Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Local singers raise funds for the war effort

Recently, while working on some material at the Coburg Historical Society museum, I came across the sheet music for a popular song of the era, ‘Are you from Dixie? (Cause I’m from Dixie, too!)’. Words by Jack Yellen and music by George L. Cobb. Copyright 1914. 

The song would have been sung at local fundraisers for the war effort and the sense of nostalgia for Coburg (and Brunswick) seen in the words of the song must have been shared by the many men who enlisted from the area.

A sticker has been added to the front: ‘This music is one of the original songs sung by the West Coburg Minstrel Troupe. (Note the change of words to suit Coburg and Brunswick!’)

Minstrel troupes originated in the United States. They were very popular forms of entertainment in their time and made their way to Australia where little thought was given to the issues of race that lay behind the blacking of faces and the mimicking of the stereotype of American blacks as lazy, stupid, superstitious and so on.

West Coburg Minstrel Troupe in November 1935. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

These are the words of ‘Are You from Dixie’ with local alterations:

Verse 1.
Hello, there, stranger, how do you do?
There’s something I’d like to say to you
Don’t be surprised
You’re recognised!
I’m no detective but I’ve surmised
You’re from the place where I long to be,
Your smiling face seems to say to me,
You’re from my own land
My sunny homeland
Tell me can it be?

Are you from Dixie? (Coburg?)
I said from Dixie (Coburg)
Where the fields of cotton beckon to me (Where the walls of Pentridge beckon to me)
I’m glad to see you
Tell me how be you
And the friends I’m longing to see
If you’re from A-la-ba-ma, (Murr-um-bee-na)
Tennessee (Camberwell) or Caroline (Old Brunswick)
Any place below the Mason Dixie Line (This side the Yarra that’s the trick)
Then you’re from Dixie (Coburg)
Hurray for Dixie (Coburg)
‘Cause I’m from Dixie (Coburg), too!

Verse 2.
It was away back in eighty nine,
I crossed the old Mason Dixon line (Coburg Brunswick line)
Gee! But I’ve yearned.
Longed to return to
All the good old pals I left behind
My home is way down in Alabam’ (near Brunswick)
On a plantation near Birmingham (On a poultry farm near Merri Creek)
And one thing’s certain,
I’m surely flirtin’
With those south-bound trains.

The inside front cover of the sheet music for ‘Are you from Dixie?’ features part of ‘He died at the Dardanelles’. Inside the back cover is the title page of ‘We’re proud of you, Australia (or The Battle of the Dardanelles)’, written and composed by Jack A. Little.

Once I started to search on the internet, I realised just how many patriotic songs were released during the war years. Here are just a sample.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Robert Holden’s And the Band Played On

This newly released book has gone on to my ever-growing list of ‘must reads’, especially as I have been interested in the role of music in lifting the soldiers’ spirits (and those at home) for many years – since my mother introduced me to Skipper Francis’s stirring song ‘Australia will be there’, one of the most popular songs of World War One. Mum heard it as a young girl in the 1920s and remembered the tune and words. I found the sheet music in a collection of old songs, then began to look around for other songs of the time. I’m still looking and still finding more. I’ve now added poetry to my search, so if anyone reading this has suggestions for either Australian songs or poetry or short stories that I could add to my collection I’d be very interested in hearing from you. 

I’ve also been interested in Australian folk music since I was a teenager and have read widely on Australia’s folklore, the great storytelling tradition and all those stereotypes that we now associate with the Diggers at the front: reckless bravery, taking the mickey out of the bombastic British officer class, irreverent humour and most of all mateship.

This should come as no surprise to those of you who follow this blog, given that I chose the title ‘Fighting the Kaiser’, taken from a popular parody of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

Fighting the Kaiser, fighting the Kaiser,
Who'll come a-fighting the Kaiser with me?
And we'll drink all his beer, and eat up all his sausages,
Who'll come a-fighting the Kaiser with me!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Bad Characters

In my last post I wrote about a Coburg man who deserted. There were others, of course. And there were others still who committed crimes and were sentenced to long gaol terms, some of which they completed on their return to Australia.

Historian Peter Stanley has written a book about those Australians who did not live up to the Aussie digger as hero image (and there were many of them) and if you want to get a more balanced view of what life was like for our soldiers at war, I can highly recommend it. It was published in 2010 by Murdoch Books and you’ll probably be able to find it through your local library service.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Deserters and the pain they left behind

So much of our focus when we think of war is on war heroes.
We remember the men and women who died and in our collective memory they all died heroic deaths, although, as I have shown in this blog, many died by accident, through illness, quirks of fate or as the result of wounds they received before they’d even had a chance to fight.
We remember the men and women who returned with terrible injuries, physical and psychological, although we don’t always know how to deal with them when they do return.
We remember those who were prisoners of war and we write stories and make movies about their (often horrendous) experiences.
We demonise the enemy as though that somehow that justifies the often unjustifiable acts of our own soldiers, for no one wants to think of their own side as being less than honourable.
We rarely remember the men who spent long periods in prison as a result of their criminal actions while on active service.
We prefer not to think about the men who spent most of their war service being treated for venereal disease.
We rarely speak of soldiers who deserted. Nor do we think of the extraordinary burden their desertion placed on their families.

