Sunday, 28 May 2017

James Atkin of Willow Grove, Coburg

 James Atkin. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.


The photograph you see here is of James Atkin, a Nottingham-born mill hand who served for 14 years with the Robin Hood Rifles (known as the Robin Hoods). He went on to serve with the Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment) for another 18 months. (The Sherwood Foresters later took the place of the Robin Hoods when the Territorial Force was formed in 1908.)


The Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) embarking for South Africa. Image courtesy www.angloboerwar.comwww.angloboerwar.com 


From January 1900 until July 1901, James served in the Anglo-Boer war in South Africa, leaving his wife Gertrude at home in Nottingham.




Some years later, in March 1912, James and Gertrude Atkins left England bound for Melbourne. Childless, they had with them 4 year old Annie Atkin, James' niece whom they had adopted.

The couple settled in Willow Grove, Coburg, in a home they called 'Trent Villa'. In 1915, James, now 38 years old, enlisted and served for a while at Ascot Vale then as a Sergeant at the Officers' Training School. 


5333 Pte (later Sgt) James Atkin, 1st AIF. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.

He embarked for overseas in April 1916 with the 22nd Battalion (9th Reinforcements) and arrived in France in June 1917 where he was joined the 60th Battalion. Like many others, he suffered from trench fever and bronchitis, but unlike so many others, he was not injured.

In 1918 he was awarded the Military Medal for his role at the second battle of Villers Bretonneux (24 to 27 April 1918).


Originally recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, he was instead awarded the Military Medal for his 'splendid courage, devotion to duty, leadership, and utter disregard for personal danger at Villers Bretonneux.'

James returned to Melbourne in mid-August 1919 and on Monday 24 November 1919 he and his wife Gertrude proudly set off for Federal Government House where the Governor-General was to present the award. Disaster struck when in the grounds of Government House Gertrude felt unwell and died almost immediately. She was only 37.

Ballarat Star, 25 November 1918, p.2


The Weekly Times was blunt to the point of insensitivity in its headline:



 Weekly Times, 29 November 1919, p.36.


After Gertrude's death, James Atkin remained in Coburg. He married again in 1921 - to Ira Anderson - and they had two children whom they brought up in Coburg. Their son served in World War Two and later established himself as an orchardist at Humevale. Their daughter married and remained in Coburg for many years after James' death from pancreatic cancer in 1932. 

Of Annie, the adopted daughter who came with them from England, little can be told. Family sources say that she was a difficult child who became a difficult teenager and in the end she was asked to leave the family home. After that, nothing is known of Annie's story.

Annie Atkin (on motor bike) with a member of the Anderson family, date uncertain. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.

A family member dates this photo at c1942, but looking at the clothing style and the motor bike, I wonder if it wasn't taken at least a decade or two earlier.

Is there someone out there who knows something about motor bikes and could put a date to this bike? I can see it has the number 77, so have assumed it's some sort of racing bike - perhaps a dirt track racing bike. Would love to know more!  






Saturday, 6 May 2017

Percy Chaster Brearley

Percy Brearley was born at Geelong, but enlisted in the 23rd Battalion at Rutherglen in February 1915 aged 25 years 6 months. 

He qualified for a commission and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in December 1916 and then served with the 46th Battalion. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in July 1917 and mentioned is Sir Douglas Haig's dispatches in November that year.


Image courtesy AWM. Image E01794. 6 March 1918, France. Group portrait of the officers of the 46th Battalion. Left to right, back row: Lieutenant (Lt) Matthew Martin Cuddihy; Lt William Jackson; Lt Nevinson Willoughby Faulkner MC MM; Lt Alfred Bernard Mortimer; Lt Ernest Alexander Charlton; Lt Reginald Francis Foster; Lt Leslie Byrne MC (killed in action 18 September 1918). Middle row: Lt Arthur Frank Stanley Dobson; Lt Wilfred Crosbie Pleasance MC: Lt Arthur John Chilvers Muriel MC; Lt Walter Hood MC; Lt Alfred Benjamin Reginald Edward Willison MC; Lt Leopold Bull MC (died of wounds received in action 7 April 1918); Lt Reginald Eric Daton Palmer (died of illness 4 December 1918); Lt Donald Murchison Sandral; Lt Charles Edward Palstra; Lt Albert Victor James MM; Lt Sydney Albert Latimer; Lt Arthur Phillip Percival Kemp MC; Lt Percy Chaster Brearley. Front row: Lt James Picken Cowey MC; Lt Frank Osborne Cameron; Captain (Capt) George Eric Milne MC (died of wounds received in action 5 April 1918); Major Ernest Samuel Davis; Temporary Lieutenant Colonel Hubert Cedric Ford DSO; Capt George Stanley Vanstan MC; Lt Thomas Garden Carter MC; Lt Leonard Lutterell Coulson MM; Capt Donald Barclay Payne MC; Capt Frank Elliott Trenoweth True MC.


