Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Leslie Butler

 



The Covid-19 pandemic which has been sweeping the world, with its savagery and endless tragedy, has reminded us of the spread and trauma of the Spanish flu just over 100 years ago. Dreadnought boys and their families were amongst the millions marked by that flu pandemic. Leslie Butler and his family in UK certainly were.

Leslie was born in Mexborough, Yorkshire, in September 1911, the elder son of Percy Marsh and Ada (née Butler). Growing up not far from the home of his Butler grandparents and their children, who in age were more like older brothers and sisters, his life in Mexborough was content. There were some difficulties in his early school years because of a bullying Victorian headmaster, as well as suffering from what we know now as dyslexia. But family, friends and sport made up for these.

When the world influenza epidemic reached Great Britain in 1918–19 Leslie was stricken with a severe attack, nearly losing his life - but he was nursed back to health by his mother. Tragically, she then caught this Spanish ‘Flu and died just after the Armistice was signed, on 21 November 1918. The family was devastated, and although father Percy tried to cope, he and the boys eventually moved in with the Butler grandparents, as part of their extended family.

Leslie had developed a strong love of cricket, became an accomplished cricketer for his age, and kept that love of the game all his life. He did well at school and on leaving received an excellent reference from his teacher. It ended by noting that Leslie was a boy who will grow up with a strong sense of responsibility and fitness for his work.

The teacher would be proved right. From school, Leslie was apprenticed at the L.N.E.R. Locomotive Depot in Mexborough in 1925, and settled into the trade, making many friends there. When his father remarried, a disastrous relationship with his stepmother ensued. Those final years were very difficult, and he looked at emigrating to Australia, eventually signing up to come to Australia under the Dreadnought Scheme, to make a new life.

Leslie Butler arrived in Sydney with 40 other boys on the SS Ballarat on 19 December 1927. With four others he was sent for training to Cowra Experiment Farm and in early 1928, after farm training, was sent to work on Wattamondara Farm, 14 km south of Cowra. This farm was part of the original Wattamadara Station which, at its peak, was a pastoral lease of 23,000 acres. It was broken up for closer settlement following the passing of the New South Wales Crown Lands Act of 1884.


                                       
                                        Cowra Experiment Farm office and accommodation block.
                                                                                                    (Dreadnought Archives)                                                
Leslie was to spend several years in “mixed farming” work (and cricket) in the Wattamondara area. Eventually, he travelled up to Campbelltown, then still a rural area outside Sydney, to work on Jock Laird’s pig farm. In Campbelltown he met and married Eva Emily Beasley in 1935.

They later moved back to Wattamondara to work on the land, by which time the Second World War had started. From 1941 to his discharge in September 1945, Leslie served in the Volunteer Defence Corps of the army, posted locally where vital food supplies were being produced. This meant that his base was close to the POW Camp at Cowra. When off duty he was still able to play in the Wattamondara Cricket Team.

The Prisoner of War Camp at Cowra was built in 1941-42, to house Italian POWs captured during World War II. The first ones were marched into Cowra in October 1941. By the end of 1942, the camp had over 2,000 prisoners and internees. Between January 1943 and August 1944, over one thousand Japanese POWs and internees arrived. But at 1.50 am on August 5, 1944, about 1200 Japanese prisoners launched a mass suicide attack on the Australian soldiers guarding them. Crudely armed and poorly protected, the Japanese threw themselves on to barbed wire fencing and into the lines of fire from machine guns. With buildings burning behind them, some 350 Japanese managed to escape. All escapees were recaptured during the following week. Altogether 107 POWs were wounded, and 234 prisoners and five Australian soldiers died, in the Cowra Breakout. A Japanese war cemetery and the beautiful Japanese Gardens in Cowra, now mark a very different international relationship.

Leslie Butler never discussed his farm life, and lost connection with his English relatives. It was only in the mid-1990s that those in U.K. discovered that Leslie was a Dreadnought Boy, but that no-one seemed to know him. In 1995, good news came to them from the Salvation Army - his Australian family had been found. Sadly, Leslie had died of cancer in February 1984, and his wife Eva had died in a car accident in 1991.

With the Australian Butlers being put in touch with their English relatives, a whole new Butler network was established, after a gap of nearly seventy years.




Sunday, 28 March 2021

The Hawkes Bay Lads

 



This note appears in the ‘Remarks’ column for August 1914, in the ‘List of Ships Bringing Boys’ in the Dreadnought Boys Register. It seems to be the only Trust reference to them, and relates to a little-known aspect of the Dreadnought Scheme.

In the years prior to World War 1, the Australian state governments were strongly encouraging immigration. 1911 and 1912 were boom years, but during 1913 recruitment of migrants became more difficult and emphasis was put on bringing young people to Australia. New South Wales and Victoria had entered into a joint arrangement with the Commonwealth Government, in which the Commonwealth did the specific advertising for these States in UK. A lot of groundwork was done to ensure the flow of migrants, especially for agricultural work.

On 11 June 1914, SS Hawkes Bay left England bound for Melbourne, filled with 883 migrants recruited for Victoria. These included 430 lads listed as farm students, who were headed for farm placement on arrival. Of them, 53 had been successfully allocated to dairy farmers in the south and east of Victoria, but for the other 377 there was a problem.

