Lest We Forget 2019

For the astounding loss of human life and potential around the world.

For those who served and gave their lives, ally or enemy

For their country’s cause, safety and honour.

For the ANZACs who travelled so far to fight in distant lands.

For the families and communities left behind to wait and mourn,

And the children who suffered a lifetime of loss.

For those who faced cousins and kin across no-man’s-land.

Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby, PNG

For the navy and merchant navy whose lives ended at sea.

For the young airmen whose courage and skill saved others.

For the Prisoners of War who suffered privation, fear and torture.

For the families who would never know the fate of their soldier.

For those who returned damaged in body, mind and spirit

Cobbers’ Memorial, Fromelles

And the families who suffered with them and supported them

Whose lives would never be the same again.

For the women who would never have a partner or loved one

Due to the loss of so many men.

For the animals who gave their lives for love and loyalty, not understanding why else they were there.

For all those who stepped up to the mark in their homeland

In restricted occupations: supporting the troops, feeding the population, and working in factories.

For the railwaymen in my family who ensured the troops got to the battlefields

A German cemetery on the Western Front.

Received their munitions, and were brought home afterwards.

We offer our thanks and prayers and we remember them.

LEST WE FORGET

Fromelles War Cemetery. “My boys, my poor boys, they have killed my poor boys”. WEH Cass

Over the years I’ve written posts for Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, as well as some about the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. For those who are interested you can read them here.

One hundred years 2018

Grandad goes to war

Honouring the Australian born diggers with German ancestry.

William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel (MIA Korea)

Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam James Augustus Gavin 

V is for the Valiant of Villers-Brettoneux including James Paterson

A family Anzac: Pte Hugh Moran (POW)

V is for our Valiant Indigenous Anzacs.

Two brothers go to war and Postcards to the Front

Those who came home

A Turkish memorial near Gallipoli

War in Papua New Guinea

Erle Victor Weiss

Lest we forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

Flowers for the fallen

Lest we forget and the Bombing of Darwin

War Memorials

World War I and the Wellington Quarries

It’s so long since I wrote my monthly post for the Worldwide Genealogy blog that I’m a day late…oops. This blog is a great international collaboration initiated by Julie Goucher from Anglers Rest and participated in by family historians from around the world. If you haven’t ever visited it, why not do so, as it’s got such interesting and varied stories. And while you’re there, sign up for future posts or add it to your RSS feeds.

I decided to make this month’s topic the story of the Wellington Quarries in Arras, northern France. The Kiwi tunnellers were heavily involved with this, so I’m hoping this will be of Trans-Tasman interest.

 

100 years ago: Declaration of War

BRITAIN AT WAR. INVASION OF BELGIUM. (1914, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795

BRITAIN AT WAR. INVASION OF BELGIUM. (1914, August 6). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795

One hundred years ago Australians woke to the news that the Britain had declared war on Germany. In 2014 it’s difficult to appreciate how enmeshed Australia’s politics and life was with Britain’s, but the summary on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald gives us a retrospective glimpse:

“An unparalleled scene in the history of the State Parliament took place in the Assembly yesterday…..Members sprang to their feet and sang the National Anthem (which was then God Save the King) and “Rule Britannia” and gave cheers for the King”. [i]

In the “home country”, the navy was already mobilised and the army was to be mobilised by midnight on 4 August, just an hour of the declaration of war (then the next morning Australian time).

Last night (UK time) many in Britain commemorated the start of this long tragic war by turning their lights out and lighting a candle in remembrance (see twitter #lightsout). In 1914 the declaration of war must truly have seemed a terrifying prospect despite assertions it would all be over before Christmas, but it was not to be in 1914, or 1915, rather more than four long years later.

Already on this first day, in Australia, motor cycle clubs were volunteering members as despatch riders, immigrants of German and Austrian descent rushed to take up Australian citizenship, the St John Ambulance had been placed at the disposal of the Defence Department and men were offering to enlist. The 8th Infantry Brigade had also been mobilised for coastal defence, along with the citizen naval forces. [ii]

Nothing would remain the same in society for decades to come, not least the impact of the loss of the talents, skills and love of the men killed in this battle for freedom. The loss of life, the impact on families, communities, and not least the men who returned was to be incalculable at a local, national and international level. Women would remain single for lack of men to marry, married women would not recognise their husbands as they returned with ferocious injuries to the bodies, and even more inexplicably to those at home, their minds. It astonishes me that more men on the Western Front didn’t lose their minds listening to the repeated noise of guns, artillery and bombs combined with the fear of imminent death or terrible injury. Mercifully the Australian Expeditionary Force, comprised of volunteers, prohibited the execution of a soldier for shell-shock, more often called cowardice.

The World War I memorial in the Darling Downs town of Crows Nest, Qld.

The World War I memorial in the Darling Downs town of Crows Nest, Qld.

Those who had lost loved sons, brothers or husbands erected memorials throughout the country to have a tangible reminder of those who had died in foreign lands, often with no known grave. Forlorn and tragically pleading letters from families can be read in the military files of the men, begging for any small item of their loved one’s belongings with no understanding that often they’d been blown to pieces, just like the person who’d owned them. These heart-wrenching letters begged for some small memento to give a child left behind, perhaps one whose father had never even seen them, when men rushed to marry before they left for war.

The names on this wall of the Menin Gate are only a fraction of the total listed.

