Wednesday, 13 April 2016

3035 Private William Charles Broadbent, 5th Infantry Battalion (later 59th Btn then 57th Btn)


Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

William Broadbent was an 18 year old nailmaker who lived in Croxton when he enlisted in July 1915. His family had strong connections to Coburg. He and his siblings were born in Coburg. He had been a pupil at Coburg State School and is featured on page 44 of the Coburg State School Soldiers Record Book.
William arrived in France in June 1916 and in his own words ‘I was up at Fromelles [for the] 19 July stunt.’ He later did a course at Grenade School, returned to France and in the bitter winter of January 1917 suffered from trench foot. He received a severe gunshot wound to his ankle in July 1918 and was repatriated to England. He was finally discharged in Australia in December 1918 and from 1957 was in receipt of a TPI pension.
William Broadbent’s brother Ernest, who was born in Coburg in 1900, also tried to enlist, but his enlistment was cancelled because his parents refused their consent. Ernest, a dairyman, later moved to Myrtleford where he died in 1971.

Ernest Broadbent’s diary in Kerferd St., Coburg in 1923. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Although his parents Charles and Mabel moved around a bit, they remained in the Coburg area. A cousin, Joseph Grattidge, also an old boy of Coburg State School, served and survived the war. 

5828 Private Joseph Grattidge, 24th Infantry Battalion. Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


Joe Grattidge was a 34 year old married quarryman working for Coburg Council when he enlisted in August 1916. Like his cousin William Broadbent, he served in France where he took part in major actions such as Bullecourt, Ypres, Villeurs-Bretonneux and Mont Saint Quentin. Before and after the war he lived in Barrow St., Coburg. His brothers George, Leslie (KIA France) and Stanley also served. 
Joe Grattidge died in 1961 aged 79. He is buried at Coburg Cemetery and is remembered in a World War One commemorative walk organised by Friends of Coburg Cemetery. 
This walk will take place at 2pm on Sunday 17 April 2016, so if you are interested, please contact Friends of Coburg Cemetery  focc.group@gmail.com



Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Mayfield Street football team

Image 16035, courtesy Coburg Historical Society


This photograph, identified only as the Mayfield Street football team pre-1914, was probably taken in around 1909 or 1910 which is when the Libbis family lived in the street.

The only person to be identified so far is Bill Libbis (6th from left in middle row).





1989 Private William Thomas Libbis, 6th Infantry Battalion and his brother 9025 Private Leslie Fookes Libbis, 6th Field Ambulance were old boys of Coburg State School and are featured in the School's Soldiers Book. Bill Libbis died at Lone Pine on 7 August 1915.






Looking at these photographs of the brothers, neither looks like the young man identified as Bill Libbis in the football photograph and it is possible that he was misidentified. 

Other old boys of the school who served in the war and lived in Mayfield Street at the time were Clive and Frank Callaghan, Dudley Crump and Vernon Hallam. 

These men are all part of Coburg Historical Society's ANZAC project, so if you recognise any of the people in the photo, I would be very interested in hearing from you. I also wondered if anyone recognises the house in the background - a long shot, I know.


Saturday, 19 March 2016

160 & 17937 Lance Corporal Thomas Meredith Boyd & Corporal, 2nd Field Company Engineers & 1st and 2nd Field Troops (Engineers)


Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Thomas Boyd, an old boy of Coburg State School, was born in Ararat in 1891. His Irish parents John Wilson and Caroline Boyd married in Melbourne in 1889 and their first four children were born at Ararat. Two more children were born once the family had moved to Coburg – a sister in 1900 and a brother in 1905. The Boyds lived at 1 Blair St., Coburg and father John was a warder at Pentridge Prison.
At six foot tall and with previous experience in the infantry and senior cadets, Thomas Boyd must have been seen as an ideal candidate for the military. He was a gas fitter with the Metropolitan Gas Company and enlisted on 20 August 1914, one of the first men in the area to do so. 
He left with the first contingent in October 1914 and landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 with the 2nd Field Company Engineers. He was there for three months before being hospitalised in Alexandria with severe rheumatoid fever. 
The Field Engineers were responsible for building and destroying bridges, roads and other infrastructure and local newspapers reported that on Gallipoli Thomas Boyd was involved in an accident while building a bomb shelter. Several sandbags from the bomb shelter fell on him and while being carried on a stretcher to get medical care, he was shot. 
At the same time he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and placed on the dangerously ill list. He was removed from the list in August 1915 and transferred to England where his health further deteriorated. Although he improved again, he was returned to Australia in April 1916 and discharged as medically unfit after several months at Langwarrin Isolation Camp.
This was not the end of Thomas Boyd’s war, however. He re-enlisted in  December 1916 and again embarked for overseas service in early May 1917. He arrived in Egypt in June 1917, but again his health let him down and in December 1918 he was admitted to hospital in England with pneumonia and suspected pulmonary tuberculosis. His health improved and he arrived in France with his unit in February 1918. However, a month later he was gassed and on the sick list again until August 1918, when he rejoined his unit. At the end of October 1918 he was sent to hospital with suspected pulmonary tuberculosis and returned to Australia not long afterwards with bronchitis and influenza.
In 1920 Thomas Boyd married Rachel Cuthbert and they settled in Alice Street, Coburg. He joined the police force. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s he worked with Traffic Branch, was promoted to first class sergeant and by the 1950s, when he was in his late 50s, he was Officer in Charge of the Police Transport Branch.

