Westgarthtown & WWI





Wuchatsch family



Johann Wuchatsch, a Wend from Särka near Bautzen in Saxony, arrived in Australia with his second wife Magdalene (née Bartsch) and five children – Carl, Maria, Johann Jun., Johanna and Agnes – aboard the Pribislaw in February 1850. They were original settlers at Westgarthtown, establishing a dairy farm on 78 acres. Johann died in 1884 and Magdalene in 1903. Both are buried at Westgarthtown.

A further five children were born at Westgarthtown – August (1853), Magdalene (1855), Emma (1857), Carl (1860) and Christine (1862).

Johann Wuchatsch Jun. married Johanna Graff in 1864 and they raised a large family, the youngest of whom, Jim Wuchatsch, served in the AIF during World War 1. He had been unable to enlist before 1916 owing to defence regulations preventing the enlistment of men of enemy origin whose fathers had not been born within the British Empire. He had to wait until a shortage of men forced the Federal Government to accept such recruits.

Jim’s elder brothers were all over military age, but one, Albert Wuchatsch, a councillor for the Shires of Epping and Whittlesea during World War 1, was the subject of unfounded complaints of disloyalty by the Epping representative of the Victorian Anti-German League. Another brother, Bill Wuchatsch, a civil servant in the Victorian Lands Department, later complained bitterly of the injustice of another directive in 1916 which instructed Federal Government Departments not to engage or promote persons of enemy origin, which soon flowed on to Victorian Government Departments. Bill, then 44, tried to enlist on 10 October 1918, just prior to the war’s end, but was rejected as medically unfit because of varicose veins and flat feet.

In 1915, Johann and Magdalene Wuchatsch’s youngest child Christine, then a reclusive spinster aged 52 living at Westgarthtown, was accused by an anonymous complainant of being disloyal.

Johanna (née Wuchatsch) Seeber’s son Harry, who lived in Western Australia, had a stepson named Robert Jones who served during World War 1. But it was August Wuchatsch, by then living at Bena in Gippsland, who had the most sons serve in the war. Three enlisted and several more are said to have tried but were rejected as medically unfit. A son-in-law, Jack Holder, married to daughter Emma Wuchatsch, also joined the AIF and served at Gallipoli and France.

The Wuchatsch brothers from Bena

August, son of Johann and Magdalene Wuchatsch, was born at Westgarthtown in 1853. He married Sarah Gründel of Greensborough in 1876 and two years later selected 200 acres of bushland at Nyora, in South Gippsland. Two children were born at Westgarthtown before the family moved to Nyora in 1879.

August and Sarah raised ten children, with a further two dying in infancy from diphtheria. After earlier farming at Nyora, North Poowong and Whitelaw, the Wuchatsch family had been living at Bena for ten years when the First World War began. Joe enlisted in September 1914; George in October 1914; and Ray in March 1915. All three served at Gallipoli, before Joe and Ray were transferred to the Western Front and George, a lighthorseman, to the Middle East.

Despite gunshot wounds, injuries and illness, the three brothers survived the war. However, by the time Joe arrived back in Australia in November 1918 and Ray and George in mid 1919, their father August and brother Charles were dead. George, promoted to Temporary Regimental Sergeant-Major and decorated in war for bravery with a Military Medal and Mentioned-in-Despatches, did not survive the peace. A victim of war neurosis, he took his own life less than a year after his return.

Francis Joseph Wuchatsch. Photo: Robert
Francis Joseph Wuchatsch (1883-1962) was born at Nyora, the fifth son of August and Sarah Wuchatsch. He attended school at Little Lang Lang East and North Poowong then assisted his father on the farm. Later he worked as a timber cutter and also travelled to Lightning Ridge in New South Wales to try opal mining. Unsuccessful, he returned to Victoria and earned his living as a teamster and fencer. At the outbreak of war in 1914, he was living at Nyora.

Joe enlisted on 21 September 1914. He was 24 and a Methodist. After training at Broadmeadows, he embarked with the 1st Reinforcements, 7th Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade aboard the Themistocles on 22 December 1914. He arrived in Egypt in January 1915 and was taken on strength of the 8th Battalion on 9 February. Allotted to D Company, his army number was changed from 1208 to 1174.

