World War I medals for an ordinary soldier

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

Douglas died on 8th August 1918. In 1920 his father James Simpson Stewart apparently had a question for the Department of Defence:

Memorandum 6 Feb 1920

What medals was Douglas entitled to? A copy of the answer is on the file:

The Victory Medal and the General Service Medal. The Victory Medal, at least was sent a couple of years later, and James signed and returned the acknowledgement of receipt:

James had also been sent the Memorial Plaque six months earlier:

James had a couple of questions after it had arrived:

In the reply he was told that the correct dates of the Great War were 1914-1918, and the plaque’s materials and emblems were described in detail:

The service record shows all of the medals and plaques Douglas was issued:

I wish I knew more about these medals and plaques – what they looked like, what they feel like in the hand. I just can’t imagine how Douglas’ parents felt when they received them in the mail back in Holbrook, NSW. Proud, perhaps.

Of course, four or five years had passed by the time they arrived. The surviving soldiers had returned, and life had gone back to normal, so perhaps each time one of these things arrived the devastation returned.

This post was originally published in December 2010 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

NSW Will Books now on FindMyPast

FindMyPast Australia announced in June last year that they had acquired the rights to digitise and publish the Will Books held by State Records NSW. I don’t usually publish press releases but I was so pleased I just had to do it!

All things come to those who wait, as they say, and the Will Books are finally here.

The Will Books are hand-written copies of the wills made by the office of the Probate Registrar. They contain a summary of the probate process and the value of the estate. They have been on microfilm for some time, and I imagine it was the microfilms that were digitised. The original will is kept in the probate packet, access to which is restricted until the packets are sent to the Archive at State Records NSW. See the entry for this series in Archives Investigator.

The records are easy to find and download. I searched first for all my Easons, because even though I have images of the actual probate packets I had never looked up the wills in the Will Books. Here is the entry for Irwin Eason, who has his will drawn up in November 1914, after the oubreak of World War I, and died on 12 October 1945 having seen both world wars. Irwin died childless and left his estate to his beloved wife Annie.

4-310621 Irwin Eason

And here is the first page of an earlier, handwritten entry for Irwin’s uncle Robert Ewin, who died on 21 October 1921 survived by his second wife and nine of his eleven children.

4-111--2 Robert Ewin

 

These records are well worth searching for, even if you have the probate packet, for the easy-to-understand summary they contain.

It’s also worthwhile checking the transcription of the entry. It doesn’t transcribe the whole entry for you but it picks out the most important names for you. Here is the transcription for Robert Ewin:

4-111002 Robert Ewin transcriptionMake sure you search for absolutely everyone you can think of – the siblings and neighbours of ancestors can be just as informative as the records for your own ancestors, and may have references to them. The names of the heirs and executors listed in the transcription do not seem to be indexed so you can’t search for mentions of people in the wills of others, although perhaps that will come.

A World War I soldier’s girlfriend?

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

Most of the documents in the file are fairly self-explanatory. This one has a small mystery. Alongside the correspondence with Douglas’ father James Simpson Stewart, which I will cover in a future post, is this letter:

Letter from Miss J.M. Byrne dated 31 Dec 1918

Miss J. M. Byrne lived in Glebe Point in inner Sydney, and on New Year’s Eve in the year that Douglas was killed she sat down with her patriotic notepaper to ask for more information about his death.

She knew to whom to write, she knew Douglas’ rank, serial number and battalion, and she knew the date that he was killed.

Who was she? Douglas had five sisters, that I can find, and none of them had the initials ‘JM’. The correspondent was a ‘Miss’, in any case, and not a ‘Miss Stewart’. Douglas’ mother’s maiden surname was Lawson, and I know little about her or her extended family. Perhaps Miss Byrne was a cousin on his mother’s side.

I must be a romantic though, because I prefer to think of Miss Byrne as a girlfriend or a potential girlfriend. She must have been so upset, imagining all the dreadful ways he could have been killed, to have written to request more information from the Base Records Office. She clearly wasn’t in a position to obtain news directly from the family, who could have been expected to have the earliest notification.

Before the war Douglas was an 18-year-old telegraph messenger and lived in Holbrook, a country town near Albury. How did Miss Byrne know him? How did they meet? Was she from Holbrook? Why was she in Sydney?

Two weeks later she received the following reply:

She was told that there was no further information regarding ‘his regrettable loss’ than was contained in the ‘brief cable report “Killed in Action, 8/8/18?.’ When further information arrived by mail the next-of-kin would be informed. If she enquired again after this time these particulars would be forwarded to her also.

