Thursday, 28 November 2019

John Cook, a woodwork teacher, enlists

This is John Cook's entry in the Education Department's Record of War Service

The book is a fantastic resource for anyone like me who is interested in collecting the stories of Victoria's teachers, especially those who taught in the first half of the twentieth century. It combines the stories of their teaching careers with outlines of their war service. 

5456 Acting-Corporal John Bruce Cook of the 21st Battalion was a married man aged 42 when he enlisted in February 1916. He and his wife Edith had been married for 12 years. They lived at 40 Victoria Street, Coburg with their two children, Dorothy aged 10 and Alison aged 2.

Cook's teaching service began in 1889 when he was 16. A Bendigo boy, his first school was Camp Hill State School. He became a certificated teacher in 1895, the year he gained his Matriculation. When he took leave to join the AIF in February 1916, he was working at the Armadale Woodwork Centre.

His teaching life included work with the cadets. He'd been 9 years in the Reserve of Officers of the Commonwealth Cadets and also served 6 years as a Lieutenant in the Junior Cadets and 3 years as an Adjutant in the Junior Cadets. This experience, his training as a teacher and his age were probably the reasons he was based at Royal Park until July 1916 when he sailed for England on board HMAT A32 Themistocles. From there he was sent to the 6th Training Battalion at Larkhill in England where he remained until he returned to Australia with defective vision in June 1918. 

He was discharged from the AIF in Melbourne on 1 August 1918 and at the end of the month resumed duty as a teacher at his old school. He remained at Armadale for a number of years, but his final appointment was in his home suburb of Coburg. In 1934 he began work at 484 Bell Street, Coburg and retired from there in June 1938.

The Cook family lived in Coburg during the 1920s but moved to Camberwell North (later known as Deepdene) in the 1930s. John Cook died in 1963 aged 90.


If you'd like to know more about the school cadet program in Australia and New Zealand, you should read Max Waugh's book Soldier Boys, published by Melbourne Publishing in 2014.

And if you'd like to know more about Victorian State Schools and World War One, read Rosalie Triolo's book Our Schools and the War, published by Australian Scholarly Publishing in 2012.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Claude Jones, a promising cyclist, enlists

I began this story with very little information. From a newspaper article in the Brunswick and Coburg Leader on 23 June 1916, I knew that C. Jones of the Coburg Cycling Club had enlisted in July 1915 and that he had been wounded in late May 1916:
C. Jones, a very popular member of the club, has, we are sorry to learn, received gun wounds in the head in a night encounter on May 30th 1916. He enlisted in July last and went into camp on French day (July 14th).
But who was C. Jones and how was I going to track down his story? Jones is such a common surname that I thought I'd never find him. However, I found a further lead in another article in the Brunswick and Coburg Leader, published on 4 August 1916 under the headline 'Coburg Cycling Club':
Recently we announced that Pte C. Jones, our great champion, had been 'seriously wounded' receiving a bullet in the head. We are now pleased to report that he has been through a successful operation and is on the road to recovery. He will be remembered as one of our foremost road and track champions, representing the club in Nella Shields and road premierships, gaining 2nd place in the 25-mile premiership, and other races too numerous to mention. His cheerful, willing disposition, his good nature, gained for him many friends in the ranks, as it did in the Coburg Cycling Club. He enlisted in July 1915, in company with J. Sheppard and W. Cooper, who, we are pleased to report, are in the best of health.

 So now I knew that he enlisted with J. Sheppard and W. Cooper, also members of CCC.
Before long I had the information I needed: C. Jones was 3821 Pte Claude Jones, 6th Battalion, 12th Reinforcements. He enlisted on 7 July 1915 and was a 21 year old engine driver who lived in Colebrook Street, Brunswick. He was dangerously wounded in France at the end of May 1916 and sent to England.

From Claude Jones's service record. Courtesy National Archives of Australia.

