bill

Bill is a 5th generation Antipodean. He first heard about his 3rd great grandfather,WJ , around 50 years ago at 7 years of age. He seriously started searching for who this man was and what his life was about around 1994. Bill sees himself as a detective on a journey of discovery about who people were, how they lived their lives and what about them made us who we are. Bill loves the hunt for clues, thrives on drawing conclusions and finds satisfaction in proving the conclusions valid.

The Little Digger

Anzacday_2013_webheaderKai (9) and Taj (6) Stitt had something really special for ANZAC parade at South Kolan State School.  Each of them was going to honour a great great grandfather who served Australia in World War 2.  Kai was honouring Bert Wight who served in the RAAF and Taj was honouring Keith Conroy.  What made it special was that they were able wear replicas of Bert and Keith’s medals and what made it even more special was Taj was wearing one of Keith genuine medals.  It was awarded to him posthumously.

Keith Conroy with his daughter Valerie in Hyde Park, Sydney in 1943 while on leave.

The Little Digger.  Keith Conroy with his daughter Valerie in Hyde Park, Sydney in 1943 while on leave. He had just had all of his teeth removed according to standard army procedure.

Grandmother Johanne Stitt had gone to the war service record office to find what each grandfather had been awarded.  She wanted to buy replicas for Kai and Taj for South Kolan School’s ANZAC parade.  She wanted to also order the equivalent of the medals in ribbons for  Charlee and Billy Ironside to wear at their ANZAC parade in Townsville.

However, Johanne discovered an omission from the record.  After a lot of digging and a lot of help from the records office, she uncovered that Keith Conroy had never received one of his awards and so it was awarded to him posthumously.  That meant that Taj was going to  South Kolan State School ANZAC parade wearing an original medal.

Keith Conroy joined the army in Sydney and was fortunate enough to serve around Sydney during the whole of WW2.  He was honoured this ANZAC day by Ashley in Brisbane, Taj in South Kolan and Billy in Townsville.  They all wore his medals.  Little diggers honouring their own Little Digger.

Taj at his school's ANZAC parade with Grandpa Keith Conroy's original medal.

Taj at his school’s ANZAC parade with Grandpa Keith Conroy’s original medal. The medal on the left is the original and the others are replicas.

Keith staying around Sydney was very fortunate for his family, who lived in Paddington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.  He would come home on leave and would light the copper, cut the wood and do a whole lot of things around the house that were difficult for the woman.  Keith’s wife Isobel lived with her grandmother Elizabeth Brown (who was the daughter of 2 convicts) and their little girl Valerie.  Isobel had cerebral palsy from a birth injury and required a lot of help around the house.

Valerie, who is the great grandmother of Kai, Taj, Charlee, Billy, Maddie and Ashley was just 6 years old and she went to school at Darlinghurst Primary School.

Things were very challenging for children during the war.  They had to have ration tickets as well as money for almost everything they wanted to buy.  They could almost never have sweets because everything was in short supply.

The Kuttabul was sunk with loss of life in Sydney Harbour.

The Kuttabul was sunk with loss of life in Sydney Harbour.

Children and their families lived in constant fear of being invaded by the Japanese.  It became more of a real threat after 2 miniature submarines infiltrated Sydney Harbour, sunk some shipping and took some lives.

The thing the Japanese were really trying to do was to have the population living in fear of attack and they succeeded very well at this.

The submarine for sinking shipping in Sydney Harbour.

The submarine reponsible for sinking shipping in Sydney Harbour.

Schools had air-raid drills, so that children knew what to do if there was ever an air-raid.  The school-yard had deep trenches with concrete walls.  There were seats for the children to sit on along the walls of the trenches.  Wardens who wore gas masks and had metal helmets supervised the drills.

Sydney lived in real fear of air-raids, not just during the day, but also at night.  When the air-raid siren sounded at night, everybody had to reduce their lighting to at absolute minimum and draw their curtains, so that there was no light visible from outside.

Coastal cities like Sydney and Newcastle ran low lights at night.

Coastal cities like Sydney and Newcastle ran low lights at night.

If any light was visible from your house, wardens would bang on your door and demand that you turned down the lights and seal your curtains properly.

The fears about attack were very real as submarines were on the East Coast of Australia.

The fears about attack were very real as submarines were off the East Coast of Australia.

Just to ensure that the population was kept in a constant state of anxiety, the Japanese would occasionally shell the major cities like Sydney and Newcastle from submarines.  These tactics would inflict little real damage, but proved that the Japanese could get through defenses.

Manly Beach in Sydney with barbed wire defences. during WW2.

Manly Beach in Sydney with barbed wire defences during WW2.

The level of anxiety in Sydney was very visible at the beach.  Iconic beaches like Manly Beach had barbed-wire barricades.  This was intended to slow down the enemy coming from the sea.  The war was a real threat to civilians, it wasn’t faced only by the troops.  The war was right in Sydney and that is why it was important to have people like Keith serving in Australia.

Valerie was a lucky girl because she saw her Dad quite often, other children didn’t see their dad for years and very sadly, some children never saw their dad again after he left on a troop ship.

While Keith was working hard to make sure that Sydney was defended and Australia was working well with its new United States allies, the other grandpa,  Bert Wight was in service in the RAAF in the Northern Territory.

CAC produced the Wirraway which was designed as a trainer but pulled in to active service

CAC produced the Wirraway which was designed as a trainer but taken into combat service.

