Monday, 23 May 2016

Clifton Percival - born in Auckland but raised in Coburg




1379 Private Clifton Eric Percival, 39th Infantry Battalion, D Company. Image taken from Coburg State School's Soldiers Record Book, part of the Coburg Historical Society Collection.

When I began my research into Clifton Percival's life, I thought perhaps that there was not much of a story to tell. He was born in Auckland in 1897 but two years later his family had moved to Australia and were living in Prahran. When he was 12 his family moved to Coburg where he attended Coburg State School. He survived his war service despite being gassed and sent home in December 1917 with pulmonary fibrosis and gas poisoning. He married, had children and moved to Canberra where he worked as a surveyor and he died suddenly in December 1948 of heart problems.

However, as I began to unfold the story of the Percival family in New Zealand and then in Melbourne, an interesting picture of the wider family group emerged. 

The first suggestion of something different was when I discovered from his attestation papers that Clifton Percival had been working as a Biograph operator when he enlisted. You can read more about the Biograph Company here. You can see an example of a Biograph silent film here. It's a 1911 D.W. Griffith film called 'The Lonedale Operator' and runs for about 16 minutes. 

What I don't know is where Percival was working, but it might have been at Lake Hall in Coburg which by 1912 was operating as Coburg's first picture theatre. 

Lake Hall, one of Coburg's many bluestone buildings, was built in 1860 as the Presbyterian Church. This image, taken in 1916, shows it during its time as a picture theatre. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


From electoral rolls I know that Clifton Percival worked in surveying after the war and that he had moved to Canberra by 1930. I later discovered that his father's brother, Arthur Percival, was a surveyor of some note and rose to become Australia's Surveyor-General. He was part of the team that surveyed Canberra. You can read about him here and here

Portrait of Federal Capital site surveyors at Camp Hill, Canberra, 1910. Rear (L to R) – J.Morgan, W.G.Chapman. Front (L to R) – F.J.Broinowski, Arthur Percival, Charles Scrivener, Percy Sheaffe. Image courtesy The Mouat Tree


And if you're interested in reading more, you should check out this link to 'Some Historical Aspects of Australian Capital Territory Mapping and its Map Grid'  by Paul Wise and Kevin Wellspring, May 2015. 

I also discovered from electoral rolls and from a death notice that Clifton's father William James Bradley Percival (known as Bradley Percival) worked as a draughtsman for the Public Works Department in Canberra in the early 1930s, so the Percival family were well represented in the development of the ACT.

From electoral rolls in New Zealand and in Australia, it is possible to follow the changing career paths of Clifton Percival's father William James Bradley (WJB) Percival and his grandfather William James Sims (WJS) Percival. 

From the  early 1870s to the 1890s WJS Percival (Clifton's grandfather) lived on the south island of New Zealand and is described variously as an artist, an architect and a draughtsman. By 1896, he was living in Auckland but still calling himself an artist. Although it is unclear whether he ever made a living from his paintings, he was one of the founders of the Otago Art Society in 1876 and exhibited watercolours and oil paintings of southern scenes during this period. 

If you are interested in 19th century New Zealand artists, here's a link to a very useful online copy of Una Platts book, 

'Nineteenth Century New Zealand Artists: A Guide and Handbook'



Some examples of WJS's work can be seen here. By 1912 he had moved to Elsternwick in Melbourne's south and was working as a draughtsman and no further mention of his artist pursuits has been found.

Clifton Percival's father William James Bradley Percival, known as Bradley Percival, first appears in New Zealand records in 1896 when he is described as a violinist living in Beach Road, Auckland. A year later he is listed as a violin teacher and in 1899 and 1900, his first two years in Australia, he is listed as a musician living in Prahran. Clearly there was no living to be made out of music and with a growing family to support, Bradley Percival took up his father's occupation as draughtsman. 

I guess you can see from all of this why I love the serendipitous nature of historical research. I begin my day researching the war experiences of Clifton Percival then find discover an uncle who was part of the team who surveyed Canberra. I look a little further into the past and find a father and grandfather who worked as draughtsmen but who clearly identified as artists - one a painter, the other a musician.

Life is never dull!


Friday, 13 May 2016

School cadets at Coburg State School

After Lord Kitchener's visit to Australia in late 1909, compulsory military training was introduced for all Australian boys aged between 12 and 18 years.




Junior Cadets were aged 12 to 14 years old and had to train for 90 hours each year. They undertook their training at their primary schools, which in those times before government secondary schools went to Grade 8.

At Melbourne Continuation School (later Melbourne High School) where many of the state's teachers were educated prior to taking up teacher training, the boys of the school trained on Wednesday afternoons. The girls, being the future mothers of the nation, trained in the domestic sciences.


Melbourne Continuation School cadets on parade, c.1910. Image H83.140/1. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria. 


The following photograph of the Grade 6+ class at Coburg State School in 1910 features four boys in their cadet uniforms. 