Thomas Boyd died at Heidelberg on Boxing Day 1974 aged 83. He is buried at Coburg Cemetery with his wife Rachel, who predeceased him. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

477 Private George Barrie, 29th Infantry Battalion


Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

George Barrie, son of James and Amy (nee Murray) Barrie, was born in Port Melbourne but by the early years of the twentieth century his family was living in Coburg. He attended Coburg State School and was a Senior Cadet based in Coburg. At some stage, though, he must have moved to the Balranald area of New South Wales, most likely looking for work, because in his attestation papers it states that he was ‘CF [Citizens Forces) exempt – out of area – Balranald, NSW.
George’s father, James Barrie, was a ship’s carpenter and when he enlisted on 12 August 1915, George gave this as his occupation, too.  By this time, George was 19 years and 5 months old and the family were living in à Beckett Street. His younger brother James was eleven and brother Alex was eight when he enlisted.
On 18 November 1915 George left Australia. Australian troops were then preparing to leave the Dardanelles and begin fighting on the Western Front. In May 1916, not long after his arrival, George Barrie was promoted to Bombardier. In early October 1917 he was hospitalised with shell shock and did not return to his unit for several months. Not quite a year later, George’s war ended. In August 1918 he was severely wounded in his left leg which was amputated at the thigh.
George  had already had one brush with death. On a Saturday afternoon in April 1912, when he was 16, he and a group of friends were cycling south down Sydney Road when he collided with a cart driven by 'a young man named Rolls'. George was unfortunate. He was ‘riding with his head down and he struck the step of the vehicle with sufficient force to break it. He sustained some lacerations and cuts on the head, and was simply deluged in blood. Mr Rolls took him in his cart to Dr Ritten's where his wounds were dressed.' (Coburg Leader, Friday 19 April 1912, p.1)
Amy Barrie must have gone through a very difficult time in 1918. Not only was her son George severely wounded, but her husband died aged only 58. She remained in the area but eventually her sons left – James and Alex for Western Australia and George for Petersham, New South Wales. She died at Essendon in 1956 aged 91.


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

7471 Corporal John Eadie Aitken, 1st Divisional Train Supply.




Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Jack Eadie Aitken was the son of William and Nannie Aitken of ‘Oamaru’, Walsh Street, Coburg. He was a Coburg man through and through. His family had lived in the suburb since the 1880s and probably earlier. He was born there in 1894. He attended Coburg State School from 1905 and won prizes for punctuality, attendance, good fellowship and as a drummer in the school band.



Images courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Jack’s father William, a miller by trade, died suddenly in January 1913 and his death notice shows that he left behind his widow Nannie and seven children, most of them adults by then.
Argus, 3 January 1913, p.1. William Aitken, died 1 January 1913 (suddenly) at his residence ‘Oamaru’, Walsh St., Coburg. Son of Mrs Robert Aitken of ‘Linwood’, Harding’s Rd and the late Robert Aitken (miller), Melbourne.  Also: Husband of Nannie, brother of Mrs D. Scott, Mrs W. Downes, Mrs R.J. Gibson and Miss Meron Aitken. Also: Husband of Nannie, father of Robert, Victor, David, John, George and Nannie and Mrs H. Powell. After a short illness.

A motor body builder by trade, member of the Coburg Presbyterian Church and an athlete and footballer, Jack Aitken enlisted on 30 July 1915 and sailed out of Melbourne in November, not long after his 21st birthday. Apart from a sprained ankle in May 1918, he survived the war and returned to Australia in July 1919.

After his marriage, Jack Aitken and his wife Florence lived in Barrow Street, Coburg until the 1940s when they moved to the street of his childhood – Walsh Street – where they raised their family. The military life must have suited him, because he remained a soldier all his life. He served in World War Two and died in 1976 aged 82 and is buried at Fawkner.


Saturday, 30 January 2016

Private McCormack’s father and ‘Squizzy’ Taylor



1554 Private John Francis McCormack, C Company, 21st Infantry Battalion, enlisted in April 1915 at Bendigo where his father had recently taken up the position of senior warder at Bendigo Gaol.


John McCormack had been born in Coburg while his father was on the staff of Pentridge Prison. He and his older sister Dorothy lived with their parents James and Hannah in Hudson Street, Coburg. A pupil of Coburg State School, he is remembered in the school’s Soldiers’ Record Book and a tree was planted in his memory in the school’s Memorial Garden.

