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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 2 years, 7 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


Kelleher J     Pte    2685    John Hunt             59 Inf Bn    23    Farm labourer    Single    R C       

Address:    Camberwell   

Next of Kin:    Kelleher, Grace, Miss, sister, 12 Albert St, Moonee Ponds   

Enlisted:    19 Jul 1916       

Embarked:     A71 Nestor 2 Oct 1916   


Date of Death: 29/09/1918



John Hunt Kelleher


A Lost Boy


By Marilyn Kenny


At first glance Jack Kelleher, 22/2/1893-29/9/1918, seems a marginal inclusion in the long list of those from Essendon who answered their Empire’s Call. Certainly his native place was Moonee Ponds but on his enlistment he indicated that he had no fixed address. He listed his sister as next of kin with an address in Moonee Ponds but also recorded an aunt in Camberwell and a brother in Richmond. He is not noted on any local Roll of Honour, apart from that in the Essendon Gazette where his death is recorded and the fact that He was the elder son of the late William and Mary Kelleher,  of Moonee Ponds. These varied details, however, obscures a family story that reached back some fifty years into this district’s settlement.


The Family


John Hunt Kelleher was one of four children born 1892-1895 in Moonee Ponds to William Kelleher and Mary Elizabeth Hunt. The couple had been married in St Monica’s on 10 February 1891 and lived in a cottage on the north east corner of Mt Alexander Road and Blair St,  a few doors down from St Monica’s Church.


Mary,  b 1861,  was the daughter of Henry James Hunt,  Kilmore Shire Secretary and Engineer. William had been born in 1850,  his parents Mary Reedy (Reidy) and John Kelleher (Kellegher) having married in Melbourne that same year. His father,  aged 33, died a year later. Raised with William as his step sister was Mary,  b 1841, who married Swiss miner Augustine Lurati in 1861 and settled at Daylesford.


By 1861 Mary Reidy Kelleher had settled in Brennan St (later Aspen St), Moonee Ponds and was running a dairy. She was also known for her kindness in times of trouble and sickness and acted as midwife. Mary Reidy Kelleher was one of three sisters who had migrated from Country Clare,  Ireland. Her sister Margaret Reidy Leyden was raising a large brood of children at Percydale near Avoca. In 1874 William Kelleher had married his cousin Margaret Leyden, however she died a year later aged 18 years. Also present in the Moonee Ponds, in NSW and elsewhere, was a large clan of O’Connors. These were descendants of Mary Reidy’s older sister Catherine who had married in Sydney after their migration in 1842.


All this genealogy is important in understanding John Hunt Kelleher’s (and his siblings) subsequent history. William’s mother had died five months before his second marriage and it seems that he,  Mary Hunt and their increasing family lived a reasonably uneventful life in the cottage called Reidyville. William was a bootmaker with premises on the north-west corner of St James St and Mt Alexander Road. He was very active in several local organizations. From his early twenties he was a member and office bearer in the St Monica’s branch of the Hibernian Australian Catholic Benefit Society. In the  mid-1880s William also took the pledge and became an active member of the Sons and Daughters of Temperance Friendly Society. The one local to Essendon,  Ascot Vale and Newmarket was the Our Future Hope Division. This must have made his 1892 prosecution for travelling on an expired train ticket all the more embarrassing. His defence was that he had many ticket stubs in his pocket and must have given up the wrong ticket. Despite being defended by a partner in a prominent Queen St law firm, William was fined £1 with a guinea costs.




William (and his mother) had acquired number of small Moonee Ponds properties apart from their residence. This must have given William and Mary Hunt Kelleher a financial buffer during their short marriage. However this did not prevent the disasters that befall the family in 1899,  when,  in March,  Mary died,  followed three months later by William. John and his siblings,  aged seven to four years,  were orphans.


William’s estate primarily consisted of property; five houses and land worth £996 (see Appendix A). He directed that when his youngest child reached his majority, i.e. in 1916, they were each to inherit (either separately or jointly) a property together with a share in the sale of the remaining two houses. In the interim the rents and monies derived from the houses was to be used for the maintenance and education of his children. However, there  was a substantial bank mortgage over the family home Reidyville, secured by its title and that of another house. The executors were James Hunt, the children’s maternal uncle, and Edward Wilson, husband to their maternal aunt. The four children were being cared for by Edward and Constance Wilson.  This couple lodged accounts with the estate, Mrs. Wilson claiming £5 for housekeeping and nursing William Kelleher, and Mr Wilson £20 to support deceased’s children. The 85 pages of probate documents testify to how complicated matters became when Wilson,  a labourer of Flemington and later of Athol St,  Moonee Ponds,  renounced probate. This left Hunt who was a farmer at Ulupna West,  155 miles from Melbourne,  to manage affairs. Portable and real assets were sold to reduce,  but could not clear,  the mortgage. The estate could not bear the cost of maintaining the children and repaying the loan. The children were taken in by various members of the extended family who agreed to provide residence and keep. The estate’s administration was passed to a Trustee Company.




John fell to the lot of his great aunt,  Margaret Reidy Leyden who lived near Percydale. In 1899 she was a 70 year-old widow who had a small holding at No 2 Creek,  about a mile from the township. Probably living with her was son Peter,  the youngest of her six sons and  five daughters.


Margaret Reidy Leyden

Courtesy of Peg Family tree on Ancestry




Percydale,  situated at the foot of the Pyrenees,  was established in the 1850s as an alluvial goldfield and lies about132 miles north west of Melbourne. A rush in the 1870s brought on the great expansion of the town which at one stage boasted 17 hotels. By 1903 there was one left  together with two churches,  a store and a school. The population was 125 engaged in various types of mining,  quarrying,  agriculture and viticulture. The Leyden family had been established in the area since the 1860s, cropping and grazing.


