Courtesy of Neville Smith

Lieutenant William Cedric Smith

Pakenham South War Memorial

Born: 1888 - Geelong, Victoria                         

Enlisted: 10 June 1915 aged 27

Unit: 7th Battalion, 8th Reinforcement (SERN: 2665)        

Served: Egypt, Gallipoli, Western Front

Died: 20 October 1965 - Geelong, Victoria 

 

Known as “Bill”. William was the son of William Joseph Smith and his wife Annie of South Geelong. When he enlisted in June 1915, Bill was a 27 year old engineer. He had previously been rejected for service with the AIF because of varicose veins (1). Bill was initially assigned to the 7th Battalion, 8th Reinforcement at the Seymour Army Camp. He left Australia on 26 August 1915 and was taken on strength with B Company, 7th Battalion at the Anzac Advance Base at Mudros on 20 November 1915. With winter approaching, it was cold in the trenches at Gallipoli (there had even been snow fall) and by the time the Australians were evacuated in mid December, Bill had contracted influenza and was subsequently hospitalised in Alexandria. After recovering, he was transferred to the 2nd Machine Gun Company and subsequently saw action on the Western Front in France and Belgium. There, Bill was rapidly promoted, reaching the rank of Sergeant by September 1917. In February 1918, he was recommended for a bravery award following the capture of the strategically important Broodseinde Ridge in October 1917 (2). As the Australians consolidated their positions, Bill’s was subject to a heavy bombardment by the Germans. He was buried as a result of an explosion, but managed to extricate himself. Alone and under heavy enemy fire, Bill freed seven other men who had been buried too. Further, when the opportunity came to be relieved from the Front Line, Bill instead requested to remain, despite what were described as extremely bad conditions. In recommending Bill for an award, his commanding officer wrote: “This NCO has at all times displayed excellent leadership and he always sets a splendid example to the men under him” (3). 

Bill didn’t get a medal, but his leadership qualities were soon recognised in another way: in May 1918, he was selected for training as an officer cadet. Bill successfully completed this training and was attached to the No 5 Officer Cadet Battalion at Cambridge in England. Bill then had to complete a machine gun course to qualify for a commission in the newly established 1st Machine Gun Battalion. Bill was still in England when the War ended in November 1918. The following month, he was appointed as a Second Lieutenant with the General Infantry Reinforcements. Bill was then taken on strength with the 1st Machine Gun Battalion in France in January 1919, and subsequently commissioned as a Lieutenant on 17 March 1919. Shortly afterwards, his unit was finally “marched out” to England for eventual return to Australia. Bill left England on the HMAT Ypiringa in May 1919 and arrived back in Melbourne in July 1919. In October, he married Mabel Coe. His commission as an army officer was terminated on 23 December 1919, after four and a half years with the AIF (4).                                             

After returning, Bill obtained a position with the Victorian Lands Department and initially requested vocational training in cabinet making, but later sought to acquire land under the soldier-settlement scheme (4a) He applied for a soldiers’ settler block at Pakenham South in 1922. In his application, Bill noted that he had eight years’ experience before the War farming in Geelong and the Mallee. He was granted a 60 acre block in Hagelthorn’s Estate off the Koo Wee Rup Road, which he named “Merville” (5). There, Bill and Mabel went in for mixed farming (including dairying, vegetables and flax) and raised seven children. In many ways, it was still pioneering days at Pakenham South and Rythdale. Material for Bill and Mabel’s first house (which cost £250 plus £20 for a bathroom) had to be brought in by bullock team. There was no power, fridge or ice chest, so drinks and perishables were kept down the well or under the water tank. Not owning a car at first, Bill also had to walk into Pakenham East to shop. Mabel would climb the windmill to see Bill coming home across the paddocks, with sugar bags of groceries on his back. She would then put on Bill’s meal. Their children also remember the snakes. On one occasion, Bill killed 27 black snakes in one day. On another, after Bill had acquired a truck, he couldn’t get it to start. He then hooked it up to up a horse and towed it into Koo Wee Rup. The mechanic tried to put the crank handle in but it still wouldn’t go. On further inspection it was discovered that the crank handle hole through the lower radiator was obstructed by a black snake! (6).

