Sunday, 19 January 2020

Walter McNicoll, head master of Coburg High School in 1920

Walter Ramsay McNicoll (later Sir Walter) had been a teacher with the Victorian Education Department since he was 16 years old. In February 1900, eleven years after he started work as a monitor, he entered the Teacher Training College in Carlton and by 1904 he had Matriculated. 

He married fellow teacher Hildur Wedel in 1905 and when he enlisted in the 7th Battalion in August 1914 he was the Head Master of the Geelong Continuation School.

An outline of his teaching career and his war service can be found in the Education Department's Record of War Service

Image courtesy Australian War Memorial. Image J00675. Portrait of Brigadier-General (BG) Sir Walter Ramsay McNicoll, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO, VD, on the footpath in front of an armed services window display. BG McNicoll was the Headmaster of Geelong High School before enlisting for World War 1. BG McNicoll enlisted in August 1914 and was appointed as Major, 2nd in command in the 7th Battalion on 28 August 1914. In April 1915 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel of the 6th Battalion. He was wounded at Gallipoli Peninsula and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) dated 11 September 1915. In February 1916 he was promoted to Colonel in the 10th Battalion. In May 1916 to be temporary Brigadier-General of the 10th Battalion. On 18 April 1918 BG McNicoll was awarded Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG); he was also made a member of the military division of the Order of the Bath (CB) on 23 May 1919. On 23 July 1919 BG McNicoll was awarded the Croix de Guerre Belgium. BG McNicoll was also made a Knight Commander of the British Empire and was Mentioned in Despatches on five occasions. On 13 November 1915 BG McNicoll, having been severely wounded returned to Australia and was classed as unfit for service for six months. He re-enlisted on 7 June 1916 aged 49 years. He was immediately posted overseas. BG McNicoll returned to Australia on 28 September 1919. (From the collection of Mr Alfred Thomas Sharp.)

Image courtesy Australian War Memorial. Image J00675. E04699. Taken in France on 5 April 1918. An informal portrait of Brigadier General Walter Ramsay McNicoll CMG DSO, GOC of the 10th Australian Infantry Brigade, sitting on a bench outside of the Brigade Headquarters with his dog Karl, a captured German messenger dog. Note the wires running down the wall behind.

Much has been written about McNicoll's later life, outlined in his Australian Dictionary of Biography entry, which you can read here.

However, for a short time he made a huge impression on the students at Coburg High School. 

Coburg High School's magazine, announces the appointment of Brigadier-General McNicoll, Scribe, vol 4, no. 1, May 1919

In the school's centenary history Loyal in All (available from the Coburg High School Historical Group), we are told that 'Brigadier General McNicoll, headmaster in 1920, was a distinguished former soldier with a 'romantic limp'. He rode a motorcycle with sidecar and was able to 'transform a boisterous junior cadet corps found misbehaving in the school yard. “Without raising his voice, within 10 minutes he had us drilling with the discipline and precision of Grenadier Guards", recalled a student of the day.' (Loyal in All, p.21)

Excerpt from Echoes, Coburg High School Magazine, 1986

At the end of 1920, McNicoll left Coburg High to take up the position of Principal of  Goulburn Girls School (Presybterian Ladies College), in New South Wales.

Scribe, Vol 5, no 2, December 1920

Friday, 10 January 2020

Hugh Lindsay (Wren) Teale, killed in action November 1917

1316 Wren Teale (mistakenly identified in this photograph as Wren Leale) left Melbourne in June 1916 with the 38th Battalion. His family lived in Moonee Ponds, but on 14 May 1915, the Brunswick and Coburg Star listed a number of Coburg cyclists with their addresses and Teale is listed at 50 Munro Street, Brunswick.
At Christmas 1916, Wren sent Season's Greetings to his Coburg Cycling Club mates and said that he was leaving Salisbury Plains soon for the Front. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 5 January 1917). 
There were to be no Season's Greetings the following year. He was killed on 19 November 1917 near Ploegsteert Wood in north-west Belgium. 
Click here to read more about Wren Teale on Lenore Frost's website 'The Empire Called and I Answered'. 
Wren's brother Rheineus also served. He is listed on the Embarkation Roll as 14180 Private Reimens Selwyn Teale of the Hospital Transport Corps and his attestation papers list him as Reinius Selwyn Teale. 
As Rheinus Teale, he is listed as a former student of Coburg State School in the school's list of old boys who served, although there is not a separate entry for him in The Soldiers Book produced after the war.

