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

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Staff Nurse in France

Margaret Ethel Miles, of Napier St, Essendon, commenced her three year training, aged 22, at the Warrnambool Hospital in 1912. She obtained her certificate of nursing in 1915, after the commencement of the war.  The Australian Army Nursing Service was not looking for younger women to serve overseas, but Margaret got herself onto the staff of 5 Australian General Hospital in St Kilda Rd in August 1916.  After a few months there, Margaret enlisted with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and departed on the Orsova for overseas service in December 1916, by then aged 26.

Appointed as a Staff Nurse, Margaret spent only 11 days in England upon arrival, and was quickly moved to France where she began nursing with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) at their 24 General Hospital in Etaples.   She spent the next 18 months switching between military hospitals run by both the RAMC and the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC).  In June 1918 she was switched again to working in Casualty Clearing Stations, a much more dangerous and distressing form of nursing.

Growing up with the Rutherford sisters, all three of them nurses, in the newsagency just around the corner in Fletcher Street, might have influenced Margaret into taking up nursing.

You can read more about Staff Nurse Miles' service at the Empire Called website.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Football champion goes to war

Player poster of Herbert Milne in the 1910 Victorian Football Follower series, Boyles Football Photos
At the age of thirty-one, Herbert Milne had had an interesting life. He had played Australian Rules Football with the Fitzroy and South Melbourne clubs in the Victorian Football League for a number of years. At 181 centimetres tall and weighing seventy-eight kilos, he would have been formidable on the field as a follower (ruckman). He had fair hair and blue eyes, and probably cut a quite dashing figure.

Because of his age at the time the war broke out in 1914, Herbert may well have felt that the predicted short and sharp conflict was the territory of the young and energetic. However, by 19 July 1915, when he joined up, the bad news had come through from Gallipoli, and a substantial recruitment campaign was in full swing. The fact that July 1915 saw the greatest number of recruitments (36 575) of any month during the war may also have had an effect upon Herbert.  Others were doing it, so why shouldn’t he?

Perhaps because of his age, or perhaps because he requested it, Herbert was  assigned to 1 Australian General Hospital, probably as a medical orderly. There is no indication of previous paramedical experience on his attestation form.  He was a clerk by trade. Herbert sailed for Egypt, probably on A71 HMAT Nestor, on 11 October 1915. By the time the ship arrived in Egypt, the evacuation from Gallipoli would have been complete or close to it, so he and his comrades were sent to the recently established Australian base at Tel el Kebir, where they were assigned to 8 and then 14 Field Ambulance (FA) on 18 March 1916.

Rod Martin follows the war service of the former Victorian football champion, Temporary Corporal Herbert Milne.  You can read further on the Empire Called website.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Scotch College Commemorative website

Above two images are from the Scotch College commemorative website

Scotch College moved it's WW1 Roll of Honour while I wasn't looking, but I have lately relocated it, now with articles about those who died, and those who won honours and awards.  The above images come from a page about Australian Flying Corps Cadet George Robinson Johnston.  Johnston initially embarked with the 6th Infantry Battalion, but later transferred to the Australian Flying Corps.

He met  his death while still in training as an observer in a two seater aeroplane.  Johnston's pal from the Flemington Presbyterian Church, Driver Reginald Robert McLean, wrote home that the pilot was thought to have fainted at the controls, and George had no way of controlling the aircraft from his seat behind.

The pictured cross made from an aeroplane propeller, perhaps even the one from the crashed aeroplane, was made by the mechanics in his unit, and placed over his grave at Winchester (West Hill) Old Cemetery. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

6 Machine Gun Company at rest

This photo turned up lately as an enquiry as to where it might have been taken.  "Belge" was taken to mean Belgium, but the word before it didn't compute.  Still doesn't, so any ideas welcome.

Notwithstanding that, because the photo had a date, and a name, it was possible to roughly work it out.  Archibald St George Tuohy was a local man who lived at "Ladyward", Glass St, Essendon.  (On the corner of Napier St.  This house features in the book Fine Homes of Essendon and Flemington, 1846-1860, published by the Essendon Historical Society.)

Tuohy had embarked on the Ulysses in May 1915 along with the O'Gorman brothers (John James and George Patrick) of Wangaratta and Joseph Lawrence Stapleton of Buangor, Victoria.   They were sent to Gallipoli, but after evacuation to Egypt, the four men were transferred to the 6 Machine Gun Company.  They had previously served as machine gunners with the 21 Infantry Battalion.   From Egypt they were sent to France.