The names on this wall of the Menin Gate are only a fraction of the total listed.

The walls of the Menin Gate evocatively lists 54,000 men from the British and Commonwealth forces[iii] whose lives were lost on the Ypres/Ieper salient during WWI and who have no known grave. It is sobering to think this is only a part of the losses to the British Empire during this horrendous period.

The ideals of war are the fight for freedom, justice, humanity and home soil and yet “the war to end all wars” with such a fierce loss of life was only to be a precursor to another greater social cataclysm a bare 20 years later with even greater losses of life, both civilian and military, and the massacre of whole communities.

Lest We Forget

Menin gatee

[i] SUMMARY. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW 1842-1954) 5 August 1914 page 1. http://nla.gov.au/news-article 15527541.

[ii] ibid and also http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1552795 page 7, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 1914.

[iii] http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/91800/YPRES%20(MENIN%20GATE)%20MEMORIAL

Two brothers go to war: Les and Fred Fisher

Les and Fred Fisher and Ted Murray were also known as the Paddington Boys.

Les and Fred (aka Snow) Fisher and Ted Murray were also known as the Paddington Boys. You can pick Les out of future photos by the dimpled chin. There is no date on this photo but it is presumably prior to their departure overseas.

In the early months of 1915, two young brothers enlisted to serve their country in the First World War. It’s unlikely they felt they were going to fight to defend “home” and the “motherland” as their grandparents and uncles were German-born, not unlike my own Kunkel relatives. Perhaps they felt they needed to defend their allegiance to Australia and prove their loyalty as did other young men of German ancestry.

Frederick Charles Fisher was 22 years and 3 months when he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 24 February 1915. He was allocated to the 19th Battalion, 5th Brigade. A motor mechanic in normal life he had also served with the Colonial Forces. His young brother Leslie Gladstone Fisher, 21, enlisted soon after on 2 March 1915, also with the 19th Battalion. Leslie had served in the school cadets and also with the 12th Battery of the Australian Field Infantry.

Les's daughter believes this relates to his militia service.

Les’s daughter believes this relates to his militia service.

Les and Fred were the sons of Martin and Louisa Fis(c)her of 42 Rennie St, Paddington in Sydney. Martin was born in Australia in 1863 to Gottfried and Victoria Fischer who had arrived in Australia with their German-born children on the barque Caesar[i] in March 1855 under the Vinedresser Bounty Scheme[ii]. The Kopittke indexes, based on the Hamburg shipping lists, reveal that the family came from Harheim in Hessen/Nassau.

This is an embarkation of troops on the HMAT Ceramic in 1915. AWM image H19500 out of copyright.

This is an embarkation of troops on the HMAT Ceramic in 1915. AWM image H19500 out of copyright.

Les and Fred boarded the former White Star liner, HMAT Ceramic (A40), in Sydney and sailed for war on 25 June 1915, along with myriad other troops via Albany in Western Australia. On arrival in Egypt one of their shipmates, Ellis Silas, painted some lovely views while TH Ivers chose Bombay as his subject. While on board Les wrote to his mate Teddy Murray apparently yet to sail for war. I love the old vernacular like “bosker“. Lt Wilfred Emmott Addison (KIA) of the 19th has left a diary of the voyage which can be read here. Les Fisher’s daughter knows that he kept some form of diary himself but destroyed it years later after his return to Australia.

1510 eddy postcard low

There is no date on this card, but it seems to me it was sent to Teddy Murray, the young man in the photo above, while Les was en route to Egypt. They sailed on HMAT Ceramic from Melbourne on 24 June 1915.

The reverse says: Taken in Heliopolis Egypt August 1915. Fred Fisher 218 19th  Les Fisher 550 19th

The reverse says: Taken in Heliopolis Egypt August 1915.
Fred Fisher 218 19th
Les Fisher 550 19th

Like so many of the men, both fascinated and repelled by the sights, smells and sounds of Egypt, Les and Fred had their photos taken for posterity.

In many ways these men’s stories reflect that of so many other Anzacs. What’s unusual about them is that they left a photographic trail that has been lost to many families.  Also unusually their family preserved the records and Les at least shared his story with his children.

The photographs reveal the progressive story of their war. They included photos of mates they met, fought alongside, or furloughed with.

Below: Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned. There is no date on this photo.

Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned.

Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned.

The Australian War Memorial documents that the 19th Battalion was sent to Gallipoli where the troops landed on 21 August 1915. “The Battalion participated in the last action of the August Offensive – the attack on Hill 60 – before settling into defensive routine in the trenches. From mid-September…the 19th Battalion was responsible for the defence of Pope’s Hill.

Les Fisher, undated.

Les Fisher, undated.

For many of the Aussie Anzacs, the Gallipoli snowfalls would have been their first sighting of snow. I imagine the novelty wore off pretty quickly. AWM image C00751 out of copyright.

For many of the Aussie Anzacs, the Gallipoli snowfalls would have been their first sighting of snow. I imagine the novelty wore off pretty quickly. AWM image C00751 out of copyright.

As the months wore on and the weather changed, influenza became a high risk, along with frostbite as the men were under-supplied with appropriate winter clothing. Les’s daughter remembers that he talked of melting snow to obtain water to drink. You can read more about how the men dealt with life on Gallipoli beyond the fighting here.  The 19th battalion was withdrawn from Gallipoli at night on 19 December 1915.

