Category Archives: The dead

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

176. W H Sutton & H B Murray

SUTTON William Henry (1559)
49 B KIA 11/8/18

William Henry Sutton was the older brother – by 6 years – of David George Sutton who was killed on Gallipoli in May 1915 (Post 36) . The 2 brothers appear on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honour and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

There was a third Sutton brother – Thomas Sutton 1228 – who survived the War. Thomas was evacuated from Gallipoli in late 1915, suffering from enteric fever and pneumonia. He was repatriated to Australia and discharged.

Both William and David enlisted, within a month of each other, in Queensland. As noted, David was killed at Quinn’s Post on 29/5/15. William was involved in the same fighting and he wrote home with details of his brother’s death. The letter was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11/8/15.

It [his brother’s death] happened on the morning of the 29th May. We made a bayonet charge to re-take part of our trench from the Turks. They had mined it and blown it up, with the Australians in it at the time, killing some, and then rushed the trench with bombs which drove out the remaining Australians, and got in the trench themselves. We soon pulled them out with the bayonet – not one escaped. It was just after we had charged the trench that George was hit with two bombs. His right leg was broken above the knee, and left leg blown off above the ankle almost half way to the knee. He died from loss of blood three hours afterwards. I did not see him at all, and did not know it had happened (and he was only 50 yards from me) until next afternoon, 30th …

Even though the brothers enlisted in Queensland, and had been there working for some time, they were certainly regarded as ‘locals’ from the Shire of Alberton and both were given the Shire Medallion. Their parents – Thomas James and Marie Louisa Sutton – had a dairy farm at Devon North and had been in the district since the mid 1880s. The boys were born at Devon North and had attended a range of local state schools: North Devon, Lower Whitelaw, Tarra Valley, Balook and Lower Bulga. Their names are also on the honour roll for the local Methodist Circuit, even though, on their enlistment forms all 3 brothers gave their religion as Church of England. On their enlistment forms the 2 brothers in Queensland described themselves as labourers. At the time, both were single.

William Sutton enlisted in Brisbane on 28/1/15, one month after his younger brother. He was 28 yo. Both brothers joined as reinforcements for 15 Battalion and left Australia for the Middle East on 13/2/15.

Just over 2 weeks after the death of his brother, William was hospitalised for a week with ‘skin eruption/phlebitis’ [inflammation of a vein – blood clot]. He referred to this episode in a letter home in June 1915 which was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11/8/15. The content is somewhat ironic given what was to come.

Just a few lines to let you see that I am still alive and kicking, although I am in hospital on the Island of Lemnos with a bad arm, but it is just about right now. It was the outcome of a few slight wounds on the hand on 29th May, which I did not get fixed up for some days afterwards; my own fault if it had been a bit more serious.

In late July 1915, he was taken off the Gallipoli Peninsula with a ’sprained back’. Initially he was hospitalised in Malta but then transferred to a hospital in the UK. He rejoined his unit in Egypt in January 1916. Then in March he was transferred to the newly formed 47 Battalion and in June 1916 proceeded to France. At this point he appears to have been appointed to the position of driver.

In September 1916, there was another week of hospitalisation with ‘nitral regurgitation’ [nitral valve not closing properly]. Then, one year later, on 26/9/17 he was wounded – GSW face – and admitted to hospital in the UK on 2/10/17 where he remained for 2 months. A medical case sheet describes the wound as ‘Shell Wound Left Cheek. Severe’ and ‘Large jagged wound left cheek’. The wound subsequently became septic and he was given ‘anti-tetanus serum’. The wound did eventually heal, with, no doubt, a distinctive scar.

After discharge from hospital (7/12/17) he remained in England until May 1918. In this period – probably, December 1917 – he married an English girl – Florence Emily Sutton – from South Kensington, London.

At the end of May 1918, 47 Battalion was disbanded to reinforce the other 3 battalions of 12 Brigade and Driver Sutton was transferred to 49 Battalion. He was deemed to be fit for overseas service and eventually rejoined his new unit in France in late May. However, on 14/5/18, not long before returning to France, he was charged with being AWL for 4 days and was given ’12 days F.P. No 2’ and lost 16 days pay.

Driver Sutton joined his new unit (49B) in France on 26/5/18. But 2 days later he reported as injured and it was at this point that he was charged with wounding himself. The injury was listed as ‘cellulitis back of left fore-arm’ and the claim, by medical staff, was that the injury had been ‘wilfully self-inflicted’. A court martial was held just 10 days later (8/6/18), presided over by Major W.J.R. Scott DSO, 20 Battalion. Sutton pleaded not guilty but the charge was upheld and he was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour. The sentence was confirmed by G.O.C. Australian Corps (Monash) on 11/6/18.

