Monday, 28 October 2013

Digger Smith is invalided home

Crowds uv these lads I've known, but then,
They 'ave got somethin' from this war,
Somethin' they never 'ad before,
   That makes 'em better men.

2856 Private Robert Charles Smith. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image DA10696.

When Robert Charles Smith first enlisted in July 1915, he said that he had spent 18 months serving on the John Murray, a training ship that had been commissioned by the Victorian Government in 1910 with the aim of training juvenile offenders for a life in the navy or the merchant navy. Presumably, then, Robert Smith had fallen foul of the law at a young age. He was one of 411 boys who passed through the ship between 1910 and 1918. Frank Purcell writes that
The John Murray was dogged by misadventure and controversy. Allegations of 'unnatural practices' brought an odium on the ship which a Police Magistrate's Inquiry in 1911 and a Royal Commission in 1915 were not able to dispel entirely. What was meant to be an institution for the formative training of juvenile offenders soon became a political and financial embarrassment. Established to train seamen for the navy and the merchant service, discipline was harsh and desertion rife. (Frank Purcell, The Prison on the bay: The story of the Victorian training ship John Murray, F. Purcell, Melbourne, 1997.)

Image courtesy State Library of Victoria. Image H99.220/3820.

Robert Smith was 13 when he went onto the ship in December 1910. His parents had signed him up for a period of twelve months, but in January Robert was assaulted by an instructor who had ‘caught hold of him and pulled him down’. He screamed, drawing the attention of other boys who helped him get away and reported the matter to the Captain. The man was later dismissed, but Robert’s father Henry was not happy and when Robert came home on leave in June 1911, he did not allow the boy to return. Instead, Robert went back to school where he was apprehended (Henry Smith claimed it was kidnapping) and returned to the ship. The police did nothing, so Henry Smith went to Labor politician George Prendergast who raised the matter in Parliament, thus sparking an inquiry at which Robert and his father Henry both gave evidence, as can be seen in the following article in the Argus, 22 November 1911.

Robert Charles Smith was born in Coburg in 1898, the son of Henry Smith and Florence Elizabeth Smith. The family did not remain in Coburg, however, and at the time of his enlistment they were living in South Yarra. However, Robert did not lose his ties with the area entirely and on discharge lived firstly in Carlton then Brunswick and finally in Melbourne itself, so he always lived in the vicinity of Coburg, so I’ve included his story here.

After enlistment in July 1915, 2856 Private Robert Charles Smith sailed to Europe with the 9th Reinforcements of the 14th Infantry Battalion. He arrived in France in January 1916 where he experienced a great deal of illness – dysentry, debility, influenza and cardiac problems and was returned to Australia in 1917. He persisted, though, and re-enlisted in March 1918, by which time he was married. He was accepted as a driver in the Transport Unit, but was only allowed to served in Australia. Even then, poor health plagued him and after two spells in hospital he was discharged. He enlisted once more in January 1919 and served until May 1919 when his services were no longer required. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Digger Smith at Fromelles

"Me blackest day!  Wot am I sayin' now?
   That was the day the parson came to tell
The news about our Syd. . . .

339 Corporal Percival Kerrison Smith of A Company, 29th Battalion, enlisted on 5 July 1915. The son of Arthur Edward Smith and the late Mary Ann Teresa Hunt, he lived with his father, an accountant, and his sisters Lina and Vera at 24 Rodda Street, Coburg. Another sister, Florence, had married and moved away, although after her husband Frederick Larter enlisted in March 1916, she moved back home for the duration of the war.

Percival’s father Arthur Smith was from an established Coburg family. His grandfather, John Francis Smith, and grandmother, Henrietta Pettitt, both arrived from England in the mid 1850s. They married at Williamstown in 1857 and settled in what was then known as Pentridge in 1861, where John Francis worked as a warder at the Pentridge Stockade. They raised their five children in Coburg and died there in the first years of the twentieth century. Arthur, their third child, lived in the area all his life, most of it at 24 Rodda Street. He had brought up his children alone since the early death of his wife in 1897 aged only 38. Percival (known as  PK to his friends in the 29th Battalion) was his only son.

On 10 November 1915, Percival Smith sailed for the war in Europe on board the Ascanius. He arrived in Egypt on 7 December 1915 where the members of the 29th Battalion began their training.

