Sunday, November 11, 2018


And it is about Remembrance.  A few years ago I refused to acknowledge ANZAC Day or a minutes silence on Remembrance Day, (I am very anti war as are most people I should imagine) and don't believe that we NEED to participate in the modern day conflicts.  I could not understand the need to celebrate death and destruction.

It wasn't until my daughter, as a girl guide was asked to participate in the ANZAC service at Bridport.  I went along with her and the man who spoke brought me to tears and I suddenly realised that we were not celebrating or condoning, we were simply remembering and acknowledging.  We all know they should not have been there (wherever there is) but they were and we can't undo the past but we can respect those men and women and remember them for their courage and selfless acts.

Until recently I had known that I had great uncles who fought in the first world war.  I hadn't looked into them too much.  One was my father's uncle Chris.  Family stories painted him as a hero and I had briefly looked at his record and scoffed at all the AWOL and hospital records and laughed at the folklore.  However, this year I got to know Chris a little better through a box of correspondence saved by his mother and handed now to her daughter and eventually passed on to me. I read each letter, written from Ballarat, France, Belgium and England.  I investigated his war records and those of his senior officers, to discover that Chris fought in some of the bloodiest battles in Europe that saw the biggest loss of lives for Australia.  He was gassed twice and shot in the arm and face, yet still managed to come home.  Chris lied about his age with his mothers permission, he was only just 15 when he signed up.  I wrote briefly about Chris earlier this year and feel a closeness to him that is unusual as I never met him.

I have two other uncles who also saw action in Europe briefly.  James Ernest Thynne was in the 12th Battalion, out of Claremont Tasmania and saw action for only a short while until discharged injured.  He was almost 19 when he signed up in 1916 and fortunately came home in 1919.

The last uncle to see action in world war one was Gordon Thomas Ellen, he was 23 and joined the 40th Battalion out of Claremont, Tasmania.  He too saw action but only for six months before being wounded and having his leg amputated. 

No matter the duration of service, all these men had the courage to stand up for what they believed in, they all saw action and no doubt were terrified.  Should they have gone, probably not but I respect and remember them and their actions. 

Lest we forget.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Charles Baker stepped down off the gangplank warily and looked for his brother Edward in the crowd.  He was back in the mother land but did not intend on staying long.  After jumping ship in Jamaica he managed to make his way back to England on a trading vessel.  He needed to keep his head down as he was still wanted for desertion.  He knew it was wrong to desert but being forced into the Navy at 15 and spending the past five years there he had had enough.
Charles found Edward and made his way through the crowd.  They hugged and headed toward the Hogshead Tavern nearby.
“Charlie, are you mad!  You’ll get more than 5 years in the Navy if they find you!”
“I know but I couldn’t hack it any more Ed, I’ve found us passage to Australia!  The ship I came here on, the Durham, is heading there and I got us work as crew.  Come with me Ed, please!”
Edward shook his head and laughed.  Charlie had always been a risk taker and loved an adventure.  He pondered his proposal for a minute too.
“Why the heck not!  What have I got keeping me here?”
Two days later the men were aboard the Durham for Australia.  They arrived in March, a new beginning for both men.[1]  Charles disembarked, he was not known as a deserter in this place so it was a rebirth almost. They wandered around the port taking in the sounds and sights and the heat.  Charles was optimistic that this was the best decision he had ever made.

I think writing about new events would be the easiest topics for me.   I tried to be descriptive in this text but not let it take over, same with dialogue but I wanted to convey that there was ending and beginning but the adventure of a new world was the main topic.

[1] Historic Shipping, ‘Durham’,, Accessed 10 August 2018.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Home is where the heart is - Flash Fiction

I pushed the key in the keyhole of the front door.  I felt a little giddy with excitement and somewhat nervous because of the mixed emotions I was feeling.  The modern door set in the 19th century stonework seemed to confirm the connection of new and old that was my coming to the house.  I lightly brushed my fingers over the etchings on the sandstone and wondered who was responsible for that particular brick; feeling the roughness catch on my skin.

I took a deep breath and turned the key, pushing the door at the same time and stepping over the worn sandstone threshold.  There I had done it!  This was the home that Charles Ellen had built in High Street, Oatlands. The home he raised a family in, the home he and Elizabeth were laid out in.
As I turned and looked in the front room I imaged Charles standing by the hearth, talking with Elizabeth about their day. 