John McCormack, Coburg State School Soldiers' Book, page 68, Coburg Historical Society collection.


According to the Soldiers’ Book, John McCormack was on board the Southland on 2 September 1915 when she was torpedoed on her way to Gallipoli, the first Australian ship to suffer this fate. You can read more about the torpedo attack here.



3 September 1915. Men rescued from the troopship Southland wait for breakfast the next morning aboard the hospital ship Neuralia. The Southland was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea near Agistrati Island while carrying Australian troops to the Gallipoli Peninsula. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial. Image CO1833.




After three hours in the open sea, McCormack was picked up by a French hospital ship. These details are not noted in his dossier but a fortnight later we are told that he was admitted to 3AGH Alexandria with a hernia. He remained in hospital for several months, then convalesced in Egypt before rejoining his unit in January 1916. He arrived in France on 26 March 1916 and five months to the day (26 August 1916) he was killed in action at Mouquet Farm, Pozieres aged 21. 


Mouquet Farm before the bombing. Image courtesy AWM. Image J00181.


The ruins of Ferme de Moucquet, 1918. Image courtesy AWM. Image E04043. Some Australians referred to it as ‘Moo Cow Farm’, others as ‘Mucky Farm’.


John McCormack’s parents were in Bendigo at the time of the death of their only son. In 1922 they returned to Melbourne when his father took up the post of Chief Warder at the Melbourne Gaol (now referred to as the Old Melbourne Gaol). His sister Dorothy, who never married, lived with her parents on the grounds of the Gaol. 

It was at Melbourne Gaol in January 1924, when James McCormack was Acting Governor, that Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor conspired with others to assist Angus Murray to escape. Murray was a known associate of Squizzy’s who had murdered a bank manager while an escapee from Geelong Gaol. It is believed that Squizzy organised the robbery. (Murray was the last man to be hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol on 14 April 1924. Taylor died in a shoot out with ‘Snowy’ Cutmore in October 1927.)


Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, ID 14359, Picture Victoria.



Argus, 1 Feb 1924, p.11.


A year after the attempted escape at Melbourne Gaol, James McCormack transferred to Pentridge Prison where he moved into the Chief Warder’s Quarters with his wife and daughter. In 1926, his wife Hannah died there. After his retirement, James and his daughter Dorothy moved to Caulfield where he died in 1937. Dorothy died in 1962 and the three of them are buried at Fawkner Cemetery.

It is sad to think that within fifty years of John McCormack’s death in far away France, this branch of the family ceased to exist. For me, this is one of the important reasons to commemorate the centenary of this so-called ‘war to end all wars’. It is one small way in which we can share the stories of men like John McCormack who have no one of their own left to remember and honour them.

If by chance you are member of the wider McCormack family, perhaps you would like to share what you know about John McCormack.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Best mates Les Ward and Keith Harder of Coburg



Les Ward, second from left in the back row. Keith Harder, second from right in back row.


Les Ward and Keith Harder, both former pupils of Coburg State School, were best mates. They enlisted in the Army Medical Corps on the same day. Both were stretcher bearers with the 12th Field Ambulance and they usually shared a tent of a billet.

On the same day, another local man, 13366 Private Walter (Wattie) Samuel Webber, enlisted. Their consecutive numbers suggest he was standing in line behind Les Ward. Wattie Webber, a ‘professional physical culturalist and first class all round athlete’ according to his mother in the Roll of Honour Circular, served as a stretcher bearer in the 13th Field Ambulance until he was killed in action on 25 April 1918.

13295 Private Howard Keith Harder, Army Medical Corps, survived the war, although he was wounded in early 1918 and evacuated to England for treatment.

His best mate, 13365 Private Leslie Thomas Ward, 12th Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, was not so lucky. Les Ward, whose father John was Coburg rate collector, died of gunshot wounds in the back and shoulder on 12 March 1917.

Keith Harder had been in hospital and didn't receive the news of Les’s death until two weeks later. On Friday 24th March 1917 Keith wrote in his diary, ‘Heard the sad news that my dear pal Les had passed away. He had been suffering from gangrene, double pneumonia and pleurisy and at last his heart failed him. I cannot realise he has gone to the greater world and my heart is full of deep sympathy for his beloved parents whose suffering is above imagination. Poor old Les . My good chum. I will forever have you in my thoughts.’ 



Keith Harder honoured his mate Les all his life. Keith kept the name tag belonging to Les Ward and mentions him many times in his diary. His own tag and Les's are still in the possession of Harder family members today, who also treasure the diary Keith Harder kept throughout the war.

Both the Ward and the Harder families suffered the loss of loved ones during the war. Keith Harder’s brother Victor died, as did Les Ward’s brother-in-law Bert Crowle. Today, members of the Harder family remember with both sadness and pride the wartime service of the Harder brothers, but also keep alive the memory of Les Ward and other friends and family members who served.


Thank you to Paul of Strathfieldsaye for showing such interest in this project and for supplying photos and information so willingly.