65. Sons in Khaki
As his father was no longer in charge of a brass band, Thomas Edward Bulch junior, to keep his musical skills sharply honed, had begun to play
In such a time of war the social pressure on any young man of fighting age to enlist, whether he wanted to go to war or not, would have been immense. In Australia, as in Britain, there was stigma upon any of those not occupied in reserved occupations who were late to accept the call to join the boys in the military forces. Many needed no persuasion at all and were keen to play their part in defending the Commonwealth.
In March 1915, Thomas Edward Bulch
Interestingly, Thomas Edward junior did not enlist into a local garrison in Geelong. Perhaps on account of his father’s military connections there, he chose to make the journey to Ballarat to enlist with what was now the 23rd Battalion there. From his papers it seems that enlistment may not have been entirely straightforward as he seems to have begun the enlisting process on the 19th of March but required the Town Clerk in Geelong to attest to his national identity and it’s not until the 29th of March that he signed the oath to serve his “Sovereign Lord the King in the Australian Imperial Force” until the end of the war.
His enlistment papers describe him as 5 feet 9 inches in height weighing nine stones and 3 pounds, with a chest measurement of thirty-five and a half inches, being of fair complexion with blue eyes and fair hair. His religious denomination being Church of England. In terms of distinguishing features, it was noted that he had three molars missing from his right lower jaw and one from the left.
He was taken into a training battalion, but by the 6th of May his wish to join the 23rd battalion had been fulfilled and he had joined that unit as a private. He was mobilised quickly and left Melbourne on the 10th May 1915 aboard the HMAT Euripides, a triple-screw steamship built by Harland and Wolff at Belfast for the Aberdeen Line. The ship had made its maiden voyage to Australia in July 1914. She was one of 28 vessels requisitioned by the Australian government and fitted out as a troopship, equipped to carry 136 officers, 2204 other ranks and stabling for 20 horses on each voyage.
On the 24th of July the Geelong Advertiser announced that of the men and boys of the Geelong Municipal Band, fifteen had either already enlisted or expressed that they intended to do so, and listed Tom Bulch junior among the names. It explains how the losses from the band ranks had been accepted in the right spirit by the bandmaster, Percy Jones, who had since been trying to back-fill the band with members of the junior band.
With his son away from the rest of the family on military service, things continued to be quiet musically for Thomas senior, though he was engaged to provide his musical services occasionally such as at the Jubilee Smoke Social of the Ancient Order of Foresters that took place on 21st of August 1915 at the Geelong West Fire Brigade Hall. Thomas and a number of other gentlemen added music and harmony to the evening, between and after the toasts proposed by the countless officials present.
On Saturday the 11th of September 1915 a notice was published in the Ballarat Star announcing the death of one of Thomas Edward Bulch’s few relatives in Australia, Olive May Bulch. It read “Reed. The friends of Mr Walter Reed of 263 Victoria Street are respectfully invited to follow the remains of his late dearly-beloved wife, Olive May Reed (nee Bulch), to the place of her
Olive May was Thomas’s niece, the daughter of his brother Francis with his wife Isabella. Olive had been born in Ballarat in 1885, not long after Francis and Isabella had arrived. Her relatives, knowing that Thomas Bulch and his part of the family were now resident in Geelong, would have requested that the papers in that area copy the notice for that reason. After Frank Bulch had perished in the mining accident in the 1880s, his wife Isabella had remained in the Ballarat area and had remarried to Ralph William Wakeling in 1889; understandable given the difficulties of raising a family as a single mother in those days. The couple raised Olive May, alongside nine other children that Isabella bore William Wakeling. Olive probably had no recollections of her natural father from New Shildon. Later Olive had married Walter Reed but had died at age of only about thirty, quite young. Note, where the newspaper gives her mother’s name as Mrs “J” Wakeling, it is a possible misinterpretation of her handwriting resulting in a misprint as a sample of her handwriting retained with her son Ralph Murchison Wakeling’s WWI military enlistment papers show that her capital letter I as written by hand does look rather like a J.
That same month we find that though Thomas was no longer a master of a band of his own he was still active in composing for bands and very much inspired by events in the war. Perhaps through having been a one-time bandmaster of a military band that was genuinely part of a military unit he had always been inclined to compose a number of martial pieces over the decades, and an article in ‘Every Week’ published in Bairnsdale, Victoria on 23rd Sept 1915 demonstrates that this interest continues. It reads “Last Sunday afternoon the Municipal Band performed in the Rotunda. Several new numbers were rendered in good style. The attendance of the public was meagre owing to the weather conditions not being favourable for the performances. During the afternoon the war was brought to mind by the playing of several of Mr T Bulch’s compositions, notably the “General Joffre” and the “Heroes of Gallipoli” marches.”
The Gallipoli campaign, now so ingrained into the national consciousness of Australia, had commenced on the 17th February 1915 as allied forces of the Entente sought to weaken the Ottoman grip on the straits of the Dardanelles. The first assault on Ottoman forts at the entrance to those straits failed, necessitating a second amphibious assault on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915. It is this endeavour to which Thomas Edward Bulch refers in his piece “Heroes of Gallipoli” as so many troops from Australia and New Zealand were involved alongside others from India, Newfoundland and the United Kingdom.
What’s interesting about this choice of composition is that on the 30th August 1915, Thomas’s son, Private Thomas Edward Bulch Jr. was posted to join and reinforce the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli, so whether he had known it or not at the time of composing his own son was to be one of those “Gallipoli heroes”. He hadn’t taken part in the main April, or later August offensive, but he had joined the battle and risked his life there.
It’s almost certain though that the piece was composed before Thomas junior was posted, and based upon news articles concerning the April landings. Overall, the Gallipoli campaign was destined to fail. Despite being outmanned, the Turks held the defensive advantage and during the campaign, a combined deployed force of just less than half a million men of the British Empire (including 65,000 from Australian and New Zealand), aided by under 30,000 French, were stopped from progressing by the 315,000 strong force of the Ottoman Empire. It was thus considered a victory of sorts for the Ottoman Turks when the Allies were forced to withdraw from the peninsula at the beginning of 1916. Casualties on both sides had been extremely heavy, with the Empire’s forces losing over 160,000 men through battle casualties and just short of a further 3,800 through disease. There were also 90,000 evacuated through illness or injury. For young Private
We are left to consider for a moment, then, that while the Municipal Band in Bairnsdale, Victoria played “Heroes of Gallipoli” by Thomas Edward Bulch of that state, his son, also Thomas Edward Bulch, was right there experiencing what it was like to be such a ‘hero’. How strange, and almost poetically tragic, a moment in time.
“General Joffre”, as a composition would have been a tribute to Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre, a French general who had been Commander-in-Chief of the French forces on the Western Front. He was extremely popular in his time, earning him the nickname Papa Joffre, and may have become enough of a folk hero figure through the press reports sent back to Australia for Thomas to have selected him as a candidate for a named brass band march. Overall he came to be known more for his political machinations such as pushing for the purge and dismissal of generals unsuccessful in battle, but he is also remembered for regrouping and rallying the retreating allied forces in mid 1914 to turn the situation around by defeating the Germans at the strategically important first battle of the Marne in September that year; there is a strong likelihood that this may have been the inspiration for the march “General Joffre”.
In any case, these were new marches, inspired by events of the day and from those we can see that Thomas Edward Bulch was not yet done as a composer of brass band music. And we know that bands weren’t finished buying it either: a report, for example of the monthly meeting of the Oakleigh Brass Band in Oct 1915 includes a breakdown of accounts including 3 shillings and 2 pence paid to Mr Bulch for music purchased. Within the month they were playing “Heroes of Gallipoli” in the local public gardens, alongside Bulch’s “South Street Parade”. The Bendigo Citizen’s Band of Victoria and Randwick Brass of New South Wales were among others to purchase “General Joffre”; the latter playing it one time at the Coogee Rotunda along with Bulch’s “
On the 9th of November, the Gippsland Mercury read that the “Maffra Brass Band is expected to again give a good account of itself at Hospital Demonstration on Saturday next. The band which is augmented by other district bandsmen will play compositions by an ex bandmaster of Sale, T E Bulch. These pieces – “General Joffre” and “Heroes of Gallipoli” – are becoming popular.”
As well as these new pieces, the nation’s war footing breathed new life into Bulch’s old descriptive military fantasia “The Young Recruit” possibly played in the hope that the young men of Australia might be inspired to enlist and serve the Empire. It had always been a popular choice for band concert programmes but experienced a resurgence during the early years of the war.
Having a son away at war proved a cause for anxiety for the family, certainly for young Thomas Edward’s wife Ivy May and their children; but also for his mother Eliza Anne Bulch. As with all Australians with loved ones overseas they would scan the papers daily for news. In October the family began to hear of a story that gave Eliza enough concern to compel her to write for confirmation.
“To the Ministry of Defence. Dear Sir, It is reported throughout Geelong that a Transport with the 23rd Battalion on board, was torpedoed on its
The letter was received by the ministry on the 29th of October, who issued an acknowledgement the next day, and then on 1st November wrote back a letter of reply commencing “Dear sir“, which might be an understandable mistake as Eliza had not indicated that it was Thomas’s mother writing.
“In reply to yours (undated), I beg to inform you no official report has been received here concerning your son No. 1149 Private Thomas Edward Bulch, 23rd Battalion, consequently it may be assumed he is with his unit. Next of kin will be promptly advised upon receipt of any report. His postal address is:- No. 1149 Private T E Bulch, 23rd Battalion, 6th Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force, Alexandria, Egypt. Yours faithfully,”
This reply, though it may have eased Eliza’s anxiety somewhat, appears to be contradictory to other evidence on Thomas’s military records which suggests that he had not arrived in Egypt until the 10th of January 1916 where he arrived in Alexandria having embarked upon a transport ship from “Mudros”, or Moudros, a port town on the Greek island of Lemnos close to the Gallipoli peninsula. Maybe the 6th Infantry Brigade
The year 1915 spent in Shildon would have been equally sombre for those that had family members away at the front. Initial optimism at the outset of the war that it might be over quickly had proven unfounded, and though stories of truces and fraternisation between the two sides over the Christmas and New Year of 1914 had been published to be read back home the two sides commenced 1915 by entrenching themselves deeper into looked set to be an enduring and bloody war. We already know that George Allan’s usual printing arrangements for his compositions had been inconveniently interrupted by the war and possibly because of this we see very little evidence if any of his having created new pieces for sale. We do however see something interesting which suggests that Shildon had another budding brass composer in its midst – which might possibly have been a younger person, possibly one that had been tutored by George in the New Shildon Saxhorn Band or perhaps Thomas Bulch or his successors in the New Shildon Temperance Band. Toward the back end of 1914, the Brass Band News, produced by Wright and Round took to running march and melody contests in what may cynically appear a thinly veiled effort to find new material or new up and coming composers. After readers had submitted their efforts at each time of asking, each month’s issue contained a very brief critique of the pieces entered for consideration; though the composers were never named. The best pieces would become the property of Wright and Round, and the rules stated that any composers that had previously been published were not to enter. The piece of interest to us is that in the March 1915 edition a piece named “Shildonian” had been submitted – the judge’s comments were not that encouraging “A moderate effort again. Melodies and form are correct, but a perusal fails to interest us much. Melodies are not copies, yet they do not show originality.”
