Skylarking in the army

Sepia Saturday 245This week’s Sepia Saturday 245 is all about men larking about, perhaps with a wee drop of whisky in the background.

army group1My images today date from a serious aspect of our nation’s history, World War II, but it’s also obvious the men weren’t on the front line and were having a fine time larking around. This series of photos is from my aunt’s photo album which I inherited. Her husband, Pat Farraher, was a cook with the Army during the War and I wrote about the serious side of his story back on Sepia Saturday 180.Pat Farraher 4

In the photos Pat and his mates are having a play stoush, doing the seemingly-inevitable rabbit ears behind a mate and generally having a light moment or two with or without the wee dram. I don’t know whether the photos were taken at Enoggera barracks in Brisbane or somewhere in Papua New Guinea, but my guess would be the former except in the final photo. Seriously, would you trust these men with the nation’s security?Army mate

I wonder how other Sepians have responded to this challenge? Do their photos reveal lurking, posing, drinking or sharing?army friends

 

This photograph has the following names on the reverse: Ned Eteell, Slim Hope, and Percy Holt. My guess is this photo is in  PNG.

This photograph has the following names on the reverse: Ned Eteell, Slim Hope, and Percy Holt. My guess is this photo is in PNG.

 

An army marches on its stomach

Sepia Sat 180It seems that my uncle Pat Farraher is determined to have his moment in the Sepia Saturday sun. Pat appeared back in Sepia Saturday 166 and today’s topic is tailor-made for him.

The World War II nominal roll only gives bare details but it lists Patrick Joseph Farraher enlisting on 15 September 1942 in Enoggera, Brisbane at the age of 34. He was attached to the 4th Field Bakery (AASC) as a private. His next of kin was my Aunty Mary.

Among my aunt’s estate were some old family photos including some of Uncle Pat’s military service, including those mentioned above. Today we start moving into the field and the Australian War Memorial’s photographic collection places Pat’s photos in context. I knew he’d served in Papua New Guinea, and immediately recognised some of Pat’s place photos from his time there, but knew nothing about these service photos of his.

It may be this is field training prior to departing to Papua New Guinea -it looks like Australian scrub in the background.

It may be this is field training prior to departing to Papua New Guinea -it looks like Australian scrub in the background. Photograph from Pat Farraher collection.

The cook "train" -you can see this photo links with the one above.

The cook “train” -you can see this photo links with the one above. Photo from Pat Farraher collection.

I could see this was an Army Dukw (amphibious vehicle) photographed, I suspect, at Enoggera army camp by Uncle Pat but what relevance did it have?

Perhaps they were heading off to the ship to PNG.

Perhaps they were heading off to the ship to PNG. Photograph from Pat Farraher collection.

But the AWM website makes it clearer in its caption for this photo: A FIELD BAKERY BEING ESTABLISHED ON THE NORTHERN BANK OF THE BUMI RIVER. THIS PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS MEMBERS OF THE 4TH AUSTRALIAN FIELD BAKERY PLACING SHEER LEGS IN POSITION ON TWO “DUKWs” PREPARATORY TO UNLOADING THE BAKERS OVENS.

Photograph 61074 from the AWM Collection, taken in the Finchhafen area of PNG.

Photograph 61074 from the AWM Collection, taken in the Finchhafen area of PNG. Image in the public domain. Men from the 4th Field Bakery.

Armies need food as well as ammunition so the army bakers were kept busy making bread, rolls, meat pies and who knows what else. I don’t suppose that with people being shot at, any concerns for health regulations went out the window. I was lucky to find so many great photos of the 4th Field Bakery in the AWM collections.

Image 061258 AWM. 4th Field Bakery men preparing bread rolls.

Image 061258 AWM. 4th Field Bakery men preparing bread rolls. Image out of copyright.

In a hot and humid region, working in the bakehouse must have been incredible sweaty work though they were probably well-served by their bush-materials bake house. In the bigger scheme of things I guess the Diggers probably didn’t care too much about a salty addition to their bread rolls.

