Pre War

Visit to Cousins

In 1910 after a reign of nine years in which there had been a reaction against the restraints of Victorian times, King Edward VII died and King George V came to the throne. As Duke of York he had opened the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne.

smythe boysThe six Smythe boys- note the crocheted collars 

Also on 1st September of that year, was the first Wattle Day in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, seen as promoting national pride by wearing the emblem. There was nothing official but the concept caught on.

The older Smythe boys found that there were few opportunities for work in Jerilderie, which had changed little in recent years. The town had never recovered from the drought at the turn of the century. Although, like most boys of the time, the Smythes had little formal education they knew that their futures depended on their own abilities and what they made of opportunities. They were all able to express themselves with pen and paper, had belonged to the Jerilderie rifle club, were good shots and could all box. Bert won trophies for shooting, some of which he gave to Viola. Most young men could box, which was a recreational sport, not intended to hurt one's opponent. Prize fighting was frowned upon, but a good amateur was admired as it showed fitness and nimbleness.

Now aged twenty Bert was keeping company with Elsie Maloney, a local girl, who worked at Steele's Drapery and could play the organ. An understanding had developed. As most of the young men had to go away to work, many courtships were carried out by correspondence. Bert joined the PMG and learnt telegraphic signalling, which he called "keyshaking". In Sydney he boarded at Ashfield with Mrs Fox with whom he developed a strong friendship.

Viv, who had joined the PMG in 1905, was making progress and was now earning £52 a year, half a man's full wage and double the recently introduced old age pension. Until then people who could not work and had no family to support them, were classed as vagrants and could be gaoled, where they got shelter and food.

smythe boysWorkers at P.K. Ritchie's tailoring business, Corowa.
Percy standing alone at right ca 1910 

At seventeen Percy, was learning tailoring with Peter Kirkland Ritchie of Corowa, on the Murray River about half way from Jerilderie to Benalla and on the railway. The Aboriginal word currawa referred to native pine trees (Callitris glaucophylla). The Aborigines had various uses for the gum including gluing spearheads to the shaft. Half way from Melbourne to Sydney the Corowa courthouse had last century been chosen as the site of a vital meeting to discuss the proposed idea of the states forming a Commonwealth, and so the town came to be known as "The Cradle of Federation", which had eventually led to the compromise choice of Canberra for the Federal capital. Early in the 1900s the first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton and three state premiers had met at Corowa to set up a commission to manage the Murray River.

Born in Newfoundland, Peter Ritchie arrived in Victoria aged three, and lived in Geelong with his tailor father. In 1870 he began a tailoring business in Corowa. By the time Percy went there, Mr Ritchie was an alderman, captain of the bush fire brigade and was regarded as the principal tailor in the district, with a large stock of material and general merchandise in a shop he had built in the main road, Sangar St.

The day after his fourteenth birthday Vern also joined the PMG as a messenger boy at Jerilderie. Two years later he was moved to Narrandera, on the Murrumbidgee and was earning £26 a year, sending telegraphic messages. Narrandera was not very far from Jerilderie by train but was very different, being hilly and with forested areas. There were substantial buildings in the thriving town, indigenous trees flourished after the advent of a water supply and many exotic trees were planted, which produced wonderful autumn colours. While in Narrandera, Vern joined the NSW Infantry.

Ted also travelled to different places looking for work. In 1910 he was at Wangaratta, just north of North Winton and visited his mother-in-law whom he, like the others, called Mater. He wrote to Percy at Corowa with ideas about a cycling trip they could do into the hills to the south and east, Bright and Mt Buffalo. "I have gone to the expense of getting the bike fixed up, free wheel clutch and roller brake and new tyres for you, as you cannot ride in the hills without a brake, except at the expense of boots and tyres. You had better take a single to Winton, tell the porter at Wang [Wangaratta] stop at Winton, train will stop anyway, for the bike will be addressed there, and it is a mail train. I will meet you at Wang with some fish, if I can get any for Mater and the rest. If I can't get away, you can do it alone, but one is better with a comrade. Poor Rolly has been very crook. Get a pound of chocolate mixture, better get two, one for the girls [Fanny and Allie], and one for the bairns at the hills [Bobby, Flora and Eileen]. Mind you pack them for the hills, so that the sun does not melt them. Must close to catch post, Your loving Dad."

smythe girlsIda, Rita and Viola 

With five young children aged from four to twelve Annie was still at Jerilderie. Some of the Smythe children had begun to learn Scottish dancing with the local Caledonian Society, Vern and Viola being able to get the most benefit from it, as they were old enough to remember the steps, had time to practice and were uninhibited. Ida also learnt and enjoyed it very much, so did Rita as soon as she was old enough.

