On 5 May last year, 10 days after Anzac Day, I visited the Apple Tree Creek War Memorial.
My husband and I were en route from Brisbane to Rockhampton when we stopped to take a break at the Apple Tree Creek rest area.
The Apple Tree Creek War Memorial is situated in a fenced off area of the Apple Tree Creek recreation grounds, just off the Bruce Highway (the main road connecting Brisbane and Cairns). You can’t miss it as you exit the highway and enter the rest area. The central monument is huge and imposing, with a life-size World War I soldier figure (“Digger”) standing on top of a sandstone column. The structure is 18 feet (5.5 m) high.
The Anzac Day wreaths at the base of the monument were still fresh. It made me think that the men from this community who enlisted in World War I, especially those who died, have not been forgotten – 100 years on.
The Apple Tree Creek War Memorial honours seventy-seven local men who joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in World War I, including fifteen men who died. The names are listed on recessed marble panels on each side of the monument. The front panel contains the names of the fallen under the heading: “Erected by residents of Apple Tree Creek In Honour and Appreciation of those who paid the supreme sacrifice during The Great War, 1914-1919. Their Names Liveth Evermore.” The three remaining panels are devoted to those who returned, under the heading: “In Appreciation of the services of those who enlisted from Apple Tree Creek during The Great War, 1914-1919.” [Ref. 1]
World War I (“The Great War”)
World War I (“The Great War”) ranks as one of the deadliest conflicts of human history. Millions of people, soldiers and civilians, died or were injured. The total number of deaths is not known, but is estimated as between 15 and 19 million. Around 23 million military personnel were wounded. [Ref. 2]
Australia’s contribution to World War I was significant and costly in human terms. At a time when our population was fewer than 5 million, 416,809 men enlisted, more than 60,000 of these died and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. No conflict since has engaged such a large proportion of the Australian population, incurred such heavy losses or had such a lasting impact on its citizens. [Ref. 3]
This year, 2018, marks 100 years since the end of World War I and the armistice (or truce) between the Allies and Germany signed at Compiègne, France, on 11 November 1918. In Australia, we commemorate this event each year on 11 November as “Remembrance Day”.
Given the significance of Remembrance Day this year, I thought: What can I contribute?
I recalled the Apple Tree Creek War Memorial and all those names. Every name represents a person, someone’s son or brother, husband, father or uncle, who lived and breathed and has a story worth telling. Thus, I decided to find out about each of the fallen listed on the Apple Tree Creek War Memorial and, in so doing, gain some understanding about how the war impacted on the local community. This is what I discovered.
About Apple Tree Creek
Apple Tree Creek is a tiny rural township located in the Bundaberg local government region of Queensland, Australia. You can’t miss it as you travel on the Bruce Highway between Childers and Gin Gin. It’s just a few minutes (6 km) northwest of Childers.
The town gets its name from the nearby creek, which in turn is named after trees with flowers similar to apple blossoms that line its banks. The creek is a tributary of the Isis River. Apple Tree Creek was established as a farming community in the 1870s and 1880s. Today it lies in the heart of one of Queensland’s sugarcane growing districts. The Isis Central Sugar Mill (established in 1895) is located 5.3 km northwest of Apple Tree Creek, off Childers Road (the road connecting Childers and Bundaberg). The tiny town of Cordalba is 8.9 km north of Apple Tree Creek on Childers Road. [Ref. 4]
At the 2016 Australian census, the population of Apple Tree Creek was 639. Although small, today’s population is more than double what it was at the 1911 census (229) and the 1921 census (320). [Ref. 4, 5]
From a population of about 300, the 77 local men who enlisted in World War I represented a large proportion of Apple Tree Creek’s male population and a significant contribution of the community towards the war effort. That 15 (almost one-fifth) of those who enlisted did not return was a terrible loss for this close-knit community.
About those who died
Of the 15 men who died, the large majority were young and single. One man, Private Edward Hall (aged 46) was a widower; another, Private George Patrick O’Callaghan (aged 42) was married. Discounting these two older men, the average age (at enlistment) of those who died was 24 years. Two (Privates Alexander Trevor and William Newbigging) were not yet 18 when they enlisted.