He was wounded in France in July 1918 and sent to England where he married Emily Maidment at Withycombe, Somerset on 30 April 1919. Six months earlier he had written to the authorities to say he intended to settle in England after his marriage, but towards the end of 1919, he and Emily sailed for Australia.

Percy and Emily Brearley settled in Gaffney Street, Pascoe Vale and from 1930 until 1936 he served as a Coburg Councillor and was Mayor in 1933-34. According to one newspaper report he was the first returned serviceman to be appointed Mayor of Coburg.

Percy Chaster Brearley, c1930s. Image 17294. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

In September 1935, the Brearleys and their daughter Erica (born c1921) left Melbourne for Adelaide where Percy worked in the Commonwealth Audit Office for several years. 

In the 1940s, the family moved to the United States where they lived in Manhattan for a decade. They were frequent visitors to the United Kingdom over the years and it is there that their daughter Erica married and lived until her death in 1977.

Emily and Percy Brearley returned to Australia to live in Sandringham. Percy died in 1957 aged 67. His wife returned to England and died in Yorkshire in 1989 aged 93, having outlived her husband and her daughter.

Although the Brearley family lived in Coburg for only a decade, they contributed to the community through their civic work in the 1930s, a period of unemployment and great distress. Together with the Town Clerk, F.W. Shore, Percy Brearley organised numerous carnivals and other events to raise funds to support Coburg's unemployed.



Monday, 26 December 2016

Walter Ashcroft and the Limbless Soldiers' Association of Victoria

Walter Ashcroft and his brothers were from Coburg. You can read more about them here

Walter was a remarkable man. Before the war he was a gymnast and weight-lifting champion who originally came to Australia from Liverpool to train for the Olympics. The rest of his family soon followed and took up residence in Coburg.

Two of his brothers died during the war and Walter returned a double amputee. However, he did not let this 'disability' stop him. He started his own bootmaking and repair shop. 




Image courtesy Jean Taylor


His training as an elite athlete stood him in good stead and he had a strong will. It was not long before he could hold his artificial limbs in place just using his muscles. He learned to ride a motorbike and later had a car with hand controls - there was no stopping him.

In 1921, he and a friend, Charlie H. Stevens co-founded the Limbless Soldiers Association and he spent much of his life supporting other men who had lost limbs in combat.


Image P02011.002, Courtesy Australian War Memorial. This group portrait features the first life members of the Limbless Soldiers Association of Victoria. Left to right: Reginald Samuel Amies, Norman Ralph McClure, Walter Benjamin Ashcroft, Charles (Charlie) Henry Stevens, E. Brownhill MBE. (Donors D. Sparkes & G. Stewart)

Members of the Limbless Soldiers' Association of Victoria meeting Dame Nellie Melba in November 1924. Walter Ashcroft is on the far right. Image courtesy Jean Taylor.

After the war Walter married another strong personality, Eva Templeton, whose brothers also served in the war. 

During World War One, Eva's mother Maria Templeton was the President of the local Soldiers' Mothers' Association, a role Eva fulfilled during the Second World War when her own son Edward was serving.

Maria Templeton (nee Unkles) on her 70th birthday with her children William, Eva (Ashcroft), Hugh, Wallace and Keith. Image courtesy Jean Taylor.

Thanks to Walter Ashcroft's daughter Jean for the images and family information.




Friday, 9 December 2016

HE bombs explained

Thanks to Harvey Shore for this explanation of HE bombs:

H.E. (now just written without full stops, as HE) is the official army term for High Explosive. 

An HE Shell is an artillery (or tank) shell containing high explosive (as opposed to solid shot, schrapnel, air-burst, HEAT or a wide range of other types of shells for special purposes). HE (high explosive) is the commonest type of explosive filling for a shell or a bomb.

These days, an HE Bomb usually means an aerial bomb (dropped from an aircraft) containing high explosive.

However, in the early 20th Century, the word bomb could be used interchangeably to mean a hand grenade, or a mortar bomb, or an aerial bomb.

Anyway, it was a type of explosive that went off with a big bang, usually blowing up whatever it hit, and scaring the pants off whoever was nearby.



Thursday, 8 December 2016

Charles Edgar Finchett's war

Charles Finchett on leave in Paris in December 1918. Image courtesy David Finchett.