In Tasmania Ted's sister Clara was widowed when William died of Pulmonary Tuberculosis, hastened by a tree falling on him. Clara continued to run the farm with the help of her sons, the older boys then aged twenty-one and sixteen, the younger ones ten and six. They had a large ten-roomed house and a large orchard.

As a toddler, Eric looked different from his siblings and was said by his father to have got his nose "from Tasmania", i.e. to resemble Ted's relatives (his sister Clara or a member of the Mary (Brain) Staniforth family).

One day Eric drank "Spirits of Salts" (hydrochloric acid) which someone had been using as a flux to clean steel for soldering. The doctor was called but he understood the child would be dead and did not hurry. There was a general panic about what could be done. The acid was already diluted from use, and all they could do was give the child soapy water to make him sick, which neutralised the acid and further diluted it. Miraculously he survived.

As a little fellow Eric was taken by Ted, at home for a visit, and stood on the bar of the hotel where the boy sang for pennies, which enabled Ted to continue drinking a bit longer.

About this time Percy, a slim youth of seventeen took Viola aged about twelve to visit their bicyclecousins at Myrrhee. The family saw Viola off from Jerilderie on the Cobb and Co coach. Viola stayed overnight at Corowa in a hotel and was very conscious of her table manners, eating among strangers without attracting attention. Then she and Percy went by train to Albury where Uncle Robert met them with a horse-drawn vehicle. Probably Percy went on a bike ride with his father into the mountains. Viola was very impressed with the hills at "Macrorhyncha", waterfalls, creeks and ferns, which were quite new to her, so different from Jerilderie and North Winton, which were flat and dry. In spite of having no mother, the Currie children had a very happy childhood, in the care of their Aunt Lyd who had old-fashioned ideas and wore old-fashioned clothes, but provided a caring and stable home-life. Meanwhile "Macrorhyncha" was prospering.

Myrrhee school
Myrrhee school 

Viola went to school with young Bobby, three or four years younger, whom she liked very much, and little Flora and Eileen, walking three miles [4.8km] each way or two miles [3.2km] if they took a short cut over a steep hill. Flora was a good runner, Eileen was not so robust. They always had a good lunch wrapped in a cloth, whereas other children often had very little, or bread wrapped in newspaper. Bobby was friendly with the neighbouring boy Austin Evans, who walked with them if he was early enough. When they got home Aunt Lyd gave them cold porridge left over from breakfast. It was an Irish custom to eat cold porridge and she probably learnt it from Maria, her mother. There was fresh milk from their cows, the milk having to be carried some distance from the dairy up to the house to be separated.

By this time they were living in a comfortable sawn-timber cottage and the old slab hut was used for storage. There was a new picket fence around the house and a hitching post. Their father, Robert teased the girls that one day someone would tie a pony there, when courting. The young people had a good time as there were horses to ride, a mare called Crocodile which had a foal called Alligator, a creek near the house for swimming and fishing. There were plenty of rabbits, possums, kangaroos and fish.

In the evening Robert played the violin and sang, or read aloud from some of his books. There were also Ned Kelly stories in the district as the gang had hidden in these hills. Like many local people who believed the Kelly family had been hounded by the police, Austin's father had gone to Melbourne to testify for Ned at his trial.

Robert was known locally as a man of history, a competent man with his hands, and like most bushmen could turn his hand to many things, especially carpentry. He had built the Evans house and brought water from the Fifteen Mile Creek to the Evans property. He kept somewhat apart from the locals, but was highly respected. His brother Arthur often worked for him. Arthur was a very big man and wide as well, and had gentlemanly manners, a gentle giant, and was more sociable than his brother.

Robert and other parents discussed ways to improve the facilities at the school, and this is noted in the first official record of a school committee there. A little later they requested a cupboard from the Education Department, as the school had more than £5 worth of library books to store!

Viola really enjoyed her long holiday. Back in Jerilderie she told her brothers and sisters how beautiful it was at Myrrhee. She was now approaching the end of her elementary schooling and her future had to be considered. Apart from domestic work, there was not much choice for girls, unless they trained to be teachers or took up nursing or secretarial work. Her teacher suggested she should be sent to high school if possible, as she was very bright. There were government high schools in Sydney and larger towns, otherwise the only alternative was a private school, which was completely out of the question.

