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A tale of 12 choristers:
The story behind an organ stop

By Andrew Gardner
February 2009


Andrew Gardner was a chorister in St George’s Cathedral from 1974 to 1979 and a lay clerk from 1987 to 1990.  From 1993-94 he was the Regimental Medical Officer of the 16th Battalion of the Royal Western Australian Regiment, in which Sgt Demel served.

Thanks to Josephine Christmass at St George's Cathedral and to John Larner (F.J. Larner & Co., Organbuilder) for their assistance in resourcing this article.


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In the South Transept of St George’s Cathedral Perth are placed many memorial plaques that record the achievements of Western Australians – amongst them a plaque in memory of Edith Cowan, the first woman parliamentarian in Western Australia.

One plaque stands out from the others in the number of names that it records.  It is a plaque in memory of twelve former choristers who died in the Great War.  It records that the Lieblick Gedacht stop on the Great organ was given in memory of these twelve, and that it was dedicated on Anzac Day 1931. 

Perth St George Anzac

In 1931 the organ was situated underneath the bell tower.  In the 1958/1959 rebuild, the great, swell and pedal divisions and the tuba rank were placed in a gallery in the south transept.  The choir organ was rebuilt within the bell tower chamber, and the Lieblick Gedacht stop placed in this division and renamed a “Lieblich Gedeckt”  This organ was removed in 1994, and the rank of pipes is now part of a home organ in Redmond near the country town of Albany.  The original organ case was shifted in 1959 to become the reredos of St. Oswald’s Anglican Church in Swanbourne, WA;  unfortunately this was destroyed by fire four years ago.  Full details and photographs of the old St. George’s organ may be found on the Organ Society of Western Australia web site.

This plaque has always been of interest to me, ever since I was a cathedral chorister in the years of 1974 to 1979, spanning the organists of Dudman, Bastian, and O’Neill.  With the wealth of information on the internet, I attempted to find out as much information as I could about these twelve.  Some names were easy to trace, however one remains an enigma.

To readers from outside Western Australia, the demographics of these twelve provides an insight into the population in Western Australia.  The discovery of gold in at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie saw new population centres, and the necessary infrastructure in Perth and Fremantle to support these cities.  As a result, there was a significant population shift from the other colonies to Western Australia in the years that followed the discovery of gold.  Only three of the twelve are known to have been born in Perth.

Of interest to organists is that one of the twelve was noted on his war record to be a musician and organist.

Captain Charles Albert Barnes enlisted on 17 August 1914.  At that time he was employed as a “Chief Clerk” at the WA Trustee, Executor, and Agency Coy, and was single.  His military records list that he was a native of London England, his parents resided at Johnson Street, Guildford, WA, and that he was aged 33 when he died.   Barnes embarked from Australia on 2 November 1914 from the port of Fremantle on HMAT Ascanius as a member of the 11th Battalion, and was killed at Gallipoli on 28 April 1915 – just three days after the first landings at Gallipoli.  He was honoured by being mentioned in despatches.  His graves site is unknown, and his memorial is at the Lone Pine Cemetery at Gallipoli.  One of his brothers was killed in action in France in 1916, and another invalided home.

Trooper Edgar Vernon Brady was a native of Burra in South Australia, and was part of the 10th light horse regiment.  He was killed in action on 7 August 1915.   When he enlisted his family address was 56 Shepperton Road, Victoria Park, WA, but the address from his memorial is North Beach Road, Leederville, W.A.  He was a plumber, married, and left Fremantle on HMAT Itonus as part of the second reinforcements of the 3rd and 10th light horse regiments.  He too has no known grave, and is memorialised at the Lone Pine Memorial in Gallipoli.   After his death, his family were asked for details about his live, in which he was noted to have served in the South African War 1899-1902 in the 4th West Australian Commonwealth light horse regiment. 

Perth St George Anzac
Trooper Brady

Signaller Harrie Hanley Holmes was only 17 when he died on 5th August 1916 in Pozieres, and has no known grave.   He lived in Shenton Road, Claremont, WA, and was educated at Claremont State School.  The Australian War Memorial website notes that the minimum age for enlistment was 18 – had Harrie then lied about his age to enlist?  He enlisted on 8 June 1915 when he was at most 16.  Although his war record states that he was born in Perth, there is no birth record in the Western Australian birth registers.  He was in the 28th Battalion.  At the turn of the century when voices changed at a later age than that which we are accustomed to now, was he still singing in the Cathedral Choir as a boy soprano when he enlisted?

Private William Lionel Stalker was born in Annandale, NSW where he was educated, and embarked from Sydney in 1916 as part of the 36th Infantry Battalion.  Although he was employed as a clerk his parents who lived in Walcott Street, Perth,  noted that “he was learning motion picture work”.  The Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau File (accessible at www.awm.gov.au) provided an eyewitness account of his death:
“I know Starkers and….were buried alive during an attack by the Prussian Guard.  The dug-out fell in.  By the time the Prussians retired (with several of our men as prisoners) the dug-out was so frozen that we could not get the men in time to save them.  I was one of those who tried to dig them out.  This was at Armentieres about January 22nd 1917”

Perth St George Anzac
Private Stalker

Gunner James Linton was an insurance clerk with the AMP who served with the 1st Brigade Australian Field Artillery. His military records note that he was an acting corporal, that he was born in Sydney, educated at the Sydney High School, and was musical.  Annotated in different handwriting on his record is that he was an organist.  He was single, and had no residential address in Western Australia.  He died aged 33 on 21st July 1917.  His Red Cross file has differing accounts of his death and nationality:
“I saw him killed at Zillebeke Lake, Ypres.  He was hit on the head and side, death being instantaneous.  I carried him away from the Battery, and he was then taken to the Cemetery at Renninghelst and buried there, and the grave was marked by a cross bearing all his particulars”

From another:
“he was caught by a shell in the stomach and killed instantly”

And from another:
“he was an Englishman though he joined up in Australia.”

