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:

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

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.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Digger Smith dies at Pozieres

A million brave ole mothers 'oo 'ave known
Deep sorrer since them days before the war.

Broadmeadows c 14 December 1915. Studio portrait of two soldiers, one of whom is probably of 4293 Private (Pte) Albert Richmond Smith (right), 7th Battalion, of Pascoe Vale, Vic.
Image courtesy AWM. Image DA13012.

I stumbled on 4293 Private Albert Richmond Smith’s connection to Coburg through the Mapping Our Anzacs website, although he does not appear on the Coburg Town Hall Roll of Honour and I have not come across his name on any other local honour boards. At the time of his enlistment on 27 July 1915 his parents were living at ‘Strathlinden’, Bolingbroke Road, Pascoe Vale via Coburg, although they had mostly been connected with the Milawa area near Wangaratta. Albert had attended Bonegilla State School and as his occupation was given as farm labourer, it is likely that he remained in the area but came down to the city to enlist.

He embarked aboard HMAT Demosthenes on 29 December 1915 with the 13th Reinforcements of the 7th Infantry Battalion. He arrived in France on 4 April 1916 and just over three months later, on 23 July, was severely wounded at Pozieres and evacuated to England. He is included in the 7th Battalion’s War Diary AWM Item 23/24/17, RCDIG1005139) for that period as part of a huge casualty list sustained over several days of intense fighting. He had been wounded in the face and shoulder and suffered a severed artery in his neck. His wounds were grave, but he lingered for a month before dying of a secondary haemhorrage on 29 August 1916. He was buried at St Paul’s Church in Rusthall, Tunbridge Wells. You can see a photograph of his grave on the WarGraves Photographic Project website.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Digger Smith survives the war

I've 'eard the cheers for ev'ry fightin' lad

34168 Driver Samuel George Smith served with the 6th Battery of the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade. He enlisted in December 1916, embarked on the HMAT Ascanius in May 1917, arrived on the Western Front in November 1917 and returned to Australia in June 1919. Unlike so many others, he wasn’t injured and was never sick. In fact, his service record is virtually empty of detail, yet we know that he was in Belgium and France for well over twelve months. Unusual indeed.

Morialme, Belgium. 24 December 1918. Group portrait of the 6th Battery of the 2nd Australian Field Artillery Brigade. 34168 Dvr S. G. Smith is in the photo.
Image courtesy AWM. Image E03973.

An outdoors group portrait of unidentified members of the 6th Battery of the 2nd Australian Field Artillery Brigade in a snow covered field. Most of the soldiers are wearing heavy coats and many are coated with snow. Taken in Belgium on Australia Day 1919.
Image courtesy AWM. Image E04232.

Samuel Smith was a 36 year old married labourer when he enlisted. His parents had married in Tamworth, New South Wales in 1879 and he and his siblings were all born in New South Wales. By 1913 he had made his way to Victoria where he married Mary Ann Cuthbert and settled in Coburg where they lived until the mid-1920s. By the 1930s they were living in Oakleigh. Samuel died at Caulfield in 1967 aged 86. His wife died the following year.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Digger Smith and the conscription debate

'E's been once wounded, somewhere in the leg..."

6906 Private Lawrence Joseph Smith enlisted on 18 July 1918 and served with the 22nd Infantry Battalion. His parents were William Smith, an overseer, and Letitia Josephine McLoughlin. He’d been born in Coburg, lived with his parents and siblings in Coke Street (later Cope Street), returned to the area after the war, married and settled in Pascoe Vale South where he lived the rest of his life. 

Lawrence Smith, who called himself Larry, was wounded in the thigh on 19 May 1918 at Ville-sur-Ancre, which effectively ended his war.  

The ruins of Ville-sur-Ancre. The village was captured by the 6th Australian Infantry Brigade on 19 May 1918. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image E02821.

On his return to Australia, Smith resumed his earlier work as a postman and during World War Two again enlisted, serving at the Postal Unit in South Melbourne. He applied for a War Service Home Loan in 1925 with which he built his home in Fontaine Street, Pascoe Vale South. He lived there for the rest of his life.

A staunch Catholic, Larry Smith wrote a letter to a local politician in 1977 in which he made reference to a decision by Coburg Council in 1919 that reflects on the conscription debates of 1916/1917. It also makes clear that the Catholic/Protestant divide did more than separate school children into Protestant kids and Catholic kids chanting jibes at one another on their way to their respective schools. 

Here in Coburg we can see an example of such feeling spilling over into decisions about the naming of streets, even in a subdivision where the land was owned originally by Father Charles O’Hea, bequeathed to the Catholic Church on his death in 1903 and subdivided under the supervision of Archbishop Mannix in 1918.

