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.

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 shows that her capital letter I as written by hand does look rather like a J.