Paddy Vidgen was too young to follow his older sibling to Gallipoli but he was a talisman for the troops training in Brisbane.
The five-year-old talisman of the 15th Battalion
He was only five but “Lieutenant” Paddy Vidgen, clad in a tiny khaki uniform complete with officer’s pip, puttees and a slouch hat, was doing his bit for the war effort. In late 1914, with the country in the first blush of patriotic fervour, he travelled to Melbourne in his role as a regimental mascot to farewell troops. By May 1915 he was marching through Brisbane amid 3000 men and by August that year, aged six, he was taking the salute with the Governor at a “Patriotic Demonstration” of 5000 children at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds.
Paddy, whose family lived on a property at Enoggera in Brisbane’s north-west – in the vicinity of what is now Brookside Shopping Centre – had come to know many of the troops in training camps on their land and in surrounding fields. The youngest of eight children and not yet at school, he often visited neighbouring Bell’s paddock where his oldest brother, 18-year-old Jack, was with the 15th Battalion, which was raised in late September 1914, six weeks after the outbreak of war.
Paddy – who had been christened with the rather more spectacular names of Norris Octavius – became so well known to the men that they declared him their mascot and had an Enoggera tailor kit him out. Photos of him in full regalia were sold to raise money for the war effort. Paddy was also pictured in uniform with the 11th Light Horse who trained in nearby Fraser’s paddock.
“He had feathers in his hat in that one,” says Paddy’s daughter Kaye Taylor, 71, who lives with husband Graham on the Gold Coast. “When the 15th saw this, they told him in no uncertain terms that he belonged to them, and he was their mascot and theirs only.”
She says that in late November 1914, when the men of the 15th were preparing to travel by train to Melbourne to depart Australia, they wanted Paddy to go with them. His mother, Frances, finally agreed to accompany him on the lengthy journey. The 15th, as part of the newly formed 4th Brigade, marched through Melbourne with Paddy in their ranks and then set sail on HMAT Ceramic on December 22, 1914. Paddy and his mother never saw Jack again. The troops arrived in Egypt in February 1915 and the 4th brigade went on to land at Gallipoli on the afternoon of April 25.
On May 31 that year, The Brisbane Courier reported that a 3000-strong expeditionary force had paraded through the city. “Then came the little boy mascot ‘Lieutenant’ Paddy Vidgen, whose brother is at the front. The little fellow, who is the idol of the men, is only five years of age and he marched five miles with the men”.
Jack, by then 19 and a 2nd lieutenant, was killed in action on August 8. His name is inscribed in the limestone memorial at Lone Pine war graves cemetery on the Gallipoli peninsula, one of the 3268 Australians and 456 New Zealanders who have no known grave. “Because they didn’t find his body, his mother still thought he might come home,” Kaye says. “As children we were always wondering if men were Uncle Jack, or if he had become confused and gone off to live with another family.”
On August 21, The Queenslander reported that Paddy, perhaps as yet unaware of his brother’s fate, took pride of place at the Patriotic Demonstration with the Governor: “At the saluting base with His Excellency, a tiny cadet, Master Paddy Vidgen, aged six years, took the salute”.
Paddy went on to attend Brisbane Boys’ College in inner-west Toowong and became an accountant. In 1938 he married Marjorie Stewart, whose father, Dr Herbert Jamieson Stewart, had treated soldiers wounded at Gallipoli on the island of Lemnos from August 1915. They also had another daughter, Diana. Paddy joined the navy after the outbreak of World War II and became captain of a minesweeper, the corvette HMAS Parkes, which was part of the convoy that took the Japanese surrender at Timor on September 11, 1945.
After the war, Paddy worked as a navy recruiting officer in Queensland. His heroics in helping deal with the barnacle-encrusted World War II mine that washed ashore at Staghorn Avenue at Surfers Paradise in March 1966 earned him a Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. After so many brushes with danger, Paddy lived to 89. His ashes were scattered at sea and a memorial plaque is at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Grovely, a couple of kilometres from the pastures of his parents’ property, now covered by a housing estate.
A few good men … Paddy Vidgen ( centre) with the 11th Light Horse in Enoggera, Brisbane; ( right) with brother Jack and ( opposite page) marching at the head of the band in Collins St, Melbourne, with the 15th Battalion, all in 1914.