Report on Launch of National Family History Month August 2014

August 5th, 2014

National Family History Month was launched at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra on 1 August 2014. An approaching cold front promised snow and we were not disappointed with a bit of a flurry during the afternoon (confirmed in the Canberra Times the following day as it did not last all that long). However it was lovely and warm inside the heritage building that the National Archives of Australia proudly occupies.

As voluntary coordinator of NFHM, I explained that it was an initiative of AFFHO, the Australasian Federation of  Family History Organisations, a not for profit organisation. NFHM began as a week in 2006 and expanded to the whole month of August from 2013. It is a time when genealogy and family history societies, archives, libraries and other organisations host a variety of activities and events celebrating all aspects of genealogy and family history. There are hundreds of events across every State and Territory of Australia and even an online events category this year. View the web calendar here.

The major sponsors this year are, FamilySearch and MyHeritage with a number of prize sponsors as you can see on the launch screen. Without the sponsors AFFHO would not be able to continue to host this annual feast of family history. View the prize sponsors here.Shauna Hicks

Another major sponsor is the National Archives of Australia who have generously sponsored the launch of NFHM every year since 2006 in Melbourne, Brisbane and this year in Canberra. I then handed over to the Director-General of the National Archives, Mr David Fricker who officially welcomed the guests and acknowledged the traditional custodians of the land on which we met and paid his respects to their Elders, past and present. David then gave a short speech which I think was very relevant and I have gained permission to include it here .

The National Archives Collection (Speech by David Fricker, Director-General, National Archives of Australia)

In doing so [the traditional welcome], I am again reminded about the breadth of the National Archives collection. Our Melbourne Office holds Victorian records dating from 1860, includingrecords on Indigenous people in Victoria when the Victorian government handed the responsibility for Aboriginal affairs and associated records to the Commonwealth government in 1975.

Records on Indigenous people in the Northern Territory are also held because the Commonwealth administered the Territory from 1911 until self-government was reached in 1978..We also hold records of Indigenous servicemen whose loyal service during World War I has been largely ignored over the past 100 years. A number of Archives Centenary of Anzac projects, including the Serving our Country: a hisDavid Fricker at the launch of NFHM 2014tory of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Defence research project which is being actively supported by Archives, will help to highlight their contribution – through research, academic papers and an Archives’ exhibition.

The records that we hold are vast yet it is only the most valuable records created by Australian Government agencies that become part of the national archival collection. And at the heart of the collection are records of intrinsic value concentrating on family history.

Today our focus is on records that might relate to Australian families. Screen shot of the Archives’ Family History page on the website.

This part of our website has been made specifically for genealogists or those with an interest in finding out about their family’s history. The various links take researchers to different pages to help family historians start their research with us. We help researchers by helping them know what we hold and then how to access the material.

Family history is big – Archives committed to access to collection

Family history is the second biggest subject on the web with sites receiving billions of hits per year.

The National Archives is keen to engage independent family historians as well as the quarter of a million or so Australians who are members of family history related organisations. This is why we continue to explore new ways to make our collection accessible to the Australian community.

Whether it be partnering with in a project that helped to index and digitise Freemantle Passenger lists between 1897 – 1963; adding some 3.6 million names from 17,000 lists to our searchable collection or, launching Destination Australia, a website hosting original migration photos and community contributed stories about migrant experiences which will enrich the Archives’ forthcoming blockbuster exhibition A Ticket to Paradise?  This major national touring exhibition will explore the policies, promotional campaigns, impact and contribution of migration, as well as capturing the individual stories of post WWII migrants that have contributed to the social and cultural fabric of a modern Australia.

The Archives understands the importance of our collection to the Australian community.

This is why working with the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations through its annual program, National Family History Month is one way that we can support the pursuit of family research. Since 2006 the National Archives has been proud to host the launch at one of its state offices around the nation.

Discovering Anzacs

This year we’re very pleased to present, in conjunction with Archives New Zealand, a new website, Discovering Anzacs to be officially launched a little later this year by the Governor General. It provides easy access to both nations’ early service records.

