Friday, 31 January 2014

The Harder brothers of May Street, Coburg.

Harder could easily pass as an English surname, but the Harder brothers, Keith and Victor, were grandsons of Johann Peter Christian Harder who arrived in Port Adelaide from Hamburg in 1854 and who married Henrietta Nolopp in Adelaide in the following year. Seven children were born to the couple, including the boys’ father Charles August Harder who married Mabel Gertrude Tilbrook in South Australia in 1895.

In that year they made their way to Brunswick where Victor was born in 1895 and Keith in 1897. Four more children were born in Brunswick. In 1907 the family moved to Coburg where three more children were born. Theirs was a large household, as all the children survived childhood.

Victor Harder.
Image courtesy AWM. Image H06553.

Lieutenant John Charles Victor Harder (known as Victor), was born in Brunswick in 1895, attended Coburg State School and is featured in the Coburg State School Soldiers Book which is part of the Coburg Historical Society collection. He worked as a clerk for the E.S. & A. Bank, played cricket for Coburg and served with D Battery, 50th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was killed in action on 26 April 1918. 

Keith Harder. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

13295 Private Howard Keith Harder (known as Keith) was born in Brunswick in 1897. He attended Coburg State School and is featured in the Coburg State School Soldiers Book. Keith Harder served in the Army Medical Corps, survived the war and died at Coburg in 1953 aged 56.


South Australian and Victorian Index to Births, Deaths and Marriages (via Ancestry); attestation papers for Howard Keith Harder and John Charles Victor Harder; Coburg State School Soldiers Book (in the Coburg Historical Society Collection); resources in the Coburg Historical Society Collection; AWM embarkation rolls and roll of honour. 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Coburg State School 484 Soldiers’ Book

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

The Coburg State School 484 Soldiers’ Book is a treasure trove of information. It was compiled in November 1922, the unnamed compiler regretting that he was not able to begin the task any earlier. He wrote:
I found that the cork had been out of the bottle too long and that all of the “fizz” had gone. Very few people could be got to take an interest in the work, and the soldier himself could not be “bothered” or did not, to his credit, wish to “make a song” of what he had done.  
The compiler goes on to say that he had 222 names on his list and he estimates that he managed to locate about 75%  of them, not bad going given the late start.   

The book is handwritten and many entries include photographs. All contain information supplied by the soldier or more likely his ‘doting’ family. There is a brief summary of the school’s war effort, plus several contemporary hand-drawn plans of the school and some photographs. There is also a plan (with names) of the Memorial Garden planted in the grounds of the Infants School in 1919. There is an index at the back of the book. There is also a more comprehensive index available for use by researchers, along with a fascimile copy of the book, both available for use at the Bluestone Cottage Museum, 82 Bell Street, Coburg. (First Sunday of each month from 2 to 4.30pm).

Friday, 24 January 2014

Patsy Adam Smith's legacy

'Every man ... a part of the whole.'

(Patsy Adam Smith, The Anzacs)

How I admire Patsy Adam Smith's The Anzacs. Without her so many stories would have been lost. Because of her we have photos, diaries, letters, but most of all we hear again the voices of the generation of young (and old, as I discovered) men who, for whatever reason, joined the AIF, travelled far from home to fight a war not of their country's making and returned (if they returned) changed men.

Adam Smith's material comes from a time, as she says, when the men were 'still alive and alert'. That is no longer the case, but part of what I want to do with this blog is to give the volunteers of Coburg a place in the pages of our recorded history, not just as names on lists or on memorials or in newspapers, but as individuals who lived ordinary enough lives before the war, endured extraordinary times over the five years of war and some of whom returned and struggled to make a life during the hopeful 20s and heart-breaking 30s. Some died far too young. Others served their country again in World War Two or sent their sons and daughters off to war. Many lived to old age despite gassing, psychological trauma or severe physical wounds. 

Theirs were remarkable lives, as all lives are. Very soon a companion website to this blog will appear in which all my research will be made available to those who are interested. 

So far, I have completed the basic background research to almost 1500 AIF men (and 1 woman) who had connections to Coburg. Now it is time to 'flesh out' the names on my lists and learn more about their lives before, during and after the war. How did their families cope? What was happening at home? If they returned, did they ever talk about their experiences? What sort of lives did they make for themselves on their return? These are just some of the questions running through my mind.

If you can help me tell the stories of any of the volunteers with Coburg connections, I would love to hear from you. Photos, letters, diaries, family stories, memories of old Diggers you may like to share with others would all be much appreciated. You may even like to join me in doing some of the research. If so, let me know.

