Uncle Jack goes to war

A brief account of the life of John 'Jack' Speirs (Spiers), former captain of Austinmer Surf Club who served with the 9th Field Company of Engineers, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), in France, 1916-1919

Michael Organ, 24 October 2014

 John 'Jack' Speirs, circa 1916.

Looking for a soldier....

During 2006 my then 15 year old son Andrew was faced with a high school assignment in which he was required to write about a family member who went to war. He was stumped and I could not help him, despite the fact that during the 1980s I had carried out detailed studies of the Organ family tree, though mostly in connection with the colonial and convict periods of Australian history. None of our ancestors from that line were involved in either Word War 1 (the Great War) or World War 2. My father (Keith Organ) and grandfather (Albert Eric Organ) were both too young to participate. However, on the side of my mother (Roma Crutchley) the story was different. Her uncle Jack Speirs served in WWI, and her three brothers Jack, Bill and Terry served during the latter part of WWII. At the time I used my three uncle's for my son's project. However, I was keen to follow up on the story of Uncle Jack. In 2013 I again broached the subject of ancestral involvement in the war, spurred on by the imminent centenary of the Gallipoli landings in April 1915. This time my mother said something I am sure she had mentioned back in 2006, but was passed over at the time, namely that "Uncle Jack went to Gallipoli." This rather off-hand remark immediately pricked my interest. Who was Uncle Jack and what were the precise details of his war service? Did he actually serve at Gallipoli?

As a child I vaguely remembered visiting my mother's Uncle Jack and Aunty Biddy at their house in Stockton, located on the coast north of Newcastle. I recall that Jack was a tall man, strong and hardy. I also remember the couple's two dashund-like show dogs, and catching the ferry over to Stockton from Newcastle. This would have been in the early 1960s when I was about ten, and it is all that came to mind in regards to Uncle Jack. My mother's memory was richer as she had maintained contact with members of the family. This included Jack and Biddy's daughter Nancy who at one time was a dancer at the Tivoli theatre in Sydney and went on to marry an American. She now lives in Florida. There was also contact with Jack and Biddie's daughter-in-law Val who, aged of 89 at the time of writing, was full of stories and information. In August 2014 I was also contacted by Paul Speirs, a grandson of Jack. What I gleaned from these and other sources is outlined below. It should be noted that some historic references in, for example, local newspapers to Jack make use of the spelling Spiers, whilst the present day family uses the spelling Speirs and this latter spelling is also used in official docuements of the time, such as his war service record. Both appear below.

John 'Jack' Speirs (Spiers) of Austinmer

John 'Jack' Melling Speirs was born in West Wallsend (or the maternity hospital at Wickham), Newcastle, New South Wales, on 26 October 1898. The circumstances of his birth and early childhood are shrouded in mystery. According to my mother (Jack's niece) Roma Crutchley, Jack's mother was Mary Ann Melling. Due to her circumstances she gave him away as a baby and he became a foster child. As a result, nothing is known of Jack's paternal line (his father). He later found out that his mother had a number of other children and there were hitherto unknown brothers and sisters. 

Jack's foster mother, with whom he lived in the Wollongong area on the coast south of Sydney, was Mary Jane Rodham. She had married Hugh Frew Speirs. For most of his life Jack thought he was adopted and only found out that he was a foster child following the death of Mary Jane on Christmas Day, 1943and the dispersal of her estate to other members of the family, exclusive of him.  This news came as a bitter blow, following on years of close and loving relationships as a member of the Spiers family. It was a very upsetting experience for the older Jack.

At some stage during the early part of the twentieth century the young Speirs family moved from Lithgow west of Sydney to Brownsville, near Dapto, south of Wollongong. They also later resided at Kennedy's Road, Austinmer, in Wollongong's northern suburbs. Jack's forster father Hugh was a coal miner who worked variously at Redhead (Newcastle), Lithgow, Wide Bay and then in the Illawarra. The family are also listed as residing on Lawrence Hargraves Drive, Thirroul, in the immediate town to the south of Austinmer, though the two addresses - Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Thirroul, and Kennedy's Road, Austinmer - may have been the same locality., as the modern-day Kennedy's HIll marks the southern boundary of Austinmer.