About this time Annie decided to tell her the facts of life. Viola put her hands over her ears and left the room saying, "I don't want to hear about that stuff." She was never slow in expressing her feelings about anything.


Scattered Family

Viv educated himself about telephones by a correspondence course and when he was nineteen he did a day course. This was a popular way for people with little schooling to educate themselves as the books were written for home study. While working in Sydney 400 miles [640kms] from home, he did a course at Stott and Hoare's Business College in Moore St to improve his literary skills. At the end of the year he got 98 in English, 90 in Arithmetic, 93 in Geography, 86 in History and 77 in Penmanship. Having sat for a Public Examination, advanced section, he got a book prize for English. He also joined the Volunteer Forces at Gladesville, first the A1 Regiment, then the eighteenth Infantry Regiment, probably at Monash St drill hall, around the corner from Eltham St. There was a general fear of "The Yellow Peril" (the Chinese) and most people believed that Britain would protect them. Patriotism to the Empire was almost universal.

smythe boys

Percy was also in Sydney looking for work. The boys suggested that the family should move to Sydney and rent a house in Eltham St, Gladesville. To save paying rent the older ones could contribute to the cost of buying their own home and Viola and the younger children could go to high school and get a better education. Making regular payments they could invest in the Starr-Bowkett building society, which would enable them to get an interest-free loan when enough funds became available.

As work in Jerilderie declined, Ted was often away. He was always fastidious in making new boots and tended to take too long with repairs, and often did not have work ready on time, was too gentle with creditors and generally not a tough businessman. Where Annie was a teetotaller and very single-minded, he liked to have a drink and relax. Ted went to the more prosperous districts of Coolamon and Junee for work and from there he wrote an encouraging letter to Percy who at the age of eighteen, had started his own tailoring business in Sydney. "I am proud and happy that you have made a start for yourself. You will soon gain experience... Do not let any little setback discourage you, but instead, make you keener to succeed." He mentioned that someone in Coolamon knew the shop. "Things are quite dead here[Junee]. Can't get enough to get away from here." Later he wrote again wishing Happy Christmas etc "you are well started on your way. Mum is anxious to get down, [to Sydney] so are the kiddies."

In the meantime Vern at Narrandera was doing well. The postmaster died and Vern at sixteen years of age was left in charge on a salary of £60. He was confident, socially at ease and a good dancer, always enjoyed himself and was considered to be witty.

highland dancing

On New Year's Day the Caledonian Society of Jerilderie held Highland Games. Vern who was a natural dancer had come home to dance with Viola and they won their sections of Highland dancing. Their parents were very proud. Back in Jerilderie for the event, Ted, wanted to have their photo taken. Few people had their own cameras but professional photographers travelled around with their equipment and attended major events. People ordered postcard size quality reproductions. When he learnt next morning that the photographer was leaving soon, he woke Vern and Viola to get up quickly, although they were tired after a busy day and wanted to sleep in. They had to dress in their kilts, and pose. Later Viola was disgusted to see that she had not pointed her toe at the correct angle, as she had been taught. Everyone else thought it an attractive picture and a dozen or so copies were ordered.

Among the books they read was "A Little Bush Maid" by Mary Grant Bruce. It was the story of Norah who lived with her brother and father on a property in Victoria called "Billabong", appealing to the Smythes because of the billabong at Jerilderie and the familiar countryside. They eagerly awaited the next book in the series. Billabong bookEspecially Rita, who was then only nine, became a fan of the "Billabong" books.

By now Annie had more time to relate to her children the stories of her childhood in Victoria, as well as tales she had heard from her parents. She stressed that they came from a respectable family related to the Corries, Lord Belmore's clan and that the children should behave with decorum and consideration at all times. Annie continued to turn the children out to the best of her ability. She and Ted were proud of their good behaviour, their independent and responsible attitude. Annie said, "We may not have any money but we can still have good manners and behave like gentle folk. Never be seen unkempt in public and never brawl." Ted was particularly insistent on good speech and behaviour and good table manners. He maintained an interest in intellectual matters. Annie always walked proudly and aristocratically in spite of her limp. She still used her own soothing mixture, and retained some regional expressions in her speech such as "orff" for "off" and the colloquial new expression “’hooroo”.