The AWM states on one picture “with improvised ovens and huts and the help of native boys, the men of the 2/4th Field Bakery baked thousands of bread rolls each day to supply the Division”.

Some bakers from the 4th Field Bakery heading back to quarters after a busy day’s work. The contrast between the featured image today and the men in this image is amusing, I think. No wonder the British officers complained about the casualness of Australian soldiers during WWI.

AWM Image 061613 of the 4th Field Bakery men leaving the bush materials bakehouse at Dumpu in the Ramu Valley, PNG.

AWM Image 061613 of the 4th Field Bakery men leaving the bush materials bakehouse at Dumpu in the Ramu Valley, PNG. Image out of copyright and in the public domain.

Lest We Forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

As you know we’ve just returned from Papua New Guinea, and in particular Milne Bay where we spent most of our time. We had lived there for a couple of years after our marriage but Mr Cassmob had also spent his teenage years in the district, when home from boarding school, and he regards it as his “place”.

It always shocks me how little known Milne Bay is within the history of World War II, while Kokoda gains a much higher profile. Despite contradictory stories, it was in the Battle of Milne Bay that the Japanese suffered their first land defeat, proving they were not invincible. Following the rapid domino effect of their overthrow of the Asian countries such as Singapore, this battle gave hope that their forces could be defeated. While there is now no indication that the Japanese forces intended to invade Australia, there’s little doubt that an enemy force ensconced in Papua or New Guinea would have been cause for grave concern and fears for Australia’s security. This year has been the 70th anniversary of the battle.

The Battle of Milne Bay was a relatively short but difficult campaign exacerbated by challenging terrain, heat and the hazards of malaria. It raged up and down the northern coastline of Milne Bay exactly where we were visiting last week and where we had lived in the 70s. The major air base was on Gili Gili Plantation where my husband worked briefly in the late 60s (see the story of his discovery of a wartime artefact here).

Rather than give you chapter and verse I’m going to show you the images of the War Memorial near Alotau and also the information plaques which tell the story of the battle. You might also be interested in the images on my Tropical Territory blog which show the stained glass windows in the Catholic Church in Alotau, honouring those lost in the battle.

The map shows the range of the battlegrounds. Alotau, the provincial headquarters, where we’ve just been, is slightly to the left of the arrow.

The memorial overlooks Milne Bay: a far more tranquil scene than 70 years ago.

The Australians gained great support from the local people who risked much to help them.

Lest we forget

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

In Memoriam: Crows Nest Memorial to those who gave their lives in World Wars I and II. The memorial includes the names of Cpl French VC and my grandfather’s cousin, James Gavin.

Thoughts on The Last Blue Sea

In the midst of the jungle men pray for strength. MASS BEFORE BATTLE ON SALAMAUA TRAIL. (1943, August 16). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42021915

Lately my mind has been turning to Papua New Guinea again as we plan an upcoming trip back to Alotau after a mere 41 years. As it does in these circumstances, one thought leads to another and before long I’m off on a tangent.

No surprise then that I picked up my copy of The Last Blue Sea the other night to re-read it. Originally published in 1959 the book won the inaugural Dame Mary Gilmore Award. My guess is that it would be the best part of forty years since I last read it, having first encountered the book in high school.

News of the day: the battles near Salamaua. 11 ZEROS SHOT DOWN. (1943, August 4). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), p. 4.  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48762488

In theory the novel is entirely fictitious except for the presence of renowned war photographer Damien Parer.  Whatever the truth of the specifics, there’s little doubt that the story builds on personal experience and a deep knowledge of World War II in New Guinea circa 1943 (post-Kokoda). It has an unusual writing style which ultimately seemed very effective but I confess I occasionally got confused as to which soldier was which, despite the list of key characters in the beginning.

This is one book in which the place (the jungle near Salamaua in what was then New Guinea) is very much a major character, shaping the individual soldier’s experience and responses. Having the tiniest understanding of just how impenetrable the jungles of PNG can be, I am in awe of their survival and persistence.