One of the youngest, Private Percy Arthur Howard, 19 years 11 months, died in Brisbane of pneumonia, after contracting measles, just 5 weeks after enlisting. He was the second man from the district to die and his untimely death came as a great shock to his parents and those who knew him. Private P. A. Howard was buried in Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery.
Most of the men (11 out of 15) enlisted at Brisbane. Two enlisted at Maryborough, one at Gympie, one at Rockhampton.
The latter, Trooper James Kerr, aged 23 years 5 months, enlisted at Rockhampton on 24 August 1914, less than a month after the outbreak of the war. He joined the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade and went to Gallipoli. Trooper Kerr was killed in action at Gallipoli on 29 June 1915. His body is buried in the Shrapnel Valley Cemetery on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Canakkale Province, Turkey. Mr G. Royan of the Isis Central Sugar Mill was his next of kin. Trooper Kerr was the first man from the Apple Tree Creek community to die in action.
Of the 15 who died, all but three were born locally (at Childers, Bundaberg or Maryborough). The exceptions were Private Edward Hall (Hull, Yorkshire, England), Trooper James Kerr (St Andrew’s, Scotland) and Private George Patrick O’Callaghan (Stawell, Victoria, Australia).
George O’Callaghan was a newcomer to the Isis district where he worked as a labourer. He was 41 years 11 months old and married when he enlisted at Brisbane on 11 February 1916. George and his wife Maud Ettie do not appear to have had any children. Private George Patrick O’Callaghan was attached to the 9th Battalion and sent to the Western Front. He was killed in action at La Barque, France, on 26 February 1917. His death was sorely felt by his loving wife and all who knew him. Private O’Callaghan has no known grave but there is a memorial to him at the Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery, Picardie, France.
Eleven of the 15 men grew up in the district and attended Apple Tree Creek School. In fact, a majority of the 77 men from Apple Tree Creek who enlisted attended the local State School. On Friday 18 October 1917, the Apple Tree Creek Honour Board was unveiled during a ceremony at the State School. It contained 68 names, 51 of whom were past scholars. [Ref. 6]
Apple Tree Creek was (and still is) a farming district. At the outbreak of World War I, 50 farmers were registered in the Post Office Directory. It is not surprising therefore that of the 15 men who died, two (Privates Hall and Harley) were farmers and eight were labourers (most likely farm labourers). One listed his trade or calling as canecutter and bookmaker, another as stockman, one as mechanic, one as telephonist.
By 31 December 1915, eight (8) of these 15 men had enlisted. The remaining seven (7) enlisted by 30 May 1916. Apart from Trooper J. Kerr (who died in action at Gallipoli), Private P.A. Howard (who died prematurely in Brisbane) and Private John Harley (who served in both Gallipoli and France), all were sent to the Western Front, twelve to France and one to Belgium. Eleven were killed in action or died from wounds received on the battlefield. Three died in military hospitals in England and were buried in England. Eight were buried in graves near the battlefield; the bodies of two soldiers killed in action were never recovered.
A double loss for two families
Among the casualties, there were two sets of brothers. Three Taylor brothers enlisted; two died. Two Newbigging “boys” joined up; both died.
The three Taylor brothers were sons of Henry and Annie Taylor. The Taylor boys attended Apple Tree Creek School. William Henry, the oldest, enlisted on 25 September 1915. He was 29. Alexander was next to enlist, on 22 April 1916. He was 25 years 11 months. Finally, John (aged 23 years 9 months, the youngest) enlisted on 4 December 1916. All three were sent to France. Gunner W. H. Taylor, of the 11th Australian Field Artillery Brigade, died on 2 January 1917 from wounds received in battle. Private A. Taylor of the 26th Australian Infantry Battalion died of illness in England just two months later, on 12 March 1917. Private J. Taylor was the only one of the three Taylor brothers to survive the war.
The following extract from a local newspaper report dated 22 April 1917 gives some idea as to how their deaths (and that of Private George O’Callaghan) impacted on the community.