It does present us with a question as to whether Shildon spawned another composer of brass music of which we know nothing about. There were other bandsmen; members of the Bulch family that remained in the Shildons after Thomas emigrated and stayed with the Temperance Band; George’s son William Willoughby, Harry Gibbon, the stores worker at the wagon works that took charge of the Temperance Band and Male Voice Choir and plenty of others besides. We are left to wonder who that competition entrant might have been.
Brass Band News correspondent ‘Pedal See’ tells us in their March issue how the Shildon Wesleyan Band and nearby Leasingthorne Colliery Band had begun to assist each other by loaning each other brass players to occupy the seats at concerts that were vacant due to their occupants being away at the war, or worse still already lost. In April he goes on to say “I hope the Shildonites have not fallen through altogether. It is no use giving up because of being shorthanded as nearly every band in the country has suffered from that complaint. The point now is to get out of these difficulties as soon as possible.”
Then in June “No news of the Shildonites of late, I hope they have not gone dead. Please drop me a line some of you.” In July we hear how Shildon musicians had taken to not just loaning players for concerts but rehearsing with the Leasingthorne band and their conductor Mr Sellars. Both bands, it was reported later in the year, had been unable to attend any contests since 1914.
Things were changing on the railways, and at the wagon works where George was employed. New types of freight were required to be transported by rail, including gunpowder for arms manufacture and munitions themselves. The strategic importance of the railway network would also not have been lost upon both the British and their enemies, and with Shildon hosting what was still one of the worlds largest sidings and marshalling yards it was certainly a possible target. It was clear to the civilians of the North East of England that they were certainly not out of reach of the war. In December the previous year, the first Zeppelin airships began crossing the North East coastline indiscriminately dropping bombs, despite having little effect.
Just along the line from Shildon, a new building had been erected at the Darlington Railway Works which would become known as the National Projectile Factory, or less formally the ‘Shell Shop’. Staffed mainly by local women this was a hazardous place of employment and throughout its period of operation, explosions would occasionally occur killing groups of the women.
Despite this backdrop, the North Eastern Railway had, in September of 1915, also commenced experimentally running their new electrified locomotives on the former Clarence Railway line that they had redeveloped between Shildon and Newport near Middlesborough. These new locomotives, designed by Sir Vincent Raven who had been present at the opening of the Shilon Railway Institute and would later that year leave the employment of the North Eastern Railway to become the chief engineer of the munitions works at Woolwich Arsenal, were stationed in an engine shed on the Shildon Works site and from there would have run along the line towards the sidings that passed by only a few feet away from George’s house, so that where he had once become accustomed to the sound of steam locomotives shunting wagons by he would have begun to hear the entirely different sound of the electric locomotives daily.
Another change George would have noticed in the workplace was that where the works had previously been the exclusive preserve of the men of New Shildon, the North Eastern Railway had, by necessity been backfilling many of the roles around the works vacated by men who had gone to serve their country with women from the locality. There are a good many photographs showing how women had been taken on to fulfil tasks such as cleaning the Shildon based locomotives, including the new electric ones, but they would certainly have been given engineering and maintenance tasks to do as well. To the old hands of the works, George and his colleagues that had been employed there for decades, this would have seemed strange indeed.
In the news, as well as updates of happenings at the front, the papers contained news of local men killed or wounded in battle, and of the collective efforts of groups within the community from associations to trades unions to contribute funds and goods to the war relief effort.
By November George breaks his silence by advertising “Two splendid Christmas numbers – Each contains three choruses and three hymns. Twenty parts 1s 9d – extras 2d each. Allan, Publisher, New Shildon.” – note the slight price increase on the previous year. The advertisement doesn’t make any claims that they are new compositions – they may have been or could equally have been the unsold stock from previous years. There were no more of his new and exciting contest marches advertised throughout 1914 or 15
On the 11th December 1915, George’s Son, William, who it would seem preferred to be known by his middle name Willoughby, which had of course been his mother’s maiden name, who had by then been working as a painter rather like his father, enlisted in the Army Reserve of the Durham Light Infantry at the age of 21 years and 9 months. He enlisted on short service, which meant that he would serve for the duration of the war, but would be demobbed once it was declared over. On his recruitment forms, he gave his next of kin as his father, George Allan, of 2 Pears Terrace, New Shildon. His height was recorded as 5 feet 10 and a half inches, with a chest measurement of 35 inches which expanded by 2 and a half inches. He gave his address at the time of enlisting as Boot & Son, Canada Camp, Richmond, Yorkshire. He was taken into the army reserve awaiting mobilisation.
Though the Bulch family in Australia already knew their son was away facing the dangers of battle, Christmas of 1915 saw the beginning of the anxiety over the Willoughby’s future for his father, George, sisters and grandmother.
66. The Fallen.
On 21st Feb 1916 Private William Willoughby Allan underwent a military medical examination where is physical development was classed as ‘good’, his vision for both eyes was classed as 6/12 and it was noted by the medical officer that he had “defective teeth” and had two vaccination marks on his left arm from injections received in infancy. Overall though he was classified as being in the medical category ‘A”. He had received his inoculations since his original recruitment. Just prior to this medical he was mobilised and posted to the former DLI 21st Reserve Battalion which had only recently, on 16th February 1916, become D Battalion of what was then called the Machine Gun Corps.
The 21st DLI were based at a camp that had been established for the purpose at Hornsea, situated near Hornsea Mere just above the mouth of the River Humber on England’s north-east coast. Recruits would be sent there to be trained before being allocated to units and sent to the front, though that training required a regular staff at that site too. It would seem that Willoughby was assigned to that purpose of training troops for the front as he was not sent overseas himself that we know of.
It was a bleak winter in 1916 with the heaviest snow falling during a period that commenced on 26th of February on up to the 14th of March, producing significant challenges for the North Eastern Railway in keeping the trains running. The men of the Durham Light Infantry that were stationed at home were often called upon to help clear the lines and rescue trains such as at Bleath Gill near Kirkby Stephen where the drifts reportedly reached 30 feet high.
On the 1st of July 1916, by promotion, he was appointed to be an acting unpaid Lance-Corporal, the lowest rank of non-commissioned officer in the British infantry. Though usually used when the individual is appointed as second in command of a section this also sometimes happened if a soldier was a designated specialist of some sort such as a clerk, driver, machine gunner or mortarman. Though Willoughby was in the Machine Gun Corps any of these might have been a possibility.
By the middle of the year, George Allan appears to have found a solution to his problem of not being able to send his handwritten musical manuscripts to Germany to be printed. This gave him the opportunity to publish two new marches which he advertised in the small advertisements of Brass Band news during September of 1916.
If any bandmasters had been hoping that his new pieces might be stunning new contest marches to test their bands for medals at a band contest they might be disappointed and surprised to find had taken a slightly different direction. He placed the following advertisement. “Home Guards” and “Dragoon” marches. Easy and good. Suitable for long parades. Price 1s 1d each – Allan Publisher, New Shildon.” Rather like his old bandmate Thomas Edward Bulch, then, he’d been inspired either by the war itself, events he had witnessed or just a sense of the demand of the market to produce two military-themed pieces. Perhaps he felt that he’s reached his pinnacle with contest marches through the likes of Knight Templar and The Wizard. P
On 1st September, as part of a reactive reconstruction following the introduction of conscription nationally in January, the 21st DLI was changed to become the 87th Training Reserve Battalion and Willoughby was reassigned to that unit as a consequence.
Remaining stationed within the UK would have made it relatively easy for Willoughby to stay in contact with his sweetheart Henrietta. Born in Esh Winning, she was the only daughter of Henry Willerton, a stoker at the Gasworks, originally from Middlesbrough – and his wife Esther, originally of Aycliffe. However, the family seems to have resided in Shildon for a while as both the 1901 and 1911 censuses show Henrietta there, at 6 Bolckow Street with her parents. By 1916 she would have been about 20 years of age. The young couple chose to be married towards the end of the year.
The Auckland Chronicle of 23 November 1916 read “There was a quiet wedding on Saturday afternoon at St John’s Church, the bride being Miss Henrietta Willington, daughter of Mr and Mrs Willington of Bolckow Street, and the bridegroom Pte. Willoughby Allan of Pears Terrace, New Shildon. Miss Nellie Robson was bridesmaid and Mr A Stephenson best man. The vicar officiated.” Both George and Willoughby would have been quite used to having their surname misspelt. The newspapers were littered with references over the span of George’s life, where his name had been spelt Allen. However, for once, it was Willoughby’s new bride’s family name that had been misspelt by the journalist.
On the 30th December 1916, William Willoughby’s promotion to fully paid Lance Corporal in the Training Reserve Battalion was completed; the change being formally noted on his military service records.
William Willoughby Allan was not the only soldier to be promoted during 1916. On 1st January
The 23rd Battalion had retreated to the Canal Zone in Alexandria after the withdrawal from Gallipoli where they stayed until March when as part of the 1st ANZAC Corps under General Birdwood they embarked for France to join the British Expeditionary Forces at the front.
The troopships arrived at Marseille on March the 19th from where Sergeant Bulch and his comrades in arms disembarked to proceed by train to the battlefields. The Australian troops were billeted in the St Omer-Aire-Hazebrouck region of French Flanders which was known as the “Nursery”. On the 1st of April, Australian reconnaissance parties entered the front line of this battlefield for the first time and by the 7th of April, they began to take over sectors of the front lines. In mid-April Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions were committed in the line at Fleurbaix, just south of the manufacturing town Armentières, with a population of about 30,000 on the Lys River near the Belgium border. They replaced the British II Corps and had command of the area south-east of Armentières. Thomas was attached to the headquarters staff. This location had been the scenes of extremely bloody fighting during 1914 as the Germans and Franco-British forces had made several attempts to outflank each other during the first year of the war.
Back in Australia on the 17th of June the Herald of Melbourne reported that the following men enlisted at the Brunswick Recruiting Depot on Thursday (15th June) and then gives four names of which Thomas’s brother John Southey Bulch (known by then to friends and family as Jack) was one. Now, for a brief
On the 19th of June, there was a heavy bombardment from the Germans into the area where Thomas Edward Bulch and his unit were serving and he was injured by shrapnel from at least one exploding shell. He was taken to admitted into No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station with wounds to his hand and knee. A later inspection also revealed a head injury that had not been seen at first. On inspection of his helmet, it was found that a fine sliver of shrapnel had pierced the helmet and entered his head and it is understood that this was the wound that caused his death the following day, 20th June 1916.