Essentially Discovering Anzacs will have a unique profile of every Anzac who enlisted in World War I, linked to their service record. Family historians can help tell the story of Australia and New Zealand during the war by building on profiles and adding their own family stories, photos or details of their service.

In 2008, we provided online access to Australian service records, through Mapping our Anzacs, which allowed users to search for towns and suburbs where diggers were born or enlisted.

Mapping our Anzacs was greatly loved by the public, with thousands of contributions by individuals who added their own photographs and other tributes. Its replacement by Discovering Anzacs offers users a more functional and contemporary experience. As well as the addition of New Zealand service dossiers, it will contain a wider range of other records from the period – including about internment camps, munition factories and the Boer War.

A New API (Application Programming Interface) which drives the backend of this exciting new website has provided us with the capacity to combine our RecordSearch database with this new website, as well as link and partner with many other institutions and community organisations who host valuable information about Australia’s contribution during WWI. Our hope is for the site to be a valuable community resource and window into history of Australia and the impact of war on the home-front.

I encourage each and every one through your organisations and collaborations to promote Discovering Anzacs, so that Australian’s learn about this valuable resource and delve into their family collections to further enrich our understanding of Australia’s military and social history. [End of David Fricker's speech]

Kate Northey/NorthamKate Naughtin then gave a demonstration of the new Discovering ANZACS beta website and highlighted how family historians could transcribe their ancestors documents and add family information. If everyone was to do this then it would make those World War One dossiers even more accessible and not just by the soldier’s name. There are features such as Life Map, Timeline, Images, Stories and Comments. You do need to register and create an account. Kate answered quite a few questions before it was time to move on to the Nick Vine Hall Awards.

Kerrie Gray, President of AFFHO outlined the history of the Awards and that there wereKerrie Gray with the winners of the NVH awards for the best genealogy/family history society journal in two categories – societies with under 500 members and societies with over 500 members. The small society winner was Port Macquarie & Districts Family History Society for their journal Footprints and member Clive Smith was present to accept the awards. The larger society winner was the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies for their journal The Genealogist and Carolann Thomson Chairman of the Editorial Committee was present to accept the award.  The support of the major sponsors is acknowledged in bringing award winners to the launch.

Next it was the keynote speaker, well known Irish and military historian Dr Richard ReiDr Richard Reidd with a very poignant and moving account of Australians at the Western Front 1914-1918. I would really like to see this presentation available elsewhere as I think others not present at the launch would be interested. So I won’t say anything else about it for now.

Then it was back to me to thank the major sponsors, the prize sponsors and the National Archives of Australia for hosting the launch. Attendees were all given a NAA tote bag with goodies from the National Archives of Australia, FamilySearch and MyHeritage. Then it was time for everyone to enjoy a cuppa and some delicious cakes and biscuits. Judging by the conversations, everyone enjoyed themselves and were looking forward to the rest of National Family History Month.

I would also like to thank Jeanette Hahn for taking the photos used in this blog.


Trans Tasman ANZAC Day Blog Challenge 2014 – The Story Behind Jack Russell

April 23rd, 2014

Each year Kintalk (Auckland Libraries) issues their Trans Tasman ANZAC Day blog challenge and I always take the opportunity to participate and tell the story of one of my military ancestors. This year my military ancestor is Jack Russell but there are no Russell’s in the family. How and why are two questions that leap to mind and there is a simple answer – Jack Russell was a pseudonym that our ancestor used to join the AIF in WW1. He was underage but the truth was only revealed towards the end of the war.

Thomas Henry Alphonsus Spencer was born in Brisbane in 1899 but moved with his family to South Australia. In 1914 he was in the employ of Messrs Simpson and Son as a tinsmith at Gawler Place, Adelaide and was living with a Mr Boase in Adelaide while his parents (father and step mother) were living at Laura. Thomas ran away from the Boase family on 25 May with another boy leaving a letter indicating that they were heading for Queensland. An inquiry from his father Henry Spencer, in the South Australian Police Gazette, describes Thomas as 15 years old, 5 ft 5 ins tall, thin build, fair complexion, brown hair, grey eyes, medium nose and stoops slightly when walking. Towards the end of Jun 1914 there is a follow up notice saying that Henry had heard from his son.

