Our Hodgetts Family Saga- Henrietta Hodgetts,1820,Tasmania-Part 3

Henrietta Hodgetts-Piper the illegitimate daughter of Sarah Hodgetts was born in northern Tasmania on 30 May 1820. There have always been questions about her paternity.

See Our Hodgetts Family Saga- Henrietta Hodgetts,1820, Tasmania-Part 1

Our Hodgetts Family Saga- Henrietta Hodgetts,1820, Tasmania-Part 2

 I now continue with Henrietta’s story.

Many family historians following the Hodgett line have indicated that as nothing could be found in the records of Henrietta Hodgetts-Piper after infancy, she must have died young. This is not so.

Sarah Hodgetts, (Henrietta’s mother) married Richard Lawson on 22 August 1825 at St John’s Church of England, Launceston. [1]

Henrietta Hodgetts-Piper remained with her mother and came to be known as Henrietta or Harriet Lawson. She grew up with her Lawson half-siblings in the Norfolk Plains area, including Elizabeth, born 1826 [2]; Thomas, born 1827[3]; Richard, born 1829 [4]; Daniel, born 1830 [5]; William, born 1832 [6]; Henry, born 1835 [7]and George Hatton, born 1837.[8]

The foundations of St. John’s Launceston, as a parish, date from the arrival of the Revd. John
Youl in 1819, in Port Dalrymple. Divine Service (as Sunday services were called) was held under the trees or in a blacksmith’s shop (John Hodgett’s); when wet. Youl called his congregation together by striking an iron barrel with a mallet, walking through the settlement in his “canonical dress”. When it first opened its doors in 1825, the parish church existed under the Diocese of Madras, Calcutta in India. [9]

On 19 December 1843 at St John’s Launceston, Harriet Lawson (AKA Henrietta Hodgetts-Piper), married Robert Symmons of Moat Farm, near Westbury.[10]

They had a number of children including- Henrietta Symmons, born 1846[11]; Elizabeth Symmons, born 1848 [12]; John Symmons, born 1849 [13]: Robert Henry Symmons, born 1851[14]; Jessie Symmons, born 1853 [15]; Thomas Richard Symmons, born 1854 [16]; Eleanor Symmons, born 1856 [17]; Blanche Symmons, born 1858 [18]; Alfred William Symmons, born 1859 [19] and Osborne Frank Symmons, born 1863.[20]

The family farmed at Moat Farm for some time and several of the children were born there.

They later bought property near Deloraine, which was known as West Park.

The family farmed at West Park for over thirty years until Robert Symmon’s death on 1 December 1890. [21]Henrietta Symmons died on 3 February 1892.[22]

I have been encouraging all our family historians, and my students, to gather as much information as they can for three events in our ancestors’ lives- that is their birth, marriage, and death records. Consequently, Robert Symmons and Henrietta (Harriet) Piper-Hodgetts-Symmons marriage and death records can be found in the State Library of Tasmanian archives.[23][24]

However, an online search in Trove through the National Library of Australia gives us so much information about the lives of our ancestors as the following newspaper items illustrate. A careful study of these gives us clues to research other branches of this family.

Fire Report for House of  Robert Symmons [25]

House Sale Advertisement [26]

Property Sale Advertisement [27]

Death and Funeral Notice for Robert Symmons [28]

Death Report of Robert Symmons [29]

Death Report of Robert Symmonds[30]

Death Report of Robert Symmons [31]

Probate Notice for Robert Symmons [32]

Property sale for Robert Symmons [33]

Death Notice of Henrietta Symmonds [34]

Funeral Notice of Henrietta Symmons[35]

Probate Notice of Henrietta Symmons [36]

A list of my references is available to family members and interested researchers on application. Please leave a request in the comments box below indicating your interest.


Family History Class Notes – More Help Using Newspapers in Family History Research


As much as I love those early Sydney newspapers, it is the Provincial or Regional newspapers I am most passionate about, as it is those newspapers which hold within their pages the more personal history of an area and its people.