Almost immediately the Red Cross sister that managed the ward wrote a letter to Thomas’s wife, enclosing a lock of his hair, though the letter would not reach Australia for some weeks. When it did the family arranged for the letter to be published in the Geelong Advertiser of 22nd August. It read “Amid the many calls on the services at the clearing hospitals in France, some of the nurses find time to pen notes of sympathy to bereaved relatives. The following has been received by Mrs Bulch, of Geelong West, whose husband, Sergt. Bulch, a well-known bandsman, fell in action:- France 21 6 16. – Dear Mrs Bulch – I am very sorry to tell you that your husband was brought in here to No. 2 casualty clearing station, severely wounded in the head, right hand, and left knee and quite unconscious, and though everything possible was done for him he passed away peacefully at 3 o’clock yesterday (Tuesday) morning, June 20th. He will be laid to rest in a part of the cemetery reserved for our brave troops, and a little wooden cross bearing the name and date marks each resting place. I enclose a lock of his hair you may like to have. With much sympathy, – Yours sincerely L F Jolley. Sister in charge.”
News of Thomas’s death reached Victoria well before the letter. Countless papers around Victoria and beyond all reported Sgt. Bulch as among that week’s confirmed war dead, but the Herald of Melbourne went a step further and printed a photograph of the young soldier alongside the following write up. “Relatives of Sgt T E Bulch have been notified that he has been killed in France. He joined the Australian Imperial Force as a private in a band and after spending some months in the trenches at Gallipoli he was promoted to bandmaster with the rank of Sergeant Bugler. Sergeant Bulch was the eldest son of Mr T E Bulch the well-known bandmaster and composer, and was born in Ballarat. He was 27 years of age and leaves a widow and two children. His only brother is in camp training.”
On 8 Jul 1916, the Preston Leader of Victoria stated “Sergt. T E Bulch of 37 Victoria Road, Northcote, died of wounds in France on June 20. he was bandmaster for the 23rd Battalion and was attached to the Army Medical Corps.” The Australasian reported this on 15th July 1916 “Bulch.- Anzac Hero Bulch. – Killed in action on the 20th June, in France, Sergeant T E Bulch, dearly loved
The Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times included in its obituary that Thomas was the son in law of Mr R B Cozens of Albury. A few days later on the 20th of July the same paper reporting on the Albury Town Band reads “A more gratifying incident of the past year which could not be omitted from this report is the fact that four members of the band have gone to serve their country at the front, and were granted leave of absence. They were each made the recipient of suitable presentations prior to their departure, and we hope to have the pleasure of welcoming them back when peace is declared at no distant date. The bandsmen referred to
Thomas Bulch Jr is buried at Bailleul Cemetery in France. Plot 2 Row E. According to his sister Adeline his helmet was sent to the British Museum for inspection and held by them. As well as his wife, Ivy May, Thomas Jr left behind 3 children. The meagre effects later returned to his wife consisted of an identity disc, charm, card case, badges, a cotton bag and some letters and cards.
Though it must have been a terrible loss for both Thomas Edward senior and his wife Eliza, of whom we know already that she had been anxious about the wellbeing of her son, the general mood of the family can not have been improved any by the knowledge that their other son, John, was now to face the same dangers. Prior to enlisting he had been a pastry cook, but like his father had taken an interest in things military having been a senior cadet with the 70th Infantry Battalion.
On enlisting John, a bandsman like his brother had been taken into the 16th Reinforcements Military Band at Royal Park in Melbourne. He and his intake of troops had been scheduled to be sent to Europe on the 2nd October 1916. First, though, he had a personal engagement to fulfil.
On September the 4th Jack Bulch acted as the best man at the wedding of his friend Albert Henry Riddell of Footscray, Victoria who was marrying his sweetheart Elsie Louise Gratwick at St John’s Anglican Church, Footscray.
Both bridegroom and best man wore their military uniforms and the reception after the service was held in a marquee decorated in the 24 Battalion’s colours. Towards the end of the speeches, a Mr Phillips proposed the toast of the 24th Battalion Reinforcements to which Albert was to be attached, which left shortly for the scene of the action. “The bridegroom and Private Bulch in responding to the toast thanked them for all their good wishes, and assure them all that they were out to win and do their best fearlessly with the hope that in the near future peace would be declared, but not before they had had time to strike a well-aimed blow at the Kaiser.”
The article continues “The happy couple motored to Footscray station and later left for Mordialloc, a charming little seaside resort, where they are staying till Private A H Riddell’s leave expires.”
That was where the newly married couple spent their only time together as Albert Riddell was transported first to England and then to France to serve at the front from where he would never return to Australia. On 30th May 1918 he was severely wounded to the head chest and leg by shrapnel from a shell and died from his wounds.
Private John Bulch boarded the troopship Nestor as planned on 2nd October, bound for Plymouth in England where he disembarked on 16th November 1916 and remained there for the remainder of the year awaiting allocation to the battlefront.
Of Thomas Edward Bulch senior no news was published during the year 1916. No mentions of evenings at the piano accompanying the silent films, of smoke evenings or band meetings, of new compositions or charity fundraising benefits. There were of course reports of numerous pieces he created being played by bands across the country, but of personal
At some point between late 1916 and early 1917 Thomas Edward Bulch and his wife Eliza has moved away from Geelong to the Melbourne’s district of Brunswick East, to take residence at 127 Stewart Street, a small house that still stands today next to a tiny Gospel Church. It is not clearly documented what caused the move, but we do know from the account of his life by grandson Eric Tomkins that Thomas continued his music publishing business from home much as George Allan was back in New Shildon. He was certainly still selling his music as there are reports in the notices of band meetings such as that from the Windsor and Richmond Gazette of Feb 1917 that tells us the Windsor Municipal Band bought 2 shillings and sixpence worth of music from him during the previous year.
Otherwise, during 1917 news of Thomas’s activities continued to be scarce, with one notable exception. On 2nd May 1917 Thomas Bulch himself, possibly motivated by grief for his son and wanting to make a contribution, enlisted for home service in the Australian Imperial Force “only for such period as services be required”.
His enlistment papers appear to be written in his own hand as the handwriting matches the signature quite closely, and the details are quite precise explaining that he was born in the parish of Thickley in or near Bishop Auckland in the county of Durham, England and that he is a natural-born British citizen, though interestingly he gives his age as forty-five years and three months (or three twelfths as he puts it). We know this to be incorrect of course as he would have fifty-five five. It’s possible that at such an age he may not have been eligible to enlist so he may have lied about this on his enlistment papers to ensure that he appeared eligible. He also details his previous military service with the 3rd Battalion Militia, stating that he resigned.
He has also added an extra question to the form which reads “Have you ever been convicted” to which the answer is “No”. He gives his height as 5 feet 7 and a half inches and weight as 10 and a half stone, complexion as ‘dark’, eyes ‘brown’, hair as ‘dark, and religion as C of E. He received an immediate medical examination at Langwarrin near the top of the Mornington peninsula south of Melbourne, where surprisingly no issues were found on account of his age
Perhaps this was his motivation for re-enlisting. Perhaps he missed being in charge of a band so much that he felt to offer his services in a military capacity might be the way to satisfy that need. Or perhaps there was another motive.
Langwarrin Camp had, between 1914 and 1915, been a camp housing up to 500 German internees in generally poor conditions. It was mainly a camp of tents with inadequate washing and bathing facilities. What huts there were there had been built by the internees at their own expense mainly on account of the tents that were provided being so thin that they leaked in bad weather; what improvements there were had been built by those same people. It had closed for that purpose in 1915 with most internees being transferred to Holsworthy in New South Wales, but a number of internees had stayed to work at the nearby venereal diseases hospital. It was effectively a prison camp, and as such would give Thomas Edward Bulch an opportunity to come face to face with Germans, Austrians and Turks. As such he would be face to face with people whose nation was responsible for the death of his son. Perhaps this was part of Thomas’s motive.
These internees were not, however, prisoners of war in the sense of having been serving military personnel captured in battle. Prior to the war, these internees had been citizens of the state of Victoria, and Thomas might have remembered that misunderstandings over his own family origin earlier in the war might well have seen him placed here himself.
By the time Thomas had arrived at Langwarrin, the number of internees there was reducing significantly such that by the end of the year only 326 remained.
On 20th June 1917 Thomas Edward Bulch senior, and his wife
In the Geelong Advertiser on the same date, Sgt Tom Bulch’s sister Alice placed her own notice. “In fond and loving memory of our dear brother, Sergeant Thomas E Bulch, died of wounds at No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station, France, June 20th 1916 aged 27 years. The supreme sacrifice. Dear to our memory, dear to my heart, Love for my brother will never part, I miss him, I mourn him, in silence unseen, And dwell on his memory of days that have been. – Inserted by his loving sister and brother-in-law, Alice and Norm, and Little Keith”
On the 2nd of July 1917, Thomas’s other son Private Jack Bulch commenced his journey from England via Folkestone to Le Havre on the French coast as part of a detachment to reinforce the 22nd Battalion at the front. Like his fellow Australian troops he was to spend the remainder of the year on rotation between the horror of frontline trenches and brief respite of the rearwards positions.
In early 1917 the Germans, whose numbers had thinned significantly through losses during the Battle of Verdun, had pulled back to the Hindenburg Line, a defensive position they had prepared during the winter and which ran from Arras to Lafaux on the Aisne. As part of the ANZAC 2nd Division, the 22nd Battalion were part of the initiative to break this defence. Before Jack Bulch arrived the 22nd had played their part in the Battle of Bullecourt, and continued engagement through a number of offensive operations during the summer.
In the run up to October, the 22nd Battalion had been given time to prepare for what would be called the Battle of Broodseinde, which was fought against the 4th German Army near Ypres. On the night before the 4th October the Australian 2nd Division, including Jack Bulch and his mates, were brought up to the front line. As they made their journey the heavens opened and rain poured down. Once in position, the Division was subjected, from 5:30 am, to a heavy bombardment by the German artillery. This caused many casualties, but ceased when an Allied preparatory bombardment commenced at 6:00 am which was the Australians’ signal to advance. Along with the Australian 1st Division, they formed the main attack. Firing as they moved the Australians overran the German 45th Reserve and 4th Guard, many of whom were hiding out in ruins on the battlefield. Finally reaching the village of Broodseinde, their objective, the Australians met sniper and machine-gun fire and consolidated under cover in an old British trench line some 180 metres short of the village.
Overall the Australians and New Zealanders in that Battle suffered 3,500 casualties during the week of that battle, but Jack Bulch was not among them. It, and the other engagements he took part in must have been nothing short of horrendous and terrifying; and though a survivor the experiences he had received must surely have left their mental scars.
On the 18th December Jack was appointed Lance Corporal, the same rank as Willoughby Allan, though, unlike Willoughby, Jack earned his promotion in the field. Willoughby would be spared the horrors of front line action.
