Four years, two months and twenty-two days after Privates Maurice Tilley, William Niven, William Turner, Ernest Huggins and Harry Caple left Hamilton by train on the evening of Tuesday 18 August 1914 the first official troops from the district, the guns fell silent. The people of Hamilton, although somewhat buoyant after the surrender of Turkey and Austria in the days before, were wary about getting too swept up. That was until around 9pm on Monday 11 November when the news of the Armistice reached Hamilton. As those waiting outside the Hamilton Spectator were given the news, jubilation erupted and soon people flooded the streets. The boys were coming home…but not all.
Just as William Niven, one of the first five men to leave Hamilton, did not return, around one in five of the total number of men with Hamilton ties who enlisted, also never made it back to Hamilton. Of the 693 men I have identified as having Hamilton connections, 169 died before Armistice Day as a direct result of the war.
Since early 2015, I’ve been compiling names and writing stories of the men and women of Hamilton’s WW1 and since late 2015, I’ve been posting snippets of each edition of the Hamilton Spectator from 100 years before on the Hamilton’s WW1 Facebook page. The aim was to gain an understanding of the effects of the war on a town such as Hamilton, the mood of the people and their response, and of course, the stories of the men and women who enlisted and their families. Over the next three posts, I will tell you something of my project, what I’ve discovered, and where it’s going.
The first man with Hamilton connections killed in action was Joseph Alan Cordner, a Collingwood footballer, former Hamilton College student and a player in the Hamilton Cricket team. Joseph, better known as Alan, was the first Victorian Football League player to enlist and among the first VFL players killed. His death came in the hours after the landing at Gallipoli. Initially, he was reported as missing and it was almost a year before his death on 25 April 1915 was made official.
The first the Hamilton people heard of a man with a local connection to have fallen was the news of the death of Harold Johnson of Maldon. Harold was well-known in Hamilton having worked at department store J.Thomson & Co. He was wounded in the days after the landing and died in hospital in Alexandria on 2 May 1915. However, it was 24 May 1915 when the reality of war really hit Hamilton. The Hamilton Spectator wrote on 24 May 1915, “The youth of the town have had their first piercing illustration of what war means in the last resort when they realise that one of their number will never associate with them. Private William Henry Waters, a Hamilton State School boy, between nineteen and twenty years of age, has died at the front whilst fighting with the Australian forces at Gallipoli. He is the first Hamilton soldier to fall.”
Of those I’ve researched, William Norman was the youngest to enlist at seventeen years and eleven months. The eldest of eight children, William was eighteen years and five months when he arrived at Gallipoli. He went on to serve in France and Belgium and was killed on 8 October 1917, near Broodseinde Ridge, Belgium. He was buried where he fell, his body never recovered. William was twenty. His five younger brothers all enlisted for WW2.
The youngest to die was Robert Taylor, born in Hamilton and a former student of the state school. He was eighteen years and one month when he enlisted on 24 January 1916. He was dead just seven months and fifteen days later, killed at Pozieres, France. Like Joseph Cordner and William Norman, Robert’s body was never recovered.
The last Hamilton man to die before the Armistice was James Smyth of the 9th Light Horse Regiment. After James and another man captured a German officer with eighty-five Turkish soldiers on 2 October 1918 near Khan Ayash in Syria, James was nominated for a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for conspicuous gallantry, initiative and devotion to duty. Fifteen days later he was sick with malaria and died on 25 October 1918. His DCM was awarded posthumously.
Many families had multiple enlistments which for some brought added grief like that experienced by the Joyce family. Brothers Matthew and Thomas were killed just two months apart, Matthew on 11 April 1917 at Bullecourt, France and Thomas on 1 June 1917 at Warloy-Baillon, France.
There was also the two sons of Charlotte Lance. Her eldest son Alexander Scott (below) was killed on 26 August 1916 at Mouquet Farm, France but Charlotte was not notified he was even missing. After the death of her younger son George Lance, she wrote to the Defence Department asking after Alexander as she had not heard from him since the year before. He was dead, came the reply. Two boys lost a year apart but the news of both coming within months. Charlotte didn’t even want George to go, refusing the nineteen-year-old her permission. Determined to enlist, George went to Adelaide, enlisted under a false name, then wrote to his mother and told her what he had done. She didn’t even get to say goodbye.
