Nelson Wellington

What’s in a name? Well, it seems rather a lot – especially when that moniker brings to mind two giants of British military history. From the outset, Nelson Wellington lived with the expectation that his ‘name should surely be a forerunner of future greatness.’ Born in Ballarat East on 4 April 1889, Nelson Frederick Wellington was the eldest of four children and only son of Nelson Edward Wellington and Minnie Elizabeth Smith. He was the third generation of the line to carry the name that honoured both Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Whilst both his parent were also born in Ballarat, the Wellington family traced back to the small market town of the same name in Somerset, England. His father worked as a plasterer, which was a particularly skilled occupation during a period that valued craftsmanship in interior detailing. He was also civic-minded, and entrepreneurial – he would later patent a hollow concrete building brick. Nelson’s early education was spread across three local State Schools – Dana Street, Mount Pleasant and Golden Point, but it was to the final school that he felt the strongest tie. The family home was at 13 Laurie Street in Mount Pleasant, a short walk to the centre of Ballarat – and all the many community groups Nelson would eventually be a part of. An incident that occurred when Nelson was just 11 years-old, gave real insight into the man he would become. He was out walking with his mate, Duke Woods, in October 1900, when they came upon one of their school mates, 12-year-old William Mackie, who was drowning in a dam on the claim of the New Normanby Mine company. Both boys plunged into the dam, braving the 15-feet deep water, and rescued the older lad. They dragged him to the shore and immediately set about using the life-saving techniques they’d learned at school. William Mackie owed them his life. Nelson was particularly interested in the military life, and he joined the 7th Infantry Regiment when he was in his teens. It was soon realised that Nelson had not only a penchant for leadership, but great administrative abilities. In 1909 he received his commission as a second-lieutenant. After gaining his Merit Certificate, Nelson left school and worked privately as a tutor before becoming a master at the Church of England Grammar School in Ballarat. He continued his studies gaining qualifications as a stenographer and accountant.

His career aspirations soon led him in a new direction and he became a clerk with the Ballarat East Council. As with everything he did, Nelson quickly displayed a capability beyond his years. He was soon promoted to the role of assistant Town Clerk and, at the same time, undertook the role of rates collector. Nelson was also an active and talented sportsman. He played Australian Rules football, captaining the Golden Point Football Club First 18; and was also a good rower and cricketer. But it was music that was his first love. As a pianist, Nelson was able to read music proficiently, but he also had the unique talent of being able to play anything by ear. His singing voice developed into a fine tenor that led to him joining the Ballarat Choral Society. It was there that he met a vivacious young contralto, Miss Ida May Blackman, and ‘the romance took off from there.’ They were to do a lot of singing together. Ida, who was a schoolteacher, was also a noted elocutionist with a thoroughly modern air; she was the perfect foil for the debonair, yet serious young man. Their engagement was announced on Christmas Eve 1910.

On 9 August 1911, Nelson sat the examination held by the Municipal Clerks’ Board and easily passed his certificate of competency. When a position as Shire Secretary at Orbost became available, Nelson applied for the position. On receiving word that his application had been successful, he and Ida made arrangements to marry so that she could go to Orbost with him. On the eve of their wedding, Nelson was the recipient of several wedding gifts – the officers of the Ballarat East Council assembled at the Phoenix Hotel to pass on their wishes for a ‘happy future’ and the Town Clerk, Mr John Gent, presented him with a ‘suitably inscribed’ silver hot water kettle and silver rose bowl. Then the members at the Golden Point Football Club made a presentation of ‘a handsome cake dish.’ Secretary, Mr J. C. Dulfer, spoke on behalf of the club and made reference to how Nelson had captained the team in the previous season. He added ‘they hoped that the club would have his services in the future.’ Family and friends of the couple gathered at the Christ Church Cathedral in Lydiard Street, Ballarat, on Tuesday 14 November 1911. It was described as ‘a very pretty wedding,’ certainly the bride looked exquisite in her gown of ivory charmeuse satin, with a semi-evening corsage that draped over a chemisette of Malines lace. One side was outlined in heavy lace embroidery, whilst a spray of orange blossom was the only ornament. Her long, rounded train was weighted with groups of blossoms and ribbons, and fell from under the embroideries of the tunic and the whole was held together at the waist by a silken rope. Her veil was of tulle, with a coronet of orange blossom, and a shower bouquet of white roses, which was Nelson’s gift to his bride. The bridesmaids, Mabel Blackman and Minnie Wellington, wore gowns of simple ivory crepe de chine overset by impossibly wide-brimmed black hats. Their bouquets of dark red and pale pink roses completed this picture. Nelson, his best man, Eric Brind, and groomsman, Tom Blackman, also looked very sophisticated in their morning suits and top hats. Reverend John Forster, who was the sub-warden at St Aidan’s Theological College, conducted the ceremony. Mr Garnet Eggington presided at the organ, playing “The voice that breathed o’er Eden” as the bridal party entered the church, and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding march” at the conclusion of the wedding.

Following a wedding reception held in the Parish Hall, the newly married couple left by the evening train for Melbourne before travelling on to the Gippsland Lakes for their honeymoon. Upon returning home, Nelson formally submitted his resignation to the Ballarat East Council. On accepting his resignation, it was requested that the council’s appreciation of Nelson’s services be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. Councillor Alfred Pittard said, ‘he had been a faithful and conscientious officer during the years that he had been in the council’s employ. They were glad to know that he was going, to occupy the important position of secretary to the Orbost Shire.’