67. Amateur Operatics and Peace
Back in New Shildon, and away from the front, life went on. George Allan continued his work by day at the NER Works which continued to manufactured items for the war effort alongside their regular activity of building and maintaining freight and coal rolling stock. The Defence of the Realm Act, Regulation 7B, passed in December 1916 and applicable to the railway companies of Britain ensured that the likes of the North Eastern Railway were doing their bit for the war effort in parallel to their regular business. Nearby at Darlington, a war munitions factory had been created, but the Shildon workshops, with its skilled engineering resource, had also been allotted work in the production of munitions, specifically nose caps for 6 inch High Explosive shells as well as diaphragms and diaphragm discs for 18 pounder ammunition. We can’t say for certain the George Allan, by then a wagon painter, was hands-on with the war effort, but he’d have been quite aware of it. It’s likely too that the Shildon sidings were used in the storage of truckloads of armaments awaiting distribution to the battlefront.
Despite the ongoing war, the occasional happy event befell the Allan family. On Valentines Day, 14th February 1917, in the midst of one of the bitterest and harshest of winters George made the short journey up the bank from his house past the Railway Institute and along All Saints Road to his parish church, which lay at the end of that road. His role on that most appropriately chosen day was to give away his daughter.
Beatrice Allan had met, and fallen in love with, a young man named John Robert Tenwick Appleby, a schoolmaster trained in York but whose family had lived at North Terrace, Brusselton, a tiny village just outside Shildon famed for its static steam engine that once hauled coal trucks up the Brusselton Incline and lowered them down the other side for the Stockton & Darlington Railway. Despite his occupation in education, Robert, as he preferred to be known, had enlisted into the Royal Army Medical Corps on 4th November 1915, giving his mother, Mary Hodgson, as his next of kin.
Robert had originally signed up for home service only, but on 6th April 1916, and possibly under some pressure, he had further volunteered for overseas service opening up the possibility of serving at the front, though this had not yet happened. During his service, he had already risen to Corporal and then Sergeant. The wedding was taking place during a period of home leave.
The Daily Gazette for Middlesborough reported the following day “Shildon War Wedding. At All Saints Church, New Shildon, yesterday, Sergt. J R Appleby, of Brusselton, was married to Miss Beatrice Allan, of Pears Terrace, New Shildon. The bridegroom was on the teaching staff at All Saints School prior to enlisting and is now stationed with the R A M C at Tidworth. The bride is a member of All Saints Choir. The bridesmaid was Miss Crooks and Mr Stabler of Brusselton was best man. A silver teapot was given from All Saints Church Choir and a silver butter dish from the day school children. The vicar (the Rev. P W Francis) and the curate (the Rev J W Graham) officiated.”
Reverend Graham himself was at that time anticipating a happy day, his 35-year-old wife Edith being pregnant with a son at that time. 1917 would, however, turn out to be as bitter for him personally as the winter weather it brought. His son would indeed be born on the 7th April that year, but his wife Edith would experience complications and die a week later on the 15th of April.
At around the same time George’s new son-in-law, Robert, was transferred back to the Royal Army Medical Corps W Reserve on account of his progressive short-sightedness and being affected by a ‘disordered action of the heart’ which had the combined effect of making him unsuitable for front line service. The ‘W Reserve’ classification meant that Robert was able to return home to resume his old job at All Saints School until such time as he was called back to service. He immediately moved in with his wife, Beatrice, and father-in-law George, at 2 Pears Terrace where he would continue to live until his eventual discharge from service after the war in 1919.
As the war went on, food shortages bit more and more into the everyday lives of those back home, though Shildon, being a railway town, was fortunate in that the railway companies, and the Railway Institute there had provided allotment land for many years so that workers could grow food and keep small animals and poultry for food. The land immediately to the rear of the Railway Institute itself was divided up into such plots. In 1917 the North Eastern Railway increased their provision of allotment land and made new provisions such as the provision of allotment books and the free delivery of seed potatoes to any station on the NER network. As a worked at the NER works George would have qualified for one of the designated plots in Shildon. With the bitter winter gradually becoming a memory, the increased amount of food grown by the railway workers offered some green shoots of hope for the future.
1917 was the year in which George found a new vocation for his musical capabilities as we are informed that this was the year in which he became the conductor of the orchestra for the New Shildon All Saints Amateur Operatic Society. This group was the lesser acclaimed of the two groups in the Shildon’s, the better known being the Shildon Amateur Operatic Society whose conductor was George’s acquaintance, and worker at the NER Works Stores, Harry Gibbon. The town’s amateur operatics societies would put on and rehearse productions in the town many of which would be presented to the public at the town’s own Hippodrome Theatre.
Willoughby Allan also returned to Shildon for the Christmas of 1917, having been granted leave from his company for the festive season.
Overall by this time, it appears that the importance of both George Allan and Thomas Bulch in their respective musical circles was fading. George had ceased to advertise his published music in the small adverts of the brass press. Whether that was on account of the war of a general disillusionment is hard to say. Similarly in Australia Thomas Bulch had largely ceased to be newsworthy. The first mention I have been able to find of him in the Australian newspapers, other than references to pieces of his music having been played, is in the Ballarat Star where at a meeting of the Citizens Military Band on Weds 1st May 1918 the secretary was noted as having read out correspondence from Tom Bulch who had also forwarded some sheet music for their attention. His grandson Eric tells us that Thomas continued to write and publish music from his home at 127 Stewart Street, Brunswick, right throughout the war. We know that he too was still composing new material, but otherwise, like George Allan his life seems to have become eclipsed by world events and the lives of his offspring.
On the 16th January 1918, Thomas Edward Bulch, army number V65140, after 260 days of home service, resigned from his post as the bandmaster sergeant at Langwarren Camp. A certificate of attestation was added to his military records by the 3rd Military District on 10th January 1918 putting on record his clean conduct during his service. By that point in the war, there was probably little to be done at Langwarren, it having been gradually run down by the military authorities, and that may have influenced his decision to stand down despite the war not yet being concluded.
Things were changing in the conflict, however, as in 1917 saw the United States enter the war, never formally as an Ally but as an ‘associated power’, and by the Summer of 1918, they were shipping 10,000 troops a day to France. In anticipation of the increasing US influence, the Germans commenced a Spring Offensive of surprise bombardments and accompanying mass offensives seeking to divide the British and French armies, but despite limited successes they retreated back to the Marne having achieved little. Back in Germany, anti-war sentiment was strengthening and industrial output declined significantly.
On the 20th June 1918, a notice was published in the Argus newspaper of Melbourne having been placed by Ivy Bulch, Thomas’s daughter-in-law “Bulch. – In memory of my dear husband and our loving father, Sergeant T E Bulch, died of wounds in France, June 20 1916. Sadly missed.”
Nine days later, on the 29th June 1918, there was another death in the Bulch family, yet one which it’s quite probable induced far less mourning for Thomas and his brothers and sisters, for this time it was their stepmother Margaret Bulch, the former widow of Cuthbert Harrison (and born Margaret Brass) who passed away at the age of 74 at what had once been the Bulch family home at 48 Adelaide Street, New Shildon. Shortly after she had married Thomas Bulch senior, he, whether prompted to do so by his new wife or not, had disinherited all of his own sons and daughter’s in favour of Margaret and her daughters. Margaret’s burial, recorded in the Parish Magazine of All Saints Church in New Shildon, took place on the 3rd of July 1918 with the service being performed by Mr Rees of that church. She was buried in plot 658 at a depth of 7 feet.
The probate of her will did not take place until 30th January 1919, but when it did the last remnants of Thomas Bulch senior’s legacy were included in the estate valued £362 1s and 4d, equivalent to over fourteen thousand pounds at the time of writing, that passed on to Margaret’s daughters Mary Jane Harrison and Alice Harrison, both of whom were spinsters at the time. We believe that her only son, Fredrick, once a wagon painter like George Allan, had died in 1909.
We’ll never know when, or even if, the news reached Thomas and his wife at their home in Brunswick, Victoria, but if it did it would be forgivable if Thomas felt little regret at her passing. Though she had given his father comfort in his later years, which would be worth something, she would have earned little regard among the Bulch family as a whole.
In France, Lance Corporal Jack Bulch was having a hard time at the front contracting a sickness which saw him posted to a hospital on 27th June, though his malaise was only temporary and by the 3rd of July he had been discharged and sent back to duty.
The allied armies began their counter-offensive on 8 August in an operation which became known as the Hundred Days Offensive with the Battle of Amiens. A dawning realisation on the part of the Germans that they would no longer be able to win the war militarily began to creep over their generals. The allied armies broke the Hindenburg Line in September, fuelled by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of oil secured through the US intervention in the war. Open revolt broke out in Germany itself leading to the abdication of the Kaiser and the declaration of a new republic on the 9th of November. At 11 o’clock on the 11th November 1918 and armistice declaration was signed ending the war.
This did not however mean that the troops could return home just yet. There was still work to be done to tie up the loose threads of the war. In England, there was a reorganisation which led to Willoughby Allan being reassigned to D Company of the Durham Light Infantry Machine Gun Corps Training Battalion, whilst Jack Bulch remained with his unit in France.
We learn from the Geelong Advertiser of 27th November 1918 that the people of Geelong had been collecting, and arranging for the transport of, relief packages of foodstuffs to send to the Australian forces at the front. We know also that Jack had been the recipient of some of these goods as the report explains that he had written back to the Geelong West Soldier’s Comforts Club, presided over by the Mayor and Mayoress of Geelong, to express his appreciation.
The cessation of hostilities enabled communities to plan celebrations in anticipation of seeing those that remained of their boys and loved ones return home. In Victoria the Essendon Citizens Military association met on the 6th of December to plan a number of initiatives including the erection of an Honour Board at the Town Hall referring to a Brigadier General Elliott, and a band contest, for which they had invited Thomas Edward Bulch to be the judge, who had in turn written back to accept and set out his terms.
Back in Shildon, Willoughby Allan was again given leave to return home from the Army for Christmas, but by now home was no longer George’s house at 2 Pears Terrace. Willoughby registered his home address on his papers as being 6 Bolckow Street, the home of his wife Henrietta’s parents. Whilst relishing the serenity of spending the festive season with family and away from the Army he must have known that a permanent return home would not be too far away, and this was indeed the case. On the 13th January 1919, he was ordered to attend the Ripon Dispersal Centre, Rugeley, to be demobilised from the army. His military service papers were updated to reflect that his conduct throughout had been clean and he was recategorised as an army reservist to be recalled should his country require him in the face of any further hostilities.