As Patsy Adam Smith travelled the battlefields, she said 'I remembered every one of them.' I'll probably never visit the battlefields, but this blog and its companion website are my tribute to the men who fought and the families and communities they left behind. It's my way of remembering them. I hope you'll join me.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Aicher brothers’ war

3231 Private Charles Rudolph Aicher, 6th Infantry Battalion 


7 Corporal William Ludwig Aicher, 6th Infantry Battalion.

Outdoor portrait of two Australian soldiers, one of whom is 7 Sergeant (Sgt) William Ludwig Aicher, 6th Battalion from East Brunswick, Victoria.
Image courtesy AWM. Image H05643.

Charlie and Wallie Aicher were the only sons of German immigrant Wilhelm (William) Aicher and his Australian born wife Ellen Amy Bartlett. Their father, a native of Stuttgart, had arrived in Australia in August 1881. He was a 41 year old father of four living in Port Melbourne when he was naturalised in 1906.
Wallie’s birth was registered under the names William Ludwig in 1893 and Charlie (Charles Rudolph on his enlistment papers) was registered as Carl Albert Charles Rudolph in 1897. Their nicknames not only tell the story of the Australianisation of the family but also hint at two popular young men in the Brunswick and Coburg area, as does the following newspaper notice: 
Argus, 12 May 1917, p.13. In Memoriam. Aicher. In sad and loving memory of Sergeant Wallie Aicher, the dearly loved chum of Morton Hart (on active service), killed in action, Cape Helles, 8th May 1915, aged 21 years. Dear old Wallie. (Inserted by his friend Marshall Hart, returned, late Trooper 3rd Light Horse.) 
The Aicher family lived at various addresses in Brunswick: Stewart Street and Mountfield Street but then moved to Service Street, Coburg and it is in Coburg’s Memorial Avenue of Trees at Lake Reserve that Wallie Aicher is remembered, although there is no longer a record of which tree was planted in his memory.

Memorial Avenue of Trees, Lake Reserve, Coburg.
Image courtesy Bruce and Sue Garrett.

Wallie Aicher’s war medals were sent to his daughter, Marjory Rosa Hall, and Marjory also received a small pension due to her being an acknowledged ex-nuptial child of a serviceman. After her father’s death on 8 May 1915, the pension increased from £13 pa to 20/- per fortnight.
On his return from the war, Charlie Aicher married Ada Janet Hall, who was probably Marjory Rosa’s mother. Marjory lived with Charlie and Ada at various addresses in Coburg until at least 1942. Both she and Charlie were tobacco workers. There are no more entries for Marjory, but it’s possible she is the Marjory Rosa Johnson of 15 Cumberland Rd., Coburg West in the 1954 electoral roll who is living there with her husband Joseph William Johnson, a pilot. They moved to various locations but in 1977 they were back in Coburg, living in Headley Street.
Older sister Rosa Clara had married James David Runciman in 1915 and when he enlisted soon afterwards, he was transferred to home duties for family reasons. A letter dated 18 October 1915 to the Commandant, 3rd Military District from Lt-Col Dodds, Adjutant General at Broadmeadows Camp states reveals the reason:
It has been represented to Head-Quarters that Mrs Aicher who has already lost a son at the front and the only other son is on the water, desires that Private David James Runciman, 9th Light Horse Reinforcements, Broadmeadows (a son-in-law), be allotted for Home duties. Please arrange for the discharge of this man from the AIF and if any suitable appointment is vacant he may be re-enlisted for home service only.
So it seems that there were times that the Army did listen to the pleas of distressed parents.
The Aicher parents both died in Coburg, Ellen in 1935 and William in 1943. Charlie went on to serve in World War Two, as did his son Maurice. Charlie’s wife Ada died in Coburg in 1944 and he died at Heidleberg in 1967 aged 70.


Naturalisation papers for William Aicher; Attestation papers for William Ludwig Aicher, Charles Rudolph Aicher and David James Runciman; Victorian electoral rolls (via Ancestry); AWM embarkation rolls; AWM rolls of honour; Victorian Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes (via Ancestry);  Brunswick and Coburg Star, 17 November 1916, Argus, 12 May 1917; AWM Roll of Honour circulars; Coburg Historical Society collection.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Jacob Freudenthal – the POW experience

Private Jacob Frendenthal. Photo taken c. 10 August 1915 by Darge Photographic Co.
Image courtesy AWM. Image DASEY 1137.

A note on the name Freudenthal

In the public records– of births, deaths, marriages, of electoral rolls, wills, cemetery records, Sands and McDougall Directories, naturalisation records, World War One and World War Two records – the name Freudenthal is spelled many different ways: Freudenthal, Frendenthal, Fruedenthal, Frudenthal, Freodenthal, Froedenthal, Friedenthal and Freidenthal and by searching for Fre*thal even more variations were found. And, of course, there is also the –tal suffix which turns up more variations again. A similar story can be told regarding his mother’s maiden name Aldag, which was recorded as Oldag, Alday, Aldey and other variations.

