Sunday, 31 January 2016

Private McCormack’s father and ‘Squizzy’ Taylor

1554 Private John Francis McCormack, C Company, 21st Infantry Battalion, enlisted in April 1915 at Bendigo where his father had recently taken up the position of senior warder at Bendigo Gaol.

John McCormack had been born in Coburg while his father was on the staff of Pentridge Prison. He and his older sister Dorothy lived with their parents James and Hannah in Hudson Street, Coburg. A pupil of Coburg State School, he is remembered in the school’s Soldiers’ Record Book and a tree was planted in his memory in the school’s Memorial Garden.

John McCormack, Coburg State School Soldiers' Book, page 68, Coburg Historical Society collection.

According to the Soldiers’ Book, John McCormack was on board the Southland on 2 September 1915 when she was torpedoed on her way to Gallipoli, the first Australian ship to suffer this fate. You can read more about the torpedo attack here.

3 September 1915. Men rescued from the troopship Southland wait for breakfast the next morning aboard the hospital ship Neuralia. The Southland was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea near Agistrati Island while carrying Australian troops to the Gallipoli Peninsula. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial. Image CO1833.

After three hours in the open sea, McCormack was picked up by a French hospital ship. These details are not noted in his dossier but a fortnight later we are told that he was admitted to 3AGH Alexandria with a hernia. He remained in hospital for several months, then convalesced in Egypt before rejoining his unit in January 1916. He arrived in France on 26 March 1916 and five months to the day (26 August 1916) he was killed in action at Mouquet Farm, Pozieres aged 21. 

Mouquet Farm before the bombing. Image courtesy AWM. Image J00181.

The ruins of Ferme de Moucquet, 1918. Image courtesy AWM. Image E04043. Some Australians referred to it as ‘Moo Cow Farm’, others as ‘Mucky Farm’.

John McCormack’s parents were in Bendigo at the time of the death of their only son. In 1922 they returned to Melbourne when his father took up the post of Chief Warder at the Melbourne Gaol (now referred to as the Old Melbourne Gaol). His sister Dorothy, who never married, lived with her parents on the grounds of the Gaol. 

It was at Melbourne Gaol in January 1924, when James McCormack was Acting Governor, that Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor conspired with others to assist Angus Murray to escape. Murray was a known associate of Squizzy’s who had murdered a bank manager while an escapee from Geelong Gaol. It is believed that Squizzy organised the robbery. (Murray was the last man to be hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol on 14 April 1924. Taylor died in a shoot out with ‘Snowy’ Cutmore in October 1927.)

Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, ID 14359, Picture Victoria.

Argus, 1 Feb 1924, p.11.

A year after the attempted escape at Melbourne Gaol, James McCormack transferred to Pentridge Prison where he moved into the Chief Warder’s Quarters with his wife and daughter. In 1926, his wife Hannah died there. After his retirement, James and his daughter Dorothy moved to Caulfield where he died in 1937. Dorothy died in 1962 and the three of them are buried at Fawkner Cemetery.

It is sad to think that within fifty years of John McCormack’s death in far away France, this branch of the family ceased to exist. For me, this is one of the important reasons to commemorate the centenary of this so-called ‘war to end all wars’. It is one small way in which we can share the stories of men like John McCormack who have no one of their own left to remember and honour them.

If by chance you are member of the wider McCormack family, perhaps you would like to share what you know about John McCormack.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Best mates Les Ward and Keith Harder of Coburg

Les Ward, second from left in the back row. Keith Harder, second from right in back row.

Les Ward and Keith Harder, both former pupils of Coburg State School, were best mates. They enlisted in the Army Medical Corps on the same day. Both were stretcher bearers with the 12th Field Ambulance and they usually shared a tent of a billet.

On the same day, another local man, 13366 Private Walter (Wattie) Samuel Webber, enlisted. Their consecutive numbers suggest he was standing in line behind Les Ward. Wattie Webber, a ‘professional physical culturalist and first class all round athlete’ according to his mother in the Roll of Honour Circular, served as a stretcher bearer in the 13th Field Ambulance until he was killed in action on 25 April 1918.