Jack Bulch had to wait just a little longer for his discharge though he had been moved across the Channel to England on the 16th of May, and next had to make his return to Australia. He was ordered to embark on the troop-ship Chemnitz on the 7th July 1919. The ship had been sailing under a German flag until their surrender when it was handed over to the allied forces and prepared to be used as a military transport ship to return the Australian forces to their homeland. Launched in 1901, she was a 7542 gross ton vessel, 428.2 feet in length with a beam measuring 54.3 ft, one funnel, two masts, twin screw and a speed of 13 knots.
in the meantime Dunn’s Gazette of June 24 1919 shows that Tom and Eliza registered the business name “Bulch and Co.” at 127 Stewart Street, Brunswick as a music publishing business. A matter of interest is that Eliza Bulch appears to have taken care of Tom Bulch’s copyright affairs. An item in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette of 17 July 1919 shows Eliza having been granted copyright on the name of Bulch’s Brass Band Journal.
It reads under “Proceedings under the Copyright Act 1912. List of Applications for the registration of the copyright in literary (including musical and dramatic) and artistic works and the performing rights in musical and dramatic works under the Copyright Act 1912. 1st April to 30 June 1919. Literary Copyright Applications.” “7587. Eliza Ann Bulch trading under the name of style of Bulch & Co., 129 Steward Street Brunswick, Vic – Journal: “Bulch’s Brass Band Journal.” 16th June, 1919”
The journey of the Chemnitz back to Melbourne was documented in photographic form by one of the returning soldiers by the name of Holloway so we get a visual impression of what the experience must have been like for those battle-weary young men. Snapshots show decks crowded with ANZAC troops with little to keep them occupied during the long voyage. Occasionally officers would inspect the men possibly to give them a routine with a view to keeping order. A military Padre accompanied them holding services on the open deck on Sundays. In most of the photographs, the men appear relaxed and casual.
The joyous news of Jack’s imminent return reached his homeland prompting his sister to place a notice in the Geelong Advertiser of 9th August 1919 reading “Mrs N B Johnson of ‘Noralla’, Albert Street, Geelong West has been notified that her brother Cpl. Jack Bulch is returning by the Chemnitz, due to arrive on August 24th.” Note here that the couple had chosen to name their house after the waltz Thomas E Bulch had composed in their honour.
It was not, however, until the 5th of September that the Chemnitz arrived in Melbourne. Arriving at the jetty the men of the 22nd Battalion lined up on the deck overlooking rows of motor transports that waited to take them to their barracks. Though he didn’t receive his full discharge until 20th October 1919, Jack was allowed to go home to Geelong before that date. We know this as the Geelong Advertiser tells of his homecoming on the evening of Monday the 10th of September. “The Geelong City Band turned out in force last night to welcome home Cpl. J Bulch, a former member, who returned home by the late train. As the train pulled in they played “Home Sweet Home”, and later gave Cpl. Bulch a rousing welcome. At his sister’s (Mr Johnson’s) residence, Albert Street, West Geelong, where they marched and serenaded the returned soldier, who was a member of the City Band for six years.
If ever there was a demonstration of the camaraderie felt by men and boys who played music together in a brass band this must surely have been a tremendous example. It’s likely that of the men of the band that went to war, not all would have returned and so to have one safely back on home soil in this way would be a joyous occasion.
We know nothing of any reunion between Jack and his father, though there would certainly have been one, and that too would most likely have been a happy occasion.
With the war behind the Bulches, though never entirely forgotten on account of having lost Thomas Edward junior in France, Thomas Edward Bulch the father found a return to judging band contests. The opportunity arose through the Essendon Citizens Military Association who engaged Thomas to judge the bands at their Band Contest and Sports Meeting on the Queens Park, Moonee Ponds which took place in March 1920 and was reported in the Herald of Melbourne on the 27th of that month.
Seven bands were competing on that occasion for the Sutton Shield, with points being awarded, as was the customer with Australian contests, for quality of marching as well as how well the music had been rendered. For this reason, Thomas was accompanied as a judge by Captain H J Grainger for the latter’s expertise in knowing a good marching band when he saw one. The band from Moonee Ponds came top in the street marching but finished second to Ascot Vale in the Sutton Shield, followed by the Malvern band in third place.
A few days later there was a family wedding to attend. On April the 5th 1920 Thomas’s daughter Myrtle May Bulch was married in Sydney to Charles Tomkins the son of a family from Havelock Street, Ballarat. The couple set up home in the district of Greenwich, North Sydney. Thomas’s sons and daughters were becoming increasingly widely distributed.
We are told by Myrtle and Charles’s son Eric that when the couple moved to Sydney, Thomas Edward and Eliza Bulch went with them. The family set up a home in Greenwich but not long afterwards all moved to a rented house in Mascot.
This was timely as there had been another side effect of the war in that an understandable general fatigue with all things military had set in meant that many of Thomas’s military-themed marches that he had been selling from his business in Brunswick had lost their appeal and sales had declined. Still, there are many references to his compositions being played in concert or contest by bands throughout the 1920s so they remained a significant part of the culture. As his services as a bandmaster were no longer in demand, he increasingly relied upon selling music to make a living. It made sense for the family to consolidate. Charles arranged accommodation for the whole family.
The music publishers W H Paling & Co, based in Sydney, offered Thomas a lifeline in the form of a job as an arranger and transposer of music. With his own business running flat it made sense to accept the post.
After a while of living with his daughter and son-in-law, Thomas and Eliza bought their own home at 86 King Street, Mascot in Sydney. The move was most likely made possible through the security of having the job with Paling & Co, though we sense that Thomas much preferred to be his own boss.
He became an expert in preparing and arranging music for the pianola, a self-playing piano that required ‘programming’ through the production of a paper roll with holes that denoted when certain keys were to be struck. Such machines had been around for many decades but were quite aggressively marketed in the early twentieth century. Though they would produce music automatically making it sound as though a flawless musician were present, they still required the work of a skilled musician to create that first recorded, or programmed, rendition.
Charles any Myrtle later moved away slightly to St Leonard’s to be closer to Charles’s workplace.
68. Autumn Leaves
Back in Shildon in 1920, George Allan, still sharing his home with his daughter and son-in-law and now mid-way through his sixth decade continued his work at the Wagon Works. Despite the end of the war things were far from stable and his working conditions and pay fluctuated. On the second of April 1920 he was given a pay rise to four shillings and ten pence, and then on the fourth of June that was again increased to five shillings and fourpence – only for that rate to be reduced again in August of 1921 to four shillings and fourpence, lower than where he started the previous year. He continued to publish music, but quite infrequently and it extremely rarely advertised for sale in the Brass Band News.
On the 20th of April 1921 Willoughby and Henrietta gave George a grandaughter. They named her Dorothy Allan.
In 1921 we also learn that Thomas’s old Shildonian bandmate and successor as conductor of his Bulch’s Model Band, James Scarffe had by then moved to Melbourne and was conducting the Malvern Tramway Band.
On the 18th October 1922, the British Broadcasting Company was formed by a number of wireless manufacturers including Marconi. It wasn’t the first company in Britain to broadcast as Marconi themselves had done that from their factory based in Chelmsford in June 1920, treating the public to a performance by the Australian artist Dame Nellie Melba, whom Thomas Bulch and his band had welcomed to Albury decades earlier.
In the early days, radio companies broadcast only live scheduled performances rather than recorded music, but this afforded composers like George Allan an entirely new opportunity previously denied them. This was that in the past, to hear bands playing the music that they had composed the composer would need to be present at the contest or concert at which it was being played. The wireless era meant that George might spot in the written broadcast schedule that his piece was due to be played and then he might hear the band play it on a wireless radio set and though he may not have known it then this was certainly something he had to look forward to.
On the 14th of May 1923 George’s son Willoughby joined him at the wagon works, moving straight in to work alongside his father as a wagon painter. Shildon railway works had always been rather like this, with family connections and a good reputation generally always assuring a man work. November’s remembrance ceremony saw the unveiling of the town’s war memorial as the band from nearby Eldon provided music, then in December of 1912 George showed that he hadn’t lost faith in his music by advertising his grand Christmas numbers from this and the past four years in the Brass Band News. “CHRISTMAS MUSIC. No. 1: “Star of the East,” &c. No. 2: “Glad Voices,” &c. No. 3: “Greenlands,” &c. No. 4: “Hosanna.” &c. No. 5: “Walworth.” &c. Each contains 3 Choruses and 3 Hymns. Per Number, 2s 7d (23 parts). – ALLAN, Publisher. New Shildon”
In 1921, Jack Bulch married his sweetheart, Linda Irene Riddell, a pianist herself who thus shared his own interest in music. Buy 1923 they had given Thomas and Eliza a grand-daughter, Irene Alberta, growing the Australian branch of the Bulch family. By this time Alice and her husband had a son, Keith, born in 1915; Myrtle May and her husband had two sons, John Charles and Eric Stanley; and Thomas Edward junior had left behind a daughter, Thema Evelyn, and two sons, Eric Leslie and Fredrick Norman in the care of his widow Ivy Mae. Were it important to him, Thomas could be assured despite his advancing years that a new dynasty of the Bulch family had been founded in Australia.
Though Thomas Bulch seemed to have been taking life a little easier, if only in the sense of finding attention in the press, through the 1920s, his son Jack and his new wife appear to have taken on the task of providing musical entertainment. They were in attendance at a reception after the wedding of Mr Edward Howard Barclay and Miss Katie Nissen on the 17th March at a house called “Emoh” on Paisley Street, Footscray where along with a Mr T Riddell, who played violin, Jack and his wife completed the entertainment trio on cornet and piano respectively. Whether this was a favour for friends or whether they made themselves available for this kind of engagement is uncertain, there are no further stories of this happening.
Where Thomas does appear in the press in this era, other than the numerous mentions of bands playing his compositions and arrangements as part of their programmes, it is usually as part of some retrospective such as the article in the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express of 2nd of November 1923 which summarises the history of the Albury Town Band recollecting Thomas’s appointment there, which we covered earlier, describing him as “one of the best-known bandsmen in Australia.” It goes on to point out that this was the cause of the introduction of the Easter Monday competitions in Albury which ended the year after Thomas left Albury. This is a clear indication of the importance that Thomas placed on involving bands in competitions to encourage them to want to improve their playing and professionalism. It goes on to explain that Mr D B Pogson, who was brought in to replace Thomas (after his acrimonious removal from the post which is not mentioned in the retrospective) was in poor health at the time and lived only 12 months after his return. He was succeeded by his son who returned from America to accept the job.
The early 1920s do provide evidence that Thomas wasn’t finished composing, with new pieces such as the selection “Sons of the Empire” and the waltz “Queen of the Rink” beginning to be performed by bands alongside older titles that remained popular among which were “Austral”. “Tasma”, “Sydney By Night”, “The Empire” and “Reminiscences of Weber” to name but a few. Now in his autumn years, Thomas was afforded one a luxury previously denied him which was to perhaps enjoy some of the bands playing his music from the comfort of his home.