This has made the task of unravelling the story of the Freudenthal family in Australia a challenge and it has made me wonder whether the varieties of spellings can be explained simply by a mishearing of the name or a transliteration of what was heard by the official recording the information. Perhaps, too, there is an element of obfuscation: were the Freudenthals attempting to make their name more acceptable to a community that was increasingly hostile to their homeland? For example, Jacob enlisted under the name Frendenthal. Is this simply a matter of a handwritten ‘u’ being misread as an ‘n’ and if so why did he (or his father) not correct the error? Perhaps, then, the name Frendenthal was used deliberately. It looks a little more like an English name and sounds like ‘friend’ so perhaps Jacob saw it as a sensible move given the growing animosity towards Germans living in Australia, regardless of how long they might have lived in the country. Even those like Jacob, who had been born in Australia, were suspect. From 1914 onwards, everyone was on the lookout for the enemy within. 

Family background

On 5 May 1883, 23 year old Catharina Freudenthal, her eighteen month old son Peter and fourteen year old brother Heinrich Aldag sailed out of Hamburg, bound for Melbourne. They were from the tiny town of Cranz in an area that had once been part of the Kingdom of Hanover and were among 157 German migrants, nearly all of them bound for Adelaide.

On their arrival on 12 July 1883, they joined Catharina’s 32 year old husband Jacob, a greengrocer living in Collingwood, who had preceded them. Although no record has been found of his entry into the country, he must have been a reasonably new arrival given that Peter had been born only eighteen months before. Just over a year later, on 3 September 1884, another son, Jacob, was born in Collingwood. They seem to have moved around  a bit because another son, Heinrich (registered as Harry), was born in Richmond in 1886 and died there the following year. Daughter Annie Marguerita was born in Box Hill in 1888 followed by Martha (registered as Maria) in Carlton in 1890. Marguerita, born 1891, died in Collingwood the following year. Two more children were born to the couple: Wilhelmina  (recorded as Minnie on her mother’s death certificate) in 1883 and Johanna in Carlton in 1897.

The 1890s were difficult times for everyone, but working class suburbs like Collingwood fared very badly. The Freudenthal family suffered great loss during this time. In 1892, as well as daughter Marguerita’s death, Jacob was declared bankrupt. In 1894, at a time when he was trading as a greengrocer in Hoddle St., Abbotsford, he took a neighbour who claimed he did not pay his debts to court, claiming damages for slander.  Worse was to come. In March 1899, Jacob’s wife Catharina died at Miss Behan’s Private Hospital in Fitzroy aged only 39. She was suffering from pyosalpinx, a condition in which the fallopian tube fills with pus. As a result, Catharina died after an operation for peritonitis. Jacob, now with a greengrocer’s business in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, was left to care for their six children aged between eighteen and two.

In 1903, four years after Catharina’s death, Jacob married again, to Sarah Smith. They had a fruiterer’s business for a time in Carlisle Street, St Kilda, which is where they are listed in the 1909 electoral roll. By that time, however, our soldier Jacob had moved back to the northern suburbs and was living with his uncle Heinrich Aldag and family in Napier Street, Fitzroy and working as a driver. It is from this address that Jacob enlisted in the AIF on 22 September 1915.

At start of World War One, Germanic heritage became problematic and many people rushed to become citizens. Jacob’s father Jacob had been naturalised in 1905, but his uncle, Heinrich Aldag, who had lived in Fitzroy for 31 years, had not. On the 19 August 1914, a little over a week after hostilities began, he applied to be naturalised. Soldier Jacob’s brother Peter, who had arrived in Melbourne as an eighteen month old in 1883, was perhaps unaware of the fact that he was not a citizen. Or perhaps he felt that he’d been so young when he arrived that the regulations would not apply to him. Whatever the reason, in 1916, at about the same time that his brother Jacob landed in France, ready to serve on the Western Front, Peter Johannes Freudenthal registered as an alien, according to the requirements of the newly introduced War Precautions (Aliens Registrations) 1916 Act.

Studio portrait of 2936 Private (Pte) Jacob Frendenthal, 9th Reinforcements, 14th Battalion, of Coburg, Vic. Photo taken by Darge Photographic Co., c. Sep 1915, Broadmeadows.
Image courtesy AWM. Image DA10727.