And so ended Claude Jones's war. He was repatriated to Australia in 1917 and it was not long before the newspapers reported that that he was hoping to race again:

Winner, 2 May 1917

However, in August 1918, Claude suffered another health setback. The admission register of Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, Admissions Register shows that Claude Jones, 26, a soldier of 25 Colebrook Street, Brunswick was admitted on 16 August 1918 with diptheria. He was declared cured after 18 days and discharged on 2 September 1918. He'd been sent by Captain Graham of No.16 AGH, Mont Park.
He married Margaret Teresa Eginton in 1921, the same year in which he suffered yet another health setback - he was knocked off a ladder by a falling beam while working at the paper mills in Fairfield and was taken to hospital with a fractured skull.
It's not surprising then that Claude Jones is not mentioned in the main sporting newspapers - Winner and the Sporting Globe - after his return from the war.
He lived locally (in Gordon Street, Coburg) until the 1950s when he and his wife moved to Moorabbin. 
Amazingly, Claude Jones lived until 1981. He was 89 years old when he died, having survived two major head traumas and a serious infectious disease in his early adulthood. 
I've been unable to find an image of Claude Jones, but I can add a little information about the Nella Shield - the second article I quoted here tells us that Claude represented the Coburg Cycling Club in the Nella Shield.
Thanks to Lenore Frost, whose grandfather Thomas Eynon was a CCC rider and also represented the Club in Nella Shield races, I know that The Nella Shield competition commenced in 1908 and was sponsored by a businessman named Allen (Nella is Allen backwards). By the 1921 cycling season, two clubs had won the shield twice - Coburg and Prahran-South Yarra.

Coburg's Nella Shield team, 1911. Image courtesy Lenore Frost.

In this photograph, Lenore's grandfather Thomas Eynon is sitting on the left and she believes that William Thomson, another Club member who served in World War One, is the rider standing on the right. That leaves four team members to identify. I wonder if one of them is Claude Jones?

Friday, 15 November 2019

The Gardiner brothers of Chandos Street, Coburg

There were actually four members of the Gardiner family who were involved in the war - father Alexander and three of his sons Reginald, Raymond and Claude. 

Alexander, a carpenter aged in his 50s, was engaged in war work in England for the duration of the war and I've yet to discover whether records exist that might tell us what he did.

Reginald and Raymond Gardiner were teachers, so their war experiences were outlined in the Education Department's 'Record of War Service', published just after the war.

303 Pte Reginald Scott Gardiner, 55th Btn

Reginald Gardiner was born at Casterton in 1893, the son of Alexander and Agnes Montgomery (Wilson) Gardiner. He became a Junior Teacher with the Victorian Education Department in October 1908, his first school being at Yarragon in Gippsland. He taught until the start of 1913 then entered the Training College in Carlton. He was doing well when he applied for leave to enlist in August 1914, just after war was declared.

Extract from Reginald's Career Record, Teacher number 16370, Public Record Office of Victoria.

Reginald left Melbourne with the first troop convoy on 21 October 1914. He was on board HMAT A3 Orvieto, the convoy's flagship. There were 16 ships in that convoy and there were quite a few Coburg men on board - 70 on HMAT A20 Hororata alone. There were 1,400 service personnel on board the Orvieto, 28 of them from Brunswick and 15 from Coburg. Reginald Gardiner was then part of the Army Medical Corps.

We are fortunate that extracts from some of his letters home to his mother were collected, the circumstances explained in the following memo:

(Courtesy AWM)

So, here's what Reginald had to say about the voyage:

He also wrote about the Gallipoli landing in a letter dated 5 October 1915.

And on 30 November 1915, he wrote about the cold weather they had endured.

And finally, in his Christmas Day letter home in 1915, he wrote about the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

To begin with, Reginald was stationed at Divisional HQ, but later joined the 55th Battalion. He was ill with influenza in 1915 at Gallipoli and was gassed while serving in France in November 1917, but survived the war, was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and returned to Australia in June 1919.

He did not returned to teaching and in July 1920 the Education Department granted him indefinite leave. A newspaper report in March 1922 reveals that he had resumed university studies and was one of fifteen young barristers admitted to the Full Court. (Herald, 1 March 1922)

Reginald's career as a lawyer was very short. He died in November 1922 aged just 29. It seems that he succumbed to the effects of his wartime bout of influenza and gassing. 

2325 Pte Raymond Aubrey Gardiner, 38th Btn.

Image courtesy AWM. Image PO5248.0447.

