This blog is a companion to the Database of Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington

Saturday, January 20, 2024

George Young's War

Pozieres, pulverised by shelling, where George Young suffered shell shock.  AWM A05776

George Henry Young suffered a bit of a battering in the war.  He was wounded in the foot at the Dardanelles, being invalided to Malta and later England.  In 1916 in France he was hospitalised with shell shock, and again invalided to England.  During his lengthy periods in convalescence, he managed to marry a young English woman, and when repatriated in 1919, they had a baby with them.

When he returned to France he suffered shell shock after the terrible shelling of Pozieres, where his Battalion had been posted.

Rod Martin tells the story of George Young's war

Saturday, November 11, 2023

State school teacher wounded at Gallipoli

         Private Thomas Keddie, State school teacher at San Remo.

Thomas Keddie, a State school teacher, enlisted in the AIF at the first opportunity in August 1915.  Like many men of his educational attainments he was made up to a Sergeant at an early stage in his training, but was reduced in rank in February 1915 to Private.  His service record does not specify why that occurred, though it is possible he requested the change himself.    He may have taken part in the defence of the Suez Canal when it was attacked by the Turks, but that remains another mystery.

On 25 April 1915 Thomas landed at Anzac Cove with his 8 Battalion comrades.   Later in the day he was shot in the leg and evacuated.  It meant the end of the war for Private Keddie, and he returned to teaching in Victoria.  His presence in the Ascot Vale State School "Book of Noble Deeds" suggests he taught there for a period.

You can see Rod Martin's account of Thomas Keddie's part in the Great War here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Private Yeats and the attack at Polygon Wood

Somme mud, 1916 (AWM P905380.002)

Private William Yeats arrived in France in January 1917 in time to enjoy the worst winter in 40 years.  A slight increase in temperatures preceded a thaw that changed conditions to a muddy quagmire.  Rod Martin takes up the tale of  young William Yeats, iron moulder of Flemington, who struggled through the appalling conditions in France until struck by shelling at Polygon Wood, his death bringing grief to yet another Flemington home.  See his detailed story on the Empire Called website.

William Yeats' memorial at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Pattie Deakin and the Anzac Buffet

Elizabeth Martha Anne Browne (but known as Pattie) was born at Camp Hill, Tullamarine Victoria on 1 January 1863. She was the third of the eleven children of Hugh Junor Browne and his wife Elizabeth (née Turner).

Throughout her married life, Pattie devoted herself to her family and charity work, especially in the area of child welfare.  She encouraged her three daughters to live a life of service to others.

For a listing of her philanthropic work, see the Australian Women's Register

Jane McMillan and Pattie Deakin (in a hat) with the volunteers of the Soldiers’ Refreshment Stall. Photo:  Voluntary War Workers Record, Australian Comforts Fund, 1918.

Vera Deakin and the Red Cross, by Carole Woods, was published by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria in 2020.  While reading this book I was interested in the reference to the Anzac Buffet, and most particularly just exactly where it was in St Kilda Road.  It required a little bit of digging, but now I know.

When the war began in 1914, the Australian Army put its efforts into equipping and training their recruits for war, but it was the women of Australia who threw themselves into providing comforts and morale boosting for young men separated from their friends and family.  Though the troops were surrounded by young men similar to themselves,  they could be lonely for their wives and girlfriends, mothers and sisters.   The women of Australia understood this and with a will they threw themselves into providing home comforts for the men. 

The women also excelled at seeing a need and working out a way of filling that need without the support of a huge organisation around them.   The Soldiers’ Refreshment Stall, later called the Anzac Buffet, is one example of a need met by a group of women without a formal organisation. Leadership was provided by older women, self-selected largely through class and status, and the rest generally formed a supportive group around them with no formal structure required, only a willingness to work hard and fill a need.

Soldiers being served by women volunteers at the Anzac Buffet at No 5 Australian General Hospital, Melbourne, circa 1916. The conditions are fairly rudimentary, with a canvas awning and the window hatches the only shelter in the event of rain. Australian War Memorial, H03343.

When men who had returned from overseas began congregating for appointments at the 5 Australian General Hospital (5AGH) in St Kilda Rd, often waiting for lengthy periods to be seen, the need was perceived for hot drinks and a meal to sustain them during their long waits and travel time at both ends of the appointment.  The men were highly appreciative of the services provided by the women, and all for the cost of only one penny. 

