Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Desperate to serve: William Henry George Barry's war

6224 Private William Henry George Barry, 14th Infantry Battalion, 20th Reinforcements.

William Barry was born in Coburg (then known as Pentridge) in 1869, the son of William and Isabella (Johnson). He did not marry and lived with his widowed mother Isabella (nee Johnson) at 3 Barry Street (or Barry's Lane), Coburg, a street off O'Hea Street named after his family.

William Barry was 44 years old when he enlisted. By then he'd served in the Australian Navy for three years and been in the 1st and 4th Battalions of the Victorian Militia for four years. He'd done home service, too, with the AIF, for four months. A big man for the time (5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 13 stone) and used to hard physical work (he was an ironworker on the railways), he'd been rejected as unfit before with a hammer toe and bad teeth. Even so, he wanted to fight and he was finally accepted in August 1916. He embarked from Melbourne on 7 September 1916 on board the Port Sydney.

Port Sydney on the day of its departure, 7 September 1916. Photographer Josiah Barnes.
Image courtesy AWM. Image PB0910.

20th Reinforcements of the 14th Battalion on the wharf at Port Melbourne, ready to embark. 7 September 1916. William Barry is probably in this photo.
Image courtesy AWM. Image PB0913.

Port Sydney,  20th Reinforcements, 14th Battalion. Note that the patterned sunshade that is on the left in the photo above is now being used as shelter by the two soldiers on the left. Was it a gift from a sweetheart, perhaps?
Image courtesy AWM. Image PB0917.

There are many more photos of the Port Sydney taken that day. They are all available online at the Australian War Memorial website and were all taken by Josiah Barnes, a photographer from Kew whose two sons served in the 1st AIF. He was known as the 'embarkation photographer'. 


William Barry arrived in France on 3 March 1918. He was wounded in the thigh and hand on 31 May 1918. On 13 June 1918, aged 47, he was sent back to England with haemorrhoids. At the end of July he was returned to Australia suffering from premature senility, which the medical report claimed was pre-existing. It also noted that he had 'markedly defective vision' in his right eye.

It's a wonder he was ever accepted in the first place, but William Barry's four months in France gave him a taste of the experience of war and on his return he was granted a pension. He lived with his mother at 3 Barry Street, Coburg until the 1920s when he moved briefly to Gisborne. By then he was working as a gardener, an occupation he continued to pursue on his return to the city, to Abbotsford, in 1931. He lived alone, his mother having died in 1929. I have found no record of his death.

Interestingly, during the war years, his sister Elizabeth, who was married to Chief Warder Hugh Foy, lived inside the walls of Pentridge Prison. His father William, who died in 1909, had been a warder at Pentridge in the 1870s and 1880s.

Sources: Attestation papers, National Archives of Australia; Victorian Birth Index, 1869/10711; 1903, 1909, 1914,1919, 1924, 1931 and 1936 electoral rolls.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

From life on the sea to a war in the air: Edmund James Lee Barker's war

1427 2nd Air Mechanic Edmund James Lee Barker, Australian Flying Corps, 8th Reinforcements.

A group of Australian Flying Corps men awaiting embarkation.
Image courtesy AWM. Image C03972.

When he enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps on 5 January 1917 as a 30 year old married man, Edmund Barker had already experienced life at sea. He had served 18 months in the Royal Navy and been invalided out in 1904 when he was only 17. His attestation papers give no indication of his illness or condition, but 13 years later he was considered fit enough to head over to Europe to fight the Germans.
He and his wife Julia Campbell Skinner, whom he married in 1911, are recorded as living at 9 Davis Street, South Yarra at the time of his enlistment but on his return he set up an electrical contractor's business in Sydney Road, Coburg. He died at Coburg East in 1948 aged 61.

Sources include: Attestation papers, National Archives of Australia; Victorian Marriage Index, 1911/6359; 1919 electoral roll; Victorian Death Index, 1948/2559.

Group of Royal Flying Corps and Australian Flying Corps mechanics outside a workshop.
Image courtesy AWM. Image C03725.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Thrown from his horse

Norman John Embelton's war ended just as most other's started

Navy Pay Clerk Norman John Embelton (sometimes spelled Embleton) was born in 1894 in Victoria's north-west, at Lake Charm, near Kerang. (Coincidentally, I was born in Kerang nearly 60 years later.) His father Robert was a teacher with the Victorian Education Department, so the family moved around the state but by the time of Norman's death on 31 March 1915, he lived with his parents in Westgarth Street, Northcote. He was only 20, but had already served in the Australian Navy and like Oriel Ashton had served in New Guinea. At the time of his death he was home on leave suffering from malaria. No doubt he thought that now that the German raiders had been cleared from the area and German New Guinea had fallen, he would soon be heading to Egypt on board one on the many troopships destined to cross the water on their way to Egypt, the Dardanelles and ultimately France and Belgium.