Percydale State School No 1042. The School had a regular turnover of male and female teachers but achieved good results; a 95 Pass rate in 1900. The school boasted a library with children being able to borrow one book a week and they held concerts to raise funds for resources. Annual combined excursion picnics were provided by the Board of Advice. Image courtesy The Victorian Interest Group,  Southern Suburbs Branch of the Genealogical Society of Queensland. 


John had a year at Essendon SS No 483 before transferring, aged 6 years, to Percydale State School No1042. This school had been originally established by parents in 1870 and transferred to the State in 1874. It was built on a five acre site on a hillside with a separate cottage for the Head Teacher. It was adjacent to Fiddlers Creek,  now carrying mine sludge, and neighbored the Methodist Church. The area was picturesque,  heavily treed, but dotted with abandoned mine shafts. It would have been quite a change from Essendon SS which had cramped grounds with an enrolment of over 700,  up ninety to a class,  that were often held in corridors. In Percydale the school averaged an attendance of 30,  all in one 30x18 room with nine bench desks facing the blackboard and fireplace. The Head Teacher was assisted by a pupil teacher/paid monitor and part time Sewing Mistress. Many children rode to school and at times had to traverse bad and flooded roads.


Teacher’s residence, Percydale. The Head Teacher was also the Post Master,  Registrar of Births and Death and Returning Officer. The teacher during John’s time,  Albert Sublet,  was an enthusiastic horticulturalist,  propagating native plants and seeds making these them available to other schools. The four room cottage was typical of the area. One Leyden property,  Tabitha,  survives as an Airbnb. Image courtesy The Victorian Interest Group,  Southern Suburbs Branch of the Genealogical Society of Queensland.


At the time John Kelleher attended No 1042 there were 28 children enrolled, including his cousins Maurice, Phillip and George Leyden, whose parents John and Tabitha also farmed at No 2 Creek. Writing in 1900, Maurice,  b1888,  has left an account of what life might have been like for John. Maurice’s family had three cows and three calves and it was the boys’ job to bring them in morning and night and attend to their feed. They also had a pet goat,  which drew a cart,  and a foal. With their dog and ferret they would go out rabbiting,  setting nets and traps at burrows catching half a dozen at a time. Maurice had a pea rifle and often went out shooting. School Arbor Day was a gala event with all families gathering to cart and spread soil in the school’s three gardens,  plants trees and picnic together. Their reward was the many prizes and certificates awarded to the school community. A major bushfire in February 1900 threatened the homes at No 2 Creek, which was only controlled by the settlers’ strenuous efforts. Two years later Peter Leyden became Captain of the newly established Percydale Bush Fire Brigade.


John completed the standard number of years of education and left school in May 1906 when he was 13½ years. What happened between then and the Wednesday 19 July 1916 when he walked into the Melbourne Town Hall recruiting depot to enlist? These ten years are blank to history. Did he continue on in the Percydale district, surviving the turmoil after his great aunt’s death in December 1906 followed by the sequestration of her intestate estate by an Avoca storekeeper for unpaid accounts? Was there still room for John in Peter’s household after the latter’s 1907 marriage? Did John work on family land further afield,  did he become a nomadic farm hand,  the occupation he gave on enlistment. Did he settle around the Bendigo area as one of his mates believed? All we do know is that his behavior,  for good or ill,  never brought him to the attention of the authorities or public. His Digger mate, perhaps tellingly, also recalled that John spoke with a stammer.


The Sisters


The oldest Kelleher girl Mary Reidy Kelleher had been placed in Thomas St,  Haymarket,  Sydney under the care of Miss Margaret O’Connor.


John’s twin sister, Grace Eileen Kelleher, was the only one to stay in Melbourne. Another cousin Catherine O’Connor took her in. This cousin had married in St Monica’s in 1891. Both she and her husband, Patrick McCann, were in their 40s and the marriage was childless. Initially they lived in a’Beckett St, West Melbourne,  Patrick being Head Porter at Flinders St Railway Station. After his retirement in 1910 they moved to a very modest cottage at 12 Albert St, Moonee Ponds. Catherine was a useful woman who in the early years of administering William’s estate acted as agent for James Hunt and had collected rents. Grace appears to have been secure with this devout couple and trained as a tailoress.





On enlistment day in Melbourne, Jack was moved straight to the Depot where he stayed for three weeks. He was then allocated to the 6 Reinforcements of the 59 Battalion and sent to the military camp at Castlemaine. This camp,  established in August 1915  at Milkmaids Flat, held an average of 300 soldiers under canvas and taught musketry,  trench digging,  bomb throwing and bayonet fighting. There were camp concerts, military sports days and entertainment excursions to Bendigo. At the end of September 1916, departing troops marched to Castlemaine Town Hall for a farewell civic reception with refreshments and song.


Castlemaine Town Hall. Image courtesy Wikipedia.


Jack was headed for the Troopship Nestor which left Port Melbourne 2 October 1916.  In September,  probably on embarkation leave,  John drew up his will. He was now a man of property. On the 15 July 1916 Reidyville and one of the two cottages had been auctioned and on 21 July 1916 he had become tenant in common with his brother of 28 Taylor Street. Given his enlistment date of 19 July, John may have delayed signing up until these business matters had been concluded. His will was made at Moonee Ponds with two local witnesses,  one being the manager of the Moonee Ponds Theatre in Puckle St. Were these John’s mates,  family friends or strangers pulled in to witness a hurriedly thought through testament? Although John had named Grace as Next of Kin on enlistment it was his maternal aunt’s address in Camberwell that he gave as his on this document. Jack was the owner of a Triumph Motor Cycle and a push bike. He also a substantial balance in his Puckle Street State Savings Bank account which would have been boosted by his share of the £380 paid for Reidyville.


