Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Landscape of Loss: Olive Street Stories

This is the third of three posts about Olive Street in Subiaco, Western Australia.  The introduction can be found here, some statistics and examples here, and a map here.


Throughout the fifty houses on Olive Street, there were an untold number of stories about how the war was felt in Subiaco. For every person who went to war, there were several left at home to wait, worry, and mourn if they did not return. For every person who came home, there was a lifetime of reckoning their First World War experience, and some found it considerably harder than others to get back to life as they had known it.

Picture the entire street from the records available, and you will see neighbours of every variety. Professional and working class, Church of England and Roman Catholic, born overseas or interstate or locally, and working all across Western Australia in a range of jobs. Some were married with families, and some still lived with their parents. There were larger than life characters scattered up and down Olive Street, and the war affected them in many different ways.

Fathers and Sons: The Durkin Family of 22 Olive Street

Nicholas Durkin was one of the tallest men to enlist from Olive Street, standing over 6’ in height. He was a prospector and miner who worked in some of Western Australia’s most remote outposts, and he was accordingly as rough and ready as you might expect.

In the earlier years of the 20th century, wife Mary Ann had raised their six children, including sons Vincent and Bernard, in the Goldfields centre of Kalgoorlie. During the same time, Nicholas had worked in places as remote as Roebourne and Carnarvon, and his behaviour raised the occasional eyebrow.

In 1910, after the success of a prospecting venture at Bullfinch, Nicholas commenced a six-week celebration comprising “one continual drinking bout”. During this time, Nicholas declared to many fellow guests at the Oddfellows’ Hotel in Fremantle that he and the married proprietor Mrs. Purcell had spent some time in the bedroom together. Mrs. Purcell denied this, and with many witnesses on her side, Nicholas was charged with defamation, and was convicted. The details of the case were widely reported in newspapers around the state.

Mary Ann remained loyal, and the family moved away from the Goldfields and into Olive Street in 1914. When war was declared, Vincent was the first to enlist in 1915, followed shortly after by Bernard. Never one to shy away from adventure, Nicholas wasn’t going to be left behind- he reduced his age by ten years, from 52 to 42, and put his own name down as well.

After many charges of being Absent Without Leave before even departing Australian shores, it must have been clear that military discipline and Nicholas Durkin were not an ideal combination. But it was on arrival in England that Nicholas wasn’t able to complete the basic drills and marches due to his age, and at that, he was discovered, sent home, and discharged. Vincent and Bernard fought out the remainder of the war, and returned home in 1919.

Nicholas died in 1930, aged 67. Bernard married and had a child, but was only 54 when he passed away in 1942. Vincent would later go on to serve in the Second World War, and acted as Secretary of the North-East Fremantle Sub-Branch of the RSL. He is pictured on the left at the 1920 wedding of his sister Fayne (far right), with his future wife Florence Hollins standing behind him.

(Courtesy: Flo Montgomery)

The family’s relationship with housemate George Hunter is unclear. He was a contractor working on a farm in the country town of Wagin, and his wife Ada Allison Myrtle Hunter gave 22 Olive Street as her next of kin address when George enlisted, one day after Vincent Durkin. George was injured a number of times, including one occasion where he slipped off a duckboard and landed on a concealed, upright bayonet, which pierced his foot. Like the other residents of number 22, he survived the fighting and returned home in 1919.

Brothers in Arms: The Rogers Family of 23 Olive Street

Directly across the road from the Durkin home, at 23 Olive Street, the four soldier sons of George and Annie Rogers all enlisted between November 1915 and April 1916. In short order, they were off to the Western Front, ready to do their bit for the war effort. The oldest, miner George, was 24- the youngest, labourer William, only 18.

After enlisting, George married Stella Adella North. Their son, also named George, would be born in his father’s absence- and they would never get to meet. George was killed in action at Passchendaele in 1917, leaving Stella a widow at just 21 years of age.

David Rogers also died a few months later, killed during fierce fighting at Dernancourt. Witnesses said he had gone to the aid of a fallen soldier, only to be struck by a bullet, grenade or shell in the stomach. He was seriously wounded and would not allow anyone to touch him, so had to be left where he was in a position where the German Army would shortly overtake the ground. Many assumed he must have become a prisoner of war, but there was no record of that- he was eventually listed as killed in action after an inquiry.

James Rogers returned home early with gunshot injuries to his hand, while William was also shot in the hand and head, but fought on to the end of the war.

There were many sets of Olive Street brothers who enlisted and fought together, including the three Rankin brothers who lived at 27 Olive Street, a couple of houses up from the Rogers family. Most lost at least one sibling to the fighting.

Luck and Lack Thereof

Wally D'raine was a well-known character around Perth, having been born in the north of England and having come to Western Australia via the United States. He was a successful butcher with several stores, and he approached his work with a salesman's enthusiasm and flair. No publicity was bad publicity for D'raine, who fell out with both his brother and his wife in very public ways.