It was in Wollongong's northern suburbs, by the beach, that Jack Speirs grew up and spent his teenage years. He was an active member of the Austinmer Surf Lifesaving Club. In February 1915, at the age of 18, he was made capatian of the club. Reports on his activities in assocation with the surf club can be gleaned from the local newspaper reports reproduced below.

South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, Friday 19 February 1915

AUSTINMER

 (Our Correspondent.)

Austinmer residents and visitors are to make an effort on Saturday, February 20th, to forward to our boys at the front as many cases as possible of blackberry jam made from the berries they intend to pick for that purpose. The Peacock Jam Co. has offered to manufacture, tin, and pack and forward, through Chamber of Commerce Food Fund, any amount up to a ton; Austinmer to provide berries and sugar. To this end all who can pick are asked to do so, and those who cannot to subscribe to the fund for the sugar. This movement, it is feared, is somewhat belated, but still it has been decided to do what is possible, with the certain knowledge that it will be appreciated, whatever the quantity may be. The late secretary to the Progress Association, Mr. Eric Ferguson, is the latest recruit from here. At present he is not definitely detailed to any particular corps, but is willing to join any that may find immediate need for him, Mr. Ferguson's place in the district will not be easily filled; besides his connection with the Progress Association he has been the captain of the Surf Club since it was resuscitated, and it was due to his efforts mainly that that body of young men have made such rapid strides towards efficiency. Mr. J. Spiers takes his place at the head of Surf Club matters, and Mr. H.J. Falconer in the Progress Association. These, although they have yet something to gain in experience, have undoubted talent for their respective positions, and are assurred of the loyal support of fellow-officials.

During this week a narrow escape from drowning occurred. A young lady, herself an expert swimmer, was carried out, when the ocean was practically devoid of anyone who was able to be of any assistance. Luckily, she was washed back, but not before many onlookers were thrilled with the knowledge of their own in capacity on an occasion like that. The local Progress Association have for the last two months defrayed the expense of a lifesaver, but his services were not available, as, on the completion of his term, he had been called on to spend a few weeks training in camp. During his engagement many had been helped before anything as serious as this had occurred. One but can look forward to the time when a lifesaver may be employed for the whole season, but, with the utterly inadequate support the Surf Clubs get from the Shire Council this does not seem possible in the immediate future.

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South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, Friday 9 April 1915

AUSTINMER

(Our Correspondent.)

The copious 'downfalls' of rain, however much needed all over the country, had a disastrous effect on the Easter holidays here. Although intermittently visitors were gladdened with sunshine, on the whole, except for the few days before Easter Monday, all were kept in their cottages. The visitors, contrary to the usual custom, were mostly grown-ups and as a criterion of the numbers, that can be crowded into a relatively small space, one has only to give the statement of the railway officials that over two thousand tickets were collected at the local station. This far exceeds any total reached previously, and snows that Austinmer is becoming increasingly popular as a resort. The excellent service of the tradespeople, the up-to-date dressing accommodation, and the energetic work of the local Surf Club, has a good deal to do with this. We are glad to see, through the example of Mr. W. A. Clark, of international tennis fame, who has taken such an interest in local affairs during his stay this season, both of the Progress Association and the Surf Club, that many or the Sun Club will, it is expected, before the end of the season have qualified for their bronze medallions. In the Royal Lifesavers' Association Mr. Clark and Mr. J. Spiers, the new captain of the Surf Club, last week passed their examination for this. His Hon. or Judge Edmunds and Mr. Vidler, President of the Progress Association and Surf Club, have offered each to pay the expenses of the examination of four other members who will undertake the necessary drill under the direction of Mr. Clark to obtain the medallions. Steps are to be taken very shortly to lay in the valve for the swimming pool, for which fifteen pounds were lately granted to the Progress Association through the Shire Council by the Government as their share towards the expense of this popular improvement.

