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. 

Sunday, 3 January 2016

More on Dagmar and Carl Dyring

In a recent blog entry I wrote about the war time experiences in Egypt of Dr Carl Dyring of Coburg and his wife Dagmar (nee Cohn). You can read about it here

Since then, a member of the Cohn family has made contact and kindly shared some more of the family story, including the following photos of the Dyrings.

The photos are from a book about the Cohn family: Tablets of Memory: The Bendigo Cohns and their Descendants 1853-1989 by Alan A Cohn, Jack M Cohn and Lawrence J Cohn; Antelope Press, Doncaster, 1990.

Other information from the  Cohn-Bruinier Family Archives include letters written by Dagmar's nephew Trooper Leo Cohn of Bendigo.

Photo courtesy Cohn-Bruinier Family Archives 

Leo Cohn's letters home add a little more colour to the story of the time Carl and Dagmar Dyring spent in Egypt.

For example, on New Year's Day 1916 he wrote 'We went out with Auntie Dag and Uncle Carl. We went through the old Coptic Churches... We also went over the Mosque of Marod [Murad].. When we got back we went to Groppi's for afternoon tea ... Groppi's is the most fashionable cafe in Cairo.'

Cafe Groppi, January 1916. Image courtesy AWM. Image number C00008.

It is interesting to note that Cafe Groppi is still open and you can read some of its history here and here. A search of Google images will give you an idea of just how glamorous it must have seemed to the Australian troops, many of them country boys and men who had  rarely been to the city, let alone an exotic location like Cairo. No wonder the AWM describe it as a 'favourite haunt of Australian soldiers'.

On Saturday 22 January 1916, Leo Cohn and his Auntie Dag and Uncle Carl toured the Tombs of the Marmalouks [Mamelouks]

The following Friday Leo went to Auntie Dag's for dinner and reported that 'Uncle Carl has been ill but is pretty right now.' Two weeks later he wrote that 'Uncle Carl and Auntie Dag have gone to Luxor for four days. Uncle has not been too good.' 

We know from the official record that Uncle Carl was sent back to Australia with emphysema and heart trouble soon after. Leo records that Auntie Dag was preparing to leave Cairo in early April and we know that by May she was back home in Bendigo. Her husband returned in December and retired from his busy practice in Coburg, thus ending the family's association with that suburb.

Thanks to the  members of the Cohn-Bruinier Families who have allowed me to publish this material. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The 1917 Win-the-War campaign strikes trouble in Coburg

The 1917 election campaign rapidly became the Win-the-War Campaign and emotional calls to the people of Australia to support the campaign were soon in evidence, such as the one below printed in Punch.

Ladies Letter, Punch, 26 April 1917, p.32.

Not everyone supported the campaign, of course, as the candidate for Maribyrnong Edmund Jowett soon found out, especially when he spoke at Coburg Town Hall. 

The newspaper articles below tell the story.

Argus, 28 April 1917, p.19

Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter, 3 May 1917, p.6

The Age, 28 April 1917, p.14

And as I always like to throw out a mystery for you to try to solve ...

The Minutes of the Coburg Recruiting Committee, Wednesday 26 April 1917, show that the Committee resolved to send a letter to 'ex-Sergeant McGirvan, thanking him for speaking at the meeting on Friday evening and the committee expresses its regret that he was hampered in his discourse by a noisy element.' 

This is the meeting at Coburg Town Hall where Jowett was 'jeered by peace advocates'. 

I've searched for someone with the surname McGirvan or McGovan or McGavan who served in the AIF without success. There is no one with the surname McGirvan on the Victorian electoral rolls. I searched the Australians in the Boer War database without success. I searched TROVE - no luck.

So who was this ex-Sergeant McGirvan?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Who is the mysterious Captain Steel?

Remember Captain Steel who presented such a colourful picture at the opening of the Drill Hall in Reynards Road?

I've been trying to find out who Captain Steel was and the only person who is even vaguely possible is Captain Walter Henry Steel of Woolacott Street, Coburg.

Read on and see what you think. Is this the man who appeared in a 'blue jumper and plaid trews of the Scottish Regt., with a "Gyppy" helmet like a Khakee mushroom on top'?

At the time of the opening of the Drill Hall, Walter Henry Steel, or Hal as he was known, was a medical student. He enlisted in the Army Medical Corps in June 1918, too late to see action. His family lived at 19 Woolacott Street, Coburg, which places Hal Steel in the right locality.

Hal Steel was a Methodist and at the time of his enlistment in 1918 stated that he had served in the Senior Cadets for 2 years in the 64A Infantry, which was based at East Melbourne, and had also served in the Melbourne University Rifles for 3 years. 

So, is this the same man who commanded the 59th Battalion of Cadets in February 1914?

Even if not, Coburg's Hal Steel had a long lasting connection to the military, a connection that would take him far away from Coburg to southern Queensland.

Born in West Melbourne in 1897, Hal Steel's family moved to Coburg in the early years of the twentieth century. They lived in Woolacott Street until 1922 when they moved to Sandringham and it was around this time that the family's connection to Coburg ended.