My take-away thoughts from this book were:

  • The all-encompassing power of the jungle, the impact of the leaves and the enemy hidden within
  • The sheer physical and mental brutality of survival, let alone fighting, in such conditions
  • The impact of poor leadership and equally the commitment of the men to leaders in whom they believed
  • The men’s tendency to hide the truth of the horrors they saw from their loved ones at home
  • The courage of the men was very low-key and it evoked a memory of a family friend who fought as a sniper near Kokoda: you’d have thought it was a doddle from the way he spoke.
  • The platoon leader calling his men’s lives “the crown jewels of Australia”: the loss of these men impacted Australia for decades afterwards
  • The sheer horror of men who, severely injured, had to make their own way out of the jungle over precipitous mountain ranges, often alone because there was no other option.
  • I was intrigued by references to the militia units at Bargara near Bundaberg at the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea. So far I haven’t tracked down the truth or otherwise of that element.

I found this novel to be very powerful and will be rereading it again soon, to absorb the finer points I missed in my rush to follow the story.

The nom-de-plume of the author was David Forrest and in fact I never knew it wasn’t the author’s real name. Turning to Google I found that David Forrest was the aka for Dr David Denholm. As soon as I read that, bells rang in my head. Sure enough he is the author of a BA (Hons) dissertation at The University of Queensland, on the Coming of the Germans to the Darling Downs 1852-1861, which I’ve referenced in my Dorfprozelten research. I was quite tickled to discover this link.

As I read the book the words of an Australian poet echoed in my mind. David Campbell’s poem Men in Green carries some of the same resonances. This is a short extract but please do have a look at the full poem from this link:

Their eyes were bright, their looks were dull,

Their skin had turned to clay

Nature had met them in the night

And stalked them in the day.

And I think still of men in green

On the Soputa track

With fifteen spitting tommy-guns

To keep a jungle back.

A is for Ardkinglas in Argyll, and Alotau (Papua New Guinea).

 Let me explain my plan for the A-Z blogging theme for April. Given that family history is my focus generally, there are a number of paths I could have taken. I’ve opted to use each letter to highlight a place/places of some ancestral significance. Hopefully they’ll also be interesting from a travel point of view. I’ll try to keep them relatively short on words (good luck with that!), and where possible, illustrate them with photos. Where I’m defeated by a particular letter (eg X), I may write about a place I’ve visited. (X still has me stumped). I’m already behind the eight ball having just learned about the challenge so I’ll do two tomorrow to catch up.

A is for Ardkinglas in Argyll, and Alotau (Papua New Guinea).

Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne.

Ardkinglas is an estate in Argyllshire, Scotland. Technically Argyll is in the Highlands but very close, by sea, to the metropolis of Glasgow. In this way eastern Argyll bridged the cultural divide with the Lowlands as in the mid-19th century more and more Scots found their way to Glasgow to look for work as their traditional rural roles disappeared. My McCorkindale ancestors lived on the Ardkinglas estate for many years as evidenced by the census returns. However don’t begin to imagine my family offers a re-run of Monarch of the Glen, despite its physical similarity. Unfortunately my family, like most other Scottish emigrants, were labourers or workmen on the estate, not the laird.

The sixpenny gatehouse for Ardkinglas estate.

Not only that, the current “pile” is not the one that James McCorkindale knew when he worked as a sawyer on the estate in his younger years. As he aged he seems to have become more of a general labourer and in old age, the census reports him living in the sixpenny gate house at the entrance to the estate. Ardkinglas offers one of Scotland’s beautiful gardens with magnificent conifers from around the world and a fantastic array of Rhododendrons. It’s a delight to wander around even in chilly weather but absolutely gorgeous in spring. My husband has just learned to his peril that they now have accommodation available in the old butler’s quarters….he’s so in trouble now.

Alotau is the headquarters, albeit a small town, in the Milne Bay district of Papua New Guinea. It’s family history links are modern rather than historic, with three generations of our family having lived there. You can read about my in-laws’ contributions to Papua New Guinea here and here.