The 29th Battalion marching up to its allotted position in the desert trenches. These troops belonged to the new divisions formed to take the place of the 1st and 2nd Australian divisions and the New Zealand division ordered to France.
Image courtesy AWM. Image G01495.

On 23 June 1916 PK Smith disembarked at Marseilles and less than a month later (on the 19/20 July 1916) he was declared ‘missing in action’ in the Fleurbaix sector during the Battle of Fromelles. Seven Smiths died that day. They were only a small number of the five and a half thousand casualties in what was the first Australian battle on the Western Front. PK’s body was never recovered, but after a Court of Inquiry was held in August 1916, he was officially declared ‘killed in action’.

A close friend, Jack Caird, gave evidence that although he had not seen PK killed, ‘several of those who did told me he was blown to pieces by a shell.’ Word of this must have got through to his father, as indicated by the following note found in PK’s service record.

15 Private Jack Caird was also a member of the 29th Battalion. At the time of his enlistment he was an 18 year old brass moulder who lived with his widowed mother in Sydney Road, Coburg. He and PK had sailed together on the Ascanius. Jack was wounded on the same day that PK was killed, but he survived the war.

There were other Coburg men on board: Thomas Joseph Lynch, Frederick John Sherlock, William Charles Thomson, Alfred Williams (all in A Company), George Barrie and Frederick Fletcher (in B Company) and John Arthur Mether (in D Company). All of them returned from the war, although George Barrie had a leg amputated.

It was the task of Rev Newton of Coburg’s Holy Trinity Church to break the news of PK’s death to Arthur Smith. Although the following letter from Chaplain Beveridge is written about PK Smith, it is a reminder that many, many young men died and many ministers of religion had the unenviable task of breaking the news to the families. In this case, as in many others where no body was found, the task must have been doubly difficult.

Percival Kerrison Smith has no known grave and is remembered at the VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France.

This is the site of the first Australian attack in France, the only all-Australian cemetery in France. The cemetery has no headstones, however recorded on the screen walls are the names of 1,299 Australians who died in the Battle of Fromelles in July 1916 and have no known grave.
Image courtesy Mark Abercromby.

PK’s family continued to live at 24 Rodda Street, Coburg. After the war, his sister Florence and her returned serviceman husband Frederick Larter went to live in the Hawthorn area where they remained. His sister Lina married fruit grower Francis Bassett in 1918 and moved to Doreen near Whittlesea where she lived until her death in 1983 aged 91.

The link with Coburg continued, however. PK’s father Arthur and unmarried sister Veronica (known as Vera) continued to live at 24 Rodda Street, he until his death in 1946 and she until her death in 1980. This means that this particular Smith family had a 120 year connection with Coburg and a 70 year connection with 24 Rodda Street, a house that has now been demolished to make way for a housing development.

Click here to see Heritage Database place details relating Rodda Street, 23 May 2013.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Digger Smith stays at home

blokes that went an' blokes that stayed …

Charles Godfrey Smith of 3 Wilson Street, Coburg, did his best to enlist in the Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train. It was 25 April 1916, the very first Anzac Day commemoration. He was 24 and had already served for three and a half years with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. In September 1914 he’d taken part in the operations that saw the Australian forces take control of German New Guinea, but by the end of October 1915 had been invalided out of the service with malaria fever.

Taken in 1914, this Australian ship, possibly HMAS Parramatta or HMAS Warrego, is moored by the bank of the Sepik River. Other Australian ships to serve in New Guinea were HMAS Sydney, HMAS Australia and HMAS Yarra.
Image courtesy AWM. Image A03670.

Initially Charles Smith was accepted into the 1st AIF and spent a month in camp at Seymour before moving on to Langwarrin. Just a month after arriving there, on 30 September 1916, Charles Smith’s war was over: he was discharged as medically unfit, pronounced ‘profoundly andemic and asthenic’. In other words, malaria had made him too weak to serve.