Although a newspaper had begun in the Hunter Valley in 1841, it was the Maitland Mercury which began in January 1843 that became a great success story. It began as a weekly and became a bi-weekly in 1846 to a tri-weekly in 1856. It was so successful that in 1893 it was a daily. It covered the news not only of the whole Hunter Valley but it had its own ‘correspondents’ reporting throughout the whole of northern and western New South Wales. Later when many of these towns began to produce their own newspapers the Maitland Mercury continued to spread the news by publishing ‘extracts’ from these publications. This becomes a very important consideration when the ‘original’ issues of these publications have not survived.

The Provincial newspapers of NSW to follow the Maitland Mercury were:

Brisbane Courier-1846:

Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal-1848;

Goulburn Herald- 1848:

Armidale Express-1856;

Newcastle Chronicle-1858

Clarence and Richmond Examiner-1859.[This later became the Daily Examiner]

It is from the last of these I propose to examine more thoroughly and give examples from. This newspaper has recently been digitized and made available through Trove. However, a much more complete set of newspapers survive in hardcopy and are housed at Grafton. In an extensive study of this newspaper between 1859-1869, I found there were more than 160 issues not microfilmed and made available on-line through Trove. Of those microfilmed nearly 200 issues were missing a supplementary page that has survived in the hardcopy.

Other newspapers for the Grafton area included:-

  • The Grafton Argus
  • The Observer
  • The Grip
  • The Clarion
  • The Clarence Advocate (Maclean)

Only short runs and occasional copies have survived. All known surviving copies of the these newspapers have been microfilmed. Some of these can also be found on in the Historical Newspapers on Trove.

Please also note many other North Coast newspapers can be found on Trove, including those for Casino, Kyogle, Lismore, Murwillumbah, Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby.

From the earliest days newspapers were in the business of information and were organized in an orderly fashion under ‘headings’ rather than ‘headlines’, so that a pattern emerges which allows researching newspapers easier than one at first might assume. In each issue the headings usually appeared on the same page and in the same column which allows for scanning with the eyes rather than reading every word in print. These headings could roughly be grouped into:

  • News of events and places
  • Personal Notices and Items
  • Trade and Commerce
  • Land
  • Legal
  • Social

All these to varying degrees have value to the family historian. To illustrate this I propose to take some of these headings and show the scope and value of each to the family historian.

News of Events and Places- This is of course is always of interest to the local and family historian and includes a wide range of topics such things as flooding, mining and shipping disasters or gold discovery, launching of a ship, opening of a school, or railway line and station.

Personal Notices- Birth, Death and Marriage Notices are perhaps one of the most valuable sources sort by family historians. These fall into three kinds.

Firstly an event which took place locally, secondly of an event somewhere in Australia, and thirdly of one overseas in another country which had some family connections in Australia.

Even if you have a baptism and or birth certificate; marriage certificate or burial and or death certificate it is always worth checking to see if there was a corresponding notice in a newspaper. Very often extra information is given which is important and not likely to be found in other sources. Let me show you an example

You will find other notices and items of value around the wedding particularly in the early to Mid 20th Century. Reports of ‘Tin-kettling, Kitchen teas, Wedding receptions, etc. Are you fortunate enough to have a black and white or sepia wedding photo of an ancestor’s wedding group? Have you found a report in a newspaper that named and described the clothes of the wedding party, including the colour of the fabric? No colour photos in those days and this may be the only way you can find the colour of the bridesmaid’s dresses. Often there was also a list and description of the wedding gifts and who gave them.

Other useful newspaper items and notices concerning death are obituaries, death reports, inquests, funeral notices, and probate notices.

Of course, Obituaries have always been of value to the family historian and are much sort after. The true obituary as we know it didn’t really appear until the second half of the 19th Century except for the wealthy. Sometimes an obituary was not entered for the husband, but was for the wife, especially if she died many years after the husband. Sometimes circumstances concerning the husband’s death were given, which is very valuable if the death was before 1856.

Some interesting ones in Grafton were those of Mrs. Mary Greenwood (formerly Bawden) who died in May 1873 her husband having died in 1841, and Mrs. Mary Matilda Hann, who died in June 1882, whose husband died in 1857.

After 1900 obituaries became more frequent and during the period 1920-60 were usually very good. However, it must be noted that ‘convict background’ was ‘covered-up and be aware that sometimes information in obituaries can be misleading to the researcher.