Ray Gardiner was born in 1891 at Casterton. He was appointed a Junior Teacher at 1794 Bulumwaal, East Gippsland in March 1907. By the time he enlisted, he was Head Teacher at 3316 Cocoroc in the Werribee area. He showed promise as a teacher, as the following Inspector's report indicates:

He enlisted on 22 July 1916 aged 25 years and embarked on A17 Port Lincoln on 20 October 1916, just days before the first conscription referendum.

 Raymond Gardiner, the eldest son of the family, was killed in action at Passchendaele on 4 October 1917. The Roll of Honour Circular gives the following details:

(Courtesy AWM)

3303 Claude Montgomery Gardiner, 4th Btn.

The third brother to serve was Claude, born at Bulumwaal, East Gippsland in 1899. He was working as a printer when he enlisted on 30 July 1917 aged 18 yrs. At first he was stationed at Broadmeadows but embarked from Sydney on 2 February 1918 and served in France from July 1918. He had permission to join from his mother as his father was in England on war work. He was wounded (GSW thigh) on 27 August 1918 and returned to Australia in January 1919. He died at Preston East in 1973.

Another brother, Norman Wilson Gardiner, born in 1895 at Casterton, was a carpenter like his father. He was living in Loch St, Coburg during WW2 when he joined the Civil Construction Corps.

Their sister Enid Victoria, born in 1897 at Sea Lake, married John Murray McKay in 1926 and  died 1976. 

Friday, 8 November 2019

Coburg cyclists Ben Ogle and Jim O'Farrell and the war

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society

This story began with the photo you see here of 6273 Private James Patrick O’Farrell, 22nd Infantry Battalion. 

I was interested because the label that has been added to this image by a long-ago volunteer at Coburg Historical Society claims that Jim O'Farrell rode in the Tour de France in 1922.

So I set out to find out more ...

Jim O'Farrell was the son of warder Patrick O'Farrell who lived in Champ Street, Coburg, right next to his workplace, Pentridge Prison. He was a talented cyclist and member of the Coburg Cycling Club. 

Winner, 8 March 1916

In 1916 Jim tried a number of times to pass the medical to join the AIF but was rejected on account of his eyesight. After 11 months of home service, he was accepted finally and in November 1916 embarked for the Front on HMAT A20 Hororota. He served in France from September 1917 and was awarded the Military Medal a year later.

Courtesy Australian War Memorial

 After the war Jim remained with the Graves Department in London until his return to Australia in September 1919. 


I now went off on my search for Jim O'Farrell, Tour de France participant. The Tour de France began in 1914, but of course it fell into abeyance for the duration of the war. The race resumed in 1919, so I began my search on a website that lists all the participants from 1914 to the present day. No Jim O'Farrell. The first Australians competed in 1928, including Coburg man Ernest Bainbridge, but Jim O'Farrell was nowhere to be found.

So I went back to look through newspaper articles on TROVE and what I found were a number of references in September 1922 to two Coburg cyclists Ben Ogle and Jim O'Farrell returning from France.

Sporting Globe, 9 September 1922. 

The article that accompanied these photographs tells us that the two riders had enjoyed their six months in France, that they cycled with the Alcyon Company and rode in the Paris-Tours and the Paris-Brussels races but had little success. It seems, then, that the Historical Society member who wrote the labels for several of the Society's photos featuring Jim O'Farrell misinterpreted the information he'd been given and the Paris-Tours race (from Paris to the city of Tours in the west of France) became the Tour de France. How easily history can be altered by a simple misunderstanding!

Both cyclists were ex-servicemen (9130 Gunner Joseph Benjamin Ogle, a 23 year old saddler from O'Hea's Road, Coburg, embarked on 16 November 1915 per HMAT A39  Port Macquarie. He was in 2 Divisional Ammunition Column. He served mostly in Egypt and returned to Australia in August 1919) and both were eager to get back to riding once the war was over. So in February 1922 they headed for Europe. Destination France.

Sporting Globe, 9 September 1922

France must have seemed like a huge adventure, but it must also have been quite strange and more than a little confronting to return to the area where a little over three years earlier deadly warfare had devastated large parts of Europe. 

