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.