When I went to Alotau as a young bride it had only recently taken over the role of district headquarters from the island settlement of Samarai, another site of family history heritage of which my husband has many fond memories. We had radio telephones, slow combustion stoves, 18 hour power, and more red clay than you’d care to see in your washing. Most of our groceries came in from Samarai or Port Moresby, and the pilot’s success at landing depended on the weather. You can read about my 1st Papua New Guinea Christmas here.

The airstrip for Alotau is some miles away at Gurney, the site of a major World War II Australian base. The Battle of Milne Bay in 1942 was pivotal in turning the tide of the Japanese advance. While less well known than Kokoda it was arguably even more important in the overall scheme of the war’s outcome, as it was the first time the Japanese military had experienced defeat. Milne Bay is U-shaped, and in the Wet Season the cloud descends over the surrounding mountains obscuring everything until you can barely see further than 20 metres away and keeping aircraft from landing –very inconvenient.  It’s unforgiving flying country which challenges all a pilot’s skills. One plane crash, soon after I arrived, killed a young family who we knew, as well as others[i]. The sound of choppers and planes searching through the clouds and mist for a downed aircraft is an eerie and sobering one. My husband was the last person to see this plane take off and I had farewelled some who had stayed at Glyn Wort’s guesthouse (where I worked) that morning. It’s surprising that the incident was not more well-known among his colleagues.

My Alotau memories are quite shell-shocked, having come from a familiar urban environment to a very different environment, but within the year it felt like home. I’ve always wanted to revisit Milne Bay to refresh my memories.


[i] Also see http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/the-kiaps-honour-roll.html. The plane had reportedly stalled the day before when another kiap (later murdered) was on the flight.  In PNG, we lived with the philosophy that “when your number’s up, your number’s up”.

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.

The Bombing of Darwin: an Awkward Truth

Last night we were in the audience for the world premiere screening of the documentary, The Bombing of Darwin, an Awkward Truth. The Darwin Entertainment Centre was filled close to capacity with old servicemen and their families, Darwinites old and new, and visitors.  We were rewarded with a very engaging and educational documentary based on a book of the same name by Peter Grose. Recurring comments are that people had known next to nothing about the bombing. You too can see it if you have cable TV as it shows on the History Channel on Sunday night in Australia and can also be bought from the Australian War Memorial after this week. I don’t have the film-reviewer skills to phrase these comments effectively but let’s see if I can give you the flavour.

Pros

  • Great archival film footage from the National Film and Sound Archives and the Australia War Memorial though little is from the day of the bombing.
  • An effective merger of the archive footage with staged reproductions – filmed in sepia or black and white ensured they blended well together.
  • The interviews with the now-aged servicemen interspersed through the doco were extremely effective: dry, and often amusing, and revealing of the poor level of preparation for a war on Australia’s soil. Their memories of the fear were clear to see.
  • The men’s youth was shown subtly with images of them in uniform occasionally shadowed behind them as they spoke – they were so young and it was interesting to see how similar they were to their youthful photos irrespective of ageing.
  • The recounting of facts like burying bodies or finding men with their skin boiled off by the burning oil, simply told.
  • It revealed the ensuing chaos, lack of leadership, and the real fear and expectation that the Japanese would now stage an invasion on Australian soil. After all “impregnable” Singapore had fallen only days before.
  • The sheer good fortune of those who survived despite the odds, including the post office worker who didn’t hide in the PO’s secure trench –which took a direct hit.
  • The “warts and all” approach of honesty in regard to looting and the ambiguity of military directions.
  • Includes references to the Indigenous people and their experiences.
  • The film will be shown to history teachers at the National History teachers upcoming conference and included in the teaching curriculum.