When the headmaster of Jerilderie school heard of the possibility of the Smythes moving to Sydney, he put in an application for Viola to attend the Model School, now known as Fort Street High School, saying that she was Dux of the school and a very gifted pupil. Her name would go up in gold letters on the school honour board.

Miller Company General Merchants ca 1932 - formerly Steele's Drapery
Note the small aeroplane "parked" on road 

Cars began to arrive in the town. One of the graziers some years later had a small aeroplane, which on one occasion he "parked" in the wide, straight main street next to a car. Saddlery and blacksmithing trades declined. The town band and Caledonian Society were struggling for members and soon became defunct. Even the flourmill would soon close down.

The Smythes packed up and made the epic journey to Gladesville on the outskirts of Sydney overlooking the Parramatta River.

In 1836 a grant of fifty acres had been made to John Glade. It was seven miles from Sydney to the east or Parramatta to the west by boat, and had since been developed as orange groves and small farms. When the Gladesville Bridge was built it enabled people to travel to the north by road rather than by boat across Sydney Harbour. This opened up the area for settlement and there was now a thriving village. At the auction sales agents described the magnificent views away from the noise and dirt of the city. There was a school, churches, shops, a hotel, a police station and a post office. An electric tram now replaced the horse-drawn tram leaving every ten minutes for Circular Quay, going over four bridges - Gladesville, Iron Cove, Glebe Island and Pyrmont - and costing four pence from Pittwater Rd.

In Eltham St, not far from the Great North Road the house the Smythes rented was very crowded when all eleven of them were home. Mostly there were Ted and Annie and the five youngest children. As the house was on a large block, sixty-six feet [20m] wide, there was plenty of room for Eric and Gordon to play. They were hoping to build their own home soon, and were being as economical as possible. Still at Narrandera Vern was now earning a salary of £84, and Bert at Katoomba was earning a full man's wage

The four younger children were enrolled at Gladesville School as Presbyterians. There was a stone headmaster's cottage in the school grounds and many problems with drainage in the playground and buildings. Viola still hopefully awaited a placement at Fort Street.

They attended the Presbyterian Church, which had a new ornate railing for the sanctuary and choir stalls in a cloverleaf design, and also went to Fellowship every Thursday night at seven-thirty. Every Saturday afternoon on the church veranda, daughters of the minister taught sewing.

sydney 1904Sydney GPO 1904

No more children had been added to the family after Gordon, now six, who had the same remarkably blue eyes and fair hair as his oldest brother Bertie. With a bright likeable personality and a rascally sense of humour, Gordon was much favoured by his sisters, who thought he would become a "heart-throb". Meanwhile Bert at twenty-three, was still idolised; not always to be taken seriously and often a tease, like his father. He had nicknames for his siblings; Viola was "Viler the Smiler", Ida was "I declare Marie" and Rita was "Rita the Sweeter", Vern was "Little black-haired brother", and Elsie Maloney, his ‘sweetheart’ was "the one and only" or "t.o.o." for short. He was friendly with other girls but never seriously and joked about putting his lips on something luscious which turned out to be a cake in a shop window. Viola in particular adored him and was amazed to learn that one of the girls at the tennis club did NOT find him interesting or funny. His cousins at Myrrhee were also very fond of him, but he had no contact with the family at North Winton, although he had lived and worked there as a boy.

Fort Street High School 1912

Each year there were a thousand more applications for Fort Street than there were places, as the standard was very high. There had been no word from the Education Department, so at the beginning of the school year, Viola started at the Ryde School, the first member of the Smythe family to get more than elementary education. After three days she was told to go to Fort Street. tramShe then travelled to the city by tram, often going with Bertie, her favourite brother who was in the central office of the PMG at the time, and her father who worked in Bellevue Hill as a bootmaker.

Crossing the Parramatta River by the comparatively new Gladesville Bridge, which had a swing span; they passed Cockatoo Island, which had previously been a women’s prison, and now belonged to the newly formed Royal Australian Navy which was beginning to build naval vessels. They then passed over Iron Cove, Glebe Island, and Pyrmont bridges. A landmark in the city was the Culwulla Chambers in York St, a brand new skyscraper of twelve storeys. There were also tall telegraph poles with multi cross arms, carrying myriads of wires. From the tram Viola walked up Essex Street or Clarence Street towards Observatory Hill (previously Flagstaff Hill or Gallows Hill) to the gates of Fort Street School.

