Old Cavendish Cemetery

Behind this gate are the graves of two of my ggg grandfathers, a ggg grandmother, a 2nd cousin once removed, possibly another ggg grandmother and more.

This is the Old Cavendish Cemetery on the banks of the Wannon River. In use from 1849 through to 1922,  it was the site of over 120 burials.  A beautiful resting place for my ancestors but the problem is there are very few headstones.

I visited a few weeks ago on a sunny Sunday morning.    Ticking off the risk factors before entering: sunny, mid-spring, river location, long grass and graves, I decided to move quickly as I didn’t want to run into “Joe Blake”.   I moved at great haste barely stopping to take each photo. Surprisingly none were blurred.

This cemetery is set in beautiful countryside with Hugh Duncan and his wife Catherine having a prime position overlooking the Wannon River.

Headstone of Hugh Duncan (died 1892) and Catherine Duncan (died 1917)

Grave of James Rogers (died 1913) and Hannah Rogers (died 1908) and their daughters Mary Ann (died 1876) & Elizabeth Jane (died 1899)

I have a family link to the Brewis family of Karabeal.  My first cousin 4 x removed, Alice Reed married Henry Alfred Brewis, son of Joseph and Mary Brewis.  Alice was the niece of Susan Reed, wife of James Harman.

Front: Headstone of Magaret Matheson (died 1871) Back: George Healy Wilson (died 1895) and his mother Elizabeth Wilson (died 1898)

Headstone of William Lord (died 1885) and Sarah Lord (died 1874) and their son Henry (died 1872)

The following headstone is interesting.  It is the grave of Ann Wright who died in 1891.  She is buried with her son Henry Huntly and another Cavendish man Brown Hearn who died in 1904.  A clue came from another Hearn buried in the cemetery, Jessie Hearn.  Her death record of 1880 lists the three-year old’s parents as Brown Hearn and Elizabeth Huntly (or Huntley).  I have found a Victorian Marriage record for an Ann Prior to Henry Huntly in 1842 at Portland, but I can’t find a birth record for a Henry Huntly Jnr and I can’t explain the “Wright” surname.

Headstone of Thomas Varley (died 1892) and his daughter Evelyn Margaret (died 1894)

A Diphtheria epidemic hit Cavendish during 1879 and 1880 and many lives were lost including four children of the Cavendish school headmaster.  The headstone of Sarah Jane and Minnie McDonald is a reminder of that time.  Sarah Jane passed away on June 17, 1880 and her sister on June 19, 1880.  They were the daughters of Michael and Margaret McDonald of “Hyde Park” Cavendish.

Richard Bryant was a July Passing Pioneer.  Maggie, Richard’s second wife, was born in Ireland and was Margaret Nowlan.  My link to Richard is on his Passing Pioneer entry.

Headstone of Eliza Hewitt (died 1891), Anna Jane Hewitt (died 1899) and William Hewitt (died 1905)

This plaque at the entrance to the cemetery lists all those buried in the cemetery and events from the history of Cavendish during the time the cemetery was in use.

My family members are well represented in the cemetery, but all the headstones are gone or didn’t exist.  There is my ggg grandparents Charles and Agnes Hadden and their great-grandson, Charles.  Also my ggg grandfather James Mortimer, died 1895 and his granddaughter Queenie Rose Ann Victoria Mortimer who died as a baby in 1891.

There are  three Mortimers that I am not sure of.  Given I cannot find the death of my ggg grandmother Rosanna Buckland, she has to be one of them .  One unidentified Mortimer died in 1895 which should be James Mortimer.  There is also a  Mrs Mortimer, died 1889 and another Mrs Mortimer, died 1898.  I think the latter is Sarah Ann Duggan, wife of Henry Mortimer, James and Rosanna’s youngest son.  Sarah Ann died in Warrnambool in 1898.

GGG Grandmother Rosanna could be the 1889 “Mrs Mortimer”.  Or maybe not.   She has been elusive to date.  There is also a Mr W. Mortimer who died in 1889.  I don’t have a W. Mortimer on my tree that died around that time nor can I find a W. Mortimer in the Victorian Death records.

I will return to the Old Cavendish Cemetery in Autumn, when the grass will be shorter and “Joe Blake” will be tiring.  Maybe then I can take my time and see what is hidden beneath the grass.

For a full list of those buried at the Old Cavendish Cemetery, check out Ian Marr’s great site Cemeteries of S.W.Victoria


“Joe Blake” ( Australian Rhyming Slang) – snake.

