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.

Anniversary of Battle of Milne Bay

This week is the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay.  Far less known to the average Aussie than Kokoda in the annals of our military history, it was a vitally important victory against the Japanese Forces.

This is the approximate location at which the Japanese landed: very difficult to get a good photo when bouncing along in a banana boat.

This is the approximate location at which the Japanese landed: very difficult to get a good photo when bouncing along in a banana boat.

You can read what I wrote about it for last Remembrance Day, not long after we returned from visiting Milne Bay, as well as the memorial stained glass windows in the Catholic church.

This excellent link provides an interactive map of the battle field, and progress of the battle itself.

Facebook fans might be interested in liking the Milne Bay Memorial Library and Research Centre.

Milne Bay Province is on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Image from Google Earth.

Milne Bay Province is on the south-eastern corner of Papua New Guinea. Image from Google Earth.

Sepia Saturday 166: Army bakers

Sepia Sat 166 2MarchThis week’s Sepia Saturday theme is about work, ideally it would include an image of a woman working but that seems to be so uneventful and ordinary that no one photographs it. Instead I’m including three photos which came to me as part of my aunt’s photographic archive.

Army cook, Pat Farraher, baking.

Army cook, Pat Farraher, baking.

The photos all feature Army bakers probably around the time of World War II. My uncle, Pat Farraher, is the main person in each. One is very serious and I’d love to know who the Visiting Dignitary was.

My uncle, Pat Farraher, on the left meets an unknown Vis Dig.

My uncle, Pat Farraher, on the left meets an unknown Vis Dig.

Another is the complete antithesis –a frivolous one. Would you want these men making your bread and pastries? Unfortunately I don’t have the background story behind any of the photos.

Uncle Pat and a mate "act the goat".

Uncle Pat and a mate “act the goat”.

Inventive Sepians might conclude there’s another link, because after all in the real world, cakes are often carried in boxes just like the women were packing in this week’s theme photo. Not to mention that it would be as never-ending a task to feed many hungry soldiers as to fold all those boxes!

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.

Boys of the Old Brigade Feb 1918: help requested

We all know the joys and benefits of blogging but just how effective it can be is brought home from time to time. Among my comments recently was this one from Claire, representing the Blacktown (Sydney) Computer Pals, a group of people who are learning IT skills by doing a project which their tutor Mick has said has taken on a life of its own.  I’ll let Claire explain it herself:

We are a group of seniors in a Computer Pals Club. We have a small notebook from WW1 with 24 signatures of returned servicemen who called themselves “Boys of the Old Brigade” 2 of whom are:- Kenneth Norman Kunkel and Mathew David John Kunkel. We have researched some of their military records from the National Archives of Australia & The War Museum & have found that Mathew came from Springbluff & Kenneth came from Toowoomba. We are trying to make up a booklet reuniting these men. Ideally we would like photos & details of the battles they were involved in. Your help in this project would be very much appreciated.

Australian Mounted Division Train resupplying water. Less than a month after this notebook entry Ken Kunkel injured his back in a fall from just such a water cart. AWM Image B02703 out of copyright.

It further transpires that the notebook came to Mick, the tutor, whose great uncle, Alan Wilson, owned the book. Luckily Mick was able to save it from being dumped after Alan died. It also contains pressed flowers.

I offered the Computer Pals group the chance to spread the word about their project via my blog so I’m going to list the names in this WWI notebook (which included pressed flowers) here and hopefully it may flush out some interested family members. If any of these names are your relatives, or you know who they are, could you please leave a comment, and with your permission I’ll pass on your details.

Here are the names of the men who signed the notebook with links to the ADFA AIF site:

Boys of the Old Brigade 22/2/18

K Lancaster, Kyabram Vic (initial doesn’t look like JW?) (Possibly John Watsford Lancaster, Kyabram, Vic per Embarkation roll)

H S Cooper, Newbridge, NSW W Line (Hiram Sydney Cooper) (born Jericho, went to Jericho?)

R Hamilton, Southbrook, Qld. (Robert Hamilton)

R J Eden, Heatherton , Vic  (Robert James Eden)

W A S Lucas, Coolamon, NSW (Stanley Lucas aka William Albert Stanley Lucas per service record)

G A Ellis, North Qld. (George Arthur Ellis, Charters Towers, Qld)

Frank Murray, Manildra, NSW

C W Saunders, 28 Wells St, Newtown, NSW (Claude William Saunders, aka Frederick Richard Saunders OR Claude William Saunders –both NOK Wells St, Newtown)

J W Muller, Kent St, Maryborough, Qld (maybe John William Muller,  mother in Nanago)

M H Comerford, Wondai, Qld (Martin Henry Comerford)

F N Smith, Forest Hill, Qld (Frank Norman Smith)

N T Wright, Goondiwindi, Qld (Neville Thomas Wright)

E A Balderson, Maryvale via Warwick, Qld. (Ernest Alfred Balderson)

W J Matchett,  Moree, NSW (William James Matchett, Boomi, near Moree, NSW)

F A Tuddenham, Oaklands, NSW (Frederick Ashton Tuddenham)

F C Rudd, Campsie, NSW (Frank Campbell Rudd, Campsie, NSW)

Sgt Bob Phillips, Moyston, Vic (Sgt then CSM Robert Phillips, Moyston, Vic)

A Osborne, Cpl, 36 Murchison St, Carlton (Arlington Osborne, born UK)

M D J Kunkel, Gowrie St, Toowoomba, Qld (Matthew David John Kunkel)

T L Clarke, Bulli, NSW (Thomas Leslie Clarke)

Ken N Kunkel, Mort St, Toowoomba, Qld (Kenneth Norman Kunkel)

M L Dyer, Crown St, Wollongong. (Martin Luther Dyer)

E J White, 603 High St, Armadale, Vic (Edward James White)

Additions:

James Alexander Wilson, Calcairn, NSW (?)

