This is our story of the life of William Arthur FRASER.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

After the War

In May 1919 as William travelled north, his anxiety grew as he neared his destination of the Smith family home in Bundaberg, Queensland where his wife Florrie and their son Johnnie were eagerly awaiting his return after three years. He had set in motion the chance to settle on land in the Glasshouse Mountains north of Brisbane, and was hoping they would share his excitement and enthusiasm.

William Arthur FRASER, his son John and wife Florrie
on his return from the Great War.

As a part of the Australian Government’s reward to returning soldiers areas of land were subdivided into small blocks for their use.  One of these was the Beerburrum Soldier Settlement in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. William had been allocated 34 acres 2 roods and 31 perches on lot 588, to grow pineapples on assignment to the government and was lured with money borrowed from the government.

So full of high expectations of the  noble promises made, the little family set out with a few meagre belongings, to start their life together. William needed all his resourcefulness to cope with many of the arduous tasks that needed attending to. Heavily timbered land needed clearing and fencing before any ploughing or planting of pineapple suckers could begin. As well as preparing the farm he needed to construct some form of dwelling, for his now expectant wife and young son.  This originally consisted of rough hewn timber walls an iron roof and a dirt floor. Whilst some money was allocated and instruction provided, funds saved for living on were soon exhausted . The relentless toil of working in solitude in the searing northerly sun, or torrential rain, was beginning to take its toll on a man who had suffered the deprivations of war.  With little or no income, credit was extended for fertilizer and farm implements causing an increase in loan repayments. Work on road building gave some financial relief but restricted the time then spent farming.

When finally there were pineapples to sell, market factors brought little returns.  Poignant letters to the authorities at this time show the start of William’s concern of the situation he found himself in.

Map of landed leased to William Fraser at Beerburrum

In the Queensland Governments wisdom, the soldiers were not able to own the land with a freehold title, given only a perpetual leasehold with the condition that they were required to reside on the block. Due to his financial position he sought work in the cane fields at Bundaberg where Florrie could safely give birth to their next child Cuthbert surrounded by her supportive family.  Consequently he was required to relinquish the block in May 1922 with the Government investigating its worth so they would suffer no loss. William lost not only the optimism he had brought back from the war,   but a loss of his self esteem.

His leadership skills were once more acknowledged and the family set off in March 1923 on the challenge to live on Ocean Island in the Pacific (Kiribati) where William was to supervise workers in the  British Phosphate Company.  On his return in June 1924 he could only find work labouring on the wharves, in Sydney, which after his illustrious war career he found demeaning. The dark shadows were starting to develop when on 13th November 1924   in his despair William made the decision the world was better off without him and he tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide. After a fortnight in Royal Prince Alfred he entered a very dark world completing cutting off all light to any personal connections. He was admitted to Callan Park  Psychiatric Hospital Sydney in a very depressed state on 30th November 1924.

This was to be his sanctuary from the realities of the world for the next three years. His clinical notes state that he suffered from periods of agitation, when he was anxious to work, but then sunk into a condition of “cataleptic stupor – refusing to eat, or to see his wife”.

Medical Superintendent  Callan Park states “The patient is suffering from acute suicidal melancholy, this being an emotional reaction -after his distinguished war service and then only being able to find unskilled employment,- in a man of such an impulsive nature. A state of his mind is evident in this letter which he wrote when he decided he was unworthy of the medals bestowed on him.

Letters written by William Arthur FRASER when returning his medals
and certificates to the Army

Through Florrie’s endeavours to gain financial support for herself and the children we are left with a mountain of paper work in files. For the next ten years the effort from many caring personnel, on her behalf, finally attributed his health to be a result of his war service and he became officially a military pensioner.

This allowed her a full pension for William of 4 pounds 4 shillings , herself 2 pound, and 2 pound 15 shillings together for the three children.

Florrie, a descendent of a primitive Methodist Minister, probably sustained herself with her faith throughout this time as most of Sunday would be spent at the Toxteth Methodist Church at Glebe, in company with many caring friends.

Cuthbert, Dorothy and John FRASER
On the steps of the house at Glebe.

The files show that from the time he was allowed leave from Callan Park, until the time The Deputy Master in Lunacy is no longer in charge of his affairs in 1942, there were investigator’s reports, watching his movements and taking statements from neighbours in regard to his movements and general demeanour. “
“17th January 1935. Has improved somewhat in his demeanour. Previously he would not leave the house nor talk to anyone. He is now a bit brighter and goes out with his wife or the children. Apart from the relationship with the eldest lad, he appears fond of his other children. His wife reports he is not so morose and now takes an interest in daily affairs. He is more affable but still quick to take offence and requires managing. She takes him to Callan Park every three months to report and obtain an extension of his leave.”
10th February 1936 “He is still unemployed and spends most of his time at home. Mr Martin of 217 Bridge Rd Glebe states he has known the member for some time. He is very simple in his ways and is generally quiet and gives no trouble.

Family life returned to a form of “normality” during his periods at home during the 1930’s but he often had times of irrational outbursts.  In her memoirs his daughter Dorothy writes “If we heard Dad ranting inside we would hide in the laundry until he banged his fist on the table and yelled at his photo, in uniform above the mantle,  “call yourself an officer and a gentleman” after which they knew it was safe to go inside.

The relationship with his eldest child, John, for a combination of reasons, was particularly traumatic resulting in John leaving home and consequently coming under the guardianship of John O’Brien at the Repatriation Commission. This was troubling for his mother and siblings especially when William would not allow John into the house for Christmas in 1937. Dorothy and Cuthbert met him in secret and reported his whereabouts and welfare to their Mother.

When things were in a relatively normal state the family would go out to different picnic spots around the harbour. William liked to take the children swimming to the beach, but particularly to many of the Harbour Pools. He would put them on the tram to Drummoyne or to Bondi Beach and then walk briskly there himself. For a man who had route marched through France and then walked out from Bahgdad through the mountain passes in Persia (Iran) these were mere strolls in the park.

Whilst the memories of his war impacted on the family another invaded into their lives but at this time he became more responsive to the family  and involved in  the lives of his grandchildren,  particularly caring for his eldest grandson on a daily basis on a prolonged admission to the Children’s Hospital.  He also had a reconciliation with his son John.

Admitted to Concord Repatriation Hospital with Bronchitis he died from Congestive Heart Failure on 5th August 1949 and was deeply mourned by his family.

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