W is for…What Else Could It Be?

Naturally I had to rejoin the Gould Genealogy Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge at “W”.  W is for Western District and that means a lot to me not only because this blog is called “Western District Families”.  I was born and raised in the Western District and all the families of my maternal lines, going back six generations, chose to settle in the wonderful Western District.

One of the highlights of the Western District is the geography.  Entering from the east, the Western Plains lead to the rise of the Grampians and on to the volcanic plains and green rolling hills beyond.  To the south are the forests of the Otways, the south-west coastline and volcanic Tower Hill .

I will take you on a geographical journey through the Western District, just a glimpse really, beginning with two colonial artists, Nicholas Chevalier and my favourite, Eugene Von Guerard.  These  artists and others, traipsed around Victoria sketching and painting.  Von Guerard also travelled to Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand.  Looking at their paintings reminds me of the lives they lived for the sake of their art.

Chevalier’s sketch shows the Serra Range including Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt at the southern end of the Grampians.

View of the Grampians, Western District [art original] N. Chevalier.
State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/100967

Moving south-west, dormant volcano Mt Eccles near Macarthur has played a part in my family history.  My gg grandfather Reuben James Harman, son of James Harman, owned property at Mt Eccles.  It was also a favourite fishing spot of my grandfather William Gamble.

Crater of Mt. Eccles, von Guerard, Eugene,1811-1901,artist.
Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/46307

I prefer von Guerard’s depiction of Lake Surprise, the crater lake of Mt Eccles, to my own (below).  I remember as a child asking about the name “Lake Surprise”.  The answer:  When you get to the top of the crater and see the lake, you get a surprise.  Fair enough.


A little north of Mt Eccles is the volcanic lava flow, the Harman Valley at Byaduk, named after my Harman family.  In the distance is the source of the lava, Mount Napier.


To the south-east is Tower Hill, another dormant volcano.  It lies between Warrnambool and Port Fairy.


Further south is the famous Loch Ard Gorge, named for the Loch Ard which wrecked on the treacherous coastline.  The only two survivors, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael were washed on to the beach at Loch Ard Gorge.

I find standing on the beach in the Gorge a haunting experience.


East along the coast line is one of the most iconic views, not only of Victoria, but Australia.


North-west, and back where we started, are the Grampians.


The Grampians are a perfect place to leave the subject of the Western District and move on to another “W” which has been a part of my family since the 1860s, the Wannon River…

W is for…Wannon River

The Wannon River begins its’ flow at the base of Mt Abrupt in the Southern Grampians.  It flows toward Dunkeld, around the base of Mt Sturgeon and leaves the Grampians heading north-west toward Cavendish. Along the way it passes by Mokanger , workplace of both the Mortimers and Haddens.  Through Cavendish, it passes close to the cemetery, burial place of members of those two families.

From Cavendish, the river begins a southward journey toward two of the Hamilton district’s jewels, the Nigretta and Wannon waterfalls.  As the river progresses west, the Grange Burn joins the Wannon, having flowed from just east of Hamilton, the city founded on the Grange.  This section of the river was another favourite fishing spot of my grandfather William Gamble.

On the river flows to Tahara and then Sandford. I have family links to Sandford with Julia Harman, daughter of James Harman residing there with her husband George Holmes.  Two children were born their including WW1 casualty Arthur Leonard Holmes.  My gg uncle William Diwell also spent some time around Sandford.  In 1914, he completed extensions to the St Marys Church.

The Wannon River then joins the another great river of the Western District, the Glenelg River, having passed through some of Victoria’s most beautiful countryside.  It is not surprising Joseph Hawdon, travelling overland to Adelaide with Lieutenant Alfred Miller Mundy of the 21st Regiment in 1839, endorsed Major Thomas Mitchell’s description five years earlier. Major Mitchell followed the Glenelg River from its’ beginnings in the Grampians through to the sea at Nelson. It is little wonder all of my direct ancestors stayed in the Western District after settlement.

(1839, September 26). Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 – 1846), p. 1 Supplement: SUPPLEMENT. Retrieved October 11, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page8723904

After the merge with the Wannon, the Glenelg flows on to Casterton where I have many family links.  My ggg grandfather George Jelly, father of Elizabeth Ann Jelly, was one man who could say he had conquered the river.  His obituary read:

“He was a remarkably good swimmer and by his abilities in this direction was instrumental in saving many persons from drowning and rescuing the bodies of many others who had perished in the river” 

He even dived for the bones of Robert and Mary Hunt, murdered by George Wains in 1860.

