The Irwin District and World War I

12th Reinforcements, 16th Battalion. Taken at Belmont Racecourse.
12th Reinforcements, 16th Battalion.
Belmont Racecourse, Perth. 16 December 1915.

Men and women from the Irwin District who served in World War I are being documented by the Society.

Our researcher, Anne Jefferys, has now disovered 130 men and women who enlisted 41 of whom were killed. Australia lost about 60,000 men in World War I, about 1.3% of the population. The Irwin District's population was about 400 in 1914, so the loss of 41 lives of young men and women, which amounted to 10% of the population, took a huge toll on the community.

Each year we will add the known volunteeers from 100 years ago.

Below are the stories of the 1916 volunteeers, the 1915 volunteers are here and the 1917 volunteers are here and the 1918 volunteers are here.



1916

William Richard Becket

William Richard Beckett was born in 1884, son of William and Annie (nee Fitzgerald), living at Strawberry. Strawberry was originally part of the Irwin Road Board, then became the west boundary of Mingenew Road Board at its formation in 1901. Subsequent boundary changes have seen part of the area returned to Irwin.

William was the eldest of nine children in the family. He gave his occupation as a station hand and was also active in the community playing football and as a member of the Mingenew Brass Band. At the time of his enlistment William was engaged to be married to Amy Broad. Amy never married, spending the rest of her life looking after her mother and brother after the death of her father and fiancé.

William travelled by train from Geraldton to Blackboy Hill to enlist in early January 1916. His brother John Gerald Beckett enlisted the next week and another brother Frederick Joseph Beckett enlisted a few weeks later in March. William was almost 32 years of age, 6 feet tall and weighed 163 lbs. Lewis John Broad, another Mingenew man was one of his best mates.

By August 1916 William was training at Perham Downs England before being shipped to France. On 8 November 1916 William was wounded in action, with gunshot wounds to his back, side, head and shoulder. He died from these wounds at the BEF 38th Casualty Clearing Station on 15 November 1916 and buried at Heilly Station Cemetery Mericourt-L'Abbe.

William shares a grave with Edward Henry Bensley, a Victorian from the 22nd Battalion who died a few days earlier.

According to Defence Department protocol his medals were sent to his father. William's two brothers survived the war, John returning to his wife in England and Frederick to Australia. William's mother, as the mother of three sons who were among the first from the district to enlist to serve in the Great War, was asked to unveil the Roll of Honour in the new hall at Mingenew in 1919.

Francis Carlton Burges

Francis Burges (Frank to his family) was born at Irwin House on Thursday 17 November 1892, 'after 11 o'clock at night'. He was the youngest child of Francis Lockier and Esther Ann (Potts) and destined to be so, as his father died from pleurisy when he was just 4 months old.

In February 1893 Esther took the children to the United Kingdom. She married Frederick Scroope, an Irish banker, in 1899. The boys began their education in Ireland as there were still relatives living there. Irwin attended Campbell Grammar School, while William transferred from Campbell to the Royal School Armagh, Francis followed him there in 1906.

Francis C. Burges
Francis C. Burges

Francis enlisted in the Irish Guards in Belfast on 10 July 1914. He carried out his military training at the Guards Depot, Caterham, Surrey, between July and December 1914 and moved to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force on 9 December 1914.

In October 1914 it was rumoured Francis had fallen while fighting for the empire but this proved to be untrue. "Mr Burges is in the Irish Guards which was one of the first regiments to be sent to the seat of war and suffered very heavily. For six weeks nothing was heard of him, but a letter has been received to the effect that Mr Burges is with the regiment in Surrey and does not expect to be sent to the front again for two or three months." (Western Mail, 16 October 1914)

In February 1915 he was reported as wounded in the face and admitted to the 4th Field ambulance. It appears he recovered and re-joined the 1st Battalion Irish Guards in the field. He died of gunshot wounds to the head on 18 September 1916. This battle near Pozieres may have been the first to use tanks in warfare, great monsters which were able to mow down anything it their path.