Before joining up, Bert Wight worked at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne.  He was engaged in what was termed an ‘essential service’ and was therefore exempted from military service.  However, when Bert had a major argument with wife Dorrie and she kicked him out, he was really angry and in a fit of pique joined the RAAF.  He was posted to Batchelor Air-base in the Northern Territory, which is around 100km south of Darwin.  Batchelor became a major air-base and was home to a joint Dutch East Indies Air Force and the US Air-Force as well as the RAAF.

The Dutch had been overrun in Indonesia (Netherland East Indies) by the Japanese and in Holland by the Germans.  A special joint squadron was formed with the RAAF.  The Dutch war-time parliament ran in exile from Brussels.

The American Mitchell B25 Bomber operated out of Batchelor Airbase.

The American B25-Mitchell Bomber operated out of Batchelor Airbase.

Batchelor became a centre of the Dutch world-wide intelligence radio network.  The Dutch had predicted the rise of the Japanese through their intelligence network in the early 1930’s.  The No 18 NEI (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron of the RAAF flew B25-Mitchell bombers.  It was on one of these planes the Bert flew over NEI as an observer.

Kai with Bert Wight's medals on his chest at the South Kolan State School ANZAC parade.

Kai with Bert Wight’s medals on his chest at the South Kolan State School ANZAC parade.

Kai wore Bert’s medals to the ANZAC parade.  He was very proud of his great great grandfather whose original medals are still in the family.

In the meantime, up in Townsville, Charlee and Billy were attending their own ANZAC service.

Charlee and Billy Ironside wearing the ribbons for Bert Wight and Keith Conroy.

Charlee and Billy Ironside wearing the ribbons for Bert Wight and Keith Conroy. One is each side of their mother Joleen.

Life in Townsville was very much effected by World War 2.   There were multiple bombing raids on this northern outpost by the Japanese.  It was Queensland’s most northern centre of significant resistance to the Japanese advance.

Townsville Sound Detectors

Special set-up to ‘listen’ for Japanese aircraft in Townsville in WW2.

Townsville was geographically closer to where Bert served, than distant Melbourne, where his family lived during the war.  Families had to live together during the war to try to get by.  Bert’s aged father lived with Dorrie and his 2 boys, Bill and Jim.

Bert with Yankee boss at Batchelor Airbase which is about 100 km south on Darwin.

Bert with his Yankee boss at Batchelor Airbase which is about 100 km south of Darwin.

Bert served as a dornier and this meant that he carried intelligence on his American Air-Force Harley Davidson (or Indian) motorcycle.  He was honoured by Madelyn in Brisbane, Kai in South Kolan and Charlee in Townsville.  They wore his medals this ANZAC day.

Lest We Forget

Anzacday_2013_webheaderIt’s 4.20am.  No sign yet of first light.  The birds haven’t even given their first hint of welcome to a new day.  But Maddy (9), Ashley (7) and Kellan (4) are greeting it with gusto  – they’re enthusiastically getting ready for an early start.

It’s ANZAC day, that one day of the year, where 2 young nations get a day out to honour those who fought and sacrificed that we might be free.Ashley with Grandpa Conroy's medal and Madelyn with Grandpa Wights.

And the great thing is, that 98 years after that military blunder that squandered young lives and impoverished us of talent for a generation, we forget the blunder, and honour those sacrifices that gave the 2 young Antipodean nations identity.  Maddy, Ashley and Kellan wanted to go to the Dawn Service to remember.

Bert astride his US Air Force Indian motor cycle.

Bert astride his US Air Force Indian motor cycle.

Maddy got up and carefully pinned on Great Great Grandpa Bert Wight’s replica medals.  She’s honouring Bert who served in the RAAF.

He joined the air force in 1942 after working in the Australian Air Force Factory.  Bert was seconded to the US Air Force.  They had a major base at Batchelor in the NT.

Bert carried intelligence, wore black arms, packed a pistol and was able to go through all checkpoints without being stopped.

One of his jobs was to get the film for the photos taken during bombing raids.  He took the film directly from the aircraft to take them to HQ, so that nobody could interfere with them.  This was for intelligence purposes for effectiveness of the mission but also to ensure that bombs weren’t dropped over the sea instead of on the targets.

Bert told stories of going out to retrieve planes that crash-landed and his most graphic story was of seeing a tail-gunner’s remains hosed out of the rear gun turret of the  plane.

He admitted to soiling his britches when he was an observer on a raid over Indonesia.  Fortunately Bert didn’t actually sustain any physical  injuries during the war.

Keith with his daughter Valerie taken in Hyde Park in 1943 whilst he was on leave.

Keith with his daughter Valerie taken in Hyde Park in 1943 whilst he was on leave.

Ashley carefully pinned on Great Great Grandpa Keith Conroy’s replica medals.  She’s honouring Keith who served in the Army in the supply and resupply area.

Even Teddies get tired at ANZAC.

Even Teddies get tired at ANZAC.

He mainly served around Sydney, which also took him to Muswellbrook and Holsworthy.

He actually did sustain 2 injury’s whilst serving his country.  He was in the back of a truck which  lurched forward and he was thrown to the ground and broke his wrist.  Friendly fire?

After 6 weeks, he returned to service and found an army horse tangled in wire.   As he tried to free it, the horse kicked out and broke the other wrist.  Unfriendly fire?

Our intrepid little patriots headed off toward the Cenotaph at Redlands RSL at 0450 hours, after being dropped off by Nana.  They were amongst thousands who wanted to snare a close spot, but not even 4.50am was early enough to get a place where you could see everything.  But all things considered our spot wasn’t too bad.  We were right beside the Air Force Cadets and saw them begin their march.

Everybody held together really well, but the Teddies did tire at one stage.