The 5AGH was located in the newly completed Police Hospital. Before ever having admitted a patient, the Police Hospital was taken over by the Army to provide for soldiers yet to embark and also by wounded returning from Gallipoli. The first patients were admitted in March 1915.

A news article described this drawing: “The Building elevation shown above is that of the new police hospital which is in course of erection upon a site on the corner of St Kilda road and Nolan-street, which was formerly part of the old Immigrants Home property.”  (Argus, 20 June 1914).

No. 5 Australian General Hospital (Base Hospital) Melbourne. F C Hawker, p 6.

The hospital faced Nolan Street on the north side, now renamed Southbank Boulevard.  St Kilda Road passes in the foreground.  It reverted to a Police Hospital in 1920.   

The Police Hospital from a drawing of the entire Police Depot in St Kilda Rd.

See The Heritage-Listed Old Police Hospital is Born Again.

Former Prime Minister Alfred Deakin had accepted an invitation to form a delegation to visit the USA in January 1915, and despite his daughter Vera being anxious to find a way to serve the war effort, she was obliged to accompany her parents to California.  Pattie, his wife, and Vera Deakin had been original members of the British Red Cross organising committee in Melbourne in 1914, but left the committee when they travelled overseas with Alfred.   Both of the women were accustomed to leadership roles,  so on their return they had to find a new activity rather than appropriate their former positions, now occupied by other women.  The Australian Red Cross was providing workers in the kitchens at the 5th Australian General Hospital (5AGH), and  it might have been their suggestion that there was a need for a refreshment service for the men who had long waits to see doctors and other health professionals. 

Vera Deakin worked with her mother and Jane McMillan in the establishment of the Soldiers Refreshment Stall, but on 21 December 1915, Vera and her friend Winifred Johnston left Melbourne on a ship bound for Cairo, to begin her important war work with the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau

The Deakins arrived home in early July 1915.  On 29 August 1916 The Argus reported that the first birthday of the Soldiers’ Refreshment Stall had taken place on the previous day, implying that the Deakin women had taken less than two months to set up and commence their work in 1915.   There were formalities to go through  – permission from the authorities at the 5AGH, a tent to work in, some basic equipment to assemble and the first donations of tea, coffee, cocoa and bread, cake and appropriate provisions for soup, and a team of volunteers to operate the stall seven days a week.  They kept this up for four solid years, with the work building from 4,000 per week in 1916  to an average of 1,000 “serves” per day in 1919. (The Herald, 11 Nov 1919, p 1).

The Stall served hospital  outpatients, drivers, men from the camps, orderlies and all soldiers who had a need of it.    Ten and later 15 volunteers turned up each day to run the stall. The group photographs show thirty-six and forty-eight volunteers respectively, and thirty-five are listed individually in the Voluntary War Workers Record, Australian Comforts Fund, 1918.   Between 400 and 500 volunteers assisted throughout the period of its operation, and 130 names were on the roll in 1919. (The Herald, 11 Nov 1919, p 1).

From the Ladies Letter, Punch, 4 May 1916:

“The Base Hospital Soldiers' Refreshment Stall celebrated Anzac Day by entertaining over two hundred overseas "Anzac" men, presenting each guest with packets of  cigarettes, sweets, and matches. There was no speechifying or boresome formality about the affair—just a homely, cheery greeting characteristic of this pleasant "corner" run by the "Serve You Right Sisters," as the volunteer- caterers at the S.R.S. are affectionately dubbed by their khaki customers. Each arrival was just enjoined, in greeting to "remember the day, and what it commemorates” and, indeed, the majority, of those present, with limp, hanging, empty sleeves, shaded eyes and pathetic bandages, had every reason to remember.

This "corner," by the way, is kept so busy now that it requires  an average "of ten helpers a day. There is no committee, no board, no red tape. Practically every suburb is represented among the helpers, among whom exists a wonderful esprit de corps and absence of friction. Over 900 men per day are fed and "mothered" very often, or a mean average of 4000 per week. Supplies and cheques just flow in without any necessity for canvassing or pleading on the part of the organisers — not in huge, spasmodic lumps and amounts, mind  you. There is just that knowledge among the S.R.S. that they know where to turn for support ; a regular fifty pounds of tea, for instance, keeps the caddy replenished from one firm ; so many pounds of cake per week arrive from another ; and so on. A leading Prahran emporium the other day handed in a cheque for £25, saying that was only the beginning of what the employes intended to do as a recognition of the fine work being done.