His brother William had died in March 1915. His sister Esther lived at Castlewood House, Rathmines Co Dublin and an aunt Mrs L Triphook of Kent, also had taken an interest in his welfare. Francis' elder brother Irwin was serving at the Dardanelles. Francis was awarded the 1914/1915 Star and Victory Medal.

Death notices appeared in the West Australian newspaper in November and December. Francis' sister Esther wrote a short memorial poem "in a token of deep love and admiration of a very beloved brother, who in all things was unselfish and pure."

"Not to him who leads is all the glory
But to them as well who see the hope forlorn, the goal unreached
And yet obey - and follow..
Now in the army of the sons of God
Their places await them."

Henry Arthur Fletcher

Henry Fletcher was born in Dongara in 1895, son of Henry and Annie Eleanor (Vann) Fletcher. His father was a carpenter at Mingenew, his mother's family were carriers in Perth.

It seems Henry grew up around the Irwin area as he was a member of a 1912 junior football team which beat Geraldton, and listed as the best player for Dongara. On his enlistment papers he gave his occupation as 'Striker', one who detonates charges for firing.

Henry Fletcher enlisted in Perth on 8 January 1916, aged 21. His father is listed as his next of kin, living in Mingenew, but moved to Beaconsfield, then Claremont. Henry embarked for overseas duty from Fremantle on 18 June 1916 and became ill during the voyage to England and admitted to the ship's hospital on 29 June 1916. He was transferred to the military hospital at Tidworth. It is unknown whether he was ill for the months between this hospital admittance and his eventual death.

He was diagnosed with double pneumonia and died in hospital on 29 November 1916 and is buried at Tidworth Military Cemetery, Wiltshire. A letter was sent to his father on 2 November 1917, almost a year after his son's death, seeking information with regard to the headstone.

Despite dying of illness Henry was awarded posthumously the 1914/5 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Tidworth Cemetery, Wiltshire, UK

This cemetery contains burials from WW1 and WW2. It is directly associated with training grounds on or near Salisbury Plain, not far from Stonehenge. During the First World War the cemetery was used for burials from Tidworth and Fargo Military Hospitals and the 417 graves, many of them Australian and New Zealand servicemen are scattered throughout the cemetery. The cemetery also contains the remains of other nationalities, many of them Polish.

Cecil Maitland Foss M.C.

Cecil M Foss
Cecil M Foss

Cecil Maitland Foss (Maitland) was born in 1891 at Upper Irwin. His mother, Isabella Burges was a cousin of the Burges family who farmed at Irwin House. His father Cecil Vaughan Foss, was an Irwin sheep farmer from the 1880s and married Isabella, daughter of Samuel Evan and Jane Vittoria (Meares) Burges in 1884. C V Foss later became a Superintendent at Kings Park, dying in 1904.

Maitland was educated at the High School, Perth, which later became Hale School, where his nickname was 'Nurse'. He passed the Primary and Junior Examinations of Adelaide University, farming at Arrino, then joining his brothers in a farming venture at Babakin. He applied for a commission early in the Great War, departing Fremantle per Ascanius on 29 June 1915.

He served for several months at Gallipoli, before moving to the western Front in France. Maitland led the first assault by Australian troops at Armentieres in April1916 and was awarded the Military Cross for valour in action. The award was listed in the London Gazette on 23 June 1916 and also in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette no 129 of 21 September 1917.

In August 1916 Maitland led his troops in a raid on enemy trenches. Australian forces were engaged in the August Somme Valley offensive and over 20,000 young Australians were to subsequently lose their lives in the Pozieres/Mouquet Farm sector of the line.

Maitland was wounded in action on 6 August 1916, and died of wounds on 11 August. He is buried at the Puchvillers British Military Cemetery Doullens, France. He was the first old Haleian to be killed in action in France, in the push to control the heights overlooking the German lines.