Perth St George Anzac

Perth St George Anzac
Gunner Linton

Second Lieutenant Bert Adams Bell was a draughtsman who joined up at age 20 on 11 January 1915.  He was single, born in Perth and lived with his family at “Gamallie”, Beach Street, Cottesloe Beach, WA.  He initially was a company sergeant major in the 28th Battalion, but promoted on the battlefield.  He died on 29 June 1916.  He has no role of honour circular record.   Given they were in the same Battalion, would he have known fellow chorister Harrie Holmes?

Sergeant George Blake Demel, a clerk, died at Gallipoli on 2 May 1915.  He was from Subiaco, WA, and enlisted on 19 October 1914.  He was born in Melbourne, and one might imagine rather surprisingly for a Church of England Cathedral chorister was educated at Christian Brothers’ College before continuing his education at the Perth Boys State School.   He served in the 16th Battalion.   In the brochure for the St George’s Cathedral Choir tour of Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in 2008, it is noted that Demel’s mates had told his family that he had been promoted to Lieutenant the day before he died.  The paperwork was lost and the commission not awarded posthumously.  He was mentioned in despatches.

Gunner (driver) Alfred E Benson served in the 8th Battery of the 3rd AFA Field Artillery, and was killed in action on 7 May 1915 at Gallipoli aged 29.  He was single.  Born in Perth he was educated at the James Street State School in Perth, and was a clerk in the civil service.  He lived in Hutt Street, North Perth, at the time of embarking, and was single.   His parents lived in Chelmsford Road, North Perth.

Private Bernard Thomas Brickhill was aged 28, single, lived in Stone Street, West Perth, and was employed as a draper when enlisted on 5th August 1915 as part of the 11th reinforcements of the 11th Battalion.  His place of birth is not listed in his war records, and his birth is not recorded in the Western Australian registry.  He returned to Australia on 25th August 1917 and died on 4th July 1918 and was buried in Karrakatta Cemetery, WA.   He would have been the only one of the eleven who may possibly have been buried from St George’s Cathedral – a task in the future to approach the Perth Diocesan Archives to view old service registers.

Lieutenant Walter Horace Elgar Hale was born in Fremantle, where he resided, and was employed as a commercial traveller.  He was educated at the Fremantle Boys’ State School, and then trained as an ironmonger.  He enlisted as a private, and promoted through the ranks to Lieutenant.  Amongst the details in his record was that his sister was the Matron of the Protestant Children’s Home in Geraldton.  One can only imagine the anguish of his family as his Red Cross report states that he was “erroneously reported as killed and mourned as dead for two months” after the landing at Gallipoli in 1914.   He was later on wounded in 1916, and then killed instantly and buried where he fell at Ypres where he was serving with the 12th Battalion.

In the Australian War Memorial Databases there are no Roll of Honour (Death) entries for an O Parsons, and there is no military rank adjacent to his name on the cathedral memorial. Amongst those who served, there is an O Parsons from Queensland, two from Tasmania, and one from Western Australia, however the West Australian was noted as Roman Catholic and he returned to Australia in 1919.  That man was also the only O Parsons recorded in the WA birth registry.  Who then is the O Parsons of unknown rank?   Did he enlist under a pseudonym to escape age restrictions, and is he known to the Australian War Memorial by another name?  Was he not born in Australia, and did he serve in a military force of another nation?  An enigma that awaits solving.

Captain Albert Barr Montgomery was serving in the Worcestershire Regiment when he died on the 17th August 1917.  The Cathedral 2008 brochure notes that he was born in Tasmania, educated in Perth, and was studying law at Grays Inn in London when he enlisted.  He must have been a notable cricketer as it is noted that he was the first person to take 100 wickets in the Darlot Cup (the Private Schools Association of Western Australia Cricket Trophy).  It also notes that he had wanted to joint the Royal Flying Corps, but was rejected due to colour blindness.

The present Cathedral was dedicated in 1888.  Early photos show varying numbers of choristers, but if we assume that there were on average 15 choristers, they each sang for five years, and the choir in the present cathedral was existed for 16 years prior to the onset of the first world war, then we could estimate that 48 choristers had served.  With twelve deaths, that is a 25% killed in action prevalence.  There were probably many more who served and were injured or mentally scarred by the war. 

For most of us war memorials are more often than not stone structures in civic places.  This First World War memorial, which includes amongst its names some of those who landed at Anzac Cove at the first landings in 1915, is probably unique.  From the biographies of those it commemorates, it is demonstration of the wide variety of professions and backgrounds of those who served and died in the First World War.  War memorials may often seem inhuman, but when one knows a little about those commemorated, they take on a different significance.  It could also be considered good that this memorial was a more “living” memorial, it bonded together in memory a group of men who had a common past, and that it served a purpose in continuing to make music where those who died had also made music.

It is disappointing that the rank of pipes is no longer in the Cathedral, and is no longer in a public place.  Given the ever increasing interest in Anzac Day around the country, perhaps in the future the Cathedral could consider dedicating an organ stop of a similar name one Anzac day to continue the tradition of this memorial.





References:
Australian War Memorial   www.awm.gov.au
WA births deaths and marriages registry   www.justice.wa.gov.au
Metropolitan Cemeteries Board  www.mcb.wa.gov.au
Choir Tour of Villers-Bretonneux Brochure:  Published by St George’s Cathedral Perth 200
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This page last updated 16 February 2008


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