 

Ashley and Maddy standing next a WW2 motor cycle like Bert Wight used to ride.

Ashley and Maddy standing next a WW2 motor cycle like Bert Wight used to ride.

After the service, we looked at the tributes on the cenotaph and then had a look around and saw some old equipment from WW2.  Some of which reminded us of some of Grandpa Wight’s experiences.

This is like the WW2 Willy Jeeps that Bert Wight repaired during the war.

This is like the WW2 Willy Jeeps that Bert Wight repaired during the war.

Bert really ingratiated himself to his Yankee boss by getting his Jeep going.  Bert was a motor mechanic by trade.

The Jeep hadn’t started straight off the boat.  It turned out that grease had been placed in the distributor to prevent rust during the sea voyage to Australia and as a result it had no spark.  Bert had it figured in no time flat.

Bert made this favour count for all it was worth!

So Bert was able to make 2 things from his civvy life work for him.  He was a mechanic and used his skills to get in sweet with the boss.  He raced motorbikes and got to ride one as one of his main jobs.

Tears at ANZAC as Kellan strives to reclaim favourite snuggling place next to Mum.

Tears at ANZAC as Kellan strives to reclaim favourite snuggling place next to Mum.

There were some tears from our smallest intrepid patriot.  Kellan was all happy while he was snuggled up to Mum (Kylie).  But when he stood up during a little lapse in concentration, Maddy jumped into the vacant spot and he was out!

Kellan wasn’t happy and neither was Teddy.  Eventually, being the baby, he prevailed and sweated Maddy out to reclaimed home base.

Poppies for Maddy, AShley and Kellan at the Dawn Service.

Poppies for Maddy, Ashley and Kellan at the Dawn Service.

To add a really nice touch to ANZAC 2013, an official from the RSL noticed a Mum and 3 children (plus 3 teddies) leaving the ceremony and called them over.  He had a poppy for each  child.  Something to top off the Dawn Service experience.

 

As we walked over and waited for Nana to pick us up, we walked by the entrance to the RSL precinct, which spelled out the message that we came to hear.  LEST WE FORGET.

The message we really came to hear.

The message we really came to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Familiarity in Changed Places

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Val drove into Tambo, a little anxious, anticipating the changes wrought by bitumen roads, paved streets and modernisation, but really hoping for the familiar to manifest itself.

It was 55 years since Bill had wallowed into town first the first time at the wheel of the Plymouth Belvedere in June, 1957. Bill had come to take up a job as a roughneck at ODE’s Oil Rig, 25 miles out along the Tambo-Alpha Road.

The Land-Rover was an absolute money pit and the trailer proved too lights for the rigours of Heartbreak Corner

The Land-Rover was an absolute money pit and the trailer proved too lights for the rigours of Heartbreak Corner

It was 54 years since Val had trundled out of town at the wheel of a 1940’s Land-Rover towards a Channel Country thirsting in the clutches of drought. That was in April, 1958.

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Welcome to Tambo sign. Tambo is on the banks of the Barcoo and takes its name from the aboriginal word for ‘hidden place’.

We drove past the Welcome to Tambo sign and did a quick reconnoitre seeking places of the past looking for a connection with the present. Feeling welcome, yes, but wondering what it would be like to visit the places of the distant past.

General Store Tambo

This was Miller’s Store in 1957. Obviously Col Millier sold it and moved on. This is a 1986 picture taken by a University of Queensland country towns project

Millers Store – completely gone – business and premises. A classic general store in a country town that supported the rural community – incredible range, personal service. Col Miller obviously not here.  Val had expected that he would never leave.

Tambo Bakery_1986

THEN Tambo Bakery was a typical small town bakery in 1957. It served the local community and nearby communities like Alpha. 1986 picture from QU.

The Bakery – business – gone, but the building lives on as the home of the Tambo Teddies.  A typical bakery in 1957 it did the basics well, nothing fancy like you see in the little boutique bakeries of today.  The owner was possibly Col Pengilly and used to drive his bread to Alpha in his truck along the Tambo-Alpha Road past the ODE Oil Rig.

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NOW The bakery was taken up as Tambo Teddies workshop. Some 29,000 teddies have made their way around the world.

Post_Office,_Tambo

The Tambo Post office was built in 1904. This is where Val used to pick up the pay cheque from ODE.

The Post Office – totally intact. Ahh, the times that Bill & Val travelled the 25 miles in from the Oil Rig to Tambo to check the mail and hope that the cheque from ODE’s head office in Sydney was waiting for them.

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THEN Tambo Hospital much as it was in 1957 and 1958. Val was in the maternity ward which was further on. Billy chatted to people on the front verandah when he stayed overnight in 1958 when he hurt himself at the Oil Rig.

NOW. Val outside of the Tambo Primary Health Centre in 2012. The maternity section she used in 1957 no longer exists.

The Hospital – once a regional facility – downsized and downgraded to a Primary Health Centre. Val came to Tambo with 3 little ones and the next child 3 months away.  Val gave birth in the no longer existing maternity section.

Club Hotel

The Club Hotel in Tambo. One of Bill’s watering holes. Pretty much as it was in 1957 when John Steer was the licencee.

The Club Hotel – Bill’s favourite pub – intact and still selling beer and food. We went there for dinner. There are stories to tell about this place.

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The Royal Hotel now but new in 1957 having been rebuilt in 1954. It was one of the original 4 hotels in the town.

The Royal Carrangarra Hotel – Bill’s other favourite pub – intact and still selling the essentials. In 1957, it was the new hotel having just been constructed. And much to the chagrin of the locals, was virtually totally booked out by those damn yanks from the Oil Rig. And to those damn yanks, it was hardly good enough.  To be good enough it would need to have been ‘AA boy… All American’.