In leaving Ballarat, Nelson had to also resign from his post with the local infantry regiment. Shortly before he left for Orbost on 6 January 1912, the officers and non-commissioned officers of the A Company, 7th AIR, met at the Provincial Hotel to present Nelson with a travelling bag. (The regiment had earlier presented him with a coffee pot).

Captain William Bateman, who presided over the gathering, referred to ‘the excellent qualities possessed by Lieut. Wellington, who he said was a most zealous officer.’ Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Bennett also spoke, complimenting Nelson on ‘the able manner in which he had conducted his duties as an officer of the company, and expressing sorrow at his departure.’

Nelson responded by expressing his gratitude to those assembled; he said ‘that his connection with the A Company had been a most pleasurable one. He had been proud, to be connected with the A Company, which was the best company in the regiment, and he would always look back upon his association with it with pleasure…’

The young couple wasted no time in settling into their new home, “Rosslyn”, in Gordon Street, Orbost. And, when not undertaking his tasks as Shire Secretary, he augmented his work privately. Book-keeping and Accountancy, Shorthand and Typewriting. MR NELSON WELLINGTON,Certificated Teacher. Merchant’s books audited-periodicallyor by special audit. Balance sheets prepared, Fees moderate. Address-“Rosslyn,” Gordon street, Orbost.

Continuing his interest in military training, Nelson joined Gippsland’s 45th Infantry Regiment. He maintained his rank of lieutenant with his new unit and led his new company on many camps and exercises. Nelson and Ida had been in Orbost nearly two years when they welcomed their first child, Patricia Frances, on 31 October 1913. Their second child, and only son, Nelson Thomas Lyle, was born on 4 March 1915, within days of Nelson enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force.

The Shire of Orbost appointed an acting secretary on being informed of Nelson’s intentions, proposing to keep the position open for his return. He applied for a commission on 6 March and underwent a standard medical examination the same day. His height was recorded as 5-feet 10½-inches, weight as being 11-stone 11-pounds, with a chest measurement of 34 to 37-inches. He also passed the eye test without problem. Posted to B Company of the 21st Infantry Battalion, Nelson was soon to link up with several of his mates from Ballarat. Having said his farewells to Ida and the children and his family in Ballarat, Nelson boarded HMAT Ulysses at Port Melbourne on 8 May. It was to be a slow crossing and five weeks passed before the Ulysses pulled into the wharf at Alexandria on 12 June. Nelson had fallen ill with influenza during the latter stages of the voyage and was admitted to the No1 Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis upon landing. However, he made a quick recovery and was discharged to duty just a week later. The 21st was under canvas at the Aerodrome Camp, Heliopolis, when Nelson wrote the following letter to his parents. ‘…I met Lyle Blackman [his brother-in-law] at Alexandria. He had been sent back from the front with dysentery and was discharged from hospital. I met Arthur David, of Ballarat, there, He is sergeant in Lyle’s battalion, and has charge of all the office work there, all the returns being sent to him direct from the front. He is looking exceptionally well, and sends his regards to all. All the past week we have been doing our field work, marching out through miles of sand, sleeping there in what we walked out in, and commencing hostilities at daybreak next morning. It is wonderful what a soft, pillow a saddle makes on occasions like this. We all sleep on the ground in our sleeping bags whilst in camp, but when out in the fields we simply throw ourselves down and stick our heads on the saddles, and in a few minutes the starry Egyptian night listens to our snores. The one advantage of being a mounted officer, is we always have a pillow in our saddle. Lieut. [Joseph William] Pearce, son of the Mayor or Ballarat East, with 15 other officers of our battalion, was at Zeitoun for three weeks, undergoing a course in the officers’ training school. All our officers are doing well. The work is conducted principally by a school commandant and a small staff, and as most of the instructors have just returned from the front, the work is right up to date. On the aggregate our battalion is leading, and one of our boys, Langley, is leading the school. Lieut. Pearce is doing well, and his percentages for the four examination were 85,84, 95 and 90. While they are at the school, we have other officers, all British Commissioned men, to take their places and among them is an old friend, Leslie Brooks, of Smeaton. He came out with the 1st division from Australia as a sergeant, and he was chosen by the British authorities to attend the school. He passed an examination course and was given a commission in the British army. In Heliopolis City I saw a plasterer native at work the other day. He used a hawk and trowel, as most of them do, but he did his work in quite a gentlemanly fashion. This chap had another man holding an umbrella over his head as he worked, and I watched, him from my horse for a while. I think he did a square foot in ten minutes. Tomorrow I am going off to Alexandria to see Lyle Blackman. Lieutenant W. Pearce is now in No. 1 General Hospital, Heliopolis. suffering from blood poisoning. His hand was scratched between the finger joints and it immediately turned septic. He had it operated on three times and all the hand opened up to let the poisoned matter out. The doctors say he will lose his hand if they cannot stop the poison from spreading. It simply spreads out like cancer and extends up the arm. He got it while at the school of instruction, and did not tell the doctor for a day or two. It gives intense agony and the boys told me “Billy” Pearce trod the desert all night for three nights in succession owing to the pain. News from the front is scarce, but things are going well for us…’ Fortunately, Isaiah Pearce had received a cable from his son letting him know that his hand was getting improving. As would soon become apparent, both Billy Pearce and Nelson Wellington had a particular date with history. Within days of embarking to join the campaign at Gallipoli, Nelson was promoted to the rank of captain. On 29 August, the 21st Battalion boarded the transport Southland for the trip to the Dardanelles. Shortly before morning inspection on 2 September, the Southland, which was some 30-miles off the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea, was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine UB14. The torpedo exploded forward of the well-deck – twelve members of the 21st were either killed by the blast or drowned after being flung into the freezing water. In total, 36 men were lost out of the 2,000 troops onboard the Southland (including the 21st and 23rd Battalions). Although some admitted to a degree of fear and apprehension, nobody panicked and there were many stories of men cracking jokes and breaking into choruses of “Australia Will Be There.” As regimental and ship’s adjutant, Nelson was chiefly responsible for getting the troops off the stricken ship. Then, when it became apparent the Southland was not going to sink, Nelson took command of a party who volunteered to stoke the ship into the harbour of Mudros. The stokers were led by Ballarat’s Billy Pearce… ‘…Ten soldiers, including a lieutenant, returned to the ship, stripped except for their breeches and boots, and went below They had to raise the pressure of steam from 80lb to 200lb. They were stoking 24 fires and slaved away for what seemed ages before the necessary pressure was readied Then, the pumps started and the engines began to drive the ship slowly ahead. The volunteer stokers completed their watch the captain sending down iced soft drinks to them. Then they were relieved by naval stokers from the string of torpedo boats, gunboats cruisers hospital ships and transports that escorted the Southland. The volunteer stokers had nothing, to eat for 12 hours but at the end of that time they appointed one of their number as cook, with the task of finding a dinner. They began to collect their rifles, and at length sat down to a meal of chicken and green peas. Meanwhile the vessel had grounded so quickly that they were unaware of the fact…’The Southland was beached near Mudros and was later repaired and returned to service – a valuable salvage, given the marked loss of shipping to the German submarine warfare. For their remarkable work, both Nelson Wellington and Billy Pearce would be singled out for recognition – Billy Peace received the Military Cross. Whilst Nelson was recommended for the French Légion d’Honneur. Although he did not receive this decoration, there was no indication as to why he was overlooked. In his own inimitable way, Nelson commemorated his experience by composing a song called “Our Australian Navy.” Copies were made available back in Australia for sixpence and promoted as ‘a new Patriotic Song’. Nelson kept up a steady correspondence with his former boss, John Gent back in Ballarat. He quickly let him know when Bill Pryor (a sergeant in the 21st, who had taken over his former post with the Ballarat East Council) was evacuated from ANZAC. ‘…You will be interested to learn that Pryor has been transferred to hospital with typhoid. He has been very ill with the prevailing soldiers’ complaint, dysentery, but managed to stave off the worst stages. Yesterday, however, he had to surrender. The R.M.C. packed him off last night to the hospital ship.

