The ANZAC Boys

Perhaps the most tantalising story Gwenyth told me about her aunt, Doris, was in response to my question about why she had never married. Gwenyth explained that many years after Doris had died, she found out from her father (Doris’ younger brother, Walter) that when Doris was very young, she’d had a sweetheart – a teacher – but that he had died in World War 1. After he died, she never talked about him because she found it too painful to have lost the man she loved, and she decided she never wanted to marry anyone else.

Since Doris graduated from Claremont Teachers College in 1913, and WW1 was over by 1918, this only leaves a window of 5 or 6 years when she would have met her sweetheart. The man might have been another student from her time at the College or a teacher from her first jobs after graduating. Between 1914 and 1916 she was moved between the schools at East Perth, Geraldton, Northampton and Bayswater before being sent to East Vic Park School in February 1917 where she stayed for more than twenty years.

Curious about who the man might have been, I wrote to Shannon Lovelady, a historian who I had seen in the local paper as having done research about West Australians who died at Gallipoli in WW1. She wrote back within days with a list of nine names – all the West Australian teachers who died in Gallipoli WWI, adding there would have been more who died on the Western Front. She liked the idea of John Regan as the potential sweetheart since he was at Claremont Teachers College the same time as Doris.

But while Gwenyth said that Doris’ sweetheart was a teacher, she didn’t specifically know if Doris had met him while at college. It was also possible that the man she was in love with, had moved from the Eastern States, and might not have registered for service here in Perth. If he moved back east before enlisting, there would be no way of finding out who he was.

During this time I was also undertaking a writing course with Natasha Lester at UWA Claremont, which is actually the old Teachers’ Training College where Doris studied a century earlier. Not only did I find photographs of the 1912-13 teaching students lining the walls of the main corridor, but I found a memorial in front of the building dedicated to all the students and teachers who died during WW1. There were 35 names on the memorial, each potentially a candidate to be Doris’s sweetheart. Inside the building, there was a board with the names of 116 men, all teachers who enlisted for service in WW1, and presumably made it home again.

To my understanding there is no living person who knows the name of the man – Doris did not talk about him with her family: if her brother knew the man’s name, he did not pass it onto Gwenyth, and anyone else who may know the story of the dead soldier would have passed away long ago.

I decided to research a couple of the more likely suitors – chosen because they were at College at the same time as Doris and were therefore a similar age. Plaques inside the College, erected by classmates included

Walter Blair (class of 1913)

Sydney Forbes (class of 1913)

George Hall (1913-1914, so presumably class of 1914)

John Regan (class of 1914)

Malcolm Stewart (class of 1913)

Ronald Wallace (class of 1912)

Frank Matthews (class of 1908).

However, this put our ‘favourite’, John Regan in a different class to Doris, as she  graduated in 1913, while he is recorded as having graduated with the class of 1914. Their dates of enrolment and attendance match, but for some reason he did not matriculate until the following year. After requesting his student records from the University, I discovered that for some reason John failed to turn up to his final two exams in 1913. However he must have sat them at a later stage because he graduated the next year, putting him in the Class of 1914. So although he and Doris would have been in the same classes for two years, he did not officially graduate until the year after she did.

While researching on Trove I came across an article in the Western Mail article, dated Friday 28t April 1916 which detailed the commemoration service of three students who died in WW1. The three students were Frank Matthews (who was several years older than Doris) John Regan and Walter Blair, both of whom started their teaching course at the College in 1912 – the same year as Doris. I could imagine Doris returning to the College for the special service, and standing there listening to the Minister of Education talk about the man she loved. With two possible candidates, I started researching both John and Walter further, and the seeds of my novel was born. Although it has now been removed from my current draft, this scene of Doris standing at the back of the room while the commemoration service took place at the College, was the first I ever wrote.