By the time the Glenelg River reaches the sea, it, the Wannon and Grange Burn have passed by many of the places my ancestors lived, worked, fished, swam and were laid to rest.

The Wannon River between the Nigretta Falls and the Wannon Falls, about 20 kilometres from Hamilton, would be the section most frequented by myself and my family before me.  My own memories come from family visits, Sunday drives with Nana, school excursions and birthday parties.

The following views near the Wannon Falls are from the State Library of Victoria Collection and were captured around 1878 by  Thomas J. Washbourne , a Geelong photographer.

Wannon River Scene – Washbourne, Thomas J. photographer.Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection (VPOCC) http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/53092

Wannon River Scene Washbourne, Thomas J.,photographer.
Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria – Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection (VPOCC) http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/52931


Of the two waterfalls, I prefer the Nigretta, especially after rain.  The Wannon Falls could be described as pretty in the way they drop off the edge, but the Nigretta Falls are, at times, spectacular.

Nigretta Falls on the Wannon River
Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria – collection: Cogger album of photographs http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/41740

The Vagabond (John Stanley James) described the Nigretta Falls in his series “Picturesque Victoria” which appeared in The Argus.  In the  April 4, 1885 edition of The Argus , The Vagabond wrote of his visit to the Wannon.  He enjoyed the hospitality at the Wannon Inn and then marveled at the “miniature Niagara”

PICTURESQUE VICTORIA. (1885, April 4). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956), p. 4. Retrieved October 11, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article6073697

This photo taken in August this year by my friend Catherine, after good rain, sees the Nigretta looking like the minature Niagara Falls as described by The Vagabond.

NIGRETTA FALLS – Image courtesy of Catherine Huisman

It was pleasing to see that the old viewing platforms still remain at the Nigretta Falls.


An impressive wooden staircase now leads down to the falls, but the original steps remain.

The Wannon Falls (below) holds memories of walking beyond the viewing platform, down to the rocks and behind the falls, but only when they were flowing lightly as they are in this photo.  A new viewing platform now prevents such precarious escapades, even undertaken while on school excursions!

I have two framed prints of the Wannon Falls by Louis Buveot, painted in 1872.  One hangs on a wall as a constant reminder of Hamilton, the Wannon River and the waterfalls.  The original hangs in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. To see  the original click on the link – Wannon Falls

The topic of the Wannon River gives me an opportunity to share my all time favourite family photos.  As a little girl when I first saw Nana’s old photo album, these photos captured my imagination.  When Nana came to live with us she kept her photo albums in her wardrobe. I would take them down, sit on her bed and go straight to this photo.  It was near the beginning of the album which had black, much turned pages.

From right: Nana, (Linda Hadden), my great-grandmother (Sarah Elizabeth Harman) and my great auntie Alma’s (Nana’s sister) mother-in-law Mrs Issac William Short (Catherine Gissane Tilley).

They are standing on the original lower viewing deck.   The four photos from a day at the Wannon where originally very small.  It wasn’t until I enlarged them on a computer, that I noticed Nana’s coat hanging on the railing.

I think the reason I like this photo is because Nana looked exactly liked she did when I knew her, but with long braids and I still can’t believe she was only about 15.  Even the small research assistant thought Nana was the lady in the middle when he first saw it.  He only knew her as an older person and does not think of her as having been a child too.

The second photo was taken from the lower viewing deck, looking toward the upper level.  I didn’t like standing here as a child and as you can see the rail was high at the front  and difficult to see over and to the right of  Nana was a gap between the fence and the rocks.  I much preferred the lower deck.

Recent years have seen a rotunda built at the Wannon Falls reserve with information about the waterfall, the local geography and history.

On our visit, the small research assistant said “Look Mum, they even have family history here for you”  He was right. There is a lot of my family history at the Wannon Falls.

160 Years Ago Today…

This morning at 11.00am, I will think of my Hadden family sailing through the Heads into Port Phillip Bay, 160 years ago today.  I have previously posted about their journey on the Marco Polo, a clipper ship that altered the course taken by immigrant ships on their journey to Australia and in doing so, earned the title of Fastest Ship in the World.

Marco Polo Brodie Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria. http://tinyurl.com/9alkahe

Landing at Hobsons Bay, the Haddens made their own way to Melbourne and for the next 14 years I have no idea where they were.  In that time they “acquired” two daughters, Margaret and Ellen.   John’s birth in 1864 is the first clue to the Haddens being at Mokanger Station near Cavendish where Charles worked.