Fort Street High School
Fort Street High School 

Having been a convict-built military hospital in the early days of the settlement (built in 1815 when the colony was twenty-seven years old), the historic building was converted into a model school and training school in the same year that their grandfather and great grandfather had arrived from Ireland. There were two fig trees in front of the main building. Lord and Lady Belmore, whom they believed to be distant relatives of the Curries, had accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Albert, the Queen's second son, on his visit to the school and had made several other visits between 1868 and 1874. Recently the departments had been separated, the high school boys being upstairs and in a detached building called "Siberia", the girls in four rooms in the main building, and the infants at the back. In 1894 the school motto was introduced, 1899 the school song, and in 1907 the Old Girls’ Union was formed.

Miss Partridge, who had been a pupil in 1876 and later taught in the Infants, Primary and High Schools, had a small office in a corner. In 1895 she was the first headmistress of the Model School, and when it became a High School she became the first head, a good organiser who taught the girls to feel loyal to their school. "No matter where you go remember you are still Fortians," she said, standing on the landing steps in front of the assembly in her black silk dress under which the girls glimpsed a red or green petticoat, a statuesque figure. fort streetShe always wore an antique agate, gold and amethyst brooch.

The girls learnt Latin, French, English, History, Geography, Algebra and Euclid (Geometry)* for four years. After two years they would get their Intermediate Certificates and after two more, their Leaving Certificates. The pupil-teacher system had been abandoned. The school motto incorporated in a play on words, the word fort after which Fort Street was named "Faber est suae quisque fortunae" (each man is the maker of his own fortune) as did the school song, "Come Fortians Fortians all". The motto applied more to boys than girls at the time, but it implied that people should take responsibility for themselves.

* Miss Fanny Cohen began to teach Mathematics in 1912. She would later become headmistress when other Currie descendants attended.

The school was very crowded and some classes were held in sheds. There were preparations for the boys to be moved to a large new school at Petersham, the approach to the proposed bridge over Sydney harbour would go past Fort Street and already there had been many plans. The chief engineer of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Railway Construction was to go abroad to study the latest techniques.

As Ted had attended Launceston Grammar School for a while he was particularly glad that his five younger children would have the opportunity to get secondary education. Miss Partridge's attitude was similar to his, but there were no facilities for practical science for the girls, so they were disadvantaged in their science studies. Annie had to provide Viola with a dark uniform and large white hat, the younger children were dressed appropriately for school and they were all expected to be very careful.

For Ted, Bellevue Hill was a long trip to do daily so he frequently stayed overnight at his workplace and often one of the children stayed with him.

boysGordon and Eric

At Gladesville school there were increasing problems with drains, the headmaster's residence, classrooms and the toilet system. A lot of maintenance and repairs were done including replacing timber eaten by white ants. One of the teachers caught whooping cough and a boy caught smallpox, resulting in the school being fumigated. The Smythe boys, Eric, 11 and Gordon, 9 caught measles and in turn their neighbour's son caught it. He was the only son of a dentist and his wife. When the boy died his parents were devastated, in their grief blaming the Smythes for the tragedy. Gordon contracted rheumatic fever and had to be carefully nursed and kept free of stress to prevent heart damage. He was good at all athletic activities and it was hard to keep him still. There was no treatment.

With all the older boys in good jobs their financial situation was much easier. Ted and Percy had a holiday, riding bicycles to Bega via the beautiful Kangaroo Valley, seeing things along the coast, which were remarkable after the dry inland scenery.

By 1913 Ida was attending Petersham Intermediate High School. Bert was still keeping in touch with Elsie Maloney from Jerilderie, and had given her some small pieces of jewellery as presents, although he occasionally took other girls out. He was a postal assistant at Katoomba, on a salary of £126. Percy, still with a very slight build, had tried a number of things after tailoring before also joining PMG. With the help of the boys Ted and Annie had invested in the Starr-Bowkett system and were negotiating to build a small house at Ramsgate, considered at the time to be a honeymoon destination on Botany Bay on the southern side of Sydney. The block of land they had bought was only thirty-three feet [10m] wide but that was what they could afford. When a loan was available and the conveyancing was complete in the New Year, a small house would be built.

At North Winton, Annie's mother Maria aged seventy-four, died suddenly of bronchial pneumonia after a short illness and was buried in the Methodist Cemetery at Winton. Annie's youngest brother, Rollie, aged thirty-four, died soon afterwards and was buried near his mother. This left the two sisters Allie and Fanny on the farm, still maintaining their fight with the Council. Their long-suffering brother Arthur helped out from time to time.