A cat placed on a chair on deck with a dog called Cabby. The dog was picked up while swimming in the Sepik River, New Guinea, and then served in the Australian Navy New Guinea Flotilla from 1914 to 1919. (Donor Captain A.G. Bond)  
Image courtesy AWM. Image H15227.

Norman Embleton's war was cut short on 30 December 1915. He was riding along Epping Road, Preston with friends when his horse stumbled and bolted. He was unseated, his foot stuck in the stirrup and he was dragged a considerable distance by the stirrup leather before his friends managed to extricate him. He was taken to hospital unconscious and died the next day.

He is buried in the Church of England section of Coburg Cemetery, Compartment P, Grave 479.

Coburg Cemetery Gates, c. 1908. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

His older brother David, a doctor, had left for the war in November 1914 and served on the Gallipoli Peninsula and France. A Major, David Moore Embelton was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Military) and was twice Mentioned in Despatches and returned to Australia in April 1919.

Sources include: Darebin's Great War - In Memorium, p.191; Service records held at the National Archives of Australia; Coburg Cemetery records;  Argus, 14 April 1915, p.10; Adelaide Register, 1 April 1915, p10; Weekly Times, 3 April 1915, p.33; Patsy Adam-Smith, The Anzacs.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

He joined the navy

Travelling the globe

Taken Brindisi, Italy in June 1918. Informal portrait of three seamen on board HMAS Huon. Identified left to right: 5449 Stoker Thomas Purcell, born in Kiama, NSW, holding a pet monkey; an unidentified Italian seaman; 1146 Stoker Petty Officer Oriel Joseph Ashton, born in North Melbourne, Vic.
Image courtesy AWM. Image EN0421.

1146 Stoker Petty Officer Oriel Joseph Ashton, Royal Australian Navy.
Oriel Ashton was born in North Melbourne in 1894 but when he enlisted in the newly established Australian Navy in July 1911 his next of kin, his father Harry, was living in Shaftesbury Street, Coburg. He was a crew member of HMAS Australia and took part in the operations in German New Guinea in September 1914.
On 25 June 1915, the Brunswick and Coburg Leader published a letter from Oriel, written while off the coast of Valparaiso, South America, in which he estimated that he had travelled 40,000 miles in the past six months and that he reckoned that since joining the navy he had travelled about 70,00 miles – ‘rather a unique record, considering I am not 21 yet.’

Oriel Ashton travelled many more miles and to many more places. After the war, he remained in the Navy and went on to serve in World War 2. He died on 17 November 1944 while serving on the HMAS Penguin and was buried at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The cost of war

A dreadful war … more like wholesale slaughter…
(Alice Kitchen, quoted in Heroic Australian women in war)

Sister Alice Kitchen, whose mother, her next of kin, lived in Brunswick, wrote a three volume diary of her experience of the war. Her papers, including the diary, are in the Manuscript Collection of the State Library of Victoria. Here she describes in stark detail the experience of nursing Australian wounded from 1915 until the end of the war. If you want to read more about what conditions were like for the wounded and dying, I highly recommend you find out more about Alice Kitchen’s war. A good starting point is Susanna de Vries’ Heroic Australian women in war. Chapter 3 of that book concerns Alice Kitchen’s frank and often disturbing observations. Patsy Adams-Smith has also referred to her extensively in her The Anzacs (Melbourne, Nelson, 1978).

Recommended reading:

More than bombs and bandages : Australian Army nurses at work in World War I, Kirsty Harris, Newport, N.S.W., Big Sky Publishing, 2011.

Scarlet poppies : the army experience of Australian nurses during World War One, Ruth Rae, Burwood, N.S.W., College of Nursing, 2004.

Veiled lives : threading Australian nursing history into the fabric of the first world war, Ruth Rae, Burwood, N.S.W., The College of Nursing, 2009.

The other Anzacs :  the extraordinary story of our World War I nurses,​ Peter Rees, Crows Nest, N.S.W., Allen &​ Unwin, 2009.

Heroic Australian women in war : astonishing tales of bravery from Gallipoli to Kokoda, ​ Susanna de Vries, Pymble, N.S.W., HarperCollins, 2004.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Nurses buried at Coburg Cemetery

Photo taken about 1916. Portrait of Sister May Dickson, Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), the first Australian woman to be buried in Australia with full military honours.

