Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Staff Sergeant-Major Frank Taylor, hero or fraud?

I'm going to begin this post by going back to a story I've told before: the story of Staff Sergeant-Major William Dalton, who was based at Coburg. In February 1914 he became Staff Sergeant-Major Instructor in Cookery to the AIF Camps in Australia, based at Broadmeadows. In late August 1916 he was court-martialled for having received a large quantity of stolen tea. He was given the option of enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force rather than serving a prison term. This he did. By 3 October 1917 he was dead, killed in action at Ypres. You can read his story here.

I've started with William Dalton's story to show that even amongst men with previously spotless records, there were falls from grace.

Just down the road in Brunswick, Staff Sergeant-Major Frank Taylor sprang onto the scene with great acclaim in January 1917 (by which time Dalton was already overseas). He was appointed Brunswick's official recruiting organiser, based at the Mechanic's Institute on the corner of Sydney Road and Glenlyon Road. 

Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 19 January 1917

Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 9 March 1917

Brunswick Mechanic's Institute, taken by me, 4 March 2018 (day of the Sydney Road Street Party)

An imposing figure (powerfully built and 6 foot 3 inches tall), he arrived to great acclaim:

Sergeant-Major F. TAYLOR, the official organiser, is an old warrior and a much-travelled individual. He is a fine upstanding fellow, being 6 feet 3 inches in height, a native of Hawkesbury NSW and of massive proportions. 
His father was the late Sir Charles Taylor, KCMG, and he is a cousin of the late General Sir Edward Hutton, a former Commander-in Chief of the Commonwealth Forces.
The Sergeant fought right through the Matabele War (1896), Bechuanaland War (1897), Boer War (1899-1902), Somaliland War (1903-4), Swazi rising (1905), Zulu rising (1906), and in the late South African rebellion. He also experienced a lot of tribal fighting in Egypt and the Soudan.
Gaining the DCM in the Matabele War, he was decorated by the late Queen Victoria in 1897, by the late King Edward in 1902, and by his present Majesty King George in 1911.
He possesses also general service decorations, and was formerly a Captain in the Field Intelligence Department of the Military Forces of the South African Union. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 9 February 1917)

Who could fail to be impressed? There was more:

 Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 2 February 1917

On his return to Australia from South Africa in 1915, he went to New South Wales, we are told, where he took part in the 'Snowball' marches of 1915 and 1916:
Staff Sergeant-Major T (sic) TAYLOR DCM,  is accompanying the 'Boomerangs' to Bathurst NSW as instructor on their route march, is a soldier possessing a remarkable career. As the 'Boomerangs' marching from the Parkes and Forbes districts are going into the Bathurst Camp a few particulars regarding Staff Sergeant-Major Taylor will be read with interest. He first saw active service in the Matebele War 1896 as a Sergeant in the British South African Police, and was recommended for the Victoria Cross. .. etc. (The Bathurst Times, 3 February 1916)

'Western Champion' (Parkes), 27 January 1916

There were ten recruiting marches in NSW and southern Queensland in 1915 and 1916. They had names like the Waratahs, Kangaroos, Wallabies, Dungarees, Men from Snowy River, Kurrajongs, Kookaburras, Central West Boomerangs and North Coast Boomerangs

Image H11586. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial. Taken near Wallendbeen, NSW, c1915. The ‘Kangaroos’ march along a country road. This group started in Wagga Wagga in December 1915 with 88 men. By the time they walked the 350 miles to Sydney their group had grown to 230.

The accolades for Frank Taylor were repeated throughout the rural press, in Victoria and New South Wales.

Then came the fall from grace. 

Frank Taylor's stay in Brunswick was brief. He was 40 years old, single and lived at 74 Smith Street west, Brunswick, according to the 1917 electoral rolls. He was in Brunswick from January, when he was appointed, until 17 March, when he was 'relieved of his duties' (Evening Echo, 13 April 1917) and he left Melbourne en route to Adelaide, where he later claimed he was going to try to find similar work.