1521 hospital pic low

Les Fisher’s casualty record shows he was taken sick on 14 December and admitted to Heliopolis Number 1 Auxiliary Hospital on 23 December 1915 with “mild frostbite”. Judging on Les’s annotation on the postcard it’s obvious the men called it Luna Park – a tongue-in-cheek nod to the eponymous amusement park in Sydney.

Les was discharged fit for duty until 19 January 1916, but not before he’d spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the Heliopolis hospital. The postcard below is not of good quality but it talks of Les’s stay over Christmas and New Year’s Eve 1915, though like many of us, he muddled his dates in those early days of the year.

Les Fisher (right) taken with a mate.

Les Fisher (right) taken with a mate, unnamed.

1522 hospital Heliopolis back low

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them. 

After another period of training the men were despatched to France via Marseilles, disembarking there on 25 March 1916.

18th and 19th Battalions, landing at Marseilles from Egypt. AWM Image CO4393 out of copyright.

18th and 19th Battalions, landing at Marseilles from Egypt. AWM Image CO4393 out of copyright.

The AWM’s history again: The 19th took part in its first major offensive around Pozières between late July and the end of August 1916. After a spell in a quieter sector of the front in Belgium, the 2nd Division, which included the 5th Brigade, came south again in October. The 19th Battalion attacked near Flers between 14 and 16 November, in conditions that Charles Bean described as the worst ever encountered by the AIF.1515 Nurses

Les’s fighting service was coming to an end. On 26 July 1916, he was wounded and admitted to 32nd Stationary hospital, Wimereux, France on 27 July with a severe gunshot wound to the right foot. He had copped what the troops knew as a Blighty, an injury which merited evacuation to England. Les was transferred via Boulogne on 30 July 1916 and admitted to Wharncliffe War Hospital in Sheffield where he was to stay for five months.

It is unfortunate that many of the Battalion’s War Diaries from 1916 no longer exist, but digitised copies of those that do can be found here.

This postcard was sent to Les Fisher by his sisters, Dorothy or Dorie (left born 1911), Alma (centre, born 1906) and Vera (born 1902). It says “God be with you until we meet again and Good Luck“. It’s dated 20 September 1920 which I have to think might have been a mistake as Dorie is certainly not 9 in this photo, so perhaps it was sent when the family heard of his injury, given its nursing theme. It was Dorie to whom Les gave his tiny bible which the men were given and which was carried in their breast pocket.

1504 Good luck fm Surry Hills low

A few months later Les was transferred to 2nd Auxiliary Hospital on 18 December so once again he was in hospital for Christmas. A further transfer came in April, to Weymouth hospital.

 

1500 Rust Cadigan Fisher McIlveen 1917 low - Copy

FE Rust 50th Battalion, W Cadigan, Leslie Gladstone Fisher (with cane) 19th, H G McIlveen 13th.

1501 Rust Cadigan Les Fisher and McC 1917 hospital low

Slowly Les’s injuries started to heal and he was given furlough in April 1917. His postcards show that he spent at least some of the time with Ned Kent from Victoria. I wonder where they went? 1509 Ned Kent and Les Fisher 1917 low1508 Ned Kent and Les Fisher low

 

 

 

 

After returning from furlough Les was repatriated to Australia on board the Ayrshire in July 1917, and given an honourable discharge due to injury. His daughter has a copy of his certificate but unfortunately I have not scanned or photographed it, though I saw it some years ago.

1526 Les Fisher low

The inscription on the reverse of this photo says: Monte Video Camp, No 2 Company, Weymouth, Dorset, England. 27-4-17. Note boot cut out for wound on foot, comprie (sic). His daughter said he often used this French expression meaning “understand” even though he’s mis-spelled it here.

On his return to civilian life, Les was no longer able to follow his hope to become a police man like his uncle. The injury to his foot had put paid to that aim, and he went to work at the Sydney Victualling Yards. Les would wear a surgical boot for the rest of his life, and receive regular treatment at the repat hospital.

Fred Fisher and a joyous welcome home.

Fred Fisher and a joyous welcome home.

The family must have been pleased to have one son back at home, but older brother Fred was still serving in France. He would not return until 1919 and the family turned on quite a celebration for him at their home in Lenthall Street, Kensington (Sydney). Fred Fisher is pictured bookmarked by his parents and his brother Les is in the background with girlfriend Norah Keane. Many years later a relative approached the new owner of the property to see if they could look inside the house, and there on the wall was this photo -the new owners had always left it hanging in the hall.

Les and Norah would marry and raise a family. Although Fred also married he had no children. The men would live in adjacent houses in Snape Street, Maroubra for the rest of their lives.  Leslie Gladstone Fisher died in 1956 and Frederick Charles Fisher died in 1937.

This photo was taken in the Sydney Town Hall near the end of the war. Les and Norah are among the crowd.

This photo was taken in the Sydney Town Hall near the end of the war. Les and Norah are among the crowd.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

This post is my contribution to the 2014 Trans-Tasman Anzac Day Blog Challenge hosted by Seonaid from Kintalk blog in Auckland.

Lest We Forget.

