Saturday, April 27, 2013

ANZAC Day 2013: The Road that Went to War

To commemorate ANZAC Day this year, I decided on a project that is far more ambitious than anything I've attempted before. I look all the time at the impact of war on individual families, and by association, all those around them. But so far, I haven't looked at it in reverse- the impact of war on whole communities.

This is part of a bigger, longer-term project, but what I'm looking at is a landscape of loss.

Check out all the details of the project under the tab at the top right, or here.

A brief recap: I'm hunting down the addresses, details and outcomes of every man who signed up for the First World War and either lived, or had next of kin, in the suburb of Subiaco in Perth, Western Australia. My aim is to look at how the war impacted a whole community, down to individual streets.

For this post, I've focussed my attention on a single block of a single street that saw a lot of men march away to war- and saw far too few march back.

The Road that Went to War: Barker Road

In my research, I've found that one of the highest concentrations of homes where people enlisted in Subiaco was between 198 and 224 Barker Road, between Axon Street and Townshend Road.

Present-day Barker Road, Subiaco, looking west from Townshend Road
(Source: Google StreetView)

Six of about sixteen houses on the street had people go to war, including one that, over the duration of the conflict, housed two different families that sent four soldiers overseas. I also included one house on Townshend Road and one that backed onto a Barker Road property from Park Street, given their proximity to the other homes.

Overall, I've located 430 addresses of individuals, or their next of kin, who were listed in the embarkation rolls as Subiaco residents at the time of enlistment. Of these, 28 lived on Barker Road- around 6% of the total, and the highest number of individuals from any single street in the area.

A page from the 1914 11th Battalion Embarkation Roll, including soldier addresses at the time of enlistment

Barker Road runs from 1 to 446, stretching the whole width of the suburb of Subiaco from east to west, and notable residents of the street include the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women. These days there are many historic homes remaining on the street, but new development has also changed the face of many other properties, including the small stretch from 198 to 224.

These are the men of Barker Road (Axon Street to Townshend Road), and their outcomes.

199 Barker Road (1915)- FERRIS, David
199 Barker Road (1917)- STUART-SINCLAIR, John Francis
                                         STUART-SINCLAIR, Edward
                                         STUART-SINCLAIR, Stanley
200 Barker Road- NELTHORPE, John
211 Barker Road- THRUM, Norman
216 Barker Road- MATSON, Glanville
218 Barker Road- ANGOVE, John
219 Barker Road- PATTERSON, Samuel
152 Park Street- MORRIS, Arthur
91 Townshend Road- GREEN, William

Map of Barker Road (Axon St to Townshend Rd)- houses related to WWI soldiers are shaded

199 Barker Road

The very first house I looked at turned out to have the most tragic story of all, farewelling four men to war from two different families, and welcoming back none. Today, the original home is long gone, and an apartment hotel has replaced it.

1913 advertisement for the four-roomed villa To Let at 199 Barker Road, Subiaco

David Ferris 
Killed in action in 1916

David Ferris was a shipwright, born and raised in Northern Ireland. Through the 1890s, young David did his industry apprenticeship at Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyards, where the Titanic would later be built. By 1905, he was in Western Australia, working in the pearling industry in the northern outpost of Broome.

It seems everything changed for David in 1915. He enlisted in the AIF in February, aged 38, and sometime between February and his departure in June, he married wife Bertha, who lived at 199 Barker Road, a property rented through the Farmilo family.

David arrived in Gallipoli in September, just as the campaign was winding down to the evacuation which began in December. With the rest of the 28th Battalion, David next moved into France in March 1916, heading toward one of the most vicious battles of the First World War- Pozieres, on the Somme.

Australian troops near Pozieres in 1916

It was there on July 29th 1916, in the thick of the infamous battle, that he was declared missing in action.

What followed for Bertha was two years of heartbreak, all based on rumour and incorrect information. Shortly after being declared missing in action, the Australian military advised Bertha that her husband had been located, and was a prisoner of war in Germany at Dulmen. But from that point onward, nothing was heard from David. Bertha and her sister Hilda wrote repeatedly to the Army and the Red Cross, desperately seeking more information.

Letter from Bertha Ferris to the AIF
(Source: National Archives of Australia)

With her growing desperation evident, Bertha's letter in May 1917 says:
Would you let me know if he was wounded and where he is? Is he suffering from shell shock or has he lost his memory, as I have not heard anything or received any letter since he was captured. Would be glad if you could give me any reason why I never hear from him.
Sadly, it wasn't until 1918 that a court of inquiry determined the answer- he had in fact been killed in action on the day he was declared missing back in 1916, and had never been a prisoner of war at any point. The original source of the prisoner of war information was David's own sister, who said she'd received a letter in his own handwriting stating the name of the prison camp at which he was interned. Given that he was never present at that camp, it appears the sister must have been gravely mistaken, perhaps even deluded, about her brother's fate. The Army took her information and made it part of the official record, thus creating a chain of misinformation that took two years to unravel.