We catch up with Thomas the following year when he enlisted in the AIF on 22 Apr 1915 in Keswick, South Australia as Jack Russell. In Nov 1915 he was sent to Gallipoli, then a year later on to France  in Nov 1916. By 1918 the army had become aware of the real identity of Jack Russell. In Feb 1918 his father Henry Spencer was asked to send a copy of Thomas’ birth certificate. Henry also advised that he had tried to find Thomas but did not know what name he had enlisted under. He knew from a Chaplain McKenzie that Thomas had gone to Egypt. Henry said that he would have willingly let him enlist had he known and he hoped that everything would turn out alright.

To confirm Thomas’ real identity, Henry Spencer had to sign a statutory declaration confirming that the correct name of Trooper Jack Russell, No 1275, 9th/3rd Light Horse was his son Thomas Henry Adolphus Spencer born in 1899 in Queensland. Henry also declared that his son had run away from his apprenticeship and he supposed Thomas had enlisted under the assumed name so that he could not trace him. There was also a statutory declaration from Thomas’ landlord, John Boase stating that Thomas had made his home with him for some years owing to the fact that there were differences between father and son and that Thomas’ mother was deceased. Boase also stated he was receiving a pay allotment of 4/- per diem from Jack Russell and he asked to be kept informed about what was happening to Thomas.

A court martial in London followed in May 1918 and Jack Russell/Thomas Henry Adolphus Spencer was sentenced to 14 days field punishment. A statutory declaration was also signed by Thomas stating that he was indeed Jack Russell and that he had enlisted on 22 Apr 1915 and that he gave his age as 19 instead of his real age of 16 years. He then went back to France and returned to Australia in 1919.

As a veteran of WW1, Thomas obviously felt the need to serve his country again in WW2. This time he enlisted in Maryborough, QLD under the name of Alfred (previously Alphonsus) Thomas Henry Spencer on 28 May 1940 and served in the AIF until 27 Feb 1942. The following day he joined the CMF and served between 28 Feb 1942 and 11 Jan 1946 with 163 days overseas and the remainder of the time in Australia. He had been wounded in action in the Middle East in Apr 1941 with gun shot wounds to both ankles and this probably explains his medically unfit discharge from the AIF and his reenlistment in the CMF in 1942.

For his service in WW1 Thomas received the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. For his service in WW2 he received the 1939/45 Star, the Africa Star, the Pacific Star, the Defence Medal and the 1939/45 War Medal . Personal correspondence on his attestation file/s indicates that he also received medals from France and Spain. On one of his attestation forms he put that he had seen foreign service in Spanish Morocco. His file/s have been combined and digitised by the National Archives of Australia.

After WW2 he seems to have preferred to use the name Alfred Spencer but his various names do not take away from the fact that he served in both World Wars. I do not know how many soldiers did this but it can not have been many. His half brother Charles Douglas Spencer (the subject of my ANZAC Day blog in 2011) won the Military Medal in WW2 and his story appears here. Due to family issues, it is unlikely that the two half brothers knew each other but I can not help wondering if perhaps they did meet up in Libya where they both saw action. More research might answer that question in the future. Until then, lest we forget.

52 Weeks of Genealogical Records in 2014 – Week 1 Military Medals

January 7th, 2014

This blog challenge is to stimulate my own genealogy blogging efforts in 2014 by focusing on a different kind of genealogical record each week. I wanted a challenge that reflected my own archival background as well as my own genealogy interests and there are probably lots of other records that I could have included. The challenge has an Australian focus but most of these records will be found just about anywhere in the genealogy world.

The 52 different types of genealogical records I finally decided on are listed in no particular order (each week will be a random surprise). Anyone is welcome to do all or part of this blogging challenge. Let me know if you are participating and I will put a link to your post under each week’s challenge. Happy researching everyone in 2014, Shauna Hicks

Week 1 Military Medals
Many of my ancestors have been awarded military medals but I have never really taken the time to research what the medals were awarded for, apart from the general knowledge that they received them for their participation in a particular war. This week I’m looking at the Boer War medals awarded to my mother’s uncles and the medals awarded to both my grandfathers, one in World War One and the other in World War Two.