 

 

 

[i] For those interested in this voyage, which resulted in the deaths of 66 passengers due to cholera, this website includes a letter from the doctor on board. http://ubrihienfamilyhistory.webhive.com.au/ship-caeser/

[ii] Jenny Paterson’s excellent articles in Ances-Tree are invaluable reading about the German vinedressers. http://bdfhg.weebly.com/ances-tree-articles-by-date.html

Remembrance Day 2013: Erle Victor Weiss

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

For Remembrance Day 2013, I’m going to share with you the brief story of a man who has no family connection to me whatsoever. He made himself known through a photograph found in my cousin’s extensive photo collection.

My 4th cousin in Sydney is one of those people who has myriad photographs stored in suitcases – probably literally hundreds of them. Some have names on them, but sadly not all. She has been a wealth of information about my own family but there are also hidden gems of no direct relevance to me.

Erle Victor Weiss KIAAmong her collection is this photograph postcard from a young Australian soldier who was killed in World War I, Erle Victor Weiss. Erle was another of the young men, descendants of German ancestors, who fought for King and country in World War I. You will see from his note to his friend that he did not affiliate with the Germans he fought, referring to them as “Huns” in the vernacular of the time. Given the social attitudes of the era I often wonder whether those with German names felt they had to be more English than others, and whether it provoked them into joining up as soon as possible.

Erle Victor Weiss to Nora

Click on the image to read the letter.

Erle had joined in August 1915 and was a bombardier with the 1st Field Artillery Brigade. He had been severely gassed in November 1917 and it was during this period of hospitalisation in England that he wrote to my cousin’s mother.

This postcard strikes me as a letter to a young woman with whom he was perhaps in love. Whether she was just a friend or reciprocated his love is unknown, though the fact that the postcard has been preserved all these years suggests she was very fond of him.

Erle was killed on 9 August 1918 nine months after this letter was written and is buried in Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres. His brother, Frederick Alfred Weiss, died on 19 July 1916, in the Battle of Fromelles. These two young men were the eldest sons of Walter Henry and Amy Selina Weiss who lived at Erina, New South Wales where it seems Walter was a school teacher.

Erle’s friend, Norah, married another former soldier Leslie Gladstone Fisher in 1925 in Surrey Hills. Were the two men friends? Had they ever met?

Leslie Gladstone Fisher, WWI.

Leslie Gladstone Fisher, WWI.

It is impossible to read the files for the young men who were killed during the war: there is such pathos in each and every letter written to the authorities by their next of kin. All they had left to hope for were some items of their son’s to treasure, and in Erle’s case this amounted to 2 photos, 1 card, a belt a damaged wallet, a pocket book and a scarf. The significance of the war memorials, especially in Australia, is knowing that a memorial and small personal items were the only tangible reminders of their son’s sacrifice.

Among the photos are two unknown soldiers, I thought I would include it here in case someone else recognises them.

Two unidentified Aussie soldiers.

Two unidentified Aussie soldiers.

Fromelles, Lt Col WEH Cass and family collections.

A studio photo of Lt Col Cass perhaps around the time of his posting to France. AWM photograph A01470, copyright expired. The photo is shown as Lt Col ERH Cass CMG so it appears the initials are a mistake.

“But the toll of missing is getting smaller. It is not quite the disaster which at first appeared. I would say we lost something between 4000 and 5000”. Such are the relatively dispassionate words entered in the diary of Australia’s military historian, Charles Bean, after the Battle of Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916.[i] However the personal reality for the men was quite different. Lt Col Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass commanded the 54th Battalion during that battle and also had a role with the 53rd who’d lost their commanding officer. The 54th had come too close to being outflanked by the Germans and only a calm head and experience combined with the extreme bravery of the messengers Cass sent to HQ, got the survivors of the battalion away safely.

Only days later on 22 July 1916 Cass was admitted to the Officers’ Rest Home with shell shock and discharged 10 days later.[ii]  The human devastation of the battle hit him hard and he reportedly accused his superior officer, General McCay, of slaughtering his men – an insubordination that might well have seen Cass court-martialled in another army.[iii]  Fromelles was one of Australia’s most severe battles and regarded by soldiers who’d been there as worse than Gallipoli[iv].  Australia’s casualties totalled 5533.

Colonel McCay and his Brigade Major WEH Cass in Egypt, December 1914. AWM photograph PO3397.01 copyright expired.

To put Cass’s injury in perspective he had just spent over a year in the Dardenelles and was wounded twice before being evacuated.  He had also served in the Boer War. This was a man who was experienced and familiar with the devastation and human costs of war. He had been mentioned in despatches by General Haig and been awarded the Cross of St Michael and St George (CMG) in January 1916. He was once again mentioned in despatches in 1917 and recommended for the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his role at Fromelles but he would never go back into battle. It seems to me that he must have been held in high regard to be exempt from being returned to the field on the Western Front. Charles Bean, official historian for the AIF in WWI, wrote of Cass: “the leaders of the AIF were mostly generous men, and marked for their sense of duty; but there were perhaps few in whom the recognition of duty was quite so strong, or sympathy with the rank and file so keen, as in Walter Cass”.[v] Cass relinquished command of the 54th and took over command of the 14thTraining Battalion at Larkhill. His experience in South Africa, and at Gallipoli and Fromelles would have been invaluable to those under his command.

Two excellent exhibitions at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance in June 2012. Both had personal interest to us.