Then there were the Stevenson brothers Alexander and Edgar. Only a few years apart in age, they spent a lot of time together before enlistment. The worked together at the family bakery in Coleraine Road, were both members of the Independent Order of Rechabites, and sung together at the local Baptist Church. The also went to war together both serving with the 39th Battalion. Alexander known as Lex was there when Edgar was killed on 4 October 1917. He helped dig the grave and placed a cross upon it. A week later, Lex was shot near Passchendaele, Belgium and died on 15 October from his wounds. William and Euphemia Stevenson received the news of their sons six days apart.
James Lodge of Clarke Street, Hamilton sent four boys to war. Remaining at home was eighteen-year-old Frederick who was keen to join his brothers but instead worked with his father, a stonemason. James and Frederick were building the Catholic presbytery at Casterton when Frederick developed double pneumonia and died on 20 June 1918. While James’ mind was with his four sons overseas, it was the son under his own watchful eye who died. Despite his grief, James continued working but he too contracted pneumonia and died on 31 July. Since it was James’ idea to plant trees along Clarke Street to form an Avenue of Honour for those in the street who enlisted, at the official planting on 24 August 1918, the first tree planted was in James’ honour and positioned in front of the Lodge home. The Lodge boys all returned to Australia, two highly decorated, and they went on to secure the contract of the construction of the Shrine of Remembrance.
James’ death before the war’s end was very common among parents of those serving. William Sugden Price Lewis passed away within two weeks of hearing of his adopted son Arthur’s fate. After waiting for eight months for news of his missing son Joseph only to learn he was dead, William Sloan felt he could live no longer. Grief and anxiety were often compounded by the often necessary dealings with the Defence Department. I’ve read dozens of letters to Base Records from desperate parents and siblings. You can sense the frustration and anguish of Isiah Cordner in his letters seeking information about his missing son Alan. He wrote to the Defence Department, the Red Cross and sought out men from Alan’s battalion for help. It was 364 days after Alan’s death when Isiah finally had official confirmation.
The family of John Taylor killed on 29 July 1916 at Pozieres experienced similar pain. John’s mother Eliza tried to get news of her son, writing letters to the Defence Department and asking relatives to write. The reply came that he was killed on 28/29 July 1916 but no more details of his death or burial were available. The first inquiry into John’s death was held on 22 June 1917 finding there was no trace of him. Letters were still being sent from the family in 1919 requesting more information. They just wanted to know where he was buried and maybe get a photo of his headstone something available to parents of sons who did get a formal burial.
It was Abraham Tredrea father of Francis Tredrea who summed up the feelings of all parents when he wrote a letter to the Collie fanciers of Victoria by way of the Leader newspaper’s “Kennel Notes” published in September 1917. Abraham had waited thirteen months for news of his missing son. “I received word on Friday last re my son, F. S. Tredrea, saying he was killed in action on the 19th of July, 1916. You will remember he was then reported missing. I miss him very much. He was a very smart boy in the fancy, both in dogs and poultry. He was known by the Collie fanciers of Melbourne, and I am sure his friends in the fancy will be sorry to read the sad news.” Those words…I miss him very much.
Like Francis, a number of the men were married with children. His wife Ada spent the thirteen months Francis was classed as missing, writing letters and advertising in newspapers for information about her husband. When she finally received the official confirmation, she placed the following notice in The Argus,
“After months of hopeful waiting
The sad cable it came through
Saying he nobly did his duty
As only loyal Australians do”
Arthur Emmett had the largest family of all the married men. When he enlisted in July 1915, Arthur and his wife Evangeline had four children with twins born after Arthur’s enlistment. Arthur was killed on 26 July 1916 at Pozieres, France but was reported missing. When Evangeline heard the news, she began a year of letter writing to the Red Cross asking for help in finding Arthur. It was not until 4 August 1917 when Arthur’s death was officially confirmed. It was a double blow for the Emmett family with Arthur’s younger brother Alfred Emmett killed only weeks after they heard of Arthur’s fate.
