Friday, 11 December 2015

The 1917 Win-the-War campaign strikes trouble in Coburg

The 1917 election campaign rapidly became the Win-the-War Campaign and emotional calls to the people of Australia to support the campaign were soon in evidence, such as the one below printed in Punch.

Ladies Letter, Punch, 26 April 1917, p.32.

Not everyone supported the campaign, of course, as the candidate for Maribyrnong Edmund Jowett soon found out, especially when he spoke at Coburg Town Hall. 

The newspaper articles below tell the story.

Argus, 28 April 1917, p.19

Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter, 3 May 1917, p.6

The Age, 28 April 1917, p.14

And as I always like to throw out a mystery for you to try to solve ...

The Minutes of the Coburg Recruiting Committee, Wednesday 26 April 1917, show that the Committee resolved to send a letter to 'ex-Sergeant McGirvan, thanking him for speaking at the meeting on Friday evening and the committee expresses its regret that he was hampered in his discourse by a noisy element.' 

This is the meeting at Coburg Town Hall where Jowett was 'jeered by peace advocates'. 

I've searched for someone with the surname McGirvan or McGovan or McGavan who served in the AIF without success. There is no one with the surname McGirvan on the Victorian electoral rolls. I searched the Australians in the Boer War database without success. I searched TROVE - no luck.

So who was this ex-Sergeant McGirvan?

Friday, 4 December 2015

Who is the mysterious Captain Steel?

Remember Captain Steel who presented such a colourful picture at the opening of the Drill Hall in Reynards Road?

I've been trying to find out who Captain Steel was and the only person who is even vaguely possible is Captain Walter Henry Steel of Woolacott Street, Coburg.

Read on and see what you think. Is this the man who appeared in a 'blue jumper and plaid trews of the Scottish Regt., with a "Gyppy" helmet like a Khakee mushroom on top'?

At the time of the opening of the Drill Hall, Walter Henry Steel, or Hal as he was known, was a medical student. He enlisted in the Army Medical Corps in June 1918, too late to see action. His family lived at 19 Woolacott Street, Coburg, which places Hal Steel in the right locality.

Hal Steel was a Methodist and at the time of his enlistment in 1918 stated that he had served in the Senior Cadets for 2 years in the 64A Infantry, which was based at East Melbourne, and had also served in the Melbourne University Rifles for 3 years. 

So, is this the same man who commanded the 59th Battalion of Cadets in February 1914?

Even if not, Coburg's Hal Steel had a long lasting connection to the military, a connection that would take him far away from Coburg to southern Queensland.

Born in West Melbourne in 1897, Hal Steel's family moved to Coburg in the early years of the twentieth century. They lived in Woolacott Street until 1922 when they moved to Sandringham and it was around this time that the family's connection to Coburg ended.

In 1923 Hal married Cosette Wuttrich and moved to Stanthorpe in Queensland's Granite Belt where he worked as the medical superintendent of the Repatriation Department's tuberculosis sanatorium 'Kyoomba'. 'Kyoomba' was sometimes referred to as the Anzac Convalescent Home. (Quite coincidentally, members of my own family emigrated from north Staffordshire around this time and settled in Stanthorpe, so I know the area quite well.)

In 1929, Hal Steel was promoted to the position of medical superintendent of 'Rosemount' in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. It was Brisbane's main Repat. Hospital. He remained there until the early 1960s when he retired to Surfer's Paradise.

So, is he the colourful figure we read about in the Brunswick and Coburg Leader? I've read newspaper reports from Stanthorpe that say he was a member of the Stanthorpe Operatic Society (as were my aunts, uncles and cousins - another coincidence), so he was interested in theatre.  

In fact, I have in front of me as I write this the program for the Society's 1926 production of 'Miss Hook of Holland' billed as a 'Sparkling Musical Comedy in 2 Acts' which lists Dr Steel as the Producer, my great-uncle Tom Smith as Stage Manager and his son Len Smith as the Musical Director. Another cousin, Arthur Smith, was in the cast and my great-aunt Alice sang in the chorus. What a coincidence!

It's possible, but what do you think?