Charles Finchett was the fourth of five children born to William Finchett and his second wife Elizabeth. His Manchester-born father, a fruiterer by trade, arrived in  Melbourne in the 1880s, married Elizabeth Wearmouth in 1885 and settled in the Little River area where he had a dairy farm. In the late 1890s, the family moved to a farm at Boorolite near Mansfield where the Finchett children attended school. 
In 1909 they moved to Brunswick, and as Charles Finchett is listed on the Moreland State School Honour Board, he must have attended the Moreland school first then moved on to do the higher grades at Coburg before attending Coburg High School (then a Higher Elementary School) in its first intake in 1912.
Charles Finchett and his oldest brother Edward enlisted together and were allocated consecutive numbers. They both served with the 3rd Australian Motor Ammunition Column, sailed together on the Afric and survived the war.
Theirs was a supporting role, carrying supplies to the forward lines, supplying guns and ammunition and evacuating the wounded. Neverthless the cost was high. A letter Charles wrote a few years before his death highlights how difficult those times were:
To live was one thing. To live from day to day under great strain and fear of the unknown was another… I was under mustard and other gas at Messines, where I was blown up by H.E. bombs… In Ypres we worked in a morass of mud… The whole salient was a place of constant barrages and drum fire. The ground really shook with explosions… I came under much enemy bombardment and gas. I was subjected to much nervous stress and came up against many dangerous and frightening situations…

After the war, Charles worked as a clerk in the Victorian Railways, living firstly in the family home in Brunswick then in Caton Avenue, Coburg. He and his wife Alice lived in Prahran then in Malvern East. The effects of his war service were long-reaching: all his adult life he suffered from problems with the nerves in his legs, arms and stomach. He died in 1972 aged 75. His wife died in 1993 aged 84.

I've been trying to discover what an H.E. bomb was, but without success. Does anyone out there know?



Thursday, 25 August 2016

Arthur Cash, despatch rider

4028 Driver Arthur Lancelot Cash, 2nd Tunnelling Company, was the son of W.E. Cash, well known Coburg identity of 'Convamore', 37 The Grove, Moreland. William Cash not only ran a successful plumbing business, but was a Coburg Councillor for many years and served several terms as Mayor.

Arthur Cash, a sign writer by profession, served with the 2nd Tunnelling Company from 1916 until his return to Australia in 1919. Until very recently, there were no known photographs of Arthur taken during his war service, but thanks to a family member in England, we now have this marvellous photograph of Arthur during his period as a despatch rider (he's the one riding the Douglas motor cycle). 




He also sent this Christmas postcard home to his family in 1918. It was produced by Officers, NCOs and men of the 2nd Tunnelling Company who were 'Somewhere in France'.








By the time the postcard reached home, the war was over, so families such as the Cashes would have been eagerly anticipating the return of their soldier sons, husbands and brothers.

Arthur Cash returned home in time to say farewell to his ailing mother, who died shortly after his arrival back in Australia. He married an English woman Clarice (Clare) Lund in 1920 and they spent a number of years in the 1920s running the Council Club Hotel in Chiltern in northern Victoria. On their return to the city they settled in Brighton and after Clare's death in 1948, Arthur married Minnie Burke. They had two children who have few memories of their father, as he died on his son's 7th birthday in 1958.

But now, almost a hundred years after the end of WW1, family members in the UK have reconnected with family members here in Australia and shared parts of their history that were previously unknown. And in doing so, they have enabled me to commemorate the war service of men like Arthur Cash who travelled so far to defend what they thought of as the Mother Country.

Thanks again to Julian in England for sharing these images (and family stories) with Arthur Cash's children here in Australia. 



Thursday, 28 July 2016

ANZAC Centenary art project at Coburg Primary School


In June 1984 the Coburg Primary School Council gave Coburg Historical Society a beautiful handwritten book recording brief biographies of 100 of the old boys of the school who served in World War One.




This Soldiers Record book forms the basis of a three-part project funded by an Australian Government ANZAC Centenary Grant:

1. An art project involving students of the school under the guidance of artist Kelly Gatchell Hartley.

2. A permanent memorial to the old boys of the school.


3. A book to be published in 2017 entitled ‘The old boys of Coburg State School go to war’.






The Soldiers Book contains a plan of the avenue of trees planted in the grounds of the Infant School in memory of 35 of the old boys who died during that war.








And now, 100 years after the events of World War One, the students of Coburg Primary School have re-imagined and re-created that avenue of trees in memory of those past students who served their country so many years ago.











Coburg Historical Society thanks Principal Jane Hancock, artist Kelly Gatchell Hartley and all the members of the school community who have taken part in this exciting project.


The art work will form part of an exhibition to be held in April next year when we launch the book ‘The old boys of Coburg State School go to war’, written for Coburg Historical Society by Dr Cheryl Griffin.