The children of  Charles Hadden and Agnes Dobson were:

WILLIAM: Born 1847  Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland; Marriage Mary Mortimer 1870, Cavendish; Died 1938,  Hamilton.

JAMES:  Born 1850 Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland; Died 1935, Cavendish.

MARGARET: Born circa 1854; Married James Cameron 1883; Died 1927,  Swan Hill.

ELLEN: Born circa 1861; Died 1948, Cavendish.

JOHN:  Born 1864, Cavendish; Died 1931, Cavendish.

AGNES: Born 1872, Cavendish; Died 1949, Hamilton.


I have searched records from Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales for the births of Margaret and Ellen with no success.  Yet on the their death records, they are the daughters of Charles Hadden and Agnes Dobson.  Also, the Probate Application at the time of  the death of Agnes, listed among her children are Margaret Cameron of Swan Hill and Ellen Hadden of Cavendish.   To find where they were born would help me find where they were for those 14 years.  They may well have been at Mokanger Station all that time.

The Hadden children were not really the marrying kind.  Of the six children, only two, my great great grandfather William and his sister Margaret, married.  William must have wanted to make up the numbers with he and wife Mary Mortimer having 10 children.  Margaret and her husband James had five children.  From the 15 grandchildren of Charles and Agnes,  I have found 47 great-grandchildren so far.

At 11.00am I will thank Charles and Agnes Hadden for deciding to leave Scotland to take the journey of a lifetime to come to Australia.  If they hadn’t, where would I be today?

H is for…

If ever there was a time to enter the Gould Genealogy Family History Through the  Alphabet challenge, that time would be now.  “H” has a arrived.

When my descendants look back at my HISTORY, they will see the letter “H” recurring.

The marriage of Sarah Elizabeth HARMAN and Thomas HADDEN in 1904 brought together two of my “H”‘s.  They settled in HAMILTON and had a daughter, my nana Linda HENRIETTA HADDEN.

Thomas HADDEN & Sarah HARMAN

Sarah HARMAN was not the only one in her family to keep her initials after she married.  Her sister Ellen married a HANKS and she became Ellen HANKS of HARRIET Street HORSHAM.

HADDEN and HARMAN are two of the four main family names that make up the maternal side of my family.

HAMILTON too, features in my HISTORY.  Nana was born there and I was too.

Looking across Melville Oval, HAMILTON

I lived in HAMILTON for 18 years, the town that was formally called the Grange.  If that name had remained, my entry in this challenge may have been “G” for Grange, Gamble and the Grampians.

Nana’s middle name was HENRIETTA  which I used to find quite amusing.   Later I learnt that her name came from her great-aunt HENRIETTA HARMAN, an HONOURABLE lady but one, it would seem, with a lonely HEART.

Linda HENRIETTA HADDEN (left) & her younger sister, Enda

Another “H” which will go down as part of my HISTORY is HALLS GAP in the HEART of the Grampians.  Many HOLIDAYS were spent there and, at times, it has been a place I have called HOME.

HALLS GAP in the HEART of the Grampians

May my HISTORY also show that I liked HORSES.  It was HORSES in HAMILTON, HORSES in HALLS GAP and HORSES on HOLIDAYS in HALLS GAP, HORSES everywhere.

Finally, my HOBBIES include the HISTORY of  HADDEN, HALLS GAP, HAMILTON, HARMAN and, of course, HORSES.


So, when I get over my obvious preference for the letters “M” and “R”, I can safely say “H” is one of my favourite letters as so much close to my HEART starts with “H”

***Apologies to the, HAZELDINE, HICKLETON, HODGINS,  HOLMES, HUNT and HURRELL families to whom I also have links.

Hobbies, Passions and Devotions

The activities of my ancestors outside of their usual occupation is always of interest to me.  Their sports, pastimes, hobbies and social activities often help define them as people and sometimes those activities are present in later generations.  Also, it can lead to further information from club records and results in newspapers.

In some cases, much spare time was devoted to the church, maybe on the committee such as William Hadden or as a lay preacher like James Harman.  James was also able to find time for his other passion, ploughing competitions, not mention various committees, such as the local school.

Richard Diwell had an interest in the Hamilton Horticulture Society, but also indulged in photography. The photo in the post Elizabeth Ann Jelly was one of Richard’s using a camera with a timer, a new development in photography at the turn of the century.

My grandfather, Bill Gamble, grandson of Richard Diwell, had many interests particularly before he married.  He played cornet with the Hamilton Brass band and was a committee member of the Hamilton Rifle Club and a state representative shooter.

