Courtesy of John Lasich and Alice Taylor
Private William Edward Lasich
Pakenham South War Memorial
Born: 6 August 1891 - Maffra, Victoria
Enlisted: 1 August 1916 aged 25
Unit: 3rd Pioneer Battalion, 7th Reinforcement (SERN: 3313)
Served: Western Front
Died: 19 February 1928 - Pakenham, Victoria
Known as “Will”, William Edward Lasich is honoured on the Pakenham South War Memorial. He was one of the post-war soldier-settlers who made that area his home after WWI. Will was the son of Antony (Antonio) Lasich and Sophie Wright. His grandfather, Nicholas Lasich migrated from Croatia to Victoria in 1859 and eventually settled at Dargo in the Gippsland high country, where he acquired mining and farming interests (1). Will was 25 and working on farms around Yarragon, when he enlisted (2). He travelled to the Melbourne Town Hall to do so (2a). Will responded to a campaign to recruit 88 men from the Narracan Shire (3) He was eventually assigned to the 3rd Pioneers, which was a front line engineering unit. Will left Australia in August 1917, arriving in Glasgow in October. After further training in the UK, he proceeded to France in February 1918. A few days later, Will was admitted to hospital with measles and was not taken on strength with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion until 12 April 1918. His duties included trench digging, bridge building and wire entanglements (3a). Just over a month later, on 26 May 1918, Will was wounded in action, being gassed (4). At the time, the 3rd Pioneers were at Villers-Bretonneux. According to the Unit’s War Diary, on the night of 25/26th May: “the enemy put down a very heavy and continuous Mustard Gas ... and H.E. [high explosive] bombardment. ‘A’ & ‘D’ Coys, plus 1 Platoon of ‘B’ Coy ... sustained many casualties. 127 “O.R” [other ranks] were evacuated from this battln [battalion] gassed - chiefly through their eyes being affected by the gas and mustard oil burning” (5). Will rejoined his unit from hospital on 22 July 1918, but was hospitalised again in August 1918. When he rejoined the 3rd Pioneers in late September 1918, the War was almost over.
In May 1919, Will was sent to England pending repatriation to Australia. While waiting, he visited Guernsey in the English Channel, where his mother’s family was from. There, Will met Clarice Blondel. After a whirlwind courtship, Will and Clarice married in July 1919. They returned to Australia in February 1920, with Will being discharged from the Army the same month (6). Will initially took Clarice back to Yarragon (7). They began a family, with the joy of five children born over the next few years, but also the heartache of losing one in infancy. Around Yarragon, Will was engaged initially with odd jobs including harvesting, building and gardening before he applied for a soldier-settler block (8). He sought land in Gippsland (preferably near Yarragon) for mixed farming, including dairying, poultry farming, pig-rearing, bee keeping, and potato and fodder cultivation (9). In support of his application, Will pointed to ten years‘ farming experience from the age of 13 until the War. He also explained Clarice’s own experience: ten years‘ study of botany, plus a year’s course in rural science and practical experience of market gardening and poultry farming. Will’s application was supported by a number of referees from Yarragon who attested to his good character and farming competency (10). He was eventually allocated a block in Hagelthorn’s Estate at Pakenham South, which he took possession of in 1922. Will and Clarice named the property “Blondelfield” (11). There, he went in primarily for potato growing (12). It was tough going though: Will had his first two potato crops ruined due to flooding, while the third was partially ruined by blight. He estimated his average return from 1922/23 to 1926/27 was just £100 per year (13). This was less than the average wage and out of such a meagre sum, he had to cover his operating expenses and raise his young family. Will also had a health set back in 1927, undergoing an operation to remove his appendix in early 1927. Clarice had also not been well. Will successfully had some of his interest payments reduced because of his circumstances, and was planning “to put a big acreage under crop next season” (14).
Tragedy though, struck in February 1928, when Will died of meningitis (15). He was just 36 years old. The Pakenham Gazette reported William’s death in the following terms: “Sincere regret was felt throughout the district when it became known that Mr William Edward Lasich had passed away at Pakenham Hospital on Sunday evening last. The late Mr Lasich, who was a returned soldier, had resided at Hagelthorn’s Estate for about six years, during which time he made many friends. He leaves a widow and four children, and they have the sympathy of the whole community in their sad bereavement” (16). In 1929, the Closer Settlement Board invited tenders to remove a weatherboard house and sheds from the Lasich’s former property in Pakenham (17). Will’s untimely death must have been devastating for Clarice both emotionally and financially, particularly given how young her children were: the eldest, Bill was not yet 8 years old, while the youngest Doreen was just an infant. To support her family, Clarice obtained a position at the one-teacher school at Rokeby near Warragul, where she taught until 1935, apparently on the proviso that her children were guaranteed places in good schools when they reached high school age. During school holidays, the boys often went to Dargo to spend time with their uncles and grandmother, Sophie (18). In the mid 1930s, Clarice and her family moved to Melbourne (19), no doubt so the children could progress their education. Two of her sons, Bill and Norman, served during WWII (20). Interestingly, Bill was subsequently awarded a PhD in nuclear physics by Melbourne University in 1950 (21) and became a leading Australian academic in that field. Clarice, who never re-married, died in June 1976 - nearly fifty years after William passed away.
The assistance of William’s grandchildren, John Lasich and Alice Taylor is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) Sutalo (2014) p. 53
(2) (4) (6) (11) NAA B2455 LASICH, WILLIAM EDWARD
(2a) Herald 4/10/1916, p. 1.
(3) Trafalgar and Yarragon Times 15/12/1916, p. 8
(3a) (8) (9) (10) (12) (13) & (14) PROV VPS 10381/P0 Unit 198 Item 5077/86.6
(5) AWM 14/15/19 War Diary - 3rd Pioneer Battalion May 1918 p. 4
(7) Ancestry.com.au - ER - Gippsland - Yarragon - 1922 p. 7.
(15) & (18) Information provided by the Lasich family
(16) Pakenham Gazette 24/2/1928 p. 2
(17) The Age 16/11/1929 p. 10
(19) Information from Ancestry.com.au
(21) Argus 15/4/1950, p. 1