Sunday, 28 May 2017

James Atkin of Willow Grove, Coburg

 James Atkin. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.

The photograph you see here is of James Atkin, a Nottingham-born mill hand who served for 14 years with the Robin Hood Rifles (known as the Robin Hoods). He went on to serve with the Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment) for another 18 months. (The Sherwood Foresters later took the place of the Robin Hoods when the Territorial Force was formed in 1908.)

The Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) embarking for South Africa. Image courtesy 

From January 1900 until July 1901, James served in the Anglo-Boer war in South Africa, leaving his wife Gertrude at home in Nottingham.

Some years later, in March 1912, James and Gertrude Atkins left England bound for Melbourne. Childless, they had with them 4 year old Annie Atkin, James' niece whom they had adopted.

The couple settled in Willow Grove, Coburg, in a home they called 'Trent Villa'. In 1915, James, now 38 years old, enlisted and served for a while at Ascot Vale then as a Sergeant at the Officers' Training School. 

5333 Pte (later Sgt) James Atkin, 1st AIF. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.

He embarked for overseas in April 1916 with the 22nd Battalion (9th Reinforcements) and arrived in France in June 1917 where he was joined the 60th Battalion. Like many others, he suffered from trench fever and bronchitis, but unlike so many others, he was not injured.

In 1918 he was awarded the Military Medal for his role at the second battle of Villers Bretonneux (24 to 27 April 1918).

Originally recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, he was instead awarded the Military Medal for his 'splendid courage, devotion to duty, leadership, and utter disregard for personal danger at Villers Bretonneux.'

James returned to Melbourne in mid-August 1919 and on Monday 24 November 1919 he and his wife Gertrude proudly set off for Federal Government House where the Governor-General was to present the award. Disaster struck when in the grounds of Government House Gertrude felt unwell and died almost immediately. She was only 37.

Ballarat Star, 25 November 1918, p.2

The Weekly Times was blunt to the point of insensitivity in its headline:

 Weekly Times, 29 November 1919, p.36.

After Gertrude's death, James Atkin remained in Coburg. He married again in 1921 - to Ira Anderson - and they had two children whom they brought up in Coburg. Their son served in World War Two and later established himself as an orchardist at Humevale. Their daughter married and remained in Coburg for many years after James' death from pancreatic cancer in 1932. 

Of Annie, the adopted daughter who came with them from England, little can be told. Family sources say that she was a difficult child who became a difficult teenager and in the end she was asked to leave the family home. After that, nothing is known of Annie's story.

Annie Atkin (on motor bike) with a member of the Anderson family, date uncertain. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.

A family member dates this photo at c1942, but looking at the clothing style and the motor bike, I wonder if it wasn't taken at least a decade or two earlier.

Is there someone out there who knows something about motor bikes and could put a date to this bike? I can see it has the number 77, so have assumed it's some sort of racing bike - perhaps a dirt track racing bike. Would love to know more!  


  1. Goodness, that's a terrible story! Poor Gertrude, poor James. I feel for little Annie being taken from her birth family, for whatever reason, and feeling a loss she couldn't describe. Poor little girl.

  2. So many losses for the whole family. I agree.