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.

No comments:

Post a Comment