Thursday, 19 February 2015

A tale of two Arthurs: both from Coburg and both killed in action

3046 Sergeant Arthur Hunt, 59th Infantry Battalion and 692 Private Arthur Hunt, 57th Infantry Battalion, both lived in Coburg and both died in France.
Here follows the tale of these two Arthurs, both with very different backgrounds and very different experiences of war.
This blog entry tells the story of 32 year old Englishman Arthur Hunt, who had only lived in Australia for seven years at the time of his enlistment in June 1915.
Born in London in 1883, this Arthur Hunt was a jeweller by trade, census and shipping records recording his exact occupation as bracelet maker. From a young age he lived in Birmingham, where his father worked as a gold swivel maker and his brother Albert as a gold bracelet maker.
During the Boer War (often referred to now as the South African War) Arthur Hunt served as a Corporal and his Australian World War One service record notes that he had been a 3rd Lieutenant in the Staffordshire Army Service Corps for 3 years.
In April 1904 he married Edith Lily (known as Lily) Allen at All Saints, Birmingham and the couple had three children, Beatrice, Eva and Doris. In May 1911, the Hunt family left their home at South Yardley (in the Birmingham area) and sailed for Australia. They settled in Melbourne.

When war was declared the Hunts were living at 322 Sydney Road, Coburg and it was from this address that Arthur Hunt enlisted on 15 June 1915. He embarked with the 7th Battalion on 29 September 1915. His was not a long war. On 19 July 1916, he was wounded at Fromelles (a gun shot wound to his right knee) and sent to the 5th Northern General Hospital at Leicester where his right leg was amputated. Unfortunately, he died as a result of the operation on 8 August 1916. He is buried at the Welford Road Cemetery, the resting place of a number of other Australian servicemen and women.
After Arthur Hunt’s death, Lily Hunt and her three daughters were granted war pensions. By this time they were living at 26 Richard Street, Coburg.
Lily must have read about or been told about a newly established NSW scheme to house disabled soldiers or soldiers’ widows with dependants, a scheme run through the Voluntary Workers’ Association (VWA). The Association built  Voluntary Workers’ Cottages, promoted as ‘Homes for Heroes’. Local VWAs were established in suburban areas, including Vaucluse, Manly and Epping. The VWA raised money, provided unpaid labour (often working on weekends and holidays) and some Crown Land was made available through an Act of Parliament, although local newspaper reports show that some individuals donated land, too. The cost of materials was often donated or advanced by the bank. 

Image courtesy Woollahra Council. Image pf000\pf000122b
Members of the Vaucluse Voluntary Workers Association at Frenchs Forest, c1918.

In January 1916, an article in the Geelong Advertiser explained how the scheme worked. This article was repeated in many newspapers throughout Victoria, so it was well publicised. The houses were to be provided at a low rent (4 or 5 shillings a week) and after 20 years, the resident would own the house, although the land would continue to be leased.

For someone in Lily Hunt’s situation – newly arrived in the country, with no deep-rooted ties to the Coburg area and with three daughters to raise – such a scheme must have seemed a godsend. Her relief at being so securely housed is evident in the following snippet of a letter she wrote to the War Department in October 1921:

By that time she had been living in Sydney for three years. Her address was ‘Leicester’, 12 Edenlea Street, Epping. The house name recalls the death place of her husband Arthur, not long dead from wounds received at what many believe was Australia’s worst 24 hours of the First World War – the Battle of Fromelles. 

The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 6 April 1918, p.8. This article shows that the Voluntary Workers Cottage scheme, like all voluntary schemes, had its problems. It is tempting to believe that the house in question was Lily Hunt’s home.

Arthur Hunt was born in England in 1881, moved to Australia in 1911 when he was 30, returned to the northern hemisphere because of the war in 1915 and died in England not too far from his birthplace in 1916 aged 35. After his death, his wife and daughters moved to Epping in New South Wales. His wife, Lily, died there in the 1940s. Her daughters Beatrice and Eva did not marry. Beatrice died in 1976 and Eva in 2006. As Doris is not recorded in the electoral rolls, it seems she married and hopefully raised a family of her own who now carry on the family legacy in Australia.

In the next blog entry, you will hear the tale of another Arthur Hunt, an 18 year old, who, although he was not related to the Arthur Hunt of this blog entry, also had a Sydney Road address when he enlisted.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Jack Caird writes homes

15 Private Jack Caird, 29th Infantry Battalion

When he enlisted on 16 July 1915, Jack Caird was an 18 year old brass moulder apprenticed to Walton and Scott.

Although he had been a pupil at Coburg State School, he is not featured in the State School’s Soldiers Book, which is part of the Coburg Historical Society’s collection. At the time of enlistment he lived in Sydney Road, Coburg with his widowed mother Elizabeth and his 10 year old brother George, but at some stage he had also lived at Fawkner. 
We know from letters published in the local newspaper that he had been a member of the 1st Brunswick (King’s Own) Troop of the Boy Scouts. We know, too, that he had been the secretary of the Fawkner Football Club and we also know from the Holy Trinity Honour Roll that he was a member of that congregation.
On 10 November 1915, Jack left for the war on board the Ascanius. Other Coburg men to leave with him were Percival Kerrison Smith, Thomas Joseph Lynch, Frederick John Sherlock, William Charles Thomson, Alfred Williams (all in A Company), George Barrie and Frederick Fletcher (in B Company) and John Arthur Mether (in D Company).
Something of Jack Caird’s experience of the war can be seen in the letters he wrote to his former Scoutmaster, Albert Ambrey (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 9 June 1916, 19 January 1917).
When the 29th Battalion arrived in Egypt, Jack sent back his impressions. This letter was written on Good Friday:
‘You asked me what I thought of Egypt. Well, I can tell you in one word and that is ROTTEN. We have seen nothing but sand and in fact we average about a bushel of sand a week in our food, and as far as Cairo is concerned, it ought to be burnt down with the exception of a few buildings – it is filthy and the smell is awful.’

