Monday, April 25, 2011

A New England family war story

A number of my fellow New England bloggers have reflected on ANZAC Day including Denis Wright (Beating the odds: the amazing ANZAC story of Arthur Miles) and Paul Barratt (Anzac Day roundup). My own contribution was ANZAC Day, national identity & the power of images.

Thinking about war and New England, the following is an edited excerpt from my biography of David Drummond. David Drummond was then share farming at Oakwood near Inverell, an assignment organised by brother Morris. Other family members mentioned include brother Will, their younger half sister Ellie or Bid and Pearl, David Drummond’s wife.

Excerpt Begins

On 1 July 1914, the assassination of Sarajevo of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife set in train a series of events that led inexorably to war. News of the outbreak of war reached Australia on 5 August and led to an immediate outpouring of loyalty to the Empire and Australia. The resulting heavy enlistments from the districts around Oakwood (including David Harper and his two Scottish friends)[1] significantly affected local life. Not only did everybody have friends or relatives in the army, but the very fabric of social life changed. Many of the organisations around which community life had revolved, such as the Farmers and Settlers' Association branches, were forced to close down for the duration because of the loss of members to the front.[2] New community events emerged to take their place, such as France's Day, Allies Day, Belgium Day and Anzac Day.[3]Morris Drummond

War brought other changes as well. On 25 August, just twenty days after the news of war reached Australia, Will Drummond enlisted.[4] It had been an agonizing decision. His Christian beliefs would not allow him to take life, but he also felt that he must do his duty. His solution was to join as a stretcher bearer: 'I have tried to play the game and to live up to the ideas Jesus has set before me', he wrote to Morris on the day of the Gallipoli landing (25 April 1915).[5]

  Morris (photo) and David did not enlist immediately.

The three brothers had agreed that David, as the only married one, should stay to be in a position to look after their sister should that prove necessary. Later, when David did try to enlist, he would be rejected twice. For Morris's part, he followed events closely, finally deciding in August 1915 that he too must enlist. He wrote to David:

Perhaps you will not be altogether surprised but I have felt it coming on - like a bad cold... while I have the conviction that men are really required I cannot hang back and let someone else carry my bundle ... I've taken the step and hope it won't be labour in vain, but at any rate I've no delusions about the fun and glory of it.[6]

Morris had a somewhat magnetic personality and was offered an immediate commission but declined it.[7] Officer training would have delayed his passage, and he also wanted first to know something about the men he would command.

The three brothers had always been very close, with Morris and Will forming a close knit team providing Aunt Ellie Inverell support to both David and Bid (the brothers' pet name for their sister Ellie). The photo shows Ellie Drummond at David Drummond's farm, Maxwelton. 

Throughout the war Morris wrote regularly to brother David; cheery letters full of details, such as descriptions of French farming methods, intended to interest the younger brother. However, they also gave a clear picture of the hardships and dangers associated with the war.

The war had marked the start of general troubles for David and Pearl. The 1914-15 season brought a short but severe drought which forced Drummond and a neighbour to combine together to move their 3000 sheep along the crowded stock routes to Hazlegreen, a Tablelands' property which still had grass.

1916 started well. Seasonal conditions improved, while brother Will returned to Australia to convalesce. The photo shows Will at that time. Uncle Will 1916

But now  the family was struck by personal tragedy. In July 1916 David and Pearl's eldest child Phyllis contracted flu and died suddenly. She had been an attractive and much-loved child, and her death was a severe blow to them all.

Family problems continued into 1917. Going to bed late one night, Drummond saw a fire in the hayshed. The men and the neighbours - who came from near and far - were able to save a big wagon and some stacked lucerne nearby, but 102 tonnes of fodder were destroyed. The loss was a disaster, for 1917 turned into a bad drought year.

Worse was to follow, for in May 1917 the news came that Morris (now a lieutenant) had been killed in a brave but futile attempt to force the German lines in front of Reincourt.[8] 'Maurice was ... the most fearless officer in the Battalion, he was exceeding his duty at the time, very typical of him', one of his fellow officers wrote to Will.[9]

The loss of Morris was a blow for the whole family and especially Ellie and David. Ellie idolised her half brother, while David had depended heavily on Morris for support during his times of trouble as a ward of the state. Over forty years later, Morris would be as fresh in their memory as he was at the time he enlisted.

[1]Interview with Mrs Morris, 1 October 1982.

[2]Interview with A.E. Cosh, 24 June 1982.

[3]Cosh, Jumping Kangaroos, p.46.

[4]The Australian Army's Central Records Office (CARO) provided enlistments details for Will and Morris Drummond. (CARO to author, 5 February 1982.)

[5]Copy in Family Papers (FP)

[6]Morris to David, 7 August 1915. In FP.

[7]Interview with Mrs Morris, 1 October 1982.

[8]This incident is described in C.E.W. Bean, 'The Australian Imperial Force In France 1917', Volume IV, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1933, Note 88, page 456.

[9]Lt. Jim Harrison to William Drummond, 6 May 1917. In FP.

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