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20 November 2009

Private Wesley Paul Choat MM of Cherry Gardens

Image: AWM P03236.156

Wesley Choat was one of seven sons of Joseph Choat and Alice Mary Choat (nee Broadbent) and was born at Cherry Gardens in 1895. His parents subsequently moved to Clarence Park and he attended Goodwod Primary School and worked as a farm labourer before the war.

Wesley enlisted alongside two of his brothers, Raymond Haddon and Archibald Percy in A or Ack Company of the 32nd Battalion on 12 July 1915. The three brothers were allocated sequential regimental numbers of 66, 67 and 68. The battalion embarked for training in the Middle East on 18 November 1915, arriving a month later. After a short stint in hospital, Wesley was charged for refusing to carry a box off a church parade. In June 1916 the battalion shipped to Marseilles and by train to the front.

On 19 July 1916 the inexperienced battalion was thrown into the poorly planned Battle of Fromelles, and along with many other members of the battalion, both of Wesley's brothers were killed. Wesley himself was wounded by shrapnel and captured by the Germans. It took three months for his family to receive news of his capture and internment in a prisoner of war camp in Dulmen, Germany. He attempted to escape in September 1917 but was caught. After he recovered from his punishment of six weeks imprisonment on bread and water, he escaped again in December along with another South Australian soldier, Lance Corporal James William Pitts, and they managed to make it to Holland (a neutral country in that war). They made it back to England a few weeks later.

Wesley's parents were extremely relieved to hear of his escape, and wrote to the Army asking that he be spared from the firing line given the death of his brothers. However, by the time their request reached England, the commander of Australian troops in England had already decided to send both back to Australia in recognition of their nearly 18 months of hardship in captivity and their successful escape.

Wesley and his fellow escapee were awarded the Military Medal for the courage they displayed in escaping from Germany. It appears he lived in Curramulka on the Yorke Peninsula for some time after the war, although he did live on Unley Road, Unley in the early 1920's.

Wesley died in 1977 aged 81 and was cremated at Centennial Park. His name is inscribed on honour boards in the Curramulka Uniting Church, Goodwood Primary School and Unley Town Hall.

18 November 2009

Private Eric Leland Light of Coromandel Valley

Image: Courtesy of Bryan and Margaret Burton

Eric Leland Light was a son of John and Jane Light and was born and raised in Coromandel Valley. He attended Coromandel Valley School and worked as a house painter and decorator before the war.

He enlisted at Adelaide on 17 March 1916 and was allocated to the 13th reinforcements to the 27th Battalion, one of the battalions recruited from South Australia. After a stint at the Mitcham Camp, he embarked on the 'Bulla' at Adelaide on 24 June 1916, and disembarked at Plymouth, England on 24 August 1916.

After a short period of training, he crossed to France and was re-allocated to the 32nd Battalion (a mixed SA/WA unit) joining them on 13 October 1916. Five days later he went sick to hospital with the mumps, , but returned in early November, only to be hospitalised with trench feet in early December. He spent some time in England recovering and undergoing training, crossing the Channel back to France to join his original unit, the 27th Battalion on 20 October 1917. In early February 1918 he was detached for duty with the 7th Brigade Signals Section as a 'pigeoneer' (sending, receiving and looking after homing pigeons). The 7th Brigade included the 27th Battalion, and was heavily involved in the fighting to stop the German Spring Offensive in March and April 1918 and follow-up battles at Morlancourt, Hamel and Amiens later that year.

After a couple of weeks leave in England in October 1918, Eric returned to 27th Battalion on 23 October, a little over two weeks before the war ended. He spent six months on leave in England taking advantage of the AIF Employment Scheme and working as a decorator, before finally leaving to return to Australia in November 1919. He was discharged on 30 December 1919.

Eric Light died on 25 January 1962 aged 65 and was cremated at Centennial Park. he is remembered via a plaque on the Columbarium Walls at Centennial Park, and his name is inscribed on the Coromandel Valley War Memorial.