Trade and Commerce

I’m sure everyone would be aware how useful advertisements can be when researching local and family history. They cover a wide range from listing goods for sale, the opening of businesses, business partnerships, the opening of new stores, etc.

One of the most useful sections is the Shipping Intelligence and Shipping News sections of the newspapers.



For those who have a maritime connection, the Shipping Intelligence sections of newspapers can be useful in tracing the history of ships and some of their crew.Shipping-Settlement

Or it can help find when people arrived in an area. The above list for Herbert Eggins certainly implies he was settling in the district.


Then there are Legal items such as – Police and Court Proceedings, Probate notices, divorce cases, formation and dissolution of business partnerships, advertisements of bailiff sales, police, and court proceedings.





For those who settled on the land, there are notices of -Land Grants, Pre-emptive Leases, Conditional Purchases, Conditional Leases, Land Wardens Courts, Property names. Mining Reports

Land-Free Selection


And for those who had Gold fever there were Mining ReportsMining-1Social

There were the social aspects of the area in reports and advertisements about – dances, association meetings and gatherings, visitors, and general gossip columns. The Sports Team fixtures, reports of events, team lists, sporting career biographies

Finally, we touch on the education opportunities and reports in the newspaper pages with concerts, P & C Meetings, prize-giving ceremonies, class lists, examination result lists (Leaving Certificate).

I have prepared indexes from Clarence River newspapers to assist family and local historians to find material in these newspapers. These are now out of print but can be found in libraries and family history and local history societies.

They include:-

Clarence River Register No 1 1859-1869: Births, Deaths, and Marriages from the Newspapers

[Nola Mackey,1994,72pp,ISBN 959263144]

Clarence River Register No 2 1870-1879: Births, Deaths, and Marriages from the Newspapers

[Nola Mackey,1994,103pp,ISBN 959263160]

Clarence River Register No 3 1880-1889: Births, Deaths, and Marriages from the Newspapers

[Nola Mackey,1995,134pp,ISBN 959263187]

Clarence River Register No 4 1890-1899: Births, Deaths, and Marriages from the Newspapers

[Nola Mackey,1996,120pp,ISBN 1875840001]

Clarence River Register No 5 1900-1905: Births and Marriages from the Newspapers

[Nola Mackey,1998,36 pp, ISBN 1875840028]

Clarence River Register No 6 1906-1910; Births, Deaths, and Marriages from the Newspapers

[Nola Mackey,1998,114pp,ISBN 1875840044]

Clarence River Register No 7 1900-1905: Deaths and Burials in the Clarence River District

[Nola Mackey and June Kepper,1984,141pp, ISBN095926311X]

Clarence River Register No 8 1862-1869: Land Selection on the Clarence and Richmond Rivers

[Nola Mackey,1998,148pp,ISBN 1875840079]

Clarence River Register No 9 1860-1865: Passengers and Crew In & Out of the Clarence River

[Nola Mackey,2000,Set 3 books 78pp,74pp,36pp,ISBN 1875840095]

Clarence River Register No 10 1866-1869: Passengers and Crew In & Out of the Clarence River

[Nola Mackey,2000,Set 3 books 106pp,108pp,48pp,ISBN 1875840117]

Clarence River Register No 11 1870-1879: Conditional Purchases of Land on the Clarence River

[Nola Mackey,2004,142pp,ISBN 1875840567]

Clarence River Register No 12 1911-1915: Births, Deaths, and Marriages from the Clarence & Richmond Examiner (Grafton)

[Nola Mackey,2005,192pp,ISBN 1875840613]

However again I need to remind you to think about the following when you are assessing the information in these newspapers.

Do not automatically take the published word as gospel, and proof of what happened. Look at the evidence and how it was presented. Reports of Inquests and Court Proceeding are likely to be correct as the evidence is taken under oath, but an obituary or biography of a person’s life may contain untruths and exaggerations.

If there were more than one newspaper being published in the area in a time period look at them all. You will be surprised to learn they will not report the same event exactly the same. There may be more information in one than the other.

Not all newspapers are equal- and there is good reporting and bad reporting and much depends on the editor of the paper at the time.