With such a large number of men from the district overseas, there was always an opportunity to catch up with someone from Hamilton. The talk would invariably turn to news from home and the Hamilton Spectator sent by relatives was highly sought after. Horace Westgarth (below) wrote home after the evacuation at Gallipoli, telling his mother, “…half of Hamilton seem to be with us now.” By the time Horace left Egypt for France, just having transferred to the 58th Battalion, he had met up with fellow Hamiltonian Terence Finnegan. It was an unlikely friendship, which may not have come about if they were back in Hamilton. Terence went to the Convent School and Horace went to the state school. Terence worked as a tailor at J.Thomson & Co., while Horace was a carpenter. But so far from home that didn’t matter and the common thread of being from Hamilton bound their friendship. Terence and Horace were on rations fatigue around 9pm on 12 May 1917 as the second Battle of Bullecourt drew to an end. A shell killed Terence and Horace in an area known as Death Valley. They were buried where they fell and the two Hamilton men still lie there together today.
Claude Douglas and Albert Sheehan were both twenty and Arthur Lewis aged twenty-four when the trio from Hamilton found themselves together in D Company of 14th Battalion. At Gallipoli, they shared a tent behind the frontline. Thirteen men slept in the tent in the beginning, but by the start of August 1915, there were only three still occupying the tent, the three Hamiltonians. Three weeks later the tent was empty. Albert was missing after the attack on Hill 971 on 8 August, Arthur died of wounds on 13 August and finally on 21 August, Claude was killed.
Ken Toleman of Mortlake and Englishman Reg Briant, were “out of towners”, electricians with the Hamilton Electric Co. when they enlisted. They left Australia together on 17 June 1915 with the 14th Battalion 6th Reinforcements. Kenneth and Reg arrived at Gallipoli on 1 August 1915. It was a bad time to get there with heavy fighting and great loss of life throughout the month. The day of 22 August was a particularly dark day. The battalion took part in the attack on Hill 60 and Reg was killed. Ken went on to France and then Belgium and was an acting Captain when wounded near La Clytte on 13 October 1916. He died soon after. Ken had never stopped thinking about Reg.
It was Ken and Reg’s friendship which brought about one of the more heart-warming moments I came across. In July 1916, Ken was granted leave to England for eight days and took the opportunity to meet with Reg Briant’s sister Dorothy. He also accepted the invitation of Reg’s schoolmaster and paid a visit to the school at Lymington, Hampshire. He was taken on a tour and was the first Australian soldier the children had seen. He was given three cheers in all the classrooms. When he next wrote home he described it as a holiday he would never forget. Ken’s grandmother Sarah in Mortlake received a reassuring letter from Dorothy Briant who said Ken was “well and strong”.
That wasn’t the only school visit. Walter Filmer of Byaduk and a teacher at the Hamilton State School for three years, visited the Hamilton Academy in Hamilton, Scotland. The Hamilton State School and the Academy had exchanged flags while Walter was at the state school. He found the Hamilton State School flag proudly displayed at the Hamilton Academy. The children were excited to meet a representative from the school on the other side of the world, and Walter passed on his regards from the committee, staff and pupils of Hamilton State School.
The letters to loved ones have been a highlight. Men and women wrote letters home and in turn, some parents passed the letters on to the local paper for publication. How thankful I am to those parents who did so. The letters share news of friends or relatives also serving, they describe the conditions and the countryside and give something of the letter writer’s personality. Some were written during a quiet moment in the trenches while others were written from hospital while reflecting on why they were there.
One of the more entertaining letter writers was plucky William Lovell. His self-assurance belied his age of nineteen years but it was likely that self-assurance saw him become part of “Jacka’s Mob”, the famous 5th platoon of the 14th Battalion led by Albert Jacka VC. William lost his life near the Hindenburg Line on the 11 April 1917 aged twenty. His body still lies in the fields of northern France.
