A family at war – the Allshorns of Peel St, North Melbourne

By Elizabeth Johnson

On January 7, 1915, Frank Allshorn and his eldest son both enlisted in the army. Between them, they saw action at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, suffered injury, chlorine gas attack, typhoid, trench foot and shell shock. Only one would return home, to a home life that had completely changed. This year marks the beginning of celebrations and commemorations for the Anzac Centenary, 2014-2018. 

The Allshorn family – together before war split them apart. Source: The Australian War Memorial

The Allshorn family – together before war split them apart. Source: The Australian War Memorial

It is one of those moments of a family frozen in time, a collection of moods brought together at a moment when the world was at war. There is defiance and anxiety, determination and duty – the Allshorns of Peel St, North Melbourne, posed in a Melbourne photographic studio not knowing if they would ever be together again.

It would be a war that divided them, and ushered in a life that forever changed the simple family routines they carved out in their North Melbourne home. The Allshorns’ war was sadly like so many other families, where the cost of service rippled through the family and across the generations. This is about the fates that befell a family in a time of war.

The family patriarch, Frank Horace Allshorn, was born in the London suburb of Bromley in 1872 to Fred, a soap-boiler, and mother Esther. He had two brothers and an older sister.

Frank married his sweetheart Emma Elizabeth Sweeney in Essex in 1893 in the Church of England. Their first child, Frank Horace Frederick, arrived a year later and was soon followed by Emma Esther in 1897 and Charles in 1900.

We cannot know for sure why the Allshorns decided to leave England, but they boarded theSalamis in London just before Christmas 1909, bound for Australia and a new life.

Frank’s eldest sister had migrated to Sydney, so there were some family connections already in place when Frank’s family arrived in Australia.

The War was only five months old when father and eldest son both enlisted on January 7, 1915. The family commissioned a photograph, with the two soldiers kitted out in their new uniforms and young Charlie trying to look the part. There is no mistaking the severity of Emma’s gaze; this is a sombre moment.

Frank Sr was working as a farrier in Melbourne when war was declared. He had spent some time with servicemen, volunteering with the Royal Garrison Artillery in London, where he worked with the garrison’s stable of horses.

Members of the 7th Infantry in a trench at Lone Pine in August 1915. Source: Australian War Memorial

Members of the 7th Infantry in a trench at Lone Pine in August 1915. Source: Australian War Memorial

He was strongly built and had tattoos on both arms. When the time came, Frank Sr was appropriately attached to the 13thLight Horse Regiment.

Frank Jr, who described himself as a “galvaniser’’ on his enlistment papers, was sent to the 7th Infantry to become part of the second wave of Anzacs at Gallipoli.

The 13th Light Horse, with Frank Sr among them, left Melbourne on HMAT Persic on May 28, 1915. His departure came a month after his son.

The 13th Regiment, which was largely made up of Victorians, was known as the “Devil’s Own’’ because of its regimental number.

After landing at Gallipoli on September 11, 1915, with the loss of one man and 30 horses on the eight-week journey, the regiment manned the Lone Pine trenches. There were no need for horses in the trenches; the Light Horsemen became infantrymen at Gallipoli. Their saddles and kit were stored away and the horses kept safe.

HMAT Persic, here leaving Port Melbourne in 1916.

HMAT Persic, here leaving Port Melbourne in 1916.

Frank Jr left Melbourne aboard HMAT Wiltshire on April 14, 1915, along with 900 others. He had spent almost three years with the Citizens Force Unit 64th Infantry City of Melbourne Regiment before he joined the 7th Infantry Battalion.

Frank Jr found himself at Lone Pine just a month before his father arrived there. He, was for a period, missing in action (presumed wounded) in mid-July, 1915, and then on August 25 he was admitted to Mudros military hospital after he was wounded during training at the Sarpi Rest Camp in Lemnos, Greece.

Back in North Melbourne, Emma received a letter that offered her little comfort and even less information about her son’s health.

“If no later advice is received this Department has no later information to give,” the Department of Defence letter said. Emma heard no more and Frank Jr returned to the front. But worse was to come.

In December 1915, Frank Sr was part of the evacuation of Anzac Cove that became the most successful part of the Gallipoli campaign. The regiment moved to Lemnos for Christmas, and then back to Egypt to regroup before it was sent to the Western Front.

Heliopolis Base Hospital with wounded from Gallipoli in Egypt, 1915. Source: Australian War Memorial

Heliopolis Base Hospital with wounded from Gallipoli in Egypt, 1915. Source: Australian War Memorial

But Frank Sr fell ill with typhoid and was transferred to Heliopolis Base Hospital in early 1916. Typhoid spread easily in the unsanitary conditions at the front. The symptoms were debilitating – high fever and diarrhoea – and many didn’t survive.

Frank Sr’s condition deteriorated and he developed heart problems. On February 25, he died, officially of endocarditis. He was buried at the Cairo War Cemetery.

It’s not known how Frank Jr found out about his father’s death. He was in Egypt at the time, with the 7th Battalion, preparing to leave for France. His mother received the message at their new home in La Trobe St in the city.

Surviving the carnage of the Western Front was a rarity; Frank barely did, afflicted with shell shock from the constant pounding of the artillery guns and suffering trench foot from the seeping, dripping trenches.

Australian troops in Pozières, July 1916. Source: Australian War Memorial

Australian troops in Pozières, July 1916. Source: Australian War Memorial

He was wounded in the days following the carnage of Pozieres and sent to hospital in England. Admitted in August 1916,  he wasn’t discharged and sent back to his unit until February 1917.

Shell shock was debilitating – and barely understood – but the introduction of gas to the Western Front was a lethal weapon used by both sides in the search for advantage. Just after Christmas 1917, Frank Jr was in hospital again, this time in Belgium, for gas poisoning.

He was likely a victim of the German army’s chlorine gas, which destroyed the tissue of the eyes and lungs. Several others from his battalion also found themselves in hospital. But Frank survived that too; he survived the anxiety and the injury, and on March 21, 1919 he left England, bound for Melbourne.

Frank returned to what was left of the Allshorns. The world had changed and his family had changed too. Charlie had grown up and soon the brothers were both working as labourers.

Their only sister, Emma, died age 28 in 1925 from unknown causes. More than a year after Frank Sr’s death, the matriarch of the Allshorn family received a package with his  personal items: a hairbrush, a letter, and a photo. She died 10 years later, in 1935, in Heidelberg.

Frank married Alice Elizabeth Snell in 1924 in Melbourne. They had three children, two daughters and a son.

Charles lived until he was 80. Frank Jr, who went to work on the Melbourne trams, lost his returned solider badge and was sent a new one in 1943, yet the current whereabouts of his medals and badges is unknown. He died in 1963 in Hawthorn, 21 years before his wife.

The Allshorn family name lives on through their children, who have decided throughout enquiries into their family history to maintain their privacy.

This article first appeared in mojo, the digital newspaper of Monash Journalism.