Cons/Questions (some of these arose from the Q&A session at the end)

  • The map which showed the spread of Japanese control to include Papua New Guinea though this never fell to the Japanese and was heavily contested in fighting with Kokoda and the Battle of Milne Bay key defensive successes. (We lived in PNG so knew the back-story to this).
  • Discussion over how much looting took place and whether it was for profit or much-needed supplies.
  • Discussion over whether some units were left in Darwin.
  • Dispute over the “Adelaide River stakes”: the mass departure of civilians from Darwin after the bombing: a wise strategy if you think you’re about to be invaded.

There were a large number of servicemen in the audience who had survived the bombing and it was impressive to see their general level of fitness and mental clarity as they were all very elderly.

The documentary is certainly well worth watching if you get a chance. There’s a short trailer for it here.

The Bombing of Darwin 19 February 1942: the 70th anniversary

Darwin is in a flurry of activity this week as the city commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. Although it’s said that the event was little known in Australia’s history perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it was a good example of war-time “spin”…perhaps understandably in the sense of keeping up morale.

In the beginning the numbers of fatalities and injuries quoted were sadly underestimated and to this date, the figures remain contested by some people. The prevailing view is that “more than 243” were killed and between 300 and 400 injured.

Similarly the number of Japanese planes in the assault was also underestimated at the time: 70+ or so compared with an actual 188. Much appears to have been made of the fact that 4 enemy planes had been brought down during the two raids which occurred an hour apart, although one of the planes actually crash-landed on Bathurst Island.The USS Peary was among the naval casualties in the harbour that day, ironically having only returned the day before to refuel.

The Prime Minister of the day, John Curtin, responded to the attacks with the following comments published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 20 February 1942:

”Damage to property was considerable,” he said, “but reports so far to hand do not give precise particulars about the loss of life. The Government regards the attacks as most grave, and makes it quite clear that a severe blow has been struck on Australian soil”.

Darwin had actually had some warning that the planes were coming when Father John McGrath of Bathurst Island Catholic mission at Nguiu radioed to warn Darwin. This message was transmitted to the RAAF base. Unfortunately the message was largely ignored as they thought it was some returning American aircraft. Since that time the Tiwi people have their own commemoration of the event, with their bombing dance featuring swooping plane movements and shooting. We were lucky to see the dance for ourselves when we visited Nguiu in 1995, as it was our daughter’s first teaching post. A Tiwi Islander, Matthias Ulungura, captured the 1st Japanese prisoner of war on Australian soil, Sergeant Hajimi Toyoshima whose Zero fighter crashed near Snake Bay.

The Bombing of Darwin occurred about 10 weeks after Pearl Harbour and was masterminded by the same Japanese commander, Mitsuo Fuchida with the same squadrons and pilots taking part. It’s interesting to compare the two events, one very well known and one almost unknown. Astonishingly Darwin had 683 bombs dropped on it during that first morning compared with Pearl Harbour’s 271 though without doubt the magnitude of the bombs was smaller. At Pearl Harbour torpedo bombs were used which have a much greater impact. Based on the bombing pattern, it seems the Japanese intent was plainly not just to decimate the shipping and aircraft but to take out the infrastructure so there was no northern base from which Australia, and its Pacific ally America, could mount an offence against Japanese bases in Asia. The indicative number of civilian deaths in Darwin was around 60.

Pearl Harbour

Darwin

Japanese aircraft

353

188

Japanese aircraft carriers

6

4

Aircraft destroyed (US/Aus)

188

20

Killed (US/Aus)

2402

243+

Wounded

1282

300-400

Ships sunk

10

8

Date

7-Dec-41

19-Feb-42

Throughout the battle, the 18 anti-aircraft guns were fired constantly until their barrels were red hot. So hot in fact that when the cleaning cloths were used, they burst into flames. Famously one bloke came running from the showers in his hat and boots -with a towel   wrapped around him, that soon dropped off. Artists’ representations show him naked manning the guns.

Many of the women, children and elderly of Darwin had been evacuated to friends and family around Australia in the preceding month or so, and after the bombing most of those remaining went/were sent south. This left the men, civilian and military, and the indigenous people on the Frontline. The list of evacuees is extensive but can be seen here on the National Archives of Australia webpage (click on view digital copy on the right). Some of the evacuees were to become refugees in their own country a second time in 1974, when 33,000 people had to leave the city after it was nearly destroyed by Cyclone Tracy.