Group of unidentified soldiers sitting on the edge of the troopship HMAT Nestor (A71)

waiting for the ship to depart on 2 October 1916.  Photo courtesy AWM Accession Number PB0634.


The Nestor had several dozen Essendonians on board and remarkably John’s unit also contained an old Percydale schoolmate, Charles Alfred Doodt (see Appendix B). The ship, with over 2500 troops, travelled via Capetown.  Corfield (p 19) quotes extensively from the diary of one of John’s fellow passengers,  an infantryman of the 60th  Battalion,  as to events at this port. When they came into Table Bay troops were told there would be no leave as quarantine had been imposed because of measles. Troops however defied the OC Troops and broke away from route marches to explore the city and surrounds. Leaving about 30 soldiers behind the ship sailed on the 24 October and arrived in the UK on 15 November 1916.  Six weeks later John embarked for France arriving there with the New Year of 1917. However,  after a month at Etaples,  John was admitted to hospital with Bronchitis and debility. Within a few days he was on a hospital ship back to an admission at the Norfolk War Hospital in north east England.


 John spent well over 100 days as a patient at various at Military Hospitals such as this one in Norfolk. Now private dwellings this facility as opened in 1814 as the Norfolk County Asylum. It functioned as the Norfolk Military Hospital during the Great War then became Norfolk County Mental Hospital and St Andrew’s Hospital. Image courtesy Wikipedia.


There followed a transfer to 3 Australian Auxiliary Hospital,  Dartford in the south east. By early March 1917 John was well enough to overstay his leave pass by six hours. On 7 March he was transferred to Second Command Depot. After testing negative to TB he was classified on the 17March  as A Class,  Medically fit and on 27 April transferred to the 66 Battalion   at Windmill Hill on the Salisbury Plain, south west England.  John’s time here was uneventful apart from being found without a leave pass in a local village. On 19 September with the disbandment of the 66 Battalion, John was transferred back to the 59 Battalion and was listed for France. He arrived there in mid-October 1917.

The Youngest Brother



 Wilfred Kelleher. Photo courtesy PROV Series 515.


We do not have any photographs of John Hunt Kelleher though his service record contains a  physical description. This recorded Jack  as having light brown hair,  with brown eyes and a medium complexion. He was tallish,  being nearly 5’10’’ in height (178 cm), but his weight was only 9 stone (57 kg).  This seems gaunt. We would expect today that a man of this height would be heavier by 2 stone or 12 kg. Jack’s chest expansion was also marginal even by the mid 1915s relaxed enlistment standards.  John’s description seems very much like his brother of whom we do have images.  Wilfred was almost 5’10’’ in height  and had brown hair,  brown eyes and a fresh complexion.


Wilfred Reidy Kelleher,  b 1895,  was the youngest of the four children. His care was entrusted to his father’s step sister, Mary Lurati of the Jockey Club Hotel in Daylesford. Mary died in 1900 and Wilfred stayed on with her widower. What happened, however, after his uncle’s death in 1902 when Wilfred was seven years? Did he stay on in the township with one of the Lurati’s many adult children, or move on. By the time he appears on the electoral roll in 1917 he was living with his mother’s sister Anne Price and her carpenter husband and large family in Camberwell. Wilfred then gave his occupation as motor driver. John had enough contact with his Aunt Anne to name her as a contact or give her address as his in his enlistment and other documents.  It seems he had some affinity also with her locality being a paid up member of the Hawthorn branch of  Sons of Ireland Irish National Foresters Friendly Society.


Captured in Kew


From the end of 1916 Melbourne and surrounds experienced a spate of break-ins at business premises. Detectives had their suspicions as to the culprits but could not gain enough evidence so kept the suspects under surveillance. The robberies however were widespread: the Diggers Rest Post Office,  the bank at Berwick (twice),  a Collingwood boot factory and numerous produce stores. Several robberies were committed on motorcycles and fuel stolen. Although these premises were unoccupied at night,  when the robbers were disturbed,  as at the Hawthorn Post Office,  there was no hesitation about clubbing the elderly Postmaster about the head.


On May 11 1917, Percy S Cox of Moonee Ponds discovered a robbery at his Hay and Corn store at the corner of Princess St and Racecourse Road,  Newmarket. The thieves had broken the padlocks,  forced an iron barred door,  blown open the safe and stole cash,  goods,  horse and jinker.  This was abandoned in Fitzroy after the robbery at the Riverside Station. Detectives discovered fingerprints on the Cox cash box. On May12 a constable noticed a robbery in progress at a Kew Produce store. Summoning reinforcements and the store owner they entered to find the place ransacked with the safe upended with dynamite and fuse attached. Police searched the rambling premises by buggy light and found two men. One of these was Wilfred Kelleher hiding under some furniture with a loaded revolver nearby. More firearms and housebreaking equipment were also discovered.


Just after John had embarked Wilfred (known as Bill) had fallen into the company of career crook Joseph Richard Gilmour. He was a 38 year old New Zealander who had been declared an habitual criminal there in 1908. He now claimed to be a tobacconist with a shop in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. However a team lead by Detective Fred Piggott found,  in a scene reminiscent of Power without Glory that all the stock was dummied up and there was nothing saleable in the shop. On searching, police discovered skeleton keys,  housebreaking implements, gelignite,  ammunition and firearms. Wilfred and his co accused, Leslie Simpson, were living above the shop. Gilmour was located but denied any involvement. The fingerprints found at Mr Cox’s were linked to Simpson, who confessed. In addition, all men were wearing the stolen boots. There were several committal hearings at different locations including one at Flemington Court on 14 June. Bail for Kelleher was set at £200. He denied being involved with Cox’s break in,  saying he had then been unwell. Neither did he admit the Riversdale robbery though he knew the premises’ layout as he frequently collected timber from the station.