The Police Station and Lockup – where Bill was so close to being a guest – totally renewed.  Bill was so close to spending time in the lockup he’d have been happy to know that it is totally gone and there is a new police station and lockup.

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This is where they serve the Great Tucker at the Club Hotel in Tambo. Val and Bill had dinner here, it was good and there was plenty of it.

The reconnoitre done, it was time to get the lowdown on where to start looking for the Oil Rig site. So as my custom is, I went to the bar of the Club Hotel and looked for a local who might know. In 5 minutes flat we hit paydirt  with Teddy Peacock who had been around since 1965.  We stayed for dinner.

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Our caravan at the Tambo Caravan park. Daphne managed to put us her original van. It was clean and the price was certainly right. Would not have done for some of our more discerning kin but OK for us.

Then off to the budget option in accommodation at the Tambo Caravan Park where our host Daphne Cartwright was friendly and shared plenty of good information to help us in our quest.  Daphne wears many hats and is a veritable local encyclopaedia.  She’s only been in town since 1988 but she knows her way around.

The Transport to Heartbreak Corner

Heartbreak Corner Theme Pic

On our  return to Heartbreak Corner, we zoomed along in veritable lounge chairs, on bitumen road in a vehicle manufactured in Japan.

We listen to stereo music of choice – John Williamson’s Warragul – probably not everybody’s choice, but ours.

Every now and again we tweak the air-conditioning to maintain that perfect level of ambiance for travelling comfort.

 

4 door Plymouth Belvedere

4 door Plymouth Belvedere like Bill and Val purchased in 1957, expect that theirs was a very nice green and didn’t have the chrome to create the different coloured area on the bottom portion.

A lifetime ago, Val wallowed along the corrugated dusty road to the outback in an overstated Yank Tank.

Dash of Belvedere

Steering Wheel and Dash of the Plymouth Belvedere. Apart from being left-hand drive this is the right look.

The windows were open, quarter-glass directing wind to the cool the driver and front passenger. If they passed a vehicle from the other direction, that had to quickly roll the up windows to avoid being smothered in dust. And they followed at a very respectable distance to avoid the dust cloud kicked up by the vehicle in front.

There was the radio for entertainment, when a station was close enough. The radio if it was going to prevail had complete with the roar of wind from open windows. And the seats, their 1957 Plymouth Belvedere had a lounge chair in the front and a lounge chair in the back.

Bill loved American big and beautiful and when he received the first tranche of money from their mineral sands lease being taken up, he paid the deposit to finance a beautiful green version of this car.  Have a listen to how it didn’t run. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8yB0aNbxh0

Plymouth Belvedere 2 door

Plymouth Belvedere 2 door. Bill and Val had the 4 door version of the car. It was a big green and beautiful. Bill licked the steam off it.

After the rest of the money failed to materialise, Bill and Val were stuck with the big Yank Tank and the payments that went with it. Job prospects in Maryborough were poor and so this beauty had to go west for Bill to earn its keep. That’s what set them on the road to Heartbreak Corner.

The trek to Heartbreak Corner was taken just 12 years after WW2 had finished and the US was Australia’s new friend. The general populace were still learning more of the horrors of the Japanese treatment of Australian POW’s in Changai, on the Burma Railway and in other places. A wallowing Yank Tank was in perfect keeping with the times.

 

54 years later, we returned to Heartbreak Corner in a Mitsubishi Pajero.

Mitsubishi Pajero 4WD

The Mitsubishi Pajero in which Bill and Val travelled on the Return to Heartbreak. The sturdy 4WD was much better suited to the 1957 roads than the flashy Plymouth.

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Mitsubishi Zero Fighter from WW2. The Allies couldn’t match it for speed or manoeuvrability until well into the war. This image is of one used in the making the movie Pearl Harbour.

It was Mitsubishi that made the Zero which had a 12 to 1 kill rate against the allies. It was a faster, more maneuverable fighter plane that the allied aircraft could not compete with until 1942.

How times have changed.  It would have been unthinkable to drive a Mitsubishi in 1957.   And now, I wouldn’t even think about buying a American Motor Vehicle.  Although, in Spain, where Pajero means ‘wanker’, I would be driving a Montero.

The Real Heartbreak Corner

DSC_0445 - Version 3Heartbreak Corner is vast, harsh and unforgiving for those who get it wrong. Full credit belongs to those who conquered it and not only made a living but made fortunes of it over the last 150 years.

I googled Heartbreak Corner since we were travelling there to catch up on the past. I came up with a fascinating book with the title Heartbreak Corner by Fleur Lahane. I bought the book and enjoyed the read.

Flear Lahane writes the heroic and sometime tragic story of the Irish immigrant families, the Costellos, Duracks and Tullys who founded the family dynasty of great cattle stations in the South-West corner of Queensland.

3712_HeartbreakCornerOne of her underlying reasons for writing the book was to ’tell the story of the some of the many children who died long ago and whose graves lie out in the far south-west of Queensland.’

She says in the forward ‘Unless one has lived in the country where these graves are to be found, it would be hard to understand just how vast and lonely it can be. The problems encountered by the women of those early days were so great that the worries of the present generation seem petty by comparison.’

As we travelled and reviewed Val’s experiences and those of other woman, I saw how easily life could be lost.

In a year in Tambo, Val had one child who wandered off. She was spotted by some quick thinking by Bert Wight who climbed to the superstructure of the oil rig to get height needed to see her before she wandered too far off.