The effect of the war in Darwin is easy to ignore, yet visible everywhere. There are military installations scattered around the cliffs and parks, main streets were runways, and down the Track (the Stuart Highway) there are regular signposts to former airstrips, supply depots and the like.

The new Defence of Darwin Experience at the revamped Military Museum, which will be opened this weekend, will no doubt do much to make this part of Australia’s history far more well-known. (Update: we visited this on Saturday 18 February just after it opened, and it really is an excellent insight into the bombing. I’m pleased we’ll be able to visit it on a regular basis so there’s less risk of information overload).

Over the next few days I’ll be posting some photos that relate to Darwin’s role in World War II and to the Bombing. You can find them on my Tropical Territory blog.

And if you are in Australia and have cable TV, the history channel will be screening “The Bombing of Darwin, an Awkward Truth” on Sunday night. It premiered in Darwin tonight and was extremely interesting.

Remembrance Day: honouring the Australian-born Diggers with German ancestry

James Thomas Paterson’s name on the memorial boards at the AWM.

A couple of my family’s fallen Diggers, James Augustus Gavin and William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel, were remembered in earlier posts. Today I want to focus on the service of the Australian Diggers in World War I who were descendants of the mid-19thcentury Dorfprozelten immigrants, five of whom gave their lives and another 17 served in the Australian forces and two earned bravery medals.

In this photo of a young Ken Kunkel in uniform he is a ringer for my father, or I suppose vice versa. Does anyone know what the shoulder flashes signify?

Although their families had arrived 60 years earlier, the generally vituperative press must have made it difficult for them on a day-to-day basis. At the time streets and towns around the country were changing their German names to British ones. I’m proud that these men’s families retained their German names with minor spelling variations based on pronunciation. Their service deserves to be recognised and this summary honours some of these Dorfprozelten descendants.[i]

As far as I can tell none of their living parents and grandparents were interned but there was a requirement for them to report to the local police regularly. Interestingly George Kaufline (son of Dorfprozelten couple Vincent and Eva Kauflein) remained Mayor of Cooma during the war despite his German ancestry.

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

Children of John Zeller (b Brisbane 1858) and his wife Ann Nixon from Chinchilla and grandchildren of Dorfprozelten immigrants, Franz Ignaz and Catharine Zöller.  With four sons away overseas John Zeller actively contributed to the war effort by supplying walking canes which he crafted himself by hand from local timbers. He also established a sandbag committee at Chinchilla explaining “as I am too old to go and fight with our boys I feel that I must do something to help those that are fighting for us.”[1]

Corporal Zeller of Dalby, Sgt Major Leaver and Sargeant Concannon of Maryborough. photographed in France during WWI. SLQ Negative number: 109996 copyright expired. This is probably George Herbert Zeller, the only one to become a Corporal.

RIP: Thomas Zeller (29) enlisted 8 March 1916 in the 15th reinforcements of the 26th Battalion. He assured the enlisting officer that he was willing to sign a declaration that both his parents were born in Australia. Thomas was killed on 7 October 1917 in the prelude to the battle of Passchendaele, though his death was not confirmed until 15 April 1918. He was buried in the Tyne Cot cemetery, north-east of Ieper. There is a very evocative letter from John Zeller to the military asking for confirmation of his son’s body being found and buried because “his mother is heartbroken at the thought that no one saw him dead”.[2] The pathos of these letters from families desperate for any small piece of information on their loved ones is heart-tugging even at this distance in time.

RIP: George Herbert Zeller (22) enlisted on 28 June 1915 in the 3rd reinforcements of the 25th Battalion. George was killed on the Western Front on 9 April 1918. He was “very smart and a good soldier. Won his corporal stripes with his Lewis Gun in which he was highly proficient.”[3] George was buried in the Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery extension, north-east of Amiens.