My Mother’s uncles were Solomon Price born 1878 in Caleula, New South Wales and William Price born 1880 in Orange, New South Wales. When the South African (Boer) War broke out in 1899 they were aged 21 and 19 respectively. It must have seemed like a great adventure and they quickly enlisted in December 1899 in Charters Towers, Queensland where the family were then living.

Solomon served in the 2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry Contingent and William was in the 3rd Contingent. They both returned home in 1901 but just under a year later both Solomon and William re-enlisted and joined the 7th Australian Commonwealth Horse. However by the time they arrived in South Africa the war was over and they returned to Australia.

For his service Solomon was awarded the Queen’s South African Medal. According to the medal and clasps roll, Solomon was entitled to receive the following clasps – Dreifontein, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill and Cape Colony. For his service William was also awarded the Queens South African Medal with the following clasps – Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal and Rhodesia. Both Solomon and William also received the South Africa 1901 date clasp.

The information from the medals and clasps helped me to learn more about what they experienced while serving with their Contingents and I can also follow up newspaper reports on those battles. A quick Google search will also provide background information on individual battles. This type of information supplements what I have from the military dossiers now digitised and free online courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.

I wrote about my two grandfathers, Henry Price (brother of Solomon and William Price above) and John Martin (Jack) Gunderson in a Remembrance Day blog in 2011 – read it here. Henry Price was a recipient of the British War Medal for his brief service in Papua New Guinea during World War One and Jack Gunderson received the War Medal 1939-1945 and the Australian Service Medal 1939-1945 for his service within Australia during World War Two.

The interesting thing about both of my grandfathers is that neither went overseas but we still have military dossiers and medals for them. So it pays to check the indexes even if you know your ancestor did not go overseas as not everyone who served did. If there are military medals in your family history, try and find out the stories behind the medals.

Also participating in this blog challenge:

Judy Webster Military Medals

Sharon (Tree of Me blog) Military Medals

Sharn White Military Medals

Family History Feast Melbourne Aug 2013

August 7th, 2013

Having left Victoria last year I didn’t really expect to go to another Family History Feast but it was the 10th anniversary of the first Feast, and I was invited down for a photo opportunity with my two co founders of Family History Feast, Anne Piggott and Anne Burrows. As I had been working hard on National Family History Month administration, I decided a little holiday was in order. It also meant that I could catch up with all my Victorian friends who were surprised to see me there.

The 10th Feast was introduced with a bit of fan fare, literally, with a 19thC soldier (a Redcoat) blowing a couple of tunes on his bugle!  At least that’s what I think it was.

First up, Sue Roberts, CEO and State Librarian gave a brief history of how we started Family History Feast in 2003 and I was reminded that we named it Feast as I had recently watched Babette’s Feast (a 1987 Danish drama film) and to me, it would be like a smorgasbord of family history rather than food. State Library of Victoria had also done a collage of old photos from the various years which were good to see as well. Part of Sue’s speech is included in the library’s Family Matters blog if you want to know more about the history of Feast.

The first speaker was Tim Whitford, Education Outreach Officer with the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. His topic was Identity and dignity: family history and the missing Diggers of Fromelles and this was a very personal and emotional talk as he outlined his search for the Missing Diggers and his battle with authorities to convince them that he had really found them. It was only after television programs such as the 60 Minutes Mystery of Fromelles and the 7.30 Report on the archaeological dig that authorities really got interested and the project started to make headway.

Most people will probably remember this story but I thought it was more recent and was a bit surprised to learn that the dig was back in 2008 with the recovery of the bodies in 2009. From DNA samples they have been able to identify almost all of the missing diggers including one of Tim’s own relatives. They are still continuing to try and trace the remaining diggers so that everyone will eventually be identified. Tim’s talk was the highlight of the day judging by all the verbal feedback I heard at lunch time and at the end of the day.