Another child had an internal injury from a swing and urinated blood.

And none of Val’s children could resist the lure of dicing with death at the water drums which swarmed with bees who were desperate for scarce water.  That year a little boy was stung to death by bees in the region.

When the job near Tambo finished, Bill and Val moved deeper into the grip of drought to the Channel Country.

Thylungra ShedsOn the way to Clifton Station and Windorah, they called at the legendary Thylungra Station for food and fuel. Thylungra Station was established by the very Durack family of the Fleur Lehane’s book.

Madelyn Honours the ANZAC’s fastest HOG

The day before Anzac Day, 8 year old Madelyn asked a really good question. “What did our family do for the Anzacs?”
My answer, “Your great great grandfather, Bert Wight, rode the Anzac’s fastest Indian.”
“You mean like Cowboys and Indians?” she asked.
“No, like a really big Indian motorcycle ridden really fast.” I replied. As it turns out it was actually Harley Davidson 10/12 rather than an Indian. Luckily Jim Wight picked us up on when he checked the blog before we published it. Madelyn was delighted that our family had done something for the Anzacs and decided that she would like to attend the dawn service this Anzac Day. We were up at 4.45am and made our way to Cleveland RSL. Big attendance!

Madelyn at her first Anzac Dawn Service

There were 1000’s of people and cars were lined up from 1 kilometre away. We made our way through the crowd, couldn’t see much, but we heard the messages, heard the prayers and heard the bugler at dawn. Our decision to stand on the roundabout turned out to be a good one, because we had a great view of the marchers at the end of the service.  Madelyn took the flowers she had bought to honour the great great grandfather she never knew about until the day before Anzac day. She placed it at the memorial in his honour.

Bert Wight in his RAAF uniform at Bachelor NT in 1943

How did Bert become the Anzac’s fastest HOG? First thing was that he joined Australia’s military thereby becoming part of the Anzac tradition and secondly he rode the fastest Harley Davidson.
Bert became an Anzac when he joined the RAAF in 1943. He had spent the earlier part of the war in essential services. He was posted to Bachelor in the Northern Territory. Bachelor was one of the airfields that supported the defence of Northern Australia which was of vital strategic importance to stop the Japanese offensive. It was defended by Australian, British, Dutch and American forces. That turned out to be a real bonus for Bert.

Bert Wight on his killer HOG from side-on in Bachelor NT in 1943

On arrival in Bachelor, Bert reported to the Adjutant and was informed that he was to be an Intell Despatch Rider. “Can you ride a ‘real’ motorcycle?” the Adjutant asked.
“Yes Sir,” Bert said confidently. “I raced a Douglas 500cc Sports motorcycle in speedway before the war.”
“We have a Harley here that nobody will ride because it has killed its last 3 riders.” It was a Harley Davidson 10/12 and was supercharged.

Bert astride his killer HOG after he had gotten the better of it in 1943

The Harley sat very low to the ground which is why it was so deadly, especially when ridden on unsealed roads.   Unsealed roads was all there was in the Outback.  You had to ride it correctly or it would get you.

Never the shrinking violet Bert stated boldly that he was up for it. The Douglas 500cc he rode in speedway ran on motor spirit, so Bert had plenty of experience with powerful motorcycles and dirt surfaces.

Douglas 500cc sports racing bike like that Bert Wight learned to ride on dirt with before the war.

He couldn’t see why the Harley couldn’t be tamed and looked forward to the challenge.

Bert had the killer machine and now was given a licence to speed and a licence to kill. As an Intell Dispatch rider he was not to be stopped or impeded in any way and was instructed to shoot to kill if anyone tried to stop him.

He wore 2 black armbands to indicate his role. The armbands would signal to those who manned checkpoints that he was not to be stopped.

Bert Wight posing with his Yankee boss on the HOG

Bert regularly carried Intell from Bachelor to Darwin, a distance of some 60 miles. He tamed the Harley and travelled at high speed. He could really make that HOG fly.
Bert in his inimitable way had managed to work his way right into the thick of things. He was assigned to American Command but mainly worked with the Dutch Squadrons which were under the direction of the Americans. He was his own man, he had a licence to ride anywhere unchallenged, a Colt 45 on his hip and a superbike to ride as fast as he liked.

Bert astride his HOG in Bachelor in 1943

And that’s how Madelyn’s great great grandpa came to be the Anzac’s fastest HOG.

Madelyn laying flowers of the Cenataph for Bert Wight

Val’s Day at the National Archives

We have been playing detective for almost 20 years.  The best clues in our Search for WJ have almost always come from visiting archives.   In October, 2011, we were in London and London houses the daddy of all the archives – The National Archive at Kew.  “1,000 years of history in documents” is a great incentive to make the trip to London.  We just could not resist taking a day to go and soak up the experience of seeing and touching the paper that recorded contemporaneously the events that touched their lives of our forebears.

Our archive experience started on a high note right from day 1 in Hobart in 1994.  We didn’t know anything but we blundered our way into finding gold on WJ.  We started digging in the Tasmanian Archive with only the name of my great grandmother and a rough idea of when she was born.  Within hours we we found our very first record.  It was WJ’s ‘Permission to Marry’ record which allowed him as a convict to marry Ann Carey on the 17th April, 1854.

What Val was about to experience in London was special.  She was about to hold the actual paper record of the court martial of WJ.  It was recorded by the court scribe on the 30th March, 1843 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. It was signed off by Dr AS Kane who said WJ was fit to undertake any punishment from flogging to hard labour.  It was signed off by Captain Richard French who chaired the proceeding and by Captain Evelyn K.G. Packlington who had the role of Deputy Judge Advocate for the hearing.

