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.