“On 17 September, the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton, made special mention of Nelson’s leadership on the Southland. He received further recognition when he was appointed as Officer Commanding A Company of the 21st Battalion at ANZAC. In a letter dated 29 October, Nelson wrote again to John Gent outlining the reasons for his change in rank.‘…Our losses amongst officers have been such that I find myself promoted from the position of Adjutant to that of Officer Commanding ‘A’ Company. I am lucky in getting such good subordinate officers (5) as this company possess, and am only one remove from a majority. The command of a double company like this one has rather eased the pressure of personal work, but responsibility I has increased. I am very thankful, however, for the change. The boys have quite settled down to trench warfare, and the intermittent shelling and bombing no longer gets on their nerves. My ‘dug-out’ is a very roomy one 15 feet from my firing line. We get fed very well, and as the food is supplemented by private stores, we manage to exist very nicely. I am quite an expert in the manipulation of ‘bully beef’ and dog biscuits. We learn on service to appreciate the elemental necessaries of life…’Nelson remained at ANZAC until the evacuation in December. Once he was safely back in camp at Tel-el-Kebir, on 14 January 1916, he was able to write to John Gent about that quite miraculous withdrawal.’ On the day of evacuation, we had the largest number of men in any of our battalions. My company garrisoned the central section of Lone Pine the last eight days before evacuation. My sincere wish now is that when we next move, we shall get on a front where trench fighting is unknown. All of us who have been through the mill are praying hard for the next spasm to be open fighting…’He also described the decimation suffered by the 21st across the course of four months continuous fighting, how one four-hour bombardment ‘practically blew their newly-occupied position at Lone Pine to pieces,’ and the men had to re-build it with sandbags, and ‘it took something like 20,000 to 30,000 bags to make a proper job of it.’ That same bombardment caused 142 casualties for the battalion, and it took 450 men to bring the battalion back up to fighting strength once again. Nelson concluded by saying that by the time his letter reached its destination ‘they would be hundreds of miles away, if prophecies then current were correct.’ Certainly, he was fairly close to the mark – during the early hours of 19 March, the 21st Battalion arrived in Alexandria, where they boarded the transport Minnewaska to begin the voyage to France. The men who had travelled on the Southland were all too aware of the dangers that lay ahead – being issued with lifebelts was merely an unnecessary reminder. Fortunately, the trip was completed without incident and they landed in Marseilles at 4:30pm on 24 March. Sadly, it was not long before Nelson’s extended family suffered tragedy on the Western Front – his brother-in-law, Private Leslie Blackman, was killed in action near Ploegsteert on 29 June 1916.Shortly before the 21st Battalion was deployed at Pozieres in July, the unit’s first major action on the Western Front, Nelson Wellington was detached for duty with the 5th Brigade Headquarters. News that his close friend, Eric Brind, was missing in action must have caused further distress for Nelson coming so soon after Les Blackman’s death. It would later be confirmed that the popular officer had been killed by a direct shell blast at Pozieres on 28 July. Meanwhile, Nelson’s value in an administrative role was being recognised. On 20 November he was seconded as a General Staff Officer III Class with the 4th Australian Division. He was then transferred in the same role to the 5th Division Headquarters on 6 December. The New Year saw Nelson appointed as a temporary major with the 7th Infantry Brigade on 9 February. Apparently, his appointments did not keep him out of danger. ‘…A message from the front has been received by the Ballarat “Courier” from Captain Nelson Wellington, at one time secretary of the Orbost Shire. Captain Wellington who was recently appointed on the general staff of the 5th Australian Division, states that the weather has been very cold, and that he received injuries to his hands whilst making a reconnaissance of the front line for an attack. His left hand had to receive treatment by a doctor. Apart from these injuries, he said, he felt tip-top…’ On 14 May 1917, Nelson was confirmed as a brigade major with the 17th Brigade in England. Four months later he relinquished the appointment, but remained seconded as he was about to undertake a formal course of study. He was On Command at the Junior School Course at the Staff School, Cambridge, on 1 October. His results offered conflicting remarks from the examining officer, who found Nelson to be ‘a very keen and hardworking officer. Average ability. His work has shown a steady improvement. Not yet very experienced in Staff work. Has a liking for General Staff work and anxious to be attached to a British Division in the Field.’ It was determined that he was ‘not yet fitted for advancement.’