My Readers Ticket for the National Archive allowed me to order the records online the day before, to cut down our time at the Archive without records. The 5 sets of documents were ready for us in the document reading room lockers when we arrived and seat 6G had been allocated. We were ready to roll.

We brought the archive box to our desk, removed the ribbons and took the lid off.  There was WJ’s Court Martial record right on the top of the box, just as I had left it a year earlier. Nobody had looked in the last year.  When I first found this record in 2010, I placed the court martial records for WJ, Kennedy and Keefe on the top of the box of records.

Opening the National Archive file box

Val opened WJ’s Court Martial record up and made her way through it.  It is definitely easier to read the transcription, but nonetheless a great experience working through the original.  When Val had finished WJ’s trial record, she then read through the trial records of fellow escapees Keefe and Kennedy.

Val looking at WJ's Court Martial

I went through other items in the archive box and found another 2 Court Martial hearings for the 52nd regiment in Fredericton. I couldn’t resist taking copies of them for review to further understand the context of WJ’s trial. The interesting thing about these other desertions is that both of these poor wretches tried to make it to America and were both caught at one the Deserter Posts near Woodstock.  Bob Dalison from the historical society in Fredericton had told us about Deserter Posts and here was the proof.

I wanted to make sure that I tried to find new material, since I was at the Archive and it is an awful long way to come to look at material already seen.  I wanted to find how long the 52nd Regiment stayed in Canada after WJ’s expulsion from it.  I went through 6 set of Regimental Muster Rolls and Pay-Lists to find that the regiment stayed on until the Spring of 1847.  It took 2 document requests to order up the documents.  Amazingly it only took 30 minutes for each of those sets of records to be retrieved and delivered to my reader’s box for reading. What a great system! And for free!!!

Box WO 71/350 - WJ's Record on Top

The other thing I wanted to look for was any record of George Luther Hatheway being paid for the capture of WJ and his 2 fellow deserters. And eurika – I did! Voucher No 75 of the Pay List for the period April to June 1843 was for payment to “Mr Hatheway for apprehension of deserters”.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t found the amount. The Pay-List is a summary, so I had to be happy with that find.

I think I could move into the Archive.   But my attention was called back to reality by a text from Lynette letting me know that our taxi to Heathrow had just picked her up from Andrew and Megan’s house and would be picking me up in around 45 minutes. Thud!!  I won’t be moving into the Archive, I will be going back home and really soon.

Val’s Day at the Archive was over – now back home to Australia to transcribe, to interpret and to share.

A Glimpse at Grangegorman Female Depot

In October, 2011, Val, Bill and Lynette travelled around the globe as detectives seeking clues to give us a better picture of where the people who became our forebears came from.  First, there was a whistlestop tour of Fredericton in Canada where William Johnston (WJ) deserted the British army.  Then there was Crosscanonby in Cumbria to the church where WJ was baptised.  Crossing the Irish Sea we discovered Ballymena, the home of Irish-Scottish McClintocks and Fivemiletown where James Carey stole a cow and then Roscommon on the trail of Ann Carey who stole to be with her husband in Tasmania.

We found little in Roscommon to connect with Ann Carey, but we knew that she spent time in the Grangegorman Female Depot in Dublin and that the buildings were still in existence. We were fortunate enough to have a copy of her record page at the prison thanks to some good investigation by Thelma McKay in Hobart.

From Rosscomon to Dublin

So instead of having our customary drink and toast in Roscommon, we made straight for Dublin because we needed to visit Ireland oldest pub and then find Grangegorman Female Depot before darkness overtook us. With a flight already booked, we had to fly back to London the next day and we hadn’t seen enough of Ballymena to get a feel of where the McClintocks came from.

Ann Carey spent 3 months in that dreary prison in 1847, after being convicted of larceny in Omagh in County Tyrone. She was awaiting the SV Waverley, which was to transport her to Van Diemen’s Land on its third voyage to Hobart Town.

Our first stop in Dublin was the Brazen Head which claims to Ireland oldest and pub and that was the appropriate place to drink the health of our little Irish grandmother who was all of 4 foot 11 inches, feisty and quite prepared to tell you to ‘feck off’. In fact, she was charged with doing just that in Hobart Town on 20th January, 1852.   That information comes from her Convict Conduct Record.  Some of the family stories are even more interesting.   One is that she smoked a pipe stoked with the tobacco from cigarette butts off railway workers.  That’s right – my fifth great grandmother smoked a pipe! But as far as I am aware, she did not wear army boots.

The Brazen Head - Ireland Oldest Pub

The Brazen Head was the favourite drinking place for novelist James Joyce and I still remember his depressing descriptions of grey Dublin days. A year before this visit, our son  Andrew and wife Megan had taken us to this pub for the Sunday Singing Session. It was grand!! We listened and joined in with singing sad ballads about life and trouble with a room crowded with morbid melody.  A fitting place to toast Ann Carey. We did so with Guinness, because we knew that it is good for your health and enhances your intelligence.  The ads told us so.

Lack of preparation plagued us in the execution of the quest to find Grangegorman Female Depot. Doesn’t even sound like a prison does it? Well, nobody knew anything about it because it wasn’t a prison any longer. Fortunately, Lynette had brought backup of our home server and I had copied an article on the prison. We pulled up the copy on my PC and found that it was in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. What did our Irish GPS think about that?

