Donald Caldwell Black in Uniform of AIF

Courtesy of Trevor Black 

Private Donald Caldwell Black

Pakenham & District War Memorial & Pakenham Upper Roll of Honour

Born: 29 December 1891 - Ascot Vale, Victoria

Enlisted: 23 October 1916 aged 24

Unit: 8th Battalion, 24th Reinforcement (SERN: 7201)

Served: Western Front

Died: 08 June 1964 -  Dandenong, Victoria


Donald was the second of Thomas and Margaret Black’s sons to enlist, doing so in October 1916. Donald was nearly 25 at the time, and working as an orchardist on “Boneidah”, one of the family properties in Pakenham Upper. Interestingly, “Boneidah” was the local Aboriginal name for the place where the orchard was located (1). Donald was initially in camp at the Domain, then Royal Park, before being assigned to the 8th Battalion, 24th Reinforcement as a private (2). A social farewell was held at Pakenham Upper in November 1916 for Donald, together with Charles Johnstone. Other local volunteers, including Alexander Priest and Charles Warner, could not be present. On behalf of the community, Frank Wisewould presented Donald and Charles with wallets, expressing “the hearty wishes of all present for their safe return” (3). 

In February 1917, Donald departed Melbourne for England on the HMAT Ballarat. Charles Johnstone was travelling on the same troop ship. Towards the very end of the voyage, on Anzac Day 1917, a torpedo fired by a German U-Boat hit the Ballarat 35 miles off the Cornwall coast. It took four hours for the ship to sink and fortunately none of the 1,800 troops on board were lost. Indeed, it was reported that the men, with “indomitable spirit”, sang songs, played cards and even auctioned off the sinking ship (bids reached the princely sum of 2 shillings and 9 pence!) while waiting for the life boats to be lowered (4). Donald made it off safely, though he lost his belongings as a result. After this “first taste” of the War, Donald underwent further training in England before being taken on strength with the 23rd Battalion in France on 1 September 1917. Shortly thereafter, the 23rd Battalion moved to the Belgian battlefields, where the Third Battle of Ypres was about to begin. Donald subsequently fought at Broodseinde Ridge in October 1917, where the Australians captured a strategically important position (5). In early 1918, Donald had a “chance meeting” with another Pakenham Upper volunteer, Robert Ramage, while serving in the trenches. As the Dandenong Advertiser reported,  “needless to say the ‘soldier boys’ were glad to meet” (6). 

Donald was shot and wounded in the left arm on 15 May 1918 while the 23rd Battalion was operating in the front lines near Ville-sur-Ancre. He was hospitalised in France. News of Donald’s injury reached Pakenham Upper at the time his younger brother Bruce was enlisting: “Messrs Bruce Black and Lyn Holdenson [sic] have enlisted and will shortly go into camp. News has been received that Private Donald Black has been wounded, but it is not known how seriously. His many friends hope he has escaped lightly. No further information is to hand about Private John Doyle, who was also wounded, and is in an English hospital” (7). His sweetheart back home, Alice Moyle (a member of another Pakenham Upper family), sent Donald a short telegram while he was recovering in hospital. It read:  “Cheer up Don. Love from Alice Moyle” (8). Donald retained that telegram all his life. After recovering, Donald rejoined his unit on 30 July 1918. In late September, Donald was granted a few days’ leave in England. At the time, most Australian forces were being withdrawn from the front line for a well deserved break (9). By the time Don returned to France, the War had little more than a month to run. On the day of the Armistice (11 November), Donald had leave in Abbeville. He was later billeted in Charleroi, before beginning his journey home to Australia, via England and South Africa, where Donald witnessed the enthusiastic celebrations following the signing of the peace treaty (10). Donald arrived back in Melbourne on 5 September 1919. In early October, he was officially welcomed home to Pakenham Upper, together with most of the other local diggers. At the event, Donald and his brother Wallace were the first to receive special certificates of service presented on behalf of the Pakenham Upper community by Justice Frederick Mann (later Sir Frederick Mann, Chief Justice of Victoria). A certificate was also presented to the Black family in honour of Robert, who had been killed in action (11). Donald was discharged from the Army on 13 October 1919. He had served a total of 929 days overseas (12). On July 29 1920, Donald married his sweetheart Alice at her family’s property Allowah” (13). The couple eventually had three children: Margaret, Elizabeth and Fergus. 

Donald returned to orcharding. For many years, Donald and his brother Wallace (Wally) operated “Boneidah” together, becoming local leaders in the apple industry. Over the years, their export quality apples won awards not only at the local show, but also interstate, including at the Royal Brisbane Show (14). The advice of the Black brothers on various aspects of apple growing was published in the press from time to time (15). Both Donald and Wally were active in the Pakenham Upper Fruit Growers’ Association and Progress Association (16). Donald also took a keen interest in the welfare of the wider fruit industry in Gippsland and Victoria. He wrote for example, letters to the newspapers arguing for a better price from the government for the 1939 crop (17). Over the years, Donald played a leading civic role in the Pakenham Upper community too. He was a local Justice of the Peace (JP), member of the Pakenham Upper Public Hall and Library committee and Recreation Reserve committee (18). Donald was inaugural president of the Pakenham Upper Fire Brigade in 1940 (19). He was also active in the local Presbyterian Church and a keen freemason, becoming Master of the Pakenham Lodge in 1937 (20). During WWII, Alice Black was president of the Pakenham Upper Red Cross (21).  

Donald and Alice remained at Pakenham Upper until 1962, when Donald retired from the orchard after 53 years (with the exception of his time in the AIF). The Pakenham Upper community organised a social evening to farewell Don and Alice. At the event, Ashley Smart, another long-time Pakenham Upper resident, spoke of the substantial contribution Don,Alice and their parents had made to the “establishment of Pakenham Upper on such a firm basis” (21a). Don and Alice moved to King St Dandenong. Donald died in June 1964, aged 72. The Pakenham Gazette paid tribute to Donald as “a man with strong convictions and high ideals” and a “quiet, genuine man” who “endeared himself to everyone” (22). 

The assistance of Donald’s grandchildren Trevor Black and Helen Urban is gratefully acknowledged.



(1), (8), (10) & (21) Information provided by Trevor Black, grandson of Donald Black

(2), (5) & (9)  NAA CRS B2455 - BLACK, D C 

(3) Dandenong Advertiser 30/11/1916, p. 2

(4) Port Adelaide News 20/5/1930, p. 4 & NWFHG (2016), p. 7

(6) Dandenong Advertiser 17/2/1918, p. 2

(7) Dandenong Advertiser 6/6/1918, p. 2

(11) Pakenham Gazette 10/10/1919 p.3

(12) Donald Black’s army pay book 

(13) Argus 28/08/1920 p. 13

(14) See Dandenong Journal 9/4/1931, p. 7; Argus 29/3/1938 p. 4; West Australian 7/8/1939, p.11.

(15) Weekly Times 14/5/38, p.26;  21/5/1938, p. 28; 2/7/1938, p. 22.

(16) Dandenong Journal, 22/7/1937 p. 8

(17) The Age 3/11/1939 p. 10; also Argus 3/11/1939, p.2 & Dandenong Journal 8/11/1939, p.13 

(18) Dandenong Journal 25/7/1945, p. 2

(19) Dandenong Journal 3/1/1940, p. 12

(20) Argus 13/9/1937, p. 16

(21) Pakenham Gazette 12/1/1962, p. 2

(22) Pakenham Gazette 19/6/1964, p. 1