One of the Surf Club members who got into difficulties on Monday realised that assistance was needed, the patient being known as a strong swimmer. The current, which was running very strongly inshore, had taken him a good way towards the rocks on the northern end of the beach before the line reached him. Fortunately, he was easily brought round.

The first monthly count of the Austinmer Belgian Fund (continuous payment), realised £4 14s 3d. The organisation of the collection of this fund has been undertaken by Miss Wade, who, with the assistance of Misses Coffey and Carey, will augment this amount, it is confidently expected when they have really got to work at it. Austinmer can and will do better than that.

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South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, Friday 7 May 1915

AUSTINMER

A very enjoyable evening was spent at Langdon's kiosk on Saturday evening last when the active members of the Surf Club entertained a few friends for the purpose of the presentation of badges and certificates, which had been won at the recent examination in Sydney for the bronze medallion. His Honor Judge Edmunds, it was hoped, would have been down to present them, but unfortunately, his duties took him to Newcastle, but he sent a wire of appreciation at their success. Mr. T. Vidler, the President of the Surf Club, was asked to take the chair, and after the toast of 'The King' had been honored, the toast of Mr. W.A. Clark was given. This gentleman having formed and made time to drill and work up for their exam, eight in all of the Surf Club, that they were each able to pass for the honor of the bronze medallion of the Royal Lifesavers Association — a very creditable performance in every way and one we are glad to see, which after a further examination for Mr. Clark, ended in his gaining, besides the bronze medallion, his hon. instructor's badge. In response, Mr. Clark, whilst depreciating what had been said by the chairman of his work (which was not taken seriously), complimented the successful members on their hard training and admitted that it appeared to him they were fully proficient to have passed a more stiff examination than the one they had. He drew attention to the fact that his Honor Judge Edmund, Mr. Vidler, and Mr. W. Whiddon (the two former who had donated the expenses, and the latter for his gifts to each of a silver medal engraved with their names), had made the idea possible. He enjoined all to still keep up their interest and go for further examinations, and his help they could rely upon when required. Mr. Vidler and Mr. Whiddon also expressed themselves willing to at all times do what they could for the club. The successful winners of  the medallions were then presented by Mr. Vidler with the numerous badges and certificates. They were, Messrs J. Spiers, F. Todd, S. Bradbury, W. Cahill, Neil Strachan, J. Todd, N. Strachan, and William Stewart. The club has nearly all its active members bronze medalists. In the future, it is to be hoped, more still will hold this honor. After the recipients had acknowledged the toast of their health, on the motion of Mr. Vidler, Mr. and Mrs. Langdon were thanked for the way the evening refreshments had been catered for, which brought the evening to a close.

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Since 1912 Jack had participated in the local 37th Infantry Regiment cadet program. The cadets regularly caught the train from Austinmer, south past Thirroul and on to Bulli railway station, from whence they marched to the beach-side park at Park Road. Here a set of colonial-era canon were mounted on a small hill and the cadets trained. Jack had been a member of the cadets for 4 years at the time of his enlistment in 1916. Prior to 1916 Jack also found employment locally as a coal miner. This was a common occupation at the time due to the numerous coal mines dotting the escarpment from Wollongong north to Helensburgh. John Simpson, later famous for his humanitarian work at Anzac Cove with a the aid of a donkey, also worked in lllawarra coal mines - Mount Kembla, Corrimal and Coledale, just north of Austinmer - prior to serving at Gallipoli.

Off to war

Despite the attractions of life in coastal Austinmer, and his work at the coal mine, Jack, like thousands of other young men at the time, was drawn to enlisting, especially as news of the severe nature of the conflict in Europe spread. For example, on 9 January 1916 the ANZAC forces withdrew from the Gallipoli peninsula after a bloody campaign which began on 25 April 1915. By the time of the evacuation, some 100,000 men from both sides were dead, including 8,709 from Australia. The need for reinforcements was strong and a call went out around the Empire. John 'Jack' Speirs was one of those who answered the call.

