Sunday, 28 June 2015

More on conscientious objectors in Coburg



It has been pointed out to me that Rollo Heskett and Claude Cash, whom I wrote about in my last blog entry, were not conscientious objectors and of course this is correct. My last blog entry should more accurately have been headed ‘Exemption courts in Coburg’. Heskett and Cash were applying for exemption from military training, which was compulsory, not exemption from military service overseas, which was voluntary.

Having said that, however, as the day of the conscription referendum drew nearer and it seemed possible, even likely, that conscription would be introduced, it must have been on everyone’s mind that compulsory military training might within a few days mean that military training would inevitably lead to compulsory service overseas.

As I read back over the last blog entry, I realised, too, that I did not name the newspaper that I used as my source. The article, entitled ‘Coburg: Church Official as Conscientious Objector’ was in the Age, Thursday 19 October 1916, p.8.




Today’s blog entry deals with three conscientious objectors who appeared before the Coburg Court the same day as Rollo Heskett and Claude Cash. They were Harold Frederick Swanson, George Alfred Summers and Edward Hamilton Paul. Their stories appear below.




Harold F. Swanson

The records of the National Archives of Australia show that Harold Swanson did not serve in World War One, but there is yet-to-be digitised Intelligence Case File on him dated 1917 and next week I plan to go and read that file, which I have supposed was compiled because of his status as a conscientious objector.

At around this time, Harold Swanson was an active art potter and in late September 1916, just weeks before his application for exemption, he attended a meeting of manufacturers at Brunswick Technical School, which was building its relationships with local industries. The Principal of the Tech, Percy Everett, stated that the ‘chief aim of the Tech was to eventually become the Pottery School of Australia.’ At that meeting Harold Swanson and Alan Finlay offered their assistance in the formation of the Pottery School. An advisory committee was established, comprising of George Sweet (managing director of Brunswick Brick, Tile and Pottery Works Ltd.), J. Goold, H.F. Swanson and A.P. Finlay (Alan Finlay, a Moreland potter, who worked with his brother Ernest, a painter and potter).

Although the electoral rolls show that Harold Swanson’s main occupation was as a carpenter and later as a contractor and builder, he was also a potter and proprietor of the Doutta Galla Pottery, which operated out of East Brunswick and Coburg from 1908. Clearly there was no living to be made from pottery, although there are references in the press in 1913 to his pottery at Campbellfield and a 1916 article in the Mildura Cultivator lists him alongside Finlay Bros and Merric Boyd. The National Gallery holds six of his vases, all made in 1913 at his Doutta Galla Pottery, and during the 1920s there are newspaper reports of joint exhibitions he held with artist Aileen R. Dent.

To begin with, Harold lived with his family in Moreland Road, Brunswick, but by the time of his application for exemption, they had moved to Blair Street, Coburg. Later they moved to The Grove, where he continued to live until his marriage to Rosalie Byrne, nee Franke, in the mid-1920s. After a short period in Sandringham, he and Rosalie moved to East Gippsland, where they remained for the next decade or so. By 1943 they had returned to Melbourne, to Greville Street, Prahran, where he had a business as a confectioner. In that year Rosalie died and Harold later returned to Blair Street, Coburg where he lived until his death in 1960.

I have found little reference to the pottery of Harold F. Swanson after the 1920s, but would be very interested to hear from anyone who can add more to this lost story of the Moreland arts scene.

Sources: Victorian electoral rolls, via Ancestry; Sands and McDougall Street  Directories; Australasian, 10 August 1912, p.44; Argus, 20 Dec 1913, p.18; Brunswick and Coburg Star, 27 March 1914, p.1; Mildura Cultivator, 8 July 1916, p.12; Brunswick and Coburg Star, 4 August 1916, p.4; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 22 September 1916, p.2; Table Talk, 12 October 1922, p.13; Australasian, 23 February 1924, p.35; Table Talk, 6 March 1924, p.27; Age, 11 February 1925, p.16; Argus, 11 February 1925, p.17; Table Talk, 12 February 1925, p.40; Argus, 23 June 1943, p.2; Victorian birth, marriage, death indexes and family trees, via Ancestry; National Archives of Australia, MP16/1, 17/394, WW1 Intelligence Section case files.