His family inserted several notices in the West Australian, Sunday Times and Western Mail. There is a memorial plaque at Hale School, and another at St Georges Cathedral, Perth, commemorating Maitland and his brothers Lieut H C Foss and Sergeant E C Foss, three brothers from one family losing their lives. A cousin, Vaughan Edgar Foss also lost his life in the conflict.


Henry William Morgan

Henry William Morgan was the son of Henry and Anna Jane (Richmond, nee Little) Morgan who married in 1876 at Greenough. The family farmed at Moonyoonooka before moving to the Three Springs district ( Upper Irwin Road Board).

Henry was a well known drover in the Shark Bay and Northampton area and aged 34 when he enlisted on 22 October 1915 as part of 33 Depot. He departed Fremantle aboard the troop ship Miltiades on 12 February 1916, arriving in France in June of that year, joining the 51st Battalion. Sadly he contracted Double Bronchial Pneumonia almost immediately and died on 6 July 1916. He was buried at Estaires Communal Cemetery and Extension, Estaires, Nord Pas de Calais, France.

The Geraldton Guardian on 29 July 1916 reported Henry was dangerously ill and on the 1 August the paper reported his death. Henry left his estate to his brother Francis James Morgan - over 600 pounds.

Henry's brother Phillip George Morgan, born 1882 and a member of 44th Battalion enlisted on 21 January 1916 and returned to Australia at the end of hostilities.


Archibald Septimus Boniface Tait

Archibald Tait held the rank of Staff Sergeant at the time of his death, although his rank is listed on his death certificate as Lieutenant. Sadly it seems he did not live to be accorded this promotion.

Archibald was born in Dongara in 1886 while his father was rector of St John the Baptist Anglican Church. The Rev Tait had been ordained in St Georges Cathedral by Bishop Parry on 16 August 1885 after studying for the ministry at St Boniface College Warminster UK. The Rev Tait had hoped to carry out missionary work in the Gascoyne, but Bishop Parry thought him better suited to the Irwin District.

The family of the Rev William Tait, his wife Catherine and children Gertrude and Montague (Sydney) sailed from London, arriving in Western Australia in 1884. Herbert was born at sea, but died while the family were at Dongara, aged 20 months and is buried at Dongara Cemetery. Archibald was born the year Herbert died. Another brother Sydney Burges was born and died in 1884. During the Tait's time in Dongara the minister called for tenders for the church to be erected and the foundation stone laid on 24 November1884. It was reported the residence of Mr Tait at Dongara 'is exceptionally advantageous to the district as in consequence of his qualified himself for the position of a medical missionary, he was able to look after his parishioners' bodily wants as well as their spiritual."

In 1889 the family moved to South Australia and by 1898 the family were living at Parkes, NSW.

Archibald is listed as a dentist and it seems he may have been apprenticed to his father who was also a dentist, as the first Dental School was not established in Australia until 1901. His brothers also practised as dentists in Orange and Parramatta, NSW. At the time of his enlistment Archibald was a practising dentist at Manly NSW.

No personal details are given on Archibald's enlistment papers, however he was attached to the 34th Battalion as a dentist at Rutherford Camp.

Archibald underwent a tonsillectomy operation and septicaemia was given as the cause of his death on 30 March 1916 in Maitland Hospital. He was buried with full military honours at Campbell's Hill Cemetery West Maitland, New South Wales.

After his death a series of letters were exchanged between the Department of Defence and Archibald's sister and niece. Mrs Gertrude Hamilton Lewis (Tait) wrote on behalf of her parents regarding war medals, but none were issued. In 1961 his niece requested a replacement plaque as the original had been lost, but this too was refused.

Archibald's father, the Rev William Tait took the death of his son very badly and became an inmate of Gladesville Mental Hospital for a time before dying in 1925. His sister Gertrude was widowed in the Great War and another brother also served.