He also loved fishing, motorcycles and like his grandfather before him, photography.  As a result we now have hundreds of photographs of motorbikes and fishing trips.  He even developed his own photographs.  His passions of photography and motorcycles were passed on to his son Peter.

Many of the Holmes and Diwell families were members of Brass Bands at Casterton and Hamilton.  Alfred Winslow Harman was a rifle shooter and I recently told you about Nina Harman, wiling away the hours completing tapestry carpets.

I recently found an activity which previously hadn’t been present in my family, greyhound breeding.

James Stevenson was the grandson of James Mortimer and Rosanna Buckland. He worked as a manager at “Hyde Park”  a squatting run north of Cavendish until it was split up in 1926 for the Soldier Settlement scheme.  After this James moved to “Glen Alvie” at Cavendish where he described himself as a grazier.

In 1927, he advertised five well-bred greyhound pups for sale.  At £4 each, he stood to earn £20 if he successfully sold them.  A seemingly profitable hobby indeed.

Advertising. (1927, February 25). The Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved June 15, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73082854

James would have needed a good return on his pups as the sire’s stud fees would have been pricey given Cinder was imported by successful breeder, Mr Dickie of Bacchus Marsh.  The article from the time of Cinder’s arrival in Australia in 1923, reports the dog remained in quarantine for six months.  Because of a rabies outbreak in England, there was an extension to the time spent in quarantine  only a short time before his arrival.

In 1927, the time of James’ advertisement, greyhound racing using a “mechanical hare” began for the first time at the Epping course in New South Wales.  It took longer for other states to adopt the “tin hare” where they continued with the traditional field coursing.

SPORTS AND PASTIMES. (1923, September 7). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), p. 6. Retrieved June 19, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65041056



It’s My 1st Blogiversary!

Happy 1st Blogiversary Western District Families.  I thought we would never make it, but 84 posts and 12 months later, here we are.

What a fun year it has been.  It really was worth the procrastinating about whether to blog or not to blog.  Over the time I have made some great online friends, met some previously unknown family members and found out so much more about my Western District family.  Western District Families even got a Google+ page!

I hope some of you have also found out something about your Western District family, where they lived and the things they did through posts such as In the News and the Pioneer Christmas series.  Maybe you have found an obituary of an ancestor at Passing of the Pioneers.

I have found that the act of writing out my family history has been so useful for my research. It has helped me sort out what information I have but more importantly, what I don’t have.  Also, lining up the lives and events of siblings, in the case of the Harmans for example, has given me a better understanding of the dynamics of the family (can you tell I was a Social Sciences student?).

So what have been the most popular of the past 84 posts?

1.  The Fastest Ship in the World

2. A Tragic Night – January 24, 1882

3. Histories of  South-West Towns

4. Witness for the Prosecution

5. Only Seven More Sleeps…

Which posts have been my favourite to share?  Well it was hard to narrow them down to just five but here they are:

1 Elizabeth Ann  Jelly

2. All Quiet By the Wannon

3. Halls Gap’s Cherub

4. From Stone Country to High Country

5. A Tragic Night – January 24, 1882

An Honourable Mention must go to  What the Dickens? and the follow up post Another ‘What the Dickens” Moment.  They were both interesting and fun to write.

Over the past year, I have had made contact with Gamble and Jelly cousins and members of the Condon, Adams and Oakley families.

I  also heard from Rosemary of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her great grandparents were married in the original St Stephens Church at Portland.

Plenty is planned for the next 12 months.  I thought I would run out of things to write about. Instead I am finding it difficult to keep up with all the subject ideas I have. There will be more Passing of the Pioneers and later in the year I will look at Christmas in the early part of the 20th century.  Of course, I will have more stories about my family.  I’ve barely touched on some of the stories I had planned when I started the blog as I keep finding more great stories in the meantime.

A big thank you must go to my fellow Australian geneabloggers.  Your support and encouragement have been fantastic and you have all inspired me to keep going.   What I have learnt from each of you has been invaluable.  It  was great to meet some of you at the Unlock the Past Victorian Expo at Geelong last year.  Also to the 29 followers of Western District Families, thank you for following and for your great comments.

I must also make a special mention of my maternal grandmother, Linda Gamble (nee Hadden).  Nana did not get to see my blog.  She passed away six days before I published my first post.  It was Nana that got me to this point.  Her love of  the past and her family inspired me almost 20 years ago to start researching our family tree simply to find out more about them for her.  What a wonderful family she gave me.

