Westgarthtown & WWI





Graff family



Johann and Johanna (née Hobrack) Graff, Wends from Preske near Bautzen in Saxony, arrived in Australia with five children – Carl, Magdalena, Maria, Johanna and Johann Jun. – aboard the Pribislaw in February 1850. They were original settlers at Westgarthtown, establishing a dairy farm on 50 acres. Johanna died in 1887 and Johann in 1888. Both are buried at Westgarthtown.

Johann and Johanna Graff’s eldest child Carl, who was unmarried, was killed at the Forest Creek goldfields in 1852. In 1853 Magdalena Graff, the next eldest child, married Johann Lehmann at the Graff’s house at Westgarthtown and settled on a farm in O’Herns Road, Epping. The two remaining Graff daughters  - Maria and Johanna - also married and raised large families on farms in O’Herns Road, Epping. Maria married Michael Zimmer in 1858 and Johanna married Johann Wuchatsch in 1864.

Johann and Johanna Graff’s youngest child, Johann Graff Jr., married twice. He had five children by his first marriage in 1866 to Paulina Augusta Roy, then after she died, he had five more with Salome Metzenthin, who he married in 1876. When he moved to another farm at Doreen in 1889 he left his eldest surviving son Charles in charge of the farm at Westgarthtown. In 1891 Charles married Catherine Storey at Shepparton and they had seven children.

From these descendants, Johann and Johanna Graff had one grandson and three great-grandsons who served during World War 1. The grandson was Jim Wuchatsch and the great-grandsons were Ernie Lehmann and Fred and Arnold Graff. Although Fred and Arnold were both born at Westgarthtown, Fred enlisted at Sydney and Arnold in New Zealand.

Fred and Arnold’s sister Eva’s boyfriend William Jeffkins served overseas as a Sergeant with the Australian Veterinary Hospital from 1916-1919. They married in 1920. An uncle, Hermann Graff, their father’s brother, is reported to have tried several times to enlist during World War 1. Although he was an excellent marksman and member of various rifle clubs, he was rejected, presumably on medical grounds. 

The Graff Brothers

Fred Graff
Carl Frederick (Fred) Graff (1894-1917) was born at Westgarthtown on 7 August 1894, the son of Charles and Catherine (née Storey) Graff. He attended Thomastown State School from 1900-1907, then helped on the family farm, before training as a blacksmith with neighbour Johann Kreitling.

Sometime before the start of the World War 1, Fred’s father Charles moved the family to Queenstown in Tasmania, where he found work at the Comstock Mine. It is not known whether Fred ever lived in Tasmania, but the family was still there when he enlisted at Sydney on 26 August 1914. He was aged 20 and had three months prior military training as a cadet. He gave his religion as Methodist.

Fred was allocated to D Company, 3rd Battalion, Private, No. 1124, 1st Infantry Brigade. After training at Randwick, he left Sydney aboard the Euripides on 20 October and arrived in Egypt early in December 1914.

After several months of further training, the 3rd Battalion embarked at Alexandria on 5 April 1915, on their way to the landing at Gallipoli. Fred landed at Anzac Cove between 9.00 am and noon on 25 April 1915. He remained at Gallipoli until September when he was evacuated to Imbros with diarrhoea; then Lemnos and Malta with lumbago; and finally England, where he was admitted to hospital at Bristol. He rejoined the 3rd Battalion in Egypt in March 1916, just in time to leave for France.

Fred was killed in action at Pozieres on the Somme between 22-27 July 1916, possibly on 24 July 1916, during an intense German artillery bombardment. He is said to have been acting as a stretcher bearer when he and Alfred Clark, the soldier he was carrying, were killed. He was 21.

Fred was buried close to the road from Contalmaison to Pozieres, just south-east of Pozieres, 3¾ miles north-east of Albert. However, as with many of his fallen colleagues from D Company, the location of his grave is no longer known. His name is commemorated on the memorial at the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery; Panel 36 at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra; the Honour Rolls of the Thomastown Methodist Church and Epping RSL; and the recent memorial plantation at Thomastown. His name was also included on the now destroyed Honour Roll at Thomastown State School.

Arnold Heinrich Graff (1896-1973) served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces during World War 1. He was born at Westgarthtown on 29 February 1896 and attended Thomastown State School from 1900-1908, but was living at Waiuta in New Zealand and working as a miner when he enlisted at Greymouth on 9 October 1915, aged 19. He had previously lived with his parents at Queenstown in Tasmania. He gave his religion as Anglican.

He was appointed as Sapper, No. 4/1507 in the New Zealand Tunnelling Company. He trained at Avondale Racecourse at Auckland from 11 October, then embarked at Auckland aboard the Ruapehu on 18 December 1915. After stops at Montevideo and Dakar, he arrived at Plymouth on 3 February 1916.

Arnold’s unit camped at Falmouth for training purposes, then left for France on 9 March. On 15 March, the New Zealand Tunnelling Company was posted to the Labrynth Sector between Roclincourt and Ecurie, near Arras but two weeks later it moved to Chantecler, one kilometre south. He and the other sappers worked around the clock, in eight hour shifts, tunneling under the German lines.

Arnold’s first posting to the Western Front was cut short when he became ill with gastritis and appendicitis on 20 May 1916. After being admitted to various hospitals in France, he was sent back to England on 19 June. He was transferred from hospital at Netley to Brockenhurst on 4 July, then to Depot at Codford on 8 August. He was then discharged to duty on 12 October but did not embark for France until 3 July 1917.

