Thursday, June 7, 2012

A First World War soldier who suffered years later

I recently wrote about my grandfather's time at the Broadmeadows Army Training Camp in the First World War. One of his mates at the camp was Bill Liston. My grandfather was medically discharged and always regretted that he had been unable to serve his country abroad, however, after researching Bill Liston, I'm sure that my grandfather was lucky to have stayed at home.

After enlisting in June 1915 at the age of 24, William Ferrier Liston embarked for active service on 26 August 1915. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 October 1915. From there he was sent to Egypt where he served from January 1916 and was later sent to France. In October of that year he was admitted to hospital for deafness, but was sent back to his unit eight days later. On 25 February 1917 he was severely wounded with gunshot wounds to the face, neck and elbow. He was evacuated from France and admitted to hospital in England. He survived his physical wounds but was sent home to Australia arriving in February 1918, still suffering from nerve deafness. Bill settled in Murtoa, a town in north-west Victoria, where he became a produce merchant.

Whilst browsing the National Library of Australia's Trove website, I came across a story that brought home to me the terrible affects that war can bring many years afterwards. Twenty years after returning from the war, Bill Liston, a man who had served his country heroically like so many others, was on trial. He pleaded guilty to stealing, as an agent, 6100 bags of wheat worth £3000. It all started when, as Secretary of the Murtoa Wheat Growers' Association, he found a few bags of wheat missing and took it on himself to pay for the missing wheat; but to do this he began to speculate in wheat and potatoes and to bet on racehorses, paying for his speculation with the proceeds of wheat owned by other people. 

In his defence, Bill Liston's lawyer said that " rigidly moral men had been so shattered nervously by war that they were unable to show that small amount of courage in an emergency which would have prevented them from lapsing into crime." The lawyer said that he "was in a bad nervous state. He had been seriously injured in the war and doctors were still picking pieces of shrapnel out of him. He had been unable to sleep for two years." The judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

Bill Liston died in 1982 aged 91.

Further information about Bill Liston, including an excellent article by Rod Martin, can be found on Lenore Frost's website.

Monday, June 4, 2012

My biggest brick wall smashed: John SCOTT was really John CONACHER

A surprise phone call from a relative a few weeks ago has helped me smash my biggest genealogical brick wall. She had found some old letters dating back to the 1850's from SCOTT relatives in Scotland.

For over 25 years I had been searching for my 2nd great grandfather, John SCOTT, a baker at Creswick in Victoria, Australia during the 1850s who married Susan ASHMORE at Creswick in 1857. When he married, John gave the names of his parents as Alexander SCOTT and Margaret LAMB, his place of birth as Dunkeld, Scotland and his age as 30. John's brother, Alexander also came to Victoria and married.

I had never been able to find John and Alexander's birth or baptism or the marriage or even existence of their parents. The records just weren't there. The newly found letters, however, provided details of brothers and sisters and importantly where they were living in Scotland from the 1850s to 1870s. A letter written in 1855 told of the death of a sister, Susan.

I set to work checking ScotlandsPeople and other sites for the SCOTT family, but still no luck! Surely Susan's death would have been registered in 1855 and the family should have appeared in the various census records. I had another look at the letters and noticed that father Alexander's surname wasn't there. He signed his name Alexander at the bottom of one letter but the part where his surname would have been written was missing due to a tear - perhaps this was deliberately torn. Maybe the brothers had changed their name.

More searching for the first names of the family in the census indexes finally brought results. The family's surname was actually CONACHER. There was a family story that John and Alexander had left Scotland to get away from their father who was a strict Calvanist. Their mother was Margaret SCOTT who married Alexander CONACHER at Dunkeld in 1824, so the sons had adopted their mother's surname when they came to Australia. John had given his mother's surname as LAMB when he married, but LAMB was in fact the surname of his grandmother, Susan LAMB, the mother of Margaret SCOTT.

Now onto the next brick wall!