Thomas Henry Zoch was born in Deniliquin, NSW, on Christmas Day 1893, the eldest son of Joseph Stephen and Annie Zoch (nee Skene). The Zoch family then moved to Euroa, Yea and Arcadia in Victoria. However young Tom was looked after by Zoch relatives in Pyalong where he went to school.
It appears that in June 1915 Tom tried to enlist in Melbourne but was asked to be medically examined again as his chest measurement was below standard. He was then accepted on July 5, 1915 in Melbourne. What is interesting is that he enlisted under the name John Foster, stated that both parents were deceased and gave his next of kin as a friend Charles Kincaid of Boisdale, Victoria.
After training Tom (known as John) left Melbourne on the Star of Victoria on September 10, 1915 as part of the 9th Reinforcements, 7th Battalion bound for Egypt. He had been made a private, number 2791.
Tom saw action late in the Gallipoli campaign, and on return to Alexandria in Egypt took part in further training. He was transferred to the newly formed 59th Battalion on February 24, 1916. This Battalion was mostly made up of men from rural Victoria.
Following a bout of influenza he was transferred to the Western Front in France in June 1916. On July 19, the 59th took part in its first major battle at Fromelles. Attacking in the first wave, the 59th suffered heavy casualties, and Tom was shot in his left knee. He was transferred to England where he received treatment, took leave and rejoined his Battalion in France in April 1917.
His injuries prompted a change back to his birth name. On August 17, 1916, the Army Records Office in Melbourne informed Tom’s next of kin, Charles Kincaid, that Tom had been injured. It would seem that Charles then decided to inform Tom’s parents as his father Joseph wrote to the Army in August informing them that John Foster was his son and his name was Thomas Henry Zoch. This letter describes the circumstances which caused Tom to use another name. Tom had accumulated a debt owed to a storekeeper and the storekeeper told Tom he would be jailed if he did not pay. Tom then ”ran away from home” and later joined the Army. On November 22, 1916 Thomas signed a statutory declaration saying he was Thomas Henry Zoch and the Army then altered his record.
Back in France, it is likely Tom took part in the Battle of Polygon Wood on September 26, 1917. With the collapse of Russia in October 1917, a major German offensive on the Western Front was expected in early 1918. This came in late March and the 5th Division moved to defend the sector around Corbie. During this defence, the 59th Battalion participated in the now legendary counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April. Tom was probably part of that attack.
Tom had experienced several bouts of sickness including during the rest of 1918. He returned to Melbourne on the Tras-os-Montes arriving on May 22, 1919. He was discharged from the army on July 15, 1919 after four years service.
Tom was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His name is recorded on the Pyalong State School Honour Roll.
In 1922 Tom married Harriet Donovan and in April 1923 he gave his address as Anzac Ave, Seymour when applying for a War Service Homes grant. He received a carrier’s licence in 1923 but soon after worked for many years on the railways. Tom died in January 1967 at Prahan and was buried in Springvale Cemetery.
Reproduced in the North Central Review, 24 May 2016
Claus Valdemar Gronn was born in Kilmore in 1897 the son of Valdemar Joseph Lorenz and Helena Priscilla Gronn (nee Poynter). The Gronn family had arrived in Kilmore in 1892, purchasing the tannery in Victoria Parade. After finishing school at the Kilmore State School, Claus (known as Clarence or more so Clarrie) joined his father as a tanner and currier. He also was a sergeant in the local cadets and served 3 months in the Citizens Militia.
With his parents’ permission Clarrie enlisted in Melbourne on September 20, 1915. He undertook training in Bendigo and on December 2, 1916 he joined the 15th Reinforcements, 7th Battalion as a private 4788, and was promoted to Lance Corporal in January 1916.
The Kilmore Free Press reported that “Sergeant Clarence Gronn, who left for the front last week”, was presented with a bible by members of the Kilmore Presbyterian Church. On March 7, 1916 Clarrie embarked in Melbourne on the Wiltshire bound for the Western Front via Egypt and Marseilles where he reverted to private on being taken on strength on July 7, 1916.
Clarrie received a gun shot wound to his thigh in late July 1916 and was transferred to England where he received treatment in Birmingham. Clarrie remained in England on light duties until late June 1917 when he joined the 2nd and then 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, on the Western Front. On January 16, 1918 Clarrie received a gun shot wound to his left groin and was transferred to England for treatment. Then in October 1918 he rejoined his battalion in France and following the end of the war remained there until April 1919.