Jacob Freudenthal, AIF member 

Jacob Freudenthal could not enlist when war first broke out, not because of his German heritage, but because he was only five foot two and a half inches tall and the minimum height requirement was then five foot six. He was not alone. It is estimated that in the first year of the war about 33 percent of volunteers failed to satisfy the enlistment standards.

In June 1915, the height requirement was lowered to five foot two and Freudenthal became eligible to serve. He enlisted on 22 September 1915 and was firstly attached to the 9th Reinforcements of the 14th Batallion. The attesting officer noted ‘I have examined his naturalisation papers and am of opinion that they are correct,’ so his German heritage had been questioned. He arrived in Egypt in early January 1916, transferred to the 46th Batallion that March and disembarked at Marseilles ready to do battle on the Western Front. His first twelve months on the Front go unrecorded in his dossier but on 3 April 1917 he was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. Eight days later, on 11 April 1917, at Riencourt, northern France, during the First Battle of Bullecourt, he was captured by the Germans.

Group photo taken at Schneidemuhl, Posen, Germany (in the north-east of the country). Jacob Freudenthal is the shortest man in the middle of the row of POWs seated on a bench. Taken c. 1917.
Image courtesy AWM. Image P02108.003.

It was to be some time before his family, now living at 220 Reynards Road, West Coburg, were to hear what had happened to Jacob. To begin with, he was listed as missing in action, a situation his family probably read about in the List of Australian Casualties published five weeks after Bullecourt. Over a month later, the Germans finally provided a list of Prisoners Of War (POWs) to the Red Cross and within a few weeks his father and step-mother had been made aware that he was a POW at Limburg. By then it was almost three months since he’d been captured.

It has been estimated that at least 4,000 soldiers were captured by the Germans on the Western Front and of them, almost 1,200 were taken at the First Battle of Bullecourt on 11 April 1917. It seems incredible that so many many should be captured on the one day, until you discover that the about the same number of men died.

According to Frendethal, at 4.30 am, just before dawn on the April 11th, the 46th and 48th Batallions advanced. He was in Number 9 platoon of C Company of the 46th.  Almost as soon as they left the trenches their Company Commander Major Ware was killed. They advanced with their Platoon Commander Lieutenant Morsten and reaching the first line ‘suffered heavy casualties’. They managed to hold the line until midday but by then they had run out of ammunition and were surrounded so they had no choice but to surrender.

By his own account they were then
sent to Fort MacDonald and remained here for 7 days without food, the place being in a disgraceful condition. We then worked at various places behind the lines under our own shell fire. I arrived at Schneidemuhl in Germany on December 2, 1917 and was sent out on working ‘commando’ looking after sheep. The treatment was very fair.On December 13, 1918 I entrained at Danzig where I embarked on the Mitan and arrived at Leith [Scotland] on Dec 18, 1918.

I wish there were a way of knowing whether Jacob's experience of life fighting the Germans was any different from those who had Anglo-Saxon backgrounds. I wonder, too, whether his POW experience was different, especially given the strong likelihood that he spoke German. Unless someone comes forwards with letters, diaries or memoirs I'm never likely to know, unfortunately.

Later life

After his return to Australia in April 1919, Jacob joined his family who were now living in Woolacott Street, Coburg. The electoral rolls show that his sisters were working at a local woollen mill, one as a knitter and the other as a forewoman. His sisters remained at Woolacott Street, but by 1924 Jacob’s father and step-mother were living in Brunswick, where his father died in 1931. Jacob (junior) moved to Mentone with his wife Maud where he worked as a labourer. He enlisted again in World War Two and after that war remained in the Mentone area where he died in 1965 aged 80. His sister Wilhelmina moved away from Coburg for a while, but returned to Wollacott Street in 1958 where she lived until her death in 1972 aged 79. 


Hamburg State Archives, Volume 373 – 71, VII Band 048B, p.657, accessed via Ancestry; Victorian Unassisted Shipping Index, Public Record Office of Victoria; South Australian Advertiser, 9 July 1883, p.4; Argus, 9 July 1883, p.6; Argus, 13 July 1883, p.4; World War Two enlistment of Jacob Frendenthal, National Archives of Australia (NAA); Victorian Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes; Argus, 7 June 1892, p.3; Argus 10 July 1894, p.7; Victorian Death Certificate of Catharina Frendenthal, 1899/1662; Victorian electoral rolls, accessed via Ancestry; World War One attestation papers of Jacob Frendenthal, SERN 2936; NAA, Series A1, Control symbol 1905/4802; NAA, digitised naturalisation papers; NAA, Forms for registration under the War Precautions (Aliens Registration) Regulations 1916 and the Aliens Registration Act 1920 (Forms A, A2 and E). 1916-18); Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 25 September 1914, p.2; Broome, R, Coburg, between two creeks, p.207; Australian War Memorial online encyclopedia, [Accessed 13 July 2013.]; Argus, 18 May 1917, p.2; Sands and McDougall Directories; Australian War Memorial, Red Cross Missing cards, 1DRL/0428; David Coombes, Crossing the wire: the untold stories of Australian POWs in battle and captivity during World War One; Coburg Town Hall honour board; Holy Trinity Coburg, Honour Roll; Coburg Historical Society collection.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Loyal citizens, all

Loyal Australia. Officers of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, Egypt, 1916. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image P03788.001.