In the centre of the back row is Victor Harder who was killed in action in France on 26 April 1918. To his right is his brother Keith Harder who survived the war. Keith's best friend Les Ward is two down from Victor on the left. Les died of gunshot wounds on 12 March 1917. Two rows down from Keith is the Harder brothers' sister Gladys who was married to George Fowler of Coburg. He was killed in action in France on 29 September 1918. We believe that the boy second from the right in the back row is Leonard Francis whose sister Kathleen married Keith Harder after the war.


Grades 6+ class, Coburg State School, 1910. Teacher Mr O'Hanlon. Image courtesy Paul Sumner.


Working from a list of students listed in the school's prize distribution ceremony held on 8 December 1908 ('Coburg Leader', 2 January 1909, p.4) the following boys of this age group were mentioned: Jack Gould, William Libbis and Leslie Libbis (6th Class); Leonard Francis, Victor Harder, Frank Pridham and Jack Aitken (Upper 5th class); Keith Harder and Ronald Marshall (Lower 5th Class). It is probable, then, that all of these boys are in this photograph.

We have yet to identify the other students in this photograph. Please let me know if you can identify any of them.  




Friday, 6 May 2016

Leslie Libbis is injured

9025 Private Leslie Fookes Libbis, 6th Field Ambulance. Photo courtesy of Coburg Historical Society.


Leslie Libbis and his brother William both served in World War One. William was killed in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 7 August 1915. I've written about Bill Libbis and his connection to the Mayfield Street football team here.

Leslie Libbis served with the 6th Field Ambulance in France. On 22 August 1916 he suffered a fractured right scapula as a result of a shell wound. He was first treated in the #19 Ambulance Train in France then invalided to England from Calais and admitted to the Kitchener Hospital in Brighton. 

A 'standard' ambulance train consisted of sixteen cars, including a pharmacy car, two kitchens, a personnel car and a brake and stores van.

You can read more about the little known story of the ambulance trains here and here.

Leslie's wound continued to give him trouble and he returned to Australia on transport duty in July 1917 and was discharged from the service. 

He married after his return and remained in Coburg until the 1930s when he moved to Parkdale. He served in WW2 and died at the Heidelberg Repat. Hospital in 1970.

Thanks to Barb W. who did the research on Leslie Libbis.






Wednesday, 13 April 2016

3035 Private William Charles Broadbent, 5th Infantry Battalion (later 59th Btn then 57th Btn)


Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

William Broadbent was an 18 year old nailmaker who lived in Croxton when he enlisted in July 1915. His family had strong connections to Coburg. He and his siblings were born in Coburg. He had been a pupil at Coburg State School and is featured on page 44 of the Coburg State School Soldiers Record Book.
William arrived in France in June 1916 and in his own words ‘I was up at Fromelles [for the] 19 July stunt.’ He later did a course at Grenade School, returned to France and in the bitter winter of January 1917 suffered from trench foot. He received a severe gunshot wound to his ankle in July 1918 and was repatriated to England. He was finally discharged in Australia in December 1918 and from 1957 was in receipt of a TPI pension.
William Broadbent’s brother Ernest, who was born in Coburg in 1900, also tried to enlist, but his enlistment was cancelled because his parents refused their consent. Ernest, a dairyman, later moved to Myrtleford where he died in 1971.

Ernest Broadbent’s diary in Kerferd St., Coburg in 1923. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Although his parents Charles and Mabel moved around a bit, they remained in the Coburg area. A cousin, Joseph Grattidge, also an old boy of Coburg State School, served and survived the war. 

5828 Private Joseph Grattidge, 24th Infantry Battalion. Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


Joe Grattidge was a 34 year old married quarryman working for Coburg Council when he enlisted in August 1916. Like his cousin William Broadbent, he served in France where he took part in major actions such as Bullecourt, Ypres, Villeurs-Bretonneux and Mont Saint Quentin. Before and after the war he lived in Barrow St., Coburg. His brothers George, Leslie (KIA France) and Stanley also served. 
Joe Grattidge died in 1961 aged 79. He is buried at Coburg Cemetery and is remembered in a World War One commemorative walk organised by Friends of Coburg Cemetery. 
This walk will take place at 2pm on Sunday 17 April 2016, so if you are interested, please contact Friends of Coburg Cemetery  focc.group@gmail.com



Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Mayfield Street football team

Image 16035, courtesy Coburg Historical Society


This photograph, identified only as the Mayfield Street football team pre-1914, was probably taken in around 1909 or 1910 which is when the Libbis family lived in the street.

The only person to be identified so far is Bill Libbis (6th from left in middle row).





1989 Private William Thomas Libbis, 6th Infantry Battalion and his brother 9025 Private Leslie Fookes Libbis, 6th Field Ambulance were old boys of Coburg State School and are featured in the School's Soldiers Book. Bill Libbis died at Lone Pine on 7 August 1915.






