Friday, 21 March 2014

Providing for the future

Soldiers who left wills

I’ve come across wills in soldiers’ service records on a number of occasions but just recently I’ve been looking at wills made by Coburg men before they set off for the front. I was surprised at the quite large sums some of them left and then I noticed that the money often came from Life Insurance Policies they’d taken out with the Australian Mutual Provident Society or similar.
One man, Frederick Alexander Hamilton of 11 Shaftsbury Street, Coburg, left his mother Selina £800, much of it from two life policies with AMP.
25942 Driver Frederick Alexander Hamilton, 1st Divisonal Ammunition Column died on 1 February 1919 and is remembered at the Memorial Avenue of Trees, Lake Reserve, Coburg, tree number 50. He had survived the war only to die of pneumonia at the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital in Bulford, Wiltshire.

Exterior view of the Administrative Headquarters of the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital, taken c.April 1919. 
Image courtesy AWM. Image D00456.

Frederick Hamilton was buried a long way from home, but someone cared enough to place a sprig of wattle on his grave at Tidworth Cemetery in late January 1930 around the time of the anniversary of his death, surely some comfort to parents who were never likely to visit their son’s grave.

From Frederick Hamilton's official file.

Another man, 2321 Private Albert Ernest Warner, 22nd Infantry Battalion, a 37 year old woodworking machinist of Bell Street, Coburg, had bought a parcel of land in the Coburg Township Estate. He was also buying a piano on hire purchase. Perhaps he inherited a love of music from his mother, who in the 1881 English census is listed as a music teacher.  Albert Warner was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire and married Emily Webster Dobinson in Liverpool in 1898. They emigrated to Australia at some time after the 1911 Census but his wife died soon after, in 1914. They had no children, but Albert was clearly planning a future in Coburg, a future that he was never to enjoy.

Studio portrait of 2321 Private (Pte) Albert Ernest Warner, 4th Reinforcements, 22nd Battalion, of Coburg, Vic. Taken c. October 1915.
Image courtesy AWM. Image DA11074.

Albert Warner was killed in action in France on 5 August 1916. In his will he left everything to Alice Elsie May Smith (later referred to as Alice Elsie May Scott). They were living at the same address (Bell Street, Coburg) when he embarked and in a letter to the authorities in 1939 she described herself as his fiancee.  After his death, she inherited his estate, went on to marry Oscar Boase and remained in the area, living in Gaffney Street, Pascoe Vale at the time of her 1939 letter.

By using the service records and wills together, a much more realistic picture of the soldier emerges, as can be seen in the case of Albert Warner. If you’ve never used the online resources available at the Public Record Office of Victoria, you really should check them out.  
Once you’re on the website, follow the ‘Access the Collection’ link.  From there you’ll see ‘PROV’s digitised records and online indexes’ and once there select ‘Wills and Probate Records’.  Wills are digitised up until the middle 1920s so you can read them online. I was searching for soldiers who died between 1914 and 1918 so I limited my search to those years, put ‘soldier’ as occupation and ‘Coburg’ as residence and went from there. I found 16 soldiers from Coburg and one from Pascoe Vale. There are many more from Brunswick.

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