Conversely, advancement was exactly what he received.

Nelson returned to France on 28 December 1917. On 6 February 1918 he was seconded for duty as brigade major to the 16th Brigade, which comprised units of the 1st Battalion (the Buffs), 2nd Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, and the 1st Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.

Within days of the appointment, Nelson was reconnoitering to the right of the unit’s position at Vaulx-Vraucourt, when the Germans fired gas shells onto the area. A thick cloud of gas drifted down the valley. Nelson was mildly affected, but still required evacuation suffering from gas shell poisoning. He was admitted to the 49th Casualty Clearing Station on 16 February. Fortunately, he recovered quickly and returned to his unit on 6 March. At some point during this period, Nelson lad an attack that succeeded in capturing an enemy machine-gun – there were no details recorded, but his bravery and gallantry in the Field led to him being recommended for the Military Cross. The second occasion he was wounded in action was not quite so mild. On 2 June, Nelson had been going around the lines near Zillebeke Lake when he received a gunshot wound to the abdomen. He was admitted to the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station and treated for a penetrating wound to the left side of his chest. Back in Australia, Ida received word on 13 June, that her husband had been dangerously wounded. It was the beginning of a period of untold worry for her and Nelson’s family. Nelson was then admitted to the 8th Red Cross Hospital at Boulogne on 16 June. He remained there until the 22 July, when he was transferred to the Hospital Ship St Andrew for evacuation to England. Later the same day he was admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth, still in a serious condition. When he was able, Nelson wrote to Ida giving her details of his condition. He told her that ‘the bullet entered his stomach, passed through his lung, and lodged in his collar-bone. He underwent three operations, and says he owes his life to the cleverness of Surgeon-Major Straight.