In 1923 Hal married Cosette Wuttrich and moved to Stanthorpe in Queensland's Granite Belt where he worked as the medical superintendent of the Repatriation Department's tuberculosis sanatorium 'Kyoomba'. 'Kyoomba' was sometimes referred to as the Anzac Convalescent Home. (Quite coincidentally, members of my own family emigrated from north Staffordshire around this time and settled in Stanthorpe, so I know the area quite well.)

In 1929, Hal Steel was promoted to the position of medical superintendent of 'Rosemount' in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. It was Brisbane's main Repat. Hospital. He remained there until the early 1960s when he retired to Surfer's Paradise.

So, is he the colourful figure we read about in the Brunswick and Coburg Leader? I've read newspaper reports from Stanthorpe that say he was a member of the Stanthorpe Operatic Society (as were my aunts, uncles and cousins - another coincidence), so he was interested in theatre.  

In fact, I have in front of me as I write this the program for the Society's 1926 production of 'Miss Hook of Holland' billed as a 'Sparkling Musical Comedy in 2 Acts' which lists Dr Steel as the Producer, my great-uncle Tom Smith as Stage Manager and his son Len Smith as the Musical Director. Another cousin, Arthur Smith, was in the cast and my great-aunt Alice sang in the chorus. What a coincidence!

It's possible, but what do you think?

Friday, 20 November 2015

Coburg Drill Hall opens in Reynards Road

Until the opening of the Drill Hall in Reynards Road, Coburg, the area’s cadets (Area 59) had no permanent building in which to meet. Although they had tried to secure Coburg Public Hall, the Council refused permission, because the Hall was a valuable revenue raiser and its use as a drill hall would mean a significant loss of income. (Coburg Leader, 17 March 1911, p.4) In May 1911 Moreland State School was being used as a temporary drill hall (Coburg Leader, 19 May 1911, p.1) and it was not until December 1912 that the Coburg Council finally offered the Defence Department ‘a large Recreation Reserve in Reynard Road. The offer was for as much as required and as long as required at peppercorn rental of one shilling per year.’ (Coburg Leader, 6 December 1912, p.1)

The Drill Hall in Reynard Road was built in December 1913 at a cost of £1,500, which in today’s terms is about $162,500. Click here to see how this was calculated.)

Much later images of the Drill Hall, courtesy Coburg Historical Society. For a history of this site, see the Robinson Reserve Neighbourhood House website.

At this stage there was no Drill Hall in Brunswick. In July 1915, the local newspaper referred to a drill hall of iron and wood being erected in Percy Street, Brunswick. It was opened in 1916. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 9 July 1914, p.4)

The Drill Hall was for the use of the Senior Cadets of Area 59 and for the use of the 59th Regiment when it was formed.

The Area Officer when it first opened was Lieutenant R.B. Anderson, probably Robert Balfour Anderson of Blair Street, Coburg. He was assisted by Staff-Sergeant Major Taylor, who was probably James William Taylor of Bell Street, Coburg. His other assistant was Staff-Sergeant Major P. MacMahon of 57 Victoria Street, Coburg and later of 4 Wellington Street, Coburg.

The official opening of the  Drill Hall on Saturday 21 February 1914 was a grand event. The Minister for Defence Senator Edward Millen was there to address the 500 cadets and officers who were present. 

Senator Millen, c.1914.  Image courtesy Australian War Memorial, Image 306782.

Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 27 February 1914, p.2.

One of the more colourful characters at the opening was Captain Steel, commander of the 59th Battalion of Cadets:

I have yet to identify Captain Steel and to date the closest I have come is an H. Steel who belonged to the Coburg Lacrosse Club.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Coburg cadets

After Field Marshall Viscount Kitchener visited Australia in 1909, Australia introduced compulsory military training. By January 1911 the system was in place. There were three levels of training. The first, the junior cadets for boys aged 12 to 14, was administered by schools, where military drill had already been introduced. The second, the senior cadets, was for boys aged 14 to 18. The third, the Commonwealth Military Forces, was for young men aged 18 to 26.

Field Marshall Viscount Kitchener at the time of the Boer War

Exemptions were given to those who lived more than five miles [eight kilometres] from the nearest training site, those passed medically unfit, to resident aliens and theological students. Those who failed to register for military training were punished with fines or jail sentences. Many boys did not register for their military training, and between 1911 and 1915 there were 34,000 prosecutions, with 7,000 jail sentences imposed.  

I have written previously about exemption courts in Coburg here, here, here and here

The scheme did not meet with universal approval. Those on the political right tended to support the scheme and those on the left were largely against it. Those who were presented as ‘shirkers’ in the press cited many reasons for failing to report for drill: it was a long way from their workplace; there was no nearby training centre; it was very inconvenient to get to; it was very tiring; it was intrusive; it went against religious principles.

The following article from page 1 of the Coburg Leader28 February 1913, gives an idea of what happened to those who were deemed 'shirkers'.