He was living at 74 Olive Street in 1915 when he enlisted for war, initially becoming a sergeant in the 10th Light Horse Regiment.

Wally D'Raine

Wally also had a combination of luck that was at once terrible and fortunate. He was being treated for bronchitis at the 53rd Casualty Clearing Station near Bailleul in 1917 when an enemy plane dropped a bomb, resulting in serious injuries from shrapnel. After six months of treatment for wounds to his shoulder, chest, face and leg, he was invalided back to Australia and took no further part in the war.

A similar piece of terrible luck befell Ernest Lyndon Menagh, whose brother John Wilson Menagh had lived at 31 Olive Street. A corporal with the 4th Divisional Ammunition Column, he was billeted in a three-storey house near Peronne, and was asleep when an air raid scored a direct hit. He received serious wounds to the legs and abdomen, and died three days later at the 35th Casualty Clearing Station.

Above and Beyond the Call

Three residents of Olive Street were recommended for or awarded medals for bravery during the First World War.

KERRIGAN, Thomas Michael (74 Olive Street)- Military Medal

The Kerrigan family were well-known in the Kulin area, where father John was a local publican. After their son Tom enlisted in 1915, they moved into Olive Street for the remainder of the war years.

At the infamous battle of Pozieres in July 1916, where numerous other Olive Street soldiers were wounded or killed, Tom’s efforts under fire earned him a recommendation for the Military Medal.
At Pozieres from 22nd to 26th July 1916, Pte Claude Tasman JACK and Pte Thomas Michael KERRIGAN continuously carried despatches from Bde Hqs to firing line over country which was continuously swept by heavy machine gun and shrapnel fire. Both men were seriously wounded but sent the despatches which they were carrying at the time back to the Bde Depot Office thus ensuring their ultimate delivery.
Tom was wounded during the battle, and much more seriously the following year, when he was shot in the neck. He recovered and returned to Western Australia, where in 1920, John Kerrigan bought the new Kulin Hotel. Tom took over the Billiard Table and Wayside House licenses from his father in 1921, and married Florence Robinson in 1923. He was active in the local RSL in the district, and raised five children with his wife. He died in 1974, aged 80.

GWYTHER, Edward McKinnon (87 Olive Street)- Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal

Edward McKinnon Gwyther was a 19-year-old clerk who had lived in Olive Street and worked in Kalgoorlie, and he was amongst the first to enlist in August 1914. After several bouts of serious illness during the fighting at Gallipoli, he rose through the ranks to become a sergeant. He was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty at Jeancourt in September 1918, and also recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal:
On the night 17th/ 18th September 1918 and throughout the operation on 18th Sept. 1918 at JEANCOURT Sgt. GWYTHER and Cpl. JONES were in charge of Brigade and Group Artillery communications and showed great gallantry and devotion to duty in laying and maintaining communications throughout the night previous to the advance and throughout the advance.
When our barrage opened the enemy put his barrage down on Group Headquarters, cutting all the artillery and infantry lines. These N.C.Os went out under this barrage and worked for 8 hours mending broken lines, thereby making it possible for communication being kept with the advance, enabling orders to be given to the Artillery and information sent back.
On his return, he married twice and had children, largely living in the Shenton Park area until his death in 1972.

HENDERSON, William John (86 Bagot Road)- Distinguished Conduct Medal

William Henderson was an accountant and legal manager who lived at 86 Bagot Road, on the corner of Olive Street, with his wife Annie. His brother George, a 21-year-old labourer, gave the same address when he enlisted in 1914, and also listed William as his next of kin.

William was an experienced soldier, having previously fought in the Boer War for two years, and his application for a commission with the 10th Light Horse Regiment in 1914 saw him given the rank of Sergeant. He fought at Gallipoli, where in August at the infamous battle of Hill 60, his extraordinary efforts would see him Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 29th and 30th August, 1915, at Hill 60 (Dardanelles). During the operations Sergeant Henderson rendered most valuable assistance to his Commanding Officer, and when the latter was wounded and ordered away he remained, with one other man only, and successfully held an important section. Finally, when relief arrived, he volunteered to remain, and was in the trench for thirty-seven hours, during which period there was almost incessant hand-to-hand fighting. He proved untiring, and displayed a courage and devotion to duty beyond praise.
The Commanding Officer referred to in the citation was Captain Hugo Vivian Throssell, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the same action.

The story of Henderson's 37-hour hand-to-hand fight to hold a trench is inspiring enough, but his service record reveals that his actions required double the effort. From the moment he arrived in Egypt, he was suffering a recurrence of long-term health problems with his digestive system that saw him taken out of the line multiple times. He had only been back in the line for a brief time from his latest illness when called on to fight at Hill 60. No longer able to digest the field diet, he returned to Australia for change in 1917. But unwilling to remain at home, he went back to Egypt at the end of that year. He saw no further fighting, and returned to Australia again within the month.

