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.



Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Fisher brothers of Campbellfield and Coburg

James, John and Daniel Fisher were sons of Daniel and Edith (nee Pickett) Fisher who lived at Campbellfield where they raised eight children. (Two children died in infancy and are buried at Will Will Rook Cemetery).


Merri Creek at Campbellfield, circa 1925. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.


The children had a tough start in life. Not only was their father, a Campbellfield labourer, a drinker but he was unable to control his children. To begin with he was fined for not sending the children to school. 


Campbellfield State School, circa 1920. Image courtesy Moreland City Libraries.


But in 1902, when son William was 11 and son Daniel was 9, the boys were found guilty of breaking into the home of Mrs Hannah Dunn, the Fawkner gatekeeper while she was away at Sunday School. They stole jewellery and money. They'd also taken scones from a tin she'd left on the kitchen table. For this crime they were sent to the Department of Neglected Children. (Age, 12 Feb 1902) Their father was expected to pay for their upkeep, but did not do so and in 1903 claimed that he did not have the money and would have to go to gaol rather than pay the fine. This continued into 1903 and 1904, so the boys were away from the family home for some years.

Daniel Fisher, the father, died in 1907 leaving his widow Edith to do the best she could to support the children. The oldest girls were 18 and 19 and William and Daniel were by then 17 and 15, but she still had four children under 14 to support and the youngest child was only 6 years old.

Move forward now to 1914 and Edith Fisher had moved to live in Coburg and it was from Coburg that three of her sons enlisted in the 1st AIF:

843 Pte Daniel Fisher, 5th Battalion, enlisted on 21 August 1914 and left with the first contingent on 21 October 1914. Daniel we have met before. He is the boy who was tried for housebreaking aged 9 and sent to the Neglected Children's Department. Daniel did not survive the war. After an attack of gastro when he first arrived in Egypt and mumps in April 1916, he suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder and back and was in out out of hospital from the effects of that wound. He rejoined his unit in January 1917 and was killed in action in Belgium in October 1917. His only assets were his military pay which amounted to £244-9-8. He left this to his mother, who by the time probate was granted had moved to live in Austral Avenue, West Brunswick with her married daughter Minnie Price. I'm left wondering if perhaps this was the most money she had ever had, but what a price to pay!


Image taken from Coburg State School Soldiers Record Book, 
courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

2618 Pte James Fisher (pictured above), 8th Reinforcements, 6th Battalion (and later 59th Battalion), enlisted on 28 May 1915 and embarked on 26 August 1915. Although I can find no evidence that the family lived in Coburg during James's school years, he is featured in the school's Soldier's Record Book. He was born in 1899, making him only 16 when he enlisted (his age at death confirms this), although he claimed to be 18 years old. It is not possible to know when he attended the school, but it seems likely that it was only a few years before the outbreak of the war, given the fact that he put his age up by two years when he enlisted in 1915. This is a mystery still to be solved.


2240 Pte John Thomas Fisher, 4th Light Horse Regiment, enlisted 18 January 1916 and embarked in February 1917. His was not an auspicious start. He went into camp at Seymour and by early April 1916 he was report as AWL and declared a deserter the following month. However, by September 1916 he had joined the 8th Light Horse Reinforcements and headed off to Egypt where he served out his war as a member of the 4th Light Horse. 

Back home after the war, John Thomas and James Fisher lived with their mother Edith and younger brother Frederick (served WW2) in Tinning Street, Brunswick. John worked for the railways and continued to live in the area where he died in 1976. James married Doreen and they eventually moved to the Footscray area where he worked as a policeman. Here they raised their family. When James died in 1970, his age was given as 71, confirming that he was only 16 when he enlisted in the 1st AIF.




Saturday, 25 June 2016

More on school cadets at Coburg State School

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


A while ago I wrote about school cadets at Coburg State School in an attempt to identify some of the cadets in the above photograph. 

Since then I have done some more research on cadets at the school and have uncovered information about a disturbing incident that occurred later that year.

