The Long Story – Part 7

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,Part 4,Part 5,Part 6,Part 7

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 cornet with the nearby Geelong Municipal Band. He had turned 27 in November and living with his wife Ivy Mae Veronica Bulch, formerly Cozens, and their three children Thelma, Eric and Frederick, the latter of whom was born only two years previous, on Walker Street in West Geelong, where he was, as well as being a bandsman, working as a dredge-hand, operating dredging machinery aboard a dredger vessel, in order to keep the waterways and harbour around Geelong free from debris and blockages.

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 junior, enlisted. Whether he had experienced any national identity issues on account of his unusual surname, as we are told his father had, is unknown, but it is interesting to note that on his enlistment papers it is written as an addition on his papers, under his name and locality, that he was a “Paternal Born British subject”; though of course in terms of his own nationality it was clearly stated that he was an Australian.

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 troop ship, 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 th 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 interment, the Ballarat New Cemetery. The funeral cortege will move from her mother’s residence, Mrs J Wakeling; 119 Skipton Street, near Dawson Street, on Monday 13th day of September, 1915, at 1 o’clock. Melbourne and Geelong papers please copy.”

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. A 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 Bulch it must have been a horrendous experience.

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 “Noralla” and “South Street Parade”.

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 was to the front and also that my son, Bandsman Thomas E Bulch No.1149.23 Batt. Band, 6th Inf. Bge. was on board and drowned and as we have had no word from Headquarters would you kindly let us know if there is any truth in this report. Hoping to have an early reply as we are all terribly anxious. I remain yours respectfully. E A Bulch. 1 Anakie Street, Geelong W.”

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 were based generally in Alexandria with troops continually being ferried between the Dardanelles and Egypt, perhaps the records weren’t entirely accurate, or perhaps the records officer simply wanted to relieve Eliza’s anxiety over the true location of her son. We don’t know at all whether there was any direct correspondence between him and the family, though it’s possible given that his mailing address had been provided. In any case, the Bulches, as with so many families across Australia, would still have spent an anxious Christmas and New Year hoping that Thomas Edward was safe. And yet, they might also have considered themselves fortunate so far as many other families there, and elsewhere in the Empire, had already been informed of the loss of their loved ones and were facing their first, or perhaps second, festive season without their young men.

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. Perhaps these easier marches were reflective of the state in which brass bands found themselves – with many new recruits to bring up to speed – it’s possible that not many brass bands were in a state to play difficult contest marches. 

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 mis-spelled. The newspapers were littered with references over the span of George’s life, where his name had been spelled Allen. However for once it was Willoughby’s new bride’s family name that had been mis-spelled 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 1916 Thomas was promoted to Sergeant Bugler and became the bandmaster of his band which were attached to the Army Medical Corps, something his father would surely have been most proud to learn. As Thomas Edward senior had learned from the generations before him, that tradition had been passed on to his son who would now have the opportunity to do the same. The family lineage was not merely genetic. The spirit of Francis Dinsdale, bandmaster of New Shildon could now live on through this young ANZAC Sergeant.

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 moment both of Thomas’s sons were in uniform in the service of their country together. But it was only to be a very brief time for on the 19th of June tragedy struck.

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, and 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 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 husband of Ivy, loving father of Thelma and Freddy, aged 27 years. Late of Geelong.”

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 are:– Charles Engel, Alex Morris, Percy Edwards, Leslie Pogson. Many ex-members of the band have also joined the colours, among them being Sergeant Tom Bulch, whose death has lately been reported, and the news of which has been received with deep regret by his old comrades here.”

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 troop ship 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 news it is as though the baton had been passed to the next generation for the year. We can be sure that he and Eliza were not inactive, but he seems to have withdrawn from whatever limelight he might otherwise have caught. On December the 30th 1916 as he probably spent his birthday reflecting quietly on his 54 years of life, and the loss of his son, he may well have contemplated what the reminder of his life may hold.

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 being ten years older than stated. He was immediately made Sergeant bandmaster of the Langwarren Army Camp Band. 

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 was 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 has 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 Eliza, placed a ‘memorial’ ad in The Age of Melbourne commemorating the anniversary of their son’s death. It was accompanied by the following two lines “There is a link death cannot sever, Love and remembrance last forever.” It then goes on to name their other daughters and son, Adelina, Myrtle, Alice and Jack, whom it notes is on active service. A further notice is placed on behalf of Sgt Bulch’s wife Ivy and their two children Thelma and Fred.

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

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.

Despite the ongoing war, the occasional happy event befell the Allan family. On Valentines Day, 14th February 1917 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.”