Saturday, 31 January 2015

The first men to leave for the front


I’ve written before about the excitement in Coburg as the first recruits paraded down Sydney Road to the newly established Broadmeadows Camp.

In the Coburg Historical Society collection is a series of Geo. Rose stereographic photos, which have now been digitised and printed out to reveal an amazingly detailed picture of those first few months of the war.
As you look at the photos, you move back in time and become part of the scene. You are there among the crowds watching the troops set off down Collins Street. You are there as they eat lunch at Royal Park. You are in the crowd at the side of the road as they march down Sydney Road, Coburg on their way to Broadmeadows Army Camp. And you are there in the tent city that had arisen at Broadmeadows, watching as the men assemble their camp kitchens or train in the art of attacking in short rushes. And finally, you are there, looking on as the men eat their last meal before breaking camp and departing for the front.


This is just one image from the Coburg Historical Society collection. It was taken in October 1914 as the troops moved down Sydney Road, Coburg towards Broadmeadows Army Camp. You can also find a digital copy of this image in its original stereographic form on the Australian War Memorial website, image P00852.002.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

The spelling gremlin strikes ...


Apologies. 

It seems that the Microsoft Word spelling gremlin came along behind me in my last entry on Chris Flint of Darraweit Guim and did a spot of auto-correction. And after I'd especially checked that I had the correct spelling!






This photo of a girder bridge at Darraweit Guim designed by Sir John Monash was taken by Lesley Alves in c1997. I imagine that Chris Flint crossed it many times.

And just so you can picture the sort of countryside Chris Flint worked:


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Chris Flint of The Grove: WW1 soldier and greyhound racing legend


The World War One stories emerging from Coburg’s The Grove (or Moreland Grove, as it was first called) have provided a glimpse of a richly diverse group of residents, unlike those of any other street in Coburg, I would guess.

We’ve heard the stories of a number of the residents of The Grove now: Otto Neuendorf, a native of Berlin and photographer at Pentridge Prison during the WW1 era; Charles Dare, son of the developer of the area, Monty Dare; Richard Courtney of Courtney’s Post fame; Percy Cornwell of Cornwell’s Pottery in Brunswick; the Shawe brothers and their link to the British Raj.


And now it is the turn of the Flint family,who lived at ‘Dunvargin’, 12 The Grove. Unusual for this street (and Coburg enlistees) in that they were staunchly Catholic, the six children of the family (all boys and all born in the local area) attended firstly St Ambrose School in Brunswick then St Patrick’s College in East Melbourne, where they excelled academically. Their father’s interest in education is evident in his membership of the original Council of the Brunswick Technical School and his continuing interest in the school council, taking up the role of President in 1923.


Photo of the Flint family: Arthur and Margaret Flint and sons Theo, Chris, Tom, Claude, Arthur and Jack. Courtesy familyhistory blog of Nicole Close 



The house name, ‘Dunvargin’, speaks of an Irish background, Dunvargin being a seaside market town in County Waterford. The family’s  interest in the Irish question, which was forefront in the minds of Irish Catholics everywhere after the Easter Uprising of 1916, is evident in their membership of a newly established North Brunswick Hibernian Society, based at the recently established St. Matthew’s Church, the family church and in their participation in various Hibernian Society events.

The many references to the sons’ academic successes speaks of a household of clever, ambitious boys, and the electoral rolls show that they fulfilled their early promise, most taking up careers in the civil service or the law.

Perhaps, given their background, it is not surprising that only one of the six Flint brothers enlisted – Christopher, the second son.


731 Sergeant Christopher Arthur Loftus Flint



When Chris Flint enlisted in June 1917, he was attached to the 23/3 Machine Gun Company. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant and worked as a clerk in the audit department of AIF HQ in London where he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in January 1919 and Lieutenant in April 1919. So, in many ways, although his valuable contribution to the war effort was acknowledged in his war record, he was unusual in that he did not see any action.


London, England. 28 September 1918. Horseferry Road, looking towards Victoria Street, showing on the right AIF Administrative Headquarters, and on the left the buildings occupied by the Australian War Records Section. Image D00077. Image courtesy AWM.



Chris Flint returned to Australia in September 1920 to the family home in The Grove, where he remained until he completed university studies and qualified as a lawyer. He married – to Mary Veronica Murphy – and had two sons, Christopher, who died in infancy, and Geoffrey, who followed in his father’s footsteps and took up a career in the law. His marriage appears to have failed, and the electoral rolls over the years show that Chris and Mary lived apart from around the time he moved to Mornington in the mid-1930s where he set up a legal practice.  

It is almost impossible from the official records to get any sense of Chris Flint, the man, but a sense of his personality emerges from an unlikely source – Greyhound Victoria’s Hall of Fame. Here we learn from family members that he could be difficult to get along with and that he ‘wasn’t afraid to step on people’s toes if it meant he could achieve something he believed in’. His nephew said that ‘if anyone got into an argument with him, he’d [verbally] cut them to pieces.’ He was definitely not someone to cross.

