Monday, February 16, 2015

Remembering them: People of St George & the First World War

Ahoy! Experiences on the way to war

Soon after the First World War broke out, recruitment for volunteers began across Australia, including here in Hurstville and surrounding areas. Many families farewelled more than one relative, as the several identical surnames on the honours rolls reveal. Not only men volunteered, but women also signed up for war service abroad as nurses. The service men and women were sent off with official proceedings, including farewell speeches, musical entertainment and outdoor games.
The enlistees awaited a several week journey by ship to reach their destinations at the training camps and war front. For many of them, it was their first time overseas.
Today, we can retrace the soldiers’ journeys with information from personal letters, diary entries, photographs and other archival documents and find out about their experiences abroad.

Hurstville boys on the SS Euripides

The SS Euripides was the largest Australian troop ship and could accommodate 136 officers, over 2,000 other ranks and 20 horses. Among the signatures on this photograph we can find those of George Henry Baker and William David Low. George was a young accountant who initially arrived in Egypt with other Hurstville district soldiers of the 13th Infantry Battalion, in April 1915. George was relocated to England on board the SS Euripides in May 1916, where he was attached to the Australian Army Pay Corps. William, a clerk from Forest Road, had enlisted in January 1915, being assigned as a member of the 4th Reinforcements, 13th Battalion, departing from Sydney in March 1915. 

Photo of SS Euripides including soldiers' signatures.
Courtesy of Hurstville City Library Museum & Gallery collection.

Conditions aboard

"The voyage was pretty rough the first night. Sleeping in the hammocks on deck was like sleeping on a clothes line … It is getting hotter every day in the Indian Ocean. We can see nothing but water.”
George Dunstan of Dora Street, Hurstville, St George Call, 25 December 1915, p.5.
Read the full newspaper article here.

Stowaway on a troopship

Maud Butler was a 16 year old girl from the Hunter Valley who desperately wanted to serve at the front. She cut her hair short, dressed in soldier’s clothing and stowed away on board of the SS Suevic in December 1915. Also aboard the Suevic was Alfred Bray, an 18 year old clerk from Hurstville, on his way to Egypt. He witnessed Maud being discovered by authorities on Christmas Eve, mainly because she wasn't wearing the right soldier’s boots. Alfred writes in his diary: 

“We had an Australian girl on board in uniform and her name was Maud Butler. She was thought a real heroine by all on board and a good collection was realised for her.”

Australian War Memorial: P02848.002
In this picture, Maud is surrounded by the ship’s crew and other soldiers after her true identity was revealed. Alfred Bray may be one of those watching on. Read his diary here.

Equator crossing ceremony

Accordingly to an ancient sailor’s tradition, 'Neptune’s journey' took place on each troopship for service personnel crossing the equator line for the first time. A soldier’s personal account on this ceremony can be found here.

Group portrait of unidentified seamen in fancy dress costume 
as Father Neptune and his entourage on board the destroyer HMAS Yarra, 
c.July 1917. Australian War Memorial: EN0379.

Sport carnivals aboard

Sports carnivals with boxing matches and games such as pillow fights and wheelbarrow races aboard the troop ships were popular activities for enjoyment and to ease the boredom of several weeks journey by sea.
This image is believed to have been taken in late 1916 aboard the troopship Port Nicholson, en route to England. Local Mortdale recruit, Hedley Mallard is said to be featured ‘keeping fit’ at the centre of the photograph. Hedley and two of his brothers, Basil Guy and Walter Lancelot, each served on the Western Front, the latter also surviving Gallipoli.

Boxing match aboard the Port Nicholson, 1916.
Courtesy of Hurstville City Library Museum & Gallery collection. 

Interested in more?
Come and visit our exhibition Remembering them: People of St George &the First World War on show until 31 May 2015.

Follow our Commemorating WW1 and Anzac Day Pinterest board.

Read our other exhibition post "From the LMG collection: First World War memorabilia".

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