Nana & me

A Memorial Coincidence

Eight years ago, almost to the day, we decided to visit the newly opened Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat.  My great-uncle Bill Hadden was a POW in Changi and I wanted to find his name.

It was a warm evening and I was about 8½ months pregnant and apart from another couple browsing through the names, we were the only ones there.  We walked along the row, found Uncle Bill’s name then continued to the end.  As we made the return trip, I noticed the couple had stopped near Uncle Bill’s name.  As I paused nearby for a last tribute, I overheard the couple talking.  They looked puzzled saying they couldn’t see a Bill or a William.  They were pointing right at the list of Haddens on the memorial.  I realized they were talking about Bill Hadden and I immediately understood their predicament.  Uncle Bill’s real name was Thomas Horace Hadden, not William as many people over the years probably thought.

I asked the couple if they were looking for Bill Hadden and they were.  I explained he was the T.H.Hadden on the memorial.

Who were these people?  I certainly didn’t recognize them as cousins.  As it turned out, the lady was a daughter of one of the men incarcerated with Uncle Bill in Changi and he had even attended her wedding.  They were en route from Birchip to Melbourne and thought they would drop in at the memorial to look for her father’s name.  Unbelievable.  To think they were there at the same time I was.  Also if I hadn’t been there at that time, they would left wondering why Bill Hadden’s name was not on the memorial.

STOP PRESS!. (1942, February 16). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), p. 5. Retrieved February 15, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42332207

This is a pertinent time to remember that visit eight years ago.  On February 15, 1942,  70 years ago, Singapore fell to the Japanese and Bill Hadden of the 2/13th Australian General Hospital was taken prisoner. In the days after he would walk through the gates of Changi prison.

MORE NAMES OF AUSTRALIAN POW's AT SINGAPORE. (1945, September 14). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 2. Retrieved February 15, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article975785

In Malaya prior to the capture, Uncle Bill wrote a letter home to his great-aunt Henrietta Harman of Byaduk.  Answering the call of the Australian Women’s Weekly, Henrietta sent the letter into the Weekly with it published on January 31, 1942.

LETTERS FROM OUR BOYS. (1942, January 31). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 2. Retrieved February 15, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47812486

This is a wonderful insight into the lead up to the events of 70 years ago today.  How could Uncle Bill ever imagine at that time the “…greater hardships before it is over” would  be 3½ years in Changi prison.  It has also give me a small glimpse of Henrietta’s life.  Even though I did not know her, I never would have picked her as a “Women’s Weekly” reader.  Maybe it was the incentive of a £1 prize for all letters printed.

May we also remember at this time the brave nurses of the 2/13th AGH,  evacuated from Singapore just prior to the fall.  In particular, those nurses on board the ill-fated “Vyner Brooke” .  The ship was attacked from the air on February 14, 1942.  Survivors found themselves on Radji beach, Banka Island.  They were discovered by Japanese troops who walked 22 Australian nurses and one female English civilian into the sea and shot them.  One nurse,Sister Vivian Bullwinkel survived and would herself become a P.O.W.


Australian nurses who were POW's

I grew up familiar with the name Sister Vivian Bullwinkel.  On Anzac Day, as we watched the march on T.V., Nana would proudly tell me Uncle Bill knew Vivian Bullwinkle during the war.  It was not until I was older that I gradually became aware of her heroics and the horrific acts she saw.

I also grew up familiar with the name “Changi,” again because Nana would talk of Uncle Bill being in “Changi” during the war.  It probably was not until Uncle Bill, Nana and their two sisters Rose and Alma visited Singapore and the infamous prison, that I had any inkling of what it really was.

Uncle Bill & sisters on their Singapore trip.

As I have read more, I have learned more of  the existence of Uncle Bill’s and thousands of other Australians during that time.  I now know why Nana was so proud of her brother “Billy”.


I have only touched on the sinking of the “Vyner Brooke” and the events on Banka Island.  Through the Australian War Memorial’s Twitter feed (@AWMemorial) I found a link to the items in War Memorial’s collection which relate to the “Vyner Brooke”.  They can be found at http://tinyurl.com/88qw486.  It is sad scrolling through the photos of fresh-faced young women newly enlisted and thinking they never came home.

An article from the Sydney Morning Herald of September 18, 1945 tells the story of Banka Island through the words of Sister Vivian Bullwinkle.

The Australian War Memorial also have pages for The Sinking of the Vyner Brooke and Vivian Bullwinkel