"By their works ye shall know them," and the gratitude of the soldiers who have been administered to, and of their relatives and friends, is constantly being signified in a variety of ways. One soldier—a baker by trade—sends along his "thank you" every week in the form of a trayful of pastry cook's goodies. The mother of one soldier who was shown kindness by these volunteers tried to express her gratitude by offering little gifts to the chief ministering angel. This was gently declined, with the explanation that other soldiers who were not able to afford such presents might be made to feel unhappy; but if "Mum" liked to send along some scones or something they would be very welcome. Now, with frequent regularity, a package of home-made cakes, scones, etc., arrive at the buffet from this grateful "Mum." In addition to the hundred-and-one little services which the workers in this "corner" are able to do, such as sewing on buttons, writing letters (for those, alas ! incapacitated), interceding with authority, helping through inquiries, comforting relatives, etc., a regular "Returned Soldiers' Aid Fund" has become established.

Temporary loans for small amounts are advanced to those who need them. Poor Billy Khaki is so often "stoney," awaiting pay  arrears—goodness knows why and how ! This temporary accommodation is given, with discretion, with common-sense judgment, but without cold official inquiry, without red tape, without even hesitation" as to its being "deserving." And how it is appreciated ! In nine cases out of ten all such advances are returned in due course. And as for the tenth—well, what are we all supposed to be doing, and thinking, and talking of, and bragging about, if it is not helping soldiers in need?  Another excellent movement instituted is for the provision of suits of civilian clothes for discharged invalids. A soldier is given one outfit by the Government when he doffs his khaki. If that gets wet or damaged he can very seldom afford to buy another. Husbands and friends of this helpful sisterhood are only too glad to contribute suits for this, purpose,  particularly duck and linen, outfits for on board ship for those discharged men who have to return to England”. (Punch, 4 May 1916, p 32.)

The soldiers', new refreshment stall at the base hospital, St. Kilda road, was opened on November 30 by the acting State Commandant, Brigadier-General R. E. Williams. The pavilion was built at the expense of the Defence department in order to provide better accommodation for carrying on the work than the old structure afforded. The new stall has been christened the "Anzac Buffet," and in it returned soldiers are provided with refreshments at a nominal cost. The buffet is conducted by a number of patriotic sympathetic ladies, who give their services, voluntarily. After Brigadier-General Williams had explained the launching of the movement two and a half years ago by women eager to serve their country in any capacity, Mrs Alfred Deakin (directress) responded, thanking the Defence department for the gift of the pavilion, which would greatly assist in the work they were devoted to, at which announcement the soldiers cheered enthusiastically. Luncheon was subsequently served, and amongst those present were Brigadier-General and Mrs  Sellheim, Mr. Alfred Deakin, Colonel F. D. Bird, Major and Mrs. Courtney, Colonel G. Cuscaden, Lieut.-Colonel Pleasants, Matron C. Milne, Mr. T Trumble, Mr. F. Gates, and others. (The Australasian, 8 Dec 1917, p 41)

At the same time as the improvement in accommodation and name change for the buffet came also some smart uniforms for the women.

 The large band of voluntary workers, for they number over a hundred, who help at the soldiers' refreshment stall on St. Kilda road, have blossomed out in smart uniforms of dark brown covert coating coats and skirts piped with red. They are very proud of their new pavilion, which Brigadier-General Williams described as "being quite ornate," and it is in comparison with the little building in which they first started. Fourteen women with a matron attend every day, and serve refreshments to returned soldiers and men on final leave only, and they have carried on their work without ostentation or desire for publicity for two and a quarter years. As this is, I believe, the first group of women to don a set style of dress, no doubt others will follow suit, and so we may have for all voluntary workers a recognised uniform like the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps in England. (Table Talk, 20 Dec 1917, p 31.)

