Monday, 7 August 2017

Postcards from "Somewhere in France" - Part Four

Following on from Part Three... It was late July before Bert sent another postcard to Jean. In the time between his postcard of 20 June 1916 and 30 July 1916, the battle of Fromelles had taken place. At Fromelles, more than 5,000 Australian soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner in a single battle. It has been described as “the worst day in Australian military history”.

Postcard sent to Townsville from 'Somewhere in France', 30 July 1916.
Source: Private Collection of Trisha and Murray Fielding
Somewhere in France
On active service
July 30th 1916
Dear Jean,
Three letters and post card received from you today. Answering your letter first opportunity. Will be very busy for week or so. Pleased to hear all well at home. Ernie has arrived here. So far unable to get in touch with him. Doing my best. I think he has had his first taste of the square dinkum. Wonder how he likes it. No news much same old routine. Weather very choppy. Keep on smiling & writing. Best wishes & remembrance to all at home. With best wishes & fond love.
Your sincere and affectionate,

Bert noted that he would “be very busy for a week or so”. That statement probably turned out to be a gross underestimation. In August the 7th Field Ambulance were at Vadencourt, where they were overseeing a Corps Rest Station.  Lt. Col. Huxtable noted in the Unit Diary daily numbers of sick and wounded, which numbered up to almost 600 per day. Three of their own men were killed, or died from wounds received while carrying out their duties, and many others were wounded.

The work of a stretcher bearer at this time was both arduous and hazardous. The task of retreiving mangled men from the mud and mire of the battlefield was a ceaseless job that required great bravery. It was often carried out under heavy shell fire, sometimes in the dark; it was slippery, dirty, dangerous, phsyically exhausting and mentally harrowing work. On 15 August, Huxtable noted that ten men from the unit had been recommended for recognition for their bravery in connection with their work as stretcher bearers “during recent heavy fighting during the attack on the Pozieres ridge by 2nd Aust. Div.”.

Australian stretcher bearers carrying a white flag, passing the old cemetery at Pozieres.
Source: Australian War Memorial
This firsthand account, from the diary of Edward Charles Munro, a stretcher bearer with the 5th Australian Field Ambulance, dated 25 August 1916, recalls stretcher bearers working under fire:

Some of the 7th Field Ambulance bearers had to carry in a very exposed position near the front line and one went ahead carrying a white flag. When they were advancing in the open, Fritz shelled them and hit seven. I saw the diminished party returning with the white flag still aloft while the shells were bursting all around. While I was watching them a shell burst nearby and scattered them, some being seriously wounded.[1] 

On 22 August, the 7th Field Ambulance were in Becourt Wood. From here, members of the Unit were sent to relieve at Chalk Pit advanced dressing station, close to the front line at Pozieres. On 26 August, Huxtable wrote that:

63 bearers of the 7th Field Amb. were sent to Chalk Pit A.D.S. to relieve bearers of the 6th Field Amb. who are to be withdrawn to Becourt, as they have now been 13 days continuous duty carrying to Chalk Pit A.D.S. and are now more or less exhausted.

The Unit Diary of the 7th Field Ambulance shows that between 22 and 28 August, 1016 sick or wounded men passed through the Advanced Dressing Station at Becourt.

Celluloid postcard, with fabric pansy and grass seeds, 1916. Note how Bert has written his initial underneath the words “My thoughts abide with you”.
 Source: Private Collection of Trisha and Murray Fielding.
19. 9. 1916
Dear Jean,
Yours of 30th July to hand today. Pleased to hear all well as yours truly is at present. Letter at early date from yours always. B.

By the time of writing this postcard, Bert’s unit was billeted in Reninghelst, in the Belgian province of West Flanders. Four months elapsed before Bert sent another postcard to Jean, although it is difficult to say whether there was a genuine break in correspondence, or whether some of the postcards Bert sent to Jean have been lost in the intervening century.  

In December, the 7th Field Ambulance was at Bernafay Wood and Bert’s next postcard, sent in January 1917, was again brief.

"The King at the Front". Outside a captured German dugout.
Postcard dated 15 January 1917.
Source: Private Collection of Trisha and Murray Fielding.
15 January 1917
Dear Jean,
No word from you for some time. Hope you had a merry Xmas not like yours truly had. Letter follows first opportunity. Best wishes & remembrance to all. 
Love B.

For the first time in any of his correspondence to Jean, he sounds a little despondent. He alludes to the fact that Christmas was not a happy time for him, and indeed, the 7th Field Ambulance’s unit diary shows that there was no break from work on Christmas Day. Another long absence of correspondence follows, with the next postcard not sent until early September 1917. (This will be pictured in Part Five)

[1] Australian War Memorial

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Duncragan - a house with a big history

A Townsville property that continues to pop up time and again in my research, and in surprising places, is Duncragan.[1] So I thought it was time I wrote something about it, and the many different functions it has fulfilled over the years. Situated in Cleveland Terrace, on Melton Hill, adjacent to the old Supreme Court building, Duncragan was built around 1917 for William Duncan, managing director of Messrs Brand and Dryborough’s Cleveland Foundry.
Duncragan, Melton Hill, Townsville, 1960s.
Photo: University College of Townsville Handbook.
It was described by the Townsville Daily Bulletin at one time as “one of the most commodious residential buildings in Townsville, with a panoramic view unexcelled anywhere, from all points of the compass.” [2]  The home was large and spacious, with four bedrooms plus a maid’s bedroom, a lounge room with a skylight, a large living room, a billiards room and a lookout turret. The house was surrounded on three sides by 12ft-wide verandahs.