The outcome was a Criminal Court trial at the end of June 1917, during which Wilfred was defended by leading barrister William Doria. He stated that Kelleher was a carpenter who lived and worked with his uncle (John Price).  Bill was a first offender who had had a good upbringing and did not keep good health. All three desperate ruffians were convicted on four counts. However, it was said they had actually committed over twenty break-ins and had organized themselves as a band of robbers and set themselves against the community.


Wilfred Kelleher prison photographs. Images courtesy PROV Series 515.


Wilfred was sentenced to three years hard labour on each of the four counts (with the sentences to be concurrent) and hence there are prison photographs. He was literate and gave his occupation as carpenter.  Wilfed served his sentence at the Castlemaine Reformatory Prison


Pompey’s Pets


Colour Patch of the 59th Battalion Australian War Memorial

Accession Number RELAWM 13307.124

The 59 Battalion took the colours of the original 7 Battalion,  red and brown,  but displayed them

in a vertical alignment. This was one of the reasons that Brigadier Elliott was said to have had a

special interest in this Battalion hence the nickname applied by the others in the Brigade.


In France, John was to rejoin his original battalion, the 59 Battalion. This was one of the two Battalions that had their origin in the 7 Battalion that embarked under the command of Lt –Col H E Elliott.  This formation was well known to Essendonians, as many from the Essendon Rifles,  the 58 Infantry militia regiment had enlisted in the 7 Battalion. The 59 Battalion  was still under Pompey Elliott but he was now a Brigadier –General, and the 59 part of his 15 Brigade.


In Action in France



Warfusee-Abancourt,  France.August 1918.  AWM E02790.

B platoon,  29 Battalion,  listens to their officer prior to an advance. Ninth from left is another of Jack’s cousins, Timothy Leyden. Maurice and Phillip Leyden had also enlisted,  Maurice being MID and Commissioned. All Returned to Australia, with the brothers becoming Soldier Settlers. Timothy was gassed and the after effects caused his premature death. Ralph Lurati (stepsister Mary’s son) from Daylesford served on Gallipoli and RTA, but his sister’s son William was Killed in Action at Ypres in September 1917.


John was Taken on Strength on 2 November 1917,  a year after he had arrived in Europe. He was one of 250 Other Ranks being brought up to reinforce the 59 Battalion which was being withdrawn to a rest area after the battle of Polygon Wood. The troops travelled by bus to quiet,  comfortable dugouts near Messines on the Belgium French border then moving,  eventually settling 61 miles behind the lines. It was freezing cold and, with delayed mails, a bleak Christmas. Some release was felt with a major Divisional sports day with over 2000 troops attending a football match in the snow. In February 1918  they were entrained to be in reserve at Messines Ridge. It remained cold and foggy, with many gas attacks. A major German offensive was anticipated and troops prepared for mass attacks, constantly practicing rifle loading and bayonet thrusts. March 1918 was spent preparing the lines and carrying out raiding parties through the wire to capture prisoners and intelligence. Shelling was a constant hazard as were bombs dropped from aeroplanes.


In late March the troops were ordered up as reinforcements on the Somme,  to the south,  where there had been heavy fighting. The Germans had concluded a treaty with Russia and were withdrawing troops from there to amass more than one million men on the Western Front. The 59 Battalion  was ordered to another location with troops marching through a cold and rainy night to find English troops refusing to give up their billets. The 59 Battalion set up camp in a sodden field only to be ordered at 7-30 pm to undertake a night march of 21 miles to defend Amiens. They arrived exhausted but had to work speedily to construct a defensive line. The Unit diary records the weather as miserable,  heavy rain eventually forcing the troops into shelter. The men had been prematurely ordered to hand in winter kit and were so more affected by the weather. John,  ill with bronchitis, was evacuated via ambulance train on 3 April. He was moved successively further back behind the lines to a General Hospital. It was five weeks before John returned to the Somme Canal, just in time for an inspection by General Hobbs.


May and June were spent around Coissy in northern France, with the troops billeted in tents in the Allonville Woods. Some built huts and mia mias and there were competitions for the best constructions. The men were kept fit with organized sport such as target shooting and route marches,  the fields filled with flowers and new growth.


Camp in Allonville Woods 1918.  Watercolour by War Artist Albert Henry Fullwood.

Image courtesy AWM Accession Number ART 02482.


Paddy Scanlan’s Australian Irish Brigade


After this idyll the Brigade made its way back to the front line on the Somme River. They were assigned the task of attacking around Ville sur Ancre as a diverson from the main assault on Hamel.  This meticulously planned operation took 1000 yards of trench,  many prisoners and 17 machine guns. For his leadership of this attack the Officer Commanding the 59 Battalion, Col John Joseph Scanlan, received further decorations. Corfield describes Jack Scanlan as a masterful manager,  prudent and positive but not one recollected with warmth. His men, however, identified strongly with him,  many like Jack Kelleher sharing his Irish heritage.


The Front Lines and main battlefields in the last year of the War

Image courtesy Veterans SA https://veteranssa.sa.gov.au/story/the-great-war-april-1918/


The troops were then recalled for a spell but called back to take part in one of the more decisive actions of the war. This now known as the Glorious 8 August when all five AIF Divisions would go into action together alongside the Canadians and British. General Monash and his Commanders engaged in exceptionally detailed planning for the operation. The welfare of the men was not forgotten,  they being supplied beforehand with baths, clean clothing, rest and beer as well as a exhortation from Monash that was read to all troops. The Battle for Amiens was won in an exhilarating fashion,  the attack starting just after 4 am  and the 59 Battalion  hoisting the Australian flag on the church tower at 11am.