Patriotic tableau, Public Hall, Coburg, taken during World War One. 
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

Recently I’ve been thinking about ways in which the First World War might have influenced Australia’s development as a nation. Everywhere I come across references to loyalty to England. It is referred to as our Motherland, a term redolent of a nurturing, protective entity. Soldiers referred to going ‘Home’ when they visited England on leave (possibly also referring to it as ‘dear old Blighty’, a slang term of endearment made popular in the hit tune ‘Take me back to dear old Blighty’). 

Fred Godfrey’s 1916 hit tune, Take me back to dear old Blighty

Yet many Australian volunteers came from non-British backgrounds, as can be seen in the surnames of the following men with Coburg connections: Aicher, Batt, Bergstrom, Buzaglo, DeMedici, Dolling, Draeger, Dyring, Feddersen, Fleiner, Freudenthal, Frusher, Georgelin, Giraud, Harder, Hurtig, Louchard, Maag, Mahlsted, Mecking, Mikkelsen, Montefiore, Mitz, Nilsson, Ramm, Rudrum, Schultz, Selkrig, Wattz, Werner, Ziegler.

There must have been others whose non-British heritage came through their maternal lines and as my research continues, I will no doubt discover more men who came from French, German, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish backgrounds, as these men did. (Apart from the Buzaglo brothers, who came from a Serphadic Jewish background, although their grandfather had converted to Christianity many years before.)

WW1 patriotic button of a fighting kangaroo. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image REL23902.100.

Questions about the loyalty of non-British citizens led to some men being rejected by the AIF. Many rushed to be naturalised.  An Alien Registration Act was introduced in 1916 for civilians. There were some internments, although I’ve yet to discover whether this affected any of the wider families of these Coburg men. Some citizens, such as Coburg’s Otto Neuendorf, felt it necessary to take out newspaper advertisements declaring their loyalty. Many attestation papers include references to the naturalisation of parents. And of course, as I’ve noted before, the very name of the suburb Coburg was called into question.

As my research continues, I’m discovering that many of these men were at least third generation Australians, so their connection to Germany went back to the 1850s and 1860s. It’s unlikely that they or their parents spoke German or had anything to do with relatives in Germany (which had not even been unified when their ancestors arrived in what was then the colony of Victoria).

The men listed here who had Germanic heritage were not alone in the AIF. John F. Williams, in his book German Anzacs and the First World War estimates that about 18,000 men with German backgrounds enlisted. He found 23 with the prefix ‘Von’, suggestive of an aristocratic background, and at least one family of a soldier with Coburg connections, Ferdinand Mark Ziegler used the prefix ‘von’. Williams also found 650 names beginning with the letters ‘Sch’ and one Coburg man, John Henry Schultz of Kendall Street, shared those first three letters.

German Anzacs and the First World War, John F. Williams, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003.

Over the next few weeks, I intend to explore the backgrounds and war experiences of volunteers with non-English backgrounds to see if it’s possible to discover whether their heritage affected their lives in Australia and on the battlefield. Is it possible to know, for example, whether their experience of war was different from those with British backgrounds?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Killed by one of his own company

My last few blog entries focused on Coburg volunteers who died before they ever got a chance to fight. The shock for their families must have been immense. Having reconciled themselves to their boys going to war, they could not even console themselves with the knowledge that the boys (two of the three were only 18) had died fighting for their country.

3320 Private Charles Bruce Laugher, 5th Infantry Battalion, C Company.
Image courtesy AWM. Image H06466.

Another 18 year old who died accidentally was Charles Bruce Laugher, known as Bruce. The son of William James Laugher, bookseller and stationer of Kyneton and his wife Esther (nee Roff), Bruce Laugher was a clerk who had come to Melbourne to work. I cannot find any direct reference to him in Coburg, but he is remembered at the Memorial Avenue of Trees in Lake Reserve (his was tree number 142), so perhaps he worked somewhere in Coburg.  His older brother Stanley William, also a clerk, lived in Cooraminta Street, Brunswick at the outbreak of war, so perhaps Bruce came down to join his brother. Stanley also joined up, served as a sergeant with the 5th Battalion, was wounded in action twice and returned to Australia in January 1919. 