Bobby, Eileen and Flora
Bobby, Eileen and Flora

At Myrrhee young Bobby was a lad with original ideas. He and his sisters, Flora and Eileen, were all bright at school; Flora was still good at running sports, Eileen, less robust and all enjoyed walking. In eighth grade Bobby said, "Now I'll have to sit on the wall", implying that he had gone through all the work and there was nothing left to learn at the country school. Austin Evans, their neighbour's son was teased as being Flora's boy friend. She was like her father in looks but not in height whereas Eileen resembled her mother. Sometimes Bobby and Austin took a gun and went on long walks. Bobby, being very strong and determined, was not afraid of snakes and could walk much further than Austin. They sometimes had the job of taking the cream in the wagonette down to Benalla, which took two hours each way.

About this time a neighbour was moving the creamery house, mounted on bearers on wheels and had to cross Fifteen Mile Creek. The bearers broke and the building was stranded in the middle of the creek. Robert, whose relations with his neighbours had not been cordial, nevertheless went with them into the bush to cut new bearers and helped get the building to its destination.

rising sun


The Great War

When the Great War broke out there was a heightened feeling of patriotism to the Empire and young men were eager for adventure and the opportunity to travel overseas. Vern wrote from Narrandera to his father asking for permission to enlist as he was under age. At eighteen Vern left the PMG and came down to Sydney to work as a clerical assistant in the electoral office at Mosman, a ferry ride from Circular Quay. He had the good looks, charm and twinkle in his eye that attracted plenty of attention. He had a girlfriend at Narrandera who was going to the United States. Vern went to see her off and as a farewell present gave her two books of poetry, which Viola had won as prizes. The things he got away with!

Bert gave Vern a book on boxing written about 1902 by a Canadian Boxer, Tommy Burns, who was the world heavyweight champion and who came to Australia at this time. All four boys maintained an interest in boxing. Although the youngest of the four, Vern was able to hold his own against Bert, Viv and Percy and was certainly less serious than Percy.

Bert at Liverpool Camp
Bert at Liverpool Camp

Thousands turned up to enlist and many were greatly disappointed to be rejected on the grounds of fitness. Recruiting began on 10th August 1914. Bert had belonged to the Post and Telegraph Rifle Club and the Australian Rifles. He obtained leave from PMG from “keyshaking” (sending Morse Code) and with Vern, joined the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 21st at Kensington. Although nineteen was the enlistment age Vern put his age up to twenty so that he could go overseas with Bert who was nearly twenty five at the time. The brothers were allocated consecutive numbers, 1174 and 1175. It was believed that it would be all over by Christmas and they might miss out. As Bert was a crack shot and had learnt Morse code in the PMG he was seconded to the signallers. Although not as tall as they would have liked, the Smythe boys, were all used to an outdoor life, could box, were good shots and knew Morse code.

The next few weeks were spent in paperwork, some basic drill and getting inoculations, uniforms and rifles. The Non-Commissioned Officers, (NCOs) were inexperienced and many were unable to train others. Ships had to be refitted with mess tables and hammocks.


Egypt 1915 Vern and Bert Egypt 1915

On 20th October Bert and "Crumb", his "little black-haired brother" Vernie, sailed overseas on the "Euripides", having made arrangements for some of their pay to be allocated to their mother to help meet the commitments for the house. Pay was five shillings a day plus keep for a private (about £90 a year) generating the saying "five bob a day murderers" [bob was slang for shilling]. A diary recorded the adventure. Regular letters home were sent from every port. Upon arrival in Egypt the brothers did more training at Mena, and were able to do some of the sightseeing they had dreamed of, within view of the pyramids.

When Princess Mary, The Princess Royal, the seventeen-year-old daughter of King George V, realised that the war would not be over by Christmas as expected, she organised a Sailors' and Soldiers' Christmas Fund and sent to each man a well-made brass tin containing cigarettes and tobacco for smokers, sweets and a writing case for non-smokers, a photo of the princess and a Christmas card from her. He sent the tin to his mother as a memento* and the chocolate to his family to share - a taste each!

xmas tin* It was later passed on to Rita and is now
in the possession of her granddaughter


On New Year's Day Bert became a lance corporal, the first rank. He sent Elsie a rising sun on mother-of-pearl brooch and other little gifts.