A postcard sent to Ken Kunkel at the front by a young nephew.

Alfred Zeller (27) enlisted with the AIF on 14 November 1916 in Toowoomba. Originally with the 19th reinforcements of the 25th Battalion, he was later attached to the Engineers.

Richard Zeller (32) enlisted on 14 November 1916 in the 12th Machine Gun Company and was later transferred to the 47th and then the 42nd Battalions.

Children of Joseph and Caroline Worland, grandchildren of Vincenz and Eva Kauflein(aka Kaufline) from  Dorfprozelten.

http://www.awm.gov.au Image EO1649 (copyright expired) Menin Gate memorial memorial erected near Ash Crater to members of the 35th Battalion who fell in the battle of Messines on 7 June 1917. R C C Worland’s name is on this memorial.

RIP: Robert Charles Clyde Worland (20), from the Cooma/Monaro area, enlisted on 7 August 1916 and served with the 35th Battalion. He was killed in action on 10 June 1917. He is remembered on the Ieper/Ypres (Menin Gate) memorial.

RIP: Lt Edward John Worland MC (31) enlisted on 24 November 1915 and served with the 35th Battalion . He was twice recommended for the Military Cross (July and August 1918) which was awarded 1919. He was killed in action on 30 August 1918 and is buried in Daours Communal Cemetery Extension, about 10km east of Amiens.

The youngest son and a grandson of Heinrich Volp[ii] and Anna Günzer (aka Ganzer). Anna was only a young woman of 14 when she emigrated from Dorfprozelten.

George Volp MM (son of the above, 22), enlisted in February 1917 and was with the 25th reinforcements of the 2nd Light Horse. George was recommended for the Military Medal in November 1917 and awarded it in January 1918.

Henry Ernest Volp (23) was the grandson of Heinrich and Anna and the son of their eldest son Johann Jacob. He also enlisted with the 25th reinforcements of the 2nd Light Horse in February 1917. It seems likely these two men, born in the same year, were more like brothers than uncle and nephew.

Son of Christopher Ganzer and his wife Ellen Gollogly and grandson of Dorfprozelten immigrants George Günzer (aka Ganzer) and his wife Hildegardis Hock. George Günzer was the father of Anna Günzer above, so even though he was deceased well before WWI he had at least 3 grandsons serving.

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

Terence Joseph Ganzer (21 ) enlisted on 17 November 1916 and served with the 24th reinforcements of the 5th Light Horse.

Grandchildren of Bavarian-born George Mathias Kunkel and his Irish-born wife, Mary O’Brien, from Murphy’s Creek and sons of George Michael Kunkel and his wife Julia Gavin.

RIP: James Thomas Paterson (28) enlisted on 31 August 1915. He had previously served with the Roma Commonwealth Light Horse. Initially James was posted to the 9th reinforcements of the 25th Battalion but on arrival in Egypt he was absorbed into the 49th and later attached to the 50th. James served on the Western Front and on 5 April 1917 he was killed during an assault on a railway crossing near Noreuil. His body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Villers-Brettoneux memorial near Amiens. James left behind a wife and infant daughter.

The memorial plaque for James Thomas Paterson on Roma’s bottletree planting in honour of its World War I Diggers

Daniel Joseph Paterson[iii] (24) enlisted on 25 February 1917 and initially attached to the Machine Gun Company then subsequently the 31st and 41st Battalions. He served in France but was repatriated to England in mid-1918 with trench fever. He must have been quite sick as he did not return to France for over two months. According to family anecdote, Dan had a lifelong aversion to war.

Young brothers Matthew David John Kunkel (22) and Kenneth Norman Kunkel (20) had already enlisted in January and February 1917. Two of their Gavin cousins left on the same ship with them and one had already given his life at Fromelles. John’s file is annotated with the comment “I have examined papers in every respect”.

James Edward (Front left) and Denis Joseph Kunkel (centre) and unidentified friend or relation c1917.