Ypres salient, 1917. Image A02653. Courtesy Australian War Memorial.

As well as competitive cycling in France, Ogle and O'Farrell holidayed in Germany 'where they were both treated extremely well, and formed a high opinion of the calibre of the German cyclists...' The journalist who wrote this article continued 'Both O'Farrell and Ogle are "diggers" and saw much of the country over which they fought not long before. That they both enjoyed their trip is certain, but Ben Ogle summed up their feelings when he said as he landed ... "Australia will do me every time."' (Sporting Globe, 9 September 1922)

On their return, Jim O'Farrell joined the staff of Pentridge Prison and worked as a warder, just as his father had done. He married in 1928 but his wife Ada died the following year. Later, in 1944, he married again. There were no children from either marriage. His second wife Juanita died in 1967. Jim died in 1974 aged 83.

Ben Ogle, 1914. He had just won the 33 mile Traders' Race. 
Winner, 30 September 1914.

Ben Ogle continued to ride for another decade and the press often used the description 'international rider' when writing about him. He married a Coburg girl, Cecily Thickins, in 1926. They remained in Coburg where he worked for the Coburg Council until the late 1930s then moved to Tallangatta in Victoria's north where he worked as Avon Shire Secretary. In the 1950s he was Assistant Shire Secretary at Geelong West and his final appointment was in the 1960s as Bet Bet Shire Secretary. He died at Maryborough in 1970 aged 77.


Monday, 4 November 2019

Coburg Cycling Club's WW1 Honour Board revisited

In October last year, I featured the Coburg Cycling Club's Honour Board which you can read about here. The Club has now given me access to a much better image, which you see here.

Image courtesy Coburg Cycling Club

Over the next few weeks, I will be featuring some of the stories of the Club members who served in World War One, beginning with the men listed in the Brunswick and Coburg Leader4 August 1916.
Among the latest members who have been wounded are L. Cpl. Broome and Pte. Lou. Ambler. Both are progressing favorably, according to latest advice.
Recently we announced that Pte. C. Jones, our great champion, had been 'seriously wounded' receiving a bullet in the head. We are now pleased to report that he has been through a successful operation and is on the road to recovery. He will be remembered as one of our foremost road and track champions, representing the club in Nella Shields and road premierships, gaining 2nd place in the 25-mile premiership, and other races too numerous to mention. His cheerful, willing disposition, his good nature, gained for him many friends in the ranks, as it did in the Coburg Cycling Club. He enlisted in July 1915, in company with J. Sheppard and W. Cooper, who, we are pleased to report, are in the best of health.
Corporal Gambetta, who enlisted and was rejected, was for several months on home service. He has now received his discharge. We will now see his well-known figure on the road. He is training hard in preparation for the big wheel race at the Exhibition, to be held this month. He has every hope of getting into form again and repeating his former successes. His ambition is to get to the front and fight for King and country.

I have written before about Lou (Lew) Ambler and his sister Milanie who served as a nurse. You can read their story here.  

I'll be featuring Lance Corporal Broom, Corporal Jones, J. Sheppard and W. Cooper shortly. 

Today, though, I'd like to tell you the story of Corporal Gambetta who enlisted and was rejected. His was a difficult life. He never did make it to the Front. Nor did he shine in the cycling world. This is his story.

Truth, 16 October 1921

It took me a while to track down Corporal Gambetta's story. At first I thought he was part of a much better known branch of his extended family whose father Christopher Leon Gambetta of the Education Department staff saw three sons go off to war, but it soon became clear that this was not so. They were related, but several generations back.

I began with the World War One Personal Case Files at the National Archives of Australia where I discovered that Private Louis Charles Gambetta of the 24th Depot enlisted on 13 January 1916 and was discharged on medical grounds on 22 July 1916. He was single, born on 3 May 1895, and worked as a clerk collector (that is, a rent collector) for D.J. Pemberton & Co., Estate Agents of 393 Rathdown Street, Carlton.

A quick look through the World War One service records on the National Archives of Australia website told me that he was never accepted for active service. And at this stage I had no idea why he might have been rejected.