Joe left Alexandria for Gallipoli via Lemnos on 5 April. When the 8th Battalion landed at Gallipoli between 5.30 - 7.00 am on 25 April 1915, he received a bullet wound to his forearm, so was evacuated and hospitalised in Malta. On 8 June 1915 he left for Egypt and on 14 June embarked again for Gallipoli. He rejoined the 8th Battalion on 20 June and remained at Gallipoli until evacuation on 18 December 1915. He arrived back at Alexandria on 7 January 1916 and the 8th Battalion then spent two-and-a-half months in Egypt, before it sailed for Marseilles on the Megantic on 26 March 1916. 

Over the next year the 8th Battalion saw action on the Somme in northern France and at Flanders, in Belgium. On 7 September 1917, Joe was hospitalised at Camier and then Etaples with jaundice. He rejoined the 8th Battalion in Flanders on 12 November 1917 and remained in Belgium and France until just before the war ended, when the AIF’s 1st Division was granted home leave. On 24 September 1918, he embarked at Taranto for Egypt then boarded the Devon at Suez on 13 October, arriving at Melbourne on 23 November 1918. He was discharged from the AIF on 22 January 1919 and his name appears on the Honour Rolls of the Nyora, Poowong and Bena Halls.

Joe, who did not marry, died on 10 March 1962 aged 78. He had carried a small piece of shrapnel in his chest for almost 50 years. He was buried with his brother George at Korumburra.

Benjamin George Wuchatsch. Photo: Robert
Benjamin George Wuchatsch (1892-1920) was born at North Poowong on 9 August 1892 and attended the North Poowong, Bena and Kilcunda Road State Schools. He worked on his parents’ dairy farm at Bena until he enlisted in the 9th Light Horse Regiment at Drouin on 6 October 1914. He was 22 and gave his religion as Methodist. Allotted No. 504 and the rank of Trooper, C Squadron, he commenced training at Broadmeadows.

Norman Wuchatsch, then a 12-year-old boy, watched proudly as the 9th Light Horse Regiment rode through his father’s farm at Westgarthtown on manoeuvres and his cousin George called in to say hello. Many years later, old-timers recalled how the light horsemen left their empty bully beef cans strewn along German Lane (now Gardenia Road) and the infantrymen hid empty .303 shells in the dry stone walls.

On 11 February 1915 George embarked aboard the Karroo and arrived at Alexandria on 15 March. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade, of which the 9th Light Horse Regiment was part, camped beside the Pyramids at Mena.

A few days after the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 2015, the light horsemen volunteered to fight as infantry. By 19 May George’s ship was anchored off Cape Helles and on 21 May he transferred to the destroyer Scorpion and landed under shell and shrapnel fire. His first stay at Gallipoli was short, however, as he was evacuated sick from Walker's Ridge on 26 Mayand admitted to hospital at Mudros with balanitis.

On 5 June George was discharged and transferred to Egypt where he was admitted to hospital with venereal disease. He was discharged on 16 June and returned to Gallipoli. On 28 August, however, he was landed at Malta from the hospital ship Franconia suffering renal colic. It was 6 October before he was fit enough to leave for Egypt where on 19 October he was admitted to the Convalescent Depot at Mustapha with gonorrhoea. On 2 November, he was transferred to hospital at Abbassia and after treatment, discharged on 16 November 1915. 

The 9th Light Horse Regiment evacuated Gallipoli on 19 December and returned to their horses in Egypt. By February 1916, they were preparing to confront the Turks again, this time in the desert.

In August 1916, the 9th Light Horse Regiment was engaged on the right flank during the Romani fighting in the Sinai Desert. On 23 August, George was promoted to Lance Corporal. On 23 December 1916, he received a bullet wound to his right arm at Maghdaba, where after a 25 mile night march over unknown country, the Light Horse brigades surprised and defeated the strongly placed Turks. By the time he was admitted to hospital at Kantara, on 3 January 1917, George’s wound was severely septic. 

Regimental Sergeant-Major B. G. (George) Wuchatsch of the 9th Light Horse.
Photo: Robert Wuchatsch.
George rejoined his regiment at Moascar on 12 February. On 11 April 1917, he was promoted to temporary Corporal, then on 20 April, he received two field promotions, first to Corporal then Sergeant. These promotions followed serious casualties sustained by his Regiment in an unsuccessful attack on Atawineh Redoubt, during the Second Battle of Gaza. On 31 October 1917, the 9th Light Horse Regiment fought in the Battle of Beersheba, where the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments made their daring sunset charge. This now legendary charge resulted in the capture of Beersheba, a strategic town previously considered by the enemy to be impregnable.

