Anzac Centenary 2015: A Gallipoli “Everyman” Victor Joseph Sanders

The man I am writing about in this year’s Trans-Tasman ANZAC Day blog Challenge (commemoration?) is not a relative. Initially I looked for someone who lived close to my One Place Study, Murphy’s Creek, and chose a man about whom I’d write. At midnight last night, something niggled me to look up men from Toowoomba and my decision was made.

9th battalion colour patch

9th battalion colour patch

Victor Charles Sanders was a member of Queensland’s 9th Battalion, one of those men who arrived in wooden boats just before dawn on that first Anzac Day 100 years ago. Before the morning was out, perhaps even before the sun rose fully over the Gallipoli Peninsula he was dead, his life sacrificed in the Empire’s cause.

Vic Sanders, as he appears to have been known, was not a fresh-faced young man, just looking for adventure. He had been born in the Queensland country town of Warwick 33 years and 11 months previously. Although Warwick-born his family had lived in Toowoomba for a while because he’d been educated at North Toowoomba State School[i]. By the time he enlisted, Vic had also travelled beyond Australia’s borders. His Roll of Honour Circular states that immediately before signing up he had been the “manager of (a) plantation in New Hebrides” and his attestation file lists his occupation as an “overseer”.

Victor Charles Sanders stood 5ft 9½ inches tall and weighed 10 stone 11½ lbs: in current measurements, that’s 176cm and 78 kg. He had a dark complexion, possibly from his time in the tropics, and brown eyes and hair. He enlisted on 26 August 1914, and was given the regimental number of 502 and allocated to the 9th Battalion, a Queensland unit. His parents were Thomas Harrison Sanders and Elizabeth Keith Sanders[ii]. At the time of enlistment, Victor listed his mother as next-of-kin, living with her daughter, Emily Elizabeth and son-in-law Charles Fortescue, a jeweller in Toowoomba.

Meanwhile Victor’s nephew[iii], 21 year old Charles Fortescue[iv] had already applied for a commission on 17 August and was also attached, as a Lieutenant, to the 9th Battalion[v]. Later notes in Vic’s file indicates that he was attached to D Company, the same as his uncle and this is confirmed by the Embarkation Rolls at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).

The Transport Ship, Omrah, leaves Pinkenba whart, Brisbane with the 9th Battalion.

The Transport Ship, Omrah, leaves Pinkenba whart, Brisbane with the 9th Battalion. Did Victor’s mother and his sister and husband come to see their sons set sail?

After training Victor and his military colleagues sailed from the Pinkenba wharf in Brisbane on the transport ship Omrah on 24 September 1914, no doubt hastened by the belief the war would be over before Christmas.

While on board they undertook classes and training and when they arrived in Albany, WA, they apparently undertook a training march though I’ve found no reference to that in Trove and haven’t explored the brigade or battalion diaries.

Members of the 9th Battalion on a tender going ashore from the HMT Omrah (A5), for a route march at Albany. AWM Image CO2493

Members of the 9th Battalion on a tender going ashore from the HMT Omrah (A5), for a route march at Albany. AWM Image CO2493

I haven’t pursued what happened to the battalion in Egypt until they embarked on the ship Ionian, firstly to Mudros Harbour.

HMAT Ionian loading to take the troops to Gallipoli. AWM Image A02143

HMAT Ionian loading to take the troops to Gallipoli. AWM Image A02143

The 3rd Brigade diaries tell of the training the men did in preparation for the Gallipoli landing but the men weren’t too impressed and prophetic of what was to happen:

It was a laughable affair (on 19 April). Sergeant Polley was leading us all over the country, looking for the rest of the platoon. We would have been shot, over and over again. After several attempts, the exercise was given up as a bad job so we returned to our boats about midnight.[vi]

C

AWM Image CO2496. Lt Fortescue is 2nd from right in front row, on board Omrah.

The actual landing would have echoes of this but without the opportunity to backtrack to the boats. However the die had been cast, and the men were to go ahead. They were by turns nervous, excited, frightened…all perfectly normal and reasonable responses. However before they were launched off into the depths of their first battle the men were given hot food before embarkation, fed a decent meal rather than the usual army fare of sandwiches and hard biscuits[vii], thanks to Colonel Brudenell White’s detailed planning.

The Troops on the battleships were woken at 1 am, given a hot meal and a drink while the tows were being got ready, and by 1.30 am were ready for mustering into companies. This operation was carried out with impressive efficiency: no one spoke; orders were given in whispers. The only sounds were shuffling boots and muttered curses as men slipped on the ladders leading down to the boats. But for many, the tension of that still night magnified the sounds.[viii]

A tranquil day at Anzac in June 2014.