His was a family that had known illness and death. Charles’s mother Cecilia died in 1906 aged 38. Six years after his mother died, his father Alfred, who worked as a crier at the Supreme Court, was involved in a sensational train crash at North Melbourne Station. It was September and the ‘Show Special’ collided with a Coburg train. Two people were killed and more than 50 were injured, including 20 Coburg residents. Alfred Smith, then aged 43, fractured both his legs. One leg was so badly injured that it had to be amputated. The other leg, fractured near the ankle, was saved. (Argus, 5 Sep 1912, p.13; 7 Sep 1912, p.25; 6 & 13 Sep 1912)

Coburg Leader, Friday 6 September 1912, page 1.

 Despite the effects of malaria, Charles Godfrey Smith lived for many years more, mostly in the Coburg and Brunswick area. He worked as an electrician and during World War Two did his bit as a munitions worker. He died in Brunswick in 1978 aged 85 and is buried at Fawkner Cemetery.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Digger Smith mans the big guns in France

'Is little 'eart 'as burned
To get right out an' 'ave a go,
An' sock it into some base foe.

1029 Gunner Frederick Thomas Smith, son of Ernest Albert and Elizabeth Smith, enlisted on 27 April 1917, almost two years to the day after his father was killed at the Gallipoli landing. He was nearly 19 and it must have been with a heavy heart that his mother signed the consent form allowing him to go overseas on active service. He sailed from Sydney on 9 November 1917 on board HMAT Demosthenes, the only Coburg man to go with the 14th Reinforcements, 36th Australian Heavy Artillery Group (Siege Artillery Brigade).

The kangaroo mascot of the Siege Brigade, 36th Heavy Artillery Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery, wearing a cut down service dress jacket with the Brigade badge on the collar. The kangaroo was presented to the West Australian Section of the Siege Brigade and taken to England and France. He did not survive very long, being affected by the cold of the 1915-1916 winters and was always worried by dogs. The photograph bears the inscription 'The Siege Train Regimental Pet'.
Image courtesy AWM, Image A02440.

Frederick Smith arrived in France in February 1918 where he served with the 2nd Australian Siege Battery until the end of the war.

An 8 inch Howitzer of the 1st Australian Siege Battery (formerly 54th Battery, 36th (Australian) Brigade Royal Garrison Artillery), in action at Voormezeele in September 1917.
Image courtesy AWM, Image E00659.

When the war was over, Frederick Smith remained in England until November 1919, attached to the War Records Section, based in the AIF’s Administrative Headquarters in Horseferry Road, London. 

London, England. June 1919. War Diaries Subsection of the Australian War Records Section. Clerical staff complete duplicate and triplicate copies of war diaries of the AIF. The former is passed to the British Government and the latter is used as a working copy.
Image courtesy AWM. Image D00627.

All Australian soldiers would have been familiar with Horseferry Road, pictured here in November 1917.
Exterior of the AIF and War Chest Club in Horseferry Road. The pavement and the street are crowded with troops on leave. The building to the right was later occupied by the Australian War Records Section, which gathered material to form the collections of what became the Australian War Memorial.
Image courtesy AWM, Image C01839. 

The AIF Administrative Headquarters, the Australian War Records Section and the AIF and War Chest Club were located on Horseferry Road, London. You,  too, can take a walk down Horseferry Road as it was in 1917 by viewing this video.

‘A walk through Horseferry Road’. Courtesy AWM, F00065.

Frederick Smith returned to Australia on board the Ypiranga in November 1919 and was discharged from the AIF in March 1920. He returned to live at the family home, 62 O’Hea Street, Coburg. Before the war he had been a clerk, but on his return he became a builder. He married a local girl, Elsie Douglas Landells, great-granddaughter of Coburg pioneer Adam Landells and they had two children. He remained in the area, moving to Reynold’s Parade where he lived until his death at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in September 1953 aged 55. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Digger Smith’s widow and children

This war 'as tested more than fightin' men.

Peter Stanley notes that about a fifth of the AIF’s men were married, so the war created over 10,000 widows. (Digger Smith and Australia’s Great War, p.310) One of those was Elizabeth Smith, widow of 177 Sergeant Ernest Albert Smith. She was 38 years old when her husband died. They’d been married nearly 20 years and had lived for much of that time in Coburg. Her husband had always been in secure employment and had invested in two local properties: their home at ‘Mathinna’, 44 Urquhart Street where they had lived for some years and their recently purchased home, ‘Bellevue’, 62 O’Hea Street.

