Phil Schwenke and I met in 1994 when we both worked for a not-for-profit community organisation. We have been friends ever since. Phil’s grandmother Daisy had three brothers - Gordon, Edgar and Austin Woodford – his great uncles, who all enlisted in Inverell and served in WWI. Three brothers went to war but only one came back.
The eldest brother Gordon, aged 29, enlisted first on 20 November 1914, 4th Battalion AIF. He was wounded in Gallipoli by a gas shell exploding quite close to him, causing facial burns and hearing difficulties in his right ear, and pain in his right eye. After recovering he was sent to the Western Front in France where he was killed in action on 29 June 1916. Prior to being shipped to Gallipoli Gordon made a will on 21 April 1915 leaving his share of a tin mining operation to his youngest brother Austin.
Austin, only 18, joined up next on 15 October 1915, also 4th battalion, but later transferred to 56th battalion. He served in France but managed to escape injury, and was discharged safely on 10 August 1919.
Edgar joined up last on 29 February 1916, just short of his 23rd birthday. He joined as part of a local Inverell contingent known as the “Kurrajongs” and was assigned to 33rd battalion, but later transferred to 9th Light Trench Mortar Battery. He too served in France, and then just six months after Gordon, he too was killed in action on 23 December 1916. So sad for their parents George and Henrietta to lose two sons within six months of each other.
All that remained of their boys were a few personal effects – identity discs, a new testament diary, purses, a razor, a watch, some photos and postcards. And of course their medals for serving and the memorial plaques given to all families who had lost their loved ones. They are both buried near Armentieres where they were killed, and Phil has been to visit their graves.
After the war Austin moved to Gilgai near Inverell and built his house Invergordon where he lived with his sisters Ruby and Daisy. Daisy married Phil’s grandfather William Schwenke who lived across the road at Morven. Stelios and I visited Phil and his wife Cristina at Gilgai in 2002. Little did I know then just how closely we were connected in another way to this small village.
When my mother died I vowed to find her first son given up for adoption in 1952 before meeting and marrying my father in 1954. In 2004 I discovered that my half-brother Scott Sinclair had been adopted by a farming family living at Lorraine in Inverell, the area where my mother’s cousin Valmai lived. Cristina put me in touch with the local school principal who knew many people in the area, and I was able to speak to a neighbour of the Sinclair’s only to find out that young Scott had died of an accidental gunshot wound in 1966. I’m so glad my mother never found out because all her life she worried about the baby boy she had given up, wondering if he was alright?
In 2006 on a family history trip to meet various relatives I stayed with Valmai and told her my mother’s story. Valmai suggested I go to the local Inverell paper and look for more information. That was how I discovered that the Sinclairs had moved to a property called Morven owned by the Schwenke family in Gilgai, right across the road from Invergordon! And that was where Scott had died. Stelios and I shared New Year’s Eve 2017 with Phil and Cristina and I am looking across at that property right now. Phil and Cristina are slowly renovating Austin’s house and have shared his story.
Lest we forget!