In 1917, Bertha left number 199 and moved to another Subiaco address. In 1920, after news of her husband's death was confirmed, she returned to England to be with her family.

Which brings me to the next family to live at 199 Barker Road- the Stuart-Sinclairs.

John Francis (Jack) Stuart-Sinclair
Died of wounds- 29 October 1917

Stanley (Stan) Stuart-Sinclair
Killed in action- 17 August 1918

Edward (Ted) Stuart-Sinclair
Died of wounds- 29 November 1917

By 1917, the Stuart-Sinclair clan had moved in. The family had three sons, and two daughters, Gladys and Dolly. Father Edward Burrows Stuart-Sinclair, who was the son of Sir Edward Burrows Sinclair, King's Professor of Midwifery at Dublin's Trinity College, was a Sergeant-Major in the British Army in his early life, so perhaps a military destiny was inevitable for Jack (born 1888), Stan (born c. 1892) and Ted (born c. 1898).

Their fate, however, could not have been expected.

Before the war, eldest son Jack was working in the small Western Australian town of Collie as an accountant for the Collie Co-operative Collieries, an amalgamation of local coal miners. Youngest son Ted worked for the same company as a clerk.

Workers at the Collie Co-operative Collieries coal mines, c. 1920

Middle son Stan, a stockman/ station hand, was the first to sign up for war in November 1914, aged 22. At the time, his parents were living in the coastal town of Geraldton, and the family did not yet have a Subiaco association. Jack signed up to the 28th Battalion in September 1915, aged 26, and after undertaking officer training, he married Winifred Bedlington in Collie in March 1916, before shipping out in July. And Ted, fairly hopping with enthusiasm, put his name on the papers to be part of the 11th Battalion in February 1916, just one month after he turned 18, and was gone before his eldest brother, by April 1916.

Details from the wedding of Jack Stuart-Sinclair to Winifred Bedlington, March 1916

Stan arrived in Egypt in early 1915, and was amongst the first Australian troops to land on the shores of Gallipoli on ANZAC Day, April 25th 1915. He wrote to his father from the Dardanelles with great enthusiasm for the momentous battle that had been the first engagement of Australian troops in the Great War:
The landing of our guns came then, and this was no easy matter, as it was impossible to land horses under such fire, and the work of getting them into position was done by hand. Anyway it was not long before the Turks were receiving postcards from Australia through their muzzles. It's wonderful how quickly one gets used to being under fire. After a little while you don't take any notice, although the shrapnel is very thick at times, and the "ping ping" of the sniper's bullets make you feel uncomfortable, but altogether it's not too bad.
From the Geraldton Guardian (22 June 1915)
The Dardanelles Landing- "Australian Postcards"

In March 1916, Stan reached France to enter the lines of the Western Front. His initial time there was short. His earlier brief stay in Egypt had left him, possibly as the all-too-common result of too much of a good time, with a debilitating personal health concern that took him out of the lines for a full 57 days, from May through to July.

Fortunately for Stan, his health improved, and he was able to rejoin his unit, the 3rd Australian Field Artillery, in his rank of Gunner. Unfortunately, his return put him back in the firing line. In February of 1917, he was admitted to hospital briefly suffering shell shock, but was back in the lines quickly.

At home, the Stuart-Sinclair parents moved to Onslow Street in Subiaco in 1916, thus entering the neighbourhood, and this study.

In the meantime, both Jack and Ted arrived in France with their units and went to war. By 1917, Jack had been promoted to Lieutenant and had taken on the duties of Quartermaster, a role that required him to distribute supplies and provisions to the troops. His parents had moved to the house on Barker Road.

And by the middle of that year, things started to go wrong for the Stuart-Sinclair clan in all kinds of ways.

The first bad news of the year came in May 1917, when Ted received a gunshot wound to the head. The injury was mild, requiring only three stitches, but it still removed him from the fighting for three months, transported to England for rest. In June, Stan received a severe gunshot wound to his leg and genital area, and was likewise transported to England for treatment.

On July 13th 1917, the most unexpected news of all reached the brothers from Jack's father-in-law: their own father Edward had suddenly and unexpectedly died, at home at number 199.