In the file there is a copy of Army Form W.3428 Report on Accidental or Self-Inflicted Injuries with the following declaration by Major J. Malcolm A.A.M.C. –

Cellulitis back of left forearm, due in my opinion to injection of foreign substance, self-administered.

However there is another statement on the same form by Sutton’s commanding officer at the time – D. Campbell, Capt, 4th. Aust. Div. Rft. Wing – that has a very different account:

Pte. Sutton was carrying a mess tin full of tea in his right hand when he tripped and fell. In trying to save himself he fell on his left arm which doubled up under him. I am of opinion that the fall as stated … was accidental and no one was to blame.

There is nothing in the CO’s statement that rules out the possibility that Driver Sutton, after the fall, aggravated his injury in some deliberate way. However, it is significant that the CO was offering a defence on the part of one of his men. It would appear that he at least did not want the issue pursued.

But this officer’s opinion was in turn overruled by his superior – Lt. Col H Clayton – who wrote:

I am emphatically of opinion that this is a self-inflicted wound and have arranged that this man be tried by F.C.C.M.

The family back in Australia was informed in mid July 1918 of the action taken by the AIF against their son. The advice they received indicated that he had been injured but that this injury had been ‘wilfully, self inflicted’. It appears that they involved a local lawyer – B P Johnson – who communicated with the Federal Minister seeking further information. The response received was essentially on the lines of the formal process needing to run its course. Overall, the family back in Gippsland would have known of the charge of self-inflicted wounding and the formal conviction and sentence.

However, on 26/6/18, just over 2 weeks after the court martial, the sentence was suspended and Driver Sutton remained serving with 49 Battalion. One explanation for the decision to suspend the sentence and allow Driver Sutton to continue to serve with the battalion could appear to relate to the actions of the family back in Gippsland taking up the issue with the Federal Minister. In the file there is correspondence suggesting that the Minister’s office was keen to learn the ‘full particulars’ of the case. Given the family background – 3 sons had enlisted, one (David) had been killed, one (Thomas) repatriated to Australia sick, and this particular soldier (William) had already been wounded and suffered significant health issues – the Minister would have been sensitive to claims of what effectively amounted to cowardice. However, the problem with this theory is that the date on the relevant correspondence (23/7/18) indicates that the Minister became involved after the sentence had already been suspended. Presumably, the real reason was that the sentence having been imposed, and the example made, it made more sense, particularly given the acute shortage of men, to suspend the sentence and have the soldier continue to fight with his unit.

Driver Sutton was killed in action on 11/8/18, 2 months after his conviction. By this point of the Battle of Amiens, 49 Battalion was fighting in the area near Etinehem, still held by the Germans. The war diary for the battalion does not provide much information. In fact for 11/8/18 there are no casualties reported. It simply notes that the … general consolidation of positions gained, proceeded. The only casualties appear to have occurred the day before (10/8/18) when supported by tanks, and with American troops on one of their flanks, 12 Brigade had made a successful advance. However, even for that action, the diary records only 3 casualties.

There is a Red Cross report of the death with 2 witness statements. Both witness statements agree that Driver Sutton was killed on the morning of 11th August by machine-gun fire. Presumably, the following statement by Private T Dobe (2158) of Cooyar, Queensland, is the more credible because of the claim that he was with Sutton at the time he died.

At Bray about 9. a.m. while engaged as stretcher bearers. We were going back for more wounded when he was shot through the left breast by a machine gun bullet. He lived about half an hour and I stayed with him till he died. I do not know where he was buried.

Driver Sutton was buried in Beacon Cemetery, Sailly-Laurette, Bray-sur-Somme, Picardie.
The cable advising of the death was dated 22/8/18. It would have gone to the wife in London, as well as the father in Gippsland.

A death notice appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 4/9/18:

Sutton. – Killed in action on the 11th August. William Henry Sutton, beloved son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sutton, dearly beloved husband of Florence (England), brother of Mrs. W. Ryan, Thomas (returned after 3 1/2 yrs. service), Charlotte, George (killed in action), Minnie, and Jane. Age 31 years.

