Douglas Barnes

There are multiple reasons most people from Ballarat would instantly recognise the name of F. W. Barnes – as one of the oldest funeral directors in the area, the company has been responsible for caring for people during the most difficult moments of their lives. As with all family businesses, there is always a story – one that ultimately makes you appreciate the history behind the name.

As was typical in early settlement days, businesses would often multi-task – and that was certainly the case with the Barnes family when they settled in Learmonth during the late 1850’s. Thomas Barnes, newly arrived from Hampshire, England, became a storekeeper in the town. From the shop he also ran a timber yard and bakery, as well as working as a carpenter. But it was as the district’s undertaker that he was to become most well-known.

When he was of an age to join his father in the business, his eldest son, Frederick William Barnes, also took on the occupation of undertaker.

F. W. Barnes married his first wife, Agnes McCubbin, in 1885. Their first child, Elizabeth Winifred, was born at Learmonth in 1888. This was followed by the birth of their only son, Douglas, on 19 April 1890. In typical English tradition, the boy had been named for his paternal grandmother, Frances Henrietta Douglas.

Doug, as he was to become universally known, was still only a toddler when tragedy struck the family – his older sister died suddenly from influenza on 10 October 1891, when she was aged just 3-years and 6-months. A third child, also named for F. W.’s mother, Frances Henrietta, arrived in 1893. There were to be no further children – Agnes was probably already suffering from the illness that would eventually kill her. She died from consumption (tuberculosis) at Learmonth on 25 July 1898.

Doug was to learn the meaning of grief from a very early age.

By this time, young Doug had become a student at the Learmonth State School. He was a bright and popular boy, who evidently did particularly well at his studies. In 1901, F. W. Barnes married his second wife, Annie Agnes Collier, daughter of a Welsh engineer. Not only did she assume the role of stepmother to 11-year-old Doug and his 8-year-old sister, she produced two daughters of her own – Winifred Mary on 17 June 1903 and Marjorie Ethel on 25 April 1906. It seems that her task in caring for Doug was certainly an easy one – he was obviously a biddable child, industrious and very likeable. Given that he was awarded the prize for “Best Liked Boy” by the school Board of Advice at the Learmonth State School in December 1902, it was clear that he was well liked by both his peers and the adults around him.

After graduating from Learmonth State School, Doug continued on to the Ballarat Church of England Grammar School. Meanwhile, F. W. was branching out further as an undertaker and embalmer. The firm of Charles Morris and Sons was well established in Ballarat and arranged funerals from several funeral parlours in the city.

A family friendship between Thomas Barnes and Charles Morris resulted in F. W. moving into Ballarat where he took over the parlour at 21 Raglan Street south. He worked in conjunction with the manager of the Morris business, Hugh Laughlin. During this time the Barnes family lived behind the parlour in Raglan Street. In June 1913, after purchasing the rival Ballarat business of Jordan and Tippett in Armstrong Street south, F. W. struck out on his own.

Having completed his education, Doug joined his father in the new firm and advertisements for “F. W. Barnes and Son” began to appear in newspapers across the State.

Doug had also developed a wide range of interests outside his working life. Ballarat had a particularly strong interest in military matters, and Doug joined the “Old 7th Regiment” as a private in 1908 when he was still in his teens. When the Universal Service Scheme was introduced in Australia during 1911, the re-organising of militia units soon followed. Ballarat went from one regiment of infantry to two – the 70th and 71st. Doug Barnes was commissioned as a second-lieutenant with G Company of the 71st Infantry on 29 October 1913 and served as the unit’s signalling officer.

Like many of his contemporaries, Doug was a member of the Masonic Lodge (St John’s branch) and he also joined the Ballarat City branch of the Australian Natives Association.

At the same time, his Scottish ancestry engendered an interest in the local Caledonian Society and a love of singing. He became a member of the congregation at St Andrew’s Kirk, the large Presbyterian church in Ballarat’s main street, where took on the roles of honorary secretary of the Ballarat Presbyterian Fellowship Union (and the St Andrew’s branch), as well as being assistant secretary for the St Andrew’s Young Men’s Society.

Volunteering was clearly part of the Australian ethos, and it was only a matter of time before Doug enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. At the outbreak of war, he was placed in charge of the mobilisation depot in Ballarat. He then formally applied for a commission on 27 March 1915 – his routine medical examination revealed him to be 5-feet 9½-inches tall, a slim 10-stone 7-pounds in weight, with a strong chest measurement of 34 to 37-inches. #

On 1 May, Doug was promoted to the rank of lieutenant with the newly raised 23rd Infantry Battalion. Just a week later, he embarked from Melbourne with headquarters staff of the 23rd onboard HMAT Euripides. During the trip to Egypt an informal group portrait was taken of more than 30 of the battalion’s officers – these included George Morton, Eric Brind, Matthew Baird, Bill Brazenor, Duncan Beith and John Pascoe – all military leaders from Ballarat. Sitting on the deck in the front row, with his legs crossed, was Doug Barnes.