On 11 August troops were withdrawn for a brief  rest then put back in the line for tidying up operations. Troops were marched to various locations experiencing night shelling which disturbed rest but also had  the opportunity to bath daily in the surrounding canals welcomed because fine and warm weather. Several times they were warned for a stunt but plans constantly changed. All this movement brought them to Peronne which was to be the next target. This was an old fortified town overlooked by Mont St Quentin. As well as walls up to 30 feet high, Peronne was surrounded by waterways and marshes.


The attack was launched on 31 August, however the schedule fell behind because of the difficulty in establishing crossings across the rivers. Elliott himself went out and found that it was possible to pass in single file across the wreckage of a bridge. The 59 Battalion  were ordered by him to undertake this dangerous en file. The hazards of this mission were demonstrated by Pompey himself falling in the Somme,  such diverting news being quickly spread throughout the Brigade. The men advanced over a period of several days digging in at night. When they reached the town the bombardment was so heavy that the troops had to hole up in cellars with buildings being brought down around them. The men lay in Peronne under this intense barrage until Mont St Quentin was captured. This action was said to be the most brilliant achievement of the AIF.




Coming Out on the Somme,  charcoal sketch by War Artist Will Dyson December 1916.

Dyson said They looked like men who had been in hell,   without exception each man looked drawn and haggard,  they appeared to be walking in a dream and their eyes looked glassy. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial ART02276.


It was now a war of attrition. Whoever could hold on the longest would win. The Germans wished to delay a resolution till another winter had passed believing that this would gain them better terms. The Allies wanted to push forward to a victory whatever the cost,  as another winter would be a disaster. According to Bean,  (p 875) Monash wanted the men to yield up the last particle of effort of which they were capable and felt compelled to disregard the evident signs of overstrain. By this stage the AIF was facing a problem of an ever diminishing strength. In some cases Battalions could barely put 300 rifles into line. The problems were to be made worse by the planned withdrawal of 6000 original Anzacs for home leave. There was also a feeling among the troops that they had done more than their fair share of fighting and that with current losses and no reinforcements, that before long there would be no AIF.


By now the battle grounds were considerably broken up and marching to a point did not involve going in a straight line but slogging across up and down mud filled gullies,  pitted with old trenches,  shell holes,  barbed wire and the undiscovered dead. Desertion rates rose,  investigation revealing many men were nervous wrecks and were hiding away simply to sleep.


After capturing Peronne the men of the 59 Battalion  were relieved about 6pm on 4 September,  it being noted by Brigadier –General Elliott that they were too exhausted to eat. However, after only a few hours they were ordered to return to action lines. This order was then reversed and the men retraced their steps. Some slept in open trenches and those that made it to the billet line did not arrive until nearly 3-30 am and were described as sleep walking,  wan and haggard. (Corfield, p 447). Poison gas had been encountered and many were affected by this. 


At 5 am on 5 September,  about 90 minutes after they had arrived for a rest behind the lines, the 59 Battalion men were ordered to move forward. Half of A Company and all of B Company,  about sixty men in all refused to move. This was the first AIF Mutiny. The men were addressed by Scanlan, then a Staff Officer from Brigade HQ, then Pompey Elliott himself. He used  a combination of threats,  acknowledgement of their cause and a promise of an inquiry (into a serious shortage and irregular supply of rations).  What seemed to move the men most was his statements that the action saddened him, was a slur on the Battalion which was the offspring of the 7 Battalion that he had led at Gallipoli and on their gallant comrades who had fallen in battle. Corfield (p 297) in his detailed analysis of these events  infers that Scanlan, who offered his resignation over this incident, was as fed up as his men and supported them. After being given time to consider the troops moved off at about 8 am and stood to till about 8 pm. We do not know whether Jack was one of the men involved however this was the environment in which he was now serving. That day the Battalion’s Medical Officer submitted to his superiors the following formal note on the health and condition of the men of the 59 Battalion.


The men are one and all suffering from excessive fatigue,  loss of sleep and nervous strain.

In my opinion the limit of endurance has been reached for most of the men. 


Major Dr Hugh Slyvestor McLelland Battalion Medical Officer 

NSW State Archives. Digital ID: NRS9873_2_750_R3253


The men now were withdrawn to a rest line being camped in partially wrecked old British huts. B Company was temporarily disbanded and the men distributed to the other Companies. With the weather now warm and windy the Battalion marched,  with band playing,  into shelters well behind the lines but constructed in old trenches. These however did not prove weather proof when the rain came, and the men had to scavenge for materials to construct satisfactory accommodation. Equipment was inspected and renewed,   the men bathed and received fresh clothing and their packs. The band played nightly and a sports programme drawn up including a football match against the 60 Battalion. (It was close but the 60 Bn  won.) Over the next few days there were more matches with easy wins for the 59 Bn. There were diversions with enemy aircraft being shot down in their vicinity and a Brigade  parade for Prime Minister Hughes who, however, was a no show. There were also instructional training sessions,  every effort being made activities interesting as possible. Comforts funds gifts,  biscuits and cigarettes were distributed. The days progressed with the same routine being varied only by visits from a bevy of foreign newsmen and an inspectional tour by the Official Historian.


On 24 September troops were informed of a reorganization of their Battalion. This was due to the disbandment of the 60 Battalion,  which action had also provoked a mutiny from the men of this brother Battalion. Again they were pushed into obeying orders by Pompey’s coaxing and haranguing. The 60 Battalion, still wearing their colour patches,  became A and B Companies of the 59 Bn and the old 59 Bn became C and D Companies. All this must have been extremely unsettling, the Battalion Diary also noting the gradual withdrawing of the 1914 Personnel for home leave. On 27 September the Battalion marched out to be part of the attack on the Hindenburg Line. At 10-30 pm they arrived at their spot and camped in trench shelters.  The weather being cold blankets were issued.


