Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Pte. E. Neale

When I first came across the photo of Edward (Ted) Mordan Neale printed in the Sunday Times I knew in a second that I had found the right man. He was my Pop’s half blood uncle but still, I looked at the photo and could see some slight family resemblance. A life cut tragically short by war; I felt that I needed to share his story.

Ted was born at 3am on 17 April 1891 at 67 Brunswick Road in Brunswick, Victoria to John Emery Neale and Agnes Elizabeth McCarthy (my Great x 2 Grandmother). During his birth his mother was attended by the local doctor, Dr Henry as well as a nurse, Mrs Mordan. Grateful for the help given by Mrs Mordan, John and Agnes gave their son her surname for his middle name.

He spent the first three years of his life in Victoria until his father and mother decided to move the family to Western Australia (probably because of the opportunities created by the gold rush). They settled in the South West but unfortunately the move did not bring good tidings. In 1896 Ted’s father, John passed away. Ted was four years old and fatherless. His mother, now a widow, had to support her three young children.

Living in Denmark, Agnes wasted no time in finding a new husband. On 31 May 1897 in the Denmark Town Hall  she married Edward Nicholson (my Great x 2 Grandfather) and he became the only father Ted and his two sisters ever really knew.

The family remained in Denmark until early 1904 when they moved further north to Worsley and then two years later moved again, this time, to Mornington Mills.

Mornington Mill in 1905.

He attended basic schooling in his early years but during his later teenage years Ted would’ve started looking for work. Residing in a small town where the mill was everything to the community, there’s no doubt he worked in some way at the mill, perhaps as a mill hand. However at the back of his mind it seems the knowledge of his birth father’s occupation (a sailor) may have been needling him. In his early 20s he obtained work on a ship as a seaman.

His new occupation broadened his horizons. No longer confined in a small town, he sailed upon the open sea and even had the opportunity to travel to the East Coast of Australia where he lived for a while in the state of his birth, Victoria.

Sadly, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for him to discover whether he had a taste for a life at sea. On 17 July 1915 while in Melbourne, Ted enlisted into the Australian Military Forces. By this time WWI had been in effect for about a year and the tragedy of the Gallipoli landing had occurred less than three months earlier. Like many young men of his generation, Ted felt the need to fight for his country.

Ted's Attestation Paper

He was initially a part of the 6th Reinforcements for the 24th Battalion and left Victoria on the HMAT A38 Ulysses on 27 October 1915. He joined the camp at Alexandria in Egypt and was soon ‘Taken on Strength’ by the 7th Battalion on 24 February 1916.

On 23 March, after about a month’s worth of training, Ted left Alexandria and seven days later arrived in Marseilles, France. By May Ted had arrived at the front line trenches and began fighting on the Western Front. He eventually found himself in Pozieres.

Pozieres is a small village in the north of France which, during WWI, was essential to German defences. On 23 July 1916 Australian troops captured the village and from this moment they clung to their position with all their might. The Germans however counter-attacked and were relentless; repetitively bombing the Australians in a bid to cause serious damage and loss. Over the course of the next few days everything in the village of Pozieres and the surrounding areas was annihilated.

As fast as one portion of the trench was cleared another was blown in. There were no dugouts in which men on post could take shelter, and the only thing to do was to grin and bear it. The shells, which were dropping almost perpendicularly, could be clearly seen in the last 40 feet of their descent, and the whole trench was methodically dealt with.

The Battlefield of Pozieres

Ted was caught in the thick of it and survival during this brutal attack would have been nothing short of miraculous. Sadly, there was no such miracle for Ted. On 25 July 1916 during one of the worst days of the German bombardment, Edward Mordan Neale was killed in action. He was buried in Pozieres British Cemetery and was later awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914/15 Star. His personal effects including his wallet, union book, discharge papers, photo and Commonwealth Badge were eventually returned to his mother.

He was 26 when he was killed and if not for war he would’ve had his whole life ahead of him. Would he have continued to work as a seaman? Would he have married and had children? Would he have stayed exclusively in Victoria? The questions have no answers but we do have one clue. A letter. Written by a lady named Lottie Argo, she wrote requesting information about Ted. Perhaps she was just a concerned friend or perhaps, she was something more.


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