There is no subsequent correspondence from her.

I’ve searched the NSW Birth Death and Marriage index for the marriage of a J M Byrne, and there were a couple in the 1930s, an inconclusive result. I hope she had a happy life.

This post was originally published in July 2010 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

The last Will and Testament of a WWI soldier

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

Douglas embarked for England on 10 May 1917 after months of training and medical examinations and inoculations. Ten days before he left he made out his last Will and Testament, lodging it with the Officer in Charge Base Records. A certified copy of the will was kept in his file. I imagine the original was removed on his death.

Certified copy of the Last Will and Testament of Douglas James Stewart

He left everything he owned to his mother, Annie Stewart. I don’t imagine that his property and effects amounted to much. He was 18, he lived at home with his parents; he was a telegraph messenger. Perhaps he owned a bicycle.

His will was witnessed by W.M. Dorney and A. J. Cowled. A search of the National Archives of Australia RecordSearch reveals the identity of these two witnesses.

William Michael Dorney from Raymond Terrace was a State School teacher who had passed his 2nd Lieutenant’s exam at Duntroon in 1916, before he enlisted, aged 30, in Raymond Terrace, near Newcastle. He sailed from Sydney on board HMAT Port Melbourne on 16 July 1917 with the 33rd Batallion, and was wounded in action in France in April 1918. After two months in hospital he was sent back to France and was killed 12 days later by a direct hit from an enemy 77 [gun] while leading his platoon at ‘Road Wood’ on 30 August 1918. His effects were returned to his wife.

Agustus John Cowled was a farmer who enlisted at Cootamundra on 29 March 1916. He was 22. He was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 1 May 1917 before leaving Australia on 31 October 1917 aboard HMAT Euripides. He lived through the war, despite being wounded and gassed more than once, and returned to Australia on 20 August 1919.

I can’t see that Douglas served with either of these two lieutenants. Douglas had landed in France after training in England on 20 May 1918.

A ‘Certificate re Will’ is also on file. This appears to be a stub from which the will, filled out by the men on a standard form, had been removed. You can see the pin marks on the left hand side. Other men provided their own wills, especially, I suspect, the married ones.

Certificate re Will - Douglas James Stewart

The certificate is signed by by the Commanding Officer of the battalion. I would welcome a more accurate explanation of this form.

Sources for witnesses:

National Archives of Australia: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920.

Cowled Augustus John : SERN LIEUTENANT : POB Junee NSW : POE N/A : NOK F Cowel Albert Clayton

Dorney William Michael : SERN Lieutenant : POB Raymond Terrace NSW : POE N/A : NOK W Dorney Gertrude Margaret

This post was originally published in May 2010 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

Enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force, 1917

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

The Application to Enlist in the Australia Imperial Force form shows that Douglas enlisted at Victoria Barracks in Sydney on 18 February 1917.

He was a telegraph messenger, residing in Albury Street, Holbrook, NSW. He was 18 years and 2 weeks old, and both his parents signed the form, giving their consent to the enlistment of their under-aged son for active service abroad. He was 5 foot 9 inches, with a chest measurement of 31-36 inches fully expanded. He was declared fit for Active Service.

The instructions on the back give us an idea of the enlistment process:

The form, filled in and signed by the applicant and additionally signed, in this case, by his parents, was given to the Recruitment Officer. Provided the applicant fulfilled all other requirements the form was given directly to the Medical Practitioner, who examined the applicant for medical fitness. The form was then returned to the Recruitment Officer, who then sent it to the Officer in Charge of the Central Recruiting Depot to which the recruit had been instructed to report.

Douglas was examined at Victoria Barracks on the same day:

He weighed in at 146 lbs; his chest was measured at 36 inches when fully expanded, a range of 5 inches; his pulse rate was 78 [beats per minute, presumably] and his physical development good. He had two vaccination marks on his left arm, given in 1913. His vision, was measured as 6/6 on both sides, which I assume was good. He apparently had no marks indicating congenital peculiarities or previous diseases.

Most of the remaining pages of the Medical History are blank. He was re-examined at Liverpool Field Hospital on 9 May 1918 but not admitted.

At his initial examination he was asked a few questions about fits, insanity, consumption:

Medical History, page 4

He was vaccinated on the same day, on 20 March, 2 April and again on 21 April 1917.

Douglas was then examined at the Sydney Showground Military Camp on 26 March 1917. His teeth were intact, with 13 on each side (feel inside your mouth and count yours).

So he was good to go. This telegraph messenger from a small town in southern New South Wales was ready for the biggest, and worst, adventure of his life.