A tranquil day at Anzac in June 2014.

The night was still and clear, the sea as smooth as glass, much as it was today on the 100th anniversary of the landing. Unfortunately the moon silhouetted the ships, alerting the Turkish front line, who while they were unsure whether they were war ships or transports, the limited Turkish shore platoons and reserve units were now on standby until the relief contingents could be brought forward[ix].

On the boats, the men were silent awaiting their baptism of battle. To Victor’s nephew, Lieutenant Charles Fortescue, it seemed “the noise of the pinnaces being filled, in the stillness of the night, was enough to make the whole world vibrate”[x].

Major Fortescue, spoke of a solid mass of Turkish bullets and a cacophany of bugle calls. ..However official historian Charles Bean disagreed. He concluded “was the beach the inferno of bursting shells and barbed-wire entanglements and falling men that has sometimes been described or painted?” Turkish artillery, in particular, didn’t start to fire shrapnel until 5.10am (some reports said 4.45 am), or about an hour after the first Australians landed[xi].” Bean’s theory fits with what is known from the Turkish archives: they were hanging on at all costs until they could be supported by relief troops.

Meanwhile the Battalion’s succinct diary reports that “It was apparent that the naval people has missed their direction it was discovered afterwards that we were two miles north of the position intended. The landing was effected under rifle fire and the troops pressed forward. The enemy gave way and the advance continued. Turkish reinforcements saved the rush and our troops were driven back and hastily entrenched on a commanding position. Turks attacked again about midnight but were repulsed. The Australians displayed great bravery and held on tenaciously[xii]. It would be interesting to read a diary by Peter Stewart (378, 9th Battalion) to get a sense of the ordinary soldier’s take on the chaos of the day.[xiii]

The first roll call of the 9th Battalion at Gallipoli a few days after the landing. The lack of numbers makes it more understandable how Vic Sanders' fate could have been unclear. AWM Image JO6121.

The first roll call of the 9th Battalion at Gallipoli a few days after the landing. The lack of numbers makes it more understandable how Vic Sanders’ fate could have been unclear. AWM Image JO6121.

In the midst of this confusion of that first battle by the ANZACs, Victor Joseph Sanders was killed or died. Perhaps he was among those shot before landing, perhaps he was among those who drowned due to the depth of water, or perhaps he died later in the morning as the 9th Battalion made its assault towards Plugge’s Plateau and was lost among the crevices and gullies of those ridges rising up from Hell’s Spit at Anzac Cove.

What is certain is that Victor Sanders was missing in action (MIA) from that first Anzac morning and was never seen again and his poor family was left in a limbo of confusion as to what had happened to him. Initial reports suggested he was MIA (missing in action). Later his cousin, William Sanders (#2430) had written to his father that Vic was in hospital in Lemnos which presumably he believed since no one could be cruel enough to raise such hopes in his family. The fact that Victor was in his nephew’s company and Charles Fortescue didn’t know what happened to him speaks volumes for the ambiguity and confusion of that first Anzac Day.

From Vic Sanders' Attestion File.

From Vic Sanders’ Attestation File.

In August 1915, Vic Sanders’ brother-in-law, Charles Fortescue snr, wrote to his local Parliamentary member, Mr Bloom, for assistance saying “As you can imagine, the women folk are exceedingly worried. From what the wife told me it will evidently be a considerable time before the Department get any information in the ordinary way”. He offers to pay for telegrams to the hospital at Lemnos but the responses remains negative.

Eventually, in January 1918, Victor’s mother received a parcel of his belongings despatched per the Marathon. Included were 4 belts, housewife, photos, 2 knives, pouch, comb, corkscrew, “house” game, 2 notebooks and letters. What a treasure they must have been for his mother and siblings. For them to have survived it seems likely that either his pack was found though his body was not, or more likely, that he left them on the ship in case his number was up.

As the months, and years, passed the questions remained. It’s hard to imagine two families living under the same roof, one proud of their son Charles Fortescue who was awarded his Military Medal and one worrying about the truth of whether their son and brother was missing, in hospital or killed in action or long since deceased.

For me, it was Vic’s nephew, Major Charles Fortescue’s, report on July 11th  1921 that clinches his death “he landed on Gallipoli with the 9th Bn about 4:30am on the morning of 25th April 1915 with the company to which I belonged. No information has ever been received as to what happened to him from shortly after he landed”.