’More ‘cheerful news’ was soon received from Nelson Wellington, who had been entertained at Windsor Castle with other wounded officers. His Majesty the King was present, and the soldiers were ‘cordially welcomed’ and shown all round the Castle, and ‘regaled with afternoon tea,’ which was served by the King’s eldest daughter, Princess Mary. ‘…The visitors were delighted with the reception, and on taking their departure gave vent to their feelings by bursting forth into song…’ On 19 October 1918, Nelson embarked for Australia onboard the Hospital Ship Sardinia. Intriguingly, on hearing that he was returning home, information regarding Nelson’s wounding in action appeared in local newspapers. ‘…Captain Nelson Wellington — whose name should surely be a forerunner of future greatness — is steaming back to Australia, wearing a gold wound stripe on his khakied sleeve, emblem of a trio of injuries received in the Huns’ March offensive, when the officer and his batman, narrowly escaped being captured by the enemy. Nelson Wellington, who was assistant Town Clerk at Orbost before his Hun-downing expedition, was adjutant to the 21st (Victorian) Battalion, and was on the torpedoed ‘Southland,’ received special mention in despatches for having organised the volunteer stoking corps, which enabled the transport to be driven on to the beach. Later on, he got out of his Anzac khaki to assume the trappings of a captain in Kitchener’s Army, with the 16th Royal Fusiliers…’It seems that Nelson had entertained ideas of returning to active duty. There was mention of a posting to Quetta in India, but word of the signing of the Armistice received during his voyage home rendered this unnecessary. It would later be intimated that he had forgone the posting owing to ‘family reasons,’ however, his health would have prevented an early return to active duty even if the war had continued. Nelson landed in Melbourne on 27 December. Three days later, accompanied by Ida, their children, and his parents, Nelson stepped from a railway carriage at the Ballarat Station to three loud cheers for “one of the heroes of the Southland.” He was met by Christiana Kinsman, whose sons, Stan and Roy Kinsman, had been Nelson’s friends from early days in Mount Pleasant. Both had been killed on the Western Front. Mrs Kinsman had ‘beautifully decorated’ the car belonging to Mr William Brown, who drove the wounded officer to his former home in Laurie Street. Although Nelson was safely home, he was still far from fit and had to return to hospital in Melbourne for further treatment. In the New Year’s Honours List of 1919, it was announced that the Military Cross had been awarded to Nelson Wellington. A perfect potted history accompanying this announcement appeared in the Melbourne newspaper, Table Talk. ‘…Bearer of historic names, Captain Nelson Wellington, shire secretary of Orbost, as befits the naval-cum-military significance of his cognomen, has distinguished himself both on sea and land during the great war. When on the high sea approaching Gallipoli, the transport Southland was torpedoed. Captain Wellington, who was aboard, promptly organised a party of stokers to enable the transport to be driven full speed towards the nearest beach, for which he was mentioned in orders. He has since served with gallantry in France, winning the Military Cross, the award of which has just been announced as a New Year honour. Doubtless both the original Nelson and Wellington would have been pleased at the additional lustre shed upon their names had they been alive to-day. Posterity can well afford to carry forward such names. Captain Wellington, M.C., was assistant town clerk of Ballarat East before going to Orbost. His wife was Miss Ida Blackmail, a successful competitive elocutionist…’ After being discharged from the Caulfield Military Hospital, Nelson’s appointment with the AIF was terminated on 1 June 1919. During a large event held at the Melbourne Town Hall on 22 August 1919, Nelson Wellington was formally presented with the Military Cross by the Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson.

On 10 October, after having given the matter considerable thought, Nelson resigned from his position as Shire Secretary at Orbost. ‘…It is with very great regret that 1 tender my resignation as secretary, etc., to your shire. After a protracted convalescence the medical authorities have decided that I cannot take up indoor work for many years, and that my immediate future must be spent out of doors. I wish to offer my heartiest thanks to you for the many kindnesses and courtesies shown me whilst an officer of the council, and particularly for your help on my enlistment, and your stirring welcome on my return. I am very sorry my wounds will not permit me to resume duty with you, but 1 can sincerely assure you that my stay in Orbost will ever be remembered and that the happy hours spent with you will not readily be effaced…’Nelson had carefully considered his future and the prospects available to him. As a result, he chose to take part in the Soldier Settlement Scheme. Land was made available at Merbein, on the Murray River near Mildura, with the newly cleared land intended to extend the area’s grape and citrus industries. His father purchased an already established citrus orchard and the pair combined their energies into the venture. ‘…The settlement in Merbein was virgin land about three miles from Merbein township, and had to be cleared, blocks measured and fenced, and then planted up with vines and citrus and irrigated. We had grapes back and front and an orange grove in the centre. A one roomed dwelling was erected between the front vines and the orange on our block – bunks at one end and wood stove and large kitchen stove at the other. It was a grim life – freezing cold with frosts in the winter and blazing hot for months in the summer. The harsh life at Merbein in 1920 was very difficult to tolerate. Eventually Grandfather Wellington helped us extend the one-roomed cottage. Two rooms were added onto the back of it. We had plenty of fruit as the vines and citrus trees grew and flourished…’ On 3 May 1921, Ida gave birth to their third and final child, Lesley Joan, who was to be known as “Mickie.” She was born at the “Quisisana” Private Hospital in Dandenong Road, Windsor. It wasn’t long before Nelson felt confined by his new career path – horticulture was not something that could keep him satisfied. He turned more towards involvement with administration of the soldier settlement at Merbein. It was fortuitous that at the time his ‘enthusiasm for fruit growing was waning’ a position as Town Clerk of Mildura became available. He was appointed to the position in 1923. The family then moved for a period of time into a small flat behind the municipal office in Mildura. Eventually they transferred to a more substantial home in Tenth Street. ‘…It was a large house, with grape vines all round the front verandah and considerable garden space. [It had] one of the first electric stoves in town. We also had electric light [and] a telephone. The floors were covered in linoleum and in the living room rugs and some new furniture and a piano…’ Arrangements were made for the property at Merbein to be maintained under management, but when this proved unsatisfactory, Nelson sold the house and block. Following the death of Donald Cameron, the Town Clerk of Essendon, on 16 July 1926, applications were invited to fill the post. Nelson travelled to Melbourne for an interview and was soon offered the job. On 17 November 1926, more than 200 people from the Mildura district gathered at a beautifully decorated Town Hall to farewell Nelson and Ida. It was clear that the Mayor of Mildura valued Nelson’s contribution, ‘Mr. Wellington had raised Mildura to a state of efficiency not equalled in any town in the State.’ Presentations of ‘a very handsome clock’ and a bronze and glass fruit stand were made to the departing couple. For Ida this was a great relief as she had struggled with the intense heat of summers in Mildura. The family moved to rooms at the Junction Hotel in Moonee Ponds, adjacent to the Essendon Town Hall. They eventually moved into the Victorian villa, “Kiandra”, at 23 Learmonth Street in Moonee Ponds. It was to be their home for nearly 20 years.