On 4th March 1916 John Speirs, miner of Thirroul, enlisted in the 9th Field Company of Engineers (FCE) at Victoria Barracks, Sydney. He gave his age as 18 years 5 months, though he was actually a year younger. He noted that his father was dead, and his mother Mary Jane signed a piece of paper granting permission for his enlistment. He was described as of fair complexion, with hazel eyes, brown hair, weight 162 pounds, height 5 feet 6 inches and religion Church of England. A scar under the left eye was also noted. Jack was allocated service number 9977 in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and signed on for the period of "war & 4 months."

During April and May he undertook training at Rosebery Park, Sydney, and was designated a driver with the 9th FCE. Jack signed his attestation papers on 21st March with a clear, strong signature and stated that he was prepared to undergo inoculation against small-pox and enteric fever. The papers were counter-signed by Major J.R. Williams, Officer-in-charge.

On 5th July 1916 Jack and his comrades left Australia on board the Ajana. Following arrival at the port of Plymouth, England on 31 August, the 9th FCE, after further training and fit out, departed Southampton for France three months later, on 22nd November. Jack's forster father Hugh Frew Speirs did on 25 August 1916 whilst he was at sea. A remembrance notice was insert in a local Wollongong paper one year later, by his wife and Jack.

Jack Speirs' war service 1916 - 1919

Details of Jack's service can be gleaned from the war diaries of the 9th FCE along with his Attestation Papers and the Casualty Active Service form which briefly records elements of his movements outside of Australia. These records are preserved in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, and the National Archives of Australia. 

Jack's enlistment form

Attestation Paper of John Speirs, 21 March 1916. Source: National Archives of Australia.

These records note, for example, that during July 1917 he was involved in the Battle of Messines, a major offensive designed to force the German enemy to withdraw from the main battlefront of Vimy Arras. By August 1917 the 9th FCE were at French localities such as La Boudrelle, Drionville the Somme, and continued to serve in France through to the end of the war.

Year

Month

Location

1916

4 March

Enlists at Victoria Barracks, Sydney

 

April-May

Training at Rosebery Park, Sydney

 

5 July

Departs Sydney on board the Ajana

 

31 August

Arrives in Plymouth, England

 

22 November

Departs Southampton for France

1917

July

Messines

 

August

La Boudrelle, Drionville, Happe, Balleul, Wizernes

 

September

Happe, Wardrecques, Eecke, Wumigalo

 

October

Ypres, Merck St. Leivin, Clairmarais

 

November

Clairmarais, Weka Lines

 

December

Weka Lines, Watts Lines, Armentieres

1918

15-26 January

Leave in England

 

January

Armentieres, Wacklands, Watts Lines

 

February

T.4.C.10.05

 

March

T.4.C.10.05, Liongueville, Colembert, Watou area, Racquinghem, Boulkus, Belincourt, Laboussoye, Corbie

 

April

I.5.a.3.6, M.2.d.5.2, Blangy Tronville, N.23 Central

 

May

Heilly-Ribemont, Rivery, Blangy Tronville, N.23 Central

 

June

N.23 Central, B.23 Central

 

10-14 June

Hospital in France

 

29 June

Re-joins unit

 

July

B.23 Central, J.19.c.6.4

 

August

J.19.c.6.4, J.32.d.3.2

 

September

I.21.c.8.8

 

October

E.16.c.3.2 - Guillacourt, Cappy, Wiry-au-Mont (Somme)

 

November

Wiry-au-Mont (Somme)

 

December

Wiry-au-Mont (Somme), Aigneville

1919

22 January - 14 February

Leave in England

 

11 May

Departs England on board Borda

 

28 June

Arrives in Melbourne

 

14 August

Discharged in Sydney

Detailed company diaries survive which record their activities in France, though they were subject to censorship, as was correspondence by the soldiers. No original war letters by Jack home to Australia are known. 