Frank Kendall wrote a long letter home to his father describing his time in London. So long it was published in two parts in the newspaper. Ivan Morieson, a son of a teacher wrote a lovely letter home to his mother describing his time in Egypt, “There is nothing I should like better than to travel over Egypt at my leisure. A man properly interested could spend a lifetime here, and if ever I get the chance I shall do my best to have a proper look at the place”. Although he described himself as a man, he was just a boy. Only eighteen at the time of his letter and twenty when he was shot through the heart while acting as company runner near Polygon Wood, Belgium.
The nurses from Hamilton have also been part of my research. They were not immune to the horrors of the war working under horrendous conditions and broken bodies. The mental images would haunt them. At least two of the Hamilton nurses spent time under psychiatric care within ten years of the end of the war.
I have posted three stories of the Hamilton nurses so far, one of those the story of Hamilton born Edith Malcolm. She nursed at Salonika, Greece where living conditions were poor, some even thought worse than France. There was very little fresh food and they lived off soldiers’ rations. For a boost of iron, a weekly ration of bully beef and biscuits was issued. Winters were freezing and the summers were hot with malaria a constant risk. The nurses covered themselves from head to toe to protect themselves from mosquitos. Edith was diagnosed with anaemia in July 1918 and invalided home.
Once back on Australian soil, Edith (below far right) found her brother Norman had returned home in the months before and her sister Stella and younger brother Eric returned in the months following allowing the Malcolm siblings to come together for the first time in three years for this beautiful photo.
There have been many inspiring stories of bravery. Several came from stretcher bearers who often found themselves in exposed positions as they removed the wounded from the battlefields. They were often members of the battalion band like Arthur Underwood of Mill Road, Hamilton, a member of the 23rd Battalion band. He was awarded a Military Medal after his actions led to at least a dozen wounded men saved from No Man’s Land in broad daylight at Pozieres, France on 29 and 30 July 1916.
Then there was Edwin Smith of 22nd Battalion, not afraid to volunteer for raiding parties. On 29 June 1916, he volunteered for a raid which saw the man they called “Fatty” crawl on his stomach through No Man’s Land with around sixty other men, before they jumped in the German trenches, taking the enemy by surprise. He didn’t receive a medal for that occasion but was awarded a Military Medal for his service as one of the last remaining men on Gallipoli after the evacuation on the 20 December 1915. The 22nd Battalion was positioned near Johnstone’s Jolly and as the battalion began its evacuation, Edwin and several other men kept up steady gunfire for over two hours so the enemy would believe everything was normal.
On the morning of 26 August 1916, as Edwin Smith passed through the village of Pozieres to relieve a crew on the front line, a shell hit his company. Edwin was killed instantly and buried where he fell. He was later exhumed and his body placed in the Pozieres British Cemetery.
Frank Lodge (below)was one of the four enlisted sons of James Lodge. On 29 July 1916, the 2nd Pioneers were in Pozieres and had commenced working on a communications trench known as “Centre Way” running to Pozieres Wood. Their work was not helped by the enemy as the Germans bombarded the area. Overnight on 4 August, with their section almost complete, Frank stood in the open above the trench not only giving directions to his men but urging them on. He was awarded a Military Medal.
On 31 August 1918, near Peronne Frank went forward to assess sites for bridges to aid with the advance…
…he got over the main canal and examined an old German bridge which had been partially destroyed. Finding a gap of about fourteen feet, he pushed a spar over the gap and attempted to cross but disturbed a German sentry on the opposite bank who opened fire, and ran toward the village. As Lieutenant Lodge was fired at by machine guns. from the south side of Halle he returned. The information gained by this reconnaissance was of great value. That night he got material carried to the site and proceeded to reconstruct a demolished road bridge and remained in charge of the work until completion the next evening, although immediate vicinity was heavily shelled all day. Later he did further valuable reconnaissance work and rapid bridging (Australian War Memorial, Honours and Awards https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1622549/ )
His actions saw him awarded a Military Cross. His brother Augustine Bernard Lodge was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his actions at Pozieres in 1916.
Look out for Part 2 coming soon when I’ll share some of the stories of Hamilton’s WW1 which have had the greatest effect on me.