The spelling of his given name remained a quandary for people in many spheres, but it seems it should be Rheineus, this being the spelling his father Alfred used when he wrote giving permission for his son to enlist for home service. It is also the spelling given when his birth was registered in 1897.
Rheineus was young (18) and slight (5' 3" and weighed 104 lbs) and had been rejected before on account of a weak chest. In April 1916 he was accepted for duty on the hospital ship Kanowna. It appears that he remained in Australia and was discharged from the AIF in September 1917.
Rheineus Teale's entry on Lenore Frost's website 'The Empire Called and I Answered' can be seen here.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Jack Sheppard, Coburg cyclist, enlists

Like William Knox Cooper (see post 28 December 2019), 3939 Private John Sheppard MM was a member of the Coburg Cycling Club.
The son of John Thomas Sheppard and Agnes Amos Eddington, Jack Sheppard lived in aBeckett Street, Coburg before the war and worked as a box maker. He enlisted on 10 July 1915 aged 19 and served with the 6th Infantry Battalion, 12th Reinforcements. He sailed on the same ship as William Cooper - HMAT A40 Ceramic - on 23 November 1915. He served in France where he was awarded the Military Medal on 14 October 1917.

The entrance to the 6th Battalion Headquarters (HQ), 2nd Brigade, 15 May 1918. For a period of over four months, though hundreds of shells fell in the yard and surrounding gardens and fields, the house itself escaped a direct hit. Identified, left to right: 5091 Private (Pte) W. A. Foord MM, HQ runner; 3770 Pte John George Grierson [later awarded Croix de Guerre, wounded 10 August 1918], HQ runner; Lieutenant Neil McLachlan MC (Killed in action 10 August 1918 at Lihons), Battalion Intelligence Officer; 3939 Pte J. Sheppard MM, HQ runner. Image courtesy AWM. Image E02181.

Detail from the photograph of the 6th Battalion headquarters At first it appears there are only three men in the photo, but Sheppard has been identified as the man on the far right, so my guess is that he's the one leaning over in the background.

After Sheppard's return from the war in March 1919, the references to him as a cyclist disappear from the newspapers. In the 1920s he moved to Brunswick, and he remained in the local area until his death. Electoral rolls describe him variously as a 'motor proprietor' or a 'garageur'. 

John Sheppard died at his home, 300 Sydney Road, Brunswick, in September 1961 aged 55. He was married and the father of two daughters. (Herald, 1 October 1951) He had lived in Coburg and Brunswick all his life, apart from his war service during World War One.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

William Cooper and his brother Edgar, members of Coburg Cycling Club, enlist

William Knox Cooper, born Hotham (North Melbourne) in 1893 and his younger brother Edgar Robert, born Hotham in 1898 were both members of the Coburg Cycling Club, although they came from Fitzroy.

When 3712 Pte William Knox Cooper, 6th Battalion, 12th Reinforcements, enlisted on 7 July 1915 he was 22 year old bootmaker living in Fitzroy. He embarked on 23 November 1915 on board HMAT A40 Ceramic. There were Coburg servicemen sailing on the same ship - William Irons, Cyril Jolley (KIA September 1917), Frederick Buzaglo, Jack Sheehan, Gerald Roberts, Frederick Atkinson (DOW March 1917) and William Alexander (DOW August 1918). It's just possible, then, that these men met on the ship and had a chat about the suburb they had in common - Coburg. 

Troops embarking at Port Melbourne on A40 HMAT Ceramic, c1915. The wharf is crowded with soldiers waiting to board the troopship. William Cooper was probably one of those men. Image courtesy AWM. Image H19500.

Cooper sustained gunshot injuries in August 1916 and was sent from France to England to the Trent War Hospital (at Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire). 