Stapleton showed early promise and by the date of the photo was indeed a Sergeant.  Also not long before the date of the photo Archibald had won a Military Medal.  He is wearing the ribbon in this photo.

Having mistakenly thought that some of the men were still with the 21 Infantry Bn, not having examined the B2455 records closely, I looked at the 21 Infantry Bn Unit War Diary, which described the Bn as having detrained at Provan in Belgium not long before, and marched to St Lawrence Camp via Poperinghe.  It also commented that the day of 18 September was wet (the 6 MGC diary didn't mention the weather), which more or less rules out that day as the day the photo was taken, their boots being clean and shiny.

Looking also at the 6 MGC Unit War Diary it was apparent that the 6 MGC was travelling almost in tandem with the 21 Inf Bn, and they also detrained at Provan and headed for Erie Camp.   I  determined from Google Maps that it was an 18 minute walk from Provan to Poperinghe.

Not knowing anything much about army camps I did a google search on "St Lawrence Camp" and "Poperinghe", and came up with a very interesting WW1 map of Poperinghe surrounded by military camps - some very probably established by Canadian troops, as they boasted names like St Lawrence, Erie, Toronto, and Ottawa.

The troops at the Erie Camp were engaged in training and maintenance of their guns.  A few days after arrival half of the 6 MGC were sent into the lines, while the other half remained at training and gun maintenance.  The photograph was probably taken in this period.  A few days later they took their rotation into the line when the other half of the company returned to camp.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Isolation Camp, Ascot Vale

Guard, Isolation Camp, Ascot Vale, 29 September 1916.  Quite prepared to shoot any measles outbreak.  Courtesy of drakegoodman on Flickr.

Owing to outbreaks of serious disease in the various military camps, there was a clear need for isolation camps, or quarantine stations, where any troops who had been in contact with a sick man would be removed for observation.  There was an isolation camp operating at the Broadmeadows Camp as early as February 1915, possibly earlier, and as the numbers of men requiring isolation grew, another Isolation Camp at Ascot Racecourse in Ascot Vale was established in about August 1915.

Men would spend three weeks in the camp having daily throat swabs to look for any signs of disease.  Being isolated here might mean the men would miss the embarkation of their battalion and the men with whom they had trained for months.

Although unable to leave the camp, and outsiders unable to enter the camp, the men were provided with a weekly high tea by the ladies of the Cheer-up Brigades, delivered to the guard office at the front gate.  In the early days they may have been catered for by the Maribyrnong Cheer-up Brigade, but a new Ascot Vale Cheer-up Brigade was formed in September 1917 to cater for the men at the Isolation Camp and the camp in the Showgrounds nearby.

Local residents were none to pleased to have a camp with numbers of men whom they assumed to be sick dropped on their doorsteps, and the military was obliged to stiffen their upper lips and bend to the demands of the Essendon Council for the Health Officer to be allowed to inspect the camp.  The Health Officer, however, determined that the camp was in every way satisfactory and not a danger to the health of locals.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Godsons and Godmothers

From the Thuillier collection of glass plate negatives.  AWM P10550.128


What he terms "one of the few really beautiful, things to which this
war has given birth" is the subject of a descriptive article by M. Arno
Dosch-Fleurot, in the "New York Herald." In the course of it he.
says: —

It was discovered a year or so ago that many of the soldiers who had
been given permission to go home were in the unfortunate position of
having no homes. Many were from the invaded provinces, and leave of
absence simply added to their tortured thoughts. Others were from
the colonies. So, out of beginnings which, are rather obscure, has grown
up this national idea of godsons and godmothers. To go to a railroad
station to meet a strange hero from the front,- of whom one knows no-
thing except that he writes a nice letter - it is an adventure. It means,
also, that men and women meet on a basis of friendship which would
not ordinarily occur.

I know a woman who has ten godsons. It keeps her busy sending
them things to the front and entertaining them when they are on leave.
She is a very good-looking woman, too, with a husband to whom she is
devoted. I asked her if she were not afraid of some of these godsons
falling in love with her.

"I should be hurt," she replied, "if they did not all love me."
"But that is not what I mean," I said. "It is not always what they mean
either", she replied, "but I manage them."

Of course, the idea ha's been abused. The term has become elastic,
and the complete propriety of the arrangement has proved useful to co-
ver arrangements not always so proper. But such is the lack of prudery
in the French people, that it has made no difference to the real god-
mothers, who go about cheering up the lonely without any fear their ac-
tions will be misconstrued. As the idea has spread there has
arisen a problem of how to bring together would-be godmothers and
godsons. Mostly it is taken care of through improvised clubs organised
to give stray soldiers a feeling of home. Women desirous of being
godmothers contribute usually a dollar a month for each godson, and
write them letters and entertain them when on leave. Many who would
not be likely to go to such institutions receive godmothers through
friends or comrades in arms.