George Alfred Summers

Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to find much more about George Alfred Summers, apart from the fact that he was a labourer who lived at 60 Campbell Street, Coburg at the time of his application for exemption and was living at 36 The Avenue, Coburg three years later.

He was living in the home of widow Amy Ann Phillips and her six children and when they moved to The Avenue in 1919, he moved with them. The next year he married Amy’s eldest daughter Ivy Jane. Amy remained in The Avenue until at least 1942, but I have found no further trace of George or Ivy.

Sources: Victorian electoral rolls, via Ancestry; Sands and McDougall Street Directories; Victorian birth, marriage, death indexes and family trees, via Ancestry.

Edwin Hamilton Paul

Edwin Hamilton Paul, listed in this article as Edward, was a 29 year old carpenter living in Chandos Street, Coburg with his widowed mother and siblings at the time of his application for exemption.

The records of the National Archives of Australia show that Edwin Paul neither served in the war, nor applied to enlist. He came from a non-conformist background, marrying the daughter of former Member of Parliament and temperance advocate John George Barrett in January 1919 in the Church of Christ in Swanston Street, Melbourne. 

Paul was involved in the work of the Church of Christ all his life, as a death notice in Perth’s Daily News on 4 March 1948 attests, and I wonder if his non-conformism drove his beliefs regarding the killing of other men. There is certainly a strong tradition of pacifism amongst the non-conformists, as any study of the peace movement between the wars will reveal.

Sources: Victorian and West Australian electoral rolls, via Ancestry; Sands and McDougall Street Directories; Victorian birth, marriage, death indexes and family trees, via Ancestry; Age, 18 January 1919, p.1; Perth's Daily News, 4 March 1948, p.5.




Saturday, 27 June 2015

Conscientious objectors in Coburg



On Wednesday 18 October 1916, just ten days before the first Conscription Referendum was held, 74 applications for exemption from military service were made before Police Magistrate Dr Frank Hobill Cole at Coburg Court. Thirty-four applications were granted, 31 were refused, five temporary or conditional exemptions were granted and four were adjourned. Six of those men were named in the next day’s edition of the Age.


Rollo Walter Heskett





Twenty-three year old Rollo Heskett’s unsuccessful claim for exemption was based on his claim that he was the only support for his mother and sisters and had ‘other obligations which he did not wish to mention in open court’. He was the son of Walter Prosser Heskett, a native of Durham, England, and Emilie Rose. His father was a metallurgist who led a peripatetic life, moving his young family from place to place around the metropolitan area, country Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. In 1906, when Rollo was thirteen, the family was living in Maryborough in Queensland. By 1914, Rollo, they were living at 44 Mayfield Street, Coburg. By then his father had left the family home and made his way to New Zealand where a son Brian was born to Walter Heskett and Kathleen Martin in 1915. Rollo’s father and second family eventually returned to England where his father died at Hampstead in 1925.  

So, although his father was alive in October 1916, he was lost to his first family, who were to remain in Coburg for many years to come. Rollo, a clerk, could hardly claim to be the only support for his mother and sisters, however, as two other brothers lived at home, one a metallurgist and the other a clerk. Although exemption was refused, the records of the National Archives of Australia show that Rollo Heskett did not serve in World War One and until all applications to enlist are digitised, the reasons for this remain unknown.


Claude Bertram Cash






Twenty-seven year old Claude Cash was the son of well-known Coburg resident, Cr. William Edward Cash. There were seven Cash children, four boys and three girls. The eldest son of the family, William, had drowned at Alexandra the previous December. The next oldest brother, Ernest, was a married man with children. He was an ironworker who presumably did not work in the family business. Claude’s younger brother, Arthur Lancelot, a signwriter, had enlisted in October 1915. Cash Plumbing was a thriving business, dealing mostly in sewerage pipes, sanitary ware and the like, so perhaps Claude really was needed at home. It is unlikely that his father was in ill-health, however, given that at this very time, Cr. Cash, himself a magistrate, was busy with his Council duties (Chairman of the Finance Committee, Council representative on the Board of Public Health) and chaired a number of enthusiastic and well patronised recruiting meetings. 