And yet, on 29 July 1921, a letter from the OIC Base Records says “The Imperial War Graves Commission has sanctioned a continuance of the search, and in the event of a more favourable report forthcoming, next-of-kin will be at once advised.[xiv] By then it is too late for his mother, Elizabeth, who died on 25 July 1920 – perhaps she had given up hope of her son returning.

Despite the lack of pleading letters in Victor’s military file (so common among records for deceased servicemen) the loss and confusion is clear. No doubt his mother’s grief remained until her death in 1920.

To my mind Victor Joseph Sanders serves as “Everyman” of the Gallipoli campaign. One of the earliest who landed on Gallipoli’s shores at Anzac Cove, his fate remains shrouded in mystery. He is not mourned in annual In Memoriam notices for continued periods – perhaps his family felt that would jinx his survival.  That the details of his death are unknown even to close relatives highlights the continued ambiguity and confusion of that first day of battle. The length of time until his death was declared by a Military tribunal in France in June 1916 evokes the trauma and tension of his family’s wait.

I’d have liked to find a photo of Victor among the Queenslander’s WWI images, but unfortunately it’s likely he’s among those whose details are obscured in the Queenslander newspaper editions of 3 and 10 October 1914. When I get a chance I’ll check the indexes at John Oxley Library.

Despite the grief his family bore, it perhaps made it easier that he was not married and did not leave behind a widow or child.

Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli. P Cass, June 2014.

Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli. P Cass, June 2014.

Victor Joseph Sanders is remembered on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli, just one of many whose bodies were never found and never laid to rest. He is also remembered on the grave of his mother and sister in the Anglican section of the Drayton Cemetery Toowoomba (though with anomalies in fate and age). It was his eldest brother, JW Sanders, who inherited the memorial scroll and plaque, King’s Message, 1914-1915 Star (#2169), Victory Medal (488) and British War Medal (513). Hopefully they are being lovingly cared for and treasured by Victor’s family to this day.

Victor Sanders E600

Lest We Forget.

The words of modern Turkey’s founder, and a Gallipoli military leader, show respect and consolation for the families.

DSC_0305

[i] Australian War Memorial Honour Roll circular http://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RCDIG1068892–878-.pdf

[ii] Ironically Vic’s mother had connections with the Qld railway line and so was probably familiar with Murphy’s Creek, one of my One Place Studies. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25320723. Parents details from attestation files and Qld BDM online indexes.

[iii] The relationship is stated in the Roll of Honour circular.

[iv] Son of Charles Fortescue, a Toowoomba jeweller, and Emily Elizabeth Sanders. Awarded a Military Cross for his actions on April 25th-29th during operations near Gaba Tepe “For gallant conduct. He twice led charges against the enemy and rendered good service in collecting reinforcements and organising stragglers”[iv]. (Charles Fortescue, Lt, requested commission 17 Aug 1914, aged 21y 3 mos, jeweller.

[v] Having only just returned from Canberra, it’s frustrating to discover Major Fortescue has private papers held by the Australian War Memorial, including details of the landing at Gallipoli. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/2DRL/0497/

[vi] 36 Days. Dolan, H, Macmillan Digital Australia, Sydney, 2010. (ebook location 4156)

[vii] ibid. (ebook location 4717)

[viii] http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/1landing/bgrnd.html

[ix] Defending Gallipoli: the Turkish Story. Broadbent, H, Melbourne University Press, 2015.  (ebook location 411)

[x] http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/1landing/bgrnd.html

[xi] Bean, however, didn’t go along with men like Major Fortescue, who spoke of a solid mass of Turkish bullets and a cacophany of bugle calls. “Neither then nor at any time later,” Bean concluded, “was the beach the inferno of bursting shells and barbed-wire entanglements and falling men that has sometimes been described or painted.” Turkish artillery, in particular, didn’t start to fire shrapnel until 5.10am (some reports said 4.45 am), or about an hour after the first Australians landed.

[xii] 9th Battalion War Diary, April 1915. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/awm4/23/26/ Series AWM 4 Item 23/26/5

[xiii] http://hdl.handle.net/10462/eadarc/2071

[xiv] Attestation file, Victor Joseph Sanders.

Trove Tuesday: Support Trove

Support TroveI’ve just been reading my monthly e-newsletter from the National Library of Australia.

