Monday, 25 August 2014

Vincent Samers - enlistment rejected in 1914

Some men who tried to enlist in August 1914 were unsuccessful.

Vince Samers from Avoca, who was reported as applying for the Australian Expeditionary Force by both the Avoca Free Press and the Avoca Mail, appears to have been rejected because he was too short and his chest measurement was below the specified minimum.

The Avoca Mail 18 August 1914
While others who applied proceeded to camp at Broadmeadows, Vince Samers was referred for a further medical examination in Melbourne, which, it seems, he did not pass.

Series MT1486/1 in the National Archives of Australia contains applications to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. As well as successful applications it has records for men rejected for service. However, the series dates from 1915, and it appears early applications are not included in the series. The name Samers does not come up in the Archives' record search for that series.

However, on 7 September 1915, Samers' application to enlist was successful.

On his attestation form Samers indicated that he had previously been rejected because of his chest measurement.

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920; SAMERS Vincent Robert : Service Number - 2209 : Place of Birth - Shepparton VIC : Place of Enlistment - Melbourne VIC : Next of Kin - (Father) SAMERS William, page 1.

In 1915 his medical examination found he was 5' 5 1/2" with a chest measurement of 31 to 32 1/2 inches.

NAA; B2455, SAMERS Vincent Robert, page 3.
Of the men from the Avoca district who successfully enlisted in August 1914, their height and chest measurements from their medical examinations are below:

Gus Ebeling (Lieut.) 5' 11" chest 36 1/2" (from Boer War service record)
Matthew Rafferty (706) 5' 9" chest 37 1/2 to 40 "
Reg Johnson (679) 5' 6" chest 33 to 36 "
W French (670) 5' 6" chest 35 to 37 1/2 "
D Summers (635) 5' 6 1/2" chest 33 to 35 1/2 "

In August 1914 the standard for acceptance was a minimum height of 5 feet 6 inches with a minimum chest measurement of 34 inches.The standard was lowered in June 1915 to a minimum height of 5 feet 2 inches. From an advertisement in the Argus it seems the chest measurement standard was also reduced to 33 inches. During the first year of the war about one third of all volunteers were rejected. ("Enlistment Standards." Encyclopaedia. Australian War Memorial. <>.)

Display Advertising. (1915, June 30). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 8. Retrieved August 25, 2014, from
It seems that being too short by half an inch and a sub-standard chest measurement caused Vincent Samers to be rejected for service in August 1914.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

First volunteers in Broadmeadows camp

The second batch of volunteers for the Expeditionary Force for Europe from the Maryborough district left by the 10.25 a.m. train yesterday for Broadmeadows. They numbered slightly over 20, this tally bringing the district's total up to 45, which must be regarded as a fine contribution. Capt. Raitt saw this second detachment to their train, and they went off amid the hearty cheers of a large crowd that had assembled, and the playing of the West State school boys' bugle band. As was the case last week, the school boys paraded to the station along the principal streets, and all marched very creditably. From letters received by friends of the men in camp, it appears that they are doing well, though leading a strenuous life. Writing to a friend at Avoca, Lieut. Gus Ebeling says:-
" We got down to town all right, and are quite settled in camp. They are a splendid lot of men; the Avoca and Maryborough men who travelled together were the best behaved lot of young soldiers that I have had anything to do with, and I feel sure they will do credit to their respective districts. They are all well and happy, although they have had a very rough time."
(MARYBOROUGH'S PART. (1914, August 26). Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from

Broadmeadows was a military camp established on 19 August 1914 at Broadmeadows, sixteen kilometres north of Melbourne city. Land for the camp was lent to the government by Mr R. G. Wilson. The government later bought it.

From the Embarkation rolls of October 1914, it appears that most of the men who enlisted from Avoca served together. There was a deliberate policy of keeping locals together. Gus Ebeling, Matthew Rafferty, Arthur Summerfield, William French, Dave Summers and Rege Johnson were all in the 8th Infantry Battalion, F Company. Ebeling was Lieutenant, the officer-in-charge of this company. Alfred Golder was assigned to 8th Infantry Battalion Headquarters.

Charles Willmott was assigned to the 7th Battalion and Ike Webster to the 6th.

The 8th Battalion was recruited from rural Victoria within the first two weeks of war being declared. The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions were recruited from Victoria and formed the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Australian Imperial Force.

Group portrait of members of F Company, 8th Battalion. Although it is not possible to give names to faces, the Embarkation Roll for the 8th lists all the members of the company at time of departure from Melbourne. It is very likely that the three officers are: Lieutenant Gus Eberling , aged 43, a farmer and grazier from Avoca, Victoria, and a veteran of the Boer War (centre) and Lieutenant William Thomas Yates, aged 29, Dairyman of Newminster Park, Camperdown, Victoria, and 2nd Lieutenant Maurice Leslie McLeod, aged 20, a tailor of 405 Gregory Street, Ballarat, Victoria, on either side of him. McLeod was later killed in action at the landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.The F company embarkation roll lists the two buglers in the front row, far left as 635 Bugler David Summers from Moonambel, VIC and 636 Bugler Phillip Joseph Palmer from Mildura, VIC however it is not known which man is which. Summers was killed in action at Fleurbaix (Pozieres), France on 19 July 1916 and Palmer returned to Australia on 4 August 1915. AWM ID number DAX2563; Photographer Darge Photographic Company; Place made Australia: Victoria, Melbourne, Broadmeadows; Date made c 1914. Retrieved from

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

William Henry French (1885-1972)

William Henry French (1885-1972) was one of the first men from Avoca to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1914. He was a miner, 29 years 10 months old, and unmarried.  Born in Avoca, French had never served in the military.