The photograph was taken in 1910, probably towards the start of the school year. Four of the boys in the photo are wearing their uniforms and two are wearing sailor suits, so may well have been members of the Naval Brigade. However, we also know that most, if not all, of the 19 boys pictured here would have been junior cadets, as military training was compulsory for all boys over 12 at that time. 

This means that all of these boys would regularly make the trek from the school down Urquhart Street along the walls of Pentridge Prison to the Rifle Butts, which were located between Urquhart Street and Murray Road on the banks of the Merri Creek. It was a site at the back of the Prison where there was open country and rifle practice should not be dangerous, although I've read articles about wandering cattle and the occasional pedestrian crossing that area at their peril. (see Coburg Leader, 2 June 1900, 16 June 1900, 14 Sep 1901, 11 April 1903)

A 'regrettable incident' (HT J.E. 'Rusty' Sheehan's words) occurred at the rifle butts in December 1910, so must have involved at least some of the boys in the photograph shown above. 

A letter Sheehan wrote to the Director of Education on 13 December 1910 reveals that some boys had been at the butts with their instructors Lieut of Cadets Downing and Mr Govan (another teacher at the school) for musketry practice. Before their departure from the school at 4.30pm, Govan took the 'senior non-com' to the office to get the necessary ammunition where the boy took an extra packet of ammunition without Govan's knowledge.

At the butts, each boy received one cartridge (they practiced with live ammunition), fired his shot then showed the teachers the cartridge to show that he wasn't hiding anything.

When the teachers left at 5.40pm to catch their train, they left a few boys behind to tidy up. The boys were left in the charge of the 'senior non-com', a boy who had 'always shown himself a serious-minded boy of excellent character and very earnest and particular about cadet work'. 

Boys will be boys and the others started to make fun of the boy in charge. It developed into a row, a stone was thrown that hit the boy and he took up his rifle and threatened to shoot one of the boys teasing him. They got into a fight. There was a struggle and the rifle discharged. Some other boys started to jeer at him and dared him to shoot them as they ran away, so he fired over their heads then threw the remaining cartridges into the Merri Creek. 

The teachers only learned of the incident when the police came to the school to investigate. The boy who fired the shots was expelled from the cadets and it was expected that the police would proceed against him in the Children's Court, although I have found no reference to the incident or any court case in the press of the day. 

The fact that the boy deliberately took live ammunition with him on that day suggests that there was a history of him being teased by other boys in the group and that he was fed up with being bullied. If he was as serious and 'earnest' about his position of responsibility as the headmaster said, it easy to see how the others might have used this to annoy him. It is equally easy to see how it could get out of hand, as it did on this day. Amazingly, no one was hurt (or killed, for that matter). 

I have not named that boy here, but my research reveals that in December 1910 he was 14 years old and lived in Union Street, Coburg. He did not serve in World War One, as many of the other boys did, but did his bit in the Second World War. I can only imagine how hard this incident must have been for his parents, his two brothers and the school. There is no indication in the school correspondence I read that the teachers or the other boys were disciplined, but I'm sure there would have been a thorough investigation of the matter.

(Information on the rifle butts incident comes from Letter 10/14473 dated 13 December 1910, Unit 273, Victorian Public Record Series 640 Central Inward Primary Schools Correpspondence, Public Record Office of Victoria)

The Mr Govan mentioned here was Woolston J. Govan. 

Image couresty Australian War Memorial. Image P05248.052.


Govan was a qualified instructor of Junior Cadet Training and served for three years in the Victorian Scottish Regiment before enlisting in the 13th Light Horse in January 1915. At that time he was teaching at Mangalore. 

Woolston Govan did not survive the war. He was hospitalised in Egypt in December 1915 with hepatitis and rheumatism and again in February 1916 with enteritis. Seemingly recovered, he went to France, disembarking at Marseilles on 23 March 1916. He died of heart failure just over a week later, on 2 April 1916, and was buried at Boeseghem Churchyard, near Aire, France. He was 24 years old.