Stoke-on-Trent War Hospital. (By coincidence, my father was a student at Hanley High School (part of Stoke-on-Trent) during the years of World War One. He vividly remembered zeppelin raids in the area in early 1916 when he was 11 years old. He and his friends thought they were very exciting. No doubt the adults had different ideas.) 

Returned to Australia in November 1916, William Cooper was discharged the following February. One part of his record says he was injured in the leg, another in the feet and yet another in his arm. Whatever the case, on his return it appears he did not go back to cycling. He returned to his former trade of shoemaker, married Ruth Lerwill in 1931 and died in 1973 aged 80.

From William Knox Cooper's WW1 file, courtesy NAA.

When William's brother 6243 Pte Edgar Robert Cooper, 6th Battalion, 20th Reinforcements, enlisted on 11 January 1916 he was an 18 year old tailor living in Fitzroy. He embarked on HMAT A14 Euripides on 11 September 1916. Victor Rogers and William Pascoe (KIA May 1917), both Coburg men, were also on board. 

Troops on board HMAT Euripides (A14) prior to departure, May 1915. A group of nurses stand at the rail, centre foreground. Image courtesy AWM. Image PB0381.

In September 1917 Edgar suffered from gunshot wounds (his left clavicle was broken) and shell shock (he'd been buried alive). He was 19 and had already survived considerable neck trauma from a knife wound inflicted by his mother during a pyschotic episode when he was three years old.

Edgar was sent home and discharged in June 1918. It appears that, like his brother William, he did not return to the Coburg Cycling Club. He lived at home in Fitzroy until 1937 then moved to Kew. He married Kathleen Colger in 1947 and died at Newtown, Geelong in 1986 aged 88.

Their older brother 7460 Pte Francis Henry Cooper, 5th Battalion, 25th Reinforcements, enlisted on 2 July 1917. He was a 26 year old labourer who was born in Preston and like his brothers gave their mother, Mrs Sarah Jane Flett of 9 Leicester Street, Fitzroy as his next of kin. He survived the war, returning to Australia in July 1919. Written on his record at a later date, but undated 'Soldier stated to have been killed in a railway accident.' I searched the TROVE newspaper collection for a report of this event without success. The Victorian Death Index states that he died at Melbourne East (so most likely in hospital) in 1928 aged 38.


The Cooper brothers' mother was born Sarah Jane Knox, daughter of James Knox JP of Union Avenue, Northcote who died in July 1901 aged 69 and was buried at Coburg Cemetery.

Not long after Knox's death, in late August 1901, Sarah Jane Cooper was taken from her home in North Melbourne (with her youngest child Edgar) to stay at the Knox family home in Northcote because the family was concerned about what they saw as 'signs of approaching insanity'. Here she was looked after by her brother Thomas and mother Eliza. There had been no symptoms until three weeks earlier, just after her father's death. Now, she had cut her son's throat and it was only through the intervention of her brother and mother that the child's life was saved. Later she remembered nothing of the incident, but she was admitted to Yarra Bend Asylum where she eventually recovered and was released in March 1902. (Argus, 26 August 1901, Herald, 2 September 1901, Bendigo Independent, 3 September 1901, Yarra Bend Asylum records)

After her husband Edmund Cooper's death in 1904, Sarah married again (in 1911) to James Flett. Despite the dramatic events in their early lives, the Cooper brothers lived at home with their mother and step-father until they enlisted. Their mother Sarah died in 1930 at Cheltenham aged 69.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Charles Sullivan, teacher at Coburg High School

Studio portrait of 15195 Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Charles Frederic Sullivan, 14th Australian General Hospital, Australian Army Medical Corps of Flemington, Victoria. A school teacher prior to enlisting, he embarked from Melbourne aboard HMAT Karoola (A63) on 19 August 1916. While stationed with his unit at Port Said, Egypt, he contracted pneumonia and died of the disease at Gaza, Palestine on 15 November 1918, aged 37. He is buried in the Gaza War Cemetery, Israel. Image P05248.132. Courtesy Australian War Memorial. 