Elizabeth had good reason to feel financially secure. On her husband’s death she received a pension of £70 per annum and her daughter received £13 per annum. However, unlike so many others who depended on the war pension, Ernest Smith had made his will in 1902, leaving her his estate which at the time of his death was valued at £600 plus the two properties valued at £750. The house in Urquhart Street was rented out, so this, too, brought in an income.

It was not all smooth sailing, though, because a second will was discovered in Ernest Smith’s paybook, a will he’d made out on his way to Gallipoli and which had somehow been overlooked. This meant that the probate that had been granted in December 1915 on the first will was revoked and it was not for another 12 months that the matter was resolved, mostly because he had sold 44 Urquhart Street but bought the house next door, which caused a legal tangle.

Argus, 10 August 1916, p.4.
(Note that Ernest Albert is called Ernest Walter in error in the first paragraph.) 

Elizabeth Smith did not marry again and lived on in Coburg until her death in September 1946 aged 69. Their children lived on into adulthood. Both attended Coburg High School. Son Frederick also went to war and his story will be told in the next blog entry. Daughter Ida married, moved to Melbourne suburb of Croydon and in 1967 claimed an Anzac Medallion as the sole surviving family member of Ernest Albert Smith. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Digger Smith at Gallipoli

'E run 'is final up at Suvla Bay --
   One uv the Aussies I was proud to know.

Ernest Smith served in the 7th Infantry Battalion’s A Company. He was an atypical recruit in a number of ways. He was 45 years old, more than twice the age of many of those first recruits. He was a married man with two children, one of whom was almost old enough to serve in the AIF himself (and did so, several years later). He had already had considerable military training, having served eight and a half years in the Artillery and ten years in the 6th AIR (6th Battalion Australian Infantry Regiment).

 His military experience was not enough to save him, however, and 177 Sergeant Ernest Albert Smith was killed at the landing at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915, the day we now observe as Anzac Day.


25 April 1915. Australians, probably of 6th and 7th Battalions, 2nd Infantry Brigade, leaving the transport Galeka in ships’ boats for landing at Gaba Tepe, Gallipoli Peninsula. Ernest Smith was almost certainly on board.
Image P01287.008, courtesy AWM.

Ernest Smith has no known grave but is remembered at the Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial at Anzac Cove. The cemetery contains over a thousand burials and the memorial commemorates over four thousand missing Australians who served on the peninsula between 25 April and 20 December 1915 and the seven hundred New Zealanders who died before the August offensive.

Lone Pine memorial.

Image courtesy AWM, A03584.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Digger Smith goes to war

Wot did they know uv war first off,
   When they joined up?

177 Sergeant Ernest Albert Smith sailed with the first contingent on board HMAT Hororata on 19 October 1914 along with a number of other Coburg volunteers.

The Hororata was one of the ships assembled in King George Sound, Albany, Western
Australia, for the First Convoy which left on 1 November 1914 carrying Australian and New Zealand troops overseas.
Image courtesy AWM, Image H02015.

There are thirteen Albert Ernest Smiths in the NAA listings of World War One soldiers and six Ernest Albert Smiths. Of those, there are two Victorian Ernest Albert Smiths.

One of these was 45 year old Ernest Albert Smith of 62 O’Hea Street, Coburg. A one time warder at Pentridge Prison, on enlistment he was working as a clerk with the Victorian Education Department. He was born in West Ham, London in about 1870 and at some stage emigrated to Victoria where he married Elizabeth Mary Keys of Queenscliff in 1896. They settled in Urquhart Street, Coburg and he worked as a warder at Pentridge Prison. At some time in 1914, he changed jobs and began work as a clerk in the Victorian Education Department. Ernest and Elizabeth lost two children in infancy. At the time of his enlistment their son Frederick was 16 years old and their daughter Ida was 11.

Studio portrait of Ernest Albert Smith taken in 1914. 
Courtesy AWM, image P05248.123

On the day Ernest Smith enlisted, 18 August 1914, William John Symonds of Brunswick was just three men ahead of him. Symonds went on to become a Lieutenant Colonel and win a Victoria Cross. He survived the war and died in London in 1948. 