There were very few cycling references to Gambetta in the newspapers: one in April 1915 when he took part in a Coburg Cycling Club 5 mile race at Campbellfield and another in November 1915 when he took part in a Bronzewing Cycling Club Time Trial. So I knew that he wasn't an active member of the Club.

I believe I've found his birth - at Long Gully, parents Louis and Grace Gemmel (McLean) Gambetta. It appears his father died at Bendigo Hospital in 1898 aged only 27 and that his mother remarried the following year to an Andrew Stephenson. 

How Louis Gambetta came to be living in Melbourne's northern suburbs is unclear, but in September 1914, 18 year old Louis was living with his uncle Jack Gambetta, a Metropolitan Board of Works employee in Lygon Street, Carlton.

It is unclear what happened to Gambetta during the war years, although we do know that he did not serve in the AIF. He next appears in the public record in November 1920 when he attacked the man whose house he lived in at Cadman Street, West Brunswick, stabbing him a number of times and slashing himself. The newspaper headline 'Lovelorn Youth Runs Amok' greeted readers of the Age on 2 November 1920. Found not guilty on the grounds of insanity he was transferred to the Sunbury Lunatic Asylum.

I found no more references to Gambetta in the Victorian newspapers, but a year after his court appearance in Melbourne, he found himself in the Sydney Central Court charged with fraud and claiming to be a cousin of the General Manager of the Tramway Board in Melbourne. (Not quite the same as an MMBW employee, but I think this must be a reference to Jack Gambetta with whom he lived in 1914.)

Finally, in June 1924 he appeared in Redfern Court charged with breaking and entering and receiving. Sentenced to two years imprisonment, he presented a pathetic figure to the court, a drug addict, claiming to have hip disease, a tubercular leg and a useless left arm (after his failed suicide attempt in 1920). He told the judge that he had 'one leg in the grave' and would have welcomed a death sentence.

This is eight years after Louis Gambetta attempted to join the AIF and was rejected. Reading between the lines, it may be that he always had hip disease, but his rejection by the military and the 1920 incident, suggests that his mental health was fragile, too. 

The last public record relating to Louis Charles Gambetta. NSW Police Gazette, Criminal Register, 23 April 1930.

Gambetta survived another 24 years. In 1949 he was living in Redfern, NSW. He died in October 1954 and is buried at Rookwood Cemetery, NSW.

A difficult story, but there must have been many more men like him who could not and did not cope with society's demands, tried to make their way in groups like the Coburg Cycling Club, tried to hold down steady work, enlist like other men, but just couldn't make it work for them.

Louis Gambetta does not appear on the Cycling Club's Honour Board, or on anyone else's Honour Board for that matter. His story has remained hidden for almost a hundred years. Perhaps you think it shouldn't be brought out into the public now, but I felt it was an important story to tell. I fear that too many people still slide through the cracks one hundred years later. And I wonder if our society would deal any better with Louis Gambetta if he were to offend today. 

Sources for Gambetta story:
World War One Personal Case Files at the National Archives of Australia
Winner, 7 April 1915, 17 November 1915
Fairfield Infectious Diseases Admissions Register, 9 September 1914
Age, 23 October 1920, 2 November 1920
VPRS 515/P0001/70. Central Register of Prisoners, Public Record Office of Victoria. Prisoner number 35712.
Sydney Sun, 13 October 1921
Truth, 16 October 1921
Sydney Evening News, 11 June 1924
Barrier Miner, 10 July 1924
Brisbane Courier, 11 July 1924
Rookwood General Cemetery Records
1949 electoral rolls
NSW Police Gazette, Criminal Register, 23 April 1930

Friday, 1 November 2019

Ambrose and Juan Montana, born in Coburg in the 1890s

Studio portrait of 99 Private (Pte) Ambrose Montana, 14th Battalion from Coburg, Victoria. A 21 year old surveyor prior to enlisting on 18 September 1914, he embarked for overseas with A Company from Melbourne on 22 December 1914 aboard HMAT Ulysses. While serving at Gallipoli, he was wounded in action in August 1915 and evacuated to Egypt before returning to Australia on 26 November 1915 for further medical treatment. After recovering from his wounds, he re-embarked for overseas on 7 September 1916 and re-joined the 14th Battalion in France on 12 December 1916. He was captured by the Germans at Bapaume, France on 11 April 1917 and held as a prisoner of war in camps at Wahn and Limburg, Germany. After being repatriated to England on 29 November 1918, he returned to Australia on 7 May 1919. Image courtesy AWM. Image H01614.

