Saturday 7 November 2020

Walter Brownlee

The Armistice which ended World War 1, now 102 years ago, is still remembered on the 11th November each year. Walter Brunton Brownlee was one of those young men who did not come home. As we reflect, Walter is of those we can remember.

Walter was born in late 1896 in Liberton on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland, and was the fourth son of dairyman Arthur Brownlee and wife Mary. With war looming, 17 -year-old Walter linked up with the Dreadnought Scheme and, on the 13th October 1914 (10 weeks after the Declaration of War), left London's Tilbury Dock on the SS Indrapura bound for Australia.

He was one of a group of 18 boys who reached Sydney on 3rd December 1914, where 5 of them were sent for training while the other 13, including Walter Brownlee, were sent direct to their employer.

Walter was placed with John Affleck at Nabiac, about 240 kilometres north of Sydney. Affleck ran a motor service between Taree, Nabiac and Tuncurry, and had come from the same place in Scotland as Brownlee. After 6 months of being 'shaped up', the sturdy young Walter Brownlee went to dairy work with Mr W H Abbott of Wallamba, where he proved his worth. However, change was coming to the farm, so Walter Brownlee decided to take up sleeper cutting, and soon became skilled with the broad- axe and adze.

In news from Liberton, he discovered that two of his brothers had enlisted in the British Army, and Walter felt the strong need to enlist also. But Walter Brownlee had a problem, he was only 4ft 111/2 in. tall. Despite many attempts to enlist, wherever he went he was continually rejected, because he was too short. By April 1917 he'd moved to Sydney, and had joined the No.2 District Guard at Marrickville. Having put his age up 8 months to be over 21 years of age, and rounded his height up to 5ft 0in., Walter Brunton Brownlee was finally successful in enlisting on 3rd May 1917 - at his 16th attempt! 

Walter Brunton Brownlee
(from AWM P08321.001)

He sailed from Sydney on the HMAT Euripides, and in April 1918 was in northern France with the 3rd Battalion AIF. He was wounded in action on the 19th June and died the following day. He is buried in the Borre British Cemetery, and is remembered on both Liberton and Nabiac War Memorials.

Walter Brunton Brownlee was clearly a young man of great determination.

Thursday 15 October 2020

Walter Roberts


Walter (“Wally”) Roberts was born on 15 August 1907 in Newcastle-on-Tyne UK, the eldest son of Welsh parents, Walter and Elizabeth Roberts. The family moved to London, to 40 Elmsleigh Road Wandsworth, where Walter Roberts Snr worked as a printer and specialised in selling through direct mail.

Walter was clever at school, Elliott Central, and was remembered by one of his teachers, who kept in touch by mail for over forty years. As a boy he was fond of cycling, even riding his pushbike from London to Brighton and return (more than 170 km) in one day.

After his mother’s death in September 1921, home life became difficult. With his father’s encouragement he decided to immigrate to Australia. At Australia House in London, he learned of the Dreadnought Scheme. The floor of Australia House sloped and an official suggested he stand at the higher end as, "We’ve got enough jockeys in Australia already." Wally was a short lad.

Aged 16, he sailed on the SS Sophocles from Tilbury in 1924, in a big group of 61 Dreadnought Boys. During the voyage he and his mates helped the stokers in the boiler room, eating with the crew, then rushing upstairs to their own dining salon as well. Growing boys were always hungry. On arrival in Sydney on the 1 August, the boys went to Scheyville for three months farm training. The food was so poor, that Wally later told army mates who grumbled about poor rations, that they didn’t really know what bad food was.

After Scheyville, Walter was placed with a dairy farmer at Purfleet, near Taree on the Manning River. Hardly a farmer, this man was an alcoholic engineer from Sydney whose wife brought him to the Manning, in an effort to ‘dry him out’. Unfortunately for Wally, the engineer got a job in charge of the Taree and Wingham Water Works. He told his young apprentice, “You can’t stick around here by yourself talking to gum trees—you’d better find something else to do,” leaving a very disillusioned young British lad, who knew no one in this strange country, to look after himself.

Wally’s next opportunity was a dairy farm near Wingham; he also worked on the new Killawarra Bridge over the Manning River. Wingham became a turning point for Wally. He became involved in the local Methodist church, making lifelong friends, especially Stella Western, Rev. Charlie Judd – and Wally now had a motorbike.

Wally moved north to Wardell on the Richmond River in 1935, at the instigation of Rev. Judd, now minister at Ballina. He took up a Crown lease and started to clear the land to grow pineapples. It was tough work clearing the heath land with mattock, shovel, axe and brush hook. Rev. Judd used to help with the clearing on his day-off.