On Sunday afternoon the local brass band, under the conductorship of Mr. D. O. Andersen, gave an open-air concert from the rotunda. … During the performance the flag was lowered half-mast while “The Dead March in Saul” was played in memory of Privates G. O’Callaghan, A. Taylor and Bombardier W. H. Taylor – the two latter having been members of the band. As the western sun glinted through the umbrageous apple tree, and the beautiful strains of “I am praying for you” sounded through the air, while men, women and children were quietly sitting around, one could not help contrasting our peaceful surroundings with the horrors of Europe.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Appletree Creek’. In Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Thursday 26 April 1917, page 3.
George and William Newbigging were sons of William and Catherine (Kate) Newbigging of Apple Tree Creek. Like the Taylor boys, the Newbiggings attended the Apple Tree Creek School. William (or “Willie” as he was known) was the first to enlist, at Brisbane, on 11 February 1916. His service records indicate he was 18 years old, but in fact he was just 17 (he was born on 2 February 1899). Here is a report of his send-off, from a local newspaper dated 28 April 1917:
A send-off was given to Private W. Newbigging, eighteen year old son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Newbigging on Friday evening. The large gathering testified to the esteem the young soldier is held. He received his education at the local school, finishing off at the Childers High School and has been in the Childers Post Office as a telephonist for the last three years. He was presented with a wristlet watch and a number of congratulatory speeches were made.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Apple Tree Creek.’ In Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Friday 28 April 1916, page 4.
William’s brother George soon followed. He enlisted at Gympie, on 30 May 1916. He was 21. William was sent to France; George to Belgium. Both Newbigging brothers died. Private George Newbigging of the 42nd Australian Infantry Battalion died on 9 June 1917 as the result of wounds sustained in the Battle of Messines (Belgium). He was 22. Sapper William Newbigging, of the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion Signals Details, was killed in action in France less than a year later, on 25 April 1918. He was 19.
Their deaths were a severe blow to the Newbigging family, as the following newspaper report reveals.
On Sunday last, an open-air memorial service was conducted by the Rev. T. Nock at the Rotunda, in the Recreation grounds, the attendance being very large. The local Citizens’ Band which led the singing played the ‘Dead March in Saul’. The service was in honour of Privates George and William Newbigging who fell on the fields of France. The Newbigging family have the deepest sympathy – their cup of woe has been very full. A little girl suffocated at the tailings in Gympie, a little boy choked with a lolly a few years ago; twelve months ago their son George killed in action, last month their son William killed. Added to this, the mother [is] under treatment by a Brisbane specialist.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Appletree Creek’. In Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Thursday 13 June 1918, page 8.
Families with multiple sign-ups
A number of local families had more than one of its number volunteer for military service. Besides the Taylor and Newbigging families, there were at least six other families who had two or more sons enlist. For one family, it was a father and son; for others, two or three sons enlisted. For four families, one of their loved ones did not return.
Edward Hall, a local farmer, enlisted in Maryborough on 30 May 1916; he was 46. His son Wilfred Edward also enlisted in Maryborough, 9 months later, on 19 February 1916; he was 18.
Both father and son were sent to France. Private Wilfred Hall survived the war, but Edward (his father), after 4 years of overseas service, died of illness (a cerebral haemorrhage) at Brookwood, England, on 19 April 1919.
Private Edward Hall, of the 41st Australian Infantry Battalion, was buried with full military honours in the Brookwood Military Cemetery, Pirbright, Surrey, England.
Three Harley brothers (John, James and Thomas), sons of Mrs Marion Harley, a widow, enlisted. John and James were born in Maryborough and, given their ages at enlistment, appear to have been twins. Both were farmers. Their younger brother Thomas, who was born in Childers and attended the Apple Tree School, worked as a clerk prior to enlistment.
John was the first to join up. He enlisted in Brisbane on 8 June 1915, aged 24 years 6 months. Thomas was next. He enlisted in Brisbane on 27 July 1915. He was 21 years 6 months. Finally, James, aged 25 years 5 months, enlisted in Bundaberg on 22 April 1916.