Soon after arriving in England Cass married his long-time correspondent, a Canadian nurse and journalist, Helena Holmes.  The silver tea tray given to the couple by his men, testifies to the regard in which the soldiers held their commanding officer.  Extracts of his correspondence with Helena, kindly shared with us by his granddaughter, reveal a witty, clever, ambitious and romantic man. Interestingly he was very frank about the risks of war with this woman who he had been courting assiduously for a number of years: a tribute to her resilience, or perhaps even a test of her capacity to be a career officer’s wife.

Walter Cass had some amazing experiences, serving in the Army both before and after World War I. He attended the 1912 Delhi Durbarwhich was held to celebrate the coronation of King George V as Emperor of India.  After returning to Australia in 1917, Cass held a number of roles which gave him remarkable social opportunities. He was State Marshal for the 1927 Melbourne visit of the Duke of York (later King George VI); was involved in the organisation of the celebrated arrival in Melbourne of Ross and Keith Smith after the great London-Australia air race 1920 and in his official capacity met many interesting people from Japanese naval officers to the Governor. The man who had survived war and battles, died at home after an operation for appendicitis on 6 November 1931, shortly before penicillin became widely available.

Mr Cassmob learning more about his great-uncle Walter Cass at the exhibition.

Our trip to Melbourne last month was primarily to visit an exhibition on Brigadier General WEH Cass and his wife Helena Holmes, and to meet some newly-found rellies.  This exhibition is being held at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and has been extended until September.  You might recall that I used “J is for Jealousy” in the Family History Alphabet series. If you are at all interested do go and visit this exhibition and you will see why I might use “jealousy”. The exhibition is primarily an amazing family collection of memorabilia which illustrates Walter Cass’s diverse career. There are invitation cards and souvenirs from the Durbar; formal gifts from Japanese naval officers who visited Australia officially pre-World War II; the cigarette case given to him by the Duke of York; some of his personal letters to Helena as well as his uniform and accoutrements. Cass was a keen and very good amateur photographer. The exhibition included his photos taken during the Boer War, Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Helena’s nurse’s uniform is featured as is her typewriter which she used to write her news stories, many published under her own by-line.  It really is a fascinating display at a number of levels and while we might all wish for such a family inheritance of memorabilia, imagine the responsibility of caring for and preserving it all.

If you plan to visit I suggest you ring in advance to ensure the room in which the exhibition is held is not being used for a public meeting. We had to wait around on both occasions we visited but it didn’t matter too much as it meant we were able to have a good look at the Kokoda exhibition which also featured Milne Bay during WW II.


[ii] Another page of his personnel file also indicates he was wounded.

[iii] Don’t Forget Me Cobber, the Battle of Fromelles, 19/20 July 1916. R S Corfield. Corfield and Company, Rosanna, Australia, page 146.

[iv] Quote by HR Williams of the 56th Battalion from his book, The Gallant Company 1933, referenced in Don’t Forget Me Cobber, page 127.

[v] C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929). Extract from Australian Dictionary of Biography http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cass-walter-edmund-hutchinson-5529

V is for the Valiant of Villers-Bretonneux: Lest we forget

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. Today’s post is both historical and genealogical, as in Australia and New Zealand we celebrate 25 April as Anzac Day, commemorating the landing at Gallipoli and all the Australian and New Zealand military contributions since then. Tying in the with Trans-Tasman Anzac Day challenge I’ll also talk about the effect of one soldier’s death.

Villers-Brettoneux war cemetery and Memorial on a foggy, freezing winter's morning . © P Cass 1992.

On a freezing cold morning in late November 1992, we set forth from Amiens on a pilgrimage to the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. Despite the national significance of the site to both Australia and France, our purpose that day was personal. We’d come to see the name of my grandfather’s cousin, James Thomas Paterson, on the Memorial’s large wall, among the names of those whose bodies were never found.

Villers-Brettoneux © P Cass 1992

So dense was the fog that we drove straight past this immense Memorial without seeing it and had to turn back. Perhaps it was the fog and the crunching of ice underfoot as we walked the cemetery that brought me undone. I sobbed for those men lost so far from home, who had fought in conditions such as these, to which mostly they were unaccustomed, fighting for duty and a cause they believed in, for a people in a foreign land. As we wandered among the immaculately kept graves, the French gardeners worked respectfully to ensure the final resting place of the soldiers buried in the cemetery section was kept immaculate.

Part of the Memorial wall at Villers-Brettoneux which lists the names of the soldiers with no known grave. © P Cass 1992

Slowly we approached the Memorial at the back of the site, and its vast list of engraved names: the one you see in Anzac Day TV broadcasts. There are 10,765 names on that wall[i]; 10,765 Australian Diggers fallen in France but with no known grave; 10,765 men whose names are engraved in the hearts and minds of families who would never be able to visit their grave. Imagine the sheer loss behind those numbers if you can.

Let me tell you a story behind just one of those names. James Thomas Paterson was the grandson of Bavarian-born George Mathias Kunkel and his wife Mary O’Brien. James’s parents were Archibald and Catherine Paterson. When James was a lad, his family moved from Stanthorpe west to Pickenjennie near Wallumbilla where his father purchased land and worked on the railway lines by day. By the time of the big droughts in the 1910s, James was working as a farmer. Times were tough and that may have contributed in some way to his decision to join the war effort in World War I.