I came across this story because I noticed that the Australian War Memorial had recorded that Ambrose Montana was 'from Coburg', yet I had never come across his name in any of the Coburg lists or in any of my research, so I was curious to learn more.

I soon discovered that after Juan Montana (an American and Roman Catholic) married Jane Smythe (an Irish woman and Protestant) in 1890, the family lived for a few years in Sydney Road, Coburg, next to Monsignor Charles O'Hea, and in one of O'Hea's many Coburg properties.

The three sons of the marriage were born while the family were living in Coburg - Juan in 1892, George in 1893 and Ambrose in 1895. 

Not long after Ambrose's birth, the family moved to Hawthorn where Juan senior worked as a fruiterer. So the boys' connection to Coburg did not outlive their infancy, but because theirs is an interesting story and illustrates the Protestant/Catholic divide of the time, I'm writing about it here.

The father Juan Montana is something of an enigmatic presence in the family story. There are few references to him in the public record, except around the time that he left the marital home, citing religious differences as a major reason for the marital breakup - he was Catholic, she was Protestant and her friends were stirring up trouble between them. 

Herald, 24 September 1912

He then disappears from view and I have not been able to locate him anywhere in Australia. So maybe he returned to America. We'll never know.

The same can be said for the middle son George. Apart from his birth and one other mention around the time of the marital breakup, I have found no reference to him.

Of the other two sons, more can be said. Juan, the eldest, moved to Sydney where he worked as a clerk and when he enlisted in January 1915, he gave his religion as Church of England - his mother's religion. He gave his mother as his next of kin and strangely, gave her address as Larne, County Antrim, Ireland. So despite his Spanish?/Mexican?/American? sounding name, he clearly identified as an Irishman (and an Orangeman at that). He survived the war and returned to live in Sydney.

2077 Sapper Juan Montana, 2nd Btn from Sydney. Image H01613. Courtesy AWM. 

Ambrose Montana, the youngest of the three Montana boys, was educated at Hawthorn College and worked as a surveyor for the Railway Construction Branch before and after the war. With his Irish given name and his educational background, I thought that he might have identified as Irish Protestant (like his mother) when he enlisted, but he put down his religion as Roman Catholic. 

Of Ambrose, more can be told. He enlisted in Melbourne in October 1914 and left Australia with the 14th Battalion (A Company) on 14 December on board HMAT Ulysses. They were part of the second contingent to leave Australia and on board the Ulysses were a number of Coburg men - 883 Pte Frederick Walter Janes, 425 Pte Frederick Barker (also a POW, captured on the same day as Ambrose Montana), Lieutenant Colonel Richard Edmond Courtney, Captain (Adjutant) Charles Moreland Montague Dare, 450 Cpl Telford Gordon Greig.

I wonder if these men ever met and whether their connection to Coburg was ever mentioned. Ambrose probably had no reason to chat with Courtney, who commanded the 14th at that stage, or with Captain Charles Dare, the 14th's diarist and Courtney's friend and neighbour. But it would be interesting to have been a fly on the wall and see whether Coburg even existed still in Montanta's consciousness. 

Ambrose Montana was wounded at Lone Pine and returned to Australia with gunshot wounds and enteritis in November 1915. He was well enough to return to the front a year later, this time joining his comrades in France where he was captured at Bapaume on 11 April 1917 and became a POW at Limburg until he was repatriated to England on 29 November 1918.

Red Cross Missing and Wounded file, AWM.

Red Cross Missing and Wounded file, AWM.

Mrs Montana's wish that her 'Lovely brown eyed Boy' be returned to her was granted and in May 1919 Ambrose Montana returned to Victoria and resumed his work for the Railway Construction Branch. 

Ambrose lived and worked in camps all around Victoria until 1932. He married Desma Waller in 1920 and they lived in Glen Iris then Frankston before moving to Queensland where Ambrose died in 1974.

His mother, Jean Montana, died at Ararat in 1959 aged 90.