1554 Private John Francis McCormack, C Company, 21st Infantry Battalion, enlisted in April 1915 at Bendigo where his father had recently taken up the position of senior warder at Bendigo Gaol.
John McCormack had been born in Coburg while his father was on the staff of Pentridge Prison. He and his older sister Dorothy lived with their parents James and Hannah in Hudson Street, Coburg. A pupil of Coburg State School, he is remembered in the school’s Soldiers’ Record Book and a tree was planted in his memory in the school’s Memorial Garden.
According to the Soldiers’ Book, John McCormack was on board the Southland on 2 September 1915 when she was torpedoed on her way to Gallipoli, the first Australian ship to suffer this fate. You can read more about the torpedo attack here.
3 September 1915. Men rescued from the troopship Southland wait for breakfast the next morning aboard the hospital ship Neuralia. The Southland was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea near Agistrati Island while carrying Australian troops to the Gallipoli Peninsula. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial. Image CO1833.
After three hours in the open sea, McCormack was picked up by a French hospital ship. These details are not noted in his dossier but a fortnight later we are told that he was admitted to 3AGH Alexandria with a hernia. He remained in hospital for several months, then convalesced in Egypt before rejoining his unit in January 1916. He arrived in France on 26 March 1916 and five months to the day (26 August 1916) he was killed in action at Mouquet Farm, Pozieres aged 21.
Mouquet Farm before the bombing. Image courtesy AWM. Image J00181.
The ruins of Ferme de Moucquet, 1918. Image courtesy AWM. Image E04043. Some Australians referred to it as ‘Moo Cow Farm’, others as ‘Mucky Farm’.
John McCormack’s parents were in Bendigo at the time of the death of their only son. In 1922 they returned to Melbourne when his father took up the post of Chief Warder at the Melbourne Gaol (now referred to as the Old Melbourne Gaol). His sister Dorothy, who never married, lived with her parents on the grounds of the Gaol.
It was at Melbourne Gaol in January 1924, when James McCormack was Acting Governor, that Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor conspired with others to assist Angus Murray to escape. Murray was a known associate of Squizzy’s who had murdered a bank manager while an escapee from Geelong Gaol. It is believed that Squizzy organised the robbery. (Murray was the last man to be hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol on 14 April 1924. Taylor died in a shoot out with ‘Snowy’ Cutmore in October 1927.)
Leslie ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, ID 14359, Picture Victoria.
Argus, 1 Feb 1924, p.11.
A year after the attempted escape at Melbourne Gaol, James McCormack transferred to Pentridge Prison where he moved into the Chief Warder’s Quarters with his wife and daughter. In 1926, his wife Hannah died there. After his retirement, James and his daughter Dorothy moved to Caulfield where he died in 1937. Dorothy died in 1962 and the three of them are buried at Fawkner Cemetery.
It is sad to think that within fifty years of John McCormack’s death in far away France, this branch of the family ceased to exist. For me, this is one of the important reasons to commemorate the centenary of this so-called ‘war to end all wars’. It is one small way in which we can share the stories of men like John McCormack who have no one of their own left to remember and honour them.
If by chance you are member of the wider McCormack family, perhaps you would like to share what you know about John McCormack.