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.