Thirty-four year old Charles Sullivan had been married for six years when he enlisted in February 1916. He and his wife Ellen lived in Flemington but his work as a teacher had taken him to various Victorian schools, including Enoch's Point and Big River before he entered the Training College in Carlton and studied at Melbourne University, gaining his Bachelor of Science degree. He worked briefly at the Training College in Carlton, at Williamstown High School and Coburg High School, where he was a temporary assistant for a month before he went on leave with the AIF.

From Charles Sullivan's WW1 dossier outlining his academic qualifications.

We are told in the Education Department's Record of War Service (see below) that after graduation he was offered a position in the Forestry Department but decided to enlist and was placed in the ‘bacteriological branch of hospital work’ based at Cairo then Port Said. 

He served in Cairo with the 14 AGH until 31 October 1918 when he contracted pneumonia. 

Group portrait of members of No 14 Australian General Hospital. See alternate images for positions of those named in this caption. Those identified by numbers: include 15195 SSgt Charles Frederick Sullivan (died of disease in Palestine on 15 November 1918 as Lieutenant Pathologist). Image A01350. Image courtesy AWM. 

Charles Sullivan is the soldier marked in the second row.

Charles Sullivan, a man who showed such promise, died at Gaza on 15 November 1918 and was buried at Gaza Military Cemetery, Palestine. He had been suffering from malaria as well as pneumonia. He had been at Coburg High School for a short time only, probably not long enough to make an impression on his pupils. 

Ellen Sullivan received three packages containing her late husband's belongings and they reveal something of the man and his interests. I don't think I've ever found such a long list, but then Sullivan was based at the one hospital for the whole of his time in Egypt, unlike men at the Front who would have had to travel light.

You can find out more about Sullivan, and other family members, on Lenore Frost's website, the Empire Called and I Answered

Monday, 9 December 2019

Arhur Bloom, Coburg cyclist and WW1 soldier changes his name

Arthur Clarence Broom was brought up in Davis Street, Coburg (and later in Bell Street west) by Robert Broom (born in Coburg in 1852) and his wife Johanna Wark. The Brooms had three children of their own - Catherine, Lena, Robert Leslie (known as Les) and two 'adopted' sons - Arthur and William. 
Arthur's brother Les was a rising star in the local cricket and football world, but in November 1915 he died of pneumonia, aged 23. So Arthur and William were the only brothers left - and they both enlisted.
Like his brother Les, Arthur was a promising sportsman. He played football for Fawkner and was a member of the Coburg Cycling Club. Newspaper reports in the year leading to his enlistment note that he had been in 'striking form' as a cyclist. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 13 February 1914)
A milk carter by trade, he worked for Edwin Parker of DeCarle Street, Brunswick and had had a few run-ins with Coburg's sanitary inspector W.H. Budds regarding the sale of adulterated milk and it was noted by the inspector that he 'seemed to be of a defiant disposition.' (He'd tried to avoid the inspector by speeding off.)
On 2 July 1915, 2786 Private Arthur Clarence Broom enlisted in the 6th Infantry Battalion, 9th Reinforcements. He was 20 years old. He embarked in September and served in France where he was hospitalised a number of time with cellulitis in the leg. He was later wounded, but it was not a severe wound and he was able to remain on duty. He had a number of run-ins with the authorities but even so, was promoted to Lance Corporal in August 1917. He returned to Australia in March 1919 and was discharged in July.
At this point, he changed his name to Arthur Clarence O'Brien, later stating that he was an adopted son of the Brooms. 
The claim that he was alone in the world might well have been true in 1956 when he was living in far off Western Australia, but this was not always the case. Up until the 1940s he was living in Coburg and working at his old trade of milk carter. He had married (to Grace Healey) in 1926 and they had four children. 
His return to civilian life had not been smooth. In 1920, at Wirrabara Police Court (in the southern Flinders Ranges), he was found guilty of stealing clothing and supplies and sentenced to three months in prison. That his was an unsettled existence is evidenced by the fact that he was known to the court under four names - Arthur Clarence O'Brien, Larry O'Brien, Donald Fenwick and Arthur Clarence Broom. (Laura Standard and Crystal Brook Courier, 3 December 1920)