Apart from active service, from 15th to the 26th January 1918 Jack was granted leave in England. On 10 June 1918 he entered hospital in France due to illness, but was discharged back to his unit on the 14th, and re-joined them on the 29th. Following the war's end in November 1918 he was once again granted leave in England from 22nd January to 14th February 1919.

Jack left England on 11th May 1919 on board the Borda, returning to Australia on 28th June. He then travelled overland from Melbourne to his home at Austinmer, where he received a warm greeting.

South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, Friday 4 July 1919

AUSTINMER.

HOME AGAIN. — Driver 'Jock' Spiers returned home from the front on Saturday night last. Notwithstanding the extreme cold night, there was quite a large gathering at the railway station to give the returned hero the welcome he so richly deserved. He was, after a formal welcome, escorted to his home along with his mother in a motor car. The home had been prettily decorated by a number of friends and the surf club boys. A splendid dinner was partaken of by the large assemblage, after which Cr. G. Wallace and Mr. G. Cram spoke in the highest of terms of Driver Spiers, the noble spirit that had actuated him going fourth to fight for his country, ''Jock,' who is noted for his splendid smile, was greeted with cheers on rising to respond. He said his home-coming, although very pleasant, was marred by the vacant chair in the home, the death of his father having occurred whilst he was away at the Front. Driver Spiers has had three years active service. Three cheer for the King, Driver Spiers and the soldiers contributed a most pleasant evening.

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Jack was officially discharged at the Domain in Sydney on 14th August. As a result of his war service he received the Commonwealth of Australia 1914/18 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Apparently Jack, like so many other veterans, did not subsequently speak much about the war and his experiences therein. He was not obviously affected in any significant way, unlike many of his comrades. According to his daughter-in-law Val Speirs and her son Pete, Jack noted in regards to the war that "It was terrible ... the lice, the dirt, the filth." He also commented on his work in moving the guns up to the front as a 'driver' of the horses used for that task. Unfortunately these are the only personal anecdotes we have concerning his war service. In addition, there are a number of contemporary newspaper reports which describe the treatment of the veterans by the Austinmer community upon their return home. They also reveal Jack's continuing involvement with the Austinmer Surf Club.

South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, Friday 2 January 1920

Austinmer

WELCOME.

On Boxing night in the Club Hall, there was a large gathering of Austinmer residents and visitors, to officially welcome home the last of our soldier boys — 8 in number, Mr. D.M. Lett, who presided, referred to the number that had gone to the war from Austinmer, and was glad, that so many had returned, after the danger and hardships endured in defence of home and country. Councillor G. Wallace also gave an impressive address, speaking in eulogistic terms of the bravery of our boys, and paying a high tribute of praise to those parents who willingly gave their sons. He expressed deep sympathy with the parents of those who had made the supreme sacrifice. Cr. J. S. Kirton also expressed pleasure in being allowed privilege of adding his tribute of praise. The chairman then presented an enlarged photo to each of the following soldiers : Sapper Strachan, Gunner Cheadle, Driver Bradbury, Sergt. Todd, Pte. Owen, Sapper Rowe and Driver Spiers. Mr. Wallace presented a gold medal, suitably inscribed, to Sapper Bell.

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South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, Friday 23 January 1920

AUSTINMER

Visitors continue to sojourn here in strong force, and if the weather conditions improve there is likely to be a further influx. Mr. and Mrs. Neil Strachan and family are removing to Summer Hill, after residing at Austinmer for about twenty-five years. They have been estimable citizens, and their departure is generally regretted. The Messrs. Strachan junr. have officiated as lifesavers for years, and also as active members of the Surf Club. They have been responsible for saving many a life in the water…..