This post was previously published in May 2010 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

A soldier goes to war

This post was first published in May 2010 as ‘A World War I Service File’. This month (August 2014) is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War, and interest in these files will only grow, so we need to understand what is in them.

The National Archives of Australia holds the service records of Australian defence servicemen and women from Federation in 1901. Records are closed for thirty years. If your ancestor served in the Boer War, World War I, World War II or in between, the records you need will be in Canberra.

Many of these records have been digitised, and are available to view and download online.

Some of the first to be digitised were the World War I service records.

World War I service records usually contain, at the very least, the following documents:

  • attestation paper – the attestation paper was completed by the person on enlistment and normally gives next-of-kin, employment details, marital status, age, place of birth and physical description
  • service and casualty form – this form, known as ‘Form B103’, shows movements and transfers between units, promotions, when and how the soldier was injured and where treatment was received
  • military correspondence – correspondence between the Department of Defence and the soldier’s next-of-kin may include notification of wounds or death, awards and medals and questions about the whereabouts of the serviceman or woman [NAA]

Here is the first page of the Attestation Paper of my grandmother’s cousin Douglas James Stewart, downloaded from the website. Douglas, a telegraph messenger, had barely turned 18 when he enlisted in Sydney on Sunday, 18th February 1917.

His next of kin was his father, James Simpson Stewart, of Albury Street, Holbrook NSW. The next page is a bit more instructive:

We can see that he was a Presbyterian; 5 foot 9 inches tall, 146 lbs in weight, with a scar on his left knee and a lump on his left thumb. By looking at a copy of the Attestation Paper in the file we can see the headings for the information that has been pasted over: his chest measurement was 31-36 inches, and he had a medium complexion, with brown hair and brown eyes. I presume that the numbers in red next to his eye colour refer to eyesight testing.

He was pronounce fit for service and was appointed to A Company, 1st Infantry D Battalion.

The pages that were taped inside tells what happened to his afterwards:

And on the other side of the paper:

This appears to be much the same thing only typed:

I am not knowledgeable about the codes and abbreviations used, but it looks to me like he embarked on His Majesty’s Australian Transport Marathon at Sydney on 10th May, 1917, for a journey of a little over two months to Devonport, England. After some months of training in England he was shipped to France, arriving in Havre 20th March, 1918.

He survived the fighting in France for nearly five months, and was killed in action on the 8th August 1918.

The big blue stamp on the last page of the Attestation Form says it all:

Other documents in the file include the original Application to Enlist in the Australian Imperial Force and a certified copy. The form was signed by both his parents, since he was under 21 years and needed their permission. How difficult that must have been!

This file is 61 pages, and much of it is made up of correspondence between the Office and Douglas’ father James Simpson Stewart after his death. Further examinations of the file will be posted in the coming days.

Was there a teacher in the family?

Castlereagh School

Castlereagh School

Was your ancestor a school teacher? Was there a teacher in the family? There weren’t many professions open to women in the 19th century, and teaching was one of them. 

Until 1905 most teachers trained ‘on the job’ as pupil-teachers. This 4-year training began when they finished school at 13-16, teaching all day and then receiving an hour or so of instruction from the head teacher after school hours. Preference for acceptance to teachers college was given to pupil-teachers who had finished their 4 years, but many pupil-teachers went on to become teachers or assistant teachers without ever going near a teachers college.

Teachers of small bush schools – Provisional, Half-Time and House to House Schools – received no training at all or learned by observation at a larger school.

The length and quality of education teachers received changed over time. Here is a brief timeline of teacher training requirements:

1850 – the first training school was opened at Fort Street. Standard training period was 1 month.

1851 – Pupil teacher training begann at Fort Street.

1856 – Pupil-teacher system extended to all schools of 70 pupils or more where the head teacher was sufficiently qualified (reduced to 50 pupils in 1861)

1859 – standard 1 month course extended to 3 months for a small number of teachers

1867 – 3 month course became standard, some teachers were trained for 1 month or 6 months as necessary.

1872 – standard training 3 months, or 6 months for promising teachers

1875 – standard training 6 months, or 12 months for promising teachers

1883 – standard training 12 months for most students. Residential training school opened in Hurlstone for females, leaving Fort Street to the males.

1889 – standard training 12 months, or 2 years for promising teachers. A 3 year course leading to a B.A. degree was available for a small elite.