Private John Harley, of the 25th Australian Infantry Battalion, served in Gallipoli and France. On 5 August 1916 he was wounded in action at Pozières, France, and reported missing. His mother was notified. Over the next 12 months or so, with no news of her son, Mrs Harley wrote several letters to the army. It appears she believed her son to be alive, in hospital, in England. However, a Court of Enquiry held on 25 July 1917 confirmed that Private John Harley was killed in action on 5 August 1916. His body was not recovered. Mrs Harley received official notification of John’s death in October 1917, more than one year after he had been reported missing.
Private John Harley has no grave, but there is a memorial plaque bearing his name in the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial Cemetery, Villers-Bretonneux, Picardie, France.
John’s younger brother, Private Thomas Harley, was also assigned to the 25th Australian Infantry Battalion. He fell ill on the voyage to Egypt, was hospitalized and diagnosed with tuberculosis. He returned to Australia and was discharged from the AIF on 2 May 1916.
Like his brother John, Private James Harley, of the 22nd Machine Gun Company, served in France. He was wounded in action and hospitalized in England a number of times. Private Harley returned to Australia and was discharged from the AIF at Brisbane on 7 May 1918, deemed medically unfit due to neurasthenia (physical and mental exhaustion).
This was yet a further blow for a grieving mother.
Three Kling brothers of Apple Tree Creek volunteered for war service. All three were born in Maryborough, Queensland, to Jes Antonson Kling and Marie Beyer. The oldest, John Anton, was the first to enlist, at Childers, on 12 April 1915. He was 23 years 4 months. As both parents were dead, he nominated his second brother Victor as next of kin. The youngest, Charles, a canecutter and bookmaker, enlisted in Brisbane on 29 December 1915. He was 20 years 6 months. Victor Edward Nelson, a labourer, enlisted in Brisbane on 13 January 1916. He was 22 years 6 months. Charles and Victor named their uncle, Neils Kling of Apple Tree Creek, as next of kin.
All three Kling brothers were sent overseas. Private J. Kling, of the 26th Australian Infantry Battalion, went via Gibraltar and Alexandria to France and Belgium. He returned to Australian medically unfit (suffering with asthma) and was discharged on 22 November 1916. Private V. E. N. Kling, of the 42nd Battalion, didn’t see active service. He was sent home to Australia from England, and was discharged on 17 July 1917 medically unfit (also with asthma).
The youngest of the three (Charles), Private C. Kling, did not return home. He was killed in action in France on 5 April 1918. He is buried at the Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, near Albert, France.
Three sons of local identities, the late George Trevor (died 1910) and his wife Elizabeth, volunteered for military service. Pryce, William and Alexander Trevor grew up in the Isis district and attended Apple Tree Creek School. Pryce (the oldest) enlisted first, at Brisbane, on 6 August 1915. He was 24. William was next. He was 20 years old when he enlisted at Brisbane 2 months later, on 14 October 1915. The youngest, Alexander, born on 17 June 1899, was 16 years 7 months when he enlisted in Brisbane 3 months after his brother William, on 8 January 1916. Alexander (“Alec’) lied about his age in order to join his two brothers in the war effort.
All three Trevor “boys” were sent to France. Lance Corporal Pryce Trevor was part of the 9th Australian Infantry Battalion, as was Driver William Trevor. These two survived the war. Private Alexander Trevor was wounded in action at the Battle of Mouquet Farm (Pozières) on 4 September 1916 and was reported missing.
A Court of Enquiry on 24 April 1917 declared that Private A. Trevor was in fact killed in action on 4 September 1916. His mother Elizabeth was notified soon afterwards:
After months of deep suspense, Mrs. Elizabeth Trevor, Isis Central Mill, is now in receipt of the sad intelligence through the official channel, that her youngest son, Private Alexander Trevor (previously reported as missing) was killed in action in France on 4th September last. The gallant lad was only 17 years 3 months old, when, like many other of his brave Australian compatriots, he laid his bright young life upon the altar of his country.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Military Notes’. In Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Tuesday 5 June 1917, page 3.
Private A. Trevor’s body was never found. He is commemorated at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial Cemetery, Picardie, France.
Other families who lost a loved one
Thirteen local families lost one or more of their loved ones. Nine of these have already been mentioned. Four other Apple Tree Creek families (Page, Blatchford, Brougham and Pitt) lost a much-loved son to the war.