“Bethy, I ran into Mr Bowsden today and he has asked me for a quote for another hay barn.  Truly, the work for a builder here is endless!”
“That is wonderful Charles, I am sure it is because they know what a good and conscientious worker you are.  I wish some of these qualities would pass down to our George, that boy is going to be the end of me!”

To my left was a bedroom with a large wrought iron bed as the centre piece.  In front of the window was a dresser with a beautiful porcelain jug and basin set sitting on top of it.  Looking at this room was like stepping back in time, again I could imagine plans and dreams being whispered in the early hours.
This was the room that saw eight children birthed.  Eight children brought into the world with the assistance of the local midwife and Elizabeth’s friend Sarah.  Sarah, the dear friend who was always there for Elizabeth. She was at the birth of her children; and at the death of her youngest, William when he drowned at 14.  Did Sarah sit with her on a bed like this and hold her when Charles passed on in 1892? I would never know.

I left my luggage in the door way and made my way through into the heart of the house; the kitchen. I noticed the worn timber floors that ran up the hallway; marked with time from generations of footfalls.  Charles laid these floors in the 1830s when he built the house; oh the stories they could tell.
The kitchen is the heart of any home and this wasn’t any different.  It was a smallish space with an old fashioned lead light dresser at one end, table in the middle and a wood combustion stove at the other end.  For the modern day cook it had an electric stove, fridge and microwave taking up wall space around the room. 

What would Elizabeth think of these ‘mod-cons’?  I think she would have loved them. She had a large family to cater for.  Did she have a garden out the back?  Most families did and I suspect they would have been the same.  I could almost imagine the scent of basic comfort food. Yes, a home baked loaf, fresh from the oven and spread with dripping. 

A table surrounded by hungry children and a husband reading the paper.  Probably looking for his own letters to the editor; being the prolific writer that he was. Maybe one to the council complaining about the rise in rates or it may have been an advertisement for the temperance society.
Charles was heavily involved in the temperance movement.  Having been convicted not long after arriving in Van Diemen’s Land for the theft of alcohol; perhaps he learnt his lesson and this prompted him to take the oath. One would never know the reason but he remained a teetotaler until his death.

 I made myself a cuppa and sat in the front room.  Tears ran down my face as emotions overcame me.  I felt so truly blessed; not just to be staying in the house that Charles built but to have the knowledge of my ancestors.  To know who my great, great grandfather was, to have intimate access to his life.   To think that I was sitting in the same house that gave shelter and warmth to my family past.  I like to think it was filled with love and laughter along with the tears and heartbreak.

In 2016 I spent the night at 103 High Street, Oatlands.  The house that Charles built and I was overwhelmed by emotion.  So many thoughts ran through my head as I wandered the rooms.  This is a work of fiction, but I have embellished on some of Charles and Elizabeth’s life.  Yes he was part of the temperance movement for some time but I don’t know how strict he was or if he stayed with them until the end.  
I also don’t know if Elizabeth had a friend called Sarah but I like to think she did have that one close friend.  A confident and ally in a tough life; which was a given for women in the 19th century.
The house has been restored but from records kept by the people who did the restoration the flooring and much of the timber work is original.
I have tried to include more description in this story, concentrating especially on my feeling as they were at the time of staying in the house and conveying an image of the house as it was in 2016. It is definitely about a sense of place and belonging, not just for Charles and his family but for me too. If I had more words to use I would have included more on the children raised there and maybe included a little more of the imagined dialogue between Charles and Elizabeth.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Baby - flash fiction

Christian Schultz shipped out for the front lines of World War One at 15 years of age in October 1915.[1]  Chris, as he was known, was a prolific letter writer and I hold over 100 letters from him written between 1915 and 1919.  Letters written during 1918 in Wales mention a girlfriend and a mystery baby. [2] [3]He also writes that he is going to get married![4]
This opened a huge can of worms as the Uncle Chris my father remembers had an Australian wife and no children.  Was there an illegitimate child in Wales that we did not know about?  This prompted a search of births in the Glamorgan area to an Elsie White in early 1918 or late 1917 and also looking on genealogy groups to see if anyone in that area recognised the address he was writing from.  I narrowed it down to one Elsie White who had a child in early 1918, perhaps this was the one.[5]
Once I had this date I started to search war diaries and the letters to create a time line for Chris.  Alas, his visits to Wales began in April 1918 and he was in France for a year prior to that. The baby was not his.
A letter to his family in September 1918 apologises for any stress he has caused and that the marriage is off and he will wait for a nice “Aussie” girl, like mum has said. [6] The tone of the letter suggests mum was none too happy.