Meanwhile, Nelson was able to resume his military career. He joined the 57th Infantry Regiment in 1927, and on 9 May 1930 he was promoted to the rank of major and placed second-in-command of both the 57th and 60th Battalions. This was followed by further promotion to lieutenant-colonel on 24 July 1934 when he was transferred to take over command of the 58th Battalion – the “Essendon Rifles.” On Sunday 28 April 1935, the 58th Battalion carried out the ceremony of the trooping of the colour on the Essendon Recreation Reserve – the men were inspected by none other than Ballarat’s Brigadier Leslie Morshead, who congratulated them on their smart presentation. The years leading up to the Second World War were a whirl of camps, balls, manoeuvres, ceremonies and recruitment drives. As wife of the commanding officer and Town Clerk, Ida Wellington was in her element – she handled all the social aspects of her position with grace and aplomb, and she was often mentioned in the social pages of Melbourne newspapers. Nelson also developed a passion for flying during this time and gained his pilot’s license with the Royal Victorian Aero Club. He took part in the All-Australian Pageant held at Sydney on 26 February 1938, flying a Tiger Moth aircraft. The declaration of war on 1 September 1939, brought a new set of challenges for men who had fought through the Great War. Of course, one of the most obvious issues was age. Even men with extensive experience would be held back in desk jobs or garrison duties due to being aged well into their 40’s. When Nelson Wellington enlisted on 22 April 1940, he reduced his age by two years – for some reason 49 seemed far less elderly than 51.Within days of being accepted into the 2nd AIF, Nelson was appointed lieutenant-colonel to command the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion. When they embarked for the Middle East on 7 April 1941, Nelson was with them. The 2/2nd Pioneers went into action during the Syrian-Lebanon Campaign during June 1941. Nelson oversaw operations in the Merdjayoun sector with such ‘a gallant manner’ that he was credited with being largely responsible for stabilising the situation following the enemy attack on 16 June. The following day Nelson led an attack and captured the barracks at Merdjayoun, only to be driven back by an enemy tank attack. On 19 June, Nelson co-operated with an attack by the 2/25th Infantry Battalion. He sent a company of pioneers across the rugged slopes surrounding Merdjayoun, who linked up with the 2/25th west of the town. In the process this company captured forty members of the Foreign Legion and secured the right flank of 2/25th. Following an attack east of Merdjayoun on 24 June, Nelson pushed his patrols through the town and the next morning he personally supervised the move of his forward defensive lines. On 28 June whilst reconnoitring for a further advance, Nelson was wounded in advance of his forward defensive line, but insisted on carrying on until he was ordered to go to the Advanced Dressing Station. He had suffered multiple shrapnel wounds to his forehead, and knee, but it was the wound to his right elbow that gave the most concern – the shrapnel had caused a compound fracture to the olecranon at the head of the ulna, a painful and debilitating wound. The next day he was evacuated to the 7th Australian General Hospital. Despite a period of convalescence at the AIF Officers’ Hostel, his elbow continued to cause issues. On 15 September, Nelson faced a Medical Board that concluded that, due to the damage to his elbow and underlying arterio-sclerosis, he was to be marked permanently unfit for general service. He would also relinquish his command. For his service during the Battle of Merdjayoun, Nelson was recommended for the immediate awarding of the Distinguished Conduct Medal by three senior officers – Brigadier D. S. Berryman, General H. M. Wilson and General T. A. Blamey, who reinforced the recommendation by stating that ‘throughout a period of heavy fighting he inspired his battalion by his own energy and gallant conduct…’ Nelson left the Middle East for Australia on 5 November 1941 onboard the transport Wanganella. After disembarking at Melbourne on 1 December, he was taken straight to the military hospital at Heidelberg. He was still recuperating when the awarding of his Distinguished Service Order was announced in the London Gazette on 30 December. In April 1942, Nelson commenced duty with the Department of the Engineer-in-Chief, specialising in training, programme preparation and administration. He also carried out special duties at the New South Wales branch of the office.

