Saturday, April 25, 2015

Looking for grandfather

For a bloke who writes about our past I don't know much about my own family's history. Both of my mother's parents were killed in an accident before she married. Mum couldn't bring herself to discuss them at any length - it was just too painful for her. The only grandparent I knew was my paternal grandmother - we lived with her at Annerley for several years until I was about ten. Unfortunately my mother and my grandmother never really got on and having three little kids running around seemed to get on grandmother's nerves, so we didn't interact much.

I didn't know my paternal grandfather either - he died when I was about a month old. My father, a man notoriously reticent about such information, passed on very little of his family history. About the only detail that I knew about my grandfather was that he served overseas in WWI and had medical issues as a result.

This year's centenary of the Gallipoli campaign prompted me to do a little digging to see if there was anything I could add to this very incomplete story. First stop - the National Archives of Australia web site that provides details of our WWI diggers. This is what I found.

My grandfather enlisted in Brisbane, and his papers were dated 9 September 1915 when he was 39 years and 9 months old. Rather too old for joining the army, I thought. His enlistment papers indicated that his occupation was a "traveller" - new information to me. I assume that it meant commercial traveller rather than tourist. He wouldn't have realised how much travelling he was about to experience.

Next I read that he was married with five children. What was he doing joining the army when he had five kids to support? Perhaps the war was already affecting jobs, perhaps he felt peer pressure to join up - I'll never know now. From the meager family information that I did know, the youngest of his then five children was my aunt who was born on 25 April 1915 - the first day of the Gallipoli campaign and the reason we celebrate Anzac Day. So grandfather went and enlisted when his wife was nursing a child only four and a half months old, in addition to having another four kids - he must have known that he would probably be sent overseas. My father, the youngest in the family, wasn't born until a few years after the war ended, when grandfather was 45 years old. So if grandfather hadn't made it home...

The file shows a typed address "Buccan on the Southport Line" - then that was crossed out and a Broadway St, Red Hill address was handwritten next to it. I did know that my grandmother came from around Logan Village, so perhaps they had lived there for some time. Perhaps she and her children lived there with relatives while her husband was caught up in the war, I don't know.

Next he had to swear the oath, promising to serve the king until the end of the war and for four months thereafter.

His physical details were noted - height 5'7" (about 170 cm) and weight 11st 4lb (approx 72 kg) with a scar on his left knee. He had grey eyes and brown hair; visual acuity 6/9 in each eye. Now I can almost imagine him - I've never even seen a photograph of him, so I picture him as looking like my father who had a very similar build.

Grandfather became part of the 10th reinforcements to 26th Battalion, AIF - largely comprised of Queenslanders. In March 1916 they were sent on their way to Tel el Kabir in Egypt for training. Within a couple of months grandfather was hospitalised, the first of many hospital visits to come. His records note that he was suffering from mumps, a painful complaint for an adult male. This is a photo of the Tel el Kabir camp.

In July 1916 he was transported to Etaples, a training base and hospital town in France. The battalion became part of 2nd Division, and it seems their first major battle came around Pozieres between July and August, after which they were sent to a quieter sector in Belgium having suffered over 650 casualties. 

In September 1916 he was temporarily promoted in the field to corporal as a result of a fellow soldier being listed as missing, and the promotion was ratified in November with the confirmation of that man's death. From these details it is apparent that grandfather was involved in actual fighting involving loss of life. I can't imagine what that would be like.  

He was hospitalised again in November of that year - this time with haemorrhoids. It must have been a serious case because he was repatriated from Etaples to England to be admitted to the war hospital at Beaufort, where he remained for about a month. He was probably safer there as the Germans were fond of bombing Etaples, hospitals and all. Here is a photograph of the remnants of a British Red Cross hospital in Etaples after a bombing raid.
(Photo: © The History Press)

It seems that grandfather then spent most of 1917 attached to the 69th Battalion in England before being marched out to Le Havre in September of that year, rejoining his former battalion as a sergeant after having been promoted in August 1917. The battalion was moved south to the Somme Valley and the 26th participated in two attacks to the east of Flers. These attacks took place in atrociously muddy conditions, were largely unsuccessful and resulted in over 300 casualties. A month later grandfather reported to the field ambulance with scabies whereupon he was transferred to hospital in Camiers, France.

In April 1918 grandfather was taken on strength to No 1 Australian Convalescent Depot in Le Havre. A convalescent depot was a sort of half-way house for soldiers that were no longer hospitalised but were not yet fit to return to their units. He was still there when the 26th Battalion captured the German tank Mephisto near Amiens - it was repatriated to Brisbane where it has been on display at the museum for many years.
(Photo: Jose Luis Castillo ©

It would appear that grandfather was on active duty until December 1918 when he embarked Orantes for return to Australia. During this time he received a promotion to company sergeant-major.

The final note on the file says that on 3 April 1919 he was discharged from the army as medically unfit, suffering from rheumatism. Judging by a Particulars of Service form issued to the Department of Repatriation in 1925 I assume that, almost at the age of 50, grandfather applied for a disability pension.

Service Medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.