The real challenge though, was the regular flooding. In 1924, the family had to be evacuated to the Jeremiah property (7). As  the Smith family grew, Bill and Jack Ellett constructed a large room at the rear of the house with a slightly higher floor. When the 1934 floods came, the family was alerted to the rising water by the dog scratching at the door (8). So Bill, who always cooked breakfast, put five kids in the bed in that room and supplied them with a dish of porridge with five spoons! (9). The regular flooding made the block hard going for Bill. As one Closer Settlement Board (CSB)  inspector noted: “Reports all indicate that Lessee is an honest, hard-working and good farmer. He has a very wet block, and suffered severely in the 1934 flood. Block is well worked, but on account of the continual flooding, the block gets wet, especially in the winter and grows a lot of swamp reeds. Poor land ...” [sic] (10). In fact, at one stage, Bill considered walking off the property (11), but ended up persevering and eventually made a go of it. This included seeking a solution (albeit clandestinely) to his block’s water problem. When access to a large drain on the McGregor Estate was denied, Bill and another neighbour burrowed under Soldiers’ Rd and the drain bank; fitted a flood gate, and dispersed the soil they had dug out over Bill’s paddocks (12). They did all of this at night to avoid detection! Over time, Bill also acquired additional land as it became available, including the neighbouring block which had been farmed by Fred Lomax (12a).  

In 1936, Bill’s daughter Dorothy wrote to the Weekly Times describing “Merville”: by then, it was 186 acres with seven “good grass paddocks”. The family had 16 milking cows, six springing heifers, five yearlings, three horses, two foals, “Lady Mabel” (Dorothy’s pony), 450 fowls and chickens, a little goat, four sows, a boar and eighteen young pigs (13). Bill’s daughters, who were active in the local Pakenham South Young Farmer’s Club, were responsible for looking after the cows and Dorothy entered some into district shows. One was named “Princess Marina” in honour of a member of the Royal Family! The girls and Bill’s older son Lindsay, also scuffled potatoes, mowed grass hay and worked on the asparagus and flax crops (14). In 1945, Bill received a record £10 per ton for his flax from the Koo Wee Rup flax mill (15). 

In addition to farming, Bill and Mabel were also active members of the local community. In 1924, Bill became the inaugural President of the Rythdale sub-branch of the RSL (16). He used to walk over to Bumper Gee’s property for the meetings in the evening, carrying a hurricane lantern and stepping from tussock base to tussock base to keep his feet dry (17). Mabel served on the Pakenham State School Committee in the late 1930s (18). In the late 1940s, the Smiths sold “Merville” and moved to a house in Rogers Street, Pakenham East (19). In early 1950, Bill and Mabel moved back to Geelong (20), although a number of their children remained in the district, having married into local families. Bill died in 1965, and was survived by Mabel who later lived with her daughter Alison Cornwall in Pakenham (21). Later Mabel moved back to the Geelong district where she died in 1994 aged 99 (22). 

The assistance of Bill’s children Neville Smith, Elaine Whiston, Merle Cooper and Rosemary Hooper; and Carolyn Connor is gratefully acknowledged.

Sources: 

(1) (2) & (4) NAA B2455 SMITH W C  

(3) AWM 28 1/34 Part 2 - 12 February 1918  

(4a) NAA 2487 1921/8939

(5) (10) & (11) PROV VPS 5714/P0/927 Item 1165/12 

(6) (9) (12) (12a) (17) & (19) Information provided by Neville Smith 

(7) (8)  & (21) Back to Cardinia (1984) p. 116 

(13) Weekly Times 25/1/1936 p. 45  

(14) & (15) Weekly Times 6/6/1945 p. 8

(16)  Back to Cardinia (1984) p. 88 

(18) The Age 11/3/1937, p. 12

(20) Dandenong Journal 22/2/1950 p. 15  

(22) Information from Ancestry.com.au      

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