A defining moment came on 1 July 1942, when Nelson was appointed Liaison Officer on the staff of General Headquarters of the Southwest Pacific Area, with the temporary rank of colonel. As Nelson’s postings took him interstate, Ida accompanied him whenever possible. It was an important ongoing connection as the war continued to separate her family – their son, Lyle, enlisted on 18 August 1942; then at Rockhampton on 25 September 1943, their youngest daughter, Mickie, married American serviceman, Lieutenant Alva Bernard Howard. Due to his work as Liaison Officer through the period of July 1942 to March 1942, Nelson was singled out for personal recognition by American general, Douglas Macarthur. ‘…I wish to convey my appreciation for the efficient manner in which you have performed your duties…because of your considerable staff experience, knowledge and distinction, contributed greatly to smooth functioning – My best wishes for continued success…’ Several further appointments followed during 1943 and 1944, including those of Director of Amenities and Director of Labour. However, by 1945, he was beginning to suffer ulna neuritis from the wound to his elbow; his blood pressure was high and he also needed treatment for bronchitis. On 16 May 1945, his appointment with the 2nd AIF was terminated and he was immediately granted the rank of Honorary Colonel. During his time in Rockhampton, Nelson was involved in what was a spiritually life-altering experience, one that he later outlined in an interview with the Catholic periodical, The Advocate.‘…Why I Became a Catholic THE exemplary Catholic life of one of his officers, and a Bishop, a nun and school children praying when they saw crashing in flames a bomber in which he happened to be a passenger were factors which influenced the conversion to Catholicism of Col. N. Wellington, Town Clerk of Essendon. Col. Wellington formerly an Anglican, told his story when the first of this year’s series of talks on “Why I Became a Catholic” was given in the Central Catholic Library, 352 Collins street, last Wednesday. After a bomber crashed and burst into flames at Rockhampton during the recent war, Col. Wellington was taken to hospital. From a priest who visited his ward he ascertained that Rockhampton diocese was in charge of the late Bishop Hayes, formerly of St. Columban’s, Essendon. Dr. Hayes visited Col Wellington—they had known each other at Essendon. His Lordship told him that when he saw the crashing bomber he knelt in his garden and prayed for the safety of its passengers.T

he same had been done by the Sister Superior and her pupils at the girls’ school. Col. Wellington’ spent his convalescence at the residence of Dr Hayes, with whom he discussed his religious doubts and difficulties. His conversion duly followed…’ Nelson returned to his position as Essendon Town Clerk. He and Ida did make time to enjoy an extended 15-month holiday to the United States, returning to Melbourne in April 1951. He also became a founding member of the Essendon Rotary Club. Having achieved so much, and crammed so much into his life, it is quite difficult to believe that when Nelson Wellington died at Dandenong on 22 August 1952, he was still only 63-years-old. Ida Wellington later made a special presentation of a portrait of her late husband, Colonel Nelson F. Wellington DSO, MC, ED, to the Essendon City Council in June 1953. He was also later remembered in an article “Men who made the 2/2nd a legend” that promoted a unit history of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion by Hal Richardson. ‘ASK any Digger of World War II “Did you ever run into the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion?” and it’s odds on he’ll answer: “Yeah, I struck ’em once at … .”In those high-hearted days of fighting in the Middle East? In the heart-break of Japanese prison camps? In the steaming, sweat – blinded tooth-and-nail fury of New Guinea? At Tarakan, at Balikpapan? “Yeah, they were a good mob,” say the Diggers.

They earned a great name, those men of the battered 2/2. They earned it at great cost. They went down before the Japanese in Java but re-formed, rose again to doggedly inch their way through the wild heart of New Guinea. The legend of the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion has been captured now in “The Story of the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion,” in this unit history, the ghosts of old campaigns and old campaigners come marching bravely back. Their story began more than 13 years ago . . .The 2/2 Pioneer Battalion was raised from Victorians in 1940, and after its training at Puckapunyal, was blooded in the Middle East. Long after those lads went marching away and fought in Syria, then marched again this time to be swallowed in Java, there was another rush of recruits to join. In that there is something of the spirit, of Anzac. There were so many men willing to fill the ranks made vacant by Nippon. Dyed hair to get in BUT that is only part of the tale. Firstly: The 2/2 Pioneers was one of those battalions to which men flocked as the Germans marched from lethargy into blitzkrieg in May, 1940. There was private George Roach (later found to be 53 years old) who dyed his hair and moustache and sailed with the battalion to Syria. When eventually admitted to hospital he was found to be suffering with gas poisoning from the First World War. There was Private Bluey Kelly, who went with “The Mob” to the Middle East and with his comrades into Java. After three and a half years of captivity he returned home to celebrate his first 21st birthday. A COMPLETE football team — the Carlton Imperial Rovers enlisted as a body. The late Lieut. Colonel Wellington, the CO. who had been town clerk of Essendon, took with him a large number of men and officers from his suburb. Lieut-Colonel Nelson Frederick Wellington, M.C., V.D., was born at Ballarat in 1889. He died recently. They grew together as a unit with all the growing pains. They sang the songs that marching men sang in those days. Cried the old cries: “You’ll be sorry!” and “When are we going away?” They groaned and complained as they sweated in the “bull ring,” but when opportunity came to break the boredom of training in Australia they went into inter-company competitions with zest: “The best decorated hut caricatured its company’s officers in solid concrete . . .a third, during a leave-train halt, plundered the station master’s garden at Wallan and transplanted a dozen or so ornamental shrubs to the barren surroundings of their hut.

It was April 6, 1941 that the battalion was ferried across Sydney Harbor to a troopship, looking like a grey mountain over the afternoon blue of the Harbor. The Queen Mary swallowed them up with thousands of others and— with wet canteens selling beer at 5d. a pint, hundreds of pounds changing hands in the swy [two-up] games overnight – took them in convoy to the mouth of the Suez Canal. In the Lebanon in June —olive groves, mountain roads, sheer precipices, goat tracks, hot sun, crisp night air, leafy walnut trees – the battalion whetted their appetite for action. It was clean fighting, where every scrap of cover, bushes, and fold in the ground were friends. So very different to the steep, bearded slopes of Java and the fighting at Shaggy Ridge, where cover was an enemy.