At the front the soldiers are always offering cigars "received from
my godmother," or are about to '' write to my godmother," so those
who have none become envious, and the idea has caught on. Many,
failing in other ways to find godmothers, advertise for them. Naturally,
these advertisements are not always serious, but a good many are.

GODSONS AND GODMOTHERS. (1917, March 30). The Romsey Examiner, p1

Monday, June 10, 2019

Cheer-up Brigade, Ascot Vale

Members of the Cheer up Brigade beside the Darge Studio building. The brigade was a patriotic group of women who visited AIF camps at Broadmeadows, Maribyrnong, Domain and Ascot Vale. They served afternoon tea to soldiers on Sundays, and had an autograph book of soldiers signatures.  c September 1917.  Darge Photographic Company. AWM  DAX1828

The notion of a Cheer-up Society began in South Australia in 1915 where it did a variety of work in fund-raising, providing lunches for returning soldiers and manning a booth near the train station in Adelaide. In Melbourne the idea of a Cheer-up Brigade was conceived as a children's movement, where groups of children undertook to entertain soldiers. This quickly became unwieldy and adults had to step in when the demand for teas went beyond what children and parents could supply in an ad hoc setting. Soon women were organising to provide regular high teas for soldiers in camps near them. Formal organisations started up around the camps at Royal Park and Broadmeadows, and soon the Maribyrnong camp also required some attention. The celebration of second year anniversaries in September 1917 shows that this form of patriotic work began operation in September 1915. It was not until September 1917 that a group was formed to provide services to the Showgrounds and Ascot Vale Isolation Camps. The formation of the Ascot Vale Branch was organised by the already active Royal Park and Maribyrnong Cheer-up Brigades, and it seems likely that those two groups had already been involved in providing teas for the soldiers in Ascot Vale. At this time Mrs W T Osborne stepped up to take on the leadership of the new branch.

Mary Isabel Osborne was the wife of William Thomas Osborne, a State School teacher. In 1905 Osborne had been teaching at Yea, but by 1909 the family had moved to the house in Francis St, Ascot Vale which became their home for the duration of the war. The Osborne's second son, H T (Pat) Osborne, enlisted in 1915. 'Mrs W T Osborne' was mentioned from time to time in the papers doing Red Cross work, but it may have been no co-incidence that she took on a heavier workload working with soldiers after the family learnt that Pat had received a shocking injury and had his leg amputated. He had been a keen sportsman before the war, and was a notable golf and tennis player, but Pat took a firmly cheerful view of the matter, and he returned to golf on his prosthetic leg.
"Every Saturday, at 5 p.m., every man in camp, whether sick or on duty, receives the following tea: -For the hospital wards -jelly, 2 slices cream sandwich, 1 rainbow,1 Swiss roll, 1 diamond sponge (special diet). Men in camp-Each 1 hot meat pie. 1 slice Vic. sandwich, 2 pasties, 2 buttered scones, 1 cake, tea, milk and sugar. The average strength of the camp is 150 men. Cost of tea, 6d per man.
Every house surrounding the camp has adopted a soldier for Saturday tea, and is guaranteeing it every week till the war ends. No less than the following permanent donations (150 in number, and sundries, bringing it up to 180 in three weeks) have been received, and anyone wishing to do likewise may leave donations either at the  Isolation Camp, in charge of guard at gate, or Mrs. McCreary, Puckle st.; Mrs. Guest, baker, Railway Crescent, Ascot Vale; or Mrs. W. T. Osborne. "Corneville." 19 Francis street. Ascot Vale.
PATRIOTIC (1917, May 10). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and  Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3 (Morning).
For further information about the work of the Cheer-up Brigade, and the women who worked with Mrs Osborne, go to The Empire Called website.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Voluntary war workers' record / compiled for the benefit of the Australian Comforts Fund, 1918

This drab little volume holds a wealth of information about the myriad of patriotic organisations in Victoria - what they did, and who their volunteer workers were.  It has been digitised by the National Library  There is no index or contents page.  I can't quite see a way of searching through it, but it is roughly organised into alphabetical order by organisation and then by town. Very roughly.  I think the only way of being sure you have covered everything is a page by page scroll through the volume.  It is only 192 pages, so not an impossibly difficult task.

The pre-eminent position is given to the Lady Mayoresses' Patriotic League, and its list of voluntary workers at the headquarters, and then follows an account of each branch, beginning with Bairnsdale and Ballarat, but followed by the Peter Pan Club and the Scots Church Sub-Branch.  Evidently they could choose their own name, but worked in concert with the main organisation.