Yesterday I sat in the Heritage Room at the State Library of Victoria and read Bruce Laugher’s diaries and the last two letters he wrote home. His letters were written in a vivid, conversational manner and as I read, I could believe that I was right there with him. He wrote about some souvenirs he was sending home – a German helmet cover and some buttons.  He’d picked the buttons up in a hurry, he said. Then went on to add
It’s not as if a chap is on a tour where he could pick up souvenirs etc. One does not have time for anything like that until the last minute before he comes out of the line that is providing he is lucky enough to be amongst the ones that come out after it is all over. Well, Good Luck was with me in our “hop out” and I managed to come out of the line with the other lucky ones.
This must have been one of the last letters his parents read and in all probability they read it after they’d heard the news of his death, when his good luck had run out.

His last letter home, written on 18 September 1916, just 8 days before he died, says that it was getting cool at night and they’d soon be having frosts. He says they’ll need their scarves and gloves etc. One of those etcs, a balaclava, proved to be Bruce Laugher’s downfall. He was shot at Ypres while coming off patrol by a fellow member of his Company, Private R.H. Armstrong, who was on sentry duty. An eye witness reported that
Laugher had been out on a listening patrol, he returning over the parpapet at a place where he was evidently unexpected. On being charged by sentry he made no audible reply. He was again challenged and again failed to reply. The place was very lightly held and risky and the sentry fired and shot him through the head.

An Inquiry was held and the following findings were made: They were all aware of the password, but Laugher did not give it. 'No blame is attributable to anyone, but it seems possible that owing to the deceased having his balaclava wrapped round his ears he did not hear the challenge.' It transpires he was wearing a cap and not a steel helmet. 

It may be, of course, that he did hear the challenge and did give the password but his voice was muffled by the balaclava and was not heard by the sentry. We'll never know.

So, as predicted, the night was cool enough for Bruce Laugher to wrap up warmly, putting on a balaclava under his cap and it was this act of comfort that inadvertently led to his death. 

I find it hard to image how his family coped with his death, not killed as a result of combat, but by a comrade who could not have seen who it was, given that the balaclava would have covered Bruce's face and it was 4 am and barely light yet.

The local newspaper gave an account of Bruce Laugher’s death in which they claimed that he was ‘killed in action’. A more palatable version of the truth, or perhaps the full circumstances had not yet come to light?

Kyneton Guardian, Saturday 14 October 1916, page 2.


Kyneton Guardian, 16 May 1916; Kyneton Guardian, 14 Oct 1916; Alpine Observer and North-Eastern Herald, 22 Dec 1916, p.1; Victorian electoral rolls, accessed via Ancestry; Victorian indexes to births, deaths and marriages, accessed via Ancestry; State Library of Victoria Manuscript Collection, MS 9607; Attestation papers of Charles Bruce Laugher and Stanley William Laugher; Australian War Memorial Red Cross Files; Coburg Historical Society collection; Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour Circular. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

An accidental death at Laverton

Another volunteer who is remembered at the Coburg State School Memorial Garden is eighteen year old Corporal Thomas Francis Quirke of 252 Sydney Road, Coburg, who died in an accident at Laverton on 15 January 1917.

At first I thought that he had died in a flying accident, however, the following newspaper article shows that he was thrown from a ‘motor waggon’, badly injuring his legs and died as a result of those injuries.

Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 19 January 1917, p.1.

Despite the fact that he did not die in battle, he was buried at Fawkner Cemetery with full military honours.

Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 19 January 1917, p.2.

Almost two years earlier, on 8 August 1915,  an older brother, William Michael, was killed in action at Gallipoli. William Quirke is remembered at Coburg’s Memorial Avenue of Trees, Lake Reserve. A third brother, John Victor, enlisted not long after Thomas’s death, on 17 April 1917, served overseas but on the Administrative Staff as a clerk. He returned safely to Australia. A cousin, William James Quirke, of Barry Street, Coburg, also served, and despite being wounded twice, returned to Australia.

Father John Quirke was a warder at Pentridge, as was his father's brother James (father of William James). In the 1920s, when William James returned from the war, the three men relocated to the McLeod Penal Settlement at French Island.

Mother Mary Josephine (nee Cashman) remained in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, living with her youngest son John Victor, who was the licencee of the Beehive Hotel, Barkers Rd., Hawthorn and then of the Terminus Hotel, Victoria Street, Abbotsford. They both died in 1928, she in March and he in December. Mary Quirke had accrued an estate of over  £13,000 pounds, nearly half of that in real estate. This she left to her husband, who died at Abbotsford in 1938 where he had lived with his oldest son John, who by then was the licencee of the Terminus Hotel.