The Hindenburg Line


At 4-30 am  the men were roused  and given a hot breakfast. The area was enveloped in a thick fog which was worsened by the laying down of a smoke barrage. Later the enemy deployed gas and troops wore their respirators into the attack. Observation and finding direction was difficult and by all accounts the 59 Bn got lost in the fog. Eventually Scanlan located and commanded a tank and the men pushed forward to the infamous Hindenburg Line.


There was much confusion caused by the Americans. This was their first major action and although enthusiastic they were inexperienced and had comparatively few officers. They attacked but failed to mop up machine gun posts and clear overrun trenches. The Australians who had been informed that objectives had been reached found themselves under attack from unexpected quarters. The Americans suffered heavy losses and with their leaders killed the US troops looked for guidance.


The battle was to continue for some days but the German defences had been breached and victory was within sight. At about 12-30 pm on 29 September  the Germans started another bombing attack. It is at this point apparently that John Kelleher was killed. He was in a trench with his company,  standing,  acting as lookout, when killed by the artillery blast. The troops moved onto continue the battle. At 4 am the following day they were relieved, then on 2 October retired to rest. The 59 Battalion had seen its last battle. By the time they were ready again for conflict Peace had been declared.


John’s Battalion had lost track of him from the time he was killed. His service record contains an entry for the 29/9 of Wounded in Action amended on the 5 October to Killed in Action. The Melbourne family knew of the death by mid-October as an Argus death notice appeared on 15 October. It was nearly a year later however before Grace was informed of the details. The official report seems to have relied heavily on the statements gathered by the Red Cross. The first was taken on 5 April 1919 from a man from C Company who knew how to spell Jack’s surname. The last,  a year later,  was from one of the men who had sailed with him on the Nestor and substantially agreed with the first. Curiously there is another from July 1919 which speaks of Jack going forward with his machine gun. No one,  especially this informant, Rex Clayton,  seems to have picked up that by 29 September Rex was in London,  having been wounded in action some six weeks before. So his authoritative report of John being buried where he fell and a cross being placed on the grave cannot be accurate. The Chaplain’s report to Grace indicates that her brother was buried by a party of another Division,  qualifying this with  I believe though I am not sure of this point. In fact the 59 Battalion had no record of the burial place, though one eventually was located. The grave was exhumed in May 1920 and the remains lie now in Bellicourt Cemetery.


What Happened Afterwards


John Kelleher’s service record consists of 86 pages. Little of this, however, related to his time with the AIF.  Most of the file consists of post war letters with various parties trying to determine how his estate stood. John’s will had not been professionally drawn up and he had not appointed any executors. It is also not clear where the will was lodged. Grace wrote a number of times to the military authorities asking if they held a will indicating that her brother had written to her saying that he intended to make a new will revoking his previous dispositions. She also indicated that his intentions would make a vast difference to those interested.


Grace never revealed Wilfred’s record to the authorities, but the inference is that John intended to cut out his brother. The will was not lodged for probate until September 1919, and then this was done by the Trustee Company that had managed the children’s affairs as minors. Although Grace had been nominated as Next of Kin she was consistently bypassed. John’s paltry effects were held back from her and given to the Trustees for distribution and John’s service medals were given to his eldest male relative, Wilfred. The estate was not wound up until mid-1921. Aunt Ann Price received John’s savings (£107) and deferred military pay (£112) and Wilfred his half share in 28 Taylor St (valued at £337).  Wilfred also bought John’s motor cycle and his Uncle Price the bicycle.


The Service Record contains a list of John’s recovered effects Although the parcel was addressed to Grace it was withheld and sent to the Trustees in December 1920.  It is not recorded how they were distributed.


Wilfred was released on parole in January 1919 and resided for several years at Taylor St.  The house was transferred to his name in May 1921 and he immediately sold the property. He then boarded in the Richmond area working as a butcher. He died in 1927. Mary Reidy Kelleher was mentioned in John’s October 1918 death notice in the Argus. However,  in 1920,  the Trustees trying to finalize the estate reported her as whereabouts unknown. In 1919 Grace married returned soldier James Patrick Fogarty who had been discharged from the AIF in June 1919. He had been raised in West Melbourne and it is likely that they were acquainted prior to his enlistment. James was a clerk /hospital warder and returned to the Lunacy Department post war. The couple had three children, however James died in 1934,  one of the several family tragedies that were to mark Grace’s long life. John’s twin reached their 90th birthday before an accident caused Grace's death in 1983.


No one took up the opportunity to personalize John’s war grave. His name was listed at Percydale on the School Honour Board (see Appendix B).  As one of the 59 Battalion's 811 Great War Dead, John’s name also appears on the massive (35 feet long) Honour Board in the Somme Barracks in Shepparton,  unveiled in 1959. John was, however, reunited in name with his parents,  his details being inscribed on the headstone of their grave at Melbourne Cemetery.


'In loving memory of Mary KELLEHER died 3 Mar 1899 also her beloved husband William died 26 May 1899 also their beloved sons Pte. Jack KELLEHER Killed in action 29 Sep 1918 Wilfred died 28 May 1927 R.I.P.'

 Image courtesy FindAGrave  Transcription courtesy of the Genealogical Society of Victoria.


© M Kenny 2021  


Appendix A


The Kelleher Moonee Ponds Properties in 1899


690 Mt Alexander Road. Built 1887. Land 24’10‘’ x 78’ along Blair St with brick residence of 5 rooms known as Reidyville,  rented for 7/6 pw. Municipal valuation £14. Land value £50 and house £200 Sold July 1916 for £380 and proceeds distributed to the children. This was the family home. By 2021 it had acquired a second storey and is known locally as The Pink House.


698 Mt Alexander Rd,  land of 18’ 2’’ x 148‘ 6’’. Brick cottage of 4 rooms,  let at 3/ per week - out of repair. Municipal valuation £8. Land value £36 and house £90. Willed to Grace.