He was assigned to the 8th battalion and given the number 670.

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920; French William Henry : SERN 670 : POB Avoca VIC : POE Surrey Hills VIC : NOK French James Henry. Page 1

William French was five foot six inches tall and weighed ten stone six pounds. He had blue eyes and his hair and complexion were described as "between".  He had a scar on the back of his head.

On 19 October 1914 he embarked for Egypt on HMAT Benalla at Melbourne. He had the rank of Lance Corporal.

Men of the 2nd Australian Infantry Brigade walking down the Port Melbourne pier to embark on HMAT Benalla (A24) (right), and HMAT Hororata (A20) (left), for service overseas. 19 October 1914. Australian War Memorial ID number C02793 retrieved from

On 10 November 1914, less than a month later, he was discharged as medically unfit. On 28 November 1914 he was admitted to the 2nd Australian General Hospital at Mena House Cairo with the cause listed as "accident knee".

The front entrance to the Mena House Hotel at Mena, ten miles from Cairo, which was taken over for use as 2 Australian General Hospital (2 AGH) photographed early in 1915. Retrieved from
The accident to his knee happened while he was on board the Benalla; a board of inquiry found he was "skylarking" on deck.

Two soldiers wrestling on board a ship. (World War 1) Australian War Memorial ID number  PS0089 retrieved from
The cause of hospitalisation is later described as "synovitis of knee". French was discharged from hospital on 1 February 1915, and spent three days with the Number 1 Australian Field Ambulance Hospital at the Pyramids at Mena.

NAA, B2455, French WH, page 25

French returned to Australia on the Kyarra from 5 February 1915. He disembarked at Melbourne on 11 March and was discharged as permanently unfit on 1 April 1915.

In 1923 ex-Cpl French was issued with the Victory medal and the British War medal.

On 10 July 1915 the Avoca Free Press reported that  French was present at a recruiting meeting at Avoca. Although he had been severely injured "at camp in Egypt", he stated he wished to return to his comrades at the front.

The name William Henry French is listed on the Avoca Soldiers' Memorial.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Avoca wheat

Gus Ebeling, who had served as a Lieutenant in the Boer War, was a farmer and had successfully hybridised the "Avoca" variety of wheat. When war was declared, Ebeling volunteered at Maryborough. He was 43 years of age and married.

On 21 August 1914 the Horsham Times reported on the success of "Avoca" wheat.

AVOCA WHEAT. (1914, August 21). The Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 - 1954), p. 3. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from
The Maffra Spectator had reported the previous December on the hybridisation by Gus Ebeling.

A FINE WHEAT CROP. (1913, December 18). The Maffra Spectator (Vic. : 1882 - 1920), p. 3. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from
In January 1914 there were favourable reports of the yield of this new hybrid.
DISTRICT NEWS. (1914, January 14). Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from
A crop of Avoca wheat on Messrs. Zis Bros.' farm at Eriken. (1919, December 18). Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954), p. 25. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from This was a demonstration of a new reaper thresher machine: HARVESTING UP-TO-DATE. (1919, December 18). Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954), p. 6. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from

"Avoca" wheat was still being mentioned in 1922. (Wanderings in the Wheat Belt. (1922, November 19). Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 - 1954), p. 11 Section: First Section. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from

Monday, 18 August 2014

First enlistments

The town of Avoca in central Victoria, Australia was founded on gold. When the gold ran out  its economy relied on agriculture.  Many of the miners who rushed the area in the 1850s and early 1860s settled and took up land.  The big pastoral runs from before the rushes were broken up for closer settlement. When World War I began, the residents of Avoca were second or third generation Australians who nevertheless firmly saw themselves as British [because they were British!].

A souvenir jug showing the Avoca Soldiers Memorial given to me by my mother-in-law, given to her by her mother-in-law
In 2001 I wrote a thesis for the University of New England entitled 'Avoca and the Great War', which examined the history of Avoca during World War 1. My research relied heavily on local newspapers. The two newspapers published in Avoca during the war were the Avoca Mail and the Avoca Free Press and Farmers' and Miners' Journal. These newspapers are now being digitised for the period 1914 to 1918 and published as part of the National Library of Australia's Trove digitised newspaper resource. As of today, the newspapers are part way through the digitisation process, waiting a final quality control check.

Other newspapers in the region including the Ballarat Courier and the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser also published news of Avoca and its residents .

This blog looks at Avoca one hundred years ago. Its source is newspaper reports of the time. Its topic is the soldiers from Avoca who enlisted and life on the home front.


On 19 August 1914 the Ballarat Courier reported that eight men had volunteered from Avoca. This group included Lieutenant Gus Ebeling and M. Rafferty both of whom had fought in the Boer War.  The Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser had more details about the recruitment.

MARYBOROUGH'S PART. (1914, August 17). Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved August 17, 2014, from

Matthew Rafferty and Gus Ebeling had both served with the 5th Mounted Rifles Contingent during the Boer War.  In August 1914 Matthew Rafferty was a 36 year old farmer from Elmhurst and Gus Ebeling was a 43 year old farmer from near Avoca.

Others who enlisted from Avoca in August 1914 were
  • Dave Summers, a 21 year old labourer; 
  • William Henry French, a 30 year old miner
  • Reginald Campbell Johnson, a 19 year old farrier
  • Alfred Charles Golder, a 28 year old telegraph operator
  • Arthur Joseph Summerfield, a 21 year old grocer from Moonambel
  • Isaac Oswald Webster, a 26 year old policeman born in Elmhurst who enlisted in Melbourne
  • Charles Jonathon Willmott, a 26 year old grocer who enlisted in Shepparton. Willmott was born at Avoca. His next of kin was his father who lived at Avoca