SERVICE NO: 180
YEAR OF BIRTH: 1890
PLACE OF BIRTH: Bridgewater On Loddon
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 22 August 1914
PLACE OF ENLISTMENT: Melbourne
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 24
UNIT: 6th Battalion, B Company
EMBARKED: 19 October 1914
TROOPSHIP: HMAT A20 Hororata
FATE: Killed in Action – Gallipoli – 25 April 1915
Joseph Alan Cordner was born at Bridgewater On Loddon in 1890, a son of Isaiah Joseph Cordner and Jessie Walker. Joseph was better known as Alan possibly as his father Isaiah was known as Joseph. Isaiah was a bank manager, and the family moved around for his job. At the time of Alan’s birth, Isiah was the manager of the Bridgewater National Bank. In 1892 second son Edward Clement was born and Isaiah transferred to the Dimboola National Bank.
Alan was ten when the family made their next move to Coleraine. In each town Isaiah lived, he took part in local sport and that wasn’t any different in Coleraine. Isaiah was a very good cricketer, well-known throughout the district and integral to the Coleraine club. He also played football in his younger years at Sandhurst, and word around Coleraine was he had been a champion player. In 1901, when Alan was eleven, his mother Jessie died at Coleraine aged thirty-six. The following year, forty-two-year-old Isaiah remarried to Mabel McKay, and the couple had three children.
Alan went to boarding school at Hamilton College and had inherited his father’s sporting ability. By the time he was sixteen, Alan was playing with men in the Hamilton Cricket team. Men like George Kennedy who bowled 3/35 against a touring English team in Hamilton in 1912 and William Melville, one of Hamilton’s great sporting all-rounders and namesake of Hamilton’s Melville Oval. Also in 1906, Alan was captain of the Hamilton College football team in the local junior competition. His brother Clem was also on the side.
In January 1908, the Cordners left Coleraine after Isaiah transferred to Warrnambool’s National Bank and they took up residence in Timor Street. Alan, having finished school, joined them and worked as a clerk at the bank.
In 1910, Alan was playing good football at a district level and his ability was not going unnoticed. By July 1911, Victorian Football League (VFL) team the Geelong Football Club was interested in recruiting him. The club gave him a trial game on 18 August 1911. During the 1911/1912 cricket season, Alan played with the Geelong Footballers and Cricketers eleven. Against a Fitzroy side, Alan hit eighty-three runs. In July 1912, Geelong granted Alan his permit to play with the football club. He only had three games for Geelong, but there was interest elsewhere in the young follower.
During April 1913, Geelong cleared Alan to play for VFL team the Collingwood Football Club and he impressed upon début in May. Also requiring work, Alan got work in the stove department of the Metropolitan Gas Company. On the football field, he quickly found his place in the Collingwood team. In a drawn game against Carlton on 25 April 1914, the opening game of the season, Alan was among the players considered the “backbone of the side”.
On 4 August 1914, England declared war on Germany. Two weeks later, Clem Cordner enlisted. Alan was named in the Collingwood backline for the following Saturday to play South Melbourne at Victoria Park.
Leading into the weekend, Alan had other things on his mind. The day before the match he had a medical examination at Victoria Barracks. Reporting back to the barracks on Saturday morning, Alan completed his enlistment papers, and he took the oath. As he did, he became the first VFL player to enlist. Alan then went to Victoria Park in Collingwood for the match. The Magpies had an ordinary day on their home ground and went down by four goals. The final bell marked the end of the game and the end of Alan’s time with the Magpies. He was expected in camp at Broadmeadows. Collingwood didn’t make the finals in 1914 but at half-time in the semi-final match between Geelong and South Melbourne on 5 September, Collingwood president Jim Sharpe presented gold watches to Alan and another enlisted Collingwood player William Matheson.
On 17 October 1914, Joseph with the men of the 6th Battalion marched to Port Melbourne (below) to board the HMAT A20 Hororata bound for Egypt via Albany, Western Australia.
Alan was in Egypt from December 1915 training, but also with time to check out the sights. Four months later, Alan and the 6th Battalion were on a ship in the Dardanelles, poised as the second wave of troops to land on the beaches of Gallipoli. The men boarded smaller boats which ferried them from the ship but there were some delays and they landed around sunrise, later than expected.
