A blog about the frustrations, adventures, brickwalls and ultimately rewards of someone searching for their origins. Some Irish (Shamrocks), Scottish (Shortbread) and Shenanigans (English) all mixed into one!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Anzac Pride

My memories of Anzac Day as a child were nothing of note. I was told that my brother used to join my grandfather in Brisbane town for the Anzac Day march. Granddad had been in both World Wars, but never spoke of them and never, ever marched. So what was the big deal, I thought?

As I've delved into my family history, I've found that Anzac pride is a HUGE deal. The more I research, the prouder I become of my ancestors and their contributions to this great country, Australia. I have many ancestors on both my paternal and maternal side, but I will focus on one, my grandfather.


William's WW2 Photo
William was my paternal grandfather. He had a very hard life, losing his father in 1901 when he was just 6 years old, and had very little education, yet he successfully married and raised five children. Born in June, 1896, he was not yet of age when he enlisted for WW1. I have not been able to find any record of his WW1 enlistment, as he admitted later in life that he altered his age and name in order to be accepted. His reason for enlistment was typical of Australian men of the day - many of them saw it as an opportunity to see the world, a world they couldn't possibly experience in their lifetime with their limited education and income. Later in life, my grandfather made one comment about this war - that he remembered it "raining bullets for days and days" in the trenches.

I have searched for years for his WW1 record, sadly to no avail. Methods I have used include:

* Reversing his name (using Arthur William /Williams)
* Searching under his older brothers' names of John and James, neither of whom served
* Reversing his brothers'names (Arthur John/Johns and Arthur James)
* Using his mother's maiden name of Gibbons
* Using his married sister's surname of Gough
* Using his married sister's child's name, which was also his only nephew (William Thomas Gough)
* Using his grandmother's maiden name of Torpey, and variants
* Using the name 'Sebastian'. For some unknown reason, William gave his middle name of Sebastian when he married in 1923. However, neither he nor his siblings had middle names (he used to joke to my father that his family was so poor that they couldn't afford middle names!)

None of these methods have been fruitful, unfortunately.

William's Christmas greeting to his wife
William was considered too old when he enlisted for WW2, so once again he adjusted his age, shaving 10 years off his year of birth (if only it was that easy!) Fortunately, his records are held in the National Archives of Australia. He enlisted in Brisbane as a Private, and joined the No.3 Rly C. Coy 2nd AIF on 3 April, 1940. His wife was then pregnant with their fifth child, so it must have been difficult for him to leave for an uncertain future.

He had his share of larrikinism, being fined 10/- for drunkedness while training as a Sapper in Perth! From what I remember of him, I was surprised that this was the only time he was caught!

William was deployed to Gaza Ridge, but underwent an appendectomy only months after his arrival. By March, 1941, he was discharged as medically unfit for duty, and returned to Australia on the Queen Mary. This luxury ship had been refitted for use in the war, and it shipped thousands of servicemen during WW2.

My grandmother always said that William was a Rat of Tobruk. I have researched this, and found that the Rats' seige began in April, 1941, by which time my grandfather was returning to Australia. His unit, however, did play a major role in assisting the Rats during and after the seige. Knowing my grandmother's love of a good story, it did not surprise me that our grandfather was not directly involved in the Rats' experience!

William demobbed at the Exhibition Grounds in Brisbane and was discharged on 3 July 1941. On his return, he met his newborn son, my Uncle Vincent, for the first time. They were featured in a Brisbane newspaper, William in uniform, with baby Vince on his knee. A clipping of this article hung in my grandparent's house for years but was subsequently lost, and I have not been able to find it on microfilm at the Qld State Library. This facility has all Brisbane newspapers of the time, including the several issues of newspapers published on the same day, but I haven't been able to locate it.

For the rest of his life, William quietly acknowledged Anzac Day by attending the Brisbane march and having a drink with mates (he loved his rum!) at the Gaythorne RSL. His name is engraved on a plaque outside the RSL, with all other diggers from that area. Although he did acknowledge the day, he always refused to march, saying that he wasn't interested in being the focus of attention. He did, however, enjoy attending the march and honouring those who fought and died.