Newspapers have always been in the business of selling news, but they have always come under the Crown laws concerning slander and misrepresentation of facts. Some owners/editors stretched these boundaries and have found themselves in Court. There have been several newspapers who were sent to the wall and insolvency through court cases concerning slandering opposition newspapers.

Good hunting everyone.


World War II Experiences on the Home Front- Bushfires

Halfway through 2019, the topic of conversation among friends, family, and neighbours was ‘the drought’ and how it’s protracted nature was bringing so many close to ruin. Everyone was looking for those Spring showers and early storms. However, they didn’t arrive and within days there was only one thing on everyone’s mind – ‘the fires’.

For us, the fires began in August. A farmer several kilometres away was burning off when gale-force winds sprung up and drove the fire directly towards us. Within the hour the fire had raced through several kilometres of bushland and was threatening several homes near us. Fortunately, we had the Rural Fire Brigades, water-bombing planes and many friends and neighbours with fire- fighting equipment all throwing everything at the raging fire. They were finally successful in defending our homes and properties and brought it under control. We were the lucky ones. Over the next weeks and months, others to the north and south of us lost everything- homes, businesses and even lives.


We had bushfires through the area in 1993 when several neighbours  lost sheds and outbuildings as well as pastures, but none of us could compare that fire to what we faced in August.

That week in August was a defining moment in our lives which changed everything.


Our bushfire scare brought to mind my maternal grandparents, Arthur and Harriet May Baxter, who were farmers on the South Arm of the Tweed River in northern New South Wales. I had heard family stories and I knew they had come close to losing their home to bushfires in the 1940s.

I talked to the only living member of the family, my mother’s youngest sister, who was only a child at the time, but she could still recall the frightening experience. She could not recall how many times but knew it was more than once and it was during World War II when all the young men of the district, including her brother, were away at war. That left the older men, women, and children to fight the fires.


A search of the local newspapers on Trove on the National Library of Australia website gave me more details of these fires. The first was in 1940.


Fires Rage In South Arm Area – Pastures Burnt Over Wide Area

The period of extremely dry weather experienced by the Tweed and Richmond districts for the past six months culminated yesterday in a serious outbreak of fire which destroyed valuable pastures over a wide area between Uki and Nimbin.

Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 – 1949) ,Tue 5 Nov 1940 Page 2 , Fires Rage In South Arm Area

Extensive Damage from Fires

Grassland and Timber Destroyed at South Arm

Considerable damage was caused to grassland, fencing, timber, and roads from the grass and bushfires which raged through sections of the South Arm district on Monday and yesterday. Last night, while sections were still burning, it was stated that they were being watched carefully, and were under control. The southerly wind yesterday assisted the firefighters, who had been kept hard at work for many hours. Women helped the men at the arduous work.

The Tweed district has been enveloped in smoke since Monday, and the nearby hills have been practically obscured from view. The fires ravaged an area from Lilian Rock on the Kyogle Road to Uki, a distance of about 15 miles, and spread for varying distances from the road, through valuable pastures and timber. Some homesteads were endangered, but all were saved.

On Monday, after a report from the burning area, First-Class Constable McDonald and Constable  Fullwood, of Murwillumbah, and the Shire Engineer (Mr. A. L. Hornman) motored to Nimbin and Lillian Rock, where they met Constable Griffen, of Nimbin.

The trip to Lillian Rock and back to Murwillumbah by the police party was most uncomfortable, and at times hazardous, as the fire raged on both sides of the road and big trees were falling.

Clearing Roads

The party was expected back in Murwillumbah shortly after 1 o’clock yesterday morning, but it was not until after 5 o’clock that it was able to get through. The members were compelled ‘to clear the ‘road of fallen timber at frequent intervals, and at one point a large bloodwood, three feet in diameter, blocked their progress for some hours.

While some members walked through the blackened country for about three miles for a saw, one of the police officers set to work to cut through the big log.

Shire employees with a caterpillar tractor were sought to haul the timber off the road, and the gang was kept busy for many hours clearing a path for many other cars that were held up on various parts of the road.

With timber burning on both sides of the road throughout yesterday, many other trees fell and gangs will be employed to-day clearing the road. In places, the heat of the fires, which encroached to the sides of the road and the burning timber caused extensive damage to the bitumen surfacing.

