Joe told me the remarkable story of a time in the 1980s when he squatted in a house in The Rocks. For those that aren’t familiar with the term squatting, it’s hard to imagine with today’s rental prices and the competitive nature of renting, that there were so many empty inner city houses. But there were. In places like Glebe where I lived, and also in Ultimo and Pyrmont, empty houses were taken over by people who simply lived there until evicted.
In Argyle Place, off Lower Fort Street, and just opposite the Garrison church, Joe squatted in the third house from the end on right hand side, Number 58. There he found a number of military items including a WWI diary and medals, and some photos from the Boer War. Joe has given most of them to the Australian War Memorial. Apparently, they belonged to a WWI veteran with the surname Rochford.
But most prized of all, just like its owner before him, was a hand carved florin – a two shillings coin from 1910, which Joe has kept. He believes it is a form of trench art (see last week’s blog). Did WWI Digger Rochford carve it on the battlefields? Or perhaps in a hospital recovering from a wound? We will probably never know. The fact that Joe found several of his possessions abandoned in The Rocks house suggests that he died alone without immediate family. By the late 1970s or 80s our unknown Digger Rochford would have been a very old man.
I’ve looked on the Australian War Memorial WWI Nominal Roll and can see fourteen Rochfords listed. All of them returned to Australia except one who died of his wounds in Europe. Only three or four of them enlisted in Sydney. If Joe’s Digger Rochford has any living relatives it would be great to share this story with them.
Sadly, the Redfern market seems to have ceased and I haven’t been able to locate Joe to give him a copy of this photograph either. Pictured below is the little Active Service Testament of 1916 given to all the WWI troops to carry. Lord Robert's message to all the troops is inscribed inside the cover, along with a personal message to the original owner of the book in 1916. The book is small enough to fit inside a soldier's pocket. My husband saw the little book at Joe’s stall and bought it for me.