But after his marriage to Grace Healey in 1926, his name disappeared from the newspapers - until December 1941 when he and another man were involved in a fracas at a picket at Leeming's dairy in Victoria Street, Brunswick. Accused of assault, the men were sentence to a month's imprisonment. (Herald, 7 December 1941)

Arthur and Grace O'Brien divorced in 1949. She remained in the local area for the rest of her life, but Arthur moved to West Australia. In December 1956 his address was Warriedar Station via Wubin, WA and it was from there that he wrote that he had 'no one in this world to fall back on.' (Letter of application for the age pension, December 1956).

He died in Perth in 1970 aged 85.

Arthur Broom/O'Brien's 'brother' William Broom served as 501 (1864) Sapper William Broom in the 5th Infantry Battalion. He enlisted in January 1915 aged 22 and like Arthur, he was a milkman. He served in France and was sent to England with appendicitis in June 1916. Later that year, on 11 November 1916, he married 18 year old Gladys Morton at Peckham. After a period in England and many run-ins with the authorities, he returned to France where he was wounded in the right knee in May 1918, a wound that saw him return to Australia in January 1919.
Like Arthur, William Broom changed his name after the war. As William O'Meara, he married Esther Davis in July 1919. The problem was that he was still married to Gladys Morton, who had remained in England and was receiving a military pension. In 1925 he was found guilty of bigamy and given a 6 months' suspended sentence. Things can't have gone well for the O'Mearas, because in April 1927 William, now a resident of Port Melbourne, was released from gaol having agreed to pay off arrears owning for the maintenance of his child. By July he was back in prison, having failed to pay.
The final sighting of William O'Meara is in July 1935. He was living in Musswellbrook, NSW and had applied for a replacement discharge certificate - needed so he could apply for work. 
So it appears that life was not kind to the 'Broom' brothers who served in World War One. They were not alone, of course, but those without family support must have found life very tough indeed, especially through the Depression years of the 1930s.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

John Cook, a woodwork teacher, enlists

This is John Cook's entry in the Education Department's Record of War Service

The book is a fantastic resource for anyone like me who is interested in collecting the stories of Victoria's teachers, especially those who taught in the first half of the twentieth century. It combines the stories of their teaching careers with outlines of their war service. 

5456 Acting-Corporal John Bruce Cook of the 21st Battalion was a married man aged 42 when he enlisted in February 1916. He and his wife Edith had been married for 12 years. They lived at 40 Victoria Street, Coburg with their two children, Dorothy aged 10 and Alison aged 2.

Cook's teaching service began in 1889 when he was 16. A Bendigo boy, his first school was Camp Hill State School. He became a certificated teacher in 1895, the year he gained his Matriculation. When he took leave to join the AIF in February 1916, he was working at the Armadale Woodwork Centre.

His teaching life included work with the cadets. He'd been 9 years in the Reserve of Officers of the Commonwealth Cadets and also served 6 years as a Lieutenant in the Junior Cadets and 3 years as an Adjutant in the Junior Cadets. This experience, his training as a teacher and his age were probably the reasons he was based at Royal Park until July 1916 when he sailed for England on board HMAT A32 Themistocles. From there he was sent to the 6th Training Battalion at Larkhill in England where he remained until he returned to Australia with defective vision in June 1918. 

He was discharged from the AIF in Melbourne on 1 August 1918 and at the end of the month resumed duty as a teacher at his old school. He remained at Armadale for a number of years, but his final appointment was in his home suburb of Coburg. In 1934 he began work at 484 Bell Street, Coburg and retired from there in June 1938.

The Cook family lived in Coburg during the 1920s but moved to Camberwell North (later known as Deepdene) in the 1930s. John Cook died in 1963 aged 90.


If you'd like to know more about the school cadet program in Australia and New Zealand, you should read Max Waugh's book Soldier Boys, published by Melbourne Publishing in 2014.

And if you'd like to know more about Victorian State Schools and World War One, read Rosalie Triolo's book Our Schools and the War, published by Australian Scholarly Publishing in 2012.