Every day around the country and around the world, family historians sing the praises of our wonderful Trove. It is a truly amazing research opportunity of a world-class standard. Certainly no other newspaper digitisation I use comes close to it, let alone all the other aspects of Trove: maps, journals, images, sound, books etc. The newsletter tells us that 22 million people are using Trove annually…isn’t that an astonishing success. Equally astonishing is that there are over 396 million items digitised on Trove!

support trove2And we’ve been able to access this wonderful resource completely free wherever we live around Australia or the world! Distance and isolation just don’t affect us with Trove.

The Library is appealing to us for make a donation towards the cost of maintaining Trove. I don’t know about you, but Trove has opened up family stories that I’d never have known any other way. Sure, you can go to the library and search microfilms for known events like weddings, deaths or probate, but it’s those random discoveries that reveal our ancestor’s day-to-day lives.

Why not join me in making a donation to Support Trove? I know I’ve surely had my money’s worth from it and happy to make an occasional donation to help out. I’m adding the image to my blog bar, perhaps you’d care to also?

AND MORE EXCITEMENT AHEAD

The Library also has great things in store for those of us visiting Canberra for Congress 2015:

A Special Collections Reading Room

This is how the library describes it: The lovely new space overlooking the Main Reading Room will open on schedule on Monday 5 January 2015. Readers will then have direct access to the Library’s pictures, maps, manuscripts, oral history recordings, music, ephemera and rare printed material collections in one place for the first time.

What fun we’ll have, and I wonder what family discoveries we’ll make?

Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War.

This will be a display of the Library’s own resources and memorabilia relating to World War I.

LECTURE ALERT

Professor Bill Gammage AM, author of The Broken Years, is presenting this Friday 5th December about “First AIF Men I Knew“. If you can get there, you really shouldn’t miss it. His work is remarkable.

By the way, have you ordered a National Library card yet? Do make sure you have one before Congress <tip>.

Lest We Forget… those who came home

Anzac Cove DSC_0389_edited-1Today’s Remembrance Day is particularly poignant as we honour the fallen from all our wars, but especially from World War I. The intensity of reAWM wallmembrance over the next four years may almost become overwhelming. It is impossible to imagine the reality of the horrors and terrors those men suffered through the long months and years of the war.

Each year at ceremonies around the country we are reminded “they do not grow old as we who are left grow old”. We honour and recognise the sacrifice that was made by these men who gave their lives far young or old, single or married, bushies or city slickers.

The men who died overseas have contributed to our sense of ourselves as a nation, a people who could be relied on when in a tight corner, who would fight to the bitter end. Where did their courage come from when they could be told “Boys you have ten minutes to live and I am going to lead you[i].

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.[ii]

DSC_0412 edit

Such evocative words. Buried at Beach Cemetery, Gallipoli.

However there’s another aspect which I think we have sometimes neglected as family historians and one which will challenge us even more than documenting the history of our family members who died in action.

To what extent do we consider the lives of those left behind? The impact of loss on families, friends and communities? How is that documented in the official record? And how did they respond to never knowing exactly where their loved one was buried, let alone understand why there might no keepsake to treasure for themselves or their children?

I haven’t received nothing belonging to him.  I don’t even know of his burial place.[iii]

And what of the men who returned, some horrifically injured physically and no longer able to continue in their former occupations? It seems almost impossible that any man who returned, or indeed the nurses who cared for them, would return the same person mentally or emotionally. What of the guilt they may have carried at the loss of close family, brothers or friends?

What do we know of how this affected their family life?  Each returning soldier’s emotional responses to his wife and children? The general view is that they kept the horrors locked down inside them until each Anzac Day or Remembrance Day but surely the trauma must have seeped out from time to time. How did the women cope with the return of husbands, fathers, sons, brothers or sweethearts who were no longer the same men they had farewelled? At least those who married after the war would have had some idea of what they were “buying into”.  Perhaps the men felt slightly more reconciled since they knew they’d gone to war voluntarily and were not conscripted like almost all the other nations.

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles 2014.

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles 2014.

Bill Gammage’s book The Broken Years is increasingly difficult to find but is a useful starting point for our research into the returned soldier’s attitudes at the time.

These returned soldiers are the men who helped to build our then-new nation despite the traumas they’d experienced. They grew old but had to fight on in daily life. They deserve our attention as much as those who were lost and it seems to me that there is a great deal still ahead for us to research.

Lest We Forgetthose who died, those they left behind and those who lived to rebuild…in all the nations of the war.

My earlier posts on Remembrance Day are:

2013: Erle Victor Weiss

2012: Lest we forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

2011: Honouring the Australian born diggers with German ancestry.