13295 Private Howard Keith Harder, Army Medical Corps, survived the war, although he was wounded in early 1918 and evacuated to England for treatment.

His best mate, 13365 Private Leslie Thomas Ward, 12th Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, was not so lucky. Les Ward, whose father John was Coburg rate collector, died of gunshot wounds in the back and shoulder on 12 March 1917.

Keith Harder had been in hospital and didn't receive the news of Les’s death until two weeks later. On Friday 24th March 1917 Keith wrote in his diary, ‘Heard the sad news that my dear pal Les had passed away. He had been suffering from gangrene, double pneumonia and pleurisy and at last his heart failed him. I cannot realise he has gone to the greater world and my heart is full of deep sympathy for his beloved parents whose suffering is above imagination. Poor old Les . My good chum. I will forever have you in my thoughts.’ 

Keith Harder honoured his mate Les all his life. Keith kept the name tag belonging to Les Ward and mentions him many times in his diary. His own tag and Les's are still in the possession of Harder family members today, who also treasure the diary Keith Harder kept throughout the war.

Both the Ward and the Harder families suffered the loss of loved ones during the war. Keith Harder’s brother Victor died, as did Les Ward’s brother-in-law Bert Crowle. Today, members of the Harder family remember with both sadness and pride the wartime service of the Harder brothers, but also keep alive the memory of Les Ward and other friends and family members who served.

Thank you to Paul of Strathfieldsaye for showing such interest in this project and for supplying photos and information so willingly. 

Monday, 4 January 2016

More on Dagmar and Carl Dyring

In a recent blog entry I wrote about the war time experiences in Egypt of Dr Carl Dyring of Coburg and his wife Dagmar (nee Cohn). You can read about it here

Since then, a member of the Cohn family has made contact and kindly shared some more of the family story, including the following photos of the Dyrings.

The photos are from a book about the Cohn family: Tablets of Memory: The Bendigo Cohns and their Descendants 1853-1989 by Alan A Cohn, Jack M Cohn and Lawrence J Cohn; Antelope Press, Doncaster, 1990.

Other information from the  Cohn-Bruinier Family Archives include letters written by Dagmar's nephew Trooper Leo Cohn of Bendigo.

Photo courtesy Cohn-Bruinier Family Archives 

Leo Cohn's letters home add a little more colour to the story of the time Carl and Dagmar Dyring spent in Egypt.

For example, on New Year's Day 1916 he wrote 'We went out with Auntie Dag and Uncle Carl. We went through the old Coptic Churches... We also went over the Mosque of Marod [Murad].. When we got back we went to Groppi's for afternoon tea ... Groppi's is the most fashionable cafe in Cairo.'

Cafe Groppi, January 1916. Image courtesy AWM. Image number C00008.

It is interesting to note that Cafe Groppi is still open and you can read some of its history here and here. A search of Google images will give you an idea of just how glamorous it must have seemed to the Australian troops, many of them country boys and men who had  rarely been to the city, let alone an exotic location like Cairo. No wonder the AWM describe it as a 'favourite haunt of Australian soldiers'.

On Saturday 22 January 1916, Leo Cohn and his Auntie Dag and Uncle Carl toured the Tombs of the Marmalouks [Mamelouks]

The following Friday Leo went to Auntie Dag's for dinner and reported that 'Uncle Carl has been ill but is pretty right now.' Two weeks later he wrote that 'Uncle Carl and Auntie Dag have gone to Luxor for four days. Uncle has not been too good.' 

We know from the official record that Uncle Carl was sent back to Australia with emphysema and heart trouble soon after. Leo records that Auntie Dag was preparing to leave Cairo in early April and we know that by May she was back home in Bendigo. Her husband returned in December and retired from his busy practice in Coburg, thus ending the family's association with that suburb.

Thanks to the  members of the Cohn-Bruinier Families who have allowed me to publish this material.