Westgarthtown & WWI





Silling family



On 22 November 1855, Susannah Cuno, a servant girl at Westgarthtown, married Peter Silling of Ballan at the Trinity Lutheran Church, East Melbourne. Aged 25, Susannah was born at Schönhausen, Mecklenburg and arrived aboard the Sophie in August 1854. Peter, aged 35, was from Königsburg, Prussia and arrived as a sailor aboard a ship named the Lady Flora. A ship of that name arrived in Melbourne in August 1853. He is said to have been discharged by the captain and tried gold mining at Ballarat. He later took up carrying and gave his occupation as drayman when he married.

Susannah may have lived and worked at Leberecht Fiedler’s farm at Westgarthtown, as he was a witness to her wedding. Following their marriage, Peter and Susannah lived on a farm at Ballan, where they had seven children. Peter died in 1897 and Susannah in 1916. They had two grandsons who served in World War 1 – cousins Eric Charles Silling and Eugene Arthur Silling – the first of whom was killed in action in Belgium in 1917.

Ballan War Memorial. Photo: Robert Wuchatsch.
Eric Charles Silling (1892-1917) was born at Hawthorn in 1892, the only child of Charles Johannes Silling and Minnie Gee, who married at Glenferrie on 3 June 1891. Charles was Peter and Susannah Silling’s second son, born at Ballan in 1864. Following Charles’ death in 1897 in Western Australia, Minnie married Henry Guppy, in 1907. She died at Ballan in 1951.

When Eric enlisted at Melbourne on 28 February 1916, he gave his age as 23, occupation as bootmaker and religion as Church of England. He was also a member of Ballan’s rifle club and fire brigade. He was allocated to the 10th Machine Gun Company, Private, No. 116, 10th Infantry Brigade and embarked at Melbourne aboard the Ascanius for England on 27 May 1916. He arrived at Devonport, England on 18 July and while training there, was admitted to the Fargo Military Hospital on 3 August with an ulcerated throat.

On 22 November 1916 he left for France. The 10th Machine Gun Company was equipped with Vickers Medium Machine Guns, which were water cooled, mounted on a tripod and manned by a crew of three. As they were not easily transportable, they were usually sited in a prepared fixed position, for either defensive or attacking purposes.

On 10 February 1917, Eric was admitted to the 7th General Hospital at St Omer with mumps, but returned to his unit on 6 March and served with it until 31 August, when he was sent to Machine Gun School. He rejoined No. 3 Section, 10th Machine Gun Company on 30 September, but was killed in action four days later in Belgium.

An eyewitness, Corporal H. Peart, stated that Eric was advancing at Ypres on 4 October 1917 when a shell exploded and he was killed instantly. ‘I saw Casualty’s body immediately afterwards, but he was beyond all aid. He was most severely wounded all over…’ Another witness, however, stated that Eric was shot through the heart by a sniper just before he reached Broodseinde Ridge. A third witness stated ‘Lieut Woods of my Company told me that he [Silling] was shot in the neck at Zonnebeke on October 4th and died almost immediately.’

Eric is said to have been buried on the left hand side of Zonnebeke Road, just on the Ypres side of Zonnebeke Ridge, but the location is now unknown. He is commemorated on Panel 31 at the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres in Belgium; on Panel 179 at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra; on the Ballan War Memorial; and at the Ballan Lawn Cemetery.

Eugene Arthur Silling (circled). Photo: Australian War Memorial.
Eugene Arthur Silling (1892-1933) was born at Nathalia, the son of Peter and Jane Agnes (née Mortill) Silling, Eugene’s father, Peter and Susannah Silling’s eldest son, was born at Ballan in 1862 and married Jane at Numurkah on 28 April 1887. A blacksmith at Nathalia, Eugene’s father Peter died at Mooroopna in 1934. Jane died in 1945.

Eugene gave his age as 24, address as Nathalia, occupation as blacksmith and religion as Church of England when he enlisted at the Melbourne Town Hall on 3 August 1916. He had previously tried to enlist but been rejected because of a hernia. He was posted to No. 8 Company at the Machine Gun Depot, but on 22 September was transferred to Langwarrin with venereal disease, where he remained until 14 December 1916.

He then returned to the Machine Gun Depot at Seymour, where he was allocated to the 8th Reinforcements, 10th Machine Gun Company, Private, No. 560, 11th Infantry Brigade and embarked at Melbourne aboard the Osterley on 14 February 1917. He arrived at Plymouth on 11 April and was posted to the Australian Machine Gun Training Depot at Grantham. On 5 June he left for France and after further training at Camiers, was taken on strength of the 10th Machine Gun Company, on 23 June 1917. This was the same unit in which his cousin Eric Silling was serving.

Eugene was admitted to hospital on 21 July 1917 with pyrexia but rejoined his unit the following day. By the time he was next admitted to hospital in June 1918, his cousin Eric had been killed in action in Belgium and the 10th Machine Gun Company had been absorbed into the 3rd Machine Gun Battalion. 

He was hospitalized for six days in France on 19 June 1918 with an unrecorded ailment, then on 25 August he was accidentally injured, receiving burns to his hand and thigh. On 3 September he was invalided to England and admitted to hospital at Exeter the following day. He was granted furlough from 7 October, then posted to No. 4 Communications Depot at Hurdcott. He spent the next few months at various depots in England before embarking aboard the Orca at Liverpool on 19 February 1919. He arrived back in Melbourne on 31 March 1919 and was was discharged from the AIF on 7 May 1919.

Eugene married Gina Lily McEllister in 1920. He was a blacksmith at Nathalia in 1921, but by 1924 he was living and plying his trade at Dandenong. He died at Mont Park in 1933.