1895 – standard training 12 months, with only 1 or 2 students per year chosen to attend university

1905 – pupil-teacher system phased out over 3 or 4 years. Teacher training only availble through the training colleges, with 2 years training standard and 3 years for those with special ability. a 1 year course was still available for teachers training for small bush schools.

1905 – Fort Street and Hurlstone amalgamated to form Sydney Teachers College, at Blackfriars Public School until 1925 and then in new premises at the University of Sydney.

1911 – 6 month short course for bush school teachers at Hereford House in Glebe, an annex of Sydney Teachers College

1911 – University of Sydney introduced a one-year post-graduate Diploma of Education course for secondary school teachers

1918 – 6-month Hereford House course extended to 12 months

1924 – Hereford House closed

1928 – Armidale Teachers College opened

1930 – 12-month short course discontinued; 2-years standard for all primary school teachers

1936 – 12-month short course conducted as an emergency measure during 1936 and 1937 in addition to 2-year course

1946 – Balmain Teachers College opened

1947 – Wagga Wagga Teachers College opened

1949 – Newcastle Teachers College opened

1951 – Bathurst Teachers College opened

1958 – Alexander Mackie opened

1962 – Wollongong Teachers College opened

1969 – Minimum primary school training increased to 3 years

1970 – Goulburn and Lismore Teachers Colleges opened. Bathurst Teachers College absorbed into the new Mitchell College of Advanced Education

1974 – All teachers colleges had become independent of the Department of Education, being established or absorbed into colleges of advanced education

1988-1991 – all colleges of advanced education were incorporated into existing universities or amalgamated to form new ones. All teacher training is now delivered by universities.

Sources – 

J. Fletcher and J. Burnswoods, Government Schools of New South Wales 1848-1983, Department of Education, 1983.

NSW Department of Education, Government Schools of New South Wales from 1848, http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/teacher_education.shtm

There is a wealth of incredibly useful information published in old books that are no longer in wide circulation. This book is an old foolscap-sized publication which I bought at the recent State Records NSW Open Day for about $1.00. The book is falling apart and it doesn’t fit on my bookshelf with the other books. The list of schools and other information has been updated and is available online at http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/index.shtm.

I’ve previously published a number of resources to help you research your ancestor’s school education:

  • timeline of the milestones in NSW public education
  • an explanation of the types of government schools
  • instructions on how to find information about your ancestor’s local school, particularly the Department of Education school file
  • timeline of compulsory attendance and school fees.

 

Did your ancestor serve on the local council?

Peter Hannah Stewart

Peter Hannah Stewart

My grandmother was quite proud of her family, and when I started researching them I could see why. Both her grandfathers paid their own way here, and both made something of themselves once they arrived. Peter Hannah Stewart arrived during the Victorian Gold Rush, although that didn’t occur to me when I first found this out, as he had settled and died in Albury, on the New South Wales side of the border with Victoria.

I had found all the usual records that are now becoming more accessible – directories, electoral rolls, the birth registrations of all his children, and so on, and I thought I knew a bit about how he lived and what his life was like.

This obituary in the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express on Friday 17 February 1911 told me little I didn’t already know, except that he represented Indigo Riding in the Yackandandah Shire Council. This was news to me!

Albury Banner and Wodonga Express 19110217 Fri p31 Personal - Peter Hannah Stewart obit

Peter was declared insolvent in May 1881 at the Beechworth Courthouse. He claimed that the causes were ‘bad crops, want of employment for machine, and pressure of creditors’. He appears to have sold up and moved to Albury, New South Wales, around this time.

I suspect that his insolvency and move to Albury put an end to his Council adventures, but he involved himself in public life in other ways, in the local Presbyterian Church and the IOGT – the International Order of Good Templars. The Good Templars was, and still is, a temperance organisation promoting moderation or total abstinence in alcohol consumption. They no longer appear to be active in Australia but I imagine that their influence lived on in their descendants. My grandmother wouldn’t have had a drink to save her life.

The next step is to examine the records of the Yackandandah Shire Council, if they still exist – minutes of meetings, decisions taken, and so on. That will have to wait for another day.

 

Sources:

National Library of Australia, Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, Friday 17 February 1911, p.31, ‘Personal’, obituary of Peter Hannah Stewart, accessed on Trove, 23 July 2013.

National Library of Australia, The Argus, Friday 6 May 1881, p.5, ‘New insolvents’, Peter Hannah Stewart, accessed on Trove, 16 May 2012.

Victoria Government Gazette, 1881, p.1243, ‘Insolvency Notices’, Peter Stewart.

Wikipedia, International Organisation of Good Templars,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Organisation_of_Good_Templars

 

Did your ancestor go to school?