It seems that Cr. Cash may have been the instigator of his son’s claim for exemption, as he states here that his civic and patriotic responsibilities were such that he would have to close his business if Claude were to join the military. Given that his eldest son, who worked in the business, had died the previous summer, and another son, Arthur, was away at the war, it is likely that this claim had some substance. The magistrate certainly thought so and granted a temporary exemption. The records show that Claude Cash did not serve, and he continued to work in the family business until his death in 1941.   

There are more stories to tell, but they will be the subject of future blog entries ...





Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Organising committee for the Dinner for Returned Soldiers


In my last blog entry, I wrote about the Dinner for Returned Soldiers, held at Coburg Town Hall in December 1919. 

I've now realised that at the back of the program for that event, there is a list of the names of those involved in the organising committee.

As you might expect, it was presided over by the Mayor of the day, Cr. A.G. Campbell. Walter Mitchell, the Town Clerk, was one of the Hon Secretaries. The other was Spicer Sayers, an engraver, then living in Sydney Road. Councillors J. Anderson, G.A. Brown, Dwerryhouse, McAlpine, McDonald and Richards also served on the committee. 

Two local clergymen - Presbyterian John Mathew of The Grove, whose sons served, and Thomas Bowden Reed, of Sydney Road, possibly a Methodist minister whose son also served - represented the churches.







The committee consisted of: 

Mesdames Edwards, Evans, Kirk, Jarvie, Libbis, Lester, Montefiore, Polglase, Richards, Smith, Stephenson, Weir, Wells, Whelan, Yorke and Mayoress, Mrs A.G. Campbell.

Misses Bradley, Libbis, Maag, Norman, Reynolds.

Messrs Arnold, Bush, Batchelor, Dailey, Dredge, Evans, Gibbons, Jukes, Lester, Libbis, Quinton, Reynolds, F.W. Shore, E.M.B. Shore, Sheehan, Thomas, Townsend and Yorke.

Some of these names have become familiar to me through my research into the lives of local servicemen and women. Two sons of the Libbis family served, for example: 9025 Private Leslie Fookes Libbis, 6th Field Ambulance and his brother 1989 Private William Thomas Libbis, 6th Infantry Battalion, who was killed in action on 7 August 1915. Both attended Coburg State School so both are part of Coburg Historical Society's ANZAC Centenary project.

Felix Wentworth Shore (known to many as Wen) was an early enlistee who left with the first contingent and returned to Australia in 1916. An employee of Coburg Council, he went on to become Town Clerk.

Mr (James Edward) Sheehan was the head teacher of Coburg State School and father of 3515 Sergeant John Patrick Sheehan, 13th Field Company Engineers. John Patrick Sheehan was an old boy of Coburg State School.

Mrs (Susan) Montefiore was the mother of 6396 Private Tasman Thomas Montefiore, 22nd Infantry Battalion who was killed in action on 5 October 1917. Mrs Montefiore was a prodigious worker for the community. An article in the Coburg Courier, 13 May 1936, says that she was involved in RSL work, the Austin Women's Hospital Auxiliaries and Red Cross work during World War One and after. She helped nurse victims of the 1919 flu epidemic and was involved in organising the Hard Times Balls during the 1930s Depression.

Mrs (Emily) Jarvie was the mother of 10774 Sergeant Major Leslie Reid Jarvie, 22nd AASC and 3rd Pack Mule Transport and 2515 2nd Class Air Mechanic Walter Keith Jarvie, Flying Corps. 185th RAF. Both were old boys of Coburg State School. Keith Jarvie also attended Coburg High School.

Miss Maag was probably Dagmar, the sister of  5152 Private Thomas Henry Maag, 7th Infantry Battalion, killed in action on 20 September 1917.

There are other stories to be told, but that's for another blog entry!









Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Coburg’s dinner for returned soldiers


Dinner for Returned Soldiers, 6 December 1919. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. 


There don't seem to be many smiling faces at this gathering. A number of men are wearing uniforms. Others have badges on their lapels. The occasion was held at the Town Hall in Bell Street. 


Cover of ‘Souvenir of Dinner tendered to Returned Soldiers by the Mayor and Citizens of Coburg. Coburg Town Hall, 6th December 1919’. 



This program has the name J.S. Howell written on the front cover in pencil. 7218 Driver Joseph Sydney Howell served in the Signal Squadron, Anzac Mounted Division. He was later 553 Sapper J.S. Howell. Born on 21 Dec 1889, he died on 10 July 1979. The program (and other material) was donated by his daughters Joyce, Roma and Dorothy.

Coburg Historical Society recently received an email from Syd Howell's daughter Dorothy Venestra. In it she shared a little more of her father's war service experience. She wrote: 
'He had been at Gallipoli in the October 1915 for the evacuation, went back to Egypt, was wounded and sent home to Australia where he was discharged. He re-enlisted with Number 553  and returned on the A70 Ballarat, which was torpedoed in the Atlantic on 25 April 1917.  All on board were rescued, taken to England and my father went on with the No. 2 Section Railway Operating Division to France and Belgium.  Dad was one of the lucky ones - he ended up in Military Hospital in Sutton Veny, England,  with flu, returning home on the Karamala on 2nd February 1919, discharged 3rd Military District, 17th March 1919.'
Dorothy went on to say that she and her sisters Joyce Gunther and Roma Oates 'are all very proud of our Dad, also very happy to see he has a home with the Coburg Historical Society.' 

It is due to the generosity of families like Syd Howell's that historical societies are able to enrich the lives of current and future generations, so if you value your own personal family stories, do consider sharing them with others by donating copies of images and documents to your own local historical society. Or perhaps you have a story of your own to tell? Why not record it for your own family and donate a copy to your historical society as well?

By the way, Syd Howell was a friend of Stan Davis, who also attended the Returned Soldiers' Dinner. 

This postcard of Stan Davis is part of the Coburg Historical Society collection. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. I believe Stan was Richard Stanley Davis, son of Richard William Davis and Susan Totten.




You can see from the program that some important local people attended the Dinner, including 'Pompey' Elliott and the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes.

Years after the event, Syd Howell wrote on the autograph page of the program:


N.W. Davis was 187 Private Nassan William James Davis, 7th Infantry Battalion who also served as 484 Private William James Davis, 7th Infantry Battalion. He was Stan Davis's brother.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone who can add to my knowledge of this Dinner. Perhaps you know of a family member who attended? Or have heard about it from older family members?



Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Busy Bees of Coburg

Busy Bee Club. Alice Wood, President of Coburg Branch of the Red Cross, is in the centre of the middle row (with white hair). Her daughter Alice (known in the family as Lal) is the last on the right in the back row. Daughter Myra is last on the right in the middle row. Image courtesy Ian Wood.

The Education Department initiated a Young Workers' Patriotic League during the war and the Busy Bee clubs were part of this scheme. You can read more on this, and other things related to the Education Department and the war, in Rosalie Triolo's excellent book Our Schools and the War.





You will see from the photo below that there are a number of school age girls in Coburg's Busy Bee Club. I am guessing that some were from the State School and others from the High School across the road.  It seems that sock knitting was the focus of attention when this photo was taken.




There were also a number of older teenagers and women involved.



I have been trying to establish the location of the photo and think it may have been in what is now Bridges Reserve, next door to the then-High School. I can see that there is a label on the tree behind these women and I can make out the letters '...nycarpus' and what I think is the word 'Excelses' underneath that. It appears to be a native of Japan, but I haven't been able to identify the species. I also don't know whether any of the trees planted at Bridges Reserve would have had labels or whether the plantings would have been this well established in that location. The only other appropriate location I can think of is Coburg Lake Reserve.





I'd be interested to hear from anyone who can add any information about the girls and women in the photo, the Busy Bee Club, the tree in the background or the possible location of this photo.




