Aussie Sacrifices

What extraordinary times we are currently experiencing with the Covid-19 pandemic, which will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the significant events of modern times. Around the world people are being told by their governments of the need to make sacrifices in order to combat this Corona virus. To many, the imposed restrictions are seen as a virtual infringement on their personal liberties, impinging on individual rights, their lifestyle and for many their employment. In the main, these sacrifices have been borne well by the Australian community; a testament to our dichotomous culture of individualistic larrykinism and a communal spirit of “mateship.” The underlying acknowledgement of the need for a disciplined approach to this challenge, shown by the average citizen and the nation’s leaders appears to be making the sacrifices worthwhile.

Sapper Alfred Ernest Morrison

But today my mind also goes to other Aussie sacrifices as we prepare for a very different Anzac Day tomorrow. This day is important to a vast number of Australian (and or course New Zealanders) but it will be a very private Anzac Day this year while we are ‘social distancing.’ My private reflections will be of the sacrifices made by my own father, Alfred Ernest Morrison, in WW2.

At the age of 24, Alf was tall and athletic, a good all round sportsman. Sapper Morrison (NX300730) after enlisting in the 8th Division A.I.F. in June 1940, trained at Liverpool and Bathurst before sailing to Singapore with the 2/12 Field Company in August 1941. Not long after his arrival the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. This was closely followed by attacks on Malaya and Singapore leading to the Fall of Singapore on 15 August 1942 and his capture and internment as a prisoners of war (POW).

He returned home after the war in October 1945 and throughout his life he spoke very little of his wartime experiences, but the following accounts from various authors illustrate some of the sacrifices he and thousands of other made, for us.

Map of the Railway and the POW Camps (for 70th Anniversary of the Thai-Burma Railway, Australian Railway Museum, 2013)

Changi Gaol was home for thousands of Allied prisoners for three and half years except for external work parties. Various “Forces” were dispatched to Japan, Borneo, Thailand and Burma to provide ‘slave’ labour for the Japanese war effort. In April 1942 Alf was part of the 7,000 strong “F” Force (3,444 British and nearly 3,600 Australians) that left Changi to work on the notorious Thailand to Burma railway, proposed to facilitate the invasion of India. “F” Force was later described as being “nine months of hell” and suffered the highest percentage of deaths of any Force on the railway.

The railway was 415km (258m) long starting at Ban Pong in Thailand and finishing at Thanbyuzayat in Burma. Between 180,000 and 250,000 civilian labourers and about 61,000 Allied prisoners of war worked as forced (slave) labourers during its construction and about 90,000 civilian labourers and more than 12,000 Allied prisoners died.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Railway)

“The work was so physically exhausting that some men died at work and were carried back to camp to be cremated. The work involved digging the cuttings, building the embankments and keeping the roads between camps open by cutting logs and laying them on the mud to make a ‘corduroy’ road.”
(Arneil, Stan, ‘One Man’s War’, Macmillan, Sydney, 1980, p.92)

When the remnants of “F” Force returned to Changi just prior to Christmas 1942, Arneil recalls that they were “… at the very end of our physical resources…” and that at Changi “We have at last fallen into a prisoners paradise…”

“All prisoners of the Japanese wherever they were starved to the brink of death and thus we were not shocked by emaciated bodies.  … Even so, we were totally unprepared for the human wreckage which returned to Changi as the survivors of “F” Force. In the trucks sat slowing moving skeletons emaciated almost beyond belief, many with dreadful sores and peeling skin, some unable to move and others so light that a Changi prisoner had no difficulty in lifting them.”
(Wall, Don, “Heros of F Force”, 1993, p.140)

The survivors of “F” Force (like so many of those that have served our country) displayed the discipline and comradeship that has been an inspiration and a further example of the Anzac spirit. On the Thai-Burma railway:

Anzac Day March

“… The Australians concentrated solely on the business of living, almost ‘willing’ themselves to live.”
(Arneil, p.91)

On Anzac Day 2020, remembering the sacrifices that my father and others made for us, puts our current predicament into some sort of perspective. Of course the Covid-19 pandemic brings some loss of lives, hardships and sacrifices to the high standard of living. However the example of the sacrifices made by our parents and grandparent has surely made it possible for us to endure this current situation and look forward positively to the future.