Other organisations included are the YMCA Snap-shots from Home League, Red Cross VAD Committee, YMCA Club for Soldiers and Sailors, League of Soldiers' Friends, and individual efforts from various schools collecting to support many other patriotic efforts, for example Parkville High School:


Jenny Coates has helpfully pointed out the presence of a little magnifying glass on the left side of the frame where the document appears, and you can search for names or places there, which produces a little green pointer to indicate where the page is with the result.  Thanks, Jenny!

And further to the matter of searching the document, it can be downloaded as a pdf and searched that way.

"Take Care of Him"

Image courtesy of Thomas Cavanagh, Secretary, Stanthorpe RSL Sub Branch.

 The organisation was under the auspice of the Anglican Church, as the Bishop's mitre implies  The aims of the organisation can be seen here.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

AWM takes donations from weapons companies

 I attended a Peace conference last night where I was pretty disturbed to learn that the AWM has been taking donations from weapons companies.  I am an appreciative user of AWM resources, but I would rather do with less than have the AWM take money from these blood-sucking leeches war profiteers.  I intend to sign the petition asking the AWM not to take these donations, which I found on the website of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia).  I hope you will too.

Find the link to the petition here:     Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia)

Bill Elliot - one of the "Essendon boys"

There was a group of soldiers in the 7th Infantry Battalion which Colonel H E (Pompey) Elliott used to refer to as his "Essendon Boys".  He knew them from their time with the 58 Infantry (Essendon Rifles), of which he was Commanding Officer before the war.  He took a special interest in their careers, and was saddened by the loss of so many of them on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Bill Elliot, Ellis Stones and Ken Walker, who knew each other well back in Essendon, were known as the Three Musketeers.  Bill Elliot was living with the Stones family when he enlisted in August 1914.  Of the Three Musketeers, only Ellis Stones survived the assault on Gallipoli.  Bill Elliot fell on 25 April 1915.

Rod Martin now gives us the story of  William Walker Highton (Bill) Elliot,  one of the 'Essendon boys'.

Lest we forget any of the local boys who went away and never came home.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Lieutenant Mitchell and the gas mask

Australian War Memorial K00035
Fitting gas masks to horses is probably not the first thing which springs to mind when we think of training up the troops to deal with gas attacks, but it becomes obvious if you think about the damage that can be done to the war effort if the horses aren't available to transport guns and equipment, not to mention the disruption to traffic if they drop on the roadway. 

So when Leslie William Mitchell of 15 Locke Street, Essendon, was appointed to be a Gas Instructor to help troops survive gas attacks, horses probably featured in his lectures.   As a new recruit he was identified early as having potential if trained as an officer, and when he attended a Gas School during training in England, he was also identified as a valuable instructor, and this became his main contribution to the war effort.   See Lieutenant L W Mitchell's story for more of an unusual service career.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Disloyalty in the Essendon District

It would be a good thing if the Germans marched up Napier Street.
- Statement attributed to Angelina King by Nurse Rebecca Ross

Mrs. Rebecca Ross was indignant, accustomed to speaking her mind and broadcasting her opinion. Harold George Jones was a man starting a new venture who needed to take account of public opinion. Angelina King needed to maintain her reputation that she depended on for her livelihood. They all met in the County Court where Miss King sued Nurse Ross for slander, accusing her of making untrue statements to Mr. Jones with the result she, Angelina, lost her employment. 

In her new article about the personalities and events surrounding this court case, Marilyn tests the temperature of hatred within the local community.  You can read it here:

 "Disloyalty in the Essendon District, 1914-1918"

We could contrast this with an article in the Manly Daily Telegraph by John Morecombe, published on 15 May 1915:  

"Anti-German sentiment during WWI was so rife it bordered on hysteria".

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Mud and Blood

I saw this play in Moonee Ponds last year and it is an outstanding piece of work.  See it if you can.  Darren Mort is Pompey to the life.

See the Mud and Blood website for further details.

The title of the play is a reference to the colour patch of the 7th Infantry Battalion - brown over red, or mud over blood.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

"This is my last goodbye to you...."

In December 1915 as 2nd Lieutenant Cecil Beaumont Mills steamed away from Australia and all he held dear, he prepared a letter for his wife Effie (or Fairy as he called her), to be handed to her three  months after his death was reported.  Effie received this loving letter after Cecil fell, and disappeared forever, at Pozieres in August 1916.