Anzac Day:

2014: Two brothers go to war and Postcards to the Front

2013: V is for our Valiant Indigenous ANZACs

2012: V is for the Valiant of Villers-Brettoneux (my most-read post)

2011: Lest we forget: William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel (MIA Korea)

Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam James Augustus Gavin

DSC_0438

[i] Lt Col Alexander White, Commander of the 8th Light Horse at the charge of The Nek, Gallipoli

[ii] Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth from the War Poetry Website.

[iii] Elizabeth Maud Paterson writing to the Army on 1 September 1921 about James Thomas Paterson of the 49th Battalion who died 5 April 1917. His body was never recovered and his name is among those on the memorial at Villers-Brettoneux.

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.

Sepia Saturday 164: Red Bicycles Touring Club, Brisbane 1913

Sepia Saturday 16 FebThis week’s Sepia Saturday photo offers a variety of possibilities: pipes, pets, tortoises and hats (especially military). As luck would have it, I’d just come across this photo which I acquired as part of my aunt’s estate. I have no idea why she would have it, because the reverse shows it’s a photo from 1913, some years before either her husband or she were born.

Red Bicycles Touring Club 1913

Red Bicycles Touring Club 1913

If you look carefully you will see that two of the men in the back row have their pipes lolling from the sides of their mouths, much as my grandfather used to do and several of the men are wearing spectacularly silly hats. What I love about the picture is the whimsical attitudes of the men, the casual clothes and the mix of seriousness and frivolity.  A question I asked myself is what on earth the Red Bicycles Touring Club has to do with musical instruments but unfortunately I don’t have an answer.

The notations on the reverse. I can't help wondering if 6.6.85 was someone's birthday.

The notations on the reverse. I can’t help wondering if 6.6.85 was someone’s birthday.

I turned to my good friend Trove which came up with some interesting snippets, including the identical photograph, but presumably without the notations on the back (what do they mean?).

The Queenslander newspaper, 20 December 1913.

The Queenslander newspaper, 20 December 1913.

The Red Bicycles Touring Club was a cycling club based in Brisbane.  From the stories I read it was part fun and definitely a large slice of seriousness. They were incredibly fit, riding in bike races, swimming, running, playing water polo, boxing and diving, interspersed with fun like blindfolded boxing! However they also had a club house at Cleveland, which is on Brisbane’s outskirts and on Moreton Bay. which they used for weekend camps of increasing popularity. I’m guessing that’s where this photo was taken hence the sky-larking element of it. It may even be from the December 1913 camp mentioned in The Queenslander.

I also found this more formal photo of the men from 1913. I’m assuming that the two photos should include all or most of the same men (there’s 10 in each picture) and it would be intriguing to see if the ones in the fun photo could be identified. According to the formal photo, the members of the club in 1913 were (back row) W Hurst, Dave Young, W Allen, F Johnson, B Muir, (front row): F Pryor, John (Jack) Hilton, F Campbell, Jim Dunning (see below) and S Gee. The members do seem to have changed a bit from year to year.

Image from Trove.picqld-2007-09-11-13-36

Image from Trove.picqld-2007-09-11-13-36

The Queenslander 4 Feb 1911 (click to enlarge)

The Queenslander 4 Feb 1911 (click to enlarge)

It’s interesting to compare the two photos and see if the same man can be identified in both. Although the club only commenced in 1910, it essentially shut down in 1914, only a year after this photo, as several of the members went off to war. I’d really like to know which of them served and whether any of them failed to return, but unfortunately with only initials to go by in most cases, it’s difficult to pin them down. Unfortunately the only ones named are generally those winning the prizes.Red Bicycle tour club 12 Aug 1911 Qlder

The Brisbane Bicycle Touring Association 2007 newsletter, page 4, quotes former RBTC member, Jim Dunning, aged 93: “The First World war caused the end of our touring club. Several of us joined the forces. We were in different units and lost touch with one another after we return. I rejoined

The Queenslander 13 May 1911

The Queenslander 13 May 1911

my racing club after I returned from the war, but as an official – I was too badly wounded for racing. I have not ridden a bike for nearly thirty years.” The WWI service records show that he suffered from a gunshot wound to the right arm.

So I suppose in the end there were two links between this photo and the Sepia Saturday topic: the pipes and the fact that some of these men would soon have been wearing the Australia Army’s slouch hats.

The Queenslander 1 April 1911

The Queenslander 1 April 1911

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.