From the 22 January 1918 to 25 April 1918, George served with the 3rd Light Horse Training Regiment. On his return to his regiment he saw immediate action and on 15 May was recommended for the Military Medal. During the move on Es Salt, the 9th Light Horse Regiment was detailed as advanced guard, with instructions to picquet the heights as the Brigade moved along the narrow mountain track. George’s citation for the Military Medal reads:

About three miles west of Es Salt on April 30 1918 whilst advancing on Es Salt Sergt Wuchatsch acting under instructions from Lieut Stevens whose troop was piqueting the heights on the N side of the road leading to Es Salt he with a party of 4 men under heavy rifle fire occupied an important tactical feature which gave complete observation and held this point against the enemy till the whole Bde had passed and rejoined the rearguard without any casualties and later in the afternoon he with great boldness dislodged a party of snipers who were harassing the left flank of the 9th Regiment.

On 6 September 1918, not yet awarded his Military Medal, George was recommended for the award of Mentioned-in-Despatches, as follows:

For conspicuous good work and devotion to duty during operations from April to August 1918.  On 30 April 1918 before the attack on Es Salt developed, he occupied with his patrol by dash and initiative, a strong tactical feature of great value to the enemy and which they were attempting to occupy.  His subsequent work in the Jordan Valley as patrol leader has always been most commendable.

On 28 August 1918, cavalry swords were issued and on 29 August, George was promoted to temporary Squadron Sergeant-Major. On 2 October 1918, following the fall of Damascus, the 9th Light Horse Regiment charged the retreating enemy with drawn swords and captured 91 officers, 318 cavalry, 1,064 infantry, eight German machine gunners and large numbers of guns and ammunition. Also included was the only enemy Regimental Flag captured in action by the Australians during the entire desert campaign. For his part in this action, George was recommended on 29 December 1918 for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. That citation read:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the field at Khan Ayash on 2 October 1918.  He showed great dash and determination in a charge against Turkish mounted troops and although his horse fell and he was almost overcome with fatigue and malaria, he continued in the pursuit, and rendered valuable service until the whole of the enemy had surrendered and been taken prisoner.

George was finally awarded the Military Medal on 22 October 1918 and mentioned in General Allenby's despatch of 23 October 1918, but he was not awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Khan Ayash was the last Light Horse action of the war as hostilities in the desert ceased on 31 October 1918. On 2 January 1919, George was promoted to Squadron Sergeant-Major then on 5 March further promoted to temporary Regimental Sergeant-Major.

From March, the 9th Light Horse Regiment was engaged in peace keeping activities during the Egyptian Uprising, but on 10 July 1919 the Regiment boarded HMT Oxfordshire at Port Said. George arrived back in Melbourne on 13 August and was discharged from the AIF on 12 October 1919, shortly after being welcomed home at the Bena Hall. 

In September 1919, George applied for a Soldier Settlement block of 100-200 acres. His future looked bright, but within a year he was dead, a victim of the war he had earlier survived and in which he had seemingly thrived. The Korumburra Times reported:

A sad fatality occurred at Bena on Thursday evening, by which one of Australia's heroes met his end in tragic circumstances. George Wuchatsch, a young man universally liked in the district, was the victim. The deceased…returned to Australia some nine months ago, as a Quartermaster Sergeant and a Military Medallist. After his furlough he went into a military college to qualify for promotion, and passed all his examinations with full honours, as a result of which he was offered promotion and a position in West Australia, which, however, he declined. But though he went through college brilliantly, it proved to be at the cost of his health, which has been steadily failing since his return home.

George, aged 27, had been a victim of war neurosis or post-traumatic stress, a condition much better understood today than in 1920. George had taken his own life, almost five years to the day since he had first seen action at Gallipoli. 

At the inquest, Ray Wuchatsch testified that George had returned to Australia in good health, but felt run down on his return from three months study at the Military College, Liverpool. After a rest, he:

Improved for two or three weeks. About a fortnight ago he went to Wangaratta to inspect some land and returned on Monday last. I saw a great change and he then complained of loss of memory. He seemed to get worse every day and suffered from delusions. He fancied the house was gassed and thought that Crawford, a man working on the farm was a spy...

The inquest found George's death on 20 May 1920 was the result of ‘suicide by drowning whilst of an unsound mind’.