There were 70 Coburg and Brunswick men from the 7th Infantry Battalion on board the Hororata on the day it sailed, 46 as part of A Company, 14 in B Company, 7 in D Company, 2 in F Company and 1 in H Company. 

There was just one Digger Smith, though, Ernest Albert Smith.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Digger Smith in Coburg

Sez she, "Our Jim's a soldier! Ain't it grand?"

I was a bit overwhelmed when I found over 5,000 names when I searched the World War One service records at the National Archives of Australia. Then I discovered that nearly 900 of them died. What a huge research task!

The authorities must have had real trouble sorting out who was who. So far I’ve identified 17 Smith soldiers with links to Coburg and I’ve only positively identified nine of them. Maybe someone out there will be able to correct my errors or add new names to my list.

Coburg's Smith soldiers

Albert Edward Smith, possibly a teacher.
Arthur Smith, an old boy of Coburg State School.
C.A. Smith, listed on the Coburg Harriers Honour Board. 
Charles Godfrey Smith, son of Alfred Smith of Wilson Street.
Ernest Albert Smith of 62 O'Hea Street.
Frederick Thomas Smith, son of Ernest Albert.
Harold  Smith, an old boy of Coburg State School
John Edward Smith of 5 Alice Street.
Lawrence Joseph Smith of 13 Cope Street.
P.C. Smith
R. Smith
Percival Kerrison Smith of 24 Rodda Street.
Robert Charles Smith of South Yarra but born in Coburg.
Samuel George Smith of 36 Deakin Street, Coburg.
Stanley Smith, an old boy of Coburg State School.
William H. Smith, an old boy of Coburg State School.
Frederick Smyth of 37 Hudson Street.

We're Soldiers of the King my lads

The photograph below shows a send off to Brunswick soldiers held in December 1914 at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 8 January 1915, p.1) I’ve included it here in the spirit of Smith as everyman. Coburg had organised its own send off for the second contingent, held on 18 December at the Coburg Town Hall. (Brunswick and Coburg Star, 18 December 1914, p.2). 

One of our Digger Smiths of Coburg had already sailed with the first contingent in October: Ernest Alfred Smith of O'Hea Street.

Image courtesy Moreland City Libraries. Image S7_3b.001.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Digger Smith and the First World War

Over the next week or so I’m going to follow the wartime experiences of a number of Smith families with links to Coburg. Smith is the most common surname in the English-speaking world so the experiences of the various Smiths (and Smyths and Schmidts) will give a good idea of what everyone was going through, at home and on the Front.

My inspiration for this bit of research was Peter Stanley’s book, Digger Smith and Australia’s Great War, Pier 9, Millers Point, NSW, 2011.

If you want an overview of the impact of the First World War on Australian society, I recommend this beautifully produced book. 

In turn, Peter Stanley took as his inspiration, C.J. Dennis’s Digger Smith. This, too, is well worth a read, if only to remind yourself of Dennis's mastery of the Australian vernacular. 

Click here to read Digger Smith by C.J. Dennis. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

I'd like to see that!

Lois Williams’ father-in-law, Gunner William Essex Williams, leaving Melbourne on the Shropshire in May 1917.
Image courtesy, Lois Williams of Pascoe Vale. 

Coburg Historical Society member, Lois Williams writes: ‘Note all the streamers, but it is a pity there is not more of the ship in this photo.’ 

Despite the streamers, the men and their families would be aware of the grave dangers ahead, especially after the huge Australian casualties on the Western Front, in particular at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917. The Australian War Memorial notes that ‘the two brigades of the 4th Division that carried out the attack, the 4th and 12th, suffered over 3,300 casualties; 1,170 Australians were taken prisoner - the largest number captured in a single engagement during the war.’  One of those prisoners was a Coburg man, Jacob Freudenthal, who remained a POW until the end of the war.

Although her father-in-law 33496 Gunner William Essex Williams was from Richmond, I thought some of the details regarding his enlistment were worth recording here. In later life Gunner Williams told stories about some of his training at the Windsor Drill Hall. Lois writes: ‘As his father was a mounted trooper, Pa knew about horses and they did some training IN the Drill Hall by walking a horse around (probably the milkman’s draft horse) and seeing who could ride!!  He used to hitch up the horses and take the guns up to the front, then unhitch the horses and take them back out of the way.’ 

I’d like to see that!