Percy William Page was born at Maryborough, Queensland, but grew up at Apple Tree Creek. He attended Apple Tree Creek School and Childers High School. Percy enlisted at Brisbane on 13 July 1915, aged 25 years 11 months. He was single; his mother was his next of kin. Private P. W. Page joined the 31st Australian Infantry Battalion and served in France. He died from wounds received in battle at Pozières on 5 August 1916 and was buried in the Wimereux Communal Cemetery, Wimereux, France.
The following is a local newspaper report of Private Page’s death:
It is with deep regret that I have to report that word came to hand the end of last week that Mr. P. Page, a young man of about 25 years of age, had succumbed in France from his wounds. The deceased was very popular here during his five years’ residence, being a prominent sport, and always willing to help on any movement for the public good and the welfare of the town. To his mother and friends we extend our sincere sympathy in this sad hour, knowing he has died doing his duty.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Cordalba’. In Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Wednesday 16 August 1916, page 6.
Private P. W. Page’s brother-in-law, John Ryan, a mill operator, also joined up. He enlisted at Bundaberg on 2 May 1916; he was 31 years 9 months old and married. Sergeant John Michael Francis Ryan, of the 47th Australian Infantry Battalion, saw action in France. He was awarded the Military Medal for his action at Messines and awarded a Bar to the Military Medal for his action at Passchendaele Ridge. He survived the war, returning home after spending 8 months in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
George Thomas Blatchford was born at Childers, the son of Henry and Mary Blatchford. George attended Apple Tree Creek and Dallarnil State Schools. Prior to enlistment, he worked as a labourer at Dallarnil, Queensland. George enlisted in Brisbane on 20 September 1915, aged 21 years 10 months. He joined the 9th Australian Infantry Battalion. In January 1916 he embarked for Egypt, where he completed his training. Private Blatchford was sent to France via Marseilles and went straight to the battle field. He died on 25 July 1916 from wounds received in the Battle of the Somme. Private G. T. Blatchford was buried in the Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension, Warloy-Baillon, Picardie, France.
The deaths of Privates Blatchford and Page shook the community. Theirs were the first after that of Trooper J. Kerr (at Gallipoli) and Private P. A. Howard (in Brisbane). This is how the Apple Tree Creek schoolchildren paid tribute to them (as reported by a local newspaper correspondent):
On two different occasions lately, I noticed the flag half-mast at the local school in honour of two natives of Appletree Creek, and ex-pupils, who have defended the Empire, and paid the last price, vis. Privates Percy Page and George Blatchford. Both were steady and exemplary young men and much sympathy is expressed by all on their untimely death.
“Thus die the brave, who sink to rest,
With all their country’s wishes, blest.”
I hear the children were assembled by the teachers, and a fitting tribute to the dead heroes given, finishing with all standing silent for several minutes.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Appletree Creek’. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Tuesday 22 August 1916, page 5.
Private Blatchford’s death was felt sorely by his mother, brothers and sisters, as the following notice (dated 25 July 1917, a year after his death) reveals:
BLATCHFORD. — In loving memory of our dear son and brother, Private George Thomas Blatchford, 9th Battalion, who died of wounds in France. 25th July, 1916. Age 22 years and 9 months.
Though nothing can the loss replace
A dear one taken from our side,
Yet in out sorrow we rejoice,
To think ’twas nobly that he died.
Life’s highest mission he fulfilled
And bravely answered Duty’s call,
To fight for liberty and right,
And battle for oppression’s fall.
(Inserted by his sorrowing mother, brothers and sisters).
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘In Memoriam’. In Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Wednesday 25 July 1917, page 4.
William Henry Brougham was the son of Edward and Ellen Brougham of Macrossan Street, Childers. He was educated at Apple Tree State School. Prior to enlistment William (“Billy”) worked as a cycle mechanic. William was a fine athlete and recognised locally as a great boxer and cyclist. He held the light and the welter weight championships of the Wide Bay District in 1912.