George, who was unmarried, was buried in Grave No 128 in the Methodist section of the Korumburra Cemetery. His medals - the Military Medal, 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal with Oak Leaf for Mentioned-in-Despatches and Anzac Star were all issued posthumously and his name appears on the Honour Rolls of the Nyora, Poowong and Bena Halls and the Bena and Kilcunda Road State Schools. He is also commemorated at the Victorian Garden of Remembrance at Springvale.

Raymond Royal Wuchatsch. Photo: Robert
Raymond Royal Wuchatsch (1890-1963) was born at Nyora on 16 November 1890. He attended the North Poowong, Thomastown (September-December 1899 while staying with his uncle John Seeber), Bena and Kilcunda Road State Schools. At 14 he left home to go timber cutting with his elder brothers Jack and Joe and later travelled to King Island where he was employed for about three years in roadmaking.

Ray’s first enlistment form is dated 2 February 1915, but as his papers were lost, he signed a second form on 22 March and a third attestation form on 4 June 1915. He was 24 and gave his religion as Methodist. He was allocated to the 24th Battalion, Transport Section, 6th Infantry Brigade, Driver, No. 39 and embarked for Egypt on 9 July 1915. The 24th Battalion reached Gallipoli on 5 September, however, on 14 November he was admitted to the Ghezireh Red Cross Hospital at Cairo with a septic knee. He remained there until 29 February 1916, rejoined the 24th Battalion at Moascar on 8 March and sailed from Alexandria for Marseilles on 20 March.

The 24th Battalion took part in its first major offensive at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm in July and August 1916. As a driver in France, Ray normally drove horse-drawn supply wagons, but he is also known to have driven horse-drawn ambulances in the field. On 25 December 1916, at Pommenes Redoubt Camp, he received a serious accidental cut to his right knee when a horse fell. On 29 December he embarked at Rouen on HS Andrew for England and was admitted to hospital at Cheltenham on 31 December. 

On 23 February 1917 Ray was discharged from hospital and on 23 March transferred to the 65th Battalion at Wareham, where he remained until 15 November, when he returned to France and rejoined the 24th Battalion on 22 November 1917. The 24th Battalion provided support at the battles of Hamel and Amiens but played a major role at Mont St Quentin on 1 September 1918. Ray remained on the Somme until 24 January 1919, then left France for England. He embarked for Australia on 8 April aboard the Trasos Montes and arrived back in Melbourne on 22 May. He was discharged from the AIF on 22 July 1919. Ray's name appears on the Honour Rolls of the Nyora, Poowong and Bena Halls and the Bena and Kilcunda Road State Schools.

In 1920, Ray was granted a Crown Lease on a 103 acre Soldier Settlement block at Jeetho. In 1921, he married another Jeetho resident, Nellie Whiteman. Ray and Nellie raised four daughters - Barbara, Yvonne (Dulcie), Thea and Ruth.

On 25 March 1942, after Japan’s entry into World War 2, Ray rejoined the army (V388847) and was a part-time member of the 11th and 23rd Battalions, Volunteer Defence Corps until discharged on 9 August 1943, aged 52. In 1945, he sold the farm at Jeetho and moved to Bena, enabling him to go timber cutting with his brother Joe in the Poowong North bush country. The family later moved to Nyora, then finally in 1952 to Bena Road, Korumburra where him ended his working life at the Korumburra Butter Factory. Nellie died at Loch in 1960 and Ray at Korumburra in 1963 aged 72.

Jim Wuchatsch of Epping

Joseph David George Samuel (Jim)
Wuchatsch. Photo: Robert Wuchatsch.
Joseph David George Samuel (Jim) Wuchatsch (1885-1968) was born at Epping, the tenth and last child of Johann and Johanna (nee Graff) Wuchatsch and grandson of Johann and Magdalene Wuchatsch. Registered at birth as Joseph David, he was baptised as George Samuel, but soon became known as George. It wasn’t until World War 1 that he acquired his best known name of Jim.

Jim attended Epping State School prior to working on the family farm in O’Herns Road, Epping. He enlisted on 7 September 1916, his entry into the AIF delayed by a previous ban on men whose fathers were born in Germany. He was 30 and gave his religion as Presbyterian. He was allocated to the Engineers Reinforcements as Driver, No. 17818 and entered camp at Seymour two weeks later.

