Courtesy of Merle Hayes
Private Robert James Warren
Pakenham & District War Memorial & Pakenham Upper Roll of Honour Roll
Born: 8 May 1897 - Carlton, Victoria
Enlisted: 14 February 1916 aged 18
Unit: 21st Battalion, 13th Reinforcement (SERN: 5099)
Served: Western Front
Died: 14 July 1966 - Heidelberg, Victoria
Known as “Bob”, Robert was a son of Robert Charles Warren and his wife Catherine Quinn. The Warrens were a pioneering family, first settling at Pakenham Upper / Nar Nar Goon North in the 1870s. Their property at Nar Nar Goon North was known as “Cherry Hill”. Apparently when they first took up the property, there were still koalas in the trees (1). Eventually, an apple and pear orchard was established, while the family also went in for saw milling (2). Robert’s father also had a bullock team (3). The Warrens were said to be “associated with all that was best with North Nar Nar Goon” (4). Warren Road is named in their honour. Bob attended school at Nar Nar Goon (5) and Nar Nar Goon North, before following in his father’s footsteps as an orchardist. He was just 18 year old when he enlisted at Berwick on 14 February 1916 (6).
Bob was subsequently assigned to the 21st Battalion, 13th Reinforcement at Seymour and embarked for England in July 1916. He was taken on strength with the 21st Battalion in France just after Christmas 1916. During 1917, the 21st Battalion participated in major battles on the Western Front at Bullecourt, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Ypres and Broodseinde Ridge. On 24 April 1918, Bob was gassed (7) in the vicinity of Lavieville - Millencourt, near Albert (8). When this was reported back home, it was noted that Bob had “been through some of the most important battles” (9). He rejoined his Battalion three months later. In October 1918, Bob was transferred to the 24th Battalion (10). Meanwhile, back in Nar Nar Goon North, members of the Warren family and their Olsen cousins were active in patriotic fund raising and other activities, including the local Nar Nar Goon North branch of the Red Cross (11). Bob’s mother used to bake puddings and cakes to send to soldiers serving overseas. On one occasion, she put her daughter Grace’s name on one - it was received by two Australian soldiers serving in Egypt. Both wrote letters of thanks to little Grace, including one addressed to “My little pudding girl” (12).
Following the end of the War, Bob was given leave in England, but was hospitalised with laryngitis, which may have been symptomatic of the lingering effects of his earlier gassing (13) He arrived back in Australia in late May 1919, after “four birthdays away” (14). Robert was honoured at welcome home socials held at Nar Nar Goon (12) and Pakenham Upper (15). His name was also inscribed on war memorials and rolls of honour at Pakenham, Pakenham Upper, Nar Nar Goon and Nar Nar Goon North.
For many years, Bob was a saw miller in the Nar Nar Goon North / Gembrook area (16). In 1925, he married Margaret Madden and the couple raised a family. Eventually, they left the district, with Bob becoming a carpenter with the Melbourne Harbour Trust. In later life, he suffered from chronic bronchitis, which was later accepted as being caused by his wartime gassing (17). Bob died in July 1966 at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital aged 69.
The assistance of Bob’s niece Merle Hayes; Bob McClintock; and Max Murray of the Nar Nar Goon RSL is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) (3) & (12) Information provided by Merle Hayes
(2) PG 29/1/1954 p. 1
(4) PG 12/1/1962 p. 1
(5) PG 12/3/1920 p. 3
(6) (7) (10) & (13) NAA B2455 WARREN ROBERT JAMES
(8) AWM4 23/38/32 21st Infantry Battalion - April 1918
(9) PG 31/5/1918, p. 2
(11) PG 15/2/1917 p. 2 & 20/9/1918 p. 2;
(14) PG 30/5/1919 p. 2
(15) PG 6/6/1919 p. 3 & 10/10/1919 p. 3
(16) & (17) NAA B73 M61457