Saturday, 16 May 2015

Coburg State School's Memorial Garden


Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. Image R2_1_5C.001. This photo is taken looking north towards the main school. It is believed that these were then the gardens belonging to the Infant School, although they now make up part of Bridges Reserve. 

I've been trying to find out more about the memorial garden planted in memory of the old boys of Coburg State School who died in World War One, which was planted to the south of the Coburg State School's Infant School (on the south side of Bell Street).



Coburg Infant School, c. 1980. Image R.2.50. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


Recently I spent a day at the Public Record Office of Victoria looking at various school files and I found a number of items of interest, including an early planting scheme for the Infant School garden. It is hard to tell now whether this planting scheme was ever put into action, but it seems that at least some of it was.





The Infant School was built in 1911 after the land was cleared of a thick covering of thistles. 

This plan was prepared by the School Committee in 1915 and drawn by a pupil of the school. It shows that as well as cypress trees, the plantings around the periphery of the school grounds were to include Acacia Pycantha (Golden Wattle), Acacia Baileyana (Cootamundra Wattle) and Acacia Mollissima (also known as Acacia Pubescens or Downy Wattle). The letter accompanying the drawing reveals that because the school grounds were unfenced, earlier tree plantings (at least six cypress trees (Cupressus Horizontalis Labertiana) were planted in 1913) had been destroyed by wandering cows etc. 

On Friday 8 October 1915, Arbor Day, the Mayor, Mayoress and various Councillors planted 10 cypress trees and 4 Acacia Mollissima. Members of the School Committee, teachers and pupils planted wattle seeds.

(Source: Public Record Office of Victoria, Victorian Public Record Series 640/P1, unit 1444)






At work in the Coburg State School garden, 1911. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. Image 15862.


The school was an enthusiastic participant in the State Schools Horiticultural Society's activities and at the time of the plantings, the Society's organiser, Cyril Isaac was based at Coburg State School. 


So keen was the Head Teacher, J.E. Sheehan, that he and Isaac intended to make the school a 'model school in agricultural and horticultural work.' One of their first big tree plantings was on Arbor Day 1913 when the Premier, the Hon. Mr Evans MLC, planted six Cupressus Horizontalis Lambertiana along the boundary of the Infant School. I have recently spoken to someone who lived in Russell Street and he remembers climbing cypress trees along the Infant School boundary in the 1930s. These were probably the same trees.


Towards the end of the war, in late October 1918, the memorial garden to the old boys who died in World War One was planted.



Brunswick and Coburg Leader, Friday, 25 October 1918, p.4.







Tree planting ceremony, Coburg Infant School, October 1918.



This photograph comes from a souvenir of the visit of the French Mission to Melbourne in October and November 1918, only weeks before the Armistice was signed. The exact date of the Mission’s visit to the school is unknown, but it probably took place on Wednesday 23 October 1918.

Although identified in the souvenir only as an ‘Ecole de l'Etat à Melbourne’, the accompanying newspaper article confirms that it was taken at the Infant School at the time of the tree planting.


My investigations into this now lost memorial to Coburg's war dead continues. Expect to hear more!







Saturday, 2 May 2015

And it’s off to war we go


Australian Expeditionary Force. Broadmeadows. Breaking Camp prior to their departure for the front. From a stereographic slide by Geo. Rose. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society. 



In this image we can see that the city of tents at Broadmeadows  is being dismantled. Those ‘crop circles’ you see in the centre of the image are actually the spaces where the tents once were, trimmed with wooden tent pegs. The men are sitting around on their bedrolls and belongings, finishing their meals (I’m sure those are spuds in one of those pots), reading the newspaper or having a chat. It must be later in the year now and at least one man has a scarf wrapped around his ears and part of his head to keep out the cold.


The camp doesn’t look as tidy as in earlier images, but very soon it will be empty space and the men and their belongings will be sailing for the war. Quite soon they will be surviving (or not) in the trenches of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and what quite possibly seemed at the time primitive conditions at Broadmeadows will transform in their minds into a month or two (or more) spent in a luxury holiday camp.