The two cottages in Mount Alexander Road adjoining the Masonic Temple.

Photo courtesy google maps.


700 Mt Alexander Rd 15’10’’ x 148’6’’ House, let at 4/ per week. Municipal valuation £9. Land value £31,  house £120. Willed to Mary. Sold July 1916 for £300. Rated 1917-1925 to Grace Kelleher/Fogarty.


28 Taylor St Photo courtesy realestate.com


28 Taylor St 32’ x 132’5’’,  5 rooms brick villa. Land value £96,  house £360. Municipal valuation £ 23,  let for 11/6 per week. Willed jointly to Jack and Wilfred. Sold in 1921.


27 Brennan St land 76’9’’ x 72’9’’. Very old building,  four room cottage let at 3/pw. Municipal valuation £ 6. Land valued at £43,  cottage £20. This was Mrs. Kelleher’s dairy and brought under the Torrens title by her in 1877. Sold between 1900-1901 for £49.  This land now lies underneath Moonee Central.



Appendix B


Percydale State School Honor Roll  


Photograph courtesy Arthur Garland Places of Pride web site  


Name, Enlistment Number, Date of Birth, Age on Enlistment, Enlistment Date Name of Transport, Location of residence when at School, Date of Death or Return,Residence of Next of Kin,Occupation


1 Ebleing Gus,5/3/71,43, 29/4/14 ,?/10/14,No2 ,? /3/16, Avoca, Farmer and grazier

Leyden John Maurice 2175, 8/8/88, 26, 7/11/14, Ceramic, No 2, 6/11/18, Percydale, State School teacher

3 Robinson Robert Webster 2245, 18/10/94, 20, 27/9/15, Hororata, No 2, 5/4/19.Percydale, Farm Hand 

4 Sims Herbert Louis 4584, 25, 25/8/15, Themistocles, Percydale, 15/5/19, Avoca, Labourer

5 Lyons Philip James, 1994, 22, 6/1/15,17/4/15 Hororata, Percydale, 11/12/18 Percydale, Miner

6 Ryan John or Joseph, No 2

7 Leyden Phillip James, 11032, 14/2/91, 24, 24/8/15, Ascanius, No2, 7/2/19, Percydale, Labourer

8 Leerson Albert Henry, 1861, 41, 12/5/16, Orontes, No2, 7/2/19, Avoca, Farmer

9 Barnes Henry William 2790, 38, 26/6/15, Hororata, No 2, 16/8/16, Perth, Mill Hand

10 Barnes George Herbert 3118, 11/8/88, 32, 20/9/16, Berrima Both, 10/9/17, Perth, Clerk

11 Barnes Hurtle Edgar 2459, 4/5/95, 16/7/15, Demosthenes, Percydale, 19/7/16, Richmond, Ironworker

12 Turpin Henry,6357,30,,23/2/16,11/9/16,Euridides,Percydale,17/4/17,Percydale,Labourer

13 Tootell James 970, 13/2/95, 20, 9/7/15, 9/11/15 Wandilla, Percydale, 19/1/19, West Melbourne Painter

14 Hughes Albert Oscar 2668, 1/7/95, 21, 20/7/15, 27/10/15 Ulysses, Percydale, 24/8/19, Northcote, Letter carrier

15 Smith Leslie John 119, 30, 29/3/16, Ascanius, Percydale, 30/4/18, Richmond, Musician

16 Smith Percy Leo 4295, 26, 9/8/15, Demosthenes, Percydale, 30/4/19, Richomd, Postal employee

17 Smith James George 169, 37, 18/8/14, 21/10/14, Orvieto, 27/9/17, Port Melbourne, Tally Clerk

18 Barry George Thomas 6777, 35, 1/8/16, Ascanius, 3/3/18, Amphitheatre, Driver

19 Kelleher John Hunt 22/3/93, 23, 19/7/16 Nestor, No2, 29/9/18, Moonee Ponds, Farm Labourer

20 Turner Charles Herbert 3839, 28, 22/9/15, 22/12/15, Ajana, Percydale, 13/12/18, Western Australia, Forest Ranger

21 Doodt Charles Alfred, 2654, 28/2/95, 26/8/16, Nestor, Percydale, 16/3/19, Avoca, Farm Labourer

22 Hill C, Not on School Roll

23 Schofield Eric James Bromell 39007, Not on School Roll, 23, 22/1/17, 26/11/17 Indarra, 26/9/19, Moonee Ponds

24 Tootell Edward 5152, 17/4/97, 19, 9/3/16, 19/7/16, Armadale, Percydale, 24/4/18, West Melbourne, Driver

25 Wise Cyril Bertram, 19, 5/10/15, 29/5/15 Demosthenes, Percydale, 8/8/16, Tasmania, Driver

26 George John James 4122, 28, 118/15, 7/3/16, Percydale, 11/5/17, Bendigo, Farmer




Underlined Not identified

Blue identified by Anne Young Red identified by M Kenny

Residence on School Roll PD =Percydale, No 2 = No 2 Creek




Percydale State School was closed in 1942 because the number of pupils had dropped to five,  including two of Phillip Leyden’s daughters. At some stage the School’s Honour Board was moved to the RSL Memorial Hall in Avoca. It is not known when the Board was placed in the School or who took responsibility for compiling the names. In the period 1919-1920 the Education Department was strongly recommending to all Head Teachers that they compile Honour Books and encourage participation in memorialization projects. However several features of the listing suggest that someone other than the Head Teacher was involved.


The Board contains the names of 26 men, though not all attended Percydale School. In a number of cases the spelling of the surname differs from that on the School Roll and/or the School Roll gives a different first name presumably the name they were known by eg Maurice Leyden rather than John Maurice Leyden. The conclusion is the names on the Board were not checked against the school register.


