The April Storytellers was once again an opportunity for the BBC to recognise the ANZAC spirit and memories of past wars. Janet Bagnall kindly volunteered to present the story relating back to her great-great-grandfather who came to Australia after the Crimean War.
In keeping with our theme Janet told the tale of early Australia – The Charge of the Light Brigade, hunts for Ned Kelly, a pub in northern Victoria and her family’s settling on the land in the Riverina all linking back to her great-great-grandfather Draper from the Crimean War.
Janet dedicated her presentation in memory of George Franki who assisted in the research and was such a presence in encouraging BBC members to find out about their ancestors’ military history. This year will be the first ANZAC Day we didn’t have George with us.
Thanks also to the members of the A Cappella group for coming to sing songs associated with wars. For a short time, George came and sang with the group when they first formed a few years ago and he came along when he could.
Janet set the scene by playing a recording of Peter Sculthorpe’s composition ‘Small Town’ which was inspired by a passage from the D H Lawrence book Kangaroo. It’s the description of the main street in a small country town, Thirroul. Like so many country towns, near the town centre there will be the cenotaph as a focus, with the names of those who served in the world wars and often also those who served in other wars Australia has fought in. The smaller the town the more obvious is the war memorial and quite often there will be the names of many members from the same family.
Janet showed several photographs including one of Alexander Winston Draper’s memorial at Nathalia, a small town in northern Victoria near Echuca. It was the first monument to be built in the main street (beside the big water tower) and honoured Janet’s great-great-uncle who died in the Boer War. Monuments to the First and Second World Wars were added near it subsequently.
Janet then revealed her family’s link to the Crimea War. Her father was celebrated his 90th birthday 3 years ago with a big party out on the farm. He surprised all present by making a speech, holding a tin of war medals, rattling them and saying:
“I come from good genes, you know. My great grandfather fought in the Crimean War.” Then he recited from memory the early verses of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Janet then asked John Bagnall to recite this famous poem about the doomed charge, with participation of those present for the well-known lines – “Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them …”
The Charge of the Light Brigade
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
and so on …..
We then learnt how Janet’s great-great-grandfather Alexander Draper was an Englishman from Langport in Devon and was in the 10th Hussars, a cavalry unit in the British Army. He was sent to the Crimean Peninsula in 1853 after the outbreak of hostilities against the Russians.
After the war finished, great-great-grandfather Alexander emigrated to Australia and as a skilled horseman he joined the Victorian Police force as a mounted constable. He was known as a trooper, as mentioned in WALTZING MATILDA and he was stationed at various small outposts in Victoria from 1856. Janet showed a photograph of a bearded chap who at first glance might have been Ned Kelly but in fact was the only picture the family has of Alexander Draper, the former Hussar who was the original DRAPER to settle in Australia. After being a mounted trooper, he became a Magistrate and on retiring he built and ran the Railway Hotel in Nathalia until his death in 1896.
The family pub in Nathalia was sold eventually and with the proceeds my grandfather Edward John Draper bought a grazing property “Triggervale” near Narrandera on the Murrumbidgee River in the Riverina. It was on this property that Janet’s father Bill grew up on and share-farmed until she was born and then he purchased his own farm Allambie near Leeton.
A neighbour down Janet’s street, Colonel Tony Lanarch Jones, was involved in the national committee fundraising for a national Boer War monument. When he found out she had a Boer War connection, he invited her to some of these fund-raising activities for the building of this monument. It had great support from Tim Fischer, the Governor General and the Prime Minister. It is a beautiful monument on Anzac Parade in Canberra and features mounted horsemen wheeling around on uneven ground.
Janet last spoke to George prior to going to Canberra for the dedication of this monument by the Governor General on Boer War day 31st May 2017. George shared in her excitement and her regret is she did not get to share with him what a great day it was, as on her return to Sydney, George was too ill in North Shore hospital from his stroke.
About 2,000 people, mainly descendants of Boer War veterans, were present at the dedication ceremony and Bill and Janet were proud to be sitting in the front row. She was wearing her maternal grandfather’s Gallipoli medals. Her father was proudly wearing his family medals.
At the end of the ceremony, the Governor General said, “I’m supposed to say goodbye, but I am going to mingle.” He moved straight over to Bill, who was decked out in his Boer War tie and medals. The GG showed great interest in the Crimean medals Bill was also wearing and an hour later the GG posted a picture on Facebook of himself examining Bill’s medals.
Janet then read a letter from her maternal grandfather Vyner Evans Jones who was wounded at Gallipoli on the morning of 25th April 1915. This letter is in the archives of the War Memorial in Canberra and she was able to read the original when she was down in Canberra last year.
She showed her only picture of her maternal grandfather from the war years with some soldier mates who visited him at Harefield Hospital in England while they were on leave.
He rarely spoke of his time in the war because he only really saw one day of fighting and then he was removed from the action. On Anzac Day he never marched because he was self-conscious about his pronounced limp and he did not want to be a public spectacle trying to keep up with the fitter returned soldiers.
According to news reports, he was treated as a hero with the welcome home parade in Albury in 1918. He was then sent to Georges Heights military hospital (known as The Hospital on the Hill) where he was fitted with a special boot. The Hospital on the Hill was the 3rd largest military hospital in Australia at the time and signs among the wooden buildings at Georges Heights show how big it was. There is also a room of memorabilia there which can be visited daily as you walk down towards the Parade ground at Georges Heights.
As a child, Janet was fascinated that her grandfather had dark bits beneath his skin where the shrapnel remained in his leg. One leg was seriously shorter than the other. However, he was lucky to lead a relatively normal life on return to Australia; marrying and having 3 children and working with the railways, mainly at Narrandera, until his retirement. He obviously was not fit for active service, so he was lucky not to be sent to the western front in France, like those who could be patched up and were returned to the firing line.
Janet’s family story was perfect on an evening for reflecting on Wars past and family ties. We thanked her for sharing it.
The A Cappella Group who had sang earlier before a break then sang some more of their war related repertoire.
The evening concluded with birthday wishes for Hilarie Lindsay and Christine Nettheim for birthdays the following day. Hilarie was turning 96, Christine too young to care.
The presentation was filmed so in due course may be available for viewing on the club’s website and will certainly be added to the club’s growing archives.
The next meeting of the Storytellers will be on Tuesday 15th May 2018, commencing at 7:30 pm.
If the weather is good then come for a drink, feed and chat beforehand, usually starting at 6pm.
All members and friends are welcome.