My father wearing William's slouch hat, 1941

William died in 1972, and is buried in a military grave at Nudgee Cemetery in Brisbane. I visit him from time to time, sitting with him and my grandmother and thinking of when I was younger and spent time with them. I was only 8 years of age when he died, and I feel like I know him more now than I ever could. He has gone from memories of being a jolly old man to a man of great guts and determination, one who lied to enable enrolment in WW1 so he could see the world, and lied again in WW2 and left his family in order to earn a secure income for them.

He was no war hero, but he was MY war hero.

God Bless you, granddad.

Lest We Forget.


  1. He def is a hero. God bless you too Maureen's Grandad xxx

  2. Very well written Maur - Dad has told me so many stories of what our larrikin Grandfather got up to during both Wars.

  3. I found the newspaper article - Courier Mail 14 April 1941


  4. That's great news. Last time I checked the digital newspaper library they had only scanned the Courier till the mid 1930's. Ii had checked the Courier Mail microfilm at the state Library, even though your father swore black and blue that it was in the Telegraph!

  5. He was 8mths old when the photo was taken so obviously he was going by what he was told

  6. Hello Maureen, I love what you have done with the history of my Mum's (Mary) Dad. Do you know who the other people are in the Arthur family photo? It looks like my Grandfather sitting on the left of the photo but I don't know who the others are. I know Grand-dad had 2 brothers call Jack and Sonny. That is what my Mum told me and when I was young she would visit them. I was introduced to them as Uncle Jack and Uncle Sonny, they were my Mum's Uncles and my Great Uncles. They had a live in maid and I was told to call her Aunty Beatie. I remember my Grandmother saying Kate but I don't remember if it was Grand-dad's sister or her sister. So who are the other people in the photo?

  7. Hello Anonymous. Who is this? Veronica? I'd love to share more information. My email is maltesemanor@hotmail.com.

  8. Ps, Beatie wasnt the maid, she was Jack's live in girlfriend! Apparently Nellie was not happy at all with that arrangement!

  9. Re: the Arthur photo, from left, John (Jack), Mary Ellen (Nellie), Kathleen (sibling) OR Catherine (Kate, the mother) , Alice, James (Sonny). William is in the front. James Arthur, who died in 1901, is pictured in the background. I have yet to determine whether the woman in black is the mother or the eldest sibling.

  10. Thank you for replying to me Maureen. I have sent you an email asking you if it was possible to send me more information about our family because I was not told much at all. As well thank you also for the information on the Arthur family photo that was very kind of you. I look forward to hearing from you some more. Kind regards Veronica.

  11. Hi, I’m not sure which cousin authored this blog, but I’m very impressed by your writing, research and style. This is Sean, Jimmy’s eldest lad, by the way.

    I too was raised with stories about Grandad's war service, including his Gallipoli fighting. His war-record was a solid lock in our family, as it was in yours, and for years my questions about details were softly fobbed off. Somehow, nobody knew any details? Grandad was supposed to have been severely gassed in France and my early memories of his wracking coughing sessions gave easy testament to badly damaged lungs. I too heard that he had changed his age for both world wars, pretty much for the same reason – so that he could get into the game. And yet, I could never obtain even the slightest identifying detail about where exactly he served, what units or what battles. It was a mystery.

    I also heard about my own Father’s service in World War Two (James). Grandma, my Aunty Mary, my sisters and even my own Mother told me that he was a Kadoka Track veteran. That was a bloody and ugly series of battles across some of the most terrible terrain for fighting in any conflict in history. Dad’s stories played not a small part of my own decision to join the army in the 70s. For his part, Dad never talked about details other than saying he was in New Guinea. A couple of years ago I searched for Dad’s war records and discovered that the family history was quite wrong in particular respects. Dad was a Commando in New Guinea, but nowhere near Kadoka. He spent a terrible few months in what was called “mopping-up” operations in 1944 around Lae. The so called “mopping up” left about a couple of thousand Australian soldiers dead in fighting where the Japanese refused to surrender. The thing is, the family history about Dad’s fighting on the Kadoka Track was universally wrong. It was the wrong place and about three years out in time from the truth. The family wasn’t lying, they were simply either mistaken or confused. The passage of time did the rest.