Earlier, on 30/8/18, the paper had reported the father’s response to his son’s death. It is tempting to see the father’s comment as heavy in irony:

Whatever the feelings were of Mr. Thos. Sutton, Mack’s Creek, on Wednesday morning, when he informed us of the death of his second soldier son at the front, he betrayed not the slightest emotion. Like a worthy sire, he remarked, “It’s a glorious death to die for one’s country.” But for such a man is felt the deepest sympathy. All his three sons went to the war. The first to fall was Private D. G. Sutton, in mid 1915, one was returned wounded, and the third, Private W. H. Sutton, was killed in action on 11th inst. The latter was married only last December to an English lass. How terribly glad we shall all be when this terrible conflict is over.

In October 1918, the wife in England received the items – unspecified – of personal kit belonging to her husband, Driver Sutton. She was the sole beneficiary of his new will and she would also have received a pension from Australia. Sometime after the War, probably 1920, she moved to Australia, presumably to be with her in-laws. Perhaps there was a child born in England. There is correspondence in the file that indicates that in August 1921 her address was Tarra Valley, locked bag via Traralgon and then in November 1922 she was living in Yarram.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for SUTTON William Henry
Roll of Honour: William Henry Sutton
First World War Embarkation Roll: William Henry Sutton
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: William Henry Sutton

 

 

 

MURRAY John Bridge 3192
8B KIA 11/8/18

John Murray was another immigrant from the UK – Scotland in this instance – who enlisted in the AIF. He was born in Caithness in the north of Scotland and came to Australia as a twenty-five-year-old around 1908. He had been to school at a public school, presumably in Caithness. His parents were recorded as Thomas and Hellin Georgeson Murray. At the time of enlistment, he was married – Esther Murray – and living in Yarram. His wife appears to have been Esther Coghill. The Coghill name was known in the local district but it is difficult to link Esther to the various branches. The Murray couple had 3 children, the oldest of whom was 5 years. John Murray gave his age as 32 yo and his occupation was recorded as ‘labourer’. His religion was Presbyterian.

John Murray took his first medical in Yarram with Dr Crooks on 7/8/15 and was re-examined in Melbourne where he formally enlisted on 20/8/15. He joined as reinforcements for 24 Battalion and left Melbourne 3 months later (26/11/15). It appears that while in Egypt (Serapeum) and immediately before moving to France he was transferred to 8 Battalion (24/2/16). Private Murray’s unit reached Marseilles at the end of March.

Just over one year later in early May 1917 (8/5/17) Private Murray was wounded in action – gunshot wound, right leg – and repatriated to England for treatment. He was discharged in late June (25/6/17) and after a furlough he was sent to the Overseas Training Brigade at Perham Downs.

He eventually made it back to his battalion in France in early September (9/9/17) but within a few weeks he had been wounded again – either shrapnel or gunshot wound to right eye – and was hospitalised in 25 General Hospital at Camiers on the French Coast. After further convalescence, he rejoined 8 Battalion at the start of January 1918 (6/1/18).

At the end of that month (31/1/18) he was promoted to the rank of lance corporal and then in March he spent a month in the Brigade Infantry School. In late June (27/6/18), he was again hospitalised, this time with influenza.

Lance Corporal Murray rejoined the battalion on 7/7/18 and was killed in action just over one month later (11/8/18). While there was a map reference to where he was buried on the battlefield, his body was never recovered. His name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. The cable advising of his death was dated 24/8/18.

Back in Gippsland, Private Murray’s death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 4/9/18:

Word was received at Devon North on Monday last that Lance-Corporal John Murray had been killed in action, after nearly two years’ active service in France. He leaves a widow and three young children to mourn their loss. Sympathy for the bereaved family is expressed on all sides. A native of Scotland, and of a family of four brothers, all are or have been at the front since the outbreak of the war. Two have paid the supreme sacrifice. The other two, Robert, of the Seaforth Highlanders, and Daniel of the Black Watch, have been wounded several times. The sisters of these brave men are all enthusiastic war workers.

The death notice had appeared on 28/8/18:

Murray – Killed in action on 11th. Aug., 1918, after three years’ active service, Lance-Corp. John B. Murray, the dearly loved husband of Mrs. Murray, North Devon. Aged 34 years. Loving father of Willie, Nellie and Nancy.
His sacrifice what he has gained
Mine what I have lost
-Inserted by his loving wife – E. Murray

His wife received his few personal belongings – 1 Cigarette Case, 1 Wallet, Cards – in July 1919.