The following newspaper report from the Argus, 1 February 1947, tells the story of a disgruntled client taking revenge for perceived wrongs. 





Photo of coursing from Anecdotes of dogs, Edward Jesse, London, 1888.



What the official records also don’t tell us, is that the Flint family had been involved in coursing (greyhound racing) for many years. By the time Chris got involved, there was great respect for the Flint family in coursing circles. His father, Arthur, had been involved for more than forty years and there was an A.L. Flint Memorial Cup presented annually. Chris was equally impressive and he was known as a fearless and insightful administrator of the sport, whom his nephew claimed ‘brought greyhound racing out of the dark ages.’ He was an impressive figure, nicknamed the ‘Squire’. 

Chris Flint. Photograph courtesy Greyhound Racing Victoria


Geoff Flint, son of Chris. Photograph courtesy Greyhound Racing Victoria




As well as being outspoken and apparently fearless in his dealings with his opponents, Chris Flint was remembered as a generous man, who bought his son and his wife their first home. He also gave generously to the cause of greyhound racing in Victoria. He donated money and used his public speaking skills, his legal background, his understanding of human nature to negotiate some very difficult times in the sport. He was involved at an administrative level from the 1930s until his death and helped work through many difficult negotiations. He became the first Chairman of the Greyhound Racing Control Board.

At the same time, he maintained a legal career and at some stage, probably in the 1940s, moved to Darraweit Gum, 50 kilometres north of Melbourne on the edge of the Shire of Macedon Ranges, where he lived and worked 11,000 acres of land, land that was devastated by rabbits and water erosion when he first went there, according to his nephew. ‘He planted trees and cleared the rabbits. He really turned the place around’, his nephew said. He had 10 people working for him to begin with, but towards the end of his life much of the land was subdivided, although he kept 4,000 acres which he called ‘ Amesbury House’.

Chris Flint was unwell for some years and died in 1958, aged 62.


Sources include: Victorian BDM indexes and electoral rolls (via Ancestry), Coburg Leader, 31 January 1913, p.1; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 23 January 1914; Tribune, 4 April 1914, p.7; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 2 April 1915, p.2; Tribune, 4 May 1916, p.5; Advocate, 16 December 1916, p.25; Advocate, 14 July 1917; Argus, 12 December 1918; Argus, 10 December 1920, p.11; Argus, 19 February 1923, p.8; Table Talk, 23 April 1925, p.5; The Australasian, 25 August 1934; Australasian, 23 May 1936, p.51; Australasian, 23 August 1936, p.57; Australasian, 28 November 1936, p.24;  Argus, 12 August 1939, p.14; Argus, 1 Feburary 1947, p.21; WW1 service record of Christopher Arthur Loftus Flint ; WW2 service record of Geoffrey Vincent Flint; Greyhound Racing Victoria’s Hall of Fame 






Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Shawe brothers of The Grove: Coburg’s connection to the British Raj


When the Shawe family took up residence at 50 The Grove, Coburg in the early 1900s, they had been in Australia for only 10 years. Before that the family had been residents of Madras (now Chennai), the base of the British India Office for almost a hundred years.


For three generations, members of the family had been baptised, married and buried at St Andrew’s Church, Madras, pictured here in the 1840s and again in more modern times. 


Coloured aquatint with etching by J.V. Gantz of St. Andrew's Church at Madras, dated 1841, courtesy British Library online gallery








John, Patrick and William Shawe were all born in the Madras area in the 1880s and baptised at St. Andrew's. Their father, Charles Barron Shawe, an Inspector in the Salt Revenue Department of the India Office, had been baptised there and married the boys’ mother Annie Eleanor Walker there. His parents had been married there in 1833 and his father's siblings were also baptised there. It was their parish church.


Merchants’ Buildings 1829. Courtesy British Library online gallery



What motivated the family to come to Australia is not known. It seems an unusual choice. The 1851 census shows that their father and his sisters had been sent back to England to be educated. Charles Shawe’s sisters had settled in Notting Hill in London and his father had retired there and died there in 1891, not long before Charles brought his family to Victoria.  

For whatever reason, Charles Shawe chose Melbourne as his retirement destination. He lived comfortably on his British Office pension, buying a home in one of Coburg's most exclusive locations. His sons attended nearby Carlton College where they excelled academically. Three of the sons, John, his twin brother George and Patrick, took up banking careers. The fourth brother, William, chose a different path, moved to Pyramid Hill and became a farmer. 


1190 Pte John Fawcett Shawe, 7th Infantry Battalion


The first son to enlist was Jack, the second son of the family. His twin brother George did not enlist. He was the older of the two, so perhaps he chose not to enlist because he was the eldest son, even if only by minutes.  Jack enlisted in September 1914. Just a few months later, at the end of December, the boys’ mother Annie died aged 62. Their sister Hester was on hand to look after her father and brothers, but it must have been a sad household that new year.

Jack’s was not a long war. He was wounded three times on the Gallipoli Peninsula - on 25 April 1915 (gun shot wound to right leg), July 1915 (gunshot wound to chest) and August 1915 (gunshot wound to sides and thigh). By March 1916 he was on his way home.