On Sunday last two young ladies, Miss Kelleher and Miss Collis, got into a channel in the surf, and were soon in difficulties. Messrs. Joe Todd and J. Spiers effected a timely rescue.

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South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, Friday 28 January 1921

AUSTINMER.

The attraction at Austinmer on Saturday afternoon last was a surf carnival on the local beach, the proceeds from which are to be devoted to the beach improvement fund. With Rev. H Edgar Potter as president, and Mr. C. Ziems as secretary, the local arrangements left nothing to be desired, and from a financial viewpoint the fixture was satisfactory. But there were factors which militated against the public being satisfied. In the first place it was ascertained about the hour of starting that the carnival had to be conducted under the of the District Lifesaving Association, which permitted of only duly qualified members of the respective surf clubs competing in the various events. This, it is alleged, was a drawback, as there were others who were desirous of entering in at least some of the events. Then the onlookers were kept waiting too long after paying for admission, while the competitors held a meeting to discuss various conditions which should have been dealt with much earlier in the day. A number of the general public who were present stated that happenings of this character must be eliminated if the surf carnivals of the future are to be made sufficiently attractive to achieve the object aimed at, namely, to get the public to attend in strong force, and to keep them entertained while they are in attendance. It is admitted that probably there were extenuating circumstances in this case, but the public were not aware of them and, therefore, did not by any means appreciate the delay and the consequent monotony of waiting about they were subjected to. Subjoined is a list of the prize-winners:—

Grand March Past. — North Wollongong Surf Club.

Reel Relay Race. — L. Peatty and P. R. Parsons (North Wollongong).

Junior Surf Race. — E. J. Simpson (S. Wollongong) 1, L. Hallinan (North Wollongong) 2, E. Larkins (North Wollongong) 3.

Senior Alarm Reel Race — North Wollongong (H. Peterson, belt).

Senior Surf Race. — H. Peterson (N. Wollongong) 1, Bonnermati .(North (Wollongong) 2; A. Bevan (North Wollongong) 3; J. Spiers (Austinmer)

75 yards Beach Relay Race.— North Wollongong (Tregear, Bevan, Ryan and Peatty) 1; Woonona (Biddulph, Oldward, Jarrett, Gordon) 2.

Three-legged Race.— Newman Bros. (Woonona.) 1, Peatty and Tregear (N. (North Wollongong) 2.

Obstacle Race. — H. Newman (Woonona).

Pillow Fight.— Joe Todd (Austinmer).

A sale of work recently held in the Clubhouse, Austinmer, in aid of the Church of England funds, and organised by the Women's Guild, realised upwards of £70. Mrs. W. E. Shaw performed the opening ceremony. It is noticeable of late that many visitors to Austinmer travel by motor car from Sydney and bring their luggage with them to the particular house at which they intend staying. As a

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South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, Friday 8 April 1921

AUSTINMER

The large number of visitors, which sojourned here during the Easter holidays is rapidly thinning out, and a quiet period its anticipated for the next few months. A meeting of the Austinmer Progress Association was held on Friday evening last. Mr. G. Cram presided and there were also present: Messrs. Coffey, Cahill, Shaw, Clowes, Fancourt, Langdon, Spiers, Lett and Denham (hon. secretary)…..

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Jack's service in the war was recognised locally on 26th January 1922 when a monument in granite was unveiled in Austinmer. Its inscription read:

Austinmer War Memorial

Their name liveth for evermore

Erected by People of Austinmer in grateful memory of those who served in the Great War 1914 - 1918

Jack Speirs was one of the names inscribed on the memorial, though in the commonly misspelt form "Spiers, J." As he appears to have left Austinmer by this stage, he was not on hand to ensure a correct spelling. The monument currently stands on Lawrence Hargraves Drive, Austinmer, next to the surf club and close to the beach where Jack spent so much of his youth.