William enlisted in Brisbane on 23 June 1915. He was 27 years 8 months. Private Brougham joined the 9th Australian Infantry Battalion. In October 1915, he sailed for Egypt, where he trained at Cairo and Tel el-Kebir. While in Egypt he was transferred to the 49th Battalion. In June 1916 he was sent to France where he saw action on the Somme. In August 1916 Brougham was promoted to Corporal. He fought in the battles of Fleurs and Pozières. Corporal Brougham was killed in action near Pozières on 3 September 1916. He is buried in the Courcelette British Cemetery, near Albert, France.
The following is an extract from a Bundaberg newspaper report of Private Brougham’s death:
The name of yet another gallant local soldier has been inscribed on the roll of fame, Mrs. E. Brougham, of Macrossan Street, Childers, having had the sad news imparted to her that her son, Corporal W. H. Brougham, was killed in action on 3rd September last. The deceased, who was a typical Australian of splendid physique, responded to duty’s call in the early stages of the great conflict, and gave promise of a distinguished career in the profession of arms. Possessing fine sportsmanlike qualities, “Billy” Brougham, as he was popularly known, had a host of friends both here and in Bundaberg, and the news that he is no more will be received with unfeigned regret. It seems but yesterday that he was with us in all the pride of manly vigour — a smart soldierly figure and a credit to the uniform he wore.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Pro Patria Mori’. In Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Thursday 12 October 1916, page 3.
Nearly a year after Corporal Brougham’s death, his sorrowing family had a monument erected in his memory in the Apple Tree Creek cemetery. This is a report of its unveiling ceremony:
On Sunday a large gathering took place in the cemetery, when the monument erected to the memory of the late Sergeant [sic.] William Brougham who fell in France, was formally unveiled by Rev. Father O’Shea. After consecration, his reverence unveiled the memorial, and gave a thoughtful and inspiring address to the gathering. Mr. R. Gant, Chairman of the Patriotic Committee, and Mr. W. Michel, schoolmaster, gave appropriate addresses. The local brass band played “The Dead March in Saul”, “Rule Britannia” and “The National Anthem”. (From a local correspondent.)
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Apple Tree Creek’. In Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Wednesday 22 August 1917, page 4.
Last Post Ceremony in honour of Corporal W. H. Brougham
On 6 January this year, Corporal W. H. Brougham was honoured, and his story told, at the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. The ceremony is presented each day in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. A video recording of Corporal Brougham’s ceremony can be viewed on the Australian War Memorial website. Click HERE to access it.
Joseph Outen Pitt was born in Maryborough, grew up in the Isis district and attended the Apple Tree Creek School. He worked as a labourer prior to enlisting at Brisbane on 29 December 1915. He was 25 years 3 months of age. His cousin, George Pitt, also from Apple Tree Creek, enlisted 2 months earlier. Joseph was single. He nominated his mother Emma, a widow, as next of kin.
Private J. O. Pitt was attached to the 42nd Australian Infantry Battalion and was sent to France. He was gassed twice and hospitalized a number of times. After nearly 3 years of active service, Private Joseph Pitt died of pneumonia in a hospital in England, on 27 October 1918. It was just 2 weeks before the end of the war.
Without doubt, Private Joseph Pitt served his country well and paid the ultimate price. A letter from Gertrude Smith, a night nurse at the hospital where Joseph died, to Joseph’s mother Emma, gives us an idea of the kind of man he was and how others regarded him. The letter was published in a local newspaper several months after Private Pitt’s death. I don’t think you’ll read this letter without being moved.
Dear Madam. — Before this reaches you, you will have heard the sad tidings of the passing away of your brave boy, Joseph Pitt, and as I was with him all through the last night, I felt it might be some little comfort to you to have a letter from me, as you must just long to hear all you can, and my heart aches for you brave patient mothers who cannot be with your darlings through the last days.
Your son came to our hospital on Saturday, October 19th, and I was on night duty, and very constant attendance on him through the week until he passed quietly away on Sunday morning, 27th, at 8.30 a.m. I could see at once he was very ill, and he had his constitution not been as good as it was, he could never have lived the week. We did everything we could to save him, and our matron is very clever, and the doctor stayed with me the last night up till 6 a.m., hoping against hope, but the septic pneumonia is a hard foe to fight, and it would conquer at the last.