Bert wrote “About this time, my poor devoted overcoat, which in a fit of dejection wandered away & lost itself was discovered in the hospital after an absence of three weeks, and great was the rejoicing. Whenever I allowed myself to think of my absent friend, the shadowy form of £2.10 would rise up in front of my troubled eyes & I used to wonder in a vague sort of way how much of my salary would be left with £2.10 out of it.”

At home many things were disrupted including plans to build a bridge over Sydney Harbour. But the foundation stone had finally been laid for the federal parliament house in the proposed town of Canberra*.

* The site had been seen by Captain Mark John Currie in 1822.
Ida Ida

At the same time there were big changes in the Smythe family. At the end of 1914 they were planning to move from Gladesville. After three years at high school, Viola took advantage of an opportunity to go to Black Friars Training College, Broadway, and become a teacher, although Miss Partridge strongly advised the girls to finish high school. Miss Partridge introduced the idea of a "Farewell Day" celebration for those who were leaving. Viola’s parents bought a piano so that she and Ida could learn to play. Ida had been attending Petersham Intermediate High School. A highly strung, nervous girl who didn't ever sleep well and worried unduly, Ida finished her Intermediate year at Petersham High and could go no further there, so she arranged to transfer to Fort Street.

At the end of primary school Rita who was scholastically very bright, had won a bursary to help her attend the selective high school, Fort Street and would start in the new year.


"Koppin Yarratt"

The family had made regular payments of a fixed amount and were eligible for an interest free loan from Starr-Bowkett Society. By the terms of her father's will, Annie should have got £100 from the family estate, but it was not available because her sisters were still embroiled in legal battles with the council. So Annie and Ted planned a simple four-roomed bungalow. It was to be built on a cement foundation, cavity brick with an iron roof, internal walls solid brick, plastered and polished. There were two bedrooms in front with a hall down the middle, the front windows and front door having squares of coloured glass. The hall led to the living room and kitchen which would have a fuel stove with a mantelpiece and a pantry. There would be gas lighting and a gas iron as a very modern touch. There would be a veranda front and back. The boys would use the latter as a sleepout. In the back yard was the lavatory, with a pan service. They probably bathed in a tub in the kitchen and did the washing at a fuel copper in the back yard, both once a week.

Rita Rita

Percy suggested the name "Koppin Yarratt"; an exceptionally pretty little creek between Comboyne and Taree, where he was working. Having given up his venture into tailoring, Percy, the fourth brother to join PMG was working at Taree doing electrical work. Koppin Yarratt Creek flowed into Landsdown River and then into the Manning. There was a little school with a curved iron roof known as the Koppin Yarratt round-back school. [He believed the name came from the Boer War and had a historic connection but it probably came from an Aboriginal word for wild honey.] The value of the house on completion of the tuck-pointing on 6th January 1915 was £400.

Click for larger map

From Ramsgate Viola went to training college and Ida and Rita to Fort Street School by steam tram, which ran along Rocky Point Road to Kogarah, then by steam train to the City. At Kogarah station the tram pulled in on railway property and ran on lines identical to train lines. To go to the city they crossed the railway lines to platform one and caught a steam train and from Central another tram to school. Fort Street girls stayed back twice a week to help the war effort. Warm clothes for Belgian children were collected and 300 caps knitted for wounded soldiers. Coming home they could walk across the platform at Kogarah and get into the tram. The engine got up steam and chugged along the tramlines next to the railway lines, until it came to Gray Street where it began to climb the hill. Sometimes it lost power and returned to Kogarah station to try again. On other occasions all able-bodied people were asked to walk up the hill to lighten the load. There were kerosene lamps at night. The full fare from Kogarah to Rocky Point (later Sans Souci) was tuppence, which was comparatively dear.

From Ramsgate Eric and Gordon went the other way to Sandringham (later Sans Souci) school. There was a dispute at the time about the provision of wooden hat pegs by the Department of Education! Also at the school was Nellie Potter, a little older than Gordon, who lived around the corner at Ramsgate with her parents, Samuel and Florence. Nellie was the middle of seven children and a very pretty girl.

Councils and others began to provide playground equipment, mostly wooden climbing frames with ropes and some metal.

Ida Gordon and Eric

Gordon aged nine was pleased to find that he was good on the rings and horizontal bars at Ramsgate baths. He was good at all sports and could do handstands and also liked to whistle. Everything seemed to come easily to him. At Ramsgate when there was a southerly breeze, a swell generated waves, which they could “surf” and a surf club was formed. There was also a shark-proof swimming enclosure at Rocky Point where they could enjoy swimming without fear.