The first radio broadcast in Australia had taken place in August 1919 when Ernest Fisk of the Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited, a joint venture between the Marconi company and its rival Telefunken, arranged for a broadcast of the National Anthem after a lecture. By 1921 amateur organisations were being granted broadcast licenses and the airwaves opened up. As in Britain the music that was broadcast was generally performed live – with any or every missed note or error exposed to the listening public. By the middle of the nineteen-twenties, Thomas, listening in Sydney, would have been able to hear such as the Kogarah Municipal Band play his intermezzo “Miranda” on 1st February 1925, or the Newtown Band play his march “Newtown” the day before. On Monday the 2nd of March he could have heard the Mordialloc Citizens Band render his “Les Fleurs D’Australie” or “Austral”. Through the power of the radio, his music was reaching new audiences. You have to wonder what that experience would have been like for a composer denied such opportunity for most of their musical career, and whether a critic and perfectionist like Thomas would have found it a reassuring pleasure or an annoyance to hear the various bands play his music.
We are told that in his later years, Thomas, who had an interest in horse racing, would sometimes go to the race meetings at Randwick with his son-in-law Charles. It was still common for the race meetings to feature a brass band playing music between the races and keeping the ‘punters’ entertained, and it was this in particular that drew Thomas’s attention. Naturally, he would often find that the bands would play one or more of his own pieces, and he would remark not only upon the performance of the band but also how he could have improved upon the composition being played. Such is the curse of the perfectionist, never quite satisfied with what they have produced, and as their skills and understanding develop over time, often unsatisfied with what has gone before.
As his years advanced, his grandson tells us that his health was failing him, and that he eventually had to retire from his job with Paling & Co. Though he did not give up on his love for music and the composition and publishing of new works. He also fell back upon his abilities as a music teacher, taking on students from the local community to teach piano, violin or cornet. His grandson Eric remembers a brass plaque on the door of the house pronouncing Thomas’s trade as a music teacher. A string of letters after his name declared his qualifications both in teaching music and a Diploma from the London College of Music which, as it was founded in 1887, must have been acquired through examinations taken in Australia during his adulthood, a service which the college did offer.
In between teaching and composing, Thomas and Eliza also kept a vegetable garden to the rear of their house, which they maintained well as a source of fresh food. A shet to the rear of their home in Mascot was where Thomas kept the remnants of his publishing business which he had last operated whilst in Brunswick; reams of unsold sheet music and lead type for the printing press. This latter gives an indication of how Thomas countered the issue of not having been able to send his handwritten manuscripts to Germany since the war broke out – he had adapted and begun to print the music himself.
Not that Thomas’s music was no longer being sold. A music shop in Mascot stocked it on his behalf, and Thomas’s son Jack also retained a good selection of it where he and his wife lived in Coburg, which he offered for sale. It would be fair to expect though that the works of Thomas Bulch would not be as widely distributed for sale as had previously been the case when he had been in better health.
On the 24th of October 1925, it was announced in the Geelong Advertiser that Thomas Edward Bulch junior’s name had been among many received to be included on a planned Peace Memorial to be built in Geelong to commemorate the sons of the district lost in the war. An appeal was lodged requesting that friends, employers and parents submitted any names that might be missing from the list to ensure that every name that should be represented would be present when the memorial was built.
1925 proved also to be a significant year for George Allan. According to the company’s wages book records, on the 17th of February that year he retired from his job at the railway wagon works after 43 years of service to the company. The 1921 Railways Act, merging Britain’s railways into four large companies, meant that for the last few years of his time as a wagon painter he had been working for the London & North Eastern Railway.
After his retirement, George made the decision to give up his house on Pears Terrace and to live with his daughter and her husband at 4 Osbourne Terrace, Leeholme. This was not too far away from the hustle and bustle of Shildon, though not a particularly quiet location more or less overlooking the village of Leasingthorne with its colliery.
It’s unclear whether there was a health-related reason included in his decision to relocate, but with his wife gone for many years and his children grown up and having started lives, homes and families of their own it might have made sense economically to make the move. Shildon was nearby so he could maintain his commitments to such as the All Saints Amateur Operatic Society. Retirement did present the opportunity to return to composing music, and we do know that, having set up in Leeholme, George did go on to produce a number of new fine marches that he published from that address including “Belmont”, “La Rustica”, “Pendragon” and “The Diplomat” all of which feature the Leeholme house as his publisher’s address.
1925 also presented George with an opportunity to return to the contest adjudicator’s tent. The 27th of September 1925 was to be the Centenary Celebration of the beginning of steam-hauled passenger railways which famously started from Shildon when George Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1 hauled a train of coal wagons, some of which contained passengers, from the New Masons out via Darlington and Yarm to the coal staithes on the Tees to be transported to the rest of the country by ship. The passing of a hundred years since warranted the establishment of a grand celebration, and that is just what the local authorities in the region had in mind.
The Shields Daily News of the 20th June 1925 set out the timings of the entertainments for the 1925 S&DR Railway Centenary. The Duke and Duchess of York were due to arrive in Darlington on July 1st at Bank Top Station on the 2:45 pm train to witness the proceedings. On the following day, following a procession of ‘old and modern locomotives’ was to parade along a section of the old Stockton and Darlington Railway route. At 5:30 in the Park, there was a band content for Darlington bands organised by the Darlington Corporation “who are offering valuable prizes for March contest (own choice pieces) and test piece “Les Huguenots” (a piece known to have been played by Shildon bands). The article explains that the adjudicator is to be George Allan of Leeholme, Bishop Auckland. That he was chosen for this reflects that though he had stepped back from being bandmaster and judge for some years he was still held in high regard in the brass community.
After the band contest, which took place in Stanhope Park, George declared the Cockerton Band to have been the best, followed by the band of Darlington Forge and Darlington British Legion respectively.
There was loss, for George, also in 1925 when in September his mother, still resident at the former Allan family home at 68 Adelaide Street, New Shildon, passed away. According to her death certificate, Hannah passed away aged 88 through ‘senile decay’ at home on the 28th September with her son John Robert, (George’s brother, then resident at Bryonia, Central Parade, Shildon) in attendance. She was buried on Sept 30th at All Saints Church in New Shildon, with the implication being that she was buried with her husband John James Allan as she was buried at a depth of only 5 feet.
As with Tom Bulch, though George was still musically active he was no longer ‘newsworthy’ and little evidence of his activities is available in press coverage. However, earlier researchers have passed on a number of second-hand accounts that give a flavour of how he spent his time. For example, one old Shildon bandsman, Jack Kitching recollected to Bob Wray how though he had started playing with brass bands in 1926 to 1927 he had not personally encountered George, but his music teacher, a gentleman named Bob Collinson BBCM, LGSM, had told him all about how good a grasp George Allan had possessed when it came to music theory and how George had helped him from time to time with his musical problems.
Another account of George’s later years came from a bandsman who played with Leasingthorne Colliery Band in the 1950s, some years after George’s death. He was told it seems that when George was living at Osborne Terrace, Leeholme, after his retirement he would take his march compositions along to the band room of the Leasingthorne Band for that band to play through. Leasingthorne, as we mentioned earlier was adjacent to Leeholme and George would have been able to see across the field to Leasingthorne from his front windows. It’s possible that Leasingthorne Band may have rehearsed in Leeholme, perhaps at its Welfare Hall (now replicated at the Beamish Museum). The bandsman heard it from the gentleman that was the musical director of Leasingthorne Band from 1923 to 1953 at least, one William “Kettle” Hughes, who is described as a stocky euphonium player who at one time ran a pub in nearby Coundon. In this way George could have been able to try out his later marches and compositions before publishing them, as his own band, New Shildon Saxhorn, had long since ceased.
We perhaps should not be surprised by this news as we do have evidence of the Leasingtorne Colliery Band being aware of George’s music, and not just the pieces he created whilst at Leeholme. We have a newspaper report from the Hull Daily Mail of 15th August 1926 that at around 9:00pm on the BBC’s Newcastle radio studio the Leasingthorne Colliery Prize Band, as they were, then, offered a rendition of George’s probably most famous contest march “Knight Templar”. If they were able to perform that piece to a good standard they were certainly the calibre of brass band that George could respect.
So we understand that the dawn of the radio era was exposing George and his music to new and wider audiences, and giving him opportunities to hear his works though he too, like Tom Bulch, was not present. Bands hearing that, and other broadcasts, would be able to hear how fine a march “Knight Templar’ was – possibly giving them the desire to buy it and give it a try. This wasn’t an isolated incident, other examples include one from 7th August 1923 where the North Seaton Workingmen’s Brass Band played “Belmont” and on the 24th March 1924 the Aldershot Prize Silver Band performed “Boscombe” from the Bournemouth Radio station.
69. Curtain Fall
It’s quite probable that in the years between 1925 and 1930 George Allan, and Tom Bulch for that matter too, got up to a great deal. They certainly don’t seem to be the type to have settled into a life of inactivity and despite being for all intents and purposes retired were probably young enough to remain mentally sharp.
The challenge we have, though, is that records of the activity of the two during this last decade of their lives are extremely scarce and for the most part they appear to have been deemed un-newsworthy by this time leaving us little to work with other than the loose remembrances of family members that have, or had, recollections of them at this time.
Bob Wray who, a bandsman interested in his music and wondering why more was not known of the life of someone he so much admired, conducted some research into George Allan back in the mid nineteen-eighties. At that time George’s grand-daughter Dorothy Allan was still alive and resident, unmarried and childless, in Shildon. At that time Shildon Town Band, the band which she tells us evolved from Shildon Wesleyan Band which emerged after the New Shildon Saxhorn band was disbanded, was still going strong and brass band music had more meaning to the town of Shildon.
Dorothy Allan explained that George did not have any conducting relationship to either the Wesleyan or Shildon Town bands. But in these later years Bob appeared to discover, whether from Dorothy or otherwise that he had conducted the orchestra of the band of the New Shildon Amateur Operatic Society in their productions of among others “The Gondoliers”, “Merrie England” and “Iolanthe”
Dorothy related to Bob how in those later years of his life when she was very young she found him to be “a very kind and quiet man” and explained that her mother, Henrietta, who had married George’s son Willoughby, held George in “high esteem’.
She also recalled that though George had been born into a musical family, her remembrance from what she had heard within the family was that he was largely self taught.
Toward the end of her own life, there was to be a revival of interest in her grandfather’s music within the town and during the nineteen-nineties, under the auspices of the Shildon Town Band and their musical director Graeme Scarlett a George Allan Memorial Band Contest was held for a brief run of years, with bands from across the region competing for a trophy dedicated in his name. Alas the venture was expensive and gradually faded. The remaining funds from the venture were spent on the memorial stone that you can see today opposite the Town Square in Shildon. We shall come back to the contest a little later, but for now we need to consider George’s own end.
On 16th March 1930 , just a few days before his 66th birthday, George, still living at 4 Osbourne Terrace, Leeholme, passed away. His death was caused jointly by chronic bronchitis and an aortic regurgitation with chronic nephritis. According to the death certificate his son William was with him at the time of his death.