Well that was quite OK for the GPS, we got to Stoneybatter just fine but right on peak hour traffic. But that just wasn’t close to anything that looked for a former prison. If only I had looked at the article more closely, as it had one piece of vital information we needed to find our prison. We didn’t have the name of the street, did we? A suburb name just wasn’t near enough.

Grangegorman Entrance in 1996

We drove up some torturous narrow little streets using the random drive approach and asked some construction workers.  Their directions got us to the current men’s prison. Nope – that’s not it. So we went into a road that led to bus depot with a security gate. An inquiry there got us directions to the Grangegorman Hospital. All this at peak hour!!

While I was summoning up the courage to break back into the traffic to go to the Grangegorman Hospital which was nearly but not quite there, I thought I would have one more look at the internet article item that I had copied. Great day in the morning!  It had the street name further down in the article. Rathdowney Road. That was what we needed. We tapped this into our trusty little GPS and off we went.

After 3 wrong turns we were in the right street. Now all we had to do was drive the street and hope that the prison was going to a big complex that we just couldn’t miss. Well it almost was. We took pictures of a depressing front entrance and didn’t know we had found IT for sure until we arrived back in Oz and found an article on the prison.

Entrance to Grangegorman in 2011

Just like some depressing description out of James Joyce before imbibing at the Brazen Head, it was grey, it was dreary and my heart ached for poor Ann having to endure this sad place with harsh grey stone walls. She so deserved the payoff of eventually finding true love for enduring this place.

I like to think she did find true love with WJ, but that wasn’t until 1854 after a couple of false starts. She had to tell a few to ‘feck off’ and then one, John Hambrook, saw her off and she was sentenced to 6 months hard labour for her trouble and a pregnant with a little girl by the name of Mary Ann Carey.

But for all that, there was a happy ending with WJ and some absolutely grand descendants. She possibly reached a point in her life of thanking Judge Torrens for giving her the transportation sentence that she wanted on the 8th March 1847 in the County Tyrone Quarter Sessions.

The best perspective we could get was the rear of Grangegorman Female Depot from Fitzgerald St. It was high multistorey walls with missing windows that had incarceration written all over it.

Derelict remains of Grangegorman Womans Prison

Traversing the cavernous doors at the front entrance on Rathdowny Rd would make you feel like you had passed out of life into darkness. The steel doors present in a 1969 photo where not there in 2011. But it still looked daunting.

The stone walls of the outer the perimeter from Rathdowny Road looks like they hide another world.

It was easier for Ann than the long term residents.  She was there for 3 months to give her some fundamental training before going to Van Diemen’s Land. The Convict Department in Tasmania were trying to get better outcomes from female convicts who were not hired by settlers because they had no skills. She was actually fortunate to be here, as dreary as it looked.

We managed to see as much as we could of a former prison from the outside and then headed north for the Holiday Inn Express in Antrim for our last night in Ireland.

Not Even a Name to Go By

Val at the Bush Hotel at Carrick-on-Shannon

We headed off from a delightful stay at the historical Bush Hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon to get a ‘feel’ for Roscommon. Country Roscommon was recorded on Ann Carey’s Convict Conduct records as her place of origin. We had driven through Fivemiletown in County Tyrone where she was tried and transported for 7 years to Van Diemen’s Land but her home place was Roscommon.

The only definite name we have for Ann is Ann Carey which was her married name. Her Convict Conduct Record indicated that she was married, was a Roman Catholic and could read a little. She did make an ‘X’ rather than sign the marriage register when she married WJ in 1854. The family stories suggest Ann Tiernan as her name and her death record has Tierney as a middle name. There are a couple of family trees on Ancestry.com.au following Ann Carey back to Tiernan in Ireland, but her age doesn’t reconcile with the Convict Records.

So in one sense we had less to go on for Ann than we did for Andrew McClintock. At least his name was definite and it is very likely that he was Presbyterian. He married in the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand.

We headed for the town of Roscommon in County Roscommon. This area of Ireland was really showing the bite of financial hard times. An issue near to the heart of local was a move to close down the local hospital.  Undoubtedly an austerity measure brought about by the hard times that the ‘to let’ signs on commercial buildings around the town bear testament to.

Ancient origins are immediately apparent on entering the town with preserved old buildings abounding. Notable is the ancient ruins of a Roscommon Castle. Nice to see somebody was obviously wealthy at some time here.

One item that we missed in going through the town was the Famine Memorial. (Note to self – always look at Wiki or the Lonely Planet before going anywhere). It is a memorial to the thousands of people in Roscommon who perished in the Potato Famine years from 1845 to 1852. This workhouse designed for 700 paupers and dealt with over 1600 during those years. In January, 1847 a sign was placed outside to turn people away from the workhouse. Ann Carey is likely to have left the area looking for opportunities to the north.

The Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Roscommon is simply magnificent and its spire dominates as the high point of the town. We looked for a construction date to see if this was a place Ann Carey might have worshipped and found that it was constructed in the early 1900’s.

At the end of the day, not a glimpse of Ann Carey, so a ‘feel’ of Roscommon was the outcome. The farming land looked rockier and less green than the north, there were more run-down buildings, so if an area in the Emerald Isle was going to tough it out in a famine, we understand that it was going to be Roscommon.

We knew that the real touchpoint with Ann Carey was going to be in Dublin.  The result of her desperate actions in Fivemiletown was transportation to Van Dieman’s Land.  She was sent to Grangeforman Female Prison for 3 months while she awaited the Waverley which was take her to Van Dieman’s Land and her new life of servitude for seven years.  Ann chose uncertainty on the other side of the world for love.