On 29th April the Prime Minister told the nation that Australian troops were in action in the Dardanelles. The news of the Landing at Gallipoli thrilled the country. In April 1915, Bert, now a corporal, was in “The Landing” and wrote about it in his unique humourous style. Later the Smythes learnt that this had been the largest military landing in history, intended to open up a sea route to Russia from the Mediterranean. When they read about the fierce fighting in the Dardanelles, they realised that Bert and Vern's battalion was in the thick of the action, and waited anxiously to see the casualty lists. They learnt that modern weapons were very lethal - grenades, mortars, and shells. As Bert was a crack shot he was used as an observer and "sniper", not in the trenches with the other men, but at a vantage point above them, camouflaged as well as possible and often in greater danger.

Having decided to join up, Percy left his job at Taree, although he had very much enjoyed living there and had made a lot of friends. Back home he put down a lawn in the tiny front yard, and began a vegetable garden in the back for his mother. He wrote to Viv to suggest they enlist together, but realised that he might not pass the medical because of his slight build. According to his diary "Went to Victoria Barracks to enlist, but failed in the doctor's exam in the chest measurement. Felt very disappointed and altogether disheartened. May possibly be able to develop a better chest, but 1½ inches [4cm] is a lot to put on."

He enquired of shipping companies about the chance of working his way to England, applied for an advertised job as an electrician, and went to "Snowy" Baker's Physical Culture School, where he was told he could develop a thirty-four inch [86cm] chest within a week. As the fees were £2.2.0. he wired to ask Viv to lend him the money. When he got home there was a wire from Viv with three pounds, one being for his mother. The next morning (Wednesday) he cashed Viv's wire at the Kogarah PO and went to town for the first lesson, which consisted of a few simple but strenuous exercises, which made the perspiration run. While waiting for the second lesson he read "Military Training" in the Botanical Gardens.

By the Friday he was accepted, with the number 2461. "One exercise shifted something that was keeping my chest small and after that my chest fairly shot up." He was five feet six and a half inches [1.68m], weight 130 pounds (9 stone 4) [58.5kg], chest thirty to thirty-four [76-86cm], age twenty-two and was listed as an electrician. Hoping for news from the Dardanelles he spent his last penny on a newspaper. "Mum had run out of cash having 3d left. Started rummaging through my old clothes to see if I had any silver in them, and came across a pound note that I didn't know I had." They learnt that Bert and Vernie had been in the thick of the fighting but could get no details.

Percy sold some tools and books and put his affairs in order before going into camp at Liverpool in Sydney's west, where he sat for a test for non-commissioned officer hoping to become a corporal with two stripes which would mean more pay; ten shillings a day. In May he was notified of his promotion.

Percy was taken aback at the bad language he heard at the Liverpool camp. It was quite an eye-opener as something that showed ignorance and had never been acceptable to his parents.

First Wedding

In the meantime Viv had been keeping company with Kathleen Clytie MacPhee, a girl of Scottish descent, whom he had met at the Gladesville Presbyterian Fellowship. She lived at Tennyson, half a mile from Eltham St, Gladesville, near the river. She was on probation as a cookery and domestic science teacher at Newcastle. Naturally she was a good cook.

wedding Viv and Clytie's wedding
As per the custom of the time,
Clytie is standing and Viv is seated 

When the war broke out Viv was working as a telephone mechanic and linesman in northern NSW. He decided to enlist and returned to Sydney, joined the AIF, was chosen to do officer training at the Officers' School at Moore Park and became a corporal. The four older boys were now in the AIF.

Clytie set her mind on being married before Viv left Australia. Without letting her think he did not desire it, he tried to get her to see the disadvantages, without avail. Ted, who had gone to Coolamon to work, came home for the wedding and planned to come to Sydney and open a new bootmaker’s shop at Kogarah. With Percy as best man and Clytie's sister Jean as bridesmaid, Viv and Clytie were married quietly at MacPhee's. The boys were in uniform but Percy had had to borrow from various people, as uniforms had not yet been issued. The girls wore plain serge costumes with long coats and floor length skirts and small dark hats and Clytie had a large bouquet, which Percy had bought at Searle's, King Street, Sydney. After the wedding breakfast with the immediate families, the bridal party went to the city to have photographs taken, had tea at a restaurant, and the young couple went to Narrabeen for the night.



NEXT    >>

Advertise with us