It seems that Jack Shawe did not marry. He left Victoria in the 1930s and by the 1940s he was working as a clerk in Wynnum in Queensland. His last entry in the electoral rolls was in 1968, so it is likely that he died around this time.


6901 Private Patrick Henry Villiers Washington Shawe, 24th Infantry Battalion

The next brother to enlist was the youngest, Patrick, on 31 August 1915. He served without injury until September 1918 when he was wounded and invalided to England with a severe gunshot wound to his head and neck. His war was over and he chose to return to Australia via America in April 1919 at his own expense.

Patrick married Mary Hatton at Christ Church, South Yarra in 1920 and they moved to Lismore, NSW. He did not return to the Coburg area, but by the mid-1930s he was back in Melbourne, living in the south-eastern suburbs. He died in 1945 aged 56. His wife died in 1974.


 3249 Pte William Charles Shawe, 21st Infantry Battalion


Middle brother William, the farmer from Pyramid Hill, enlisted on 31 August 1916. By 19 July 1917 he was dead, a casualty of the Battle of Fromelles. An eye witness said that he was ‘one of the first to be knocked out during the stunt.’ William Shawe must have died not long after the following photograph was taken.



AWM. Image A02555. Taken on 19 July 1916. Looking from a sandbag trench to the bombardment of the German lines, ten minutes prior to the attack on Fleurbaix which was fought on the 19 July 1916 and 20 July 1916.



In just a few years, Charles Barron Shawe, now an elderly man, suffered the loss of his wife, welcomed home his injured sons and experienced the loss of another. Looked after by his unmarried daughter Hester, he remained at The Grove where he died on 11 August 1919 aged 75. He and his wife are buried in the Church of England section of Coburg Cemetery, a long way from their homeland, British India.

The sons who did return from the war did not remain in the Coburg area. Although their sister Hester was buried at Coburg Cemetery when she died in 1935, she was then living in East St. Kilda. So it seems that with the death of Charles Barron Shawe in 1919, Coburg’s short connection to the British Raj came to an end.




Sunday, 11 January 2015

Percy Cornwell of Cornwell's Pottery



Lieutenant Percy Vernon Reginald Cornwell, Armoured Car Section, taken c. 8 May 1916. Image courtesy AWM. Image DACS0119.


Percy Cornwell, proprietor of the Cornwell Pottery Works in Brunswick, was another resident of The Grove, Coburg who enlisted in the 1st AIF.  At the time of enlistment in March 1916, he was 33 years old and living at 35 The Grove with his brother Frederick, who was his next of kin. Their sister lived there with them.
Cornwell’s Pottery was founded by Percy’s father Alfred in 1861. It prospered for some time, but in the years after WW1 its fortunes waned. It struggled on until 1959 when it finally closed.
Percy Cornwell married Adele Sleeman in 1920 and moved to Ivanhoe. He died at Armadale in 1962 aged 85.
Before he left for the war in June 1916, Members of the Victorian Stoneware Pipe, Tile and Pottery Manufacturers' Association entertained Percy Cornwell at a dinner at the Cafe Francais where he was presented  with a portable typewriter. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 2 June 1916) 


Argus, 26 Oct 1916, p.6

I can't help wondering if he wrote letters home on that typewriter, and if he did so, whether they are sitting in an archive somewhere.  I would be delighted if anyone can enlighten me!

The same newspaper article revealed that Percy Cornwell presented an armoured motor car to the Defence Department, and was put in charge of the car. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 2 June 1916) If this was the case, it must have been one of the cars in the following photograph. 


Group portrait of the men and vehicles of the 1st Armoured Car Section prior to their embarkation. Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial. Image P09255.001.

The fact that the Armoured Car Section was made up of only three cars is a reminder of how cutting edge this technology was. Looking at the cars, it’s a wonder they protected anyone from anything and if Percy Cornwell donated the car he was in charge of, it makes me wonder whether the other two cars were also donations. It seems I have another aspect of WW1 to research!
According to the website of the Australian War Memorial, the 1st Australian Armoured Car Section was formed in Melbourne during 1916 and was also known as the 1st Armoured Car Battery. It was equipped with three armoured cars built at the Vulcan Engineering Works in South Melbourne, a 50 HP Daimler, a 60 HP Mercedes and a 50 HP Minerva. All were armoured and the Daimler and Mercedes were armed with Colt machine guns. The unit fought against the Senussi in the Sudan and Western Desert. 

The 1st Armoured Car Section became the 1st Light Car Section on 3rd December 1916. As their original three vehicles became worn out from hard use in the Western Desert and were irreparable due to shortages of spare parts, the unit was re-equipped with six Ford light cars. Extra drivers and motorcycles were provided. The cars were given names: Anzac, Billzac, Osatal, Silent Sue, Imshi and Bung. These were traded in for six new Fords on 11th December 1917. In May 1917 the unit was redeployed to Palestine by rail, and served throughout the campaign there.