He received a gunshot wound in action on 22 August 1917, but rejoined his unit five days later, so the wound to his forearm must have been slight. However, he was admitted ill to hospital at Etaples in November 1917 and did not rejoin the New Zealand Tunnelling Company until 2 February 1918. Then near Arras on 31 March 1918, during the German Spring offensive, he was wounded in action for the second time. He received wounds to the right leg, head, left thigh and left buttock, caused by shrapnel. He was evacuated to England on 5 April and admitted to No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital at Walton and did not rejoin his unit in France until 7 October 1918, just prior to the Armistice. He left for England again on 30 December 1918 and embarked for New Zealand aboard the Port Melbourne at London on 25 January 1919. He was discharged from the NZEF on 15 May 1919 ‘no longer physically fit for war service.’ He then returned home to Australia.

Certificate issued to Sapper Arnold Graff on his discharge in 1919 from the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Image: Mrs T. Sillery

In October 1919, Arnold registered his interest in Victoria in applying for land under the Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act. In April 1920, he applied to the Returned Soldiers and Closer Settlement Department in Hobart to purchase a block at Yambacoona on King Island, however, he seems not to have proceeded with this application. In July 1920, he applied to the Closer Settlement Board in Victoria for a loan to purchase stock, hay and implements to work his old family farm at Thomastown. In this application, he stated that since discharge from the army he had worked on an irrigation scheme in New South Wales and dairy farmed at Thomastown. This application was also soon withdrawn.

On 27 June 1922 Arnold purchased Karsten's old cottage and its two acres at Westgarthtown for £80. After improvements, he sold it on 5 September 1923 to William Walkeden for £160. He appears to have remained at Thomastown until the early 1930s, then moved to Toolangi.

Arnold was unemployed and living in the Salvation Army Home in Melbourne when he re-enlisted on 29 July 1940 during the Second World War. He was allocated to the 12th Garrison Battalion, 4th Garrison Guard (V4729) but served only briefly and was discharged on 3 January 1941 as medically unfit. He later served with the Civil Construction Corps from August to November 1942 at Seymour and Lake Boga before being discharged as medically unfit. From then on he lived in various inner Melbourne suburbs such as Kensington, North Melbourne, Fitzroy, East Melbourne, Richmond, Northcote, Prahran, St Kilda, Elwood and Hawthorn.    

Arnold was living at the Ivy Grange Guest House at Malmsbury Street, Hawthorn when he was found drowned in the Yarra River on 26 October 1973, aged 77. The coroner concluded he died on or about 23 October 1973. His doctor, who had treated him for eight years, testified that Arnold had ‘suffered a great deal in recent years’ from his war injuries.

As well as at Fawkner, where he was cremated, Arnold’s name is commemorated on the Honour Rolls of the Thomastown Methodist Church and Epping RSL; and at the recent memorial plantation at Thomastown. His name was also included on the now destroyed Honour Roll at Thomastown State School. A plaque honouring his service during World War 2 is located at Springvale Cemetery.

Ernie Lehmann

Ernest Henry (Ernie) Lehmann.
Ernest Henry (Ernie) Lehmann (1896-1983) was born at Epping on 6 October 1896, the second child of Alfred Augustus Lehmann and Drusilla Andrews. Ernie’s father was the son of Johann and Magdalena (nee Graff) Lehmann.

Ernie attended Wollert State School, then later began a fitting and turning apprenticeship with the Victorian Railways. He enlisted on 17 August 1914, less than two weeks after war was declared, despite being only 18. It was probably for this reason he was ‘Discharged Unsuitable’ from the 8th Battalion at Broadmeadows on 10 September after almost a month there, although in another section of his service file, it states he was ‘Discharged Med Unfit’. In his Attestation Paper he had raised his age to 19 years. He gave his religion as Church of England.

Ernie successfully re-enlisted on 8 July 1915 and was assigned to the 22nd Reinforcements, 8th Battalion, Private, No. 3580, 2nd Infantry Brigade. Following training at Broadmeadows, he embarked for Egypt on 5 January 1916 and was taken on strength of the newly formed 57th Battalion of the 15th Brigade at Tel-el-Kebir on 23 February. In March, however, he was admitted to hospital with a blood disorder and boils and not discharged until mid-April.

On 17 June 1916, he left Alexandria for France, reaching Marseille on 23 June. On 8 December he was promoted to Acting Corporal and soon after, on 9 January 1917, granted leave to England. However, he became ill there and spent almost a month in hospital, not returning to his unit until early March.

On 26 March 1917, he was wounded in action, when the 15th Brigade was advancing on Lagnicourt. He suffered a severe gunshot wound to his left leg and was evacuated to England on 17 April, where he remained in hospitals at Netley and Dartford until late July. He was then granted two weeks furlough, before spending the next nine months in various training units, including Signal School at Codford. On 18 April 1918, he finally returned to France and rejoined the 57th Battalion, which took part in the successful counter attack at Villers-Brettonneux a week later. The 57th Battalion’s last major battle took place on 29 September at St Quentin Canal.

Ernie remained in France until January 1919, when he returned to England on leave. After three weeks, Ernie rejoined his unit in France, then left France for the last time on 1 April 1919. On 12 April, he married May Cecilia Horne at West Hampstead, London and on 15 May, embarked on the Orontes and arrived back in Melbourne on 28 June 1919.

He was discharged from the AIF on 22 August 1919 and with his new wife went on to raise four children at Reservoir before his death on 23 July 1983, aged 86. Both Ernie and May are buried at Fawkner Cemetery. Ernie’s name is included on the Honour Roll at the Epping RSL.