determined to make an example. He noted:

This district was noted for foul football. Only recently a young man lost his life through foul play in this district.

Private Harold Chenhall enlisted as reinforcement for 7 Battalion in Melbourne on 26/8/15. He was 22 yo and single. On his enlistment form he neglected to acknowledge his recent (1914) conviction. He gave his occupation as farm labourer but, presumably, he was working on the family farm. His religion was given as Methodist and, in fact, his name is recorded on the honor roll for the local Methodist Circuit. Next-of-kin was given as his father of Jack River. His father was also sole beneficiary of the will.

The details of Private Chenhall’s early service, immediately after enlistment, are not entirely clear. It appears that in October 1915 he was hospitalised – influenza – in the Clearing Hospital Royal Park. There was more hospitalisation in the first half of 1916. Initially he was in the Clearing Hospital Castlemaine (Feb 1916) and then in August 1916 he was transferred to the Isolation Hospital Langwarrin. This particular medical institution had been set up earlier, in 1915, to treat AIF members being returned home from Egypt suffering from VD. It appears he was finally discharged from hospital for active duty on 1/9/16, just one month before he left for overseas.

Private Chenhall reached Plymouth in November 1916 (16/11/16) and served in 2 Training Battalion until he was sent to France in April 1917 (10/4/17) where he was finally taken on the strength of 7 Battalion (19/4/17). Whilst in England there was a brief period of hospitalisation (28/1/17 – 17/2/17) for some undisclosed sickness.

In early 1918 he was hospitalised in France and then repatriated to England. It appears that this time it ‘Trench Fever’. The period of hospitalisation lasted from very early January to early April 1918. After this he was taken on the strength of the Machine Gun Corps and then when he returned to France in early June (4/6/18) he joined 5 MG Battalion (7/6/18). This particular unit had only been formed in March 1918.

Private Chenhall was wounded 9 August, 1918, the first day of the Battle of Amiens. He died from his wounds 3 days later on 12/8/18. The Red Cross report indicates that he was wounded on the morning of 9 August and then taken immediately to the Regimental Aid Post. One witness statement described how he had returned for ammunition to the dump at Harbonnieres when he was wounded by a bomb. The other witness statement had the same location but described how Private Chenhall was on ‘gas guard’ when he was wounded by an ‘aerial bomb’.

Private Chenhall was buried at Bayonvillers on the same day, with the Rev. J. A. Jeffreys officiating. The information about the burial and the grave site was given to the family in February 1919 (19/2/19) and, in the same letter, they were advised that a photograph of the grave would be sent ‘when available’. However, for some unknown reason, the grave must have been ‘lost’ because there is now no record of any grave site and, instead, Private Chenhall’s name is recorded on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

There was a long delay in informing the family in Gippsland of Private Chenhall’s fate. The letter informing the family that he had been wounded was not sent until 23/8/18, by which time he had been dead for 2 weeks. Further, the cable advising of the death did not come through for another month (20/9/18). The following letter from the father – written on 28/9/18 – highlights the difficult position faced by the family back in Gippsland from the time they were advised that he been wounded right through to the time they received notice of his death.

Your notice of the death through wounds of our son Pte H. B. Chenhall duly received.
I write to ask you if it possible for you to get any particulars. Would you please do so. The first notice of No. 6482 Pte H. B. Chenhall being wounded came Aug 23rd & then the death notice not till Sep 20th. We feel it hard not to know anything further & would be thankful for any news you could get.

As indicated, there was a letter in February 1919 with some additional details. Unfortunately, as matters transpired, this letter gave incorrect information about the grave site.

News of Private Chenhall’s death appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 25/9/18:

Deep sympathy was expressed for Mr. J. E. Chenhall and family on Saturday when it became known that his gallant son, Corporal (sic) Harold Chenhall, had died of wounds. A short time ago he was reported wounded, and hopes were entertained that his condition was not serious, but as his death took place on 12th Aug., we are informed that he did not last long after being carried from the battle front. Harold was a friend of everybody in this district, a keen sport, and a prominent member of the Devon football Club. He died the glorious death of a soldier at the age of 25 years. He was about two years at the front.

A death notice appeared on 4/10/18:

Chenhall – Died on Aug. 12th from wounds received in action, Harold Beecher, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Chenhall,”Gnarrah,” Jack River.

There was a delay with the return of Private Chenhall’s personal effects and when by April 1919 the father had not received them he wrote to the AIF suggesting that he would have to take the issue up with his local MHR. He received a reply in early May (6/5/19) that pointed to the shipping difficulties of the time,

It is pointed out that owing to the lack of shipping facilities, considerable delay has been experienced in the despatch of effects from overseas. Large consignments are now coming to hand and should any of your son’s property be included same will be promptly transmitted to you.

In late May the package finally arrived:

1 Scarf, 1 cap comforter, 3 Handkerchiefs, 1 Wrist strap, 8 Pair socks.

The father wrote the very next day (25/5/19) about a missing watch:

I am enclosing receipt for 1 package received. There is no mention of his watch.
He had a wristlet watch presented to him when leaving, and you will understand we are anxious to get anything in the nature of a present.
Hoping that it will come to hand…

There is no record of the missing watch being returned to the family. Sadly, in the end, the family was left with no grave and no keepsake.

Harold Chenhall’s name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It also appears on the honour roll for Stacey’s Bridge as well as those for the Yarram Club and the local Lodge (207).

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for CHENHALL Harold Beecher
Roll of Honour: Harold Beecher Chenhall
First World War Embarkation Roll: Harold Beecher Chenhall
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold Beecher Chenhall