Wally’s ‘home’ was a very basic humpy, that leaked so much that he had to stay standing up on rainy nights. The Leeson family next door, accepted the young Britisher as part of their family. Hearing of these conditions, Mrs Leeson insisted that he came over to sleep in her sons’ room when it rained. Bill Leeson helped Wally build his first home - a small, two-roomed house with verandahs.

Now with his own farm, Wally was encouraged by Rev Judd him to marry the love of his life, Stella Western. Married in Wingham in 1939, they returned to live at Wardell. It was the start of a long and busy life of service to the Wardell and later, Alstonville communities. Wally joined the Grand United Lodge, the Hall Committee, the Rifle Club, and commenced a twenty-year stint as poll clerk at state and federal elections. Walter Roberts had been growing ginger as well as pineapples. He became the secretary of the Ginger Growers Association.

In 1936, as the war clouds were starting to gather, he joined the 41st Battalion of the Militia, riding his pushbike nearly forty kilometres to night parades in Lismore. At the outbreak of World War II he tried to enlist. Although a serving member of the Militia, he was told to forget it as he was too short, and in an essential industry. Next time he ‘got lucky’ when he mentioned that he was a good motorbike rider. After guaranteeing that the essential primary products of pineapples and ginger would continue to be grown for the war effort, he was allowed to enlist in the 6th Division, Signals as a Dispatch Rider in June 1940.

                                                             Wally Roberts

Wally served in Palestine, Syria and the Canal Zone, then returned to Australia to serve in the defence of Darwin, and in North Queensland. Then he served in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Bougainville, until demobilised in late 1945. Walter’s courage and commitment were recognised when he was awarded the British Empire Medal (Military Division). The citation notes that he "gave outstanding service as a dispatch rider with the 23rd Australian Brigade Signals during the preparation for the defence of Darwin and throughout the Bougainville operations as a linesman. His willingness to undertake difficult and dangerous tasks………..earned him the admiration of the formation."

Returning to Sydney after the war, he searched for a utility to make farm work easier. However, there were none available for him so he settled for a 1924 Chevrolet car. Back in Wingham, with his father-in-law’s help, Wally cut the back of the car out and installed a tray body. It became a utility (it had been utilised!). The Roberts family, with daughter Olwen, were able to return to Wardell. Son Alun was born in 1946.

By 1948 Wally had joined the staff of Tintenbar Shire Council. In 1955 the family moved from Wardell to Alstonville, where he became thoroughly involved in the community. Among organisations to benefit were the RSL, Junior Hockey Association, the Shire Employees Union, Methodist Church and Sunday School, Red Cross, Civil Defence, the Patriotic Committee, Maranoa Units, Meals on Wheels, Senior Citizens Group, and every major fundraising.

There was recognition of his selfless contribution to the community. In 1981, being the Ballina Shire Senior Citizen of the Year, he was also one of six finalists in the Senior Citizens Awards for NSW. In 1991, the Ballina Council awarded him for outstanding community service. Meanwhile, his partner for fifty years, Stella, had passed away in 1988.

Wally was always a wheel man, and his bicycle was part of his identity. He rode it everywhere until it was stolen in 1995.Then aged 87 years, he switched to a 'gopher' (mobility scooter).

Wally was one of those people who made a difference wherever he went. Phrases from the full Army BEM Citation say it well – “his amazing capacity to deliver………his irrepressible enthusiasm and cheerfulness has been an inspiration.”

Walter Roberts BEM passed away in February 2008, being 100 years old.


Monday 20 July 2020

Bert Broadley

Lancelot Herbert Arthur Broadley was born 9 May 1907 in Aldershot UK, to Lancelot and Florence Broadley. His father was in the British Army, a veteran of the Boer War. When his mother died, Bert was four years old. From London he was taken to York, where his father remarried. Then followed postings to Edinburgh and Gibraltar.

Back in England, Bert got a job at Babcock & Wilcox in Farringdon Street, London, where he worked for the next three years. By 1921, the family lived in a tiny flat in Bermondsey. Bert was learning accountancy at evening school and attending a boys’ club in Jamaica Road, Bermondsey. This club still functions today as the Salmon Youth Centre.

After an incident in one of his father’s alcohol fuelled rages, Bert left home. He found lodgings around London, but, for 10/- per week, soon ran out of options. When the need of accommodation was urgent, Bert was allowed to lodge at the club, on the condition of helping in it. While there, Bert came to a strong and clear Christian faith and thought about becoming a minister, but with no idea how he could afford it. So, he changed to studying for the matriculation.

When a club visitor, just home from Australia, was discussing Bert’s plans he said, “Why not go to Australia? Make up your mind to sail for Australia in six months’ time.”