William was an active advocate for returned soldiers, and after moving back to his home state of Victoria, became the General/ Federal Secretary of the RSSILA (Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, later to become the RSL). In 1921, after years of battling the same problems, he was finally too tired to fight on. He died in the No 11 Australian General Hospital in Melbourne in March that year, with his cause of death given as intestinal obstruction and exhaustion.

His brother George, also resident at 86 Bagot Road, was killed in action at Messines in 1917.

A World of Grief at Number 90: the McKinnons and the Sampfords

Though many houses in Olive Street suffered losses, the home at number 90 received a much larger share of bad news than most.

Two different families were associated with the house throughout the war years- first, the McKinnons from 1915- 1916, and then the Sampfords from 1917- 1918.

David Stanley McKinnon in 1915

Annie Catherine “Kit” Fitzgerald married husband David McKinnon, a well-known soccer player for the Caledonian team, after he enlisted in 1915. By the time he departed for war with his brother Daniel, she was expecting their first child.

Tragedy struck early at number 90. Baby David Joseph McKinnon was born in January 1916, and died within a few days. Kit was left to mourn the loss of her baby alone, and her grief would expand in July that year, when David was killed in action at Pozieres. His brother Daniel died one day later in a German Prisoner of War camp of wounds received at Fromelles. The following year, Kit’s closest brother Frank Fitzgerald was also killed in action. On the second anniversary of her husband's death, Kit (by then living around the corner at 82 Bagot Road) placed a newspaper notice mourning all three.

She never remarried, and upon her death in 1962, she was reunited with her son, buried in the same grave at Karrakatta cemetery.

Like the Durkin family at the other end of Olive Street, the Sampfords had a lot of character. Ernest Sampford was a father of seven children between the ages of 9 and 27, and he enlisted with three of his sons to fight.

Arthur was the first son to enlist at the outbreak of war in 1914, and he landed at Gallipoli with the rest of the 11th Battalion. He was seriously wounded within days, with a gunshot wound to the face and an un-united compound fracture of his arm resulting in his return home.

Not long before Arthur arrived back on Australian shores, 21-year-old Charles and 23-year-old Billy enlisted on the same day in July 1915. They fought with the 48th Battalion at Pozieres, where Billy was killed in action. Charles survived the fight, but ran into trouble not long after. While on active duty, he left his post contrary to orders, and at his subsequent court martial was sentenced to ten years of penal servitude. This was commuted to two years of imprisonment with hard labour, but after a year in prison, Charles was released early and returned to the Front. Within weeks, he too was killed in action at Jeancourt.

44-year-old carpenter Ernest was the last to enlist in November 1915, following his sons across to the Western Front. He spent just six days in the field before being urgently removed to hospital with bronchitis and pleurisy. With old age listed as the reason, he was discharged from the AIF and returned to Australia. He later returned to London as a munitions worker for a brief period, before coming back to Australia. He died at the Edward Millen Home in Victoria Park in 1925.

On the Home Front

From 139 Barker Road, enthusiastic volunteer Arthur Tyrrell Williams went to Gallipoli with the 10th Light Horse Regiment. But in 1915, he was wounded in action and forced to return to Australia. On the home front, he became a fervent campaigner for recruitment in Western Australia, speaking at rallies and even writing a patriotic song, The Gallant Light Horse, with his pianist wife Nellie.

The Gallant Light Horse, by Williams and Williams

Arthur was not just a man of words. He was also prominent in working to assist returned servicemen, becoming Western Australia’s secretary of the RSSILA (RSL), and proposing a settlement scheme for the Riverton area. When that failed, he commenced a business in which wounded soldiers made and distributed sandwiches to offices in central Perth.

Beyond the War

Many Olive Street soldiers had a difficult time after their return from war. Some were arrested for public drunkenness, abusive language, and running betting operations. Others were divorced or separated, or charged with the maintenance of illegitimate children. Many of those who made it home died far too young, within a decade of their return.

Amidst the difficulties, there was also hope. Widows like Stella Rogers remarried and began new families. New careers began for many whose physical capacity had been altered by their war experiences, and some achieved great success.

The Landscape of Loss study seeks to examine the long-term social change that resulted from the First World War, and over time will bring together as many stories as possible of life after the war. Most of those who had been resident in Olive Street during the war years had moved elsewhere by 1920, but during those years, the residents had suffered together and pulled through. For many, their challenges were just beginning.

Welcome Home to Returned Subiaco Servicemen
(Courtesy: City of Subiaco)

1 comment:

  1. "released early and returned to the Front". I wonder if things might have been different if the officer class in general hadn't been so ignorant about tactics and as casual in using its soldiers. Or maybe it's not worth asking that question anymore...