Across Diamond Creek district, when men were called to enlist during World War 1, a number of families saw more than one son depart for foreign shores.
In this article are details of brothers from three local families, who departed on troop ships not knowing what really lay ahead of them. They were supported by their mates and in turn they supported them.
TOM, NORM and JACK COVENTRY
Thomas Coventry (SN3786) was born in Greensborough in 1897 and as a child moved to Diamond Creek with his family. Along with his brothers he attended Diamond Creek State School. Thomas enlisted at the age of 18, together with his brother Norm, on 1st December 1915. His service records describes him as 5′ 10″ (180cm), 12 stone (62.7kg), fresh complexion with blue eyes and light brown hair. He was attached to the 24th Battalion as reinforcements and embarked Australia on 8th February 1916. Later that year he transferred to the Australian Provost Corps (Military Police). After being wounded in action in France he was evacuated to England in August 1916, then returned to his unit in December. Thomas returned to Australia, via Colombo where he spent about six months from April helping to keep the peace when returning Australian soldiers came through on their way home. The ANZAC Bulletin of 11th April 1919 has an article A Job for the “Jacks” – The general officer commanding urged that a strong permanent picket of selected men should be retained in Colombo until all the Australian troops had returned, and Senator Russel immediately forwarded directions to A.I.F. Headquarters, London, to despatch a picket, the personnel to be selected from the Anzac Provost Corps. Thomas returned to Diamond Creek, married Olyve Eagland in 1919 and lived there for many years. He died in Kangaroo Flat in 1970 at the age of 72.
Hugh Norman (Norm) Coventry (SN3787) had the nickname Oak and it seems that at least one other brother had a horticultural nickname, Gordon was called Nuts, apparently because of the shape of his head! Norm was born in Greensborough in 1895 and attended Diamond Creek State School with his brothers. According to family legend Norm ‘was every bit as good a footballer as his two younger brothers, Syd and Gordon.’ He enlisted at the age of 20 with his brother Thomas on 1st December 1915. Four days before he embarked overseas he married Coral Clara Trawin. They had a son born in 1916. In his service record Norm is described at 5′ 9¾” (177cm) tall, 12 stone (62.7kg), fresh complexion with brown eyes and dark hair. Norm was also attached to the 24th Battalion as reinforcements, embarked from Australia on 8th February 1916 and sailed for Egypt where his battalion had regrouped from Gallipoli. Then with his battalion to France in April, fought on the Western Front and was killed in action on the Somme at Pozieres on 5th August 1916. Norm was Mentioned in Despatches along with four others ‘For 5 days at Pozieres these soldiers distinguished themselves by most gallant devotion to duty as volunteer stretcher bearers, carrying the wounded through heavy artillery fire. The conduct of these soldiers has been a valuable object lesson to those who might have otherwise held the barrage too dangerous & intense to cross.’ His name is on the Villers-Brettonneux Memorial.
John Thomas (Jack) Coventry (SN172) was born in Northcote in 1893 and also attended Diamond Creek State School. He enlisted, at the age of 22, on 21st February 1916 and embarked from Melbourne on 6th June 1916. He was assigned to the 3rd Pioneer Battalion. His service record describes him as 5′ 11½” (181.5cm), 155lbs (57.8kg), blue eyes, brown hair and medium complexion. In November 1916 he was sent to France and fought on the Western Front at Messines and in the Third Battle of Ypres. In early 1918 he was on the Somme where his battalion supported others at Villers-Bretonneux and the Battle of Hamel. As were many others, Jack was gassed and evacuated to England for a month or two of treatment before returning to France. He was wounded in action in September and invalided to England for a second time. At that time he was promoted to Lance Corporal. Embarking for Australia in January 1919, Jack was home in Diamond Creek in March. He married Isabella Eina McLennan in 1924 and the couple moved to Northcote, then Clifton Hill and Brunswick where Jack died in 1950 at the age of 56.
FREDERICK and NEIL EDMONDS
Frederick and Neil were brothers from a family with longstanding and historic links to a number of families in Diamond Creek. Their family moved to Western Australia in the late 1890’s. It was a time when there was a bit of an exodus of men and families from Diamond Creek to Western Australia looking for work and opportunities in the goldfields and the timber mills of the south-west.
Frederick Thomas Lawrence Edmonds (SN1906) was the younger brother, born in Diamond Creek in 1895. In February 1916, aged 20, Frederick enlisted at Kalgoorlie, W.A., giving his trade as Butcher. His enlistment information describes him as 5′ 7″ (170cm) tall, 130lbs (59kg), with fair complexion, blue eyes and sandy hair. He embarked from Fremantle on 18th July 1916 for England, disembarking at Plymouth on 9th September. As part of reinforcements for the 51st Battalion, he arrived in France on 30th November 1916 to support the Somme offensive. Frederick fought on the Somme until being invalided to England with Trench Foot in April 1917. After spending four months in hospital he was returned to Australia as ‘no longer fit for active service’ on 5th November 1917. Frederick was discharged from the A.I.F. in March 1918 and on his return to Western Australia was employed by the Returned Soldiers’ In-Railways in Kalgoorlie. He married Dora Daisy Sanford and they had one child. He died at the age of 51 on 6th January 1948 and was buried at Perth War Cemetery in Nedlands.