Genealogist and Avoca local historian Anne Young has extensively researched the men from this district who enlisted in the 1914-18 War. Anne has identified 16 of the names on the Board and the author another eight. Two have not been found.


Interestingly only nine of the names also appear on the Avoca War Memorial which was dedicated in 1921. However Anne Young’s work has revealed the poor practices regarding the gathering of the names for this monument which resulted in only 44% of those local men who served being listed on the Memorial.

Robert Webster Robinson (Ex POW) was the informant for the Avoca Memorial as regards the Percydale names. The conclusion is that he did not check his listing of names against that on the Board.


More than half of the names, as judged by location of NOK, did not have any current affiliation with Percydale or the district. It is notable thus that the community was able to stay in touch with the fates of men so far flung.

Some like Leslie Smith reached out to write from abroad to old friends in the district and the publication of his letter in the Avoca Free Press would perhaps brought him and his brother to mind when the list was being compiled. But who was Cyril Wise’s connection? He had come into Percydale School from Paddington NSW and enlisted in Tasmania.  Someone knew of his time at the school and his service but not of his death.


Though John Kelleher’s name was not spelt correctly on the Board, someone knew he had been Killed in Action. Was that his Leyden relations or from him crossing paths with old schoolmates as he did with Charles Doodt? We know that the men often mentioned in their letters home the names of old friends and acquaintances. Several of Margaret Reidy Leyden’s children had settled in Western Australia and they may have been conduits for information regarding those who enlisted in that State.


One name familiar to Essendon residents is that of SchofieldEric was the son of Essendon Councillor James Schofield,  after whom the North Essendon street is named. The Schofields lived in The Strand in Moonee Ponds. James died suddenly in 1901 when Eric was seven. Eric’s uncle, the Rev George Schofield, had been pastor of the Wesleyan Avoca circuit from 1894-97 and some connection may have formed then which resulted in Eric being included on the Honour Board. Eric however was a local lad, being a crack shot with the Essendon Rifles




Many thanks yet again to Alex Bragiola for his generous sharing of data regarding the Kelleher properties in Moonee Ponds,  Bob Mckay for his untangling of the Percydale School Register and Lenore Frost for the identification of  Mary Reidy and John Kelleher. Anne Young and the Avoca Historical Society patiently assisted with queries regarding the Percydale Honour Board




Austin E      Percydale: short notes on its history,  1966 (manuscript)

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Australian War Memorial 59 Battalion war diary 4/23/76/1-23/76/38

Bean C E W      Official History of Australia in the War Volume VI – The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Allied Offensive,  1918 Angus and Robertson 1942

Corfield R S      Give me back my dear old Cobbers: the story of the 58th and 59th Australian Infantry Battalions 1913-1942. Corfield and Company,  Lara,  2008

Daylesford and District Historical Society      Letters from the Front: The experiences of Daylesford district WWI soldiers,  told through their letters home,  A Dobbs, J Files, and L Pitt, 2015
Hampton M.      The Impact on Australia and the Return of the AIF Aftermath,  Australia after the Great War,   proceedings of a Conference  Military History and Heritage Victoria April 2019.

Jones A.      Follow the Gleam A History of Essendon Primary Schoool 1850-2000 Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2000.

McMullin R.      Pompey Elliott at War: in his own words, Brunswick Scribe Publications,  2017 

The Victorian Interest Group,  Southern Suburbs Branch of the Genealogical Society of Queensland Percydale State School,  Victoria No 1042: history and admission register 1874-1942. Genealogical Society of Queensland Inc. 2006. 

Travers R      To Paint  a War, Thames & Hudson, Port Melbourne: 2017.

Victorian Place Names Percydale  https://www.victorianplaces.com.au/percydale

Vodicka P.      Major Gus Ebeling DSO: A Controversial Citizen and Soldier, 2020

Young A.      Avoca During World War 1 blog

Newspapers      Essendon Gazette,  Flemington Spectatator, Age, Argus,  Avoca Free Press, Avoca Mail

Public Records Office Victoria.      Wills and Probate, Shipping Records, Inquests,   Criminal Trial Briefs, Prison Records, School Records, Land Records  

Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Index

Sands and MacDougall Directories,   Electoral Rolls, Police Gazettes, Education Department Gazettes,  Victorian Government Gazettes,  cemetery records,   MMBW plans, rate books

Lands Departement Title Deeds

National Archives of Australia Service Records, Embarkation Rolls  



Pte. J. H. Kelleher, aged 25 years, was killed in action in France on 29th September last. He was the elder son of the late William and Mary Kelleher, of Moonee Ponds.


ROLL OF HONOR. (1918, October 17). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2 Edition: Morning. Retrieved August 29, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74607404


Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiries Correspondence

Kelleher, J 59th Bn, 2685 Pte

Killed in Action 29/9/18

I knew Casualty.  He was a well built man, about 5' 9, dark complexion, about 25 years of age, known as Jack.  Casualty was at Peronne during the advance and was going forward with his machine gun when a shell burst right at his feet killing him instantly.  I saw his body lying in the open shortly after.  He was buried where he fell and there was a cross erected.

Informant:  Pte R Clayton, No 5069
Private address:  85 Kerford Road, Albert Park.


*As we now know from Marilyn's investigation, Clayton was in England when Kelleher died. 



War Service Commemorated

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour With the Colours 


In Memoriam


KELLEHER - Officially reported killed in action
in France on the 29th September, Private John
Hunt Kelleher, beloved elder son of the late
William and Mary Kelleher, of Moonee Ponds, 
loved brother of Reidy, Grace, and Wilfred,
aged 25 years. Rest in Peace.

Family Notices. (1918, October 15). The Argus, p. 1.



No further notices in The Argus to 1921.

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