The next speaker was Charlie Farrugia, Senior Collections Advisor, Public Record Office Victoria talking on The Third Front: WWI and beyond in the PROV Collection. This highlighted what was happening at home ie the third front and included images from various PROV photographic collections. Charlie also talked at length about soldier settlement and how there are two main kind of files to look for – soldier settlement files and advances files.  The PROV Lands Guide is the best publication to look at as there is a chapter on soldier settlement. He gave a case study to highlight the types of documents that could be found.

All too soon it was lunch time and after a quick feed of sushi over in the Melbourne Centre, I enjoyed a great coffee and a ‘to die for’ chocolate cheese cake brownie at Mr Tulk, the cafe onsite at the Library. There are lots of cheap eating places around the Library and people filed off in all directions but they were all back on time for the afternoon sessions.

During lunch there was also a conservation clinic where people could get advice from conservators on their precious items. Always a popular service, individual sessions were limited to 10 minutes each.

The first talk after lunch was Darren Watson, Archivist, National Archives of Australia with Behind barbed wire: Researching enemy POW and internee records in the National Archives. This was another interesting talk illustrated by case studies and copies of the documents. Darren covered enemy aliens both civilians and prisoners of war and he finished up by highlighting the many research guides published by National Archives of Australia on this topic. Look out for In the Interest of National Security: Civilian Internment in Australia during WW2 by Klaus Neumann, Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia by Malcolm J Turnbull and Allies, Enemies & Trading Partners: Records on Australia and the Japanese by Pam Oliver.

Next was Steven Kafkarisos, Librarian, Redmond Barry team with Well armed! The military history collection at the State Library of Victoria. This was a wide ranging talk and Steven introduced the Library’s new research guide The Australian Colonial Forces and Family History 1788 – 1902 which is online. Another useful website that he referred to was the British National Archives which has a number of military collections online. There is also a new online SLV research guide to maps which Anne Burrows pointed out when thanking Steven.

Finally it was time for The 2013 Don Grant Family History Lecture which was introduced by Jan Parker, President of the Victorian Association of Family History Organisations (VAFHO). This year’s lecture was by Lt Col. Neil C Smith AM on That elusive Digger: tracing your military ancestors in Australia and covered every Australian engagement from the New Zealand Maori Wars of the 1860s right through to the present day conflict in Afghanistan. Neil said it all with ‘military descendants – we all have them’ whether they are direct ancestors on collateral lines, we all have someone who was in the military at some time. He also mentioned repatriation files, medals, photographs and highlighted the National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial as the best places to start looking. A prolific author, his works can be seen on his website Mostly Unsung.

The days’ sponsors were NAA, PROV, SLV, BDM Victoria, Immigration Museum Victoria, VAFHO and AFFHO and their brochures were in the show bag which was provided by PROV. As usual there was an evaluation sheet collected at the end of the day. I was a bit cheeky I think, because I suggested they should think about doing it further north! Wouldn’t it be great if all the other States copied the idea for next year’s National Family History Month.

As usual I thought it was a great day with great speakers and I learnt lots of interesting things. For a free event I don’t think you can ask for more. But there is more – the show bag and the lucky door prizes at the end of the day. A number of lucky people went home with a variety of prizes and I was sitting next to a vacant seat which was one of the lucky seats, but you weren’t allowed to move seats! So I missed out.

The Library has its own blog Family Matters and you can read the official blog of the day there soon.

Thanks State Library of Victoria and their genealogy team, National Archives of Australia and Public Record Office Victoria for a great ten years.

Next year’s Family History Feast is on 4 August 2014 but the theme hasn’t been identified yet. I’ll have to think seriously about another little holiday in Melbourne – I don’t think I want to miss it. Put it in your calendar too, especially if you are in Victoria!

World War One & the brothers Finn

April 24th, 2013

As usual I am participating in Kintalk‘s (Auckland City Libraries) annual Trans Tasman ANZAC day blog challenge. This year I am featuring my father’s three great uncles Robert, John and Denis Patrick Finn who enlisted in World War One. Although all three returned to Australia, I believe that the experience changed them and their lives were totally different from what they might have been had not war intervened.

John and Sarah Finn emigrated from County Wicklow, Ireland in 1882 to Queensland with their eldest son Robert. Another son James was born on the voyage and a further eight children were born in Queensland, Australia.