So there we have the war service of a WW1 digger - not much glory in these details, no heroics, just the hard physical and mental cost of vicious fighting in deplorable conditions. I'm sure that this story is no different to the stories of thousands of other Australians who were sent overseas to fight in WW1. No wonder so many came home ill or disabled, let alone the enormous number who lost their lives. My grandfather came home to his family, and even though he lived to the age of 73, the war took its toll on his health.

Thank you for your service Granddad. It's sad that we never had the opportunity to get to know each other. 



Monday, April 20, 2015

On the G

Last week I had the pleasure of riding on the G - the new light rail system on Queensland's Gold Coast. It is quick, quiet, air-conditioned and very comfortable. It seems to be well supported too. I rode with shoppers, tourists, travellers with large suitcases, school children and retirees.

It isn't perfect yet. It needs to link up with the Brisbane rail system and also the Gold Coast airport and when it does it will be as good as anything in the world. It has just been announced that the G will be extended north to meet the Queensland Rail network at Helensvale - this should be relatively straight-forward and inexpensive, and could be in place for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018. The next logical step after that would be to project the G south to Coolangatta, linking with the Gold Coast airport on the way. Because of existing infrastrucure this will be more expensive and will take longer to achieve.

There are some caveats about the G though. My mate who lives on the Gold Coast pointed out the years of disruption to traffic, noise and general inconvenience incurred in the construction phase. Some businesses were extremely badly affected by the alteration of vehicle and pedestrian routes through the Gold Coast. Also, there is no doubt that there is a huge startup capital cost for infrastructure of this magnitude.

Unfortunately (but predictably) this encounter left me nostalgic for Brisbane trams, even though they haven't been around since April 1969 except at the tramway museum at Ferny Grove.

Over the years there has been various attempts to resurrect trams here. I would hate to think how much has been spent on feasibility studies initiated by the different levels of government. Every time there is a change of government (happens all too frequently these days) the new people ditch all previous studies and institute their own. The latest was the BaT Tunnel that was promoted by the previous LNP state government that would have sent buses and trains through a tunnel under the river - it has now been tossed out by the incoming Labor government who want to come up with their own proposal. Although the BaT Tunnel project didn't include trams, it may have freed up public transport enough to consider them down the track (sorry!).

But I like to dream. Imagine having trams back again.

Naturally they would have to be separated from the rest of the traffic somehow. The original Brisbane trams required cars to stop every time the tram pulled up at a tram stop unless there was a safety zone - a recipe for disaster in today's heavy traffic. But the pay-off would be that many of those motorists might use more convenient public transport.


Monday, April 13, 2015

William Edward Parry-Okeden; Delamore, Kedron

Born in 1840 in the Snowy River area of New South Wales, William Edward Parry-Okeden had a lifetime of adventure and achievement. William moved from the bush to Melbourne with his parents in 1851 and attended school there. At the age of 14 and already 6 feet tall he joined the Volunteer Rifles, becoming an expert shot and fine horseman while at the same time acting in amateur theatricals. Then at age 17 he commenced work as an articled clerk, but he left that position after three years to join his parents who were working at a station in Queensland.

In 1867 he bought a property near Gayndah and became a well-known identity in the Burnett area. He was master of the hunt club; he raced horses, winning races despite his large frame; got to know the local Indigenous people; and his biography says "wrote lively ballads".

In 1870 Parry-Okeden commenced what was to be a 35-year career in the state public service. He was initially appointed inspector of customs, patrolling the New South Wales border to prevent smuggling operations that were then rife. He subsequently became police magistrate for Cunnamulla, then Charleville and then Gayndah. His sporting ability and genial character made him very popular with the locals. The Charleville Times even reported that Parry-Okeden sometimes delivered verdicts in verse!  

In 1886 he moved to Brisbane and in 1889 he was appointed as principal under-secretary, the highest public service post.  During this period he was commended for his handling of the shearers' strikes of the 1890s.
(Photo: 7109, Photographs of Queensland Under-Secretarys, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Australia.) 1893 

Around this time he and his family moved to Delamore, a large and lavish house at Kedron, where they entertained frequently. Here are some pictures of the dwelling.
(Photo: SLQ 177798) undated

(Photo: SLQ 63776) 1895

Delamore was subsequently purchased by the Catholic Church for use as a convent and then a school. It is now a retirement community and it is listed on the BCC heritage pages. Here is a more recent photograph of the entry.

In 1895 William Parry-Okeden was appointed as Queensland's second police commissioner. Here is a photograph of him in what I presume to be his formal uniform.
 (Photo: SQL 69024)

During his tenure he was responsible for many reforms. The Queensland Police web pages say:
He  reorganised the force into seven districts, initiated the grades of Constable 1/c and Chief Inspector, oversaw the formation of the Criminal Investigation Branch, devised more appropriate country uniforms, introduced the use of police bicycles and established the Fingerprint Bureau.
William retired from the public service in 1905. 

The Parry-Okedens lived at Delamore until 1912. They moved then to a significant property called Okewall at Redcliffe. After William's death that property was sub-divided into housing allotments.
(Map: SLQ 21136194360002061)

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Ascog Terrace, Toowong

A brief Easter offering:

Ascog Terrace, Toowong 1891
(Photo: SLQ 240630)

Ascog Terrace, Toowong 2013

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