5 Miles from Somewhere Else

Welcome to Fivemiletown

A quick session at the Northern Ireland Family History Society office quickly disavowed us of any idea that we were going to find records in Ireland that we couldn’t find in Australia. We thought this would be the case and so we did have a second string option.  Get the feel of where some of our ancestors came from!

We had some feel for where the McClintocks came from, but because we didn’t know whether they were farmers or not, it was a limited touch of their lives and their world. That’s the problem of trying to track down law-abiding people. No police record, no trial, no jail report!  There was just so little to go on, especially when the Irish Birth, Deaths and Marriages records are limited before the mid-1860’s.  Lynette Wight (nee McClintock) comes from good law abiding folk who farmed and weren’t naughty enough to attract the wrong sort of attention.

But the next 2 people we wanted to follow up left plenty behind for us to go on.   They blazed a veritible paper trial of court appearances, petitions, convict conduct records, more court appearances, swearing at authorities, sentences in Female Factories, surgeon reports and more.  James Carey was a stonecutter who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for 10 years.  His wife, Ann Carey was a housemaid who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for 7 years. How do we know? Convict conduct and court records of course! And the records point us to Fivemiletown in County Tyrone as the place of the first crime.  Stealing a cow – Bill Wight comes from good convict stock.  But at least the convicts have records – literally!!

Fivemiletown is named for the 3 towns that it is seven miles away from – Clogher, Brokeborough and Tempo. You are quite entitled ask why it might be called Fivemiletown if it is seven miles away from these 3 towns.  Such a relevant question deserves an informed answer. It’s because 7 miles is 5 mile when you’re Irish. An Irish mile is 1.27 English miles. Thus our 3 nearby centres which are 7 English miles away,  are actually 5 Irish miles away. And, after all, it is an Irish town and the Irish are quite entitled to use Irish miles to name it if they so wish.

The first crime we had record of was committed against a merchant by the name of Matthew Binney, when James Carey stole his cow in 1846. James was tried in nearby Omagh and sentenced to transportation for a term of 10 years. We don’t what happened to Matthew Binney’s cow, but we do know that Matthew must not have been too angry about it.  He petitioned the judge on James’s behalf in order to persuade his honor to commute James’s sentence of transportation to VDL to servitude in Ireland.  Presumably Matthew Binney was approached by James’s newly acquired wife.

When this petition failed to get the desired result, there were then another 2 crimes committed.  These were perpetrated by Ann Carey who may well have been forced on James as a wife.  On her second conviction when Ann stole a watch, she managed to get herself transported to Van Diemen’s Land in the hope of being with her husband.  As far as managing to get transported to Tasmania – mission accomplished.  As for the rest – another story.

We arrived in Fivemiletown to find a small town visibly in the grip of recession with numerous ‘To Let’ signs around. On our entrance to the town we saw the Catholic Church which might have been the relevant one for James and Ann’s marriage.  They were both Roman Catholics according to Convict Conduct Records.  The family story has it that there were forced to marry by the priest because there were “too long absent” from a Church picnic.  The mind boggles!  But the church proved not to have been built until the 1880’s, so certainly was not around in the 1840’s. While impressive to be sure,  it didn’t touch our family interest.

After finding nothing that could connect us to Ann and James, we thought we would find a pub, drink their health and have a pit stop all in one efficient operation. We found Scott’s Bar in the middle of town. We went into the bar and found the barman and 2 customers. We fielded a couple of cautious enquiries about what we ‘might be looking for’. We said we were passing through, but that the town had some family historical significance.

These gents were most interesting to talk to and all had been to Australia, knew of someone living in Australia, or had relations in Australia. We really struggled to understand them and I guess it had to be mutual. They recognised Carey as possibly a local name and were kind enough to point out that the town was possibly not named Fivemiletown in the mid-1840’s. I resisted disagreeing with our new friends, but I had a petition from Matthew Binney dated 1846 stating the cow was stolen at Fivemiletown where he was a merchant, so I was quite sure it was Fivemiletown at the time.

It became quite amusing when one gent had to graciously disagree with my Wikipedia informed view that Ann might have moved away from Roscommon, because it was the county hit hardest by the Potato Famine of 1845 to 1852. He had to politely disagree because neighbouring Monaghan was the hardest hit. I accepted his point graciously and did not let it get in the road of a really pleasant dialogue.  My new friend expressed his disappointment the Australia, New Zealand and Canada had all dumped Great Britain after the mother country supported them through 2 world wars.  I had no doubt that my new friend was one of the many who proudly touted British flags outside their homes in Northern Ireland.  And on the matter of us ditching British, I had the Antipodean view that we had become involved in 2 wars that weren’t ours.   And I thought we had aligning with the ‘new world’ we lived in.  I refrained from enightening him of my thoughts.  In so saying, I have to admit to a great deal of admiration for the Brits.

As we were getting ready to leave our new friends kindly bought to our attention that the Court of Petty Sessions established in 1832 was just over the road from the bar. James and Ann however were both tried at a higher level court in Omagh, some 17 miles to the north.  But I did have to wonder what a ‘petty crime’ was when you got 10 years for stealing a cow and 7 years for stealing a watch.  But I also recognise to ‘existing and being born’ because of these ‘crimes’.

We loved the countryside as we made our way towards Roscommon and caught it at 100km per hour on our express touch-tour of Ireland. We were running out of light, when we drove into a charming place by the name of Carrick-on-Shannon. After a couple of inquiries we found a bargain room at the Bush Hotel where we spend lovely night with some real highlights like 5 different ways to have potato. I really felt at home.

Yep – I’m Irish.  Lynette was told by a skin specialist that she has the ‘black irish’ skin.  Irish carries through the several generations.

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