Regan_John_2John Regan

John Regan was one of nine children born to John and Margaret Regan. The two eldest, both daughters, were born in Ireland and the young couple then immigrated to Western Australia in the mid-1880s. Their first son Patrick, was born in Jarrahdale in 1888. Margaret then had another six children, all boys except for one girl Arlene, a twin born in 1899. There was 22 years between the eldest child, Margaret born in 1880 and the youngest, Charles, born in 1902, with John being the 6th child born in 1895. This also makes him two years younger than Doris, who was born in 1893.

Photos of John show him to have a slight build, a delicate face with dark eyes, dark hair and a rather sensuous mouth.

According to an article on Trove, John Sr was granted an ‘Eating and Boarding House’ licence on December 14th, 1900. At this time he had eight children, although the eldest daughters may have married and moved out by then. It is possible he and his wife took in boarders to help pay the bills from feeding and caring for such a large family.

Four Regan brothers enlisted in World War 1 – Patrick, Michael, John and James. John was the first to sign up, on 21st October 1914, shortly after graduating college. Interestingly, John’s papers say he was 20 years and 9 months when he enlisted, but he was actually born in 1895 so he pretended to be a year older than he really was. According to Shannon Lovelady, this was quite common: the enlistment age was 21, and if you were younger than this you either needed signed parental consent, or to lie about your age.

John would have been 19 when he enlisted. By lying and adding a year to his age, he made his age close enough to 21 to make ‘the enlistment officer look the other way’, especially since due to training (2 months) and the long time it took to reach Europe by ship (one month), he would be 21 by the time he was on the battlefield. He made the rank of Trooper.

John was killed within a year, on 7th August 1915 in Egypt. He had a horrible death, with a gunshot wound to his right arm, and both legs amputated at the No: 15 General Hospital in Alexandria. He died from his extreme wounds the following day. John would have been twenty years old.

His brothers all enlisted after John was killed in 1915. Michael, the second eldest son was killed, but both Patrick and James both returned home. Charles was too young to serve (born 1902), and I cannot tell why Daniel (born 1892) did not enlist.

When you look at the Regan brothers’ enlistment papers, it becomes clear that John, although not the youngest, was the smallest of the brothers. His brothers were either taller or heavier or broader than he was. Patrick, the eldest was married and living in Bunbury where he worked as a fireman on a locomotive, and he was drafted to the Railway Unit and reinforcements special draft.

The brothers were no angels. Michael (aged 26) was written up and fined for drunkenness while on service, while James had a venereal disease card amongst his war service record. I wonder if perhaps John was considered the runt of the family. While his brawny brothers laboured and worked as firemen and timberworkers in the Jarrahdale, John was the ‘brains’ of the family, winning a five year scholarship to No. 6 Jarrahdale school, and enrolling at a very young age at Claremont Training College. The WA Record writes in his obituary that he had ‘a brilliant course’ at Claremont, suggesting he was very bright.

John Regan embarked for the front on February 17th, 1915. He was part of the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment, ‘C’ Squadron, and sailed on the ship Surada from Fremantle. Of the approximately 165 men in board, only 10 were younger than John, recorded as being 18 or 19 years of age, and all but one of these boys returned home. John was one of the unlucky ones, being killed after having been in Europe for only a few months. In the article in the Western Mail about the commemoration of the plaques at the Training College, it said “Trooper Regan, a young man of great promise, whose ambition it was to serve his country in some public capacity”, making me wonder if he had hoped to run for public office or the government had he have lived.

walter BlairWalter Blair

Born in NSW (Murwillumbah) in March 1893, Walter Bell Blair was the son of Thomas and Jessie Blair. When he enlisted at the age of 20 years, he was working at Maylands School, while his family now lived in Maddington. He completed his two year teaching course at the same time as Doris, and was well known as a footballer (soccer), being part of the Claremont ‘Training College’ football team. A number of obituaries lamented the loss to ‘Association Football’ after he died. An enlarged photograph of Walter was also unveiled at the Maylands State School as part of an ANZAC Day ceremony in 1916, with the MLA Mr R. T. Robinson conducting the ceremony.