Their youngest son Denis Patrick Finn was the first of the Finn brothers to enlist on 19 September 1915 in Brisbane. Denis was 19 years old and single and working as a labourer at the time of his enlistment. He joined the 52nd Battalion. Denis was wounded in action in France and was the only Finn brother to become a prisoner of war in Germany. In September 1916 he sent his sister Sarah Jane Jewsbury a postcard:
Dear Sister
Just a postcard to let you know that I am getting on very well and my wound is nearly better. I am at a German Camp here, you can send me anything you like at the address on the other side in full. We get no money here so you can tell Kitty to send me a pound or so. Good bye, best love to all. Tell Kitty to write.
Signed Denis

Denis was also mentioned in despatches (not dated) for bravery under fire and it is probably at this time that he was wounded. In 1923 Denis married and had two children but the marriage did not last and by the early 1930s Denis had been convicted of a number or petty crimes. He was also using the alias Johan Romanoff and perhaps this was someone who he had met in the prison camp or at some other point during the war.

Denis seems to have disappeared after that and I’m still to trace when and where he died.

Robert Finn, the eldest son was the next to enlist on 12 February 1916 in Cairns and he joined the 9th Battalion. Prior to that he was working as a miner at Wolfram in Queensland and was still single at 36 years of age. Like Denis, Robert was also sent to France and returned to Australia on 18 July 1919. Robert never married and died in Mount Morgan hospital in 1953 but prior to his death he was living in Bouldercombe, another mining town in Queensland.

John Finn was the third brother to enlist on 10 June 1916 in Brisbane. He was also single, working as a labourer and 26 years old. He too saw service in France and returned to Australia on 2 June 1919. Like his older brother Robert, John never married and spent time working on the sugar cane plantations in north Queensland. John died in Cairns in 1967 and had been living at Trinity Bay.

All three brothers received the 1914-18 Star Medal, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for their service overseas.

Why did Robert and John never marry? Were they just confirmed bachelors or did the war change how they viewed their world? Why did they live so far away from their family? Would Denis have turned to petty crime if he had not gone to war or not spent time in a prisoner of war camp? Not only did the war impact on the brothers but it also must have impacted on their father and their siblings. My grandmother would never talk about her mother’s family so I will probably never know but as more and more records are digitised and made more easily accessible I can continue to slowly piece together their stories.

Lest we forget.

Leslie Gordon Price – A Rat of Tobruk

April 25th, 2012

Today is ANZAC Day and I foreshadowed back in February during the Bombing of Darwin 70th anniversary tour that my ANZAC Day blog this year would be dedicated to my Uncle Gordon, my mother’s eldest brother.Gordon Price WW2

During the bombing of Darwin tour, I met historian Brad Manera and was privileged to have him advise me on a ‘kidney dish’ that Gordon had carried around with him during his time in the army. For years I believed all soldiers had one, but perhaps not as engraved and decorated as Gordon’s. To my surprise Brad believed it was actually an enemy souvenir and because of the illustrations quite unique. I resolved then and there to get Gordon’s army dossier from the National Archives of Australia and within a few weeks of getting home from Darwin I received the dossier.

Gordon’s army record is indeed reflected in his ‘kidney dish’ – all the big battles of the Middle East and New Guinea are recorded as he was part of the 2/13 Infantry Battalion in World War 2. The Australian War Memorial has a brief history of the unit and a listing of Battle Honours including the defence of Tobruk, the battle of El Alamein, Borneo, Lae and the liberation of Australian New Guinea to mention just a few.

The army dossier had one surprise for me and that was Gordon’s date of birth – according to the file he was five years younger than he really was. So instead of enlisting at 23 he was in fact 28 years old although I’m not really sure why he would have changed the year of his birth.

The disappointment in the file is that the small photographs are not all that clear but I do have some Christmas postcards he sent home to family members that have a small photo of him in uniform. I have memories of Uncle Gordon but as a much older person as he was 45 when I was born.