Any thoughts, please comment. Here are a few from me.

The Lancaster entry doesn’t seem quite right to me, and he is also different from the others because he’s a sapper. I’ve tried comparing some of the signatures in the book as compared to their attestation papers at NAA and there are some differences…not surprising I suppose.

An Australian Light Horse team raises the dust on a road in the Jordan Valley near Jericho. AWM Image B00230, copyright expired.

I’m trying not to do the BCP research for them, as that’s part of their learning strategy. However my observations are that the vast majority of these men seem to have been appointed as Drivers with the ANZAC Mounted Division Train in late 1917. This makes it likely that they were involved with the offensives at Gaza and also Jericho. The Unit’s War Diary for February 1918 is here, and the story of the advance on Jericho is here and an ADFA summary is here. The unit’s engagement at Jericho apparently ended on 21 February 1918, and the date for the signatures is 22 February 1918, which makes me think it was some form of team bonding/memorabilia after the battle.

There are diaries by Sapper Edward Bradshaw and Trooper Jeffery Thomas Holmes from the Australian Mounted Division which cover this period and reveal details of their daily lives and work. Both diaries are held by the Australian War Memorial…next time in Canberra.

Australian Mounted Divisional train, using horse and waggon transport on the Jerusalem Road in Palestine. AWM Image J00948, copyright expired.

Apart from the fact that this is a great project, it’s also exciting for me at a personal level. Matthew David John (John) Kunkel and his younger brother Kenneth Norman (Ken) Kunkel, were my grandfather’s younger brothers. Both went to war together, along with a couple of Gavin cousins, and both returned safely together. I knew they’d been in the Middle East, and yet somehow it seems amazing that they had been to the old biblical scenes. Were they impressed and intrigued I wonder (their parents and grandparents were all devout Catholics) or were they simply caught up in the war itself.

So, over to all of you. Let’s see how blogging can help this group make connections with the men’s families as they have with the Kunkel men.

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.

Brigadier Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass

Studio portrait of Lt Col WEH Cass, CMG. Photo from AWM, copyright expired.

Dedicated geneabloggers know the joys that can come from making contact with family members through our stories. Recently I wrote about F is for Fromelles and Fleurbaix and last year the Battle of Fromelles:  In Memoriam L/Cpl James Gavin KIA. In these stories I mention my husband’s great-uncle, then Lt Col WEH Cass, though the focus of my story was on my grandfather’s cousin, James Gavin. Thanks to these posts I received comments on the blog from two of my husband’s relatives and we are now also in touch with WEH Cass’s grand-daughter.

I’ve always been intrigued by WEH (as I call him), initially because he was a key player at Fromelles but over the years I’ve learned much more about him. Originally WEH was a teacher but he served in the Boer War and then took a commission with the regular Army. He spent some time on secondment in India during which he played a role (not yet clear) in the Delhi Durbar to celebrate the coronation of King George V. Once again YouTube provides enlightening videos here in black and white and here in colour with sound.

WEH was part of the mobilisation of Australia’s troops at the commencement of World War I. He took part of the Gallipoli campaign and was shot twice, then evacuated to hospital in Alexandria. While he was recuperating his mother died at home in Albury.

At the 2003 Australasian Genealogical Congress in Melbourne, the keynote speakers on Anzac Day were Roger Kershaw and Stella Colwell from The National Archives in London. Imagine my astonishment when early in their presentation they referred to two items from their repository: a haversack and notebook belonging to a Major Cass which had been found after the Gallipoli battles. In that era of early digitisation, they didn’t know what had happened to him and assumed he’d been killed. We met up during the morning tea break and I was able to fill them in a little with his story and assure them that not only was he not killed, he’d gone on to achieve the rank of Brigadier. (Correction -I’ve just had advice from The National Archives that they don’t have the haversack. I’ve obviously mis-remembered this from the 2003 talk. My mistake, sorry).

After Gallipoli, WEH found himself on the Western Front, steadily gaining rank and recognition for his performance in the field. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG). WEH was well regarded not just by his fellow officers but also by the men who served under him. Perhaps this is why the carnage of Fromelles was so devastating to him: the loss of so many of his men, through what he regarded as incompetence, was something he found difficult to deal with.

Throughout these war years WEH maintained a steady correspondence with a nurse he’d met (precisely where is uncertain), Helena Holmes, from Nova Scotia. He married her after Fromelles in London in 1916. He was repatriated to Australia in early 1917 suffering from debility. On his return to Australia he remained with the Army serving in increasingly senior roles.

There is so much more I could tell you about this intriguing man but I’ll let the The Australian Dictionary of Biography provides a summary of his life story. He’s rather a researcher’s dream: there are lots of documents relating to his service at our National Archives, the ones above at TNA, photos on the AWM page and personal papers etc held by his family.

Brigadier WEH Cass died suddenly aged only 55. He was buried with full military honours in Melbourne General Cemetery.

Thanks to the family connections we’ve made through the blog, we have learned that Melbourne is currently hosting a wonderful exhibition of memorabilia relating to Walter Edmund Cass and his wife Helena including some of their letters as well as photos he took himself at Gallipoli. We’re going to make the trek from Darwin on a flying visit to see the exhibition and meet new family members. As a bonus we’ll be able to see the upcoming Kokoda exhibition as well. Bonus!

It sounds like it would be well worth a visit to Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance to see the Exhibition, especially for those in easy driving distance. So if you’re in Melbourne with nothing planned for the weekend, why not go and check out the exhibition.