Walter achieved the rank of Lance Corporal and was serving in the 11th Australian Infantry Battalion, when he was killed in action in the landing at Gallipoli. He is in the famous Cheops Pyramid photograph, seated towards the top left hand corner, one of the few men with his hat off, instead holding it in both hands between his legs. Photos of Walter show him to be very serious, almost sad. In images of Walter surrounded by school mates, when others may be smiling, he is always serious.

Walter had at least two brothers, Thomas the eldest, who was listed on the electoral rolls in 1925 as a ‘traveller’ and John Esperance Blair, named because he was born in Esperance, was three years younger than Walter. John Blair also enlisted in WW1, and joined the 27th Battalion in mid-1916 (one year after Walter had been killed). John was wounded in action at the very end of the war with gunshot wounds to both thighs, but he was invalided to England and returned to Australia at the end of 1918.

 

cheops.jpg

Image used with thanks from 11th Battalion Cheops Project http://11btn.wags.org.au/ 

 

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I will never know if either John or Walter was indeed Doris’ sweetheart. But there was something about their stories that made me want to pursue them, and now I feel they are like family to me. Unlike Doris, of whom I have never seen a photograph so I have no idea what she looks like, I have a number of images of both John and Walter. It is their faces who look out at me from a silver frame on my desk. When I write, it is them I am thinking of, and elements of their personal appearance and life have inspired characters in my novel.

But the truth is, there were thousands of men like John and Walter, young men who signed up for this great adventure across the sea, and who now lie buried across Europe. These men – boys really – never had a chance to really start their lives, let alone finish them. And there are just as many women like Doris, whose life took a sad and unexpected turn, when their sweetheart never returned home. My novel may be inspired by Doris’ life, but it really will be the story of many women, and it is my way of remembering them and the thousands of other young Australian men and women whose lives were cut short or irrevocably changed by the Great War.

ANZAC Day, April 25th 2018

Cheops image has been sourced from the 11th Battalion Cheops  Project.

 

A Stroke of Bad Luck

This is a section that I have already removed from my novel as I am now limiting the story to the period 1912-1915. However, if you read the previous blog post about Doris, you will recognise this story as from the day of her stroke.

 

1968

Fred stretched in the early morning air, surveying the street as he searched for the paper. Finding it wedged in his wife’s prize rose bush, he shook his head in despair. These paper boys were getting worse and worse, he thought. No care.

Tucking it under his arm, he ambled up the street. It was both a habit and obligation, checking to see that the old lady next door had collected her paper, a sign that all was well. Finding no sign of the paper, he glanced towards the house and gave a brief wave, even though he had no idea if anyone was watching. There was no movement in the windows, but there rarely was. Duty done, Fred unfolded his own paper as he walked the few steps back to his house, already immersed in the day’s headlines.

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Fred wrapped his scarf tighter around his throat and stepped out into the brisk afternoon air. The wind immediately made his eyes water, and he considered staying inside, the fire was particularly well built today, and the smell of dinner was very enticing. But something drew him out into the cold afternoon that day, and it wasn’t simply his wife needing more butter for dinner, nor her insistence that he was getting loose around the middle and a brisk walk would do him good. Something else brought him outside that day.

Hands deep in his pockets, and eyes half closed to the wind Fred set off down the street. He had only gone a few steps when he kicked something unexpectedly. A newspaper rolled out from under the hedge and stopped against his shoe. Fred felt his insides dissolve as he looked towards the old lady’s house. It was still and dark, no lights burning in the front rooms, despite the heavy clouds that day. Fred bent to pick up the paper and reluctantly stepped towards the house.

Although no larger than any of the other houses in the area, its situation on the high corner block meant you had to look up at it slightly. He crossed the grass slowly and stepped up to the verandah, its white squat columns offering scant protection from the wintery elements.