From about April 1914, poor rainfall had given way to drought. This particularly affected the wheat growing areas of South Australia, the Wimmera and Mallee districts of Victoria and the Riverina in the New South Wales. This drought was to last until broken by good rains near the end of 1914. With no prospect of crops, with water shortages and limited income, the farmers in the wheat districts of Victoria were not able to take on additional workers. The 377 lads who were intended for these farmers, had nowhere to go.

The Victorian Government approached New South Wales about the lads and, on 13 July 1914, Premier Holman announced that New South Wales had agreed to accept the 377 boys who were coming on the Hawkes Bay. He noted that the lads would be treated as Dreadnought Boys. The NSW Government would be responsible for them, and they would be sent to Pitt Town Farm (Scheyville) for training. He saw no difficulty in finding employment for them in country areas, when they were ready.

When the Hawkes Bay actually berthed in Sydney there were only 352 lads aboard, because 25 boys were able to stay in Victoria with relatives or friends. The names of the 352  are known, along with the ages of most of them. There is nothing recorded about their subsequent placement.

The SS Hawkes Bay arrived in Sydney on the 4th of August 1914. On the very next day, news of the Declaration of War between Britain and Germany reached Australia. The first Allied shot in the war was fired at midday by Australian artillery at Fort Nepean on Port Philip, in Victoria, when the German ship Pfalz attempted to leave. It is little wonder that records of these boys are so hard to find.

Friday, 12 February 2021

Charles Wells

 Charles Edward (Charlie) Wells was born in Kent in 1899. When just 2 years old, he broke his back as the result of a bad fall. The treatment recommended at the time was for him to be kept in a fixed posture to give his spine time to heal. To do this the family made up a wooden box, so that Charlie could be laid down with his movements quite restricted. After some years, and several boxes later, the spine healed and he was able to walk again. However, his education was severely set back.

 His older brothers worked as fitters and turners at the Chatham Dockyards; when war was declared in August 1914, they were classed as being in Reserved Occupations, and could not enlist. Charlie was too young to enlist, although drummers and buglers as young as 14 years old could join, but that was not for him. The Dreadnought Scheme provided another option for him, and with it, he left London in July 1915 aboard the RMS Osterley, bound for Australia.

 Trust records show that Charles Wells arrived in Sydney on the 10th of September 1915, with three other Dreadnought Boys - Sidney Bingle, Robert Raquet and Stanley Tiffin. Two other boys were meant to travel with them but had missed the sailing. The Trust records show that all four were sent "Direct to Employment". In Charles Wells case, this turned out to be on a large property called Arrawatta, on the Macintyre River, just north of Inverell in northern New South Wales.

 Arrawatta was a large sheep station, and when it was bought by Thomas Bowling in 1903, it had 8500 acres and was running 11,000 sheep. Bowling had a vision for a dairy estate, and by 1908 had begun to make it reality. He divided the property into smaller tenanted farms for dairying, and by 1912, he had built a cheese factory which processed the milk from 450 Dairy Shorthorn cows, and had integrated operations for the distribution of fodder to the farms. With more than 50 people on the estate, it was even necessary to build a school.

 Drought which hit in 1919 and 1920, jeopardised viability, and revealed the extent to which Thomas Bowling had over-capitalised the development of Arrawatta. He arranged for the New South Wales Government to take over the property for 5 years, during which time it would be used for farm training of new migrants. This was to include the training of Dreadnought Boys, and the first of these came in August 1924. Over the next 5 years, 277 Dreadnought Boys were trained at Arrawatta. In May 1925 a new Lang Labour Government was elected to power. It immediately tried too close the farm operation, but yielded to very strong local reaction and desisted until 1929, when the training farm was closed down, the property broken up and sold off at prices well below valuation.

Charles Wells’ placement on Arrawatta in September 1915 would have been with one of the tenant farmers. Charlie would get his farm training the hard way! Charlie did learn and he continued in farm work for some years, particularly in dairying. He had gone from being a kid with a broken back, to a strong fit outdoor working man. He was also trusted with milk deliveries to customers in Inverell.

Charles changed jobs from time to time, and during 1922 was employed by Hawke and Co, produce merchants in Inverell. On 31 October, he and a bootmaker next door had their bicycles stolen from where they were parked outside their shops. Police found the bicycles at Glen Innes - they had been stolen by two men, who were already well known to the courts for their thieving.

 Around this time Charles Wells had come know Laveen Campbell. Marriage was planned for the end of 1924, and with this in mind he took a job on Percy Buttenshaw's dairy farm in May that year; there was a cottage which went with the job. Charles did the milk deliveries for him as well as other farm duties. The working relationship deteriorated, mainly over the actual accommodation arrangements, and Charles gave up a week's pay in lieu of notice, finishing at the end of October - a week and a half before the wedding. Just days before the wedding, an irate Percy Buttenshaw took Charles Wells to the Police Magistrate's Court for breaching the Master and Servant Act in leaving his employment without reasonable cause. The case was dismissed, Charlie had done what was required.

 Charles and his wife initially shared a house with his brother-in- law. Later they had their own place in Evans Street Inverell, where they lived for many years and where their four children grew up. Charles Wells settled down to a generally quiet life, often doing labouring work. He died in 1958 aged 59 years, Laveen survived until 1966.

 Charles Edward Wells was no high-profile individual but, by looking into his life, we have been able to find a lot more information about Arrawatta, and its farm training role.