John and Ken’s older brothers Denis Joseph Kunkel (37), my grandfather, and his brother James Edward Kunkel (26) enlisted on 22 October 1917 when the call went out for experienced railwaymen to work on the lines in western France. James Edward was subsequently rejected on the grounds of ill health, but Denis Joseph Kunkel joined the Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company in north-west France and Belgium. His service file carries a muddle of papers including those of two of his brothers. Despite a view that being in the railway unit was an easy life, it’s unlikely it seemed so when the German heavy guns got a line on the trains delivering replacement armoury.


[1] Mathews, T. op cit, page 365.

[2] ibid page 26.

[3] On 2 July 1918, Boulogne, LHA Giles 25th Battalion.


[i] It’s possible there may be more descendants of these families who served as it’s some years since I followed them in detail. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who can add to this list.

[ii] The children of this family are on the Qld BDM indexes with the surname Folp, reflecting the German pronunciation. Anna was only a young girl when she arrived from Germany and she had many children.

[iii] It is possibly Daniel on The Queenslander’s fantastic passport photos, 14 July 1917 page 26 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/2363222?zoomLevel=2

Sadds Ridge Rd, Charters Towers (Qld) and WWII in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.

This post is really about my husband’s family and some World War II history from Papua New Guinea (then Papua). This story shows how family history intersects with local history and each can complement the other.

Let him tell the story of how this all started:

From the late-1960s my family lived at Alotau, the District Headquarters for the Milne Bay Province, for a number of years and prior to that in Samarai also in the Milne Bay District.  Alotau as a town only came into existence in the mid-1960s but service men and women who were in Milne Bay during World War II may have known the location as Sanderson’s Bay, on the northern side of Milne Bay and to the east of Koiabule (KB) Mission. Sanderson’s Bay is near near where Corporal John Alexander French won his VC  on 4 September 1942.
During a university break in 1968 I was working as a supervisor on Gili Gili Plantation, a copra plantation near Gurney Airstrip. The plantation was essentially a very large clearing in the jungle which cover the ranges of hills surrounding the Bay and extend down across the coastal plains almost to the sea. In 1968, the stands of coconut palms on the plantation were still littered with bomb craters, wrecked military vehicles and other discards of war, including quite a lot of rusted-up weapons and unexploded ordnance; they probably still are!  I was overseeing a “labour line” or work gang using grass knives or “sarifs”, a sort of primitive hand-held scythe, to clean out overgrown parts of the plantation. I was nineteen at the time, the same age as many of the soldiers who had fought over the same country twenty-six years previously.
One of the workers took a chip out of the blade of his sarif on something metal which, when he uncovered it, proved to be a street sign, but not like any street sign I’d ever seen in Papua New Guinea or, indeed, in Brisbane or Melbourne. It was a blue rectangle with a white border carrying the name Sadds Ridge Road. I took the sign home and it has graced the many houses my family of origin and later my wife and I have lived in. While we often wondered where the sign came from, the occasional search of Australian street directories did not help, and we did not solve the mystery until March 2008, although my wife had previously seen an elusive reference to it among the Queensland pension indexes.

We now live in Darwin, and were driving to Cairns on holidays, calling in at cemeteries and Family History Societies along the way, as you do if you are relly-hunting. We stopped in Charters Towers because Pauleen’s great-grandfather Stephen Gillespie Melvin had well-known refreshment rooms and a chocolate factory in Gill Street. We saw a reference to Chinese market gardens at Sadds Ridge – and there you are! I gather the name of the Road was changed to York Street years ago, and this explains why we hadn’t found it previously.
The sign was obviously souvenired and taken to Milne Bay in 1942. While it must have meant quite a bit to someone to go to that much trouble, we have no clue as to their identity – someone who lived on the Road and wanted a reminder of home, or a soldier from somewhere else who wanted a memento of their time in Charters Towers?

So the mystery is: does anyone out there know of a soldier from Charters Towers (there were many) who served in Milne Bay during World War I? It would be intriguing to fill in the final part of the puzzle.

World War I discovery in Milne Bay, Papua

Sadds Ridge Rd sign