He got no further than Ararat. There he was intercepted and on 19 March was charged with a number of offences:

Soldier Prosecuted. Ararat Vic. Wednesday 28.3.1917. At the Ararat Police Court this morning, Frank Taylor was fined £3, or three weeks imprisonment, for having used insulting language at the Ballarat railway station to a guard on the Adelaide express. A second charge of travelling in a railway carriage on March 19 without being in the possession of a ticket or pass was dismissed. It was stated, in evidence by railway and recruiting officials, that Taylor was a recruiting officer at Brunswick till March 17. Taylor was next charged with having on March 19 worn a military uniform contrary to the War Precautions Act. It was deposed that he was in the uniform of a staff-sergeant at the Ballarat refreshment rooms. He came on to Ararat by the midday train and changed to plain clothes on the way up. (Argus, 29 March 1917)
Not too long after this, Taylor was arrested again, this time on 3 April 1917 at Lorquon, near Nhill (in the Wimmera). The charges ranged from forging and uttering to perjury and he was sent to Melbourne to the Supreme Court for trial. This time he did not get off so lightly. He was sentenced to 12 months. He served the first few months in Melbourne Gaol and the rest of his sentence at Pentridge Prison. 

Frank Taylor's prison photograph, taken April 1917.

His prison record (Prisoner 34589), available online at the Public Record Office of Victoria (Central Register of Male Prisoners, VPRS 515/P1, item 67, record Page 388) provides a little more information: He was 6' 2 and 1/2" tall, had brown hair and blue eyes, was a labourer and his religion is given as Church of England. It also records that he was born in New South Wales in 1877.

I have found no further trace of Frank Taylor after his release from Pentridge on 6 March 1918, but as I attempted to verify the stories about the early life of this 'modest' man who was never heard boasting about his exploits, it became clear that all was not right with his back story.

So, this is what I have found:

Family: He claimed his father was Sir Charles Taylor, but I have found no evidence of this. I can't even discover who Sir Charles Taylor was or what he did or where he lived. He said his cousin was Sir Edward Hutton, but again, no link has been found, although Hutton's life is well outlined in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Birthplace: On a number of occasions his birthplace is given as New South Wales, often the Hawkesbury is mentioned, but I have found no record of his birth in the Birth Indexes for New South Wales. On one other occasion, his birthplace is given as Serviceton, Victoria. This is a possibility, as Nhill was where he was apprehended in April 1917, and it is not far away. Again, he is not listed in the Victorian Birth Indexes.

Birth date: Almost all references to his age in newspaper articles suggest he was born between 1877 and 1879.

Occupation: He was described variously as a labourer, an engineer, a master mariner, a soldier, a recruiter and organiser, a dairy farm hand (in the Northern Rivers Region of NSW).

War experience: His supposed war record in South Africa was repeated endlessly in newspapers around Victoria and New South Wales, but nothing can be verified. Believe me, I've exhausted all the usual sources.  One newspaper said he left Australia for South Africa when war broke out and another that he returned to Australia in 1915 from South Africa. Yet another said he served at Lone Pine on the Gallipoli Peninsula and another that he had just returned from France.  I even found an article in the Goulburn Evening Penny Post (30 September 1915) that said he had just passed the medical for active service. He is also said to have worked at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. There is no record of war service on the National Archives of Australia website, however.

So, I'm left wondering what is the real story behind this man with the 'unassuming disposition and cheery manner', a man who was 'immensely popular with the staff at headquarters'. (Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser, 18 April 1916)

It's quite a story whichever way you look at it. I don't suppose I'll ever discover the 'truth' of his past or what happened to him after April 1918, but if you have any suggestions of where I could look, please let me know.

Victorian electoral rolls
Victorian Birth indexes
New South Wales indexes
Fighting the Kaiser
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Australian War Memorial encylopedia
Australian War Memorial images
Public Record Office of Victoria, Central Register of Male Prisoners, VPRS 515/P1, item 67, record Page 388
Anglo Boer War website
South Bourke and Mornington Journal, 28 January 1915
Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 30 September 1915
Western Champion (Parkes), 27 January 1916
The Bathurst Times, 3 February 1916
Sunday Times, 2 April 1916
The Globe and Sunday Times War Pictorial, 8 April 1916
Richmond River Herald, 18 April 1916
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 19 January 1917
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 2 February 1917
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 9 February 1917
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 9 March 1917
Ararat Advertiser, 20 March 1917
Ararat Chronicle, 20 March 1917
Argus, 21 March 1917
Age, 29 March 1917
Argus, 29 March 1917
Ararat Advertiser, 29 March 1917
Ararat Advertiser, 12 April 1917
Ballarat Courier, 13 April 1917
Evening Echo, 13 April 1917
Herald, 13 April 1917
Warrnambool Standard, 13 April 1917
Herald, 19 April 1917
Ararat Advertiser, 29 April 1917

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