Jim had already served with the Roma Commonwealth Light Horse (a militia force) and there’s no doubt he felt a strong sense of duty to join up, as he made his wife-to-be promise before he married her that she would not stop him joining up. The recruiting train steamed into Wallumbilla en route to Roma on 17 August 1915, and the local men were encouraged to enlist[ii] through meetings and appeals for troops. Jim was not among those who signed up immediately but he left Wallumbilla by train on 27 August to enlist. Days later the small town held its Patriotic Day celebrations, attended by 500 people and raising £140 for the war effort. Paradoxically the Dalby recruiting officer complained that “it was a serious thing that the sinews of the country were going away in such shoals”[iii]when Brisbane men were not pulling their weight.

Wedding photo of James Paterson and his bride, Lizzie Cahill, kindly provided by their grandson.

James married Lizzie Maud Cahill on 1 November 1915, shortly before he was to leave for the front. The Toowoomba Chronicle[iv] reported on their wedding in detail and Jim’s grandson has provided a copy of the wedding photo to the AWM.  Oral history reports that while Jim had some money set aside, Lizzie insisted they splash out a bit.

Initially posted to the 25th Battalion, Jim was absorbed into the 49th on arrival in Egypt and was transferred to the Western Front, via Marseilles, in June 1916.  Jim copped a Blighty, a wounded elbow, at the Battle of Mouquet Farm near Thiepval.  Returning in December 1916, he was probably in time[v] to celebrate Christmas behind the lines with his battalion including snowball fights, building snow kangaroos in lieu of snowmen, and partaking of the Australian Comforts Fund’sgood tucker and treats.

James Thomas Paterson's daughter, grandson and great-grandson at his memorial tree in the Avenue of Heroes, Roma, 2002. Photograph courtesy of the family and used with permission.

It was a shocking winter in northern France in 1916/17 with arctic conditions and thunderstorms. In April the allied forces attacked the German front line and during this battle James Paterson and C Company were attached to the 50th Battalion. During the assault of 5 April 1917, half of C Company were killed or injured, including James Paterson. As Lizzie followed the news at home over that Easter weekend, she would have had no inkling that her husband had been killed. There is no record on the file of when she was advised of his death but it wasn’t until late May that James’s death was confirmed. Lizzie’s nomination for Jim’s Roll of Honour entry says simply “Man’s Duty”.

The couple had a daughter, born in late July 1916. Jim had insisted that she be given a good Aussie nickname, and so Elizabeth Maud (Mary) came to be called Cooee as a young girl. Although Jim never met his daughter his family believes he did see her photograph. Imagine the tragedy of a man never seeing his child before he dies, and his child only knowing her father through his photograph and her mother’s stories.

Lizzie was a petite redhead in appearance but she was strong and determined, supporting her daughter through her hard work as a station cook. She continued to write to the Army seeking further information and any of her husband’s effects for their daughter. How wonderful that although this man died in the service of his country, Jim’s family line continues through his daughter (still alive) and her family.

James Thomas Paterson's plaque in Roma's Avenue of Heroes.

Of course a death like this also affects the whole family. We know nothing of how Jim’s parents took the news of their son’s death but it would have been a great shock and his mother died of cancer six months later. From oral history we know that his grandmother Mary Kunkel was not told of her grandson’s death, protecting her from further sadness as her husband had died only a few months earlier. Jim’s brother Dan Paterson joined up soon after Jim’s death. Dan’s own experience and that of his brother meant that he hated war, and eventually burned his own Light Horse uniform, plumed hat and all.

The town of Roma in western Queensland planted an avenue of bottle trees in honour of its fallen World War I heroes.

Towns throughout western Queensland felt the losses of their men keenly. Every town and village had contributed men to the war effort and most had lost one or many. Each town commemorated them in different ways. Roma’s memorial was different. The town planted rows of bottle trees, one for each soldier lost in the war. James Thomas Paterson was one of those men whose sacrifice was remembered in this way by the community and by his family.


[i] Various numbers are cited in different sources. I have used the number from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

[ii] The Brisbane Courier of 23 August 1915, reported that as of that date 109 fit men had been recruited from this recruiting train.

[iii] The Brisbane Courier, 2 September 1915, page 7.

[iv] The Toowoomba Chronicle, 2 November 1915, page 6

[v] While he left for France on 4 December 1916, the records show him rejoining the unit on 6 January 1917, hence the uncertainty.

Beyond the Internet: Week 16 War service records

This is Week 16 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. In honour of Anzac Day coming up this week, the topic is War service records.  Once again this week, the topic will be a cross-over between online and offline resources.  Please do join in with this series and add your thoughts.

Online with World War I

We have been very spoiled with Australian World War I service records being digitised and made available online through the National Archives of Australia (NAA). All we have to do is put a name in the search bar, limit it to a period (1914-1919), and Bob’s your uncle, up come the list of names with a digitised symbol on the right hand side for you to click on.

Might I make a suggestion if you haven’t already tried this? As well as looking at your own ancestor’s records, have a look at any of his siblings/cousins etc or perhaps anyone with the same unusual name (obviously Smith just isn’t going to work). My grandfather’s service record includes pages from two of his brothers’ service records. Only looking at one record might not give the full story.

Then of course, there are the other options for that period, available online through the Australian War Memorial (AWM): Red Cross, Roll of Honour, and Honours and Awards through the biographical database.  Also don’t forget to search the collections which might pick up additional information eg my husband’s great uncle is mentioned in the write-up of another man’s medals.