Looking at these photographs of the brothers, neither looks like the young man identified as Bill Libbis in the football photograph and it is possible that he was misidentified. 

Other old boys of the school who served in the war and lived in Mayfield Street at the time were Clive and Frank Callaghan, Dudley Crump and Vernon Hallam. 

These men are all part of Coburg Historical Society's ANZAC project, so if you recognise any of the people in the photo, I would be very interested in hearing from you. I also wondered if anyone recognises the house in the background - a long shot, I know.


Saturday, 19 March 2016

160 & 17937 Lance Corporal Thomas Meredith Boyd & Corporal, 2nd Field Company Engineers & 1st and 2nd Field Troops (Engineers)


Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Thomas Boyd, an old boy of Coburg State School, was born in Ararat in 1891. His Irish parents John Wilson and Caroline Boyd married in Melbourne in 1889 and their first four children were born at Ararat. Two more children were born once the family had moved to Coburg – a sister in 1900 and a brother in 1905. The Boyds lived at 1 Blair St., Coburg and father John was a warder at Pentridge Prison.
At six foot tall and with previous experience in the infantry and senior cadets, Thomas Boyd must have been seen as an ideal candidate for the military. He was a gas fitter with the Metropolitan Gas Company and enlisted on 20 August 1914, one of the first men in the area to do so. 
He left with the first contingent in October 1914 and landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 with the 2nd Field Company Engineers. He was there for three months before being hospitalised in Alexandria with severe rheumatoid fever. 
The Field Engineers were responsible for building and destroying bridges, roads and other infrastructure and local newspapers reported that on Gallipoli Thomas Boyd was involved in an accident while building a bomb shelter. Several sandbags from the bomb shelter fell on him and while being carried on a stretcher to get medical care, he was shot. 
At the same time he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and placed on the dangerously ill list. He was removed from the list in August 1915 and transferred to England where his health further deteriorated. Although he improved again, he was returned to Australia in April 1916 and discharged as medically unfit after several months at Langwarrin Isolation Camp.
This was not the end of Thomas Boyd’s war, however. He re-enlisted in  December 1916 and again embarked for overseas service in early May 1917. He arrived in Egypt in June 1917, but again his health let him down and in December 1918 he was admitted to hospital in England with pneumonia and suspected pulmonary tuberculosis. His health improved and he arrived in France with his unit in February 1918. However, a month later he was gassed and on the sick list again until August 1918, when he rejoined his unit. At the end of October 1918 he was sent to hospital with suspected pulmonary tuberculosis and returned to Australia not long afterwards with bronchitis and influenza.
In 1920 Thomas Boyd married Rachel Cuthbert and they settled in Alice Street, Coburg. He joined the police force. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s he worked with Traffic Branch, was promoted to first class sergeant and by the 1950s, when he was in his late 50s, he was Officer in Charge of the Police Transport Branch.

Thomas Boyd died at Heidelberg on Boxing Day 1974 aged 83. He is buried at Coburg Cemetery with his wife Rachel, who predeceased him. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

477 Private George Barrie, 29th Infantry Battalion


Image from Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

George Barrie, son of James and Amy (nee Murray) Barrie, was born in Port Melbourne but by the early years of the twentieth century his family was living in Coburg. He attended Coburg State School and was a Senior Cadet based in Coburg. At some stage, though, he must have moved to the Balranald area of New South Wales, most likely looking for work, because in his attestation papers it states that he was ‘CF [Citizens Forces) exempt – out of area – Balranald, NSW.
George’s father, James Barrie, was a ship’s carpenter and when he enlisted on 12 August 1915, George gave this as his occupation, too.  By this time, George was 19 years and 5 months old and the family were living in à Beckett Street. His younger brother James was eleven and brother Alex was eight when he enlisted.
On 18 November 1915 George left Australia. Australian troops were then preparing to leave the Dardanelles and begin fighting on the Western Front. In May 1916, not long after his arrival, George Barrie was promoted to Bombardier. In early October 1917 he was hospitalised with shell shock and did not return to his unit for several months. Not quite a year later, George’s war ended. In August 1918 he was severely wounded in his left leg which was amputated at the thigh.
George  had already had one brush with death. On a Saturday afternoon in April 1912, when he was 16, he and a group of friends were cycling south down Sydney Road when he collided with a cart driven by 'a young man named Rolls'. George was unfortunate. He was ‘riding with his head down and he struck the step of the vehicle with sufficient force to break it. He sustained some lacerations and cuts on the head, and was simply deluged in blood. Mr Rolls took him in his cart to Dr Ritten's where his wounds were dressed.' (Coburg Leader, Friday 19 April 1912, p.1)
Amy Barrie must have gone through a very difficult time in 1918. Not only was her son George severely wounded, but her husband died aged only 58. She remained in the area but eventually her sons left – James and Alex for Western Australia and George for Petersham, New South Wales. She died at Essendon in 1956 aged 91.