Image courtesy AWM. Image P05159.001.

Sister May Dickson’s final resting place is Coburg Cemetery and this is her only connection to the area. Although an Australian, she headed for England soon after war was declared and joined Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and so is not listed amongst the records of the Australian nurses who served. She remained in England until her health failed her, returning to Australia in the hope that our milder climate would restore her health. She had almost reached her home city of Sydney, but became so ill that she was taken off the ship in Melbourne where she died on 4 October 1917. She was buried with full military honours, the first Australian woman to be accorded this honour.

His Majesty, King George V, decorating two Australian Nursing Sisters with the Royal Red Cross at an investiture held at Buckingham Palace, 3 May 1919.
Image courtesy AWM. Image D00597.

Royal Red Cross, 1st class.
Image courtesy AWM. Image REL29121.

Sister Elizabeth Regan died at her home in Camberwell in July 1945 aged 60 and was buried at Coburg Cemetery. This is her only connection to Coburg. Born in Carlton in 1884, she trained at the Launceston General Hospital and then worked at the Royal South Sydney Hospital. She served as an army nurse in the 1st World War, enlisting in August 1915 aged 30. Her next-of-kin, her mother, lived in Abbotsford. Sister Regan and proved to be an outstanding war nurse. She was Mentioned in Despatches for her ‘distinguished and gallant service and devotion to duty’ in 1917 and was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 2nd Class in July 1919, which was conferred on her by King George V at Buckingham Palace.  On her return to Australia, Sister Regan established a private hospital in the Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh. She then took up the position of Matron of Guildford Boys Grammar in Western Australia and only returned to Victoria a few months before her death. (Sources include her attestation papers; The Daily News, 20 July 1945; Launceston Examiner, 21 July 1945).

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Nurses who came to Coburg after the war

A member of the Sea Transport Staff at work on the transport SS Aeneas, 1916.
Image courtesy AWM. Image C01041.

Staff Nurse May Frances Bonar was born in Queensland in 1889. Her older brother, Lieutenant David Welbourn Bonar, a mining engineer prior to enlistment, served with the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company and was awarded the Military Cross in December 1918. After the war, he settled in Colebrook Street, Brunswick. He died at Coburg in 1947 aged 59. In August 1917, his 28 year old sister May was appointed to the Sea Transport Staff. She served mostly in English hospitals and moved backwards and forwards between England and Australia several times, escorting wounded soldiers home. She finally returned to Australia in January 1919. After the war, she married clergyman William Thompson Alexander and they lived in various places in country Victoria before settling in Coburg where her husband died in 1949. According to historian Kirsty Harris, he had been an invalid for the previous 15 years. She remained in the area for some years. May (Bonar) Alexander died at Glen Waverley in 1976 aged 87.

Truby King Centre, Coburg. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

During the 1920s, Sister Sarah Leatham Duff was well known to many of Coburg’s new mothers as the Sister in charge of the Truby King Centre. Sarah Duff was born in Oakleigh in 1886 and died in Malvern East in 1953. She enlisted in 1916, giving her permanent address as the Military Hospital in Glenroy, although her next of kin, her father, lived in Camberwell and later moved to Casterton.  Sister Duff served in London and France and at the end of the war attended a course in nursing the blind at St Dunstan’s Blind College in Regent’s Park. She returned to Australia in March 1920 and in the early 1920s she worked for the Plunkett Society for the Health of Women and Children in Dunedin, New Zealand before taking up a position at the Truby King Baby Welfare Centre in Coburg. Sister Duff died at Malvern East in 1953.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A nurse’s war

They came from Coburg

Royal Children’s Hospital, circa 1914. Milanie Ambler worked at the hospital before enlisting.

Group portrait of Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) taken June 1917, Adelaide. Milanie Ambler is part of the group.
Image courtesy AWM. Image A01240.

At the time of her enlistment, Staff Nurse Milanie Treleavan Ambler lived with her widowed mother at 168 Moreland Road, Coburg. A 28 year old nurse who had worked at the Children’s Hospital in Carlton for 8 years, Milanie Ambler enlisted on 30 April 1917 and served in Salonika. On 6 June 1918, her older brother Llewellyn was killed in action in France. He had been wounded twice before while serving on the Western Front. He is remembered in Coburg's Memorial Avenue of Trees, Lake Reserve, Coburg.