But what of those records beyond the internet which is after all what we’re supposed to be looking at?

Boer War Service

There are search facilities with AWM and the NAA but my understanding is that many of these records are available through the state archives, or even libraries. If you have a relative who fought in the Boer War, you might want to explore these options. This is a useful information sheet.

Post World War I Service Records

There are other records which are still only available by ordering from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). They are the World War II service records, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf. Let’s assume you want to find out which members of your family served in World War II. You again enter the family name, plus a first name if necessary. It then presents you with the options available and you can choose the correct person. If you’re just using it to fill out information on your families you may want to stop there because you will have acquired some useful extra detail.

I find this search useful to determine a preliminary birth date, while it’s not yet available through BDM searches, even by year.  It may also tell you (with varying reliability) where they were probably living when they joined up, their place of birth, and possibly their spouse’s name as next of kin. Not bad for a quick haul. Of course with WWII we’re also more likely to pick up female family members.

However if it’s your direct ancestor, it’s still worth your while to obtain the full service history from DVA by providing the details (or a printout) found from your search. Why would you bother? Well just think about what you find in your World War I records, and it’s easy to see the benefits. Combine it with other sources like war diaries, photographs and oral histories and you can build a comprehensive picture which tells of your relative’s experience.

For last year’s Anzac Day post I told the story of one of my family members, based on a combination of his Korean service records and the digitised war diaries. You can read it here to see just how you can build a picture from these record sets, probably more so where the person was killed in action.

Catalogue items

It’s true that not all of us can manage to get to see the original records in the archives, but with online catalogues it makes it possible to draw up a list that you might want to look at if/when you’re lucky enough to be on site. If it’s a very specific item, you may just be able to order it directly, for a fee (still cheaper than airfare+accommodation).

I’ve already mentioned the AWM collections search but also have a look at what NAA has available through this link. Of course Ancestry and Findmypast also have overseas service information which you may want to explore.

I hope this post has provided some strategies for building up your relative’s military service history to incorporate into your family story.

Beyond the Internet Week 13: Lest we forget: War Memorials

This is Week 13 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is War Memorial and Plaques.  I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

Of the Beyond the Internet topics, this is probably one of the most obvious. It’s likely that if you had ancestors or relatives who served in a war, you will have tried to find some memorial to them. In Australia there would hardly be a town, no matter how small, that doesn’t have a memorial to the men (and some women) of the district who served and especially for those who gave their lives. Depending on the size of the town you may find the servicemen on one side of the memorial and those who died on another. There is often a commonality to the type of monument with the Digger, arms at rest, on the top. Still there are others which show a different stylistic approach.

Roma's Avenue of Heroes: a row of bottle trees.

The town of Roma in western Queensland chose to honour its fallen men by an avenue of bottle trees, called the Heroes Avenue. One of my grandfather’s cousins, James Paterson, is honoured in the Avenue. The historic Gallipoli Memorial near the Roma St Transit centre in Brisbane has certainly not registered with me. More recent memorials take a less stylised structure than the World War I structures. The ultimate memorial is of course the Australian War Memorial’s bronze Rolls of Honour near the Hall of Memory.

How did these memorials become such an important architectural feature of our townscapes? The impact of the war affected every town, and directly or indirectly, almost every family. The Australian War Memorialsays that from a population of less than five million, 416,809 men enlisted and 60,000 were killed while 156,000 were wounded gassed or taken prisoner. In practical terms this means that about 15 men in every hundred men served, and of these half were killed, injured etc.

Returned soldiers in uniform surrounding the Digger War Memorial in Chinchilla ca. 1920 SLQ image 4579, copyright expired.

At the recent talk by Dr Tom Lewis, he suggested that these monuments were a way for families to honour their men-folk whose graves they were unlikely to ever see. This seems quite a logical conclusion to me, but perhaps they also served another purpose: to give the families some practical way to ensure their dead would not be forgotten.

If you’re unable to visit your Australian ancestral town in person right now, the internet does provide an alternative way of seeing these memorials. Picture Australiaand Google both provide a way of seeing these iconic features. The notes on the photographs may also tell you more. For example I’ve learnt that the War Memorial in Chinchilla includes the original base while the Digger has been moved to the RSL Club…shame I didn’t know that when I visited.

The updated Chinchilla War Memorial photographed in 2011.

Without a doubt using the internet to help us locate these memorials can be invaluable and we’d be foolish to forgo that complementary process.  For example I’ve just found there is a huge memorial to all Toowoomba Railway employees who served in World War I: something to add to my “to do” list for the next visit. Queensland has a War Memorials Register as I’ve just discovered and it would be an invaluable tool. Other states seem to have similar resources.

A word of caution: there are plaques I’m aware of that are that I’m not finding on the register. There is/was an honour board at Central Railway Station for WWI railway employees which I’ve not found in situor on the register (another “to do” activity). Wallumbilla’s honour board does not appear nor does the small one for Murphys Creek.

The Murphys Creek (Qld) World War I Memorial Board taken P Cass c1988.

Some of these only come to light by reading local or occupation histories, and may include your relative’s name.

As we move into April and Australia’s remembrance of Anzac Day, you might like to research your family’s presence on a memorial, either in person, or if that’s impossible, then online.