William Ernest Morrison (1884 – 1951)

My grandfather William Ernest (Ernie) Morrison died when I was four years old and I had never met him because he and my grandmother had separated when my father was only twelve years old. Family members have indicated that he was a gentlemanly type who was generally well liked but because of such an early estrangement, little of the real details is known about him and his life. What we do know has been pieced together from oral history of family members and online records as more become available. My most recent discovery was a most exciting one, but before I get to that I will give a broad outline of his history.

William Ernest Morrison

We know he was born on the Isle of Man in 1884 and his father had become a gardener on the large estate of Kentraugh and then at Government House (see my previous post for John Morrison). The 1901 census shows the family living at Kentraugh: John and his wife Margaret (nee Christian) and children John James, William Ernest, Lydia Christian, Edith May and Thomas Henry. Ernie, aged 16 years was shown as also working as a gardener. The next record of Ernie was when he married my grandmother Elizabeth Caroline Marian Thomasina (Briscoe) Ramsden, known as Carrie, in 1912 at Campsie, New South Wales. How and when he arrived in Australia had always been unknown until this latest discovery.

Following the marriage the couple initially lived with Carrie’s widowed mother on her 13 acre farm at East Hill, near Bankstown some 20 kilometres southwest of Sydney. Ernie apparently worked on the property for a while, since his occupation was given as farmer when he married. There, the couple had two children, firstly Lydia Emily Christian and then my father Alfred Ernest, but shortly before his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Briscoe, died in 1917, the extended family had moved into town at Leonard Street, Bankstown. When Alfred was born Ernie was recorded as being a stonemason.

By the early 1920s the family had moved again to a larger house in nearby Restwell Street, called Ellan Vannin but known as “The Ranch”. The large block included a tennis court where family and friends played and socialised. Also in this period Ernie established a fuel and produce business near the railway station in Bankstown with a succession of partners over several years, and there are a number of photographs of him and his delivery wagon. The business wasn’t to last more than a few years however and it has been suggested that Ernie was not a hard enough businessman, but somewhat of a “soft touch” in those difficult post-WW1 times, incurring too many bad debts to sustain the business. Whether this was a contributing factor is not known, but within a few years his marriage had failed and he had left Bankstown.

Produce Store in Bankstown, 1923

Ernie tried to meet and stay in contact with his children but this seems to have been denied by Carrie unbeknown to Lydia and Alfred although one remaining letter makes it clear that he missed his children but did not want to return to Bankstown.

Since that separation little is known of Ernie’s life except he worked at Sydney’s Central railway station as a “grill cook” until heart problems forced him to retire at the age of 61 years. It appears that he lived alone, renting a room in Riley Street, Sydney. in 1951 at the age of 67 his heart problems ended his life. His cremation was apparently attended only by his landlady and a small memorial plaque can be found at the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park.

Nowadays among the advice given to researchers includes: revisiting sources periodically, and especially online resources which are continually be added to. Also to break through a brick wall in the family tree it can help to “go around the wall” by researching other family members such as siblings. My discovery resulted from following these bits of advice.

By researching his older brother I found a John James Morrison who in 1902 he had enlisted in the Manchester Regiment. His home address was shown and Kentraugh, his next of kin were parents John and Maggie Morrison, and was also his brother “Earnest”. This was definitely our John James. The surprise was that next the Ernie’s name was “Royal Marines”.

The next step was the records from the UK National Archives where I found a page about William Ernest Morrison. He had enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Portsmouth Division, in September 1901 only a couple of months after his seventeenth birthday. The records showed that he served seven years on a number of ships. Firstly, there was the HMS Majestic, a battleship stationed mainly in the Mediterranean Sea, next was the sister ship HMS Caesar which was the flagship of the Channel Fleet, and lastly the cruiser HMS Powerful. The most exciting news was that Powerful became the flagship of the Australia Station (prior to the formation of the Royal Australian Navy in 1911), stationed in Sydney.

HMS Powerful (circa 1905)

This reasons for him deciding to stay in Sydney when he was discharged from service  in 1908 will never be known, but he must have seen a future for himself there. His life was not a very happy one, however the fact of his military service and how he came to Australia contributes greatly towards to our knowledge of my grandfather.