A death notice was printed in the Northern Echo and Evening Despatch “Allan. At 4 Osbourne Terrace, Leeholme, on 16th. George aged 66 years beloved husband of the late Elizabeth Allan (formerly of Shildon). Internment will take place at All Saints’ Churchyard, Shildon on Wednesday at 3 o’clock. Cortege leaving residence at 2.20 p.m.”
He left an estate totalling £1658 3s and 11d to be divided between his three children, William Willoughby Allan, Lillie Lewis (wife of Thomas Edward Lewis) and Beatrice Appleby (wife of John Robert Tenwick Appleby). In terms of equivalent value in today’s terms George’s estate would have amounted to something just over £96,000 so though he was not incredibly wealthy from his music, he was certainly not, for a man who had carried out a traditionally ill paid manual job, impoverished.
The Auckland and County Chronicle newspaper of March 27th 1930 described the burial. “The internment took place at Shildon All Saints Churchyard last Wednesday of Mr George Allan, 4 Osbourne Terrace, Leeholme. Mr Allan was a native of Shildon, and worked at the LNER shops for over 40 years. He retired five years ago and came to live with his daughter. He was the bandmaster of the Saxhorn Brass Band and also the conductor of the Shildon All Saints Operatic Society from its inauguration until two years ago. During later years he spent a great deal of time in composing band music, for which there was a great demand, and his pieces have won first prizes with first-class bands in all parts of the country. Mr Allan had reached the age of 63 years and was held in the highest respect in the Shildon District. The Rev. Mr J Llewellyn conducted a service in All Saints’ Church and also performed the last rites. The chief mourners were, Mr & Mrs T E Lewis (son-in-law and daughter), Mr and Mrs J R T Appleby (son-in-law and daughter), Mr and Mrs W W Allan (son and daughter-in-law), Mr W Allan, Spennymoor, (brother), Mr and Mrs J R Allan, Shildon (brother and sister-in-law), Mr E Allan, Darlington (brother), Mrs Birtle, Middlesbrough (sister-in-law), Mr W Allan (nephew), Mrs Birkbeck (his brother’s wife) and Mrs Middlemass (sisters-in-law)” George was buried on 19th March 1930 at a depth of 5′ suggesting that he was buried with his wife Elizabeth. The service was performed by John S G Llewellyn
George’s son, Willoughby, no doubt influenced by his father’s teaching, continued the presence of Allan family brass-banding in Shildon; being a baritone horn player with Shildon Town Band. He did not, however share his father’s desire to compose or conduct. He continued to live and work in Shildon, serving as a sergeant in the Home Guard here during the Second World War as part of No.9 Shildon Works Company. In January 1942 that company were winners in the 15th Durham Shooting Competition and Willoughby was photographed with the company captain, works manager and assistant works manager. No doubt his time in the DLI training corps had come in useful passing such disciplines on to the men of the Home Guard. He remained in Shildon until his own passing in March 1976. Daughters Lillie and Beatrice, however moved eventually to Spennymoor with their husbands and lived until 1970 and 1962 respectively.
Whether Tom Bulch received news of George Allan’s passing we can only speculate. By that time there was little Bulch family presence in Shildon and the event might well have gone unnoticed.
Tom Bulch’s own health had been in decline in his later years yet he would not let go of his passion for music. His own grandson Eric Tomkins remembers how Thomas continued to teach music and would closet himself in the longe room of their house in Mascot with his pupils. The latest picture we have seen of Thomas with his grandchildren shows him in a kind of rudimentary wheeled chair, which despite not appearing as a wheel-chair as we know it suggests that by this time his mobility may have been impaired. Eric remembers that Thomas spent a large amount of time composing music at the piano, and remembers one specific occasion when he and his brother were paying around the house, making a noise as boys do. Thomas in response came out of the lounge and said “piano piano”. Not understanding the boys asked their father Charles Tomkins what he meant. Charles, believed to have been once a member of Thomas’s band in Ballarat and knowing the Italian words of musical expression that were part of Thomas’s everyday vocabulary explained that he meant “softly softly”; a plea that they might play in a less boisterous manner that he might be less disturbed.
In 1926, the Geelong and District Peace Memorial was opened in Johnstone Park, commemorating soldiers who had served in World War One. It was opened on the 31st of October by Lord Somers who was then the Governor of Victoria, in the presence of an estimated 10,000 citizens. An appeal to build the foyer had raised £23,000, but as the Foyer had cost but £15,000 the remainder was invested in providing homes for the widows of soldiers. There were ten marble plaques installed listing the names of soldiers and nurses; among them being Sergeant Thomas Edward Bulch, Tom’s son.
When Thomas’s own end came he, like George Allan, was at home in Mascot, Sydney. It was not sudden. He had been in poor health for a while. On 20 Aug 1930 the Herald of Melbourne reported on a decline in his health “Mr T E Bulch, one of the best known bandmasters in Victoria for nearly half a century, is seriously ill in Sydney. He was a founder of Bulch’s Model Band in Ballarat, and was for some years bandmaster of the old 3rd Battalion Militia Band.”
He was not to recover from the illness, finally passing from this life on the 13th of November 1930, just short of eight months after George’s death in Shildon.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported it on Sat 15th November as follows: “Bulch – November 13th 1930 at his residence 84 King Street, mascot. Thomas Edward Bulch beloved husband of Eliza M Bulch and father of Adeline, Myrtle (Mrs. Tomkins), Alice (Mrs. Johnson), Corporal Jack Bulch and the late Sergeant T E Bulch AIF, ages 67 years. Melbourne papers please copy”
The Herald of Melbourne followed on the Monday 17th of November stating “The death is announced of Mt Thomas E Bulch at his residence in Macot (Sydney). Mr Bulch was a well known composer and band contest adjudicator, and many of his marches are very popular. In 1887 the late Mr Bulch was bandmaster of the old 3rd Battalion Band at Ballarat. A dispute with the commanding officer caused the band to resign as a body and form what was known as Bulch’s Model Band, the parent of the present Ballarat City Band. Mr Bulch had been in ill health for some time prior to his death. He is survived by a widow, son and three daughters.”
Thomas was buried, in the presence of his family, at the East Suburbs Cemetery, Botany on the 15th of November.
Eric tells us that he continued to compose music right up to the time of his death with the last unpublished work in his own hand being a tutorial book entitled “Bulch’s Virtuoso Cornet School” compiled in the months leading up to his death. The handwritten manuscript was donated by the family initially to be held by Latrobe University as part of the Arthur Stirling Collection for research purposes. That collection later found its way into a large collection curated by Dr John Whiteoak of Monash University where it is preserved along with a huge collection of heritage brass band music by Bulch and many others that it may be referenced by bandsmen for generations to come.
Following his death, on the 26th of December 1930, just before what would have been Thomas’s sixty-eighth birthday, and obituary was published in the Australian Band and Orchestra News which gave a brief history of his career concluding with the following words. “His work will remain in the minds of those who knew him as a musician and a man. His coming to Australia gave new life to band work, and thus has passed a great benefactor to the musical world.”
One year later, in the Sydney Morning Herald of Friday 13th November 1931 his wife Eliza placed a memoriam notice “BULCH – In loving memory of my dear husband and our father, Thomas Edward, who passed away November 13 1930. Always remembered. By his wife, daughters Adelina, Myrtle, son-in law, Charlie Tomkins.”
Of particularly sad note here it’s worth understanding that Thomas’s daughter Myrtle died barely six months later leaving Charles Tomkins a widower. The Sydney Morning Herald of 4 May 1932 communicated this to friends family and neighbours. “Tomkins. – May 3, 1932 Myrtle May, beloved wife of Charles Tomkins of 46 Nicholson Street St Leonards and second daughter of Mrs and the late T E Bulch of King Street Mascot aged 41 years”
In the same publication it reads elsewhere “Tomkins.- The Relatives and Friends of Mr Charles Tomkins of 46 Nicholson Street, St Leonards, Mrs E Bulch and family, of King Street, mascot, are kindly invited to attend the Funeral of his beloved wife, their daughter and sister, Myrtle May; to leave our Funeral Parlour, 294 Lane Clove Road, Crow’s Nest, this Wednesday, at 2:15 o’clock for the Church of England Cemetery, Botany.”
After Myrtle’s untimely death, Charles moved into Thomas’s family home so that whilst he was working Eliza might look after her grand-children. Eliza, Thomas’s love and closest supporter throughout his life in Australia, held out only a little longer on her own, with the Sydney Morning Herald proclaiming her passing thus. “Bulch – April 30th 1933, at 136 King Street, Mascot. Eliza Ann, widow of the late Thomas E Bulch, and loving mother of Adelina, Thomas (deceased), Myrtle (Mrs. Tomkins deceased), Alice (Mrs. Johnson) and Jack aged 68 years.” Eliza had experienced the pain and sadness of losing three of her children, one in infancy, the others relatively in their prime, before her own passing.
Eliza’s death presented Charles with the challenge of looking after the children on his own. However, their Aunt Adeline, Myrtle’s sister and Thomas’s daughter, stepped in to help look after the children until Charles remarried in 1935. Through this upbringing the youngsters were brought up hearing stores of their grandfather, Thomas Bulch and his achievements, and of the family’s adventures throughout his musical journey.
When Charles Tomkins remarried, Adeline Bulch stayed at the home in Mascot once occupied by Thomas and Eliza. Prior to the war she had been engaged to a sweetheart, but he had been killed during the war and, greatly affected by this, and perhaps loyal to his memory she chose never to marry. In 1950 her sister Alice asked Adeline to move in with her and her husband in Geelong, and Adeline accepted the offer. She remained there until her own death in 1971.
Alice had married Norman Brownbill Johnson, owner of a successful printing and bookbinding business in Geelong. Their son, Keith, following a Bulch family tradition, became what his cousin Eric terms “a competent violinist”, something of which his grandfather would almost certainly have been proud. She remained at Albert Street in Geelong West, where her father had established a band and been instrumental in opening a park, until her own end in 1964.
John Southey Paterson Bulch, known through his lifetime as Jack, survivor of the battlefields of Europe in the First World War, was thus the last of Thomas’s children when he too eventually succumbed, this time to a heart attack, we are told whilst on holiday with his second wife in Tweed Heads in 1972.
70. Life Beyond Death
To what end, then, all this creativity and strife if as with every performance the curtain must inevitably fall and the stage be cleared of all the players and the stalls emptied of admiring listeners; the theatre left empty and desolate with only the settling creak of its timbers and the faint whistle of a breeze through cracks around its doors?
The one thing most certain about the life of all of us is that it will one day end, however unpalatable we each might find that thought. Can we imagine a world without us, and what if anything might remain after we are gone?
