Westgarthtown & WWI





Schou family



Knut Johansen Schou was a sailor who is said to have jumped ship in Melbourne and been harboured by the Zimmer family at Westgarthtown. He was born on 30 March 1859 at Øster Gammelby, Wiesby Parish, Tønder in Schleswig-Holstein when it was part of the Kingdom of Denmark, prior to its annexation by Prussia in 1864. His father was also a seaman. The old Danish form of the surname Schou is Skov.

According to his 1899 naturalisation application, Knut arrived in Australia on or about 15 March 1883. He was a farm labourer living and working at Westgarthtown when he married Anna Marie Nielsen at Carlton on 31 January 1885. His wife Maria, born at Jutland in Denmark, was employed as a housekeeper at Westgarthtown. She is also said to have knitted socks and underwear for Westgarthtown residents. They lived in a tent there for several years before moving to Preston by 1888. They first lived at Cooper Street, but by 1899 had moved to South Street, Preston.

A son, Peter Schou, had been born at Westgarthtown on 23 November 1885 and baptized on 24 January 1886. His godparents were Michael Zimmer, Friedrich Bernhardt and Emma Wuchatsch. The Schou’s had five other sons – Martin (who appears to have been born at Tønder in 1883), Elias, Christian and Jens - of whom Elias enlisted in 1916 and served with the AIF in France. Martin, Christian and Johannes all died young of tuberculosis.

In 1916, the same year Elias Schou enlisted, his father Knut, who was employed by the Shire of Preston, was discharged from his job after being accused of being a German, even though he was not. Schou’s ancestry was Danish - his certificate of birth and baptism was written in Danish - and he was legally an Australian by virtue of his naturalization in 1900. But he was not reinstated.

Knut Schou died in 1943, during World War 2, aged 84. At the time of his death, he had six grandsons serving with the armed forces – two in the AIF; two in the RAAF; one in the RAN; and another with the NZEF. He was buried with his wife Maria, who had predeceased him in 1930, in the Coburg Cemetery. Both had been members of the South Preston Methodist Church for many years and Knut had also been caretaker there.

Sgt Elias Schou.
Elias (Les) Schou (1888-1953) was born at Preston on 13 January 1888, the third son of Knut and Maria Schou. Les, as he was known, joined the Victorian Railways in 1905. He married Eleanor Violet Adams in 1911 and they lived at Thornbury prior to his enlistment. He applied to enlist in Melbourne on 18 February 1916 and on 17 March 1916 was allocated to A Company, 64th Infantry, 3rd Pioneer Battalion, Private, No. 306. He gave his age as 28, occupation as clerk and religion as Methodist.

On 18 May the Yann family of Preston gave Les a farewell party, at which he was presented with a wallet and money belt. He left Melbourne aboard the Wandilla for England on 6 June and disembarked at Plymouth on 26 July 1916. After further training and treatment in November 1916 for venereal disease, he proceeded to France on 31 December and joined the 3rd Pioneer Battalion in January 1917. On 20 March he was detached for special railway construction work, then rejoined his unit on 27 April.

Les served in the field with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion constructing and maintaining defensive positions, roads and similar works until 14 September 1917 when he was admitted to the 11th Australian Field Ambulance with arthritis of the toe. After being transferred between various hospitals and convalescent depots, he was discharged to duty on 2 November 1917. On 24 November 1917, he was attached to the Anzac Section, 3rd Echelon at Rouen and served with that unit until 1 February 1918 when he was promoted to Corporal in the 3rd Echelon, General Headquarters.

On 6 May 1918, he was admitted to the 10th General Hospital at Rouen suffering from scabies. After treatment, he was transferred the following day to the 2nd Convalescent Depot there, then discharged to duty again on 13 May. He was promoted to Temporary Sergeant on 1 September 1918, then transferred to Administrative Headquarters in London on 12 November 1918, the day after the Armistice. 

Les was promoted to Sergeant on 17 March 1919 and finally left England to return to Australia aboard the Valencia on 20 July. He arrived back at Melbourne on 11 September 1919. He was discharged from the AIF on 2 November 1919. His name is commemorated at the Preston Cenotaph, however, it was misspelt as Schon and has not been corrected.

Following his return from the war, Les and Eleanor lived at Beauchamp Street, Preston. He returned to his old job as a clerk with the Victorian Railways and they had two children – Betty Jean and Norman Leslie – before Eleanor died in 1930. Les later remarried, to Amelia May (née Barber) Crawford, before his death at Seddon in 1953, aged 65.

Norman Leslie Schou served in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (PM4650) during the Second World War.