John Morrison (1855 – 1915)

John Morrison was a Manxman. Our Morrison family came from the Isle of Man, not from Scotland as would commonly be assumed, but from that small dot in the middle of the Irish Sea with its rich Celtic and Viking history. He was christened at St. Anne’s parish church on July 23, 1855.

By way of digression, the name St. Anne is a example of the Anglicisation of the Manx culture which over the centuries was similar to that occurring in Scotland and Ireland. The parish was originally named for St. Sanctain, a 6th-century Manx bishop, said to be a disciple of St. Patrick who originally came from the north of England. The name seems to have become confused with St Ann(e) once memory of this obscure Saint had disappeared. Today it is generally known as the parish of Kirk Santan.

St Sanctain’s Church

Another example of Anglicisation relates to the name Morrison which only came into common use on the Isle of Man from about 1800 when surnames also became more stablised. Ancestors of our Morrisons were known by many variations over the centuries including MacGilborr in the 16th century and then tending to be recorded as Mcillvorrey and later Mylvorrey. John’s grandfather was born in 1788 as Patrick Mylvorrey but he died and was buried in 1862 as Patrick Morrison.

Little is known of John’s early life. He married Margaret Christian at the age of twenty-five and raised a family of five children, with another dying in infancy. He worked as a fisherman for a number of years and then as a railway plate-layer, until at the age of about thirty-five he turned to gardening. By 1891 he was living with his family at Kentraugh Mill presumably at the Kentraugh estate where he worked as a gardener for  about the next twelve years. The owners of Kentraugh had included the notable Qualtrough and Gawne families. As well as the outdoor staff the large household sustained up to 12 indoor servants – governess, butler, housekeeper, footmen etc.

The Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute suggests that Kentraugh appears to have been an older five-bay farmhouse that was enlarged in the period 1815–1820 to become one of the island’s premier estates. The Kentraugh “villa” was built of freestone, taken from the quarries of Mostyn, Denbighshire, North Wales. A noble colonnade extended along the entire front of the building, “upwards of ninety feet, supported by eight massive columns of the Ionic order.”

The various owners of Kentraugh were known as keen agriculturalists. A 1842 guide to “the Isle of Mann” described Kentraugh as possessing “the most extensive shrubberies and hot-houses in the Island” and the 1846 Slater’s Directory noted that “the gardens and pleasure grounds are delightfully laid out.” 

Kentraugh House and Grounds 1969, Photographic Archive, iMuseum, Isle of Man

Gardeners were very well respected and much sought after by the Gentry, often they moved from family to family probably for better pay and maybe a larger garden and to have men working under them.

By about 1903 John had become gardener at Government House, “Bemahague” in Onchan, which was the home of the Lieutenant Governor Lord Raglan. Bemahague, originally a farm, was supposedly built between 1820 and 1830 and extended in 1904 (after purchase by the Government). The house commanded “a fine view of the whole bay” and the grounds covered approximately 12 hectares some of which is lawn and gardens with most of the rest being grazing land.

There may have been an earlier building at Bemahague because a July 2004 Manx National Heritage Library article refers to it in a Mutiny on the Bounty connection. “On February 4 1781 at the Onchan parish church, William Bligh, later commander of the Bounty, married Elizabeth Betham, whose family lived at Bemahague, Onchan.”

This photograph is indeed Government House in the Isle of Man and is published in the book ‘Governors of the Isle of Man since 1765’ by Derek Winterbottom and is captioned Bemahague in the 1880s. ( National Library of Ireland on The Commons: Photographer: Thomas H. Mason)

John showed his flowers at all the Chrysanthemum shows in Douglas and Castletown where he won prizes every time, and an example is seen in comments on the 1908 Chrysanthemum Show in Douglas, that appeared in the local newspaper: ‘Mr. J Morrison the Governor’s gardener made a big step forward in this section and by his wins must have made his Excellency a proud visitor at the Show.’

John must have been a very respected man as this would have been one of the most prestigious positions on the island to be the head Gardener for the Governor.

John is believed to have died in 1915 and buried in Onchan cemetery.

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