Told about the Dreadnought Scheme, Bert arranged to go. He was broke, but with help from his aunt and club friends, he managed to have one pound twelve shillings for pocket money. By cautious handling, he arrived in Australia with 1/6d. Leaving Tilbury Dock on 14 August 1924 in the SS Themistocles, Bert reached Sydney 45 days later on 29 September 1924. He was met by a local staffer from Babcock & Wilcox, who took him home to his family in Berala, and a good welcome to Australia. The next day, with 38 other boys, Bert took the train to Mulgrave, where they were taken on to Scheyville Training Farm.

After ten weeks training, Bert accepted a position up near Tabulam on the Clarence River. He went by train 770 km north to Tenterfield, then by mail car another 100 km east to Tabulam. After a 25 km trip by store cart next day, he arrived at Charlie Knighton’s farm. 

 Eighty milking cows were mustered and milked twice a day. Apart from milking and separating, there were other farm jobs such as cutting saccaline for cow feed, castrating piglets, pig feeding and cleaning sties, husking corn, cutting chaff and cutting down scrub suckers in the paddock. Sometimes on Sundays, with a few hours off, he rode a horse to a neighbour’s place. 
Once it rained for six weeks non-stop. The ground was water-logged and boots were never dry. An infection from the cows caused lumps on the back of his hands, and the bush nurse took him off milking. It was time for a new and different job. His next placement was to be near Griffith – a thousand kilometres away to the south-west.

This job was on a soldier settler’s farm. Bert worked with this disabled man for some months until the government allowance cut out. Bert got another job nearby working for a sick ex-miner. The wife used to hobble the horses and put them out on the road to feed overnight. Sometimes they wandered and a long time could be spent looking for them - on foot.

One day while out looking for a horse, Bert was given a lift in a car. The young driver offered Bert a job on one on his mother’s farms. Bert got the job on her old farm and was there for two years, first on wages, then as a share-farmer when she moved to another of her farms. The owner paid the expenses and Bert got one third of the income. It was lonely but he was content milking the cow, irrigating, picking and packing fruit, taking it to the railway or packing house.

Bert was asked to take on the Anglican Sunday school at nearby Hanwood. With others helping, the Sunday school got under way, but not without a working bee to paint the church hall, and another to prop the building up after some high winds gave it a big slant.

His aim had been to enter ministry, and it became clear after a while, that it was time to do something more about it, therefore he made arrangements to leave his job and go to Sydney.

In May 1927, he got a job at the Sydney plant of Babcock & Wilcox, but a month after reaching twenty-one years of age, Bert was given notice to finish up. The local rector in Berala gave him a full-time catechist’s job. He returned to his studies and matriculated eighteen months later, afterwards attending Sydney University and where he passed first year Arts. During this time, he was living in Moore Theological College, and working as full-time catechist at Lilyfield. The university work became difficult to fit in, and stalled at the end of the second year.

On 21 December 1933 Bert was ordained as priest and, while curate at St Paul’s, Castle Hill on 3 January 1934, was married at St Mark’s, Lilyfield to Thelma Cunningham,.

Early in 1935 he was appointed to St Philip’s, Church Hill in the city. However, it wasn’t to last - his rector died in July and, with the ensuing changes, Bert faced another move. After discussions with the Bush Church Aid Society, Bert left St Philip’s and the couple went across to South Australia in October 1935, to take up the vacant Ceduna Mission. The next four and a half years were spent in ministry - to the farming communities scattered around the mission area (Bert understood rural life from his experience as a Dreadnought Boy), - to BCA staff manning the hospitals and operating its Flying Medical Service. Ministry to seamen in the port of Thevenard,was also involved. Then came a return to Sydney, but after twenty-two months at St Mary’s parish in Western Sydney, they were asked back to


This time, there was extra work. Now the Penong area, visits to the big sheep stations and the Transcontinental Railway Line, were included in the ‘Parish’. This meant that every three months the long trip was taken, over the tracks or barely formed roads across the Nullarbor. It included going out to Colona and Nullarbor homesteads, then up to Cook on the Trans Line calling at sidings and camps along the line, holding services wherever possible. After following the line all the way to Zanthus in Western Australia, the trip went back to other homesteads, such as Mundrabilla and Eucla, between the coast and the Trans Line, then to Fowlers Bay, Penong and home to Ceduna. The trip of over 2300 km took three to four weeks.

In July 1946, after another four and a half years, it was back to NSW with Thelma and three children, and the start of 27 years of effective parish ministry in the suburbs of Sydney.

Bert maintained his link with the Bush Church Aid Society. In their 2019 centenary publication “Never too far, never too few” it notes ‘Bert Broadley….was the longest serving missioner at Ceduna…..He ministered to people over a vast distance in South Australia, and later in Sydney, he served for about 25 years on the BCA Council. Truly a life devoted to BCA in every way.’

Lancelot Herbert Arthur Broadley died on 23 November 1976, in his 70th year.