Duncragan's floor plan at the time of the State Government's purchase of the house from the Misses Duncan. Note the location of the former turret, indicated lower left-hand corner.
Source: Queensland State Archives.

World War II
According to Peter Dunn’s website, during World War II Duncragan was “commandeered by the US Army and used as a private residence for at least one US General”. Stories exist about the parties held there in those years, and according to one report, American officers used to dance on the billiard table![3] It was during WWII that the house’s turret was taken down.

Maternal and Child Welfare Home
In November 1949, William Duncan’s daughters – Olive Duncan and Nita Duncan – sold the property to the State Government for £10,000.[4] The government wanted to convert the property for use as a Maternal and Child Welfare Home. It had been canvassing properties in Townsville since the mid-1940s but had not found anything suitable until Duncragan was offered for sale. In June 1950, the government declared the land as a Reserve for Health (Maternal and Child Welfare) Purposes.[5] 1n 1951 the government proceeded to plan alterations and additions to the property that would “add to the efficiency and convenience of the home”.

The work encompassed conversion of the main building to provide an infants’ nursery, a toddlers’ nursery, bedrooms for mothers, sitting and dining rooms, various specialised kitchens, a sun room, a toddlers’ play area, and a trainee lecture room. Outbuildings were converted into modern laundry facilities. Plans also included a new annexe that provided a suite for the Matron, six bedrooms for Sisters, sitting room for the Sisters, a kitchenette and other general amenities.[6] It was important that the facility have a “homelike and bright appearance” as the mothers who would be staying there were not ill. Every care was taken with furnishings and fittings, with most pieces made from silky oak timber - stained walnut - and “all linoleums to be green inlay jasper or marble – not plain brown”.

The overall purpose of the Maternal and Child Welfare Homes were to provide specialised care for infants with an intellectual disability, without removing the child from its mother. But at the same time as planning for the improvements was progressing, the Hospital Board in Townsville requested that Duncragan be made available for the accommodation of nursing staff of the Townsville General Hospital. The need was intended to be temporary, while new Nurses’ Quarters were completed at the hospital.[7]

Nurses Quarters
In February 1954, it was announced that Duncragan would be used as temporary nurses’ quarters.[8] In December, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported on a Christmas function held there.

“Duncragon, the nurses’ quarters at Melton Hill, was the venue for the gaieties… guests including ships’ personnel from the Paringa and Ribera, members of the Surf Life Saving clubs and RAAF. A special guest was Matron E. McCarthy, who wished all the joys of Christmas and New Year. There was dancing until midnight to orchestral music supplied by a trio of nurses and to add to the social enjoyment small tables and chairs were set up for conversation in a garden setting of sloping lawns. Some very special and delicious dainties were submitted for supper which was served buffet-style.”[9]

University students, outside Duncragan, 1960s.
Photo: University College of Townsville Handbook.

University Student Accommodation
In 1961 Duncragan became a hostel for female university students. The North Queensland University Association, through an appeal to the people of North Queensland, established two Halls of Residence in Townsville for male and female students of the University College of Townsville (later James Cook University).[10] Duncragan was used to accommodate 22 women, in “agreeably furnished single and double rooms”. Full board at the Halls of Residence cost £6 per week, and at Duncragan a “simply but adequately furnished common room” with a “very attractive panoramic view” was provided for recreational purposes. [11] 

[1] There seem to be many variations on the spelling of this house – variously Duncragan, Duncraigen, Duncragen, Duncragon.
[2]  Townsville Daily Bulletin, 13 February 1954, p. 2
[3] ‘Melton Hill’s Duncraigan’, ABC North Queensland radio broadcast, 3 August 2010.
[4] Letter to the Public Curator, dated 11 May 1949, which included a contract to sell the property, signed by Olive Duncan on behalf of herself and her sister Nita Duncan. Held by Queensland State Archives; see also Memorandum from Assistant Supervisor of Works to Department of Public Works dated 11 November 1949, held by Queensland State Archives.
[5] Queensland Government Gazette, 24 June 1950, p. 3082.
[6] Memorandum from Acting Chief Architect to Department of Public Works, dated 27 June 1952, held by Queensland State Archives.
[7] Letter from Secretary of Hospitals Board, Townsville to Under Secretary, Department of Health and Home Affairs, dated 20 June 1952, held by Queensland State Archives.
[8] Townsville Daily Bulletin, 13 February 1954, p. 2.
[9] Townsville Daily Bulletin, 27 December 1954, p. 5.
[10] The other property was Stuart House, in Wulguru, which could accommodate 66 men; while Olsen House, in Stagpole Street, West End, was established in 1963 and accommodated 38 men. University College of Townsville Handbook, 1965.
[11] University College of Townsville Handbook, 1965.