So much to write in such a short space.  I feel an attachment to Chris, purely because he signed up at 15, lying about his age.  He did take me down a rabbit hole with Elsie and the baby and challenged my research skills and power of deduction.

[1] Service record of Christian Henry Schultz, p.17, B3503, National Archives of Australia.
[2] Christian Schultz to Henry and Susan Schultz, letter, 15 August 1918, original held in author’s possession.
[3] Christian Schultz to Henry and Susan Schultz, letter, 25 April 1918, original held in author’s possession.
[4] Christian Schultz to Henry Schultz, letter, 28 March 1918, original held in author’s possession.
[5] Findmypast, Birth Registration Record for Wilfred White, ‘Birth Registration, Swansea, Glamorganshire, Wales, Accessed 15 July 2018
[6] Christian Schultz to Henry and Susan Schultz, letter, 1September 1918, original held in author’s possession.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Diggings - Flash Fiction

Charles felt relief as the coach pulled into Castlemaine.  He had decided to try his luck at gold mining, so made the long trip from Launceston, believing you had to be in it to win it.

He looked around, and decided a cup of tea in the tearooms was first stop, asking for advice there too.  The lady at the counter asked where he was from and suggested he go talk to Old Joachim who was sitting at a table nursing a tin mug of tea.

Joachim looked up when the stranger approached.  In his strong German accent he invited him to sit and explained he was there for the day to stock up supplies.  He was working his hole at the Forest Creek Diggings, a relatively new site that had proved successful for some.  He offered to escort Charles there, and told him he would need to get a permit first.

Joachim remembered being the new fellow and how hard it was, so offered to share his tent with Charles and help him on his way.  He seemed like a good sort, a family man like himself trying to get a break. 

The two men worked side by side, talking about their families, how they missed their wife and children. Both men coming from not only other towns in Australia but having travelled weeks from other countries. Joachim from Prussia and Charles from England; both working hard for a better life for their children.

This is the first time I have done a work of fiction.  Although Charles and Joachim are both direct ancestors of mine and both mined (Charles once in Bendigo and Joachim for most of his life in the Castlemaine area) they never met and this meeting is at a completely different time from their real life.  It is quite challenging making it up but also nice to be able to embellish and imagine what their lives might have been like.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Cousins eleventy billion times removed

Do you have a bazillion cousins?

I have nine first cousins and can't say I have much to do with any of them.  Three are closer to my parents in age and the others are spread across the continent and we haven't seen each other for decades.  I find this a bit sad at times.  I often see those posts on facebook and such about cousins being your first friends etc and so many people agree or share them, yet it isn't the case for me.  Worse still my kids don't really have any sort of relationship with their cousins either.  Most are way older or live away from us or just the victims of disfunctional families.

But I have a stack of 'eleventy billion times removed' cousins and I really value them.  The joy of facebook, ancestry, DNA and such have connected us and I have met many of them.  We all have a common interest of research our families and connecting with the past.  We are all centimetres across from each other and generations apart on a print out of our trees but closer than ever through our interests.

It is this connection that saw me take a plane and drive almost four hours to visit some of these cousins and spend a day with them and meet other new ones. 

And it was totally worth it.

To hear stories, share photos and experience that connection that began four generations ago was a privilege and I feel truly blessed to be connected to these people. 

To all the people I have met through genealogy and will continue to meet.

Thank you all for sharing my obsession interest.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Private Christian Henry Schultz 14th/11th, D Company

On 4 August 1914 war was declared between Britain and Germany.  Australian men downed tools and signed up for the cause, many thinking it would only be a couple of months and it would be over.  Bryce Courtenay claims in his introduction in ‘An Anzac’s Story’ that boot makers made a roaring trade in adding height to men’s boots so they passed the minimum requirement. This is indicative of how patriotic men felt toward the Mother Country.