Image courtesy AWM. Image  P00702.011 AWM  Cairo, Egypt. 6 January 1915. Australian soldiers in a dust storm. (Donor B. J. & V. Cardiff)

Image courtesy AWM. Image H02732.  Australian infantry marching during a dust storm, which is known in Egypt as a 'Khamseen'.

When he heard that William Symonds had been awarded the Victoria Cross Jack wrote:

‘I am glad to know Will. Symonds has won the VC and I hope you will be able to say that one of your old boys got it also, as I intend to do my best to get the Cross.’ (He did not succeed, of course, but he did survive the war.)

 Image courtesy AWM. Image P02939.002. Studio portrait of Sergeant (Sgt) William John Symons, 7th Battalion. Later promoted to Lieutenant (Lt), he was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) "for most conspicuous bravery on the night of 8th - 9th August, 1915, at Lone Pine Trenches, in the Gallipoli Peninsula". Lt Symons repelled several enemy attacks, withdrawing to a spot with some overhead cover and built a sand barricade. The enemy set fire to the woodwork of the overhead cover, which Lt Symons extinguished and rebuilt the barricade. "His coolness and determination finally compelled the enemy to discontinue the attacks". During the Second World War, Symons served as a Lieutenant Colonel with the British Home Guard set up to assist in repelling Hitler's expected invasion. He died in London on 24 June 1948.

When his friend Percy Smith was killed at Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916, Jack gave evidence at the inquiry into his death. He had been wounded that day and wrote home about it:
 ‘Oh yes, I got wounded alright and a nasty one at that, but still I was not sorry, for if hell is any worse, well, I am going to be a Christian.’

In the same letter, dated November 1916, he wrote:
‘I see by today’s paper that Conscription has been defeated. Well, it is good news for the boys over here.’ 
Jack was not alone in his opinion. Many men at the front were opposed to conscription.

Image courtesy AWM. Image RC00336. Black and white anti conscription leaflet. "AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY. Anti-Conscription Campaign Committee. 'VOTE NO MUM they'll take DAD next."

 Although Jack was wounded at Fromelles, he survived the war, married and raised his family, firstly at 2 Sheffield Street, Coburg and later at 10 Laurel Street, Coburg. He died in 1956 aged 59.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The first troops march up to Broadmeadows Camp

Here is another image from the Geo. Rose series of stereogrpahic slides from the Coburg Historical Society collection.

In my last entry, I mentioned the excitement in Coburg as the first recruits headed up to the Broadmeadows Camp and showed you a photo of them marching along Sydney Road, Coburg. You will also find there links to previous entries that describe the march in more detail.

Just before the Coburg photo was taken, the men had eaten lunch at Royal Park, as you can see here. In the foreground I can see bottles of cold drink. I wonder if anyone can identify the nature of the liquid refreshments? I can also make out a long table in the foreground with some empty plates and I can see a tea cup. I'm pretty sure that I can see slices of bread with a butter knife next to them. And just off centre to the right is a chap in a dark outfit carrying a flattish white box - perhaps of sandwiches?

As I look at the photo, I wonder what the two men in the very foreground are chatting about. I wonder, too, about the two boys who are looking in the direction of the photographer. Were they anticipating the day, when they, too, were old enough to enlist? And did that happen? 

Then, just next to them, there is a well dressed older couple and a young (very young) soldier standing just near them - their son, perhaps? The couple look as though they don't quite know what to make of all this. Did they believe, like so many others, that the war would be over and their son would then come safely home to them? 

Many of these early recruits lost their lives the following year on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Others were injured and returned to Australia, changed for life. Others still went on to serve on the Western Front. Some died, some were injured and returned to Australia early, but some remained until the end of hostilities.

It is impossible to tell from this photo what the future held for these soldiers and their families and friends. It is impossible, too, to know who of them might have been members of the Coburg community, but it is certain that there were some Coburg men on that march. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The first men to leave for the front

I’ve written before about the excitement in Coburg as the first recruits paraded down Sydney Road to the newly established Broadmeadows Camp.

In the Coburg Historical Society collection is a series of Geo. Rose stereographic photos, which have now been digitised and printed out to reveal an amazingly detailed picture of those first few months of the war.
As you look at the photos, you move back in time and become part of the scene. You are there among the crowds watching the troops set off down Collins Street. You are there as they eat lunch at Royal Park. You are in the crowd at the side of the road as they march down Sydney Road, Coburg on their way to Broadmeadows Army Camp. And you are there in the tent city that had arisen at Broadmeadows, watching as the men assemble their camp kitchens or train in the art of attacking in short rushes. And finally, you are there, looking on as the men eat their last meal before breaking camp and departing for the front.

This is just one image from the Coburg Historical Society collection. It was taken in October 1914 as the troops moved down Sydney Road, Coburg towards Broadmeadows Army Camp. You can also find a digital copy of this image in its original stereographic form on the Australian War Memorial website, image P00852.002.