Castlereagh School

Castlereagh School, one of 5,300 NSW schools no longer in operation

Did your ancestor go to school? Was there a school in the area? Does the school still exist today?

I’ve previously published a number of resources to help you research your ancestor’s education:

  • timeline of the milestones in NSW public education
  • an explanation of the types of government schools
  • instructions on how to find information about your ancestor’s local school, particularly the Department of Education school file

Just because there was a school in the area, though, didn’t mean that your ancestor attended. To find out when your ancestor went to school you need to know whether school attendance was compulsory during his or her childhood years, and under what conditions.

Here is a brief timeline of compulsory school attendance:

Before 1848 – no government schools.

1848-1880 – attendance not compulsory.

1880-1916 – attendance required between the ages of 6 and 14 years for not less than 70 days every half year. Exemptions could be obtained if the school was more than two miles away or the child was incapacitated or otherwise being instructed.

1917-1939 – attendance required for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon for all children from 7 to 14 years for every day that the school was open. Similar exemptions except the children older than 11 years had to be more than 3 miles from school.

1939 – attendance required for children from 6 to 14 years.

1940-1943 – a higher school-leaving age was phased in over 3 years, to 15 years by 1943.

1944 – special schools introduced for blind and infirm children between 6 and 15 years who could not be educated at ordinary schools.

Another important aspect of school attendance was school fees. School fees were used to supplement the teachers’ income until 1880, when the government paid the whole of teachers’ salaries. The cost of fees and the number of children in a family had a big influence on whether a child was able to attend school.

1848 – local school boards could set the rate at between  penny to 1 shilling per child per week.

1853 – a minimum of 3 pence per child per week was set, with the local school board to determine any amount above this rate.

1867 – fees set by the local school board had to take local economic conditions into account. Fees ranged between 6 pence and 1 shilling per child, with reductions for additional children in the same family.

1880 – fees reduced to 3 pence per child per week to a maximum of 1 shilling per family for Primary School children.

1883 – High School fees set at 2 guineas per child per quarter.

1893 – High School fees raised to 3 guineas per child per quarter.

1906 – Primary School fees abolished.

1911 – High School fees abolished.

1923 – High School fees of 2 guineas per child per quarter re-introduced, subject to a means test.

1925 – High School fees abolished.

No matter how important parents considered the education of their children to be they could not always afford the school fees. Attitudes to the education of girls may also have been an issue, despite the legal requirement for both boys and girls to be at school. Lists of defaulters often appear in school files at State Records NSW, and these may the only mention of your ancestor in the files, as enrolment lists rarely survive.

From these timelines I can see that my grandfather Richard Norman Eason, who was born in Greghamstown, near Blayney, in December 1900, probably started school in early 1907, the fourth of the five children in the family to attend school. As the fees for Primary School were abolished the year before his parents could afford to have four children in school.

Richard stayed at school until late 1914, an ominous year. His older brother, Eric, enlisted but at 14 Richard was too young to go to war and he worked on his father’s farm. He was a farmer and grazier for the rest of his long life, and I always thought that his big round writing probably hadn’t changed much from his school days all those years ago.

Source – J. Fletcher and J. Burnswoods, Government Schools of New South Wales 1848-1983, Department of Education, 1983.

There is a wealth of incredibly useful information published in old books that are no longer in wide circulation. This book is an old foolscap-sized publication which I bought at the recent State Records NSW Open Day for about $1.00. The book is falling apart and it doesn’t fit on my bookshelf with the other books. The information in the book, including the list of schools, is now available online and updated where necessary at http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/facts/attendance.shtm.

 

Online Government and Police Gazettes

I’ve discussed Government Gazettes and Police Gazettes before, with their enormous usefulness to family historians. They can be used to find out more detail about your ancestors, and can sometimes solve questions about what happened to them. They can give clues to further research about residence, land and occupations.

The good news is that they are increasingly becoming available online. Here is an updated list:

Government Gazettes

  • New South Wales 1832-1850
  • Queensland 1859-1905
  • South Australia 1841-1870
  • Tasmania 1907-1916, 1919
  • Victoria 1851-1852, 1855-1891, 1893-1901
  • New Zealand 1876-1878, 1880-1883, 1886
  • New South Wales 1832-2001 coming
Government sites

Police Gazettes

FindMyPast

  • New South Wales 1862-1900
  • Queensland 1864-1900
  • South Australia 1862-1900
  • Tasmania 1884-1900
  • Victoria 1855-1900
  • New South Wales 1854-1930
Government sites