Sunday, 28 May 2017

James Atkin of Willow Grove, Coburg

 James Atkin. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.


The photograph you see here is of James Atkin, a Nottingham-born mill hand who served for 14 years with the Robin Hood Rifles (known as the Robin Hoods). He went on to serve with the Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment) for another 18 months. (The Sherwood Foresters later took the place of the Robin Hoods when the Territorial Force was formed in 1908.)


The Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) embarking for South Africa. Image courtesy www.angloboerwar.comwww.angloboerwar.com 


From January 1900 until July 1901, James served in the Anglo-Boer war in South Africa, leaving his wife Gertrude at home in Nottingham.




Some years later, in March 1912, James and Gertrude Atkins left England bound for Melbourne. Childless, they had with them 4 year old Annie Atkin, James' niece whom they had adopted.

The couple settled in Willow Grove, Coburg, in a home they called 'Trent Villa'. In 1915, James, now 38 years old, enlisted and served for a while at Ascot Vale then as a Sergeant at the Officers' Training School. 


5333 Pte (later Sgt) James Atkin, 1st AIF. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.

He embarked for overseas in April 1916 with the 22nd Battalion (9th Reinforcements) and arrived in France in June 1917 where he was joined the 60th Battalion. Like many others, he suffered from trench fever and bronchitis, but unlike so many others, he was not injured.

In 1918 he was awarded the Military Medal for his role at the second battle of Villers Bretonneux (24 to 27 April 1918).


Originally recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, he was instead awarded the Military Medal for his 'splendid courage, devotion to duty, leadership, and utter disregard for personal danger at Villers Bretonneux.'

James returned to Melbourne in mid-August 1919 and on Monday 24 November 1919 he and his wife Gertrude proudly set off for Federal Government House where the Governor-General was to present the award. Disaster struck when in the grounds of Government House Gertrude felt unwell and died almost immediately. She was only 37.

Ballarat Star, 25 November 1918, p.2


The Weekly Times was blunt to the point of insensitivity in its headline:



 Weekly Times, 29 November 1919, p.36.


After Gertrude's death, James Atkin remained in Coburg. He married again in 1921 - to Ira Anderson - and they had two children whom they brought up in Coburg. Their son served in World War Two and later established himself as an orchardist at Humevale. Their daughter married and remained in Coburg for many years after James' death from pancreatic cancer in 1932. 

Of Annie, the adopted daughter who came with them from England, little can be told. Family sources say that she was a difficult child who became a difficult teenager and in the end she was asked to leave the family home. After that, nothing is known of Annie's story.

Annie Atkin (on motor bike) with a member of the Anderson family, date uncertain. Image courtesy Col Drewitt.

A family member dates this photo at c1942, but looking at the clothing style and the motor bike, I wonder if it wasn't taken at least a decade or two earlier.

Is there someone out there who knows something about motor bikes and could put a date to this bike? I can see it has the number 77, so have assumed it's some sort of racing bike - perhaps a dirt track racing bike. Would love to know more!  






Saturday, 6 May 2017

Percy Chaster Brearley

Percy Brearley was born at Geelong, but enlisted in the 23rd Battalion at Rutherglen in February 1915 aged 25 years 6 months. 

He qualified for a commission and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in December 1916 and then served with the 46th Battalion. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in July 1917 and mentioned is Sir Douglas Haig's dispatches in November that year.


Image courtesy AWM. Image E01794. 6 March 1918, France. Group portrait of the officers of the 46th Battalion. Left to right, back row: Lieutenant (Lt) Matthew Martin Cuddihy; Lt William Jackson; Lt Nevinson Willoughby Faulkner MC MM; Lt Alfred Bernard Mortimer; Lt Ernest Alexander Charlton; Lt Reginald Francis Foster; Lt Leslie Byrne MC (killed in action 18 September 1918). Middle row: Lt Arthur Frank Stanley Dobson; Lt Wilfred Crosbie Pleasance MC: Lt Arthur John Chilvers Muriel MC; Lt Walter Hood MC; Lt Alfred Benjamin Reginald Edward Willison MC; Lt Leopold Bull MC (died of wounds received in action 7 April 1918); Lt Reginald Eric Daton Palmer (died of illness 4 December 1918); Lt Donald Murchison Sandral; Lt Charles Edward Palstra; Lt Albert Victor James MM; Lt Sydney Albert Latimer; Lt Arthur Phillip Percival Kemp MC; Lt Percy Chaster Brearley. Front row: Lt James Picken Cowey MC; Lt Frank Osborne Cameron; Captain (Capt) George Eric Milne MC (died of wounds received in action 5 April 1918); Major Ernest Samuel Davis; Temporary Lieutenant Colonel Hubert Cedric Ford DSO; Capt George Stanley Vanstan MC; Lt Thomas Garden Carter MC; Lt Leonard Lutterell Coulson MM; Capt Donald Barclay Payne MC; Capt Frank Elliott Trenoweth True MC.


He was wounded in France in July 1918 and sent to England where he married Emily Maidment at Withycombe, Somerset on 30 April 1919. Six months earlier he had written to the authorities to say he intended to settle in England after his marriage, but towards the end of 1919, he and Emily sailed for Australia.

Percy and Emily Brearley settled in Gaffney Street, Pascoe Vale and from 1930 until 1936 he served as a Coburg Councillor and was Mayor in 1933-34. According to one newspaper report he was the first returned serviceman to be appointed Mayor of Coburg.

Percy Chaster Brearley, c1930s. Image 17294. Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

In September 1935, the Brearleys and their daughter Erica (born c1921) left Melbourne for Adelaide where Percy worked in the Commonwealth Audit Office for several years. 

In the 1940s, the family moved to the United States where they lived in Manhattan for a decade. They were frequent visitors to the United Kingdom over the years and it is there that their daughter Erica married and lived until her death in 1977.

Emily and Percy Brearley returned to Australia to live in Sandringham. Percy died in 1957 aged 67. His wife returned to England and died in Yorkshire in 1989 aged 93, having outlived her husband and her daughter.

Although the Brearley family lived in Coburg for only a decade, they contributed to the community through their civic work in the 1930s, a period of unemployment and great distress. Together with the Town Clerk, F.W. Shore, Percy Brearley organised numerous carnivals and other events to raise funds to support Coburg's unemployed.