Glancing longingly next door to where his house glowed with life, and the smells of dinner came wafting through the air, Fred knocked on the front door. Straining to hear a noise, he knocked again. Louder, more desperately.

He longed to be in his home, in his favourite chair with May and the children chattering and laughing. The silence at number 14 was heavy. Even the wind had stopped blowing and Fred felt very alone.

‘Miss Turpin,’ he shouted, a wobble in his voice betraying him. ‘Miss Turpin, are you in there? I have your paper.’ There was no movement from inside the house, no tell-tale squeak from the floorboards, no doors banging. Yet Fred could feel a presence and he knew she was inside. He stepped back from the door and balanced on the stairs, hand cupping his face as he peered into the front window, trying to see inside the dark room. The long white nightgown made the shape of her body lying next to the bed appear like a ghost and Fred suddenly yelled, but the words were caught in his throat.

Dropping the paper into the garden, he banged on the window, trying to call to the old lady, to his wife, to anyone who might be able to help but the wind had picked up again, and his words were tossed around helplessly, like a paper boat in a storm.

 

How I came to start my novel, Part III: Doris Turpin, the teacher

This is the story of the second owner of the ‘House of Women’, and the woman whose story my novel is loosely based upon.

Doris was born Doris Isabel Turpin in 1893 to Isabelle ‘Bella’ Stokes and Walter Turpin.  She first appeared in the 1916 electoral roll, when she was living with her parents at 63 Guildford Road, Mt Lawley. Walter was an accountant, while Bella was listed as doing ‘home duties.’

Doris lived in her family home until she was in her late 30s, with the 1931 Electoral Roll, showing that Doris had finally moved was now living at 102 Zebina Street in East Perth. By this stage, Doris had been a teacher for more than fifteen years. Her middle name had also changed from Isabel to Isabella – whether this was something she deliberately did following the death of her mother, or simply a typo, I have not been able to determine.

A year later in 1932, Doris purchased the land in Daglish. She was 39 years old, and both her parents had passed away, first her father and then her mother. It is likely that on the death of her mother, Doris inherited a small amount of money which enabled her to purchase the land.

Although Doris purchased the block of land in 1932, it was many years before she built a house in Daglish, allowing the block to sit empty for almost a decade. During this time Doris worked as a teacher, and moved between properties on Hay Street in West Perth.

According to the title, Doris did not organise a mortgage until January 1939 indicating that she paid for the land outright and the mortgage was to finance the building of the house. The mortgage was with the Perth Benefit Building Investment and Loan Society and was for £126, which was more than the cost of the two blocks of land a decade previously. Doris worked hard and was able to pay off the loan by 1950.

It wasn’t until the 1943 Electoral Roll that Doris Turpin was finally listed as living at the house on Lutey Ave in Daglish, although I believe she moved in around 1941/42. At this stage, she would have been fifty years old and working as a teacher at Beaconsfield School. It would be another six years until she was transferred to Subiaco School, which was less than a ten minute walk across the train-line. In all her lifetime, Doris never learned to drive a car, and it must have been a great relief as she got older, that she no longer had to catch buses and trains to get to work every day.

I should admit here, that when I originally started researching Doris, I made a very unfair assumption about her. After she died, the house in Daglish sat empty for almost a full year and I supposed that since she was a spinster, and because the house remained unsold for so long that she had died without a will, with no family and no beneficiaries. Why else would a house sit unsold and empty for so long?

At this stage of my research, I made a second, even more mortifying mistake.

