It is approaching 100 years since Henry Dadswell (then aged 21) and his younger brother Stanley Dadswell (19) fronted up to a doctor in Ararat, Victoria, to be medically examined before the Australian Army would make a decision about whether they would be accepted as soldiers for service in the First World War.
Henry recorded the experience in his war diary (Diary of a Sapper) along these lines:
On September 6th 1915, my brother and I went into Ararat to enlist. The doctor wouldn't pass my brother and he gave me a very thorough examination, checking everything, then made me skip, jump and touch my toes.
Then he said: "You aren't very big* but you are fit and wiry, I'll give you a pass to the doctor in Melbourne and see how you get on." The standard was pretty high then but was lowered later on.
When I went before the Melbourne doctor, he came up and put his hand on my back. "Ah," he said, "a boy from the bush, fit and hard. Did the doctor in Ararat sound you?" "Yes doctor." "Well go and put your clothes on, you'll do."
I'd passed into the army.
[* Henry's enlistment papers described him as 5 foot 6¼ inches tall (168cm), weighing 9 stone 6 lb (59.8kg), with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and auburn hair]
At this time, World War One had been raging in Europe for more than a year. Henry could have enlisted earlier but there is some speculation in the family that his father Otto Dadswell told him to wait as he knew that his younger son Stan also wanted to enlist, and he wanted them to enlist at the same time so they could "look out for each other." So what was Henry doing during the time that led up to his enlistment?
Some postcards throw a little light on his movements during 1914-15. The cards were written by Henry to his first cousin Myrtle Dadswell (later Myrtle Heslop, 1898-1951) of Horsham, Victoria. They were found among family papers by Myrtle's daughter Carrie Lane (formerly Caroline Heslop) also of Horsham.
Christmas eve 1914 card showing Ararat Gardens:
Dear Myrtle, Just a few lines to let you known I am quite well. Hope you are the same. Stan, Ethel and I are in Ararat for today. It is fairly lively and everything looks nice. It is a lovely day. We have all our hay carted in so we will have an easy time til the New Year. These are pictures of the [Ararat] gardens; they are splendid. I am in the fernery writing this. Hoping you are having a good time. I will close. I remain, your affect. cousin, Henry Dadswell.
Early in 1915, Henry was in the Mildura district, where six years later he would make his home as a former World War One soldier, developing land at Red Cliffs to grow grapes and citrus.
2 March 1915 postcard showing the National Bank, Mildura:
Dear Myrtle, Just a few lines to let you know I am still up here. I finished my job of grape cutting and as I could not get another, I took a job of carpentering. I am working for a Mr Barnett about two miles from where I am camped. I have moved my tent to where Stan is camped now. I went into Mildura on Sat. but as the shops were closed I could not get any PC [postcard] views of the town. I went to the pictures and I think there were the poorest I have ever seen, and got home at twelve o'clock. I was in rowing on the Murray River on Sunday afternoon and had a glorious time. I wish you could have been there with me. The Murray is terribly low at present. I think if you were here for a week you would not complain about the dust at Horsham. This is the worst place for dust and sand that I ever met or ever wish to meet. My old add[ress] of Irymple PO will find me. Write soon. Will write long letter shortly. With best love, from Henry.
Undated postcard from Warrak showing Murray River and Mildura pumping station:
Dear Myrtle, Received your welcome letter this morning. We all have colds here but are getting better. I will be in Horsham about the end of the week, Friday I expect, but you can expect me when you see me. With best love from Henry.
Postcard with no message shows grape vines and settlers residence at Mildura.
In the months before his enlistment, the postcards show that Henry was in the Gippsland area of Victoria, moving around but keeping in touch with his cousin. During this time, he was travelling by push bike, steam train, river boat and - one would expect - horse-drawn carriage.
Undated postcard of the Tambo River and countryside:
Scenes of Bruthen and Tambo R [River]. From Henry.
14 June 1915 postcard showing the main street of Bairnsdale, with horse and jinkers in the foreground:
Dear Myrtle, received your welcome letter and was very pleased to hear from you. I did not get to Buchan caves. For three days it rained and the roads were so bad could not ride the bike and as the only other way to Buchan is by the old coach, I got sick of waiting and came down. I got to Bruthen by train and caught the boat down the Tambo R. I did not reach Bairnsdale till 10 o'clock at night. It was a lovely trip across the lakes and up the river... I have spent today with Ruby Price and some of her friends. We had a walk along the river and went to church. I am going to Mirboo N. in the morning but I can give you no address for there but please send my letters to c/o Mrs Howells, Fleetwood, Beach Road, Hampton.
17 June 1915 postcard showing horse-drawn carriage in rural landscape:
Dear Myrtle, I am out at Mirboo North. It is a nice little place ...PS: Will write soon and give you add [address].
9 July 1915 postcard showing Mitchell River, Bairnsdale, but written from Warrak (near Ararat):
Dear Myrtle, Sorry I did not answer your letter sooner but was too lazy. Thanks very much for the views you sent. I will come up to Horsham in about nine or ten days time. We are all well here and I hope you are the same. This is one of the views of the Mitchell River and Bairnsdale so you will see what a lovely place it is. I will bring you some more views when I come. I was out at a party last night and didn't get home till six o'clock this morning so am very sleepy tonight, so with fondest love, I will close, from Henry.
The war continued, Henry enlisted in September 1915, undertook his Army training in Victoria, and in March 1916 he embarked in the troop ship Ulysses for service overseas. While on active service, he continued to write to Myrtle. But those letters will have to wait for another day.*
For the moment, the postcards provide a glimpse of how some of his time was spent in the months leading up to enlistment and the horrors of World War One.
* Henry Dadswell The Quiet Times between WW1 Battles
Diary of a Sapper World War One Reflections of Sapper Henry W Dadswell
World War One Crisis for Dadswell Soldier
Generation 9, Henry William Dadswell
- Report by Harley Dadswell, August 2005, revised August 2012
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