Mum still has the albums with all the photos that Gordon sent home to her while he was away and when I visit her again in June, I hope to borrow the albums so that I can copy the photos and match them up to the places on the ‘kidney dish’ and in the dossier.

In the meantime I am reading Peter FitzSimons book on Tobruk to gain a better understanding of the war in North Africa having read the basics of the Siege of Tobruk in Wikipedia. The Australian War Memorial also has the 2/13′s unit diaries and these are digitised and online so I can really begin to understand what it means to be a ‘Rat of Tobruk’. Lest we Forget.

Remembrance Day & My Two Grandfathers

November 10th, 2011

Each ANZAC Day I like to blog about one of my military ancestors, and this Remembrance Day I have decided to do the same. Neither of my two grandfathers spent much time in military service but their stories are still interesting.

Although my parents were born only a few months apart, my mother’s father Henry Price was born in 1887 while my father’s father John Martin Gunderson was born in 1909. So one grandfather saw brief service in World War One and the other in World War Two.

Henry Price

At the outbreak of World War One, Henry as part of the Kennedy Regiment in North Queensland, was mobilised for war service.  In the event of war, it had been previously arranged that the Kennedy Regiment, one of the citizen-force regiments enrolled under the compulsory training scheme, would garrison Thursday Island. Therefore as soon as the news was received, the regiment’s was mobilised. On 8 August 1914 Henry and his regiment (over 1000 men) embarked on the troopship Kanowna at Cairns for Thursday Island.

After reaching Thursday Island safely, a few days later the volunteers were called for ‘for service outside Australia’. The Defence Act provided that no citizen forces could be sent outside the Commonwealth without their consent, hence the ‘call for service’.  About 500 of the men volunteered including Henry Price and they were then sent on to Port Moresby on 16 August 1914 on board the Kanowna where they were to take part in the capture of German New Guinea.

On 4 September 1914 the Kennedy Regiment met Colonel William Holmes who was based in Port Moresby to prepare the task force to attack German New Guinea. Henry joined the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force on 6 September 1914.

Holmes had been expecting mature, trained well-equipped soldiers. Unfortunately he was disappointed for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the Kennedy troops were mainly young men aged between 18 and 20 years old.  The Regiment had been mobilised quickly, without proper medical inspection and consisted of both trainees under the compulsory scheme (some of whom were not yet 18) and middle-aged members of local rifle clubs.

Secondly, the  new arrivals had very little gear with them and to fight in the tropics soldiers needed mosquito nets, good boots, hammocks and suitable uniforms. There had been no time to provision the Kanowna for a long voyage and she quickly ran out of stores and was given extra stores from the Sydney.

A third factor that upset Holmes was that the Kanowna’s crew were considering mutiny as most of its members had  been shanghaied into service and were not volunteers.  Without the Kanowna, there was no way of getting the Kennedy Regiment from Port Moresby to the attack area.

For these reasons Holmes wanted to send the Kennedy Regiment and the Kanowna back to Queensland.  However, he could not do this without higher authority and before this could be arranged, Holmes was ordered to send his troops off to battle.  On 7 September 1914 the cruisers Sydney and Encounter, the auxiliary cruiser Berrima, destroyers Warrego and Yarra, submarines AE1 and AE2, the supply ship Aorangi, the Parramatta, the Koolonga, the oil tanker Murex and the Kanowna steamed out of Port Moresby.

However, just outside the harbour the Kanowna slewed sideways and halted.  The firemen had stopped stoking the engines and insisted that they would not start again until the ship was going home to Queensland.  The soldiers declared they would stoke the engines but were overruled and the Kanowna was ordered back to Townsville.

Colonel Holmes reported ‘I consider the Kanowna detachment, as at present constituted and equipped, unfit for immediate service and, in view of today’s events …. recommend disbandment’. The Kanowna arrived back in Townsville on 18 September 1914 and the Kennedy troops, including Henry Price, were discharged on the same day.

Henry Price

Henry Price

The majority of the Kennedy Regiment then rushed to volunteer for the 1st AIF and subsequently became the backbone of the 15th Battalion at Gallipoli which went in with 1000 men but sadly, within just a few short weeks came out with only 350 men.