As for the action on 9 August when Private Singleton (Post 175), also of 8 Battalion, was killed, there is an equally detailed account in the war diary of 8 Battalion of the operation over 10 – 11 August. At 4.00 AM on the morning of 11 August, 8 Battalion was involved in a whole brigade attack towards the village of Lihons. The objective was to advance some 3,000 yards on a front of 2,000 yards. Six tanks were to support the operation and there would be an artillery barrage to hold down the enemy in Lihons until the infantry were close enough to take it. Despite the fact that the tanks did not materialise, the assault began well and there was such a rapid advance that pockets of German snipers and machine guns were left in the rear. Command was compromised by a heavy ground mist across the battlefield that cut communication and made it very difficult for commanders to establish if positions had been reached. Yet, by 8.00 AM commanders were confident that the ‘blue line’ had been reached and Lihons had been occupied. At this point the battalion’s line was some 600 yards in front of the Lihons-Chilly road. However, the pockets of Germans in the rear, which had effectively been bypassed by the advancing AIF, were still a problem and, as well, over the rest of the day there was a series of German counter-attacks against the newly consolidated line. The diary notes that German snipers were very active. It also notes that casualties in the battalion had been ‘remarkably light’ up to the time the blue line had been taken … but during the counterattacks that were made later the numbers increased considerably. The figures given were 19 dead and 49 wounded. The battalion was relieved on the night of the 11-12 and was out of the line by 7.00AM on 12 August.

The war diary emphasises the physical hardship faced by the men on 11/8/18:

For several days prior to the commencement of the operations herein described, the men had had very little and broken sleep. Two days previously they had engaged in a steady and determined fight over 3,500 yards of ground, and that immediately after a hasty march of 11 miles. During the whole of the 10th they were standing to in readiness to reinforce the 5th and 6th Battalions. The morning of the 11th therefore found them in anything but a fit condition for an attack, but under the excitement they rallied wonderfully and made a fine spirited fight which lasted practically until the moment of relief. When seen in the front line a little after noon during a lull in the fighting at a time when the heat of the sun was greatest, a reaction had set in and signs of intense drowsiness and fatigue were very apparent. The poor lads dozed as they stood at their posts.

The same commentary features a very revealing insight on the number of German prisoners not taken by the Australians:

It is impossible to estimate the number of prisoners taken during the day, but judging by the temper of our men and in view of the fact that numerous prisoners would have been not only an encumbrance but also a menace it is believed that the number taken was not great. At Lihons however a German medical officer and his staff were captured.

There is a Red Cross report for Lance Corporal Murray. The following account by an officer – Lieutenant A J Rice, on 4/7/19 – was supported, at least in all the key details, by the other witnesses. Several insisted that the shot that killed Murray was fired by a sniper. Others also pointed out that he was in fact in charge of a machine gun and, as such, he would have been a target for snipers.

I knew casualty, he was a well built man, about 5’5” in height, fair complexion, about 30 yrs of age, known as Jock. Casualty was in the front line at the right of Lihons. Just after the advance the enemy counter-attacked and while helping to repel the attack, casualty was shot in the head by a bullet at close range, which killed him instantly. I was alongside him at the time of his death and he did not speak but fell back dead. He was buried near where he fell. A cross was erected over the grave, with his name, number and unit on it.

Lance Corporal Murray is remembered on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. His name also appears on the local honor roll for the Presbyterian Charge.

Murray enlisted as a married man with children. The challenges facing the wife left behind with young children would have been considerable, particularly if she herself did not have family support behind her. This appears to have been the case with Esther Murray and a future post will look at this situation in more detail. For present purposes, even before the death of her husband, Esther Murray was appealing for financial support. In 1917, she applied for financial assistance from an agency set up to support returned soldiers. In turn, the (Victorian) State War Council wrote to the Local War Service Committee in Yarram – effectively this was the local recruiting committee – seeking a confidential report on her situation. In her claim, Esther Murray had indicated that she was supporting 4 children – not 3 – and that she had no cash or property assets and that she needed £12 to cover rent. As significant as the obvious issue of the support required for such families was, the practice of using local committees of various kinds to assess the eligibility and deservedness of the families was as important. In this case, the local committee was advised to seek the opinion of the local police as well as other local societies. Moreover, the level of any support to be offered had to be set against the following stricture laid down by the State War Council:

It is obvious that in view of the numerous demands which must arise before and after the declaration of peace, the amount of aid in each case must be kept within reasonable limit.

This model of having local committees judge the need and suitability of individuals and families in their applications for support was to be reproduced after the War in the soldier settlement scheme. Overall, the approach ensured that the power and influence of the established group of civic leaders – essentially the local Imperial Loyalists of WW1 – continued after the War. It also ensured continuing conflict and division in the community.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for MURRAY John Bridge
Roll of Honour: John Bridge Murray
First World War Embarkation Roll: John Bridge Murray
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: John Bridge Murray