Valuable Grassland Destroyed

It was estimated last night the fires had swept through at least 500 acres of grassland, and unless early rain falls the position in the South Arm district will be serious. Already there has been considerable movement of stock to the reaches of the river where more feed is available, while some owners have sought agistment in other parts of the Tweed district.

There were further outbreaks of fire yesterday and a close watch had to be maintained by owners, but it was stated last night that the position was well in hand. The fires raged throughout the day on Monday and many homesteads in the South Arm area were menaced.

The fire even encroached to within a short distance of the Church of England building at Kunghur, but was kept in check before any damage was done.

Traffic on the road between Uki and  Nimbin was dislocated on Monday through burning trees falling across, but little difficulty was experienced yesterday in getting through. No reports of serious damage to property have yet been received, although, fencing on many farms has been burnt. It was earlier reported that a house and outbuildings owned by Mr. C. Way at Byrrill Creek had been destroyed, but this was contradicted last night. It was stated that the fire got to within a short distance of the buildings but the firefighters managed to get it under control in time.

Fires in Forest

A thick, smoke haze could be seen over the Mebbin forestry area, but it has not been ascertained whether there has been any serious damage. Firefighters battled for six hours in the Whian forestry area on Monday night to get a big blaze under control.

It was stated last night that there were many blackened areas in the Midginbil, Kunghur and Mt. Burrell areas. where practically every available man helped to fight the fires on Monday.

A number of farm buildings was endangered when the fires, aided by a strong wind, ran swiftly through the pastures. In the Kunghur area, the blaze had to be fought to save the properties of Messrs. A. Baxter, C. McMahon and W. H. Taylor.

Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 – 1949) Tue 12 Nov 1940 Page 2 Destruction Of 3,000 Acres

A young man was charged with arson under the Careless Use of Fire Act (1912). When all the evidence was laid out, none of the farmers chose to prosecute him.

The full story can be found here.

Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 – 1949) Thu 14 Nov 1940 Page 8 Youth Fined £52 On Careless Use of Fire Act Charges

That was the first but not the last of the fires on the Home Front during World War II.




World War I, Family Hero – William George Blanchard

Many years ago, when I seriously began researching my maternal grandmothers family ‘The Bells,’ I was very fortunate to be able to track down various branches including the Blanchard family, who had migrated to Western Australia. These were first cousins of my maternal grandmother, Harriet May Bell.

 William George Blanchard, born 1885,at Picton, New South Wales, was the second child, and eldest son of Joseph and Alice Blanchard (nee Bell). Through family connections, I found and corresponded with, his eldest son, Charles William (Charlie) Blanchard, for a number of years. He was able to tell me his father had served in World War I, and that his ‘job was to drive ammunition trains to the Front Line’. I was able to access William George Blanchard’s military service records at the Australian Archives, but these were basic, and had very little actual information. I also visited the Australian War Memorial seeking information on these ‘engine drivers,’ but found very little in official records. Even recent searches on the Internet had little success.

However this week I struck ‘gold’ in the historical newspapers on TROVE at the National Library of Australia. Now using family oral history, Australian Archives World War I military service records and extracts from the newspapers I have been able to add much information to this Blanchard twig of my family history.

 When a young child, William George, along with the family moved to Western Australia where the father, Joseph Blanchard found employment as an engine driver on the Midland Junction Railway. In 1906 Joseph Blanchard died suddenly leaving his wife Alice Blanchard with seven children. William George, the eldest of the children had also found employment in the railway by this time.

 William George Blanchard married Maud Lyons in 1908. They had a family of three surviving sons by the time World War I had been declared.

William George Blanchard had served several years in the local militia. He tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces in April 1916, but was turned down for medical reasons. In December the same year he applied to join the newly formed Railway Corps. He was finally accepted and was put into basic training. In January 1917 he was promoted to Sergeant and on 21 January embarked at Freemantle on the troopship ‘Miltiades’ for overseas service.


The ‘Miltiades’ was of 7814 tons and a cruising speed of 13 knots. It was owned by G Thompson and Company of London and was leased by the Government for the transporting of troops and supplies from Australia in World War I.