Like many Australian men my great uncle, Christian Henry Schultz, known as Chris, was under age when he enlisted.  Despite his enlistment paper work stating he was eighteen and one month there is no record of his date of birth on the actual paper work. However his birth certificate clearly states 21 February 1900 as his birth date, making him fifteen and five months.   His attitude is summed up in a letter in August where he states “Well dear parents if I possibly can go to war I will for I am eager for adventure.”  I am sure the enticement of six shillings or more a day helped too. 

Chris was born in Amphitheatre, a small rural town in northern Victoria, the eldest of what would eventually be a family of nine children.  The first five children were born in Amphitheatre and Ararat with Sydney being the first born in South Melbourne. They had moved there prior to his birth when his father, Henry began working as a labourer in the city.  
Occasionally throughout his letters Chris mentions Dennistons and the “Dennistons boys”. Denniston & Co was a wholesale clothing company in Flinders Lane, Melbourne from 1907-1938.  He may have worked here prior to heading to Ballarat for cadets as it wasn’t uncommon for boys to leave school early to start working to help the family financially.  The sense of familiarity in his letters suggests this could have been the case.

From correspondence written by Chris to his parents in August 1914 it also appears he may have been a cadet in Ballarat.   There is no record of this on his army papers and the fact that he later signed up in Melbourne would indicate he obviously left camp early and went home before enlisting.   He writes they are treated well, the locals are good to them and
 “I suppose Cheers and Gilbeys were surprised to hear about me being in camp.  Well, I am glad to say that I have not touched drink since I have been in camp.” 

Does this mean that at the age of fourteen Chris had a drinking problem? Cadets were compulsory for boys from 1911 when changes were made to the Defence Act by Prime Minister Deakin’s government.   On the advice of Field Marshal Viscount Kitchener of Great Britain it was thought this would be a good way to train boys in readiness for active service in later years.

Figure 1. Studio Portrait of Private Christian Henry Schultz, Source: Australian War Memorial, Accessed 14 march 2018,

Chris enlisted on 17 July 1915 in Melbourne and was sent to Seymour, Ballarat then Broadmeadows for training.   On 11 October 1915 he was deemed ready for service and as part of the 11th Reinforcements, was soon to join the 14th Battalion returning to Europe from Gallipoli. He left Melbourne aboard the troop carrier Nestor for Egypt.   Chris wrote three letters to his family whilst sailing, all indicate he was well and the conditions on board good.  There were over 2000 on board and days were spent doing drill, taking a turn on watch or relaxing.  

The military records for Chris are eventful to say the least.  Every third or fourth line is an offence recorded for being Absent Without Leave and one wonders how much pay he actually got after the financial penalty was applied.  Fortunately for Chris, Australia didn’t execute deserters like Britain did.  However, they did penalise with pay reduction and extra duties. 

After receiving further training in Egypt he was considered ready despite his absences, and with the rest of his Battalion sailed to Marseille then went by foot to Bailleul training camp.  Some of the biggest battles with heaviest losses for Australia were to be fought over the next two years on the Western Front.   Under the command of Charles Dare and Albert Jacka, Chris and ‘D’ Company fought bloody battles at Pozieres, Bullecourt’s Hindenburg Line and Messine.   Over 30,000 men were injured in these battles alone. 

Chris did not escape injury.  On 14 August 1916 he was admitted to the 2nd Field Ambulance in France with an ear infection. This is not surprising considering the mud and rotting bodies filling the trenches.  In July 2017 he was again injured with a gunshot wound to his face and right arm, which was subsequently broken.  He was admitted to the 83rd General Hospital in Boulogne then transferred to the Queen’s Canadian Military Hospital in England where he stayed for a month.   He was later granted furlough but deserted during that time for a week, returning to France by the end of December 1917.  I should think that after the three battles he had fought in he was very hesitant to go back to France or Belgium.

January 1918 saw Chris back in hospital at Dartford, England after being exposed to mustard gas.  He again forfeited pay for being ‘A.W.O.L.’ and his personal letters indicate that he was having a fun time in Swansea, Wales. 
Mind you his fun time got him more than he bargained for and he was admitted to the 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital in Bulford in July 1918 with venereal disease. 
Despite the earlier endeavours of people like Etti Rout and James Barrett to see soldiers educated and given prophylactics to use, many soldiers in France and England were not abstaining or taking precautions.   Chris was one of over 43,000 soldiers from the AIF who were admitted to hospitals for venereal disease between 1915 and 1918. 