Smith wrote:
Roosevelt Street was first called Mannix Street … after Dr Mannix had given the Coburg citizens five acres (quarry land) but for naught, his name was wiped off and Roosevelt substituted in the Motion of Cr W.E. Cash who claimed we had a disloyal man’s name on a street, that was gratitude. (Coburg Historical Society Collection)

 1913 portrait of Archbishop Danniel Mannix, taken around the time he became Archbishop of Melbourne. Photographer unknown.
Image courtesy SLV. Image H2011.20/78. 

At the time, the Catholic Press had plenty to say on the matter:
The residents of old Pentridge, now Coburg, where the penal establishment of Melbourne is situated, are getting uppish. At the meeting of the public works committee of the Coburg Council last week, the surveyor read a list of names of proposed new streets in a subdivision of what is known as the Deanery Estate. He read out ‘Mercier Street’, remarking ‘That is evidently after Cardinal Mercier’. Next came ‘Mannix Street’ which the surveyor was proceeding to remark was named after ­­_____ , when Councillor Dwerryhouse jumped up. ‘I protest against that,’ he said. ‘We want no Mannix Street in Coburg.’ ‘About Mercier Street?’ queried the surveyor. ‘Oh, that’s all right,’ shouted several councillors. ‘He’s a very different man.’ It was unanimously decided that the name ‘Mannix’ for the street should be deleted... After all, no genuine patriot would want to associate his name with a town called after the Grand Duke of Saxe-Coburg. ‘Dwerryhouse St.’ Great Norfolk! What a name it would make. The Catholic Press (NSW), 12 December 1918, p.22 (also reported in the Argus, 6 December 1918, p.8 and a number of NSW papers)

Click here to see Archbishop Daniel Mannix talking about his anti-conscription stance during World War One. Mannix was a huge influence on the way Catholics voted in the referenda of 1916 and 1917. 

The conscription debate almost tore communities apart. It was emotional and hard fought, as can be seen in the following posters.

Anti-conscription leaflet entitled ‘The Blood Vote.’ Written by W.R. Winspear, and drawn by Claude Marquet. St Andrews Place, Sydney.
Image courtesy AWM. Image RC00337.

1917. Black and white pro conscription poster. ‘The Anti’s Creed’, a litany of anti-Australian 'beliefs' alleged to be held by the anti-conscription supporters.
Image courtesy AWM. Image RC00317.

Black and white pro-conscription referendum leaflet targeting the female vote. An appeal by the Council of Women of Victoria.
Image courtesy AWM. Image RC00319.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Digger Smith is wounded at The Battle of Menin Road

Sez’e, ‘Yeh want to, an’ yeh ought to go. Wot’s stoppi’n’ yeh?’

3465 Private John Edward Smith enlisted in the 11th Reinforcements of the 6th Infantry Battalion and was transferred to the 7th Infantry Battalion in September 1916. He was an 18 year old Coburg baker, who was halfway through his apprenticeship with local businessman Thomas Passfield.

As an apprentice, John Smith had to get his employer’s permission to enlist, as can be seen in the following letter found in his service record.

John Edward Smith was the son of contractor John Andrew Smith and his wife Margaret Mary Quirk who lived in Alice Street, Coburg. He enlisted in July 1915 and served on the Western Front where he was wounded in the right wrist and the thorax on 20 September 1917 at Zilllebeke Bund near Ypres in Belgium. Known as the Battle of Menin Road, Smith was wounded on the first day of fighting.

The 14th Battalion of Australian Infantry resting at Zillebeke in the Ypres Sector, after having completed a strenuous period of fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres. Note the packs and rifles in the foreground.
Image courtesy AWM. Image E00959.

Soldiers running to take shelter from a heavy shellburst at Glencorse Wood in the Ypres salient.
Image courtesy AWM. Image E00737.

The 7th Battalion’s Unit Diary (available online at the Australian War Memorial website) indicates that 3 officers and 29 other ranks were killed during the battle. 2 officers and 11 other ranks died of wounds. 5 officers and 155 other ranks were wounded and 2 men were missing. One of the officers killed was VC winner Frederick Harold Tubb. John Edward Smith was among the wounded and was evacuated to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Millbank, London. He survived his wounds, returned to Australia where he continued to live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and died in 1964 while living in the Merlynston area.

Battle of Menin Road, by H. Septimus Power. This image shows troops in a trench moving forward into battle zone during the Battle of Menin Road, Third Ypres, Western Front, 1917 on 20 September 1917.
Image courtesy AWM. ART03327.