A trip down mem­ory lane

Southern Riverina news - - FRONT PAGE - By Lau­rie Hen­ery

On Sun­day Septem­ber 22 2019, Jer­ilderie Pub­lic School will be cel­e­brat­ing its 150th an­niver­sary, at which the great grand­son of Sir John Monash, Michael Ben­nett, has agreed to at­tend as a spe­cial guest.

At the school’s cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions in 1969, an­other distin­guished sol­dier and for­mer stu­dent of Jer­ilderie was to at­tend but un­for­tu­nately ill­ness pre­vented him from do­ing so. In­stead, Mau­rice Al­fred Fer­gus­son sent a let­ter to the school, and as we ap­proach Re­mem­brance Day on Novem­ber 11, it is worth re­pro­duc­ing his rem­i­nis­cences of his school days in Jer­ilderie, but more im­por­tantly, to re­flect on the con­tri­bu­tion that not only Mau­rice made to Aus­tralia’s fu­ture wel­fare, but also the con­tri­bu­tions made by his par­ents, broth­ers and sis­ters, as well.

The fol­low­ing is a re­pro­duc­tion of his let­ter to the school, in 1969.

I can’t re­mem­ber when fa­ther was ap­pointed man­ager of the Bank (Aus­trala­sia) but I can re­mem­ber that when we crossed from Tocumwal in Ben Robin­son’s coach the coun­try was al­most bare of grass and we did not see any game, even rab­bits. It must have been in 1902 or soon af­ter that.

The po­lice sergeant’s name was Currie. One year he an­nounced that he in­tended to stop any shoot­ing of game out of sea­son. Mr Meil­lon the so­lic­i­tor, gave me a dou­ble­bar­relled 12-gauge shot­gun, I think it was a Purdey (cost in Eng­land to­day £1015); at the time I was 11 years of age, I was com­ing home from the Bil­l­abong with two rab­bits and two ducks, one duck in my billy, the other in my shirt. I was very tired and de­cided to walk down the main street, only to meet the sergeant and Mr Steel. I de­cided to adopt the bold course and walk past them. The sergeant said “Hello Boss (my nick­name) you’ve had some luck!”

I replied “yes sir”, and that was that.

I re­mem­ber the big flood when we were at school, it was be­fore we used to drive down to Slee­mans’, for Miss Hard­ing­ham’s tu­ition – about 1908. The flood nearly reached the back of the school and for some days we had a mud slide, which was great fun. Herb Wil­son – (from a very nice fam­ily) tum­bled in the mud – thus an un­pleas­ant drive home.

Mr El­liott told us one day, that the Kelly Gang made him hold the bag while they robbed the Bank (NSW).

I be­lieve Jer­ilderie sent ev­ery fit man to the war (World War I). One of these men was Smythe. His fa­ther was a boot mender. The boys, three I think, were out­stand­ing sol­diers. There is ref­er­ence to them in Bean’s His­tory.

(Signed) M A Fer­gus­son

About the Au­thor:

At Reg­i­men­tal num­ber 334, Mau­rice Al­fred Fer­gus­son was cred­ited with be­ing the first Jer­ilderie per­son to en­list for ser­vice, on the 24 Au­gust 1914, at 18 years of age. Born on 5 De­cem­ber 1895 at Caulfield, Mel­bourne, Mau­rice came to Jer­ilderie in Au­gust 1904 when his fa­ther, Ernest Fairchild Fer­gus­son, was ap­pointed Bank Man­ager of the Bank of Aus­trala­sia’s Jer­ilderie branch, which merged many years later to form the ANZ Bank.

Mau­rice Fer­gus­son was a stu­dent at the Jer­ilderie Pub­lic School un­til the end of 1908 af­ter which he re­ceived fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity High School. For a short pe­riod of time he worked as a jacka­roo be­fore en­list­ing in the Aus­tralian Im­pe­rial Force.

Mau­rice sailed for Egypt as a gun­ner in the 1st Field Ar­tillery Brigade, pro­moted to bom­bardier, and landed at Gal­lipoli on April 25, 1915.

While serv­ing on the West­ern Front from July 1916, Mau­rice re­ceived sev­eral pro­mo­tions, end­ing the war as a Lieu­tenant. Along the way Mau­rice Fer­gus­son was men­tioned in dis­patches, re­ceived the Mil­i­tary Cross, and a bar to his M C. He was wounded twice and was granted a pen­sion on dis­charge, which he de­clined.

Lieu­tenant Fer­gus­son’s ap­point­ment with the A.I.F. was ter­mi­nated on 25 March 1919, where­upon he took up wheat farm­ing at Bo­gan Gate be­fore try­ing fruit grow­ing at Dora Creek.

In 1927 he pur­chased a dairy farm at Whit­tle­sea where he stayed for seven years, dur­ing which time he served on the lo­cal coun­cil from 1930 to 1934, in­clud­ing one term as pres­i­dent in 1931/32.

With the de­pres­sion in full bloom Mau­rice Fer­gus­son joined the staff of Aus­tralian Es­tates, serv­ing the com­pany at Lock­hart, Corowa, Euroa, and at Stawell when World War II be­gan.