The timing of it, coming so close to two frightening pieces of injury news, is interesting. It seems the elder Stuart-Sinclair was under a great deal of stress with all three sons away at war, in peril on the battlefield, and perhaps his own health suffered for it.

Mother Jessie was left a widow. In the space of a year, she'd be a mother with no living sons, too.

It was Jack whose luck ran out first. According to the Red Cross investigation into his death, he was in the pillbox (reinforced bunker) known as Ideal House, the Brigade Headquarters of the Australian troops at Broodseinde Ridge during the bitter fighting near Zonnebeke, Polygon Wood, and Passchendaele, when an enemy shell struck, injury him in the thigh and hand. The same day, October 29th 1917, he died at the 17th Casualty Clearing Station. He was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Ceremony, and his brother Stan was able to place a cross on his grave.

Ideal House pillbox at Broodseinde Ridge in October 1917, the same month Jack was killed there

Devastated by his brother's death, Ted was pulled from the nearby frontlines where his own battalion was fighting, and put on temporary assignment transporting rations by mule between Ypres and Zonnebeke. Just three days later on November 2nd, not during an actual battle, an enemy shell burst over the ration party, and Ted, too, was seriously wounded, in the chest, stomach and thigh. Those who were with him at the time of his injury thought he looked okay as he was taken away by ambulance, with horrible irony to the same Casualty Clearing Station where his brother had died only days before.

But Ted's injuries were in fact critical, and like the great majority of those who received a shrapnel wound to the abdomen, infection eventually overtook him, and he died on November 29th. He was buried in the same cemetery as Jack, but in a separate section- just a month apart, but the space between them had already been filled by dozens upon dozens of other dead soldiers.

Lijssenthoek Cemetery shortly after the end of the war

Stan carried on the fight, and was admitted to hospital a third time in June of 1918 after being gassed. He was back in the lines a week later, and in August 1918, he joined his brothers in the great beyond, also killed in action after receiving shell wounds in France.

A memorial notice for Ted Stuart-Sinclair
(Source: Bunbury Herald, 1917)

I assumed that a story like this would already be out there on the Internet, but I could find nothing on it, and little to tell me the fate of the surviving Stuart-Sinclairs. Jack's wife Winnie remarried in 1920, around the same time the boys' mother Jessie moved to Victoria. I couldn't find anything further on Gladys or Dolly in the Western Australian record, so I can only guess they may likewise have moved interstate.

I got chills to realise, though, that one of the main reasons there's nothing out there, is that there were no further descendants of these three men to carry on their story. The male line of the family, the Stuart-Sinclair name, ended right there. And what an awful, awful waste of young potential it was.

As to their neighbours, some of the other houses in the same street fared better, and some just as badly.

200 Barker Road

John Nelthorpe 

Returned to Australia in 1919, no injuries

Born in London, England, John was an 18-year-old clerk at the time of enlistment in 1916, and being under 21 required the permission of his parents Edgar and Laura to join the Army. He spent more than a year in the local Depot with the 11th Battalion reinforcements before embarking for France, where he arrived in December 1917. But by January 1918, he was in hospital with the first of a string of illnesses, including influenza and German measles. In total, he saw no more than a few months of actual service in France before being returned home in 1919 after the conclusion of the war. His illnesses may well have kept him from harm's way, because he was one of the lucky few to get back without any injuries.

211 Barker Road

Norman Thrum 

Discharged in 1915- permanently unfit for service

Norman was a 21-year-old seaman at the time of his enlistment in the original 11th Battalion at the outbreak of war in 1914. He landed at Gallipoli with the rest of the troops on ANZAC Day, and received a wound to his foot early in May 1915. But he had a bigger problem looming- an existing diagnosis of rheumatism, which was worsened by exposure to the elements in the trenches, to the point where he was completely incapacitated and judged unfit for further service. He returned home in July 1915.

216 Barker Road

Glanville Matson 

Discharged 1916- unfit for service

Glanville enlisted in the 16th Battalion in early 1915, and embarked on HMAT Ascanius in April that year. But almost as soon as he arrived in Egypt, he was placed back on the Ascanius and returned home by October. It transpired the 20-year-old labourer had existing deafness that had been missed in the medical assessments, rendering him unfit for service. Quite amazing that he got all that way before it was noticed, and that the response was to send him straight home! That's a first- I haven't seen it in the records before.

