Four opticians that became ANZACs in WW1 – one survived

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An outdoor portrait of the 9th Training Battalion at Perham Downs, Wiltshire. Victorian optician Gordon Heathcote from Kew is seated on the far left, sporting his new Corporal stripes he earned in England.

Cpl Gordon Roy Heathcote, 24th Company Australian Machine Gun Corps.

Cpl Gordon Roy Heathcote was an optician of Kew in Victoria. Single, twenty-three years old and living with his parents comfortably in Melbourne’s inner eastern suburbs, he enlisted in August and set sail from Melbourne on 20 October 1916. Seated on the left above, the machine gun is not just a prop for the photo – this optician had landed as a non-commissioned officer in an Australian Army Machine Gun Corps. Single, living with his parents comfortably in Melbourne’s suburbs. he enlisted in August and left Melbourne on 20 October 1916. In was promoted to Corporal while in England and completed his physical and bayonet training courses there before landing in France in September 1917. He was killed in action just short of a year after leaving his in Melbourne, dying on 16 October 1917 in Belgium. The soldier standing behind Gordon with his arm reached onto his shoulder is, Frederick Benedict (Ted) Alsop, who died the next day on the 17 October 1917.

Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P08299.007

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2nd Lt George Stanley McIlroy, 24th Battalion, of South Melbourne.

2nd Lt George Stanley McIlroy,
24th Battalion, of South Melbourne.

An optician prior to enlistment, he was awarded the Military Cross, “for conspicuous ability and gallantry as a Company Commander throughout the operations in France from 26 March 1916. He looks well after his men and has set them a fine example of soldierly endurance under heavy shell fire at Pozieres. His Company has done excellent work throughout, and this is due in great part to the powers of leadership developed by Captain McIlroy”. Due to illness, he returned to Australia on 17 March 1917.

Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P05891.001

 

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Lt Arthur Douglas Hogan, 21st Battalion from Lewisham, NSW.

Lt Arthur Douglas Hogan
21st Battalion from Lewisham, NSW.

Arthur was a 29 year old jeweller/optician prior to his enlistment in 1915. After arriving in Egypt, he was repatriated back to Australia suffering from typhoid. Following his recovery, he then wounded but returned to the front and was killed in action at Passchendaele in 1917. Lt Hogan is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium with others who have no known grave.

Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H0575

 

Captain John Needham, 2nd Pioneer Battalion, VIC, Australian Imperial Forces.

This is a story of a First World War (WWI) optician: mentioned in Despatches by General Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies in France for “distinguished and gallant services, and devotion to duty” in the 2nd Pioneer Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces (AIF).

Born in 1882, John V Needham enlisted at age 19 in the Victorian (Mounted Rifles) Contingent he served in South Africa and returned in 1902. As a young Boer War Veteran, Needham then joined the Victorian Scottish Regiment and later married, having a son and training to become an optician. He was a practising optometrist/refractionist at Richmond, an inner suburb of Melbourne, before he enlisted as an “optician” in the AIF in late 1914.

Photo courtesy of AWM P00998.031

Seated in the front row, first left, is Captain John Valentine Needham, a Boer War Veteran, father and optometrists, who left his business in 1914 to answer the call of the AIF. One of the few “opticians” that appear in the #WW1 ANZAC records, his became a front leaders, suffered shell shock, was wounded and returned home a five years later. This is his story. Photo courtesy of AWM p00988.031

The term optician in 1914 may have equated to what we would think of as a modern-day “optometrist” including a store front and dispensary. Doing eye testing, cutting and fitting of lenses and offering a section of frames including custom-made styles, all was probably completed and dispensed to the customer at the Richmond building.

The professional organisation of Australian optometrists was is its infancy at the time and a search of the Australian War Memorial & National Archive of Australia records for opticians, optometrist or optometry reveal very few WWI enlistment records, except Captain Needham, enlisting with such an occupation.

Later wounded and of failing health, the Optician was now a front line officer in France, and worried about his business affairs at home: “He sleeps badly and worries that his business in going to ruin in Melbourne… He has insomnia and tremors of the hands…stress and strain from active service conditions.”