He neglects to mention this in his letters despite being a prolific letter writer, he also writes little on the actual war; this was not uncommon as letters were subjected to heavy censorship, yet some soldiers still wrote their thoughts and about conditions.  There is only one letter that mentions the conditions in the trenches saying it was muddy and cold. In a letter to both his parents he talks more about a girl and there is a passing mention of “the baby crying”.  This letter was sent with another from the girl; Elsie White who introduces herself and tells how excited she is to be meeting them soon and to be marrying their son.
Another letter to his father in March 1918 he tells him he has met a girl and is going to marry her in a couple of months. 

He says,
“Well Dad I don’t know what you will say but I hope you won’t think any the worse of me when I tell you I am engaged to be married to a girl in south Wales.  It practically all happened while I was on furlough down at a place called Pontardulais.  I don’t know what made me do it Dad but temptation was great and I fell.  But I must say that both her people and herself are very respectable and treated me like one of the family.” 

Where the baby fits in I do not know, however records show an Elsie White did give birth to a boy, Wilfred sometime between April and July in 1918 and there is no name recorded for the father. Could this be the reason for a sudden marriage?  The marriage did not eventuate as Chris’s mother obviously had strong feelings regarding it. 

A letter in late July states that he is going to wait until he is home to find a nice Australian girl on Mother’s advice.   One wonders where the connection between weddings, girlfriends and venereal disease occurs and whether the wedding was really actually off because of the venereal disease.  Another letter in November describes spending Armistice Day in London,

“They were dancing in the streets and singing and the police had to chuck smoke bombs among the crowds on the Saturday night to get them to go home.” 

His correspondence was much like that of other soldiers, reminiscing about food, family and coming home, with constant reassurances to his mother that he is well and will be home soon.  This was a common theme in all his letters, reassuring those at home that he is well.  His tone does change toward the end when he talks more about how glad he is to be deemed as unfit to return to the front and he hopes this will drag on for longer, to the point that he will play on it to stay in England longer.  By the third year of letters it is evident he is very homesick, and understandably so.  He talks often about meals and what he wants his sister Susie to cook for him when he gets home.  His concern for all his family members is admirable, even Dorothy and Albert who he hadn’t yet met.

Chris arrived home 2 March 1919 aboard the troop ship City of Exeter and was discharged as medically unfit in the April of that year. 

On returning he lived with his parents at 7 Rooding Street, Brighton, Victoria until his marriage to Frances Ball in 1926.  He is listed in electoral rolls as a carpenter for the rest of his working life. Frances was partially deaf and doesn’t appear to work anywhere other than at the home.  They set up home in Carrum Downs at a house called Billo in Mascot Avenue for several years before settling in at 14 Oak Avenue, Boronia.  They never had children, which may have been a legacy of venereal disease, but they were active members of his siblings’ families.  His nephews remember visiting Boronia in childhood.
A button among  his possessions for the 14th Battalion 1948 suggests he was a participating member of a reunion group as do the medals he kept.  These were the standard issue of World War 1 medals; 1914/5 star awarded to those serving before November 1915, the British War Medal and the Victory medal.   Pip, Squeak and Wilfred were nicknames given to these medals after popular cartoon characters in the Daily Mirror newspaper.

Studies have been done looking at the connection between heart disease and mustard gas victims and there appears to have been an increase in heart issues in soldiers returning from World War 1 who were affected by mustard gas. Whether Chris suffered post traumatic stress after the war or further complications due to venereal disease is not known. It is highly unlikely that he would have returned unscathed, particularly when you take into account the very young age he was when he enlisted.  Outwardly to family he appeared to be a happy and functioning man who helped build his siblings’ homes and worked as a carpenter builder until his early death at 65 of heart disease after several years of heart issues. 

This is a very short and abbreviated life story of Christian.  To truly do him justice I would need to write thousands more words.  However, this week we have remembered him and for the first time since his death his medals were worn proudly at dawn by his nephew, my father.