On the 1931 electoral roll, I saw a Walter Turpin living in Pingelly and knowing that Walter was no longer listed as living at the family home in My Lawley [I hadn’t realised he had died], I made the assumption that Doris’s father had left his wife and daughter and remarried. I remember calling my mother, saddened at the break-up of those who I had begun to regard as family. Of course, further research showed that the Walter living in Pingelly was not Doris’ father, but a younger brother I had not previously realised existed (he was born in 1900). He had been living in Melbourne at the time of Walter Sr’s death in 1920, which is why he was not previously on the Electoral Roll. After coming back to Perth following his father’s death, Walter Jr moved out to the country, approximately 160 kilometres from Perth, where the Electoral Roll shows him living with a group of other Turpins, whom I assumed to be a grandfather and uncles. A later conversation with Walter’s daughter, Gwenyth, confirmed that he moved in with his uncle (Walter Sr’s brother) and eventually fell in love with – and married – his first cousin Lucy May.

Back in Perth, Doris was now a middle-aged spinster, a teacher and building her first house. Although the majority of houses in Daglish were built in the years immediately following the suburb’s development (late 1920s/early 1930s), Doris’s house was one of the last in the area to be built, finally being finished around 1941. The block next door, sold to Edwina Henson in the 1920s, sat empty for even longer, with the house finally being finished in the early 1950s.

Because it was at least a decade newer than other houses in the street, Doris’ house did not have some of the traditional ‘interwar’ features, such as gables, or lead-lighting in the windows. It was also quite large for a single woman: featuring a large master bedroom with attached sleep-out, a large lounge-room with fireplace, a second bedroom, internal bathroom, kitchen and a separate dining room. Access to the laundry and toilet was through the kitchen. Very high ceilings, wooden floors and decorated ceiling roses in each room were features common to the era.

It was when Doris finally appeared on the 1943 Electoral Roll as living in her new house in Daglish, that I made the surprising discovery that she was not alone. With World War II in full swing and many young men of Perth away fighting in Europe, it was common for older men living in country areas to be ‘manpowered’ and compelled to return to Perth to assist with occupations that were being unfulfilled due to the shortage of men. This is why Walter Jr, his wife Lucy (who was also Doris’s first cousin) and their three children moved from Pingelly back to Perth. Due to a shortage of housing at the time (with many young men away at war there were less labourers to build), Doris invited her brother and his family to live with her in her brand new house.

Gwenyth, the eldest of Walter’s children was almost 12 at the time she moved from Pingelly to Daglish. She remembered her aunt as being a very nice and patient women. Aunt Dorrie never got upset even though she was a teacher and had been around kids all day, and then returned home to a house full of children. The house had two bedrooms, with Doris living in the main front bedroom, and Walter and Lucy in the second bedroom with their baby. Gwenyth slept in the small sleep-out adjacent to her Aunty and her bother slept on a couch in the dining room. The family stayed with Doris for a number of years (around five or six), enough time for Lucy to have another baby and Gwenyth was old enough to get her first job. By the time the war was over and people were building again, Walter was able buy his own house on Heytesbury Rd in Subiaco. At the age of 56, Doris finally had her house to herself.

She lived alone for almost two more decades. One evening in 1968, Doris attended Lucy’s birthday party in Subiaco. As she did not drive and only travelled by bus, I can only assume that Walter or Lucy (or one of the grown up children) had dropped the elderly Doris home after the party.

The couple next door, May and Fred Mason, who were at least twenty years her junior and who had built their house in 1951, kept an eye on their elderly neighbour, checking each day that Doris had collected her newspaper and was ok. The morning after the party Doris’ neighbour checked for the newspaper as usual, but it had rolled under a bush and he assumed that she had collected it. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that he saw the paper under the bush and he realised that something must have happened to Doris. Fred looked through the front bedroom window and could see Doris lying by the side of her bed. She’d had a stroke. He called an ambulance and Doris was transferred to a hospice. Doris never returned to her home in Daglish and she died soon after, at the age of 75.

It was a conversation I had with Gwenyth, Doris’s niece who would have been in her early 80s at the time of our conversation, that finally sparked the inspiration for my novel and will form the subject of my next blog.

Doris Isabella Turpin 1893-1968

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my desk 2017