Wallumbilla Roll of Honour. Murphys Creek is really a small hamlet while Wallumbilla is a small rural town. Despite this their wartime contributions were significant.

Murphys Creek WWII War memorial

Never rains but it pours: Historical talks in Darwin

It’s not just the weather in Darwin where it never rains but it pours. Over the past week we’ve had a flurry of diverse historical and genealogical talks. Today I’ll focus on the historical talks.

On Saturday 18th February the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory, with support from The Northern Territory Archives, hosted a talk by local identity Pearl Ogden on “The impact of the war years on Darwin” though Pearl extended it down to Katherine.  A couple of snippets that particularly caught my attention were that the prisoners were released from the Fannie Bay Gaol so it could be used to house servicemen, the number of army farms growing a wide variety of vegetables, there were Catalinas anchored at Doctor’s Gully (now fish-feeding tourism), the Vic Hotel was favoured by the Americans, and that indigenous women workers were treated and paid the same as men. There were obviously large communities of Army activity around Adelaide River and Katherine. Pearl also talked a little about the the bombings further down the Highway. I’ve now been in Darwin quite a while so as she mentioned innumerable places and streets I mostly knew where she was talking about. A big omission from the talk was any maps or photographs to illustrate the talks. It would have been greatly enhanced if these had been used – and no doubt the interstate visitors would have gained far more from what was a fascinating talk. And I still don’t know where the Victualling Yards are in Stuart Park –need to suss out a Darwin “old timer” and ask.

Monday evening 20th February a large number of people lined up for another session hosted by the Northern Territory Library and attended by many from the combined Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan BattlefieldWar comes to Australia” Tour. The first speaker was Dr Tom Lewis, former naval officer and Director of the Darwin Military Museum and the wonderful new Defence of Darwin experience. (Previous to last week I hadn’t known there was a anti-submarine boom net across from what we call East Point but technically is Pt Dudley ). Tom’s talk had lots of fascinating detail which addressed some of the misconceptions and myths surrounding the bombing.  In particular he emphasised that some of the statistics bandied around were misleading, for example comparison with Pearl Harbor did not match up because the bomb capacity was lower even though more bombs fell. The torpedo bombs used on Pearl Harbor were far more damaging.  Dr Lewis made a very valid point which was that Nagasaki had only one (atomic) bomb and by a pure comparison of numbers, Pearl Harbor and Darwin would both be more important than that which would indeed be plainly ridiculous. He cited that 2000 civilians died at Pearl Harbour, which did not concur with the 40 listed on the Pearl Harbor website I’d already looked at, and wondered whether some were civilians employed on military bases. Certainly the Bombing of Darwin wasn’t the biggest disaster in Australia’s history and he cited Cyclone Tracy and the sinking of HMAS Sydney. He did not agree that Prime Minister Curtin had covered up the bombing deaths and also denied that we had insufficient  defences with 18 anti-aircraft batteries around town, which were red-hot after the battle. However he did agree that the men had not had much practice prior to the event. My own view was that the talk was fascinating and full of detail and that Tom’s personal experience  of the “fog of war”, as he called it, added to his understanding of the history of the event, but there were times throughout the talk when I wondered if it didn’t blinker him to some of the other views put forward. Shauna Hicks has also posted her views of the talk. What became very clear is that anyone with a serious interest in this historic event would need to read widely and critique what they read before reaching their own conclusions.

The second speaker was Brad Manera who is the Executive Manager of the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park in Sydney. Brad spoke more widely about the experience of Australians in war right back to our early white settlement. He also gave a good summary of the different Australian Brigades as they entered World War I. His explanation of the Gallipoli battles was clear and concise. It would be fascinating to be on a battlefield tour in situ to really understand more about this Australian-coming-of-age battle.  His discussion of Australians on the Western Front was informative and no matter how many times you hear the numbers, they remain sobering. Again it’s emphasised for me that a Western Front battlefield tour is one I’d really like to take so an expert can fully explain the mechanics of the battles on the ground. We visited Villers-Bretonneux , Amiens and Fleurbaix back in 1992 as these are “family sites” and they were tremendously moving but to learn more from an expert would add a greater dimension. Another item for the bucket list!

A number of my relatives were in the Light Horse so I was interested to learn that it was the Queensland Light Horse who started the tradition of the emu feather in their slouch hats and that it dated from the 1891 shearers’ strike in which they helped to break the strike –not so keen on that bit. The New South Welshmen apparently wore a black cockatoo feather while unsurprisingly the West Australians chose a black swan feather.

Brad also explained that the ubiquitous presence of war memorials around Australia post-WWI was partly because the families of those who died would never have a burial and were unlikely to ever see their relative’s grave because it was so far away (not to mention that some soldiers’ bodies were never found as evidenced by the huge wall at Villers-Bretonneux) .  Almost every family was affected and every community so they needed to have some symbol of their patriotism and tremendous losses.

Shauna Hicks was the last speaker at this seminar and spoke clearly about how to locate information on your military ancestors. Although I don’t have anyone in the Boer War, I was interested to learn that some of those records remain with the state libraries or other repositories. She also highlighted the Mapping Our Anzacs website, reminding me that adding scrapbook notes to my relatives’ entries is another item on my “to do” list that remains outstanding.  The other helpful site is the ADFA site which has had various incarnations over the years. As usual, Shauna will post her talk on her webpage making it easier to revisit the details.