After the war, Milanie undertook a course in Domestic Economy in London and was promoted to the rank of Sister. She returned to Australia in September 1919 and was discharged from the service in May 1921. She and her mother relocated from Coburg to Ivanhoe in the 1920s where she lived until at least 1954 when her mother Lizzie died and she moved to Kew. She did not marry and died in 1970 aged 81.

Harefield, England. 27 September 1918. A nurse and patients in Ward 31 of No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital.
Image courtesy AWM. Image H16435.

Staff Nurse Octavia Ione Kelson was born in Coburg but by the time she enlsited in April 1917 aged 33, she and her widowed mother Emily Ann Kelson were living in Caulfield. (Her father Horatio had died at Ascot Vale in 1905.) She served in hospitals in England but became ill in October 1918 and was returned to Australia and discharged as medically unfit (with debility). She remained single for many years and travelled to England via Canada in 1928 when she was in her mid-40s. At some stage during the Second World War, she met and married Cedric Dudley, a draftsman seven years her junior and they lived firstly in the Dandenongs and then at Brighton, where she died in 1960 aged 76.

Pentridge Prison main gate. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Staff Nurse Evelyn Maud Reid enlisted in April 1915 aged 38 and a half. Born in Fitzroy, she had trained at the Ballarat and District Hospital and worked at Pentridge Prison in Coburg prior to enlistment. She worked in France until she was sent back to England as unfit for further service in France and returned to Australia on transport duty in July 1917. She returned to the war again in December 1917. She was promoted to Sister in May 1918. In April 1919 she was given leave to do a horticulture course at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Regent’s Park where she studied medicinal herbs. She returned to Australia in late 1919 and was discharged from the service at the end of January 1920.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Roses of No Man’s Land

The Roses of No Man’s Land

by Jack Caddigan, James Alexander Brennan

There's a rose that grows on ‘No Man's Land’ And it's wonderful to see, Tho' its spray'd with tears, it will live for years, In my garden of memory.

It's the one red rose the soldier knows, It's the work of the Master's hand; Mid the War's great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse, She's the rose of ‘No Man's Land’.

Image courtesy Duke University. URL: http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/sheetmusic/

A number of nurses with Coburg connections served in WW1. Their lives and war service will be considered over the next few blog entries.

They were:

Milanie Ambler
May Bonar
May Dickson
Sarah Duff
Octavia Kelson
Elizabeth Regan
Evelyn Reid

Nurses and patients in Ward A14, Birmingham University Hospital, England.
Image courtesy AWM. Image P00189.007.

Thanks to Kirsty Harris, author of More than bombs and bandages : Australian Army nurses at work in World War I, for providing me with information on most of these nurses. The rest of the information has come from their attestation papers, newspaper articles found via Trove and family information found via Ancestry.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Pokarekare Ana

Pōkarekare ana, ngā wai o Waiapu
Whiti atu koe hine, marino ana e

(The waves are breaking, against the shores of Waiapu,  My heart is aching, for your return my love.)

This moving song, probably written by a homesick Maori soldier during World War One, tells of longing for home and loved ones. For Puri Tea Aperahama, known as Edwin Abraham, this longing was made even more poignant as not only had he left his homeland to study in Australia and then to serve in the war on the Western Front, but during his absence his mother and sister had died of tuberculosis and their deaths troubled him greatly.

 War memorial in Edwin Abraham’s home town of Taihape, New Zealand. He is not listed on the memorial, of course, because he served with the AIF.
(Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 15 July 2013. Image courtesy R.J. Levy, Secretary/Treasurer, Taihape RSA.

41 Private Edwin Abraham (Puri Tea Aperahama) was born in Taihape, New Zealand in about 1894. He was a Maori, who had a ‘splendid record’, according to the authorities when he enlisted at Liverpool, New South Wales on 28 October 1914. He was a student at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College in Richmond, NSW at the time. In addition to being well educated, the authorities recorded that he was of ‘high birth’ and ‘very well to do’.

Hawkesbury Agricultural College medallion.
Image courtesy AWM REL36559.

Private Abraham left Australia with the Army Veterinary Corps and served in France from May 1915 until May 1917 when he first showed symptoms of mental deterioration. By August 1917 he had been evacuated to England where his condition became worse.

His symptoms were described thus by staff at the Lord Derby War Hospital in Warrington, Lancashire:
He is reported as having become confused and unable to concentrate his mind, he was tremulous in limbs and tongue and cannot help twitching … He can answer questions for a time but soon shows mental exhaustion.