On 25 November 1916 the Preston Leader reported:

The many friends of Drivers J. Wuchatsch and T. Bower of the Engineers will be interested to learn that both expect to entrain at Seymour this week for Sydney, where they expect to be in camp for a few weeks before leaving for the Front. A party of relatives and friends paid them a visit last Sunday and all had an enjoyable time. 

While in Sydney Jim and Tom were involved in an incident in December 1916 which almost ended in tragedy for them. A newspaper reported that ‘a madman intent on hurling himself to death on the rocks’ at South Head had been saved by ‘Thomas Bower and Joseph Wuckatsh, two soldiers attached to the Engineers Camp at Moore Park’. After a struggle lasting almost half an hour in which all three men almost fell off the cliff, they subdued the man and he was taken to Watson’s Bay Police Station.

Jim and Tom sailed for Europe on 10 May 1917 aboard the Marathon with the March Reinforcements Field Company Engineers and arrived at Devonport, England on 20 July 1917. After six months training at Brightlingsea, Jim was sent to France in January 1918 and soon after was taken on strength of the 15th Field Company Engineers at Spy Farm, Wytschaete near Messines in Belgium. His unit, whose main function was to build or repair roads, bridges and trenches for the 15th Brigade, saw active service in several decisive battles in Flanders and on the Somme during 1918.

On 8 November 1918, three days before the Armistice, Jim was granted two weeks leave, which he spent in England and Scotland. On his return to France he wrote home in a postcard stating “We are expecting to go on a long march towards Germany soon’. His unit did not reach Germany, however, returning only to Belgium where it stayed for several months.

On 25 March 1919, Jim had two weeks’ leave in Paris, then in April his unit left Belgium for England. He arrived back in Melbourne aboard the Port Lyttleton on 5 August and was discharged from the AIF on 11 September 1919.

In 1921, Jim married Marion Cook of Rochford and together they established a small dairy farm at Epping. Jim was also a foundation member and Vice-President of the Epping sub-branch of the RSSAILA (now RSL), formed in 1920. They had one child, a son George, born in 1932. Jim and Marion remained at Epping until 1967, just prior to their deaths in 1968. Both are buried at Westgarthtown. Jim’s name is included on the Honour Rolls of the Epping Primary School, Epping Presbyterian Church and Epping RSL.

Harry Seeber’s Stepson

Robert Edward Griffiths (Bob) Jones. Photo:
Robert Wuchatsch.
Robert Edward Griffiths (Bob) Jones (1898-1949), was born at Parkside, South Australia on 25 July 1898. His father, Robert Jones, died in 1902 and Harry Seeber met his mother Florence Jones (née Miller) at Fremantle. They married in 1903. Harry had been born at Westgarthtown in 1871, the son of Johann and Johanna (née Wuchatsch) Seeber. They lived at Fremantle.

After leaving school, Bob worked as a clerk and served in the Naval Reserve until 21 September 1915 when he enlisted in the AIF, aged 17. He gave his religion as Church of England. Assigned to the 14th Reinforcements, 11th Battalion, Private, No. 4533, 3rd Infantry Brigade he embarked at Fremantle aboard the Miltiades on 12 February 1916, arriving at Suez on 10 March, then France on 4 April. He was taken on strength of B Company, 11th Battalion on 25 May 1916.

The 11th Battalion’s first major action in France was at Pozieres in the Somme Valley in July 1916. It then moved to Belgium to man trenches near Ypres but returned to the Somme for the winter of 1916/17. The battalion saw action during the Spring, including at Louverval in April, then later returned to Belgium for the Third Battle of Ypres. In May 1917 Bob was reported missing in action for ten days. He was appointed Lance-Corporal on 29 September 1917.

On 10 August 1918, during the successful Allied offensive east of Amiens, Bob was wounded in action, receiving a severe gunshot wound to the left hand. He was evacuated to England and then after recovering, left aboard the Somali on 1 June 1919 and arrived back in Australia on 8 July 1919. He was discharged from the AIF on 30 August 1919.

Bob married Britta Olson in 1921 at Fremantle. They had two children — Joyce and Dorothea — but divorced in 1935. On 31 October 1940, during the Second World War, he rejoined the army (W29305). A motor driver, he was allocated to a transport battalion, but was discharged on 11 February 1941. He soon re-enlisted, however, and served (WX14807) from 2 July 1941 to December 1944, mainly as a gunner in the 5th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery.

Bob died at Muchea in 1949, aged 51 and is buried at Fremantle.