 William George Blanchard disembarked at Devonport, England on 27 March 1917 and after further training was deployed overseas in France on 19 April 1917. On 12 October 1917 he was attached to the (British)Royal Engineers for special duties. [See below] While there, he ‘ was reprimanded by his commanding officer for failing to salute a ( British) officer’ — and I bet he wasn’t the only one.

He became ill in May 1918 and was admitted to Lakenham Military Hospital in Norwich, England.

 This Military Hospital was located in the premises of Lakenham Council School, which had only been built by the City Council in 1913.It had scheduled to receive its first pupils in August 1914. In fact, with the outbreak of First World War hostilities, its intended use for educational purposes was delayed until 1919, because the premises were requisitioned by the Army Council for use as a military hospital. [Ref:http://eventful.com/norwich/events/lakenham-military-hospital-colmans-detective-barry-/E0-001-087655001-9

 William George Blanchard later joined his unit in France and was transferred to ‘old gauge’ rail operations with the narrow French line.

When the war was over he spent a long furlong in England, before returning to his unit, to be transported home to Australia. He boarded the Konigin Luise on 21 June 1919.

 I believe the Konigin Luise was originally a German ship which had been converted by the Germans for mine-laying duties in the English Channel. She was later shelled and after much damage the wreck was finally captured. She was virtually rebuilt and was later used by the Government to bring troops and nurses home to Australia.

 After the war, William George Blanchard returned to employment with the Western Australian Government Railway. His son Charlie Blanchard was able to send me copies of much of his service in the railway.

 My ‘gold’ this week was in the form of informative newspaper extracts detailing the service of the Australian Railway Corp:-

 Australian Railway Corps on the Western Front as recalled by Lieutenant R J Burchell (MC), 4th Company Australian Railway Corps,( and Member of Parliament for Freemantle 1913-1922).

” There were three broad-gauge and three light railway companies, the original strength of each being 269 of all ranks which was increased by reinforcements to 300, so that the Australian railway operating troops totalled 1800. We were attached to the Royal Engineers for duty and discipline–a fact we did not appreciate. Our only connection with Australian corps was that we received AIF orders and an AIF paymaster visited us periodically for the purposes of pay. We took our places alongside our comrades of the Britain and French railway services, and whatever work came our way, in whatever circumstances, we did it.

Our first job was in the Ypres area with the British Second Army, under General Plumer. That started on October 5 1917, and we were at work up to the conclusion of hostilities-13 months. We were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even Hazelbrouck, the furthest back station of the 4th company, was under fire from the 15in guns. The first time I went into the station on a train the water tower was toppled over by a shell just as the train was entering the station. In the latter stages of the war the aeroplane bombs were of huge size. At Peronne the Australians captured German bombs estimated to weigh a ton, while for some time before the end the British planes were using 15cwt bombs. With both planes and guns the enemy paid systemic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realize that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Company, [William George Blanchard’s Battalion] based at Peselhoek, had the worst spot of the lot in the Ypres area for danger. Their section of the line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy.

In military railway work, owing to the conditions resulting from continual interruptions in the line by shell fire, you so not worry about mileage, or time-table. The main thing is to deliver your load safely where it is wanted. If you come to a spot on the direct road where the line has been blown up by the enemy, you go back, and endeavour to reach your destination by a roundabout route. The amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and the trains carry 1,000 ton loads. The system of traffic adopted mainly for army work was that of the Midland Railway Company, England. The French system of railway signals, which was in use, is much different from the British, and entails a much greater eye-strain on the engine drivers. Many of the men practically ruined their sight in the service.

As I have said, the lines were frequently cut by enemy fire. The British Engineers carried out repairs at any hour of the night or day, with remarkable expedition, but the French were not nearly so prompt.