And again:
Patient is sometimes rigid and at other times liable to twitching. In talking he is rational at first and then inclined to wander. Deep reflexes are well marked. His condition resembles that of marked physical and mental exhaustion. He at present keeps his eyes shut and his head hanging down and is very difficult to extract any information from.

He was returned to Australia in October 1917 with dementia praecox and admitted to the Military Mental Hospital (at the Royal Park Mental Hospital). When his physical condition deteriorated in January 1918, he was moved to the 5th Australian General Hospital in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, where he died of tubercular peritonitis, pneumonia, toxaemia and exhaustion. He was only 23 years old.

Coburg Cemetery Gates, c.1908.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society

Pte Abraham was given a military funeral and was buried at Coburg Cemetery in Melbourne’s northern suburbs on 19 January 1918. By the time of his death, his next-of-kin, his sister Mrs Te Ure Manas McTaggart (surname shown as Aperahama in a letter from The Public Trust, New Zealand dated 23/6/1921 in his service record) of Taihape was also dead. He left his estate to her son Peter Manao McTaggart and daughters Puna Manao McTaggart and Heni Kusa McTaggart. His nephew also received his war medals.

I have tried to find the McTaggart children through an extensive Internet search, but with no success. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I might be able to trace the family and tell them that although Edwin Abraham (Puri Tea Aperahama) is buried far from home, he is not forgotten?

I would also like to know more of his family background, especially his connection (if any) to the tribal leader Aperahama Taonui (born about 1809), whom you can read about in the Encyclopedia of New Zealand at  http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2t7/taonui-aperahama

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand tells of how a Wesleyan missionary renamed the tribal leader Tautoru, giving him the name Aperahama (Abraham), which suggests quite strongly that Private Edwin Abraham is connected in some way to this very important figure in New Zealand history.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Digger Smith’s brother gets into trouble

Some uv the yarns yeh 'ear is true,
An' some is rather umptydoo

418 Driver Frederick Harcourt Smyth of the First Divisional Train enlisted on 20 August 1914, making him one of the first Coburg men to enlist. He was a 36 year old bushman and bachelor whose mother Jane lived at 37 Hudson Street, Coburg (although by the end of the war she had moved to Murrumbeena). He arrived in Egypt in November 1915 then went on to serve on the Western Front for two years. In November 1918 he returned to Australia on Special 1914 leave.

This watercolour by Arthur Streeton depicts the 1st AIF Divisional Train in the L'Hallue Valley in France with a section of horse lines, a row of general service wagons, and soldiers formed up near the road.
Image courtesy AWM. Image ART03512.

The family did not have a long-standing connection to Coburg. Frederick and his siblings were born in the Victorian goldfields towns of Sandhurst (now Bendigo) and Ballarat in the 1870s and 1880s. In the early years of the twentieth century, Frederick and his widowed mother Jane moved to the Hawthorn area of Melbourne. From 1914 to 1924 they lived in Coburg, but soon after his return from the war, Frederick Smyth moved to Oakleigh where he worked as a storeman. His mother died at Murrumbeena in 1920 aged 71 and Frederick died at Sunbury in 1927 aged 50.

Frederick Smyth’s life and war were unexceptional. The same cannot be said for his youngest brother Harrie Gordon Smyth, born in Ballarat in May 1886. By 1908, when he was in his early 20s, Harrie started to appear in the criminal records of New South Wales. Between March 1908 and March 1909, he had six convictions for stealing, false pretences, embezzlement, forgery and uttering and spent most of the year in Bathurst Gaol. More convictions were recorded in NSW in 1910. Then he moved to Tasmania where he was convicted of obtaining money by false pretences in 1912. 

Tents in the military camp at Kiama, NSW in 1916. The camp was the training ground for new recruits.
Image courtesy AWM. Image P01699.004

When the war came along, Harrie Smyth enlisted in the 1st AIF under the name Arthur Charles Berry, and claimed to have been born in Norwood, Adelaide. This was in September 1916. Within a month he had stolen £32 from the Military Camp at Kiama in NSW.  He re-appeared in  March 1918, signing a statutary declaration saying he was Harrie Gordon Smyth, son of Jane Smyth of Oakleigh, Victoria. He spun a yarn to his CO saying he wanted to move down to Victoria, which was where he claimed his family had moved to, and convinced the CO that he ‘wanted to make good and blot out the trouble into which he got.’ He left for the war on 5 June 1918, arrived in Liverpool, England on 11 August 1918. He saw no action, because within a week of arrival he had deserted and was never seen again. The consumate chameleon.

And this is where we leave Coburg's Digger Smiths and return to exploring the impact of the war on the Melbourne suburb of Coburg.