One such man was 60914 Private William Dunne, also known as William Dunn, Louis Jean Dunne and 2647 Louis Jean Deschamps. His attestation papers run to 124 pages, reflecting the confusion caused by his enlistments and re-enlistments under a variety of names.

Born and bred in Coburg, Dunne was a 19 year old married broom maker living at ‘Kinvarra’, 46 Reynards Street when he enlisted at Coburg in December 1917. He was discharged on 14 March 1918 on account of a hernia that was identified on the morning of embarkation. A week later he re-enlisted at Fitzroy as William Deschamps (his mother’s maiden name), claiming to be from Newcastle, NSW and a motor mechanic. It was soon discovered that he was, in fact, William Dunne, husband of Veronica Dunne. Despite his young age, Dunne had married an even younger Veronica Baylis in 1917. One child, William, was born in 1918, around the time his father left for the war. Another, Lawrence died as an infant in Coburg in 1919.
Dunne embarked for England on the Barambah on 31 August 1918, but did not see active service on account of the Armistice. He deserted on 12 December 1918 and was not seen again.
On 26 March 1919, his allotment to his dependents ceased on account of his desertion, so Veronica Dunne not only had to bear the shame of a husband who was a deserter and endure the death of her infant son Lawrence, but through his actions, her husband had left her to raise their son William without financial support. In 1920, she applied for a living allowance but this was not allowed because he was still illegally absent. 

Veronica Dunne must have found work at Lincoln Knitting Mills in Gaffney Street, Coburg, because in a letter written in 1924 from the Mills’ Silk Rooms she says that he deserted her six years before and she planned to divorce him.

When her son William, a textile worker (a hosiery topper, so he possibly worked at Lincoln Mills), enlisted in World War Two in January 1941 she is recorded as Mrs Veronica Stephens of Officedale, via Officer. William married while in the army, served in New Guinea, survived the war but died in 1947 aged only 29.
Whatever became of William Dunne is a mystery and Veronica Dunne was to suffer the loss of her son soon after another war. But at least the official records have revealed that she did remarry and hopefully she found happiness in this second marriage. She died in Parkville in 1966 aged only 65.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Let’s talk of ocarinas and other things

The Fleiner family of Coburg: another story demonstrating the interconnectedness of things.

While I was researching the Coburg Art Festivals of the 1940s, I came across a reference to a James Fleiner who played an ocarina solo in the Coburg Branch of National Theatre Movement’s production of ‘Variety Steps Out’ in 1948.
Curious, I looked a little further and found that Jim Fleiner had a hairdresser’s shop at 579 Sydney Road, Coburg. He used to make films and show the films in his shop. He also ‘played the tin whistle for his young customers.’ (Broome, Coburg between two creeks, p.306)

Image of Jim Fleiner’s hairdresser’s shop in about 1938. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Arthur Whitbread and James Fleiner (on right) at corner of Waterfield and Bell St Coburg, 1923. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Jim’s brothers Fred and Leslie served in the 1st AIF.

5096 Private Frederick Thomas Fleiner, 14th Infantry Battalion.

Frederick (Freddie) Fleiner, a labourer, enlisted on 21 January 1916 aged 18. He had been born in Albury, NSW in 1895 but his parents Phillip and Mary moved to 12 Linda Street, Coburg where they lived from at least 1909 until the death of his father in 1916 while he and his brother were on active service. Frederick attended Moreland State School and his name is found in several Coburg typed lists of names connected with the Coburg Roll of Honour, although his name is not listed there. He died in 1982 at Heidelberg.

669 Private Leslie Fleiner, 31st Infantry Battalion.

Leslie Fleiner, a bookmaker’s clerk, enlisted  on 12 July 1915 aged 21 years 10 months. Like his younger brother Freddie, he had been born in Albury, NSW but was educated at Moreland State School while the family was living in Linda Street, Coburg.  On his return to Australia in June 1918 with a severe shell wound to his forearm, he lived with his widowed mother for a time at 115 Bell Street, Coburg.

And, as is the way in all research, the Fleiner family were connected with another World War One soldier from the area. Jim Fleiner, our ocarina playing hairdresser, married Louisa Johnston, sister of Donald (Don) William Johnston who served in A Company, 7th Battalion and left with the first contingent. Don was killed in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 8 May 1915.