Back in England Clarrie, by now aged 21 years, married his girlfriend Marguerite Iris Neale, aged 19 years, at the Registry Office, Warminster, Wiltshire, on May 26, 1919. They embarked on the Konigin Luise on December 18, 1919 for Melbourne. Clarrie was discharged on June 13 1920.
Clarrie was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His name is recorded on the Kilmore Shire Honour Roll in the Memorial Hall, on the Kilmore State School Honour Roll and the Kilmore Presbyterian Church Honour Roll. He was welcomed home on February 5, 1920 and attended the presentation of medals by General Birdwood in Kilmore in March 1920.
The Gronn family left Kilmore in 1925 and lived in Melbourne, Clarrie was a member of the Kilmore Historical Society and attended meetings. He died on 23 February 1976 and was cremated at Springvale Cemetery.
Patrick Raymond Skehan was born in Kilmore on April 27, 1894, the second son of Patrick and Amy (nee Grose) Skehan. Educated at Assumption College, Kilmore, he was a member of the Essendon Rifles Military Band (58th Reg.) and enlisted in the AIF at Broadmeadows on November 7, 1914, listing his occupation as Electrician.
Patrick sailed from Australia with the 2nd reinforcement to 7th Battalion on the HMAT “Clan Macgillivary” on February 2, 1915. On April 5, 1915, he embarked to join Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, Gallipoli and took part in the landing on Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, where he celebrated his 21st birthday on April 27. In July he was buried in a SAP which was blown in by heavy shellfire from the German warship “Goeben”. Only two were recovered alive from the SAP due to their proximity to the main trench. He regained consciousness on route to Malta and was admitted to St. Andrews Hospital, Malta with shell shock and suffered semi paralyses for some time.
After Gallipoli, he was transferred to the 1st Pioneer battalion and sent to France. The following is a brief extract from his writings:
“I was a runner at Pozieres and was affected by explosions to the extent of being thrown over and the concussion gave me a headache. On the second time we were in the line I hopped over with about 40 other men to dig a shallow trench for the infantry to “hop off” from. On the following day a shrapnel shell burst right in front of me and for a time I was dazed thinking the whole of the shell had hit me, but after a rest I recovered, I had a G.S.W in the left knee. I went to England and did not rejoin until April 1917. At Passchendaele I was thrown out of a shell hole by concussion and on another occasion was thrown into one, but I carried on until October 1918. The M.O. wanted to send me away, but I asked to be allowed to remain with my unit. In October 1918, I contracted influenza and went to England.”
AWARDED THE MILITARY MEDAL; “HIS MAJESTY THE KING has been graciously pleased to award the Military Medal for bravery in the field to the under mentioned soldier No. 1424 Private PATRICK RAYMOND SKEHAN”.
The citation reads:
“At Pozieres, France, on August 18, 1916, Pte. Skehan was detailed as a runner for Captain Speckual while 1st Avenue was under construction. During a heavy bombardment it was necessary to dispatch Pte. Skehan with a message to Lieut. O’Brien, on the way Pte. Skehan was hit on the knee by a piece of shrapnel but not withstanding this continued on his way, crawling on his hands and knees a distance of over 500 yards under continuous fire.”
He returned to Australia on the “City of Exeter” and was discharged on June 12, 1919. Due to his war service injuries suitable work was difficult to obtain, however, he worked as a casual labourer with the railways for a period, was appointed librarian in charge of the musical records at the Mildura University till its closure. He then returned to Moonee Ponds and finished his working life at the Maribynong ordnance factory. Blessed with a rich bass voice he often sang in operatic choruses and in St .Theresa’s choir, Essendon. Ocassionally he would visit family in Kilmore, travelling by train to Kilmore East and walking into the township. He never married and passed away on July 4, 1972, aged 78 years, and is buried in the Kilmore Catholic Cemetery.
In addition to the Military Medal, Patrick was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His name appears on the Kilmore Shire Honour Roll at the Kilmore Memorial Hall.
