My grandfather served in World War II after all

I have written previously about how I hadn’t realised my grandfather had a defence forces service file until I saw his name in an index. The file hadn’t been digitised when I searched for it, so I ordered it and waited.

I recently got an email from the National Archives of Australia to say that my file was ready to download.

It turned out to be 16 pages. Richard Norman Eason of Hill Street, Blayney, farmer and grazier, was taken on strength of the 26th Battalion of the Volunteer Defence Corps in March 1943.

Mobilization Attestation Form

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B844, Citizen's Military Forces Personnel Dossiers, 1939-1947; N348332, Richard Norman Eason. Mobilization Attestation Form.

He joined the VDC, or Volunteer Defence Corps. According to Wikipedia:

The Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) was an Australian part time volunteer military force of World War II modelled on the British Home Guard. The VDC was established in July 1940 by the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) and was initially composed of ex-servicemen who had served in World War I.[1] Thegovernment took over control of the VDC in May 1941, and gave the organisation the role of training for guerrilla warfare, collecting local intelligence and providing static defence of each unit’s home area.[1] General Harry Chauvel, who had retired in 1930, was recalled to duty in 1940 and appointed Inspector-General of the VDC. Chauvel held this position until his death in March 1945.[2]

Following the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Government expanded the VDC in February 1942. Membership was open to men aged between 18 and 60, including those working in reserved occupations. As a result, the VDC reached a peak strength of almost 100,000 in units across Australia.[1]

As the perceived threat to Australia declined the VDC’s role changed from static defence to operating anti-aircraft artillerycoastal artillery and searchlights. Members of inland VDC units were freed from having to attend regular training in May 1944 and the VDC was officially disbanded on 24 August 1945.[1]

Service and Casualty Form

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B844, Citizen's Military Forces Personnel Dossiers, 1939-1947; N348332, Richard Norman Eason. Service and Casualty Form.

According to his Service and Casualty Form he was trained at the Millthorpe School of Instruction for a few days. I would love to know what sort of training he received.

There are no further entries on the form until the disbanding of the unit in September 1945.

This does explain why my grandfather was sent off to look for escaped Japanese prisoners of war during the Cowra Breakout. I guess those sorts of orders don’t appear here.

You can see more about the Australian defence forces here.

A letter from a grieving father

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 file contains correspondence to and from Douglas’ father, James Simpson Stewart of Holbrook, New South Wales; a small town near Albury. Some of it has to do with the medals that his son was entitled to, and I have written about those in a previous post. Then there is the correspondence about Douglas’ grave.

Douglas was killed in action on 8 August 1918 in France. In October General Pau of the French Army visited Australia, and even visited Albury in southern New South Wales, by train, where he was “accorded a hearty welcome by several hundred representative residents” (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Oct 1918, p13).

James, who was quite possibly one of those residents, was moved to write to the General:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Letter from J.S. Stewart to General Pau.

He wanted a photo of the grave where his son was buried.

The joy to the Mother especially would be great were she to get a Carte of that Grave 12000 Miles away.

James says that he wears a ‘Reject Badge’. I had never heard of such a thing. A quick search in Google tells me that Reject Badges were issued to those who were rejected for military service on medical grounds, and perhaps other grounds as well. James himself was over 50 by this time, and his son was only 17 by the end of the War.

With my minimal knowledge of French I can only guess that this is a translation of James’ letter into French:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. French translation of letter from J.S. Stewart to General Pau.

The General replied through the AIF Base Office a few days later:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Copy of reply to J.S. Stewart from General Pau.

The Base Office replied to James on 10 January 1919:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Reply to J.S. Stewart on nehalf of General Pau.

Photographs were being taken of all graves “as rapidly as the conditions obtaining in the late theatre of war will admit.”

I can only assume that James was sent a photograph eventually. I have no knowledge of such a photograph being in the family, but then the descendants are my distant cousins. I can only try to imagine the feelings of the family when it arrived, showing a hastily-built grave with a cross stuck in the top in what had recently been a field of battle.

I do not know if anyone in this family ever travelled to France to see the grave. I imagine not – it was not easy in the years after the war, and not done lightly, as it is today.

Douglas is now recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as being buried in Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Harbonnieres was captured by French troops in the summer of 1916. It was retaken by the Germans on 27 April 1918, and regained by the Australian Corps on 8 August 1918. Heath Cemetery, so called from the wide expanse of open country on which it stands, was made after the Armistice, next to a French Military Cemetery, now removed. Graves were brought into it from the battlefields between Bray and Harbonnieres and from other burial grounds in the area…

- Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres.

It looks a peaceful place now. It’s a shame that Douglas’ family couldn’t see what I am seeing now so easily on the internet.

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

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Memorandum dated 6 Feb 1920.

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

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Reply to J.S. Simpson dated 13 Feb 1920.

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:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Receipt for Victory Medal.

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

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Receipt for Memorial Plaque..

James had a couple of questions after it had arrived:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Letter from J.S. Stewart re Memorial Plaque.

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:

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Replay to J.S. Stewart dated 5 Dec 1922.

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

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718.

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718.

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.

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