Don was the son of Andrew Johnston of the Thistle Cyle Shop (and later the Coburg Motor Garage) at 288-290 Sydney Road, Coburg where he built his own ‘Thistle’ brand bicycles. A stalwart of the Coburg Cycling Club, Andrew Johnston ‘fostered cycling in Coburg, trained various elite cyclists and was president of the club for the 15 years to 1920,’ according to descendant Barb Wilcox. Donald was a member of the Coburg Cycling Club and would have participated in many of the cycling and social activities sponsored by the club.

Thistle Cycle Club Outing to Campbellfield, c.1903.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Coming to terms with loss

The wills available online have helped me to identify a soldier whose name appeared on the Town of Coburg Honour Board as W.A. Brown.
I now know that W.A. Brown was William Alder Brown, a 27 year old builder who lived in Hatter St., West Coburg. He’d been born in London but brought up in Hobart where he had served his apprenticeship. At the time of his enlistment his father William George Brown was the Council Clerk in Hamilton, Tasmania so William junior was already away from home when he enlisted.
683 Private William Alder Brown, 14th Battalion, enlisted at Brunswick on 1 December 1914. He only saw one day of action, the day he was killed, 2 May 1915. He was buried at No. 3 Courtney’s Post. In a terrible twist of fate, his younger brother Harold, who served as a Tasmanian, was killed on the same day, on his first day of action.
Not only did their parents lose their only sons on the same day, but they had to grapple with the fact that Harold’s body was never found.

In the following letters from their father found in their service records we can see how their parents struggled to come to terms with their loss. It shows the extra burden of placed on families whose mourning was done from a great distance with little likelihood of visiting the graves of their children, if there were graves to be visited. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Providing for the future

Soldiers who left wills

I’ve come across wills in soldiers’ service records on a number of occasions but just recently I’ve been looking at wills made by Coburg men before they set off for the front. I was surprised at the quite large sums some of them left and then I noticed that the money often came from Life Insurance Policies they’d taken out with the Australian Mutual Provident Society or similar.
One man, Frederick Alexander Hamilton of 11 Shaftsbury Street, Coburg, left his mother Selina £800, much of it from two life policies with AMP.
25942 Driver Frederick Alexander Hamilton, 1st Divisonal Ammunition Column died on 1 February 1919 and is remembered at the Memorial Avenue of Trees, Lake Reserve, Coburg, tree number 50. He had survived the war only to die of pneumonia at the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital in Bulford, Wiltshire.

Exterior view of the Administrative Headquarters of the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital, taken c.April 1919. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image D00456.

Frederick Hamilton was buried a long way from home, but someone cared enough to place a sprig of wattle on his grave at Tidworth Cemetery in late January 1930 around the time of the anniversary of his death, surely some comfort to parents who were never likely to visit their son’s grave.

From Frederick Hamilton's official file.

Another man, 2321 Private Albert Ernest Warner, 22nd Infantry Battalion, a 37 year old woodworking machinist of Bell Street, Coburg, had bought a parcel of land in the Coburg Township Estate. He was also buying a piano on hire purchase. Perhaps he inherited a love of music from his mother, who in the 1881 English census is listed as a music teacher.  Albert Warner was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire and married Emily Webster Dobinson in Liverpool in 1898. They emigrated to Australia at some time after the 1911 Census but his wife died soon after, in 1914. They had no children, but Albert was clearly planning a future in Coburg, a future that he was never to enjoy.

Studio portrait of 2321 Private (Pte) Albert Ernest Warner, 4th Reinforcements, 22nd Battalion, of Coburg, Vic. Taken c. October 1915.
Image courtesy AWM. Image DA11074.

Albert Warner was killed in action in France on 5 August 1916. In his will he left everything to Alice Elsie May Smith (later referred to as Alice Elsie May Scott). They were living at the same address (Bell Street, Coburg) when he embarked and in a letter to the authorities in 1939 she described herself as his fiancee.  After his death, she inherited his estate, went on to marry Oscar Boase and remained in the area, living in Gaffney Street, Pascoe Vale at the time of her 1939 letter.

By using the service records and wills together, a much more realistic picture of the soldier emerges, as can be seen in the case of Albert Warner. If you’ve never used the online resources available at the Public Record Office of Victoria, you really should check them out.  
Once you’re on the website, follow the ‘Access the Collection’ link.  From there you’ll see ‘PROV’s digitised records and online indexes’ and once there select ‘Wills and Probate Records’.  Wills are digitised up until the middle 1920s so you can read them online. I was searching for soldiers who died between 1914 and 1918 so I limited my search to those years, put ‘soldier’ as occupation and ‘Coburg’ as residence and went from there. I found 16 soldiers from Coburg and one from Pascoe Vale. There are many more from Brunswick.