Ray Maher in later life. Courtesy of Florence and Keith Smith

Gunner Stephen Raymond Maher

Pakenham & District War Memorial

Born: 1894 - Noradjuha, near Horsham Victoria

Enlisted: 27 August 1914 aged 20 years

Unit: 3rd Field Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column (SERN: 2228)

Served: Egypt, Gallipoli & Western Front. 

Died: 24 December 1976 - Perth, Western Australia

 

Listed on the Pakenham War Memorial as “R. S. Maher” and known to his family as “Ray”, Stephen Raymond Maher was one of nine children born to Stephen Maher and his wife Bridget Catherine Ryan. The family moved around Victoria quite a bit as their father was posted to different police stations (1). In 1913, Constable Maher was transferred from Ferntree Gully to Pakenham, where he was stationed as the “mounted police constable”, undertaking his duties around the district on horseback (2). In 1914, Constable Maher lost his troop horse because Pakenham was to become a “bicycle station”. This change was derided by the locals as “impracticable”  given the nature of the duties, the local terrain and the condition of the roads. The decision was eventually reversed and Constable Maher got his horse back (3).

Ray was a 20 year old labourer when he enlisted on 27 August 1914, just weeks after war was declared. At the time, Ray was probably working with relatives of his mother on their property at Tallarook, near Seymour (4). Perhaps because of a clerical error, Ray’s war service was recorded under the name “Roy Maher” (5). Ray was the first of three Maher boys to see service overseas during WWI (6). He was assigned as a driver to the 3rd Australian Field Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column, and embarked from Australia for Europe in September 1914. However, the British diverted the Australian convoy to Egypt, where Ray was initially based at the Mena camp, located in the shadow of the ancient Pyramids of Giza. In April 1915, he was assigned to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) which was assembling for the Allied attack against the Ottoman Empire at the Dardanelles. Ray was sent to Gallipoli with the 3rd Brigade, Australian Field Artillery, but was returned to Egypt with the horses which were not landed because the rough and hilly terrain was not suitable for them (7). After returning to Egypt, Ray was in camp near Alexandria. He wrote to his mother Bridget that the sun there felt like “200 in the shade” and that the flies “would drive a fellow mad” (8). There was a train and a tram into the city though, which was only nine miles away and the soldiers were able to slip away to go to places such as the races. And “best of all, the beach is only about a quarter of an hour’s walk. We go down to swim the horses now and then, but go ourselves every evening. It is where all the tourists come for their holidays, and there are a lot of English and French people there, so we have a good time with them. I only wish I could speak French; I can only speak a little of it, also a little Egyptian {Arabic} - just enough to be understood”. In this letter home, Ray also mentioned that people in Egypt knew little about Australia, thinking it was a small island and that they were surprised to learn it was the size of Europe and inhabited mostly by Europeans. Ray was also looking forward to Italy’s imminent entry into the War, thinking it would “make a difference” (9). 

In March 1916, Ray was transferred to the 8th Battery and then proceeded to France, where he subsequently fought on the Western Front (10). In January 1917, he reverted to the rank of gunner at his own request. Ray served with his unit in France until late June, after which he was in and out of hospital (including in England) for various conditions. He returned to his unit in December 1917 (11). Back home, the fact that Ray was one of the original Anzacs was used to encourage other men from the Berwick Shire to enlist. The campaign very much appealed to mateship and the Australian sense of fairness, noting that soldiers like Ray had been away for 1,000 days and needed to be brought home for a rest, which could only happen if recruitment quotas were met. Young men were therefore asked to step forward to enlist in the place of their “pals” at the Front (12). It is not known if anyone did so to replace Ray. By October 1918, he was on his way home (via Taranto in Italy) for the special “1914 Leave” that the Australian Government fought hard with the British authorities to arrange for the original Anzacs from 1914. The news that Ray was on his way home was greeted with great excitement in Pakenham. He was to have attended a special soldiers’ welcome home in November 1918 (13). However, Ray fell sick with enteric fever on the voyage home and was disembarked and hospitalised at Fremantle. This news did not reach Ray’s family in time and a number of his relatives had gone up to Melbourne to greet him at the wharf. There was inevitably disappointment and anxiety when it was realised that Ray was not aboard the ship. Some of Ray’s comrades told his family that he had been taken off the ship to hospital in Western Australia. This was later confirmed later by letters from the Army, Red Cross and YMCA, which confirmed Ray was convalescing  (14). 

 

Ray was subsequently discharged from the Army in Perth on 4 May 1919 on the grounds of “debility and post enteric”. He gave his address as “Post Office, Fremantle” (15). From the electoral rolls, it appears that by 1921 Ray was working as a labourer in Carnarvon (16). In 1924, he asked that the Army issue his remaining war medals to his sister Mary Monica Maher (17). The following year, Ray married Irene Lee. The couple headed back to Pakenham for a period (18), before returning to Western Australia, where they settled in the wheat belt. Ray became a farmer on a property called “Lakeside” via Dukin near Koorda (19). There, he and Irene raised a family. Later, they lived at Mundaring, near Perth. Ray died on 24 December 1976 aged 82. He was buried in Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth. Irene survived Raymond by over 20 years, dying in Perth in October 1999, aged 99 years. 

 

The assistance of Ray’s daughter, Florence Smith and grandson, Keith Smith, is gratefully appreciated. 

 

Sources:

(1) Advocate 4/12/1915, p. 38. 

(2) Argus 3/4/13 p. 5; 

(3) Dandenong Advertiser 7/5/14, p. 2 & Bunyip Free Press 4/6/1914 p. 3

(4) (5) (10) (11) (15) & (17) NAA B2455 MAHER ROY 

(6) According to the Advocate 9/2/1939, p. 34 a fourth Maher boy volunteered but did not go overseas. Also see  www.caseycardinia1914-1918.blogspot.com/2016/07 

(7) (8) & (9) Dandenong Advertiser 15/7/1915 p. 2

(12) Pakenham Gazette 27/7/1917 p. 3

(13) Pakenham Gazette 6/12/1918 p. 3

(14) Pakenham Gazette 13/12/1918, p. 2

(16) Ancestry - Electoral Roll - Dampier - Gascoyne - 1921 p. 11

(18) Ancestry.com - Electoral Roll  - Flinders - Pakenham - 1927 p, 19

(19) Information provided by Keith Smith.​

© 2018 Berwick - Pakenham Historical Society. Proudly created with Wix.com