On 1 August 1918 the Punch featured the Anzac Buffet in a page of photographs, by F W Tolra:

1 A group of buffet workers. (Looking very smart in their new dark brown tops and skirts with red piping.)

2 Watching the recruits pass. (Outside their new tin pavilion.)

3 The Army and Navy Meet.

4 Sandwich cutters hard at work.

5  A corner at lunchtime – Anzacs all!  (Rather more spacious than the original refreshment stall)

6 Some of the boys. (“Our four years' service here has been the greatest privilege of our lives.”  
Pattie  Deakin and Jane McMillan. )

In 1918 the Australian Comforts Fund published a small book entitled Voluntary War Workers Record to raise money for the comforts fund.  In this is a very engaging article from Philip Ray (most likely a pseudonym for Ray Philips, who appears in the list of Buffet volunteers included) describing the activities and atmosphere in the Anzac Buffet on an average day.

The closing of the Anzac Buffet was announced in August 1919, and many were the tributes for the kindness and hard work of Mrs Deakin, Mrs MMillan and the volunteers of the Buffet.  A typical tribute was paid by a returned Sergeant:

After four years of useful service the Anzac Buffet 
at the Base Hospital closed today, and the speeches
which were delivered at a brief ceremony indicated 
the high place which the institution has won in the 
hearts of the diggers. '
"I am just out of hospital and I have nine kids, 
who are growing up now, thank goodness," 
declared a burly sergeant, wearing the Anzac 
rosette. "The humble little 'browns' which I 
pushed across the counter here were a great
help to me, until I got my settlement. It has 
been wonderful to the boys." His impromptu
speech won more applause than any of the
more formal expressions of approval.
Brigadier-General Brand, the State 
Commandant, sketched the story of the
buffet from its inauguration in a bell tent,
through the stage when it was housed in 
a shack, to its work in its present building. 
He paid a tribute to "those devoted ladies,"
Mrs A. Deakin, Mrs McMillan and their
co-workers, and mentioned that the 
average number of meals served in a day
was 1000. The buffet had been supported 
entirely by private subscription, and would,
in future, continue as a canteen for patients 
in the hospital.
Senator Russell, Acting Minister for Defence,
said that the four years of hard work which
had been carried out by the workers at the
buffet showed a spirit which would, in the
male gender, have found expression at the
front.  Mr Groom, Acting Attorney-General, 
said that the name borne by Mrs Deakin
would live for ever in Australia, because
it stood for all that was best in Australian
national life. The name of Deakin was 
one of the greatest not only in the history 
of the Commonwealth but of the British 
Empire. The lady who had stood by Mr 
Deakin through it all was with them today,
and he had heard that when the statesman 
was in England she had been called the 
"Queen of Australia." It had been her
pleasure to work for the soldiers who had 
made Australia the nation of which her 
husband had always dreamed. (Applause.)
Mr Herbert Brookes, in responding on behalf 
of Mrs Deakin and her co-workers, said that 
it was one of the “greatest distinctions” of 
his life that he was her son-in-law. The ladies 
had felt it was a privilege to wait upon the
diggers, and, as most of them had relatives 
at the front, it was heart-ease to them. 
In response to repeated calls, Mrs Deakin 
said that they had felt it a privilege to wait 
upon the soldiers. She and Mrs McMillen
had learnt to love their workers in a way
they would not have thought possible. 
The Diggers had set a splendid example, 
and they had tried to live up to it. 
(The Herald, 4 Aug 1919.)
Although Herbert Brookes waxed lyrical about it being one of the greatest distinctions of his life that he was Pattie Deakin’s son-in-law, he rewarded her by implacably opposing her daughter Vera’s marriage to Tom White, as if it was his right to choose Vera’s life partner.   He had supported Vera in her decision to travel to Cairo to help in the war effort, and supported her with funds to help with her living expenses,  but apparently felt this gave him rights as to her deciding about her marriage.  Vera married Tom White anyway, but  his opposition caused great distress at the same time as her father was dying.
In 1923  The  Herald noticed the final passing of the old Anzac Buffet:
End of Anzac Buffet
THE little Iron shed on the St. Kilda road, next to 
the police hospital, where for the past two years 
a band of kind-hearted women have provided
a free mid-day meal to any Digger who cared 
to come along, has gone, and with it despair 
will re-enter the hearts of some distressed 
ex-soldiers this winter, when they are right
"up against it" once more. It was only with 
the utmost difficulty that the organisers were 
able to carry on this Anzac Buffet in its later
existence. Funds became lower and lower, 
and every week, despite the good work 
which the buffet was doing, public apathy
increased in direct ratio to the decrease
in its monetary support. Finally the land 
on which the shed stood was required for
rebuilding, and now only a fence marks the site.
(The Herald, 5 Feb 1923, p 6.)  