After three months in the Ypres area, we were sent to the Somme, near Peronne. We had 30 miles of line to work, our main function being to supply ammunition, material, and food to the 5th Army, under General Gough, and provide engine power for six 15-inch guns, mounted on railway waggons, which operated from the ends of our lines. The 5th Army connected with the French Army on its right, and our corps was the last connecting link of British railway troops on the Southern end. We had exceptionally heavy work in this sector, culminating with the great German offensive. The attack began on March 21, and three days later we were compelled to evacuate as the 5th Army was pushed back. The Australian railwaymen did particularly fine work during those critical days. The men of our company were warmly commended for their services at Tincourt in unloading ammunition at the advanced dump under heavy machine gun fire. Three of them were awarded the DCM, and six received the Military Medal over that episode. The German attack was pressed home so rapidly that the big rail-mounted guns were abandoned b. We managed to get two of the pieces away y the gunners in the nick of time. An attempt was made to rescue two more, but, while they were being hauled away, the line was so badly cut up by enemy gunfire that the rails spread, and the guns could not be moved further. Our fellows stuck to it as long as there was work to be done, but quitted only when everything that could be shifted had been shifted. The French railwaymen had all gone 12 hours before….Lieut. Burchell was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty… on this occasion]”

[See also http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/bellenglise/calvaire-cemetery-montbrehain/tincourt-british-cemetery.php for those Australians that died there]

Lieut Burchell continues, “Many hard things have been said about General Gough and the 5th Army, …often by Australian soldiers. But the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised. In numbers the odds against them were eight to one, and the enemy had an immense concentration of artillery. The attack began on March 21, but the Australians did not come into contact with the remnants of General Gough’s force until the following Tuesday. In the intervening five days the 5th Army were forced back over 30 miles, fighting continuously, at a terrible disadvantage. The whole of their ordinary transport organisations was gone, and they had no fixed supply and ammunition points, and they were for long periods without food.

After unceremoniously leaving the Somme we were sent to Dunkirk, where we served until the conclusion of hostilities. Even Dunkirk can hardly be described as a safe spot well behind the firing line. Indeed it had the reputation of being the most heavily bombed city on the whole front. The official figures carefully recorded by the municipal authorities show that 7514 projectiles were dropped on it during the war… the town was decorated by the British Government in recognition of its sacrifices

Our welcome to Dunkirk was a warm one, for on our very first night there was a succession of air-raids, and 500 bombs were dropped. The port has fine wharf and harbour accommodation, which was used for the purposes of landing great quantities of ammunition from England, and it was on this account that it received so much attention from the Germans. Their spy service must have been remarkably good, for every time one of the great lighters full of ammunition arrived there would be an air raid. We were there for six months, working ammunition from the docks….”

[Reference:- With The Railway Corps on the Western Front, Interview with Lieutenant R J Burchell, Western Australian (Perth, W A: 1879-1954), Monday 2 June 1919, page 6, retrieved from Trove 11 February 2017 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27606481 ]

 Another newspaper extract from Lieutenant-Colonel Fewtrell [DSO] invalided home 1918….” There was a light railway running out to the Ypres salient, and on this railway I trained my 4th Battalion officers and men. I am as you know, a railway construction engineer, and there were a number of others. The result was that in about four weeks we had a first-class railway construction battalion, our reinforcements having come up in the meantime. Then the whole of the Anzac Corps was suddenly removed south again on the Somme, and we arrived there about the beginning of November, 1916. We had taken over a new area from the French, and the mud was frightful on the roads along which the ammunition and supplies had to be got up to the troops holding the front line. There was so much stuff that had to be got up that I have seen at night time as many as three lines of traffic. As the mud was 2 feet deep in many places you can imagine what a task it was, and one of the first things we were asked to do was to make decent roads.

Then I was made officer commanding light railways. We constructed a mile of light railway a day, and within ten weeks we were supplying 40,000 men and 8000 horses with all they required, carrying the supplies right into Bapaume. One night we took up to within 300 yards of the battle positions the whole of the guns, with the exception of one battery, for one of the Australian divisions. At the end of ten days the Canadians had built a broad-gauge line into Bapaume and when we pushed out to the Hindenburg line we had passenger trains running into the town every half-hour-just like the suburban system at home…”[Reference:- Colonel Fewtrell’s Return, Sydney Morning Herald (NSW:1842-1954),Saturday 30 March 1918, p12, retrieved from Trove 11 February 2017 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15782819

 What a productive day with my Bell Family History with researching and writing up.

The moral of the story in family history research, never give up and think’ outside the box’