Neil Flower Edmonds (SN2655) was born in 1891, also in Diamond Creek. In 1914, he was living in Kalgoorlie when he married Harriet Jones. They had two children before he enlisted in July 1916 at Boulder. On enlistment, at the age of 24, Neil gave his trade as Miner. His enlistment information describes him as 5′ 6″ (167.5cm) tall, a dark complexion, with brown eyes and black hair. He was assigned to the 48th Infantry Battalion A.I.F. Following training in Australia he embarked from Fremantle on 30th October 1916 and arrived in England on 28th December to continue military training in Salisbury. While still in training camp Neil contracted cerebro-spinal meningitis, which was a particularly deadly disease that was easily spread in populations of young men living in crowded conditions. He was taken to the Isolation Hospital Salisbury where he survived for 2-3 days. He died on 6th February 1917 and was buried in England in the Stratford sub-Castle Churchyard near Salisbury.
FREDERICK and WALTER STARLING
Frederick George Starling (SN2789) was born in Diamond Creek in 1883. His family had been in the area from the 1870’s. They owned and farmed properties along what is now Starling Road and across to Heard Avenue, Plenty and as many in Diamond Creek at the time also had orchards which Frederick worked in with the family. He enlisted on 16th July 1915 aged 31. After training he embarked from Melbourne on 27th October 1915. Frederick’s service record describes him as 5′ 9¾” (176cm) tall, 10 stone (63.5kg), fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.
In early 1916 Frederick was with his battalion, the 8th Battalion A.I.F., in Alexandria, Egypt. During his service in France and Belgium he was wounded and suffered from shell shock, so spent some time in field hospitals and in England. By May 1917 he had been promoted through the ranks to Lance Corporal, a rank he held through to the end of his service.
Frederick was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field in October 1916 and the Distinguished Conduct Medal in May 1917.
MM – 22/26th July 1916, Pte. Starling acted as runner between firing line and Battalion Headquarters and advanced Brigade Headquarters during the Battalion attack on Pozieres. He showed great courage and devotion to duty and never hesitated a moment with the result that Battalion Headquarters and Brigade H.Q. were kept informed of the position. He also rendered valuable assistance guiding parties of the relieving Battalion to their positions.
DCM – Pte. Starling is a Company Scout and was a member of the attacking party which captured the enemy strong post in from of Qurant on 22nd April 1917. As he had previously been a member of a patrol who had reconnoitred and engaged the post he assisted the O.C. in maintaining direction and showed great courage and initiative in finding gaps and leading the way through enemy wire. He continued to do splendid work on entering the post. When the post was being very heavily shelled with concentrated fire he was one of the volunteers who stayed in the danger zone with Captain Yates to observe. Pte. Starling was previously awarded the Military Medal for gallant conduct as a runner at Pozieres and is one of the most reliable and courageous men in the Battalion.
After spending some time in hospital and at headquarters from April 1918 Frederick left England on 24th August and returned to the family property working as an orchardist as he had before the war. He married Jane Eleanor Sims in 1922 and continued to live in Diamond Creek at the family home ‘Hazeldene’ near Heard Avenue. They had two daughters. By 1924 Frederick and Jane had moved to Montmorency and Frederick was a carrier. In 1937 he was in Hampton working as a teacher. Frederick died in 1948 in Hampton at the age of 64.
Walter David Starling (SN3004) was born in Diamond Creek in 1890. In the years before the First World War he was living in Glenormiston near Warrnambool. He married Eveline Smith in Glenormiston in 1913; they had one son. Walter enlisted in Warrnambool on 26th January 1916 aged 25 and after training at Broadmeadows Camp in Melbourne, embarked for overseas on 4th April. His service record describes him as 5’ 63⁄4” (170cm) tall, 11 stone 2lbs (70kg), sallow complexion, grey eyes and black hair.
Walter served with the 29th Battalion, 6th Reinforcements and from late 1916 was in France where his unit fought in a number of major offensives and battles. On 20th April 1918 he was wounded in action, invalided to England and admitted to King George Hospital London on 24th April. He had back paraplegia from a gunshot wound to the spine that penetrated his chest and was very ill on admission. Sadly Walter’s condition did not improve and he died on 18th May. Other patients in his ward subscribed for a handsome wreath which was placed on his coffin at his funeral in the Australian Military Burial Ground at Brookwood Cemetery, Brookwood Surrey. His brother Fred who was with Walter when he died arranged the funeral that was also attended by family from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. He was ‘accorded a Military funeral. The Firing Party, Bugler and Pallbearers, were supplied by Administrative Headquarters A.I.F. London. The coffin was draped with the Australian Flag, and surmounted by several beautiful wreaths. Chaplain Holden Administrative Headquarters, A.I.F. London, officiated at the gravesite. The “Last Post” was sounded at the graveside.’