Attestation papers for John Victor Quirke, Thomas Francis Quirke, William Michael Quirke and William James Quirke; Coburg Historical Society collection; Victorian birth, death and marriage indexes, accessed via Ancestry; Victorian electoral rolls, accessed via Ancestry; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 30 July 1915, p.2; Werribee Shire Banner, 18 January 1917, p.3; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 19 January 1917, pp.1&2; Argus, 8 April 1926, p.16; Argus, 18 May 1928, p.14; Argus, 22 December 1928, p.13; Will of James Quirke, PROV, VPRS28/P3/1518.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Lost to the sea

It is nice in the surf

While I was thinking about the ways in which the First World War influenced our emergence as a nation, I came across this recruitment poster and it reminded me that even though we might think of the surfie as a much later creation, the sea has always been a major part of Australian culture. After all, apart from Canberra, which is a fairly recent (and artificial) creation, all our capital cities are on the coast. 

It is nice in the surf, but what about the men in the trenches? Lithograph printed in colour on paper, c. 1915. Artist: David Henry Souter. Published by the Win the War League. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image ARTV00141.

The poster also reminded me of the role the sea played in the deaths of two Coburg recruits who never did make it to the battlefields of France. They were cousins William Geddes and William Henry McKay, whose attestation papers comment that they died in a boating accident on 30 July 1917 at Anderson Inlet while on final leave, on the day before they were due to enter camp.

Anderson Inlet, Inverloch, South Gippsland. 143 kilometres (89 miles) from Melbourne. Today’s tourists go for its swimming, sailing, fishing, windsurfing and surfing opportunities. This photo does not even hint at the treachery of the stormy winter sea that would have faced William Geddes and William Henry McKay. 

The accident

On the afternoon of the accident, 18 year old William Geddes and his 28 year old cousin William Henry McKay were in Gippsland helping their uncle Thomas Hilliar who was moving building materials across the inlet. The uncle, who had been a Coburg labourer, had recently acquired land at Point Smythe from the Closer Settlement Board. He’d already fenced off his property and had built a three roomed weatherboard house on his land and on this trip he and his nephews were moving timber across ready for more construction. According to newspaper reports, the boat was ‘bottle shaped’, loaded with too much timber on top, and came to grief somewhere near the jetty at Point Smythe.
When the party had failed to land by 10pm, the inlet was dragged. The boat was found floating bottom upwards but there was no sign of the men. Only a few sticks of timber came ashore and it was two days before Hilliar’s body was found. One newspaper reported that he had ‘made desperate efforts to save himself from drowning, as he had taken off two coats, removed the lace out of one boot, and partly unlaced the other.’  
At the time of the accident, no mention was made of the recovery of William McKay’s body and I have been unable to locate a death notice or find him in the Victorian Death Index. A newspaper report ten months later says that he was found the same day as his uncle, but I suspect that his body was never found. Although he is listed on his parents’ headstone at Coburg Cemetery, the register of burials for Coburg Cemetery does not list him. It is likely that he shared the fate of so many young men who were killed in action in France and whose bodies were never found.
Amazingly, William Geddes’ body was found ten months after the accident. It had been buried in sand, having been washed high up on the beach some time before and ‘had lain there buried until the sand which covered it was removed by heavy seas’. He was identified by the military buttons on his clothes. His remains were brought to Melbourne by train and he was buried in the Baptist section of Coburg Cemetery (Compartment P, Grave 416) with his aunt and uncle, Fanny and John McKay.

Geddes-McKay grave in foreground. Thanks to David Down of the Friends of Coburg Cemetery for confirming that William Geddes was buried with the McKays and for providing me with the location of the grave.

Some family background

William Geddes

By the time he enlisted on 14 July 1917, both of William Geddes’ parents were dead, his father William in 1906 and his mother Ruth Annie (nee Hilliar) in 1909 (when he was 10). Only one child from his father’s first marriage was living at the time of William junior’s death, the much older Agnes who married William Boldman of Emerald in 1902 and had four children of her own, born between 1903 and 1910. It was his mother’s famliy who provided William with a home and family support. On his enlistment, he named his cousin Mary Elizabeth Jackson, daughter of his mother’s oldest sister, as his next of kin. At the outbreak of war she lived at 462 Sydney Road, Coburg, also the address of Thomas Hilliar and it is likely that the young William Geddes lived there with them, as he attended Coburg State School.

William Henry McKay

William Henry McKay was the eldest of nine children born to Scot John McKay and his wife Fanny Caroline Hilliar (sister of Ruth Annie Geddes and Thomas Hilliar). Like his siblings, William was born in Coburg. William attended Coburg State School and is featured in the school’s World War One Soldiers Book, although, unlike so many others, his entry does not include a photograph.