Henry Price did not re-enlist following the abortive campaign on the Kanowna.  For his brief part in the war effort, Henry received the British War Medal.  This simple silver medal was issued singly without the Victory Medal 1914-18 to certain personnel who did not actually serve in the theatre of war. The family story that he participated in the capture of German New Guinea was not quite accurate.

Had Henry re-enlisted, he would have gone to Gallipoli and perhaps this story may not have been written as only three of his ten children had been born at the outbreak of  World War One. The photo to the right shows Henry and my grandmother Alice and their daughter (my mother) shortly before his death in 1938.

John Martin Gunderson

John Martin Gunderson

John Martin Gunderson
Jack, as he was more commonly known, enlisted in the Australian Army on 27 August 1941 in Brisbane and was discharged two years later as a Sapper with the 2/3 Field Squadron on 27 October 1943.

Aged 32 years when he enlisted, Jack’s health was an issue and he served at various places in Australia including Redbank in Queensland, Bonegilla in Victoria and Northam in Western Australia before he was declared medically unfit and discharged.

Although he never saw military service outside of Australia, he received the War Medal 1939-45 and the Australian Service Medal 1939-45.  The photo above shows Jack in his army uniform with my grandmother Kathleen and my father.

Tasman Jarvis – An Original ANZAC

April 24th, 2010

As tomorrow is ANZAC Day, my thoughts this week have been around those family members who have fought in various wars. While there are many individuals I could focus on, the one that comes most prominently to mind on ANZAC Day is Tasman Jarvis.

Tasman Jarvis, parents headstoneI can still remember the day we found his parents grave in Richmond Cemetery, Tasmania. I was noting all the details on the headstone and right at the bottom was an entry for their son Tasman Jarvis. It simply noted that he had been killed in action in Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 aged 34 years. One of the many killed on that day.

Tasman Jarvis was born in Brighton, Tasmania in 1881, the 10th and youngest child of Alfred Jarvis and Eliza nee Gunyon. He married Violet Thorne in 1906 and had three children before he enlisted in the army. He served as a Private in the 12th Battalion and there are many records recording his military service.

At the Australian War Memorial he is listed on the Roll of Honour Database and it gives basic information on his life and military service.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission also has him on a Casualty List giving similar information. You can even generate a certificate.

There is also an entry for him in the AIF Project (Australian ANZACS in the Great War 1914-1918) which gives more information including his height and weight. It also mentions his previous military service with the Derwent Regiment for 5 years. It also lists his brother Richard George Jarvis, also killed in action in May 1915, and his cousins Henry Thomas Jarvis killed in action in September 1916, Roy William Jarvis returned to Australia 1919 and Alfred Edward Jarvis returned to Australia in 1917.

Tasman’s military dossier has been digitised by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and is freely available online. It gives more details on his time in the army. Another digitised file available online is an Application for a Gratuity lodged by his widow Violet on behalf of herself and her three young children.

Finally there is a third digitised file on the NAA site and it relates to a Summary of Particulars of Application for Assistance. This was submitted by Tasman’s widow Violet. It is dated 1921 and she is asking for a loan of £35 to buy furniture. The application makes sad reading and reveals that the family have been living with her parents since Tasman’s death. Violet took possession of her War Service Home in June 1921 hence her need for furniture. It was seen as a special case and she was granted the loan with the proviso that she repay it at the rate of 10/- a month.

All three NAA digitised files come up under a keyword search for Tasman Jarvis.

Tasman Jarvis was awarded posthumously the following medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

So tomorrow my thoughts will be with all those other families who lost loved ones at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Lest We Forget.

Radio interview in Mount Gambier, South Australia

November 3rd, 2009

On Monday 2 Nov 2009 I was interviewed by Stan Thomson during his Mornings program on ABC SE South Australia on my visit to Mount Gambier and my talk to the Mount Gambier History Group on Discovering Military Ancestors Online . I was a bit surprised to find that Stan also wanted to know about my own family and how I became interested in researching the past. A copy of the interview is available here.

The talk was in Powerpoint but I need to do some explanatory text to make it stand alone on this website. Hopefully I will be able to do that in the next day or so.