Life after the war

Jack Speirs went on to work with the NSW Railways in the foundry at Newcastle where rail track was made. Prior to this he married Margaret Eveline "Biddie" Keevil (b.1898) on 30 April 1921 in the Congregational church at Newtown. They subsequently lived in the Newcastle / Stockton area. Biddie had worked as a saleswoman in one of the large stores in Sydney before marrying Jack, who was still living in Austinmer at the time. Biddie and Jack had four children - John (Jack or Jackie) born at Austinmer in 1920, Lenny, Neville (d.2005) and Nancy. John was killed in Cessnock coal mine one Anzac Day. He was a shot firerer and a workmate wanted to attend the Anzac Day ceremonies, so he took his shift. He planted some explosive and it failed to ignite. He approached it to check but it exploded and killed him. His wife Cath subsequently had a battle to receive any compensation, as John was not supposed to be working on that day. John and Cath has a boy Paul. Lenny served in the African desert during World War 2 and John was at Tobruk and received a number of medals for his service.

On 30th September 1958 Jack applied for a copy of his army discharge certificate as he would turn 60 the following month and wished to apply for a war service pension. He had submitted his original birth certificate and discharge certificate to the New South Wales Railways Department at the time of his employment with them, but they had not been returned, and now could not be found. Copies were obtain and the pension secured. Jack and Biddie subsequently spent their retirement years at Stockton and enjoyed travelling around showing their dogs.

WWII and the three brothers

Jack Edgar Crutchley (VX81707) enlisted on 26 June 1942 and reached the rank of Sergeant with the 65th Australian Infantry Battalion. He was discharged on 21 December 1948 after serving with the BCOF in Japan and also in New Guinea, where he subsequently lived for a period. William Joseph Bill Crutchley (138945) enlisted on 28 December 1943 and served as a mechanic with the Royal Australian Air Force reaching the rank of Leading Aircraftman. He was discharged at war's end, on 20th December 1945. The youngest brother, Terence Robert Crutchley (NX152081) joined up on 22 February 1943. He served with the 20th Pioneer Battalion and subsequently saw service overseas with the BCOF (British Commonwealth Occupational Force) in Japan. Terry was discharged on 10th October 1946. All were deceased, however my mother was able to provide basic information on their war service, and specific reference to their time in Japan and New Guinea.

Going back further in time, one of my mother's uncles - Cornelius "Sonny" Keevil - was a soldier during WWI. At the time of my son's assignment I carried out some preliminary investigations into Sonny's war experiences, with assistance from other family members. Unfortunately there were many dead ends in regards to his service record, and Sonny remains something of a mystery. Nevertheless, what I found at the time, and since then, is recorded on the webpage: Looking for Uncle Sonny - The Keevils, Rawnsleys & Crutchleys in World War I.

Those who served: surf lifesavers at war

In 2014 the New South Wales Surf Lifesaving Association commenced a project to identify and list all those life savers who fought in World War I. In July 2015 a book was published by the Association, authored by Stan Vesper, which detailed the results. Preliminary research had not revealed Jack Speirs as one of the Austinmer lifesavers, however fillowing some of the findings outlined above, which were brought to the attention of Vesper, he and a number of other local lifesaves were included in the final, published listing for Austinmer.

Acknowledgements

This account has been compiled with the assistance of Roma Organ, Val Speirs, Pete Speirs, Paul Speirs and the online resources of the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia.

References

9th Field Company, Australian Engineers - War Diaries 1917-1919, Australian War Memorial [website]. URL: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/records/awm4/subclass.asp?levelID=1620. Accessed: 6 June 2013. Record number - AWM4, Sub-class 14/28.

Antonello, Alessandro, Australian Engineers in the First World War, Australian War Memorial [website]. URL: http://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2009/01/21/australian-engineers-in-the-first-world-war/. Accessed: 6 June 2013.

Service Records, World War II, National Archives of Australia, Canberra. Available URL: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/defence/service-records/. Accessed 10 June 2013.

Organ, Michael, Interview with Roma Organ (nee Crutchley), 6 June 2013.

Last updated: 3 September 2015.