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

This was an enterprising family. The McKay family were well known dairy farmers who had properties in Newlands Road, Coburg until the 1960s. Like her sister Ruth, William’s mother Fanny McKay died young, in 1912. Interestingly, we know from her probate papers that between 1897 and 1911 she had bought three lots of land totalling 26 acres with her own money, all in Newlands Road, Coburg, land which she left to her husband on her death. Probate papers reveal that at the time of his death, 28 year old William Henry McKay was well on the way to establishing himself. He had bought 17 acres of land in the Parish of Keelbundora valued at £350. He had 4 cows, 4 heifers, 2 horses and 10 hives of bees. He also had over £200 in the bank. Alan, the youngest son of the family, owned 200 acres of land which he sold to Kodak and to the owners of the Coburg Drive-In in the 1960s. Even then he continued on leased land along Edgars Creek until 1976 when the McKay’s long association with Coburg’s dairy industry ended.

The Hilliar family

As I researched this story, I became aware of a wide-reaching and loving family network based around the Hilliar family.
Henry Hilliar and his wife Sarah Beaton had seven children born in Brighton between 1856 and 1867. Two died young, but several played a supportive role in the lives of young William Geddes.
Eldest daughter Mary Elizabeth married Joseph Jackson in 1877 and it was her daughter, also Mary Elizabeth, who lived for a time in Coburg and is listed as William Geddes’ next of kin.
Thomas Hilliar, born in 1861, died with William Geddes and William McKay on 30 July 1917. He was the father of six, including a son Henry, who had enlisted in Western Australia in August 1914 and was killed in action in France on 30 May 1916. The family lived with Mary Jackson at 462 Sydney Road, Coburg in the early days of the war, so the cousins would have known each other well.

Neither William Geddes nor William McKay got the chance to fight for their country, but they are still remembered amongst Coburg’s war dead, not in the Memorial Avenue of Trees at Lake Reserve but in the Memorial Garden planted to the south of Coburg State School’s Infant School. William Geddes’ was tree number 33 and William McKay’s was tree number 8.
The trees no longer exist, but it is hoped that some form of additional commemoration will take place during the next four years. Your suggestions on how this might be done are welcome.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

A note on sources

I pieced together this story using many different sources, which I’ve listed below. I was amazed at how many interstate and country newspapers covered the boating accident story and it’s a reminder that it’s always worth looking at them all as I often found a little bit of extra information to add to the overall story by looking beyond the obvious sources. The newspaper reports were found in the National Library of Australia’s TROVE. I also found the Victorian Wills and Probate papers extremely useful. They’re freely available online through the Public Record Office of Victoria website. By locating William Geddes’ father’s will, for example, I discovered that William Geddes, the soldier, was the only child of his father’s second marriage. I also discovered the names of his half siblings, whom I had not been able to locate until then. I used Ancestry to get birth, death and marriage information. Even if you don’t have your own subscription, don’t forget to ask at your local library, because many libraries provide Ancestry. My final source was the Coburg Historical Society collection and in particular the Coburg State School Soldiers Book. The original of this can be found at the Society’s museum (Bluestone Cottage, 82 Bell Street, Coburg). There is an index and a fascimile of the book available for use at the Cottage during its opening times (1st Sunday of each month, 2 to 4.30).


Argus, 1 August 1917; Broken Hill Barrier Miner, 1 August 1917; Brisbane Courier, 1 August 1917; Powlett Express and Victorian State Coalfields Advertiser, 3 August 1917; The West Australian, 18 August 1917; Western Mail, 24 August 1917; Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 25 August 1917; Pakenham Gazette and Berwick Shire News, 17 May 1918; Adelaide Daily Herald, 17 May 1918; Adelaide Advertiser, 17 May 1918. Victorian Birth, Death, Marriage indexes (accessed via Ancestry); Victorian electoral rolls (accessed via Ancestry); Probate and Will of Thomas Hilliar, PROV, VPRS28/P3/748 and VPRS7591/P2/567; Probate and Will of William Geddes, PROV, VPRS28/P/1272, VPRS 28/P2/755, VPRS7591/P2/388; Probate and Will of Fanny Caroline McKay, PROV, VPRS28/P3/306; VPRS7591/P2/482; Probate and Will of William Henry McKay, PROV, VPRS28/P3/769, VPRS7591/P2/572; AIF attestation papers for 67879 Private William Geddes, Private William Henry McKay, 522 Sergeant Henry Hilliar, 11th Infantry Battalion; Coburg Historical Society collection; Richard Broome, Coburg Between Two Creeks.