WW1medals&cardsHe saw service in Gallipoli and France and was promoted to captain in 1916. Wounded and ill, he was recommended for the Military Cross for his gallantry at Pozieres, but Mentioned in Despatches, his health deteriorated. A report recommended he be returned to Australia in 1916 as unsuitable for active duty, but other medical evaluations determined he was fit for duty. Sadly, it took another three years before he arrived home in Melbourne in 1919.

A broken man, he never recovered and was hospitalised because of the trauma of war. He died in Melbourne in the early 1920s. His death was considered to have been directly caused by his service.

Seated in the front row, first on the left, is Captain John Needham, the “Optician” from Melbourne, in an outdoor portrait of officers of the 2nd Pioneer Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces, c. 1916. His WWI awards & recommendations included:

In addition, Captain Needham received the Queen’s South Africa Medal for the Boer War, all of which are now held in the national collection of the Australian War Memorial.

JVNeedhamWW1fSoldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice received the honour of a Memorial Scroll from the King and saucer-sized bronze plaque recognising their service to the Empire. The later was often called a death penny. His widow had wrote on many occasions to receive his entitlements, for his young son, and eventually she received a Memorial Scroll from the King but added to one letter:

“P.S.  I would also like one of the Memorial Plaques – as next of kin – if this is not asking too much. A. G. N.”

Information sourced from Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia internet sites 25 April 2014. (C) Andrew McIntosh CPA

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Australian Indigenous Response to World War One

Book Review: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous Response to World War One (Second Edition 2012)
Author: Philippa Scarlett


Private Harry Avery with an unidentified Aboriginal soldier (previously thought to be Douglas Grant) and an unknown British soldier, c 1918, courtesy of Rebecca Lamb.

I first came across Philippa Scarlett’s name as part of my research into World War One Australian Aboriginal soldier Douglas Grant. Philippa was a guest on an ABC Radio program with two other researchers, Garth O’Connell and David Huggonson. Garth and David had led the way some years earlier by documenting the neglected area of Australia’s Indigenous war service record.

The radio program had the well known portrait of a WWI Aboriginal soldier, standing next to Private Harry Avery and an unknown British soldier, as a prominent image on it’s website for the interview. This photo, said to be of Aboriginal WWI soldier Douglas Grant, is a key element of my own research – as I do not believe it is Douglas Grant, but another unidentified Indigenous serviceman. About a year later, David Huggonson put me into contact with Philippa, who he said had just completed the most recent published book on the subject, had reviewed many photographs and was applying a solid analytical approach to her research.

After several discussions and emails, Philippa agreed to take a more detailed look at the photo in question and became the first independent researcher in the area to agree with my hypothesis: the Aboriginal soldier standing next to Private Harry Avery in the WWI portrait is not Douglas Grant, 13th Battalion, Atherton Queensland. Unfortunately, this particular tale is yet to be resolved, the Aboriginal companion of Private Avery is still yet to be identified.

While Philippa documents this question about the mis-identification of Douglas Grant (page 50 and page 155), this instance is only one in a multitude of issues, only one face and one name amoung hundreds of WWI Indigenous Diggers who served this nation. The Douglas Grant example is symbolic of the complexities involved in historical research in this area and demonstrates the importance of referenced rolls like that in “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF”.

Just ahead of the Centenary of ANZAC and WWI, Philippa’s work ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers of the AIF’ provides a wonderful resource for future generations of Australians.

Adding newly discovered soliders to the honour roll, and refining the works of earlier historians, the book represents the most current and comprehensive referenced list of over 800 men of Indigenous heritage who volunteered for service in WWI.

The accompanying notes include comments on locating Indigenous men in service records, reasons for volunteering and the growth of interest in Indigenous service since the 1930s. The discussion of Indigenous involvement in World War One uses the words of Aboriginal soldiers and community members, contemporary non-Indigenous commentators and newspaper reports. There are 84 illustrations, 79 of which are individual and group portraits of Indigenous servicemen.

HOW TO OBTAIN COPIES

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers for the AIF: the Indigenous response to World War One is published by Indigenous Histories, price $30 plus $10 postage, $20 international postage (Australian Dollars).

For more information contact:

Indigenous Histories
PO 686 Jamison Centre Macquarie
ACT Australia 2614

Email: indigenous.histories@netspeed.com.au; Twitter: @ww1scarett
National Library of Australia Trove: http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/37036090

Other works by Philippa include How Soon They Forget