But I am thankful he did not suffer much, and was so cheery and grateful. I was so struck by his thoughtfulness the final night I was with him, and was giving him some nourishment, by his saying, ”Sit down, nurse, you must be tired.” Dear lad, they do not often think of that — he was so grateful, and had a way of saying things felt “good” like the soft warm pneumonia jacket.
I could see how he loved Australia and wanted to tell me of the beautiful birds and butterflies, only he could not talk much as it made him cough, and he used to say “I wish I could talk”, and we would reply ”when you are better”, hoping he might pull through, but it was not to be. The good Father in Heaven has called his brave soldier for other work in the sinless land, where there shall be no more weariness or terrible war, and surely your boy has heard the “well done, good and faithful servant” from his Captain. Our chaplain was with him several times, and that last night when he said The Lord’s Prayer, your boy was able to join in, and when I went to your boy afterwards he said, “He is a nice fellow.”
If there is anything you want to know that I am able to tell you, please write and ask me. I know what it is to lose one very dear right away in Canada, and the sorrow it is to know we could not be with him at the last.
We had many Australians in that same night that Private Pitt arrived, and I know one of them means to write to you. Our little hospital is a V.A.D. one, and we try to make it as homelike as possible, and your boy was able to be in a room with only one other patient, and on looking round the first morning, he said, with an air of great satisfaction “This is a cosy little room.”
The doctor and matron, and all the nurses who attended on your boy were very fond of him – he was so cheery and hopeful, and did so want to get well. He used to sleep a great deal, which was a great comfort for him. He told me he had been gassed twice, so the lungs had not much chance when pneumonia set in. We in England feel so keenly the splendid sacrifice our men from the Dominions are offering up, and the wonderful work they have accomplished.
This is but a poor letter, but my heart is very sore for you, and for all who loved Pitt – and they must be many, for he was a splendid specimen of young manhood. It is a grand death to die for one’s country, and for the freedom of the world, but the blank these young lives leave behind is very terrible. May God give comfort, as He only can and believe me. I remain, etc. GERTRUDE SMITH.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘The Late Private Joseph Pitt’. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Saturday 26 April 1919, page 7.
The end of the war, homecomings and a memorial
By the time the war ended, on 11 November 1918, fourteen (14) men from the Apple Tree Creek community who enlisted had died. A fifteen man, Private Edward Hall, died several months afterwards, on 19 April 1919.
Seventy-seven (77) local men left for the war, sixty-two (62) came home. Each one who returned was warmly received. Here is an example of an Apple Tree Creek “welcome home” evening, organised by a local Welcome Home Committee.
No soldier has left the township of Apple Tree Creek without a public “god speed”, and none has returned to it unwelcomed. The latest “welcome home” took place on Monday night, when Privates Edward Zimmerlie, Reynold Sherwin and Wilfred Hall were welcomed at a social evening which was attended by numerous friends and visitors. Mr Gant was in the chair and eulogistic speeches were made by Mr W. Michel and Councillor Theo Gaydon. The presentations on behalf of the Welcome Home Committee were made by the sisters of the returned soldiers.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Appreciation of Soldiers’. In Brisbane Courier (Qld), Friday 23 May 1919, page 7.
A permanent memorial
From as early as 1917, the people of Apple Tree Creek sought tangible ways to honour its young soldiers who fought in The Great War.
The community’s first project was an honour board. The money required for its purchase (about ₤30) were raised via a paddy’s market one Saturday and by public subscription. The Apple Tree Creek Honour Board was unveiled at a ceremony at the State School on Friday 19 October 1917. [Ref. 6]
The community’s second project was to build a permanent memorial, a Monumental Honour Roll. A committee was set up to oversee the project and raise the funds for its construction. A stately “Digger” monument was chosen. It was designed and constructed by A. L. Petrie & Son, of Brisbane. The monument was unveiled at a stirring ceremony on Sunday 20 March, 1921. About 400 people, including the returned soldiers, attended the ceremony. Mr W Michel, a former Head Teacher of Apple Tree Creek School, presided and a number of invited guests, ministers of religion and community leaders addressed those gathered.