They began a push from the beach toward the enemy, but found the terrain hilly with thick undergrowth. Sergeant Norman Tutton saw Alan “charging over the hills some two miles inland”. With the chaos, it wasn’t long before the battalion was split up. Lieutenant Clarence Taylor of 6th Battalion realised half of his company were missing about 11:00am. Alan was with a small group separated from the battalion, including Walter Ivory of Brunswick and Matthew Wasley from Ballarat. They came upon another battalion and soon found themselves under enemy attack. Alan and Walter were together when Alan was hit. Walter was sure Alan was dead, although he couldn’t find a wound. Matthew was also dead as were the other men from the 6th Battalion. Walter was the only survivor.
Back at home on 6 July, Isaiah wrote to the Defence Department’s Base Records. He hadn’t heard from Alan since the landing at Gallipoli, but Clem had written twice. “I am anxious”, he said. A reply came a week later. There were no reports of Alan having been killed or wounded. Isaiah wrote again on 11 September. He’d asked some returned servicemen about Alan and received varying stories. He requested Base Records check if Alan had drawn on his pay. Base Records replied on 29 September, advising nothing had been officially reported of Alan’s condition. Isaiah was not satisfied and continued his investigations.
He wrote again on 4 October and gave Base Records details of an informant from the 6th Battalion, William Anderson of Footscray. Wounded during May 1915 at Gallipoli, William returned to Australia in July. He last saw Alan about twenty minutes after the landing and noticed Alan was missing from roll call on 27 April. Isaiah received a cable on 6 October advising him Alan had received wounds but not seriously, and more information would come to hand. Isaiah wrote on 9 October to ask where Alan was hospitalised. If he was in a hospital, why hadn’t he contacted his father?
On 11 October 1915, Base Records replied there was no further information, however, they would send a cable to Egypt to see if more could be revealed. Isaiah wrote the following letter on 12 October 1915. He was desperate for information.
Base Records responded on 1 November with news from Egypt. Alan, previously reported as wounded, was now reported as wounded and missing. Isaiah wrote again on 24 March 1916. He heard Alan’s name was on a list to return home on a hospital ship. Base Records replied on 27 March, advising there was no report of Alan returning to Australia.
Various witness reports gathered for an inquiry into Alan’s disappearance each had conflicting accounts. Some said he was killed at the landing, others say he was wounded at a later date. On 24 September 1915, Sister Evelyn Humphries of the No.2 Australian Stationary Hospital gave her account. She believed Alan was on an adjoining island where there was a rest camp for servicemen. Another man Private Keating said he’d been in hospital with Alan on that same island and Alan had lost his memory.
An inquiry into Alan’s whereabouts was held on 24 April 1916, 364 days after he went missing. The inquiry found Alan was killed on 25 April 1915. The news didn’t reach Warrnambool until 2 June, with the Standard reporting on Alan’s death the following day. On 10 June 1916, Collingwood players wore black armbands to honour Alan and British Army Officer Lord Kitchener, who died five days before the match.
On 27 July 1916, still not willing to accept the finding of the inquiry, Isaiah wrote to Base Records again. He had heard from an old schoolmate of Alan’s who saw him in a hospital in Malta.
Base records responded on 1 August 1916.
In January 1918, Isaiah transferred to the Malvern National Bank and Alan’s brother Clem returned to Australia on 23 October 1918 after four years of service. His return appears to have sparked another letter as a week later Isaiah contacted the Defence Department asking if the Turkish government had provided full lists of their Prisoners of War.
In June 1923, Isaiah received a form letter sent to the next of kin of men who had no recorded grave. The form requested information which may help find the grave. Of course, Isaiah couldn’t help any more than tell them, “Returned men from his battalion informed me that he and several others were last seen about four miles inland on the day of the landing, and that the Turks got behind, and that nothing was heard of any of them again”. That was the last correspondence between Isaiah and the Defence Department. It’s doubtful he fully accepted Alan was dead, hoping each day until his death in 1934, Alan would come home.