17 November 2009

Private George Frederick Dall of Blackwood

Image: Courtesy of Morgan Dall
George Frederick Dall was a son of George Frederick and Annie Dall of Blackwood. He was known as Fred to avoid confusion with his father, who had been living in the area for over 60 years when the war began, and was a significant community leader. According to birth and military records Fred was born near Laura, SA in 1890. He attended Coromandel Valley School and moved to Tintinara, SA in 1908 where he farmed a large property. His brother Walter ran a neighboring farm.
Fred enlisted at the age of 25 at Keswick, SA on 5 July 1915 and was allocated to the 32nd Battalion. The 32nd Battalion was a mixed South Australian and Western Australian unit. fred left Adelaide on 18 November 1915 aboard the transport 'Geelong'. The battalion arrived in Suez in December 1915 and commenced training. In April 1916, Fred was selected to be a driver in the transport section of the battalion. The transport section consisted of one officer, a sergeant and two dozen soldiers who were responsible for the unit's horse-drawn transport and pack animals. The transport section were usually located a short distance behind the frontline, and were responsible for carrying supplies forward to the companies of the battalion, such as food, ammunition and water. In late June 1916, the battalion shipped to France, landing in Marseilles and moving by train to training areas behind the front.
Fred arrived in Morbeque, France on 4 July 1916, and during the next two weeks the battalion was billeted in several towns including the town of Fleurbaix. On the evening of 19 July 1916, only three days after they entered the trenches for the first time, the 32nd Battalion were committed to the disastrous Battle of Fromelles, where the unit took 718 casualties, comprising 90% of the strength of the battalion before the attack commenced. The 32nd spent some time being reinforced and re-trained, and spent some time in the trenches during the remainder of 1916, but was involved in no more large-scale battles that year.
In March 1917, Fred was hospitalised for a couple of weeks due to illness, but after returning to the battalion on 4 April 1917, spent the rest of the war with the battalion in France. During this time the 32nd Battalion fought the Battle of Polygon Wood in September 1917, the Battle of Amiens in August 1918, and the capture of the Hindenburg Line in September and October 1918. Fred's cousin Private Joseph William Dall served with the 10th Battalion and survived the war.
Fred left Europe to return to Australia in May 1919, and was discharged in Adelaide on 12 August 1919. He returned to Tintinara after the war and married a former nurse from the United Kingdom who had emigrated to Australia to marry another returned serviceman, but had second thoughts and married Fred instead. While they were farming near Tintinara, Fred's brother Walter and his sister-in-law were murdered by an itinerant worker and their daughter abducted. In 1938 Fred and family moved to Smithfield. During the Second World War, Fred worked at the munitions factory at Penfield and a son served with the RAAF. They later moved to Mallala. When he retired in 1950 they lived on South Road near the old John H. Ellers car yard.
Fred died on 5 November 1956 at the age of 66, was cremated at Centennial Park and his ashes scattered. His name is inscribed on the Blackwood Soldiers Memorial.

11 November 2009

Remembrance Day at Coromandel Valley Primary School

Image: News Limited

A really excellent Roll of Honour presentation ceremony today, attended by quite a few descendants of the men from the school who served in the First World War, including members of the Winn, Watchman, Jones and Smith families amongst others.

Well done to Principal Chris Bayly and his team, particularly Carol Moncrieff and her husband, and Geoff Lock and Ken Cocks. They have already discovered information about an ex-student who was not included on the Roll, but served overseas.

Lots of info to check and incorporate into my work, and several more family contacts to follow up too.

I also had a great chat with a Cherry Gardens contact about their honour rolls the other night, and have already received a pic and some new names from that area. Have a stack of files to share with them too.
Will post a big update soonish...

08 November 2009

Private Gilbert Baker

Yesterday I did the research on Gilbert Ernest Baker, whose name is on the Blackwood Soldiers Memorial. He joined up soon after war was declared, served with the 3rd Light Horse on Gallipoli, and lost his hand during a bomb fight at Quinn's Post on 22 August 1915.