    Which takes me back to Grandad.

    I am a hopeless war history buff. I have travelled to Belgium and France three times and actually walked the ground where the Australian soldiers fought and died. I know the old war histories and the unit placements way more than I should actually care. The more I learnt the more it bugged me that I did not know about Granddad’s experiences. Where exactly on the Somme did he fight? What unit had he served? I should know this – somebody ought to know this? It began to be a crazy itch. Like you, I searched the online resources and like you I drew a blank. Grandad was an apparent ghost.

    Then I began to get an unwelcome suspicion. I began to suspect that Grandad never went to WW1. Stuff just never added up. Firstly, the reason he was supposed to have enlisted under another identity was that he was too young to join. Not true. His age was pretty much perfect. The Australian enlistment age in August 1914 was 18 to 35, and him being born in June 1896 he would have been just over 18 years old. There was no need to sneak in under another name for age sake. He was already Ok! Secondly, there appears to be a complete blank on his WW1 war service. If anybody has seen his records I haven’t. If he had war medals from that conflict his regimental number would be stamped on the sides thus he would be traceable under his (or any) assumed identity. Do the medals exist? (continued next entry)

  12. Continued…

    If Grandad never went to war a fantastic mystery exists and I dearly wish to know the answers. He would have had to live through a time when young men who did not serve were shunned and humiliated. From our position in time, it is difficult to understand just how humiliated he would have found it to be - just by going through his ordinary life. For instance, the small interviews for jobs would include questions about what he did in the war. They would be asked because returned men always got preference for jobs. And at war’s end, he would have been the “bloke who never served”. Perhaps he tried to join but was knocked back for health or education reasons? Perhaps he worked in a reserved occupation and was not permitted to join? Unlike other Empire countries, Australia had no compulsory military service. There is no end to the speculation. It might also explain his hurry to join up at the very onset of WW2 to prove all those petty humiliations wrong. Perhaps he wanted to prove that had what to takes, even if he was on the slippery approach towards 50. Also he joined one of the hardest and most physically demanding roles, that of a combat infantryman. The experience for a 46 year old would have been a killer. Yet he did it. He stepped up to the plate – he proved them all wrong.

    I don’t know any of this, but I find it fascinating. Grandad was a hero like you said. Perhaps he was a greater hero then us grandkids would ever suspect. I just wish that we knew more about these times and this person in particular. Maybe some evidence will show up one day proving his earlier war service and we can get on with some detailed research. Whatever the case, I might find Grandad more interesting and enigmatic if he did not go to WW1 and had to display his strength of character in a time of bias and hostility. Here’s to you, Grandad!

    Thanks for your Blog!

    1. Hi Sean, great to hear from you. This is Maureen Arthur, the author of this blog. Terry Arthur's daughter. Yes, granddad's WW1 service has been a huge pain in the proverbials to research. I was told his mother said he couldnt enlist so he used a false name AND a dodgy age.

    2. I have tried using all known surnames he may have used, but no luck. Story I was told was that he was at gallipoli around August 1915, after the main fighting occured. Who knows what is ,egend & what is true? I havent given up searching though. His WW2 files were easily found, but I will continue with WW1, just in case.... My email is maltesemanor@hotmail.com. Would love to hear more from you! Best wishes, Maureen.

  13. Hi Maureen!!

    As I said, I really enjoyed your blog. And the subject matter locked-in with me immediately, given that it is family and I really do not have much knowledge about my distant background. I’m not saying that Grandad never fought in WW1, the more I read about those times the less I understand about why people acted the way they did. The past is a funny place. Still, it is a mystery that begs to be solved. My email is arthur.sean@gmail.com. If you have any success in uncovering any evidence at all, please drop me a line and I’ll do the same for you. Perhaps Vince has a bit more info. I shall have to quiz him.

    Best wishes,