A detailed report of the ceremony appeared in a local newspaper on 23 March. Here are extracts from that report:
About 400 persons, including many from Childers and Cordalba, were present at Appletree Creek at the unveiling of the A.T.C. Monumental Honour Roll, on Sunday afternoon, 20th. Soldiers paraded opposite the A.T.C. School and marched, headed by the Appletree Creek Citizens’ Band, to the site of the monument which is on the Appletree Creek Sports Reserve, right opposite the entrance to the school grounds. The Band took up a position on the left of the monument while the returned soldiers adopted a position two-deep on the immediate right of the monument. Mr. R. Gant (chairman of the committee) and Mr. W. Michel, B.A. (late Head Master of the A.T.C. School) ascended the platform and the Band immediately opened with the National Anthem. …
Mr. Michel, who spoke with emotion, said he felt deeply the honour that had been shown him [to be chosen to preside that afternoon]. The committee’s effort had been so well backed up by the members of the community that the memorial was that day an accomplished fact and stood before them as a monument to the fallen as well as a memorial to those who had fought and safely returned. He fittingly concluded his opening remarks in the words of Kipling ‘Lord God of Hosts be with us yet, lest we forget’. The Band played ‘Abide With Me’, the whole assemblage joining in, at the conclusion of which Rev. A. E. Attkins recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Mr. Michel, on resuming, said that already there had been erected at the school two Honour Boards on which were the names of all those A.T.O. scholars and residents who had enlisted. …
There were on the four marble slabs around the monument before them 77 names; 15 of these brave lads had paid the supreme sacrifice, and their 15 names had been placed on the front slab facing the roadway. This front portion of the monument which was draped with the Union Jack would be first unveiled, and the committee had arranged that this should be done by the three trustees, two of whom were returned soldiers. …
The front slab of the tablet was unveiled, and one minute’s profound silence was preserved by all in respect to the fallen, following which the mournful call of the ‘Last Post’ was sounded by Drum Major J. C. Thompson. The other three tablets were unveiled, at which the Band burst forth with ‘Rule Britannia’. …
Revd. H. Cobett, in emphatic and captivating spirit, likened the gallant dead, to whom they were that day doing honour, to Christ himself, who had given Himself as a sacrifice for others, and our soldiers by their sacrifice had saved the lives of others, and they wished they could have saved themselves by not going to the war, but then they would not have saved us. We at home owe them a debt which we cannot hope to repay. The least we could do was to honour and revere their memory. There were three things which made the cause of the soldiers noble. They had gone of their own free will. The cause was a righteous one. And they had given all for love.
The proceedings closed with the National Anthem.
National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Apple Tree Creek War Memorial. Impressive Unveiling Ceremony.’ In Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld), Wednesday 23 March 1921, p 4.
The Apple Tree Creek War Memorial was added to the Queensland Heritage List on 21 October 1992. It stands today as a testimony to the significant contribution and sacrifice made by the people of Apple Tree Creek – not only the men who served in the armed forces but also those who supported them at home – during The Great War (1914-1918).
‘Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget — lest we forget!’
(From “Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling, 1897)
MAIN SOURCES OF INFORMATION
National Archives of Australia. World War I Service Records.
National Library of Australia (Trove). Newspapers.
The Australian War Memorial. Collection: People.
Virtual War Memorial Australia. People.
- Queensland Heritage Council. Queensland Heritage Register. ‘Apple Tree Creek War Memorial (entry 600607)’. Online: Retrieved 6 November 2018.
- Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. ‘World War I casualties’. Online: Retrieved 6 November 2018.
- The Australian War Memorial. Memorial Articles: Australians at War. ‘First World War 1914-1918’. Online: Retrieved 1 November 2018.
- University of Queensland (The). Centre for the Government of Queensland 2018. Queensland Places. ‘Apple Tree Creek’. Online: Retrieved 4 November 2018.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (23 October 2017).‘Apple Tree Creek (State Suburb)’. 2016 Census Quick Stats. Online: Retrieved 6 November 2018.
- National Library of Australia (Trove). ‘Childers’. In Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld), Tuesday 23 October 1917, page 3. Online: Retrieved 6 November 2018.