My grandfather served in World War Two 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

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

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.

If there’s an index, check it!

My mother had always said that her father didn’t serve in either of the world wars. The stories I remember were that he was too young in the First World War and too old in the Second World War, and that he was a farmer and needed at home to grow food. He was born in late December 1900, and was a farmer and grazier all his life, so I accepted these stories without question.

There was also a story about how he had to go to help search for the Japanese that broke out of the camp at Cowra during World War II. I don’t know if he ever found any; probably not or it would have been more of a story.

Yesterday I was searching the NameSearch at the National Archives of Australia website for others of the same surname and there he was:

NAA NameSearch

My grandfather is the last one. As you can see by the lack of an icon in the “Digitised item” column, it hasn’t been digitised yet. If it had been I would be able to see, and download, the images of each page in the file straight away. I can pay $16.50 to have it digitised early, before its ‘turn’, or $25 to have it digitised and colour photocopies sent to me.

I’ve paid the $16.50, and now I wait. It may take up to 90 days for a file which is “Not yet examined”, but I can’t imagine there will be anything in there that would cause it to be restricted once it has been examined.

If only I’d searched earlier! Why didn’t I? I think because I accepted what my mother told me. I don’t always believe what people tell me, but parents are different. Of course, my mother also told me that the Easons came from Wales and I have proven that they came from County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland. Talking about her own father is different, I guess.

So the lesson for today is – If there’s an index, search it! What have you got to lose?

A World War I service file

The National Archives of Australia holds the service records of Australian defence servicemen and women from 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 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 I 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!

The 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. We will continue to examine this file in the near future.