Herald, 16 December 1916
This photo of Brunswick woman Teresa Baxter (nee Hannabury) was taken at a time when five of her sons were fighting at the Front and another was yet to join up.
The newspaper article tells us that she mothered 20 children, 17 boys and 3 girls and that there were 18 surviving children in December 1916. We are also told that she raised 8 of her late sister-in-law's children. (Her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Tomlinson, was her husband Robert's sister.)
The official records show that there were 16 children in the Baxter family - 10 boys and 6 girls - and that 6 were dead by 1916 when the article was written, so there were 10 alive, not 18 as reported in the paper. My guess is that the Tomlinson offspring were counted in that total.
In any case, the Baxter household must have been very crowded, and Teresa's life must have been very, very busy. Her last 5 children were born in the 1900s when she was in her 40s, so when WW1 broke out, she had young children to raise at the same time as her older sons were off at the war.
The Baxters had lived in the area for a long time. Teresa's father-in-law Robert Baxter, who died in 1890, was an early resident of Coburg, where there is a street (running off Sydney Road) named for him.
The Baxters were also Roman Catholics (Probably no surprise when the mother's full name was Teresa Bridget Hannabury), and in some ways it is surprising to see so many sons from a Catholic family serving in the AIF, although most of them enlisted well before the conscription debates of late 1916 and 1917. You can read about the debates here and here and here. The timing of the Herald's article is interesting, though, given that the first conscription referendum took place on 28 October 1916.
The five sons featured in the article are:
Robert Arthur, 9th child and 3rd surviving son, born Brunswick 1894, died Heidelberg 1962. 633 Sgt Robert Baxter served with 5th then 45th Btns. He enlisted on 21 August 1914 as a 20 year old ironworker (he worked for Messrs Kemp and Sheehan, brassfounders of Little Collins Street). He was also something of a sportsman and a member of the Coburg Cycling Club. He was at the Landing on 25 April 1915, wounded and hospitalised in Malta. After his return he developed pleurisy, but recovered. In France he suffered mild shell shock in August 1916. In 1918 he had VD treatment (he claimed to have contracted it for the first time in Australia in 1906, and if this was true, he was only 12 at the time), was courmartialled for being AWL for nearly 3 months and was sentenced to 180 days (it boiled down to 90 days forfeiture of pay in the end), then returned to Australia in late October 1918 with 'fibrosis of the lung'. Immediately after the war, he was living in Sargood Street, Coburg.
Thomas William, 2nd child but 1st surviving child, born Coburg 1883, died Belgium 20 September 1917. 1658 Pte Thomas William Baxter, 7th Btn, 3rd reinforcements was single and nearly 34 when he enlisted on 28 October 1914. A veteran of the Boer War, he claims to have served in Thorneycroft's Mounted Rifles for six months, although I could find no official record of this. He worked at Hoffman Brickworks in Dawson Street, Brunswick before enlistment. He received a shrapnel wound in the shoulder at Lone Pine, Gallipoli on 25 August 1915 and was hospitalised in Malta. He was admitted to hospital in Cairo with neurasthenia in February 1916 after striking an officer and causing a disturbance in the camp and returned to France at the end of July 1916. He spent several months in hospital in England in 1917 suffering from nephritis. He was later arrested for drunkenness and being AWL and rejoined his unit on 18 August 1917. A month later he was killed in action in Belgium.
Leonard Gordon, 14th child, born Brunswick 1902, died Coburg, 1983. 6611 Pte Leonard Gordon, 6th Btn, enlisted claiming to be 18 years old on 16 March 1916. However, the birth records indicate that he was born in 1902 and was actually only 14 years old. At the time of enlistment he worked as a potter and burner at Hoffman's Brickworks. He arrived in France in February 1917 (aged 15) and received a gun shot wound to his right arm in early October 1917. He did not see any action then until May 1918. He was gassed on 25 August 1918 and wounded in the thigh on 5 September 1918. This ended his war and he returned to Australia on 9 December 1918, aged only 16 (or maybe 17 by then). After the war, he returned to his former employment at Hoffmans and remained in the area until his death in 1983.
George Arthur, 8th child & 2nd surviving son, born Brunswick 1893, died Merlynston, 1974. 828 Pte George Arthur Baxter, 39th Btn, enlisted in early 1916 aged 22 and left Australia on 27 May 1916. He had married Jean Hackett just before he went into camp. He'd been employed at Mr Sweet's Pottery in Barkly Street, East Brunswick for 11 years (making him only 10 or 11 when he started work), but had recently been employed at Hoffman's as a potter - where his brothers Thomas and Leonard also worked. He landed in France in November 1916 and was evacuated wounded on 4 October 1917. He returned to the Front and was promoted to Sergeant in January 1918. After his return to Australia in April 1919, he went back to work at Hoffman's, where his brother Leonard was also working.
Percy Roy, 10th child & 4th surviving son, born Brunswick 1896, died South Melbourne 1960. 3013 Pte Percy Baxter, 57th Btn then 60th Btn then 25 Howitzer Bde then 5th DAC. When he enlisted on 13 July 1915 he was claimed to be 21 year old glassblower working for Messrs Angliss and Co., Northcote and that he'd worked there for 11 years. This would mean that he was only 10 when he began work - probably correct, but very young, all the same. I'm a little sceptical about his length of service at Angliss and Co., because he was born in 1896, so at best was 20 when he enlisted, meaning he would have started work aged 9 - seems unlikely, but possible, I suppose.) Anyway, he arrived in France in Feburary 1916, survived the war, returned to Australia in February 1919 and settled in Brunswick immediately after the war.
Another son - Stanley - 11th child & 5th surviving son, was not mentioned in the Herald article, but also served. He was born at Brunswick in 1898 and died at Heidelberg in 1964. 7204 Pte Stanley Baxter, 24 Reinfs, 5th Btn. He enlisted on 14 December 1916 (around the time the newspaper article was published) at which time he claimed to be 21, although he was actually only 18. His parents signed the consent form on 15 December 1916 (the day before the Herald article appeared), stating that he turned 21 on 5 November. He embarked the following February, served in France until he received a flesh wound to his left leg in August 1918 and was hospitalised in England. He returned to Australia in January 1919. He had served 1195 days, 732 overseas and received a pension on his return.
The Baxter parents had married in 1888. Teresa Baxter, their mother, had signed the Women's Suffrage Petition (the Women's Suffrage 'Monster' Petition) in 1891 when the family was living in Glenlyon Road, Brunswick. After her husband's death in 1920, she lived at various locations around the northern suburbs - Brunswick, Fitzroy, North Carlton. She died at the grand age of 96 in 1952.
This piece was written as an International Women's Day tribute to all the women who struggled (and still struggle) to raise their families with very few resources. Many, like Teresa Baxter, took in other children in need, rather than see them go into care. Amazingly, Teresa survived to live a long life. I hope she felt it was a worthwhile life.