For some of us, just as with so many of those other children born in the clattering streets of New Shildon in the 1860s it would be fair to say that this might well be nothing. Those infants snuffed out in their infancy through avoidable illnesses, or crushed tragically by the rail machinery and rolling stock as reported all too frequently in the press of the day. Those men, mechanics and engineers, who toiled day in, day out, on sustenance wages, only enough to keep them alive to serve their purpose, to make the wagons that pumped coal, goods and livestock around the railways that served as the arteries of the nation. Those women who strove through every minute of their lives to make ends meet, keep homes safe and keep their men well enough to work and who bore their children; most likely the only thing they might hope to leave behind.
When you seek to visit what remains of those ordinary men, women and children of New Shildon you find that even the churchyard which became the final resting place for so many has been cleared, the gravestones of those who might have afforded them taken away, deemed dangerous through collapse and instability leaving only a field under which they might lie anywhere, un-proclaimed. Frances Dinsdale, the grand champion of brass music in New Shildon. The Bulches that remained in Shildon till their final day; Thomas’s mother, father, infant brothers and sisters. The Allans, George’s mother and father, his brothers and sisters. George himself and his wife Elizabeth. All there, and yet hidden, undetectable, uncelebrated.
Yet, for some, in peculiar ways life does not end. One of the rewards of a creative mind and soul is that they might in some way leave echoes that ring on for many, many, years after their corporeal existence has ended; and in this way they achieve something of a life after their personal death.
Just as architects and master builders leave behind them their works, painters their pictures, scientists the discoveries they have uncovered and shared and teachers the knowledge they have passed on which will continue to be passed on; the musical composer too possess this remarkable ability to live, after a fashion, though they be no longer with us.
To continue that analogy about teaching, consider Francis Dinsdale, that one man who was inspired to found a brass band in Shildon to bring the community closer together. Bearing in mind that at that time this was innovative music, a relatively daring venture and certainly the pop-music of the day. Francis himself received tuition, possibly partly from Robert de Lacy, probably others too. From there he taught and inspired others in his hometown, his own sons included. He, and they, developed their teaching and mentoring to pass that skill on to the very next generation which as we now know included George Allan and Thomas Edward Bulch, as well as others, Samuel Lewins, John Malthouse, James Scarff to name only but a few of which we know. In their lifetimes all of those, and probably others they taught, dispersed to teach those same skills, in their own way to their own bandmen. George Allan teaching and guiding the Saxhorn Band, his own son Willoughby among them. Sam Lewins doing the same with the Bathurst District Band. John Malthouse and James Scarff the City of Ballarat Brass Band, and others across the state of Victoria. Let us not forget Thomas Bulch, master and tutor of so, so, many bands and his own sons one of whom we know at least became bandmaster of the band of his military battalion and whom had he lived would surely have followed his father’s footsteps in that regard.
Project this forward and consider in the generations that followed how many bandsmen today might be able to trace the heritage of their knowledge and learning back to that one inspired man back in New Shildon in the 1850s. Each generation adding its own qualities to that learning process to the benefit of the next. Though it’s not a unique legacy to leave, for it was echoed throughout communities across the Victorian world and beyond, it’s surely a truly powerful one.
Above all, the brass band movement has been one from the working classes, and this is largely why so little has been hitherto made of what these men did for their communities. To do what Thomas Bulch did and convert a life destined for the blacksmith’s or railway fitters shop to become a dedicated influencer in music was a bold move requiring a great deal of confidence and considerable bravery. Many of the noted composers of the day emanated from more comfortable backgrounds. Inevitable, Bulch being the exception, the more celebrated personalities of the music world tended to be those either from a wealthier family or else patronised by someone wealthier.
Consider the pages of the brass and military banding press of the day wherein pages are adorned with advertisements placed by those bandmasters able to afford advertising their services to all who might wish to employ them for whatever duration wherever they might be. George Allan, by contrast, limited by his income as a blacksmith’s striker, and later wagon painter, and not afforded the luxury of being able to travel far from the occupation that sustained him, was limited to advertising his own published music in the small advertisements toward the rear of the papers. In this way, despite his clearly demonstrated capability he was prevented from attaining the status of contemporaries such as J Ord Hume and William Rimmer who were both in their time able to travel to Australia to visit and to judge brass band contests there. Imagine if that had been an opportunity afforded to George Allan, and whether he might have taken the opportunity to call upon his old Shildonian contemporary and what reception he might have.
Yet arguably we should not pity George in that respect. Thomas knew much hardship in his lifetime through taking the chance to dedicate his life to music, probably knowing well that it would be not entirely a stable career yet possibly hoping throughout that he might be the one to make it succeed in that respect. George however, despite personal pain throughout his life, managed it appears, by combining his passion for music with a loyalty to his daily employer, to have been comparatively stable and perhaps even comfortable throughout his life to the very end.
In both cases it would be fair to say that their involvement in music opened so many doors for a good few of the young bandsmen of Shildon, almost all of whom were of particularly humble background, presenting them with opportunities they would almost certainly never have otherwise been afforded. The opportunity to experience events from which they might otherwise have been excluded; to make social connections that might otherwise have been closed to them and to travel to places they might otherwise not have seen. In all it possibly gave them all a greater control over their own destinies to whatever extent they took advantage of that.
Above all of this sits the music created by these two inspired men. Can anyone ever be said to have truly left us when we are able to hear the sounds that once only inhabited their minds alone?
Its fair to say that of the pieces of music they created that we are aware of, which number almost 450, with a strong likelihood that there are others we have not yet rediscovered, the greater majority are now never played and have long been relegated to the backs of cabinets in band libraries. Australian band historian Jack Greaves said that “by today’s standards Bulch’s compositions are in the main ‘old hat’ but to several former generations of Australian bandsmen his numerous musical works were widely known and played. Indeed, it would be extremely doubtful if any band library of yesteryear did not contain a large number of his compositions.”
When Thomas Bulch, and then George Allan, started composing music it was for a young scene that was desperate for music to claim for itself rather than having to repurpose that music which was composed for the generations before them. New dance crazes came and went making the styles of dance music that fuelled them obsolete and quaint. Marches, fantasias, and selections fared somewhat better having a more perpetual appeal, yet even then many have been buried under the waves and waves of new brass band music produced by further generations of worthy composers. The older music is often, almost derogatorily, being referred to by by bandsmen as ‘yellow music’ in part due to the colour of the aged, and ageing still, paper and march cards on which they are printed.
The pieces that have endured are those which retain some special significance in their own right, and those which through their own excellence remain relevant as an enduring and time honoured test of a great band. As examples of the former category, there is a band in Ashbourne in Derbyshire who still on occasion perform George Allan’s march “Ashbourne”. Similarly Tom Bulch’s old band in Ballarat, now the City of Ballarat Brass Band, keep some of Tom Bulch’s marches alive as a tribute to his contribution as founder of the band and one of the leading figures in the development of the brass movement in Victoria and Australia. Elsewhere in Australia there are bands that have existed for many generations for whom Thomas composed a piece titled in their honour.
In the second of the categories, the music that remains brilliant and which in some respects has been barely surpassed such that it can still be heard over a century later at brass contests internationally we see such works as Allan’s “Knight Templar”, “Senator” and “The Wizard”. A brief search for these titles on the website www.brassbandresults.co.uk reveals the scale on which these pieces have been played by some of Britain’s finest bands over the decades, and how often those performances have resulted in the claiming of honours. Despite their age there is an astounding vitality to the music that is ageless. This is possibly one of the reasons why such pieces have been adopted, not to say adapted in the sense of the range of instruments involved, more recently by the marching display bands of high schools in the United States, particularly in California. Those young students know little of George, his life, the commonality with the Tom Bulch story or the relevance of the town of their birth; but they know an impressive and challenging piece of music that sounds great and is enjoyable to play when the musician has the skills to do so.
We also cannot discount the contribution, albeit indirectly, of Thomas Bulch to the unofficial anthem of Australia, “Waltzing Matilda”. Without the march “Craigielee” and its evidently memorable musical hooks that song would almost certainly have sounded differently and might not have even found its was into the heart of the Australian sense of self. Thus, while that song continues to be sung or played Thomas Bulch, as well as James Barr, Carl Volti (Archibald Milligan) and Christina Macpherson will never truly have left us completely.
It is probable that among the more obscure and forgotten pieces there are probably a good few that still deserve to be heard today, the qualities of which could well be worthy but have become obscured through lack of playing. For example, the march “Whitworth” composed under the name of Robert Malthouse but which bears hallmarks of Bulch’s works, has been revived recently by the Spennymoor Town Band which absorbed the Whitworth band after which the piece was named some decades ago. This march has since been revived by the Spennymoor band who have been enjoying playing it and also aired it whilst marching through the city of Durham en route to the 2019 Durham Miner’s Gala. They had for a long time been unaware of it.
Why should we perhaps make more of an effort to celebrate Thomas Edward Bulch and George Allan? They were after all but two of a whole generation of such brass band composers many of whom are on the whole uncelebrated.
To me, the answer to this lies in the uniqueness of their story. If I have interpreted correctly the writings of brass band historians such as Roy Newsome and Dennis Taylor, despite his ‘amateur’ status George Allan should be considered among the best brass composers of his generation. Of the contemporaries and influencers Newsome names in his excellent book “Brass Roots”, he considers Allan to be among a second tier of only nine composers and certainly one of the top seventeen. Of those he is the only one to have emerged from anywhere north of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and certainly the only one from County Durham.
But what makes this story so particularly unique and worthy of celebration is that County Durham did not produce one such man. It produced two, the second of whom, Tom Bulch, Roy Newsome would almost certainly have known more about had he seen out his career in England instead of Australia.
Furthermore it wasn’t just County Durham that gave the world these men, but two streets metres apart in New Shildon. That and the parallel lives they led, starting fifteen months apart and ending in the same year, is what makes the story of Tom Bulch and George Allan worth knowing about. Two men so clearly different in personality and style, with different priorities in their life who followed different paths that remained in some ways interwoven in wonderful ways almost to the very end.
Though much has changed in Shildon, as in Ballarat, Melbourne and Sydney there are merits in telling this story, and values and ideas to share with each generation. Seeds of hope for those who feel they are starting out with little to spring them on their way to success; and a message that though our time is short there are ways to ensure an enduring presence after the last bars of your own story are played out.
The oldest streets of what was once New Shildon are barely present today – just stubs remain of Strand Street, and Chapel Street with their modest accommodation into which large families were crammed. The British School is now a place to learn to dance, the old Mechanics Institute a tiny sunless square of shrubs and benches. The former railway works is now an industrial estate, still keeping people in employment albeit not on the tremendous scale it once did. Yet the ghosts of the sheds in which generations of men of New Shildon laboured to produce locomotives and rolling stock for the railway companies that owned them can still be seen; and as you wander in their midst you can almost imagine the clamour and clattering rhythms of industry that provided the background to the imaginings of music that left this place on its way out to the world.