He en­listed on the first day pos­si­ble, with his reg­i­men­tal num­ber be­ing VX23, and was given com­mand of the Sixth Cav­alry Reg­i­ment as a Lieu­tenant-Colonel.

Badly wounded dur­ing in­tense fight­ing at Glarabub Oa­sis in the West­ern Desert LtCol Fer­gus­son was repa­tri­ated to Aus­tralia be­fore re­turn­ing to the Mid­dle East to take com­mand of the 2/17th Bat­tal­ion, be­fore then be­ing re­called to com­mand the 2nd Ar­moured Brigade, as a Bri­gadier.

Trans­ferred to the 3rd Ar­moured Di­vi­sion he was on the verge of pro­mo­tion to Ma­jor­Gen­eral when Field Mar­shall Blamey di­rected him to New Guinea to take com­mand of the em­bat­tled 8th In­fantry Brigade.

At the ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties and his dis­charge in Bris­bane in Oc­to­ber 1945 Bri­gadier Mau­rice Fer­gus­son had earned an­other M.I.D, and the Com­pan­ion of the Distin­guished Ser­vice Or­der.

On dis­charge from the army af­ter the Sec­ond World War Mau­rice Fer­gus­son took up farm­ing in the In­verell dis­trict be­fore mov­ing to Leadville where he pur­chased the prop­er­ties More­ton Bay, Round Hill, and Light­house.

He even­tu­ally re­tired to the Syd­ney sub­urb of Pym­ble where in 1975 he died.

Mau­rice Fer­gus­son’s fa­ther, Ernest, re­tired from the bank in 1921, due to ill health, but he and his wife re­mained in Jer­ilderie, build­ing the res­i­dence at 9 Pow­ell Street, Jer­ilderie. He died in 1933 at 71 years of age.

The se­nior Mr Fer­gus­son was very ac­tive in the P&C, be­ing one of its found­ing mem­bers. He served on Com­mit­tees that raised funds for the war ef­fort, and was also a mem­ber of the Project Com­mit­tee charged with the re­spon­si­bil­ity for hav­ing the ceno­taph erected in Jer­ilderie.

Mau­rice Fer­gus­son’s mother re­mained liv­ing in Jer­ilderie un­til her death in 1949 at 83 years of age.

At a small cer­e­mony held at the school on Fri­day Septem­ber 20, 1918 she was given the hon­our of un­veil­ing an Hon­our Board list­ing all 71 for­mer stu­dents of the school who had en­listed in the First World War.

Mr and Mrs Fer­gus­son had five chil­dren – three boys and two girls – with all three boys en­list­ing.

Apart from Mau­rice’s (the youngest son) war record, an­other son, Rupert, who en­listed one week af­ter Mau­rice, was to see ser­vice at Gal­lipoli and France where he was wounded on four oc­ca­sions, in­valided out in 1917 as a Sergeant.

Rupert went on to have a ca­reer with the Bank of NSW (West­pac).

The el­dest son, Frank, de­layed en­list­ment un­til he grad­u­ated as an en­gi­neer in Fe­bru­ary 1915, af­ter which he im­me­di­ately en­listed.

By the end of the war Frank had risen to the rank of 2nd Lieu­tenant. On dis­charge he re­mained in Eng­land to fur­ther his stud­ies in engi­neer­ing, even­tu­ally be­com­ing branch man­ager of an English firm of engi­neers, lo­cated in In­dia.

Of the two daugh­ters, Olive grad­u­ated from Nar­ran­dera Hos­pi­tal as a nurse in 1922, af­ter which she sailed for France and Eng­land.

In 1932 Olive went to In­dia and when WWII broke out she en­listed, ris­ing to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the British In­dian Army Nurs­ing Ser­vice.

The younger daugh­ter, Vera, who was Dux of the Jer­ilderie Pub­lic School in 1912, grad­u­ated from Mooroopna Hos­pi­tal in 1924 as a nurse as well, be­fore mar­ry­ing For­rest Crock­ett, of ‘‘Wononga’’, Jer­ilderie, in 1928. For­rest Crock­ett was a coun­cil­lor for the Jer­ilderie Shire Coun­cil from 1945 to 1960, serv­ing as its pres­i­dent from 1951 un­til 1954.

Mau­rice’s let­ter men­tions three boys by the name of Smythe who en­listed. There were ac­tu­ally four Smythe boys who served in WWI – Herbert (Bert), Ed­ward Vi­vian (Viv), Percy Ellesmere (Percy), and Erle Ver­non (Vern). Only three re­turned from the war, Bert, the old­est, who had been pro­moted to Sergeant was killed in France in 1917. Viv, a Lieu­tenant at war’s end, had been award an M.C. and a bar to his M.C., Vern a Cap­tain by the end of the war, had also been awarded an M.C and a bar to his M.C., while Cor­po­ral Percy Smythe had been awarded an M.C.

Au­thor Mau­rice Fer­gus­son. Photo cour­tesy Aus­tralian War Memo­rial.

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