KILMORE FREE PRESS October 28, 1915 At the Dardanelles
Private P. R., Skehan, son of Mr P. Skehan, J.P., Kilmore, thus writes from the Convalescent Camp, Malta, under date 20th August, to his parents :-
At last I’am on the road to recovery and hope to be soon back in the trenches with the boys. Our battalion, in fact the whole brigade, has suffered terribly, and very few of the originals are left. We have had some horrible experiences, I never thought I would get used to it so quickly it was just like some awful nightmare. Our brigade was the second one ashore, and landed at 9 o’clock. From early morning the “Jizzie”, Buchantte, London and Triumph had been bombarding the forts at Gallipoli, the transports standing just behind. While we were getting into the torpedo destroyers which took us to the small boats we were shelled with shrapnel. Then we had to board the small boats and the naval pinnaces took us ashore, a string of three and four little boats being towed by each one. Then the excitement started. As we neared the shore they turned the machine guns on us from the hills while their field guns fired shrapnel from the flanks. We had to jump from the boats into the water, which was four feet-deep, and rush for cover of the cliffs. It was there we saw the slaughter the landing party suffered. Boats were smashed to pieces by shells, ghastly looking corpses laying and sitting in drifting boats, and others had been shot as they set foot on dry land. We scaled the little hill and went on up Shrapnel Gully. The first days and nights were awful. One of the machine guns of the 7th were manned by Essendon boys, and all were either killed or wounded. I thought I was a goner a hundred times during that week. The second reinforcements joined up with the 7th at Mena two days before they left, but some of us were picked to go as a hold party for the F.A. on the Indian. We concentrated at Lemnos Island and were taken back to the 7th on the Galeka the night before we sailed to the Dardanelles. We entrenched on the top of Shrapnel Gully, and now our trenches run right along the top of three similar gullies and right down towards Kuthier. We have Indian mountain batteries at the back of us as well as our field artillery, well hidden in the ridges, also Scotch howitzer batteries, which fire right over the hills, while the battleships extend from Gaba Tebe right up to the Dardanelles. On 7th May we (2nd; Brigade, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions) proceeded to Cape Helles, at the end of the peninsula, to assist the naval divisions, French and Territorials. We advanced 500 yards from Hood and Drake battalions’ trenches against Acki Babi and got cut up again. We took a Turkish trench which was full of dead, killed by the warships’ shells. We were at Cape Helles three weeks. The British and French troops told us they also had a terrible time at that end as-indeed the large grave yards prove. Shortly after coming back from Gaba Tebe we saw the Triumph torpedoed. While at Cape Helles we saw the River Clyde transport beached high and dry. The Dublins and Munsters landed off her. Father Hearne, of Richmond, was our chaplain; he has gone to Alexandria after being under fire for a couple of stiff months. We blew some Turks up in a mine, and went up to the same caper again. The Turks are brave fellows and just don’t care a damn for death. After their last big charge in June they were killed in hundreds, falling dead off our parapets. Our position is called “A N Z A C,” meaning A New Zealand Army Corps. All nicknames become official, such as Quinn’s Post, Johnston’s Jolly, Pope’s Hill, etc., and the Turk’s big guns are also nicknamed, being known as Asiatic Annie, Lonely Liz, High Velocity Archibald etc. I will be back in the trenches in September, all going well. I am.one of the few lucky ones to keep going from the first day until the middle of July.
Charles Oscar Axen was born in Karlsborg, Sweden in December 1880 and arrived in Melbourne on the Orotana on 13 March 1902. He lived at High Camp for nine years, Western Australia for two years and Pyalong for two years, occupation labourer. Charles married Eleanor Maud Lawrence in 1905 and by 1916 they had four children.
At age 35 years Charles enlisted on 20 January 1916 at Melbourne and after training embarked for overseas on 16 July on the HMAT Suffolk. Before he left Charles became an Australian citizen in June 1916.
After a short period in England, Charles joined his Battalion, the 7th, in the Somme in November 1916 and within a month he was suffering trench fever. In January 1917 he was transferred to Horton Hospital, near London, and later to the 67th Battalion in a training role. Charles was promoted to Lance Corporal in April 1917.
Charles returned to France in October 1917 to take part in defending the German Spring Offensive. On 9 June 1918 he was promoted to Corporal. During the early days of the Allied Hundred Days Offensive, the 7th fought a major action at Lihons and on the first day, 9 August, Charles received gun shot wounds in his left leg. Within four days he was admitted to the Cambridge Hospital in Aldershot, England. After recovering and taking leave, he embarked on the HT Karmala on 2 January 1919 for Melbourne where he was discharged on 1 April.
On Friday 7 March 1919 at the High Camp hall, a large attendance of local citizens gave Charles a warm reception and presented him with a sum of money in appreciation of his three years active service.
Charles received the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and 1914/15 Star. His name is recorded on the Pyalong Shire Honour Roll and at the Glenaroua Public Hall. The Axen family later moved to Mildura where Charles died in 1955.