Letters written by Cecil to his wife Effie, and other memorabilia, were donated to the Australian War Memorial by their only child, John Mills.  They have lately been digitised and can be seen on the AWM website here. This letter starts at page 16.

Originally from NSW, Cecil was a bank manager with the ES&A Bank in Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale when he enlisted.  He and his wife were living at "Gowrie", Ardmillan Rd, Moonee Ponds with a Mrs Wragge when Cecil enlisted and went to Broadmeadows camp for training.  Their little boy was only a few months old, when Cecil felt compelled to do what he considered 'a man's work' in the great trial of war.

Although the Mills had probably not been in Moonee Ponds for more than a couple of years, Cecil had begun to immerse himself in the local community, and was recorded on several honour boards in the district, as well as his school, the Glenbrook Public School in NSW.  These honour boards are listed on Cecil's webpage at The Empire Called here.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Rod makes a century!

A game of cricket was played on Shell Green in an attempt to distract the Turks from the imminent departure of allied troops, December 1915.  AWM G01289.
In August 2010, when my website The Empire Called and I Answered, was about 12 months old, I was contacted by Rod Martin who wondered if I would be interested in a photo of a gravestone he had taken at Walhalla?  The stone commemorated John Eddy Phillips, beloved husband of Margaret,  who had died in July 1899. The stone also commemorated their son, another John Eddy Phillips, who had been killed at Gallipoli on 8 August 1915, aged 29 years. Rod wondered if I would be interested in a copy of the photo for my website?  Yes, absolutely.  The photo duly arrived and was added to the website.

A few weeks passed, then Rod contacted me again and asked me if I would be interested if he wrote a story for my website about John Eddy Phillips?    Absolutely yes, again. 

Since that time, Rod Martin has written 100 stories for the Empire Called website, a not inconsiderable feat.  Truthfully, the number is 102, (though I will report back if Rod corrects me on this number) because I was distracted before Christmas last year and, not for the first time, dropped the ball.  But as I had planned to acknowledge and celebrate Rod's contribution to the website when he got to his century, I press on to give him my grateful thanks, and merely note his unobtrusive start towards his second century. Rod has reached his first century with an impressive average of  11 stories per year.

Rod likes to explain the context of the the situations in which each of his subjects found themselves. His most recent story is about Herbert Keam, who landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, but remains missing, assumed to have been killed in action on or about 26 April 1915.

If you visit Keam's website, you will see a tag to the right of the page for Rod Martin.  Click on that and you will get the full list of Rod's stories.  Some of my favourites include Major James Frederick Bowtell-Harris, Sergeant Robert Curwen, 2nd Lieutenant Viv Garner, Pte George Joseph O'Neill - though truthfully I enjoy all of them.  Rod also carefully winkles out great images from the AWM collection to illustrate the stories, which greatly enhances our understanding of the hardships of the war. A lot of the stories feature the men of the 7th Infantry Battalion which was closely associated with the Essendon and Flemington district, commanded in the early years by Colonel Pompey Elliott.

So once again I say a grateful thank you to Rod for his marvellous treasury of stories of the Great War, and hope that he will continue for many more to come!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Pte Herbert Keam - Missing in Action

Private Herbert Millest Keam landed at Gallipoli with the 7th Battalion on 25 April 1915, but by the following day he was missing.  He was never found.  Rod Martin tells the poignant story of the inquiries made to try and establish what had become of this young man, his mother's only child.

He was only 19. Private Laurie James

Troops on board HMAT Hororata at Port Melbourne, 17 April 1915, AWM PB0448.
Laurie James, a bricklayer from Ascot Vale, was 19 years old when he swung out of the front gate of his family's tiny weatherboard home in Walter St, Ascot Vale and headed into Melbourne to enlist in the AIF.  It was January 1915.

The Hororata had left with the first contingent of troops in October the previous October, but had returned in time to embark a fresh lot of troops, including Laurie James, in April 1915.  The first troops had not yet scaled the heights of Gallipoli on the day Laurie left Melbourne on 17 April. By July that year Laurie was landed at Anzac Cove.  From that time forward Laurie was almost continuously engaged in warfare. For years it seemed he led a charmed life, but it all came to an end in an offensive against the Germans in August 1918.  As Rod Martin put it, 
"He had come so close to the end of the war, successfully fighting at Gallipoli, Pozières, Mouquet Farm and Passchendaele, only to fall less than three months before the Great War came to  a close."
Laurie served with the renowned local Battalion, the 7th Battalion, and in his story about Laurie, Rod Martin traces the dogged steps of the 7th Battalion as they ground their way towards an Allied Victory.  You can read Laurie's full story here.