218 Barker Road

John Angove 

Died of wounds in 1917

John Angove was a chemist, 29 years of age when he joined the 28th Battalion Reinforcements and went to war in 1916, eventually joining the same unit as Jack Stuart-Sinclair. He received 21 days of Field Punishment No. 2 (see Arthur Morris, below) for being absent while on duty, and subsequently moved to a role with the 22nd Machine Gun Company. He received a gunshot wound to the back on the 20th of September 1917 in Belgium, dying two days later at the Casualty Clearing Station, and he was buried in the same cemetery at Lijssenthoek that the Stuart-Sinclair brothers would be a month and two months later. He left behind wife Jessie, who subsequently moved to New South Wales to begin a new life.

219 Barker Road

Samuel Patterson
Died of wounds in 1916

Samuel Patterson was an engine driver who enlisted in the 16th Battalion and departed for war in September 1915. After a bout of diptheria on the way, he arrived in France in June 1916. Two months later, on the 11th of August, he (like David Ferris only two weeks earlier) died of wounds received near Pozieres. He left behind a daughter, Viva, and a widow, Jane, who remarried not long afterward. Jane's new husband left her after a year of marriage, and she appealed to the military for financial assistance in the form of an increased pension, but this was, unsurprisingly, denied.

152 Park Street

Arthur Morris
Discharged in 1919 for medical reasons

Like Norman Thrum, 26-year-old teamster Arthur Morris suffered from debilitating rheumatism that had been dormant for many years, but flared up again in the trenches of France upon his arrival in 1916. Arthur had a great many hospital admissions for arthritis, rheumatism and rheumatic fever through the course of the war, and also had a number of run-ins with authority, at one point going AWOL. For his transgression, he received 21 days of Field Punishment No. 2, and was docked 22 days of pay.

Field Punishment No. 2 was the equivalent of hard labour, undertaken while shackled, bound or handcuffed, so Arthur did not have an easy time. Nonetheless, despite illnesses and ill-judged behaviour, he remained with the Army until the war was over, and on his return to Australia in 1919 was discharged from service for medical reasons.

91 Townshend Road

William Green
Discharged in 1917 for medical reasons

33-year-old labourer William Green joined the 28th Battalion Reinforcements in 1915, and ultimately arrived in France in June 1916. Less than a month later, he had the bad or perhaps good fortune to slip while marching along slippery wooden duckboards in a communications trench, and broke his leg. The leg did not heal well, and combined with a dose of influenza that left him with an enlarged heart and shortness of breath, he was judged no longer fit for service, and returned to Australia in 1917.

In conclusion

This little stretch of Barker Road farewelled eleven men to war. Of those, only one returned unharmed, that being John Nelthorpe. Glanville Matson, of course, returned home with an existing condition, but one that had not been affected by the war. Six men died, and the remaining three were incapacitated to varying degrees by their war experience.

It caught my eye that every married man who enlisted on this stretch of street died. Terrible. A street full of widows. Some of the single men died too, but more of them survived.

Nonetheless, in a war where 10% of soldiers were killed and 40% injured, this part of Barker Road was hit far harder than most. More than 50% of enlistees were killed, and 40% injured in one respect or another.

It will be interesting to see how this pattern shifts and changes across the rest of the suburb. For now, though, I think it can only be a good thing that the terribly sad house at number 199 is no longer in existence, because I imagine the walls would have altogether too much to say.


  1. A question that may add to the tragedy - were David and Bertha Ferris newly-weds when he went off to war?

  2. Hi Anonymous- I had a look at the local Births, Deaths and Marriages register pondering whether David and Bertha had any children. With the volume of information coming through on this post, I made an assumption based on his age that they had probably been married for a while, so didn't think to check that any further. But blow me down, I just had another look at the register, and you know what? David Ferris and Bertha Chapman were indeed just married in 1915. Very, very sad. I don't have an exact date available yet but will keep looking into it- I have another source that I know contains more information on David's life, so will update when I get hold of that. Thanks for suggesting I check- it does add another dimension to the sadness of it all, doesn't it?

  3. Claire,
    This is altogether chilling. The power of WWI to horrify has been magnified by your research. Thank you for not forgetting those who served.

  4. Thank you for sharing all this with us, Claire. This was real, and its effects were so far reaching - it helps drive it home when there are names and faces behind the numbers.

  5. Dear Claire, this is just wonderful to find. Though living in the UK now, 91 Townshend Road, is my beloved Subiaco home. It's still pretty much the same original weatherboard cottage from which William Green set out in 1917. Our friends, the Slaters, live in number 200 Barker Road round the corner and I can't wait to tell them about the history associated with their house. Superb bit of research - well done. The stories are very moving but strangely, reading this has made my day. Rebecca

  6. Speechless! Something you just cannot appreciate fully. Great work. thanks, paddy!