Methuselah was one of six Pakenham Diggers who rode in the Armistice Day parade held in November 1918. Courtesy of Debbie Ellett Hajduk.
Private Methuselah Covey
Pakenham & District War Memorial
Born: 24 November 1881 - Guilford, Surrey England
Enlisted: 12 February 1916 aged 34
Unit: 21st Battalion, 12th Reinforcement (SERN: 4691)
Served: Western Front
Died: 26 May 1963 - Ascot Vale, Victoria
The son of William Covey and Isabella Matthews, Methuselah was baptised in February 1882 at St Nicholas’s Church in Alfold, near Hambleton Surrey England, where his father was an agricultural labourer (1). After leaving school, Methuselah worked as a domestic groom in Alfold (2) before joining the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. He served eight years including in South Africa and India. In 1910, he married Elizabeth Rosemond, and emigrated to Victoria in 1912 (3). They initially settled at Mansfield where Methuselah worked as a groom (4). Methuselah was working as a rabbit trapper around Pakenham when he enlisted in March 1916 (5). Methuselah enlisted at a time when there was a major recruitment drive underway to replenish and expand the AIF following the Gallipoli campaign. Under a scheme worked out by the War Council, shires were given recruitment quotas to meet. Berwick Shire was asked to supply nearly 100 soldiers, plus 33 reinforcements each month after that. Methuselah was one of 173 men from the Shire who answered the call by May 1916 (6). After time in camp at Ascot Vale and Broadmeadows, Methuselah embarked from Australia in April 1916 with the 21st Battalion 12th Reinforcement.
In November 1916, Methuselah was taken on strength with the 21st Battalion in France and subsequently served as a signaller (7). In February 1917, Methuselah was hospitalised with malaria. This was likely a relapse of a disease originally contracted in South Africa or India. After recovering, Methuselah rejoined his unit in late February but was later hospitalised again with “carbuncle neck”. Methuselah rejoined his unit again just before Christmas 1917, but in March 1918 he wrote to the military authorities seeking to be discharged and returned to Australia. Methuselah explained that two of his brothers had been killed in the War while a third was a prisoner of war (POW) in Germany. As a result, he was now required to support the latter’s wife and child in England in addition to his own wife and child in Australia. Perhaps to add weight to his case, he stated he was 41 years old! In support of Methuselah’s application, a Lieutenant Faradon noted that Covey was of exemplary character, had served in most of the Battalion’s operations in France, but was “old and is troubled with bad feet”. The request was subsequently granted for family reasons, with Methuselah being discharged in Melbourne on 21 June 1918 (7). He had served 861 days in the army, including 1 year and 8 months at the Front (8). Methuselah returned to his family in Pakenham.
Following the Armistice in November 1918, a special parade and picnic was organised in Pakenham to celebrate. Methuselah and several other returned Diggers participated, riding horses in the parade (9). On 28 November, Methuselah was amongst the returned soldiers officially welcomed home at a special social event held at the Pakenham Mechanics’ Institute and presented with gold medallions from the grateful community (10). Within days of his discharge, Methuselah had applied under the Discharged Soldiers‘ Settlement Act 1917 for a 100 acre block of land in Gippsland for mixed farming. In December, he was granted a 140 acre block on what had been part of the famous IYU Estate in Pakenham, which had been divided into dairying lots for returned soldiers. His repayment schedule was to be over 39.5 years.
Unfortunately, in 1921 Elizabeth Covey became seriously ill and required major surgery. The local medical practitioner, Dr Douglas White recommended the Coveys leave the farm as to remain would risk a complete breakdown of Elizabeth’s health. On these grounds, Methuselah was permitted to leave the farm in September 1921 (11). Elizabeth’s health though, does not seem to have improved and she died in 1924 aged just 48 (12).
After leaving the farm, Methuselah worked for many years with the Outdoors Department of Berwick Shire (13). He was also active in the early days of the local sub-branch of the Returned Sailors‘ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia (now the RSL), serving on the first committee established in 1919 (14). Methuselah also played district cricket with the “Pakenham Stars” team which included several returned soldiers in its lineup. Methuselah left the District in the late 1930s and eventually settled in Ascot Vale. He was working for the Postmaster General’s Department (PMG) as a cable joiner when he enlisted for service again in WWII as a private (V92073). He served with the 9th Garrison Battalion (15). Methuselah died in May 1963, aged 81 years. He was survived by his second wife and his daughter (16).
(1) (2) and (4) Information sourced from Ancestry.com.au
(3) & (7) NAA B2455 COVEY M
(5) Ancestry.com.au - Electoral Roll - Indi - Mansfield 1913 p. 11 & 1915 p. 5
(6) Berwick Shire News 3/5/1916 p. 3
(8) & (11) PROV VPS 5714/P0 Unit 822 File 713/12
(9) Pakenham Gazette 22/11/1918 p. 2
(10) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 12/12/1918 p. 2
(11) Pakenham Gazette 4/4/1924 p. 3
(12) (13) & (16) Pakenham Gazette 31/5/1963 p.1
(14) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 24/4/1919, p. 2
(15) WWII Nominal Roll - www.ww2roll.gov.au