After  the Anzac Buffet closed, equipment was donated to the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League (RSSIL) for their clubrooms.  

The two women who were most synonymous with the Anzac Buffet in Melbourne, Pattie Deakin and Jane McMillan had, however, bowed out in 1919, thanking the Diggers:  

Sir,  In closing the Anzac Buffet we should like to 
take the opportunity of thanking the "diggers"
 who have visited us since we opened in 1915 for
 their chivalrous behaviour in all circumstances. 
Our four years' service here has been the 
greatest privilege of our lives. We wish them 
all the best of good fortune in the years to 
come on behalf of the women of the Anzac Buffet
(The Argus, 10 Nov 1919, p 7) 

Pattie’s  husband Alfred Deakin, former Prime Minister of Australia, had died on 7 October 1919, just a month before this gracious farewell from the two ladies.   Jane had lost her only child in September 1917, but somehow had drawn herself together and returned to work at the Anzac Buffet.

Most diggers understood that the women of Australia had their own burdens to carry – sorrow, grief, anxiety, and often found on their return to Australia, that their families had been badly affected, with their parents or grandparents carried off by the constant stress of having their sons away, or the death of cousins and nephews, or deaths of sons of their close friends.  The war left a shadow on Australia for many decades.

I need to disclose that I am a member and volunteer of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.


Punch, Melbourne, 1 Aug 1918  for the images from 1918.
No. 5 Australian General Hospital (Base Hospital) Melbourne. Hawker, F. C., Melbourne : Specialty Press, 1918.
Vera Deakin and the Red Cross, by Carole Woods. Royal Historical Society of Victoria: Melbourne, 2020.
Voluntary War Workers Record, Australian Comforts Fund, 1918;  Melbourne, “The S.R.S”  ed C Drake Brockman, pp 122-125.   

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

A Dashing Australian Officer - John Mott

Captain John Eldred Mott MC and Bar (later Lieutenant Colonel), the first Australian officer to escape from captivity in Germany, taken the morning after he reached Holland. Captain Mott is wearing the clothes in which he escaped. The fence in the background is the dividing line between freedom and captivity.  AWM A03035.

John Mott was working in mines in Western Australia when he joined the AIF in 1915, aged 38.  A well-known family in the Essendon area, John was one of four brothers to enlist.  He was quite a dashing officer, and was celebrated as the first Australian officer to successfully escape as a Prisoner of War.

Rod Martin tells the story of his remarkable service, from two awards of the Military Cross, an escape across Germany, meeting the King at Buckingham Palace, and post war work with the Australian Field Graves Battalion, of which he was given command as a Lieutenant Colonel.  Read about this dashing Australian officer.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Claiming a Brother

Having delivered ammunition supplies to the guns, unidentified members of the Australian Divisional Ammunition Column gallop past a dangerous crossroad.  Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, EZ0073.

Writing in 1967 to collect his ANZAC medallion, Jim Nutt explained his change of Regimental Number:  "Gallipoli.... was there until the evacuation.  On arrival back in Egypt I was claimed by my older brother to his Unit, unknown to me".

This chance reference to "claiming" by a brother in a piece of correspondence from 1967 set Marilyn Kenny off on a hunt to discover how this claiming worked.  Even the Australian War Memorial couldn't come up with any written reference to explain what went on.  The AWM thought it was an informal arrangement.  Eventually a lone and persistent searcher at the AWM, David Gist, solved the puzzle.

Marilyn's article about the Nutt family of Murchison and Flemington explains the answer.  See "Claiming a brother: The Nutt family before and during the Great War".  

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Private Arthur Jabons Lane, no known grave

The Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux

The Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in the Somme departement in France contains the names of 10,773 men who died but who have no known grave. 

Rod Martin tells the story of one of those men.   Arthur Lane enlisted in Sydney, but his family lived in Wonalta Terrace, Mt Alexander Rd, Flemington. Arthur's younger brother James Lane was also killed in action in October 1917.  

Arthur served with the 54 Infantry Battalion, a Sydney battalion.   He probably arrived in France in time to have Christmas Dinner with other reinforcements, and was taken on strength of his battalion on 1 January 1917, then located at Buire in Picardie, just south of the Belgian border.

Arthur was killed in action just 5 months later.  Read Rod Martin's account of Arthur's part in the war.