In the Syrian campaign the Pioneers – so far as the folks back home could see were fighting a Beau Geste type of war, where Foreign Legionaire troops defended Syrian forts. It was a different story then, when the enemies’ superiority in armour held up the campaign. Our men were grabbing captured enemy weapons to carry on the fight. A different story to those later years when on another July day: “The dull red glow on the horizon could be seen from the Armada, (the largest convoy of Australian troops in history, more than 200 ships and craft in battle formation off the east coast of Borneo), going into a terrifying scene as the convoy stopped off the shores of Balikpapan. “Smoke and flame licked and billowed in a plume to several thousand feet, while erupting hills rang under the impact of hundreds of tons of high explosive shells and bombs …” Those early days in the Middle East battle-hardened and tempered the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Divisions into the super-weapons they proved to be in the Pacific War. The Pioneers — the soldiers who were supposed to go, so other troops said, as “trench diggers,” found themselves playing a game of hide-and seek around Syrian boulders with grenades as weapons. The Pioneers soon found it was only the soldier with initiative who survived in the desert. For instance, they found, while on road and bridge construction, stones conveniently heaped as marking cairns by artillery officers made good road fillings. The cooks found nearby a field post-office, shifted from its site, made a first-class kitchen. While the Japanese were steadily over-running positions in the peninsulas and islands which point to Australia, the 2/2 Pioneers marched up the gang-plank of H.M.T. Orcades. They steamed from the port of Tewfik to an undisclosed destination.

On February 17, 1942, those men from the Middle East looked down at Batavia on the Australian survivors of Singapore-some who had fled or been diverted as Singapore surrendered. Back behind that wharf lay Java, with its bamboo, coconut palms concealing the kampongs, the network of creeks, the rice padi, and the volcanic peaks with their heads in the heavy clouds. Back there in the heat these men found that confusion was an enemy as dangerous as the Japanese. “On one occasion, Lieut. Summons in his capacity as intelligence officer sought information from Dutch headquarters concerning enemy movements, and was told that the morning newspaper had not yet been delivered . . . .At 1150 hours, a Dutch Army intelligence report relayed by headquarters Black Force in Buitenzorg stated, no Japanese landing on Java. At 1155 hours-five minutes later— five Japanese light tanks approached from the west . . .Our troops went into the hills after the Dutch surrendered; but finally they were forced into the prison camps, where, however brave their spirit, their ranks tragically thinned. Those who did not return from Burma and Siam died as bravely as did any soldier in battle,” says the unit history. They celebrated the anniversary in captivity, these men of the 2/2 Pioneers, of their first battle in the Syrian campaign, their attack on Fort Medjayoun. They recaptured the old “Pucka” spirit that had stood and was to stand by them in their times of need. The story of the Japanese prison camps and prison ships and the starvation and privation has been told many times. It is told again on the roll of honour of the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion, with its long list of battle casualties from the Middle East, Java, New Guinea. Tarakan, and its long list of men who died while prisoners of war in Burma, Siam, Borneo, Japan, Java, and at sea. A total of 865 members of the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion were taken prisoners. Of those, 258 did not come home. There were some who were not taken. They had been diverted to Australia. They held thefighting spirit of the battalion. The spirit was kept alive. It fanned. Reinforcements marched in and the battalion flamed again in action in New Guinea in July the following year. There was a change of scene. There was the Ramu River Valley— the Valley of Death — and Shaggy Ridge.

Christmas day. It was an unreal situation. Across the intervening valley, the enemy could be seen on the steep slopes of Shaggy Ridge, while within the company localities turkeys were roasted in improvised ovens set on the reverse slopes concealing the smoke from cooking as far as possible machine-gun fire and salvoes provided the sound effects and completed the Christmas celebrations the fourth in the life of the battalion. Here again on the crazily moulded terrain where foot-hills rose from the valleys to 5,000ft where mountains were almost continuously capped with rain clouds on ridges thousands of feet high unnamed since the beginning of time — on this new battleground men of the 2/2 Pioneer Battalion fought bravely and died. A long single file moved silently up the deep ravines with the aid of ropes and lawyer vines. It took us the entire day to cover the four-mile approach . . .In New Guinea men of the battalion force-marched for five days across lost-world county. Their accomplishment still stands as an epic of endurance and efficientmilitary operation. It was a long trek back to dusty Puckapunyal, to the fig trees of Syria, to the confusion of Java, but not such a long, steep slope to the day when the battalion men went through the barbwire and booby traps of Tarakan. They had served in each of the three infantry brigades of the 7th Division. They had constructed roads cleared air strips, traversed jungles, and fought the Japanese in New Guinea, Tarakan, and they were there at Balikpapan for the finale of the big show World War II. It was after Balikpapan that this tragically decimated Pioneer Battalion, two groups held so long apart by the enemy, joined together again.

Each year the survivors go to the cenotaphs in Australia at dawn to remember. In the mountains of Syria, amid the coconut palms of Java, and the jungles of New Guinea, and on the low hills of Borneo, as well as in many other countries of Southern Asia, their names may be found on simple crosses. . . .These were the stamp of men led by our own Nelson Wellington – a man decorated for bravery and leadership in two World Wars; a truly outstanding representative of the Ballarat community.

Published by amandabentley62

I am a military historian focussing on Ballarat & District in the Great War

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