That's 38 names researched out of 237... Only 199 to go, but I keep finding new names at a rate of one a week...

In a strange coincidence, his grandson rang me today and left a message saying he had read about the project and that he had some memorabilia and photographs.

06 November 2009

The Bigg family of Blackwood

Had a call today from a niece of Lyndon BIGG, who told me the story that Lyndon was building a house on Adey Rd, Blackwood before he enlisted (and living in a shed on the block), and after he was killed, his parents moved to Blackwood from Echunga and finished the house. After the War, his brothers Lloyd and Alan also lived in the house.

Apparently both Lloyd and Alan kept diaries, which were transcribed by family members and have since been donated to the Museum at the Repat Hospital at Daw Park.

That two more for the list (now at 237!), and more photos and diaries to look through (plus a visit to Repat next week!).

04 November 2009

Private James Newman Brealey of Cherry Gardens

Photo: AWM P07791.001

James Newman Brealey was a son of John William and Elizabeth Lillian Brealey. Newman (as he was known) was born in Southern Cross, WA. The family lived in Cherry Gardens when Newman was primary school age as he attended the Cherry Gardens Public School. The family must have moved back to WA soon after and then moved around a fair bit, as Newman also attended the Yalgoo State School (500 km north of Perth) and the family lived in various gold mining towns along the road west from Perth towards Kalgoorlie. It appears that Newman's father and brother were gold miners at one time. Newman himself worked as a labourer or 'lumper'.

He enlisted at Black Boy Hill, WA on 13 March 1916 at the age of 19, as a reinforcement for the 16th Battalion. He joined the battalion in France in December 1916 after a couple of months of training in England. The freezing winter meant little action until April, when the battalion's first commitment after the spring thaw was the attack on the German Hindenburg defensive line near Bullecourt, France on 11 April 1917.

On the eve of his first battle, probably at the urging of his officer or sergeant, Newman wrote a brief will and testament in his pay book, leaving his possessions to his mother in case of his death. On the following day, the 16th Battalion attacked without adequate artillery support but with the support of tanks, many of which broke down. Despite this, the battalion captured its objectives, but ran out of ammunition and bombs and were eventually forced to withdraw back to their original trenches. Of the 17 officers and 700 soldiers of the 16th Battalion that attacked that day, only 3 officers and 87 soldiers returned to their start line. One of the soldiers left on the battlefield was Newman Brealey. As his body was never found, his name is inscribed on the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France, along with thousands of other Australians who have no known grave.

On 2 November 1918, nine days before the War ended, a photograph of Newman Brealey was unveiled in the schoolhouse of the Cherry Gardens Public School alongside others from Cherry Gardens that had been killed. His name is inscribed on the Cherry Gardens War Memorial. His brother, Lance Corporal Robert Harold Brealey served with the 51st Battalion and survived the War, returning to Australia in July 1919.

By 1923, the family had moved again, and were living in Manjimup, WA (360 kms south of Perth).

02 November 2009

Busy, busy, busy...

A stream of calls off the back of the notice in VetAffairs and now the Blackwood Times (I haven't got my copy as yet...) have added a few more names to my list.

I've had calls from relatives of:

  • Lieutenant Rob Reid, MC (who used to be the Blackwood carpenter and had a shop in the corner of the roundabout where the bank now is);
  • Private Lance Lightfoot (who was captured by the Turks at Gallipoli and who lived in Eden Hills between 1932 and 1942);
  • Second Lieutenant Arthur Hall, MM (from Coromandel Valley);
  • Lance Corporal Percy Scroop (from Coromandel Valley); and
  • Private Herbert Sydney Clark (who lived in Willunga St Eden Hills after the war).

Lance and Herbert were new names...

I also chatted with some of the people who have done the research behind the Coromandel Valley Primary School Roll of Honour, and am planning to attend the Remembrance Day ceremony at the school.