Due to a significant gap in Doug’s service record, little is known of his experiences during the remainder of 1915. He did cable his father around 10 August, saying that he had been ill with a fever, but had ‘made a splendid recovery’ and was once again with his unit. He had also been promoted to the role of commanding officer of the signalling corps of the 23rd Battalion.

The 23rd embarked for Gallipoli at 6am on 30 August. The transport Haverford carried the bulk of the unit (including the headquarters staff), whilst B Company was onboard HT Southland. The ships sailed from the Egyptian port of Alexandria and carefully made their way across the Mediterranean and into the Aegean Sea. During the voyage the men were inoculated against cholera.

On 2 September, just 30-miles from the Greek island of Lemnos, shortly before morning inspection, the Southland was struck be a torpedo fired from the German submarine UB-14. Unfortunately, it is not known which ship Doug Barnes was travelling on, but he certainly witnessed the events and experienced the adrenalin-charged aftermath. If, as is likely, he was onboard the Haverford, he arrived at Lemnos at 5pm later the same day.

Two days later, on 4 September, the 23rd Battalion boarded the steamer Partridge to continue on to Gallipoli. It was an uneventful voyage, and they arrived at ANZAC at 9:30pm. By 11pm they were all safely ashore, and the men then marched through to Rest Valley where they camped for the night. The men reached Lone Pine on 6 September.

For the remainder of their time at ANZAC, the 23rd Battalion was either garrisoned the trenches at Lone Pine or in reserve at Brown’s Dip. Doug was to serve throughout this period as signalling and communications officer to the battalion.

By 28 January 1916, Doug was back on duty at Tel-el-Kebir, northeast of Cairo. For the trip to France, the battalion was once again split up – this time across three transports: City of Edinburgh, Caledonia and Lake Michigan, sailing on the 18, 19 and 20 March respectively. It is not known on which ship Doug made his way across the Mediterranean, but, given his Scottish leanings, it would seem to have been providential should he have sailed on one of the first two ships.

The battalion also made their way to the north of France in piecemeal fashion – finally all together once again on 29 March in the small commune of Wittes near St Omer.

It wasn’t until 10 April that the 23rd finally moved into the trenches, occupying the right section in the vicinity of La Croix Marechal near Fleurbaix.

On 16 June, the battalion was in the line at Rue-du-Bois. The Australian artillery had been active along the German frontline trenches, resulting in a retaliatory bombardment of some 80 shells. During one of the explosions, a piece of shrapnel hit Dough Barnes in the upper part of his left arm. He made his way to the 2nd Casualty Clearing Station, where his wound was dressed before he was transferred by ambulance train to the 14th General Hospital at Wimereux on the coast.

Although the wound was deemed “mild”, it was still severe enough to warrant “Blighty Leave”. He embarked for England on 19 June onboard the Hospital Ship Newhaven and was admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth, later the same day.

Following treatment, Doug was transferred to the 5th Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Digswell House, Welwyn, on 5 July. He spent a further seven weeks in hospital before he was finally discharged on 25 August. Doug was able to enjoy a leave pass before reporting to the No1 Command Depot at Perham Downs on 14 September.

Just five days later he was on his way back to France. He passed through the 2nd Australian Divisional Base Depot at Étaples on his way to rejoining the 23rd Battalion in billets at Ypres on 25 September. His return was greeted with promotion to the rank of captain.

During his time away, Doug had missed two tours of action at Pozieres in July and August. The battalion arrived back on the Somme in early November – this time at Flers. Conditions had already begun to deteriorate, with snow on the ground and temperatures almost beyond endurance. Towards the end of the month, with the battalion having suffered multiple casualties, relief came and the men moved back to Dernancourt.

Doug and his men spent Christmas 1916 in the trenches at Trônes Wood. As the New Year dawned, the 23rd came out of reserves at Needle Trench for a well-earned rest. Doug, however, was ill. He reported sick to hospital on 4 January 1917 and was admitted to the ANZAC Casualty Rest Station suffering from gastro enteritis.

Following a transfer to the 2nd Red Cross Hospital in Rouen, Doug was once again on his way to England. On 15 January he returned to the wards of the 3rd London General.

A month passed before Doug was well enough to be transferred to Cobham Hall convalescent home for Australian officers in Kent. An historic manor house, Cobham Hall had been opened up expressly for this purpose by Lord Darnley and his Australian wife, Florence. It was the ideal place for men to regain their strength.

It seems that Doug’s illness proved persistent and he required further treatment at the military hospital at Fort Pitt in Chatham, before returning again to Cobham Hall.

By the time he was finally discharged on 25 April 1917, Dough had been under treatment for nearly four months. He marched into the No1 Command Depot at Perham Downs the next day. For the remainder of the war, Doug was employed in training troops heading across to the Western Front.

On 7 November he was posted for duty as Officer Commanding the No2 Overseas Training Brigade at Sandhill Camp, Longbridge-Deverill, near the village of Sutton Veny. His work brought Doug to the attention of the General Officer Commanding the AIF Depots in the United Kingdom. On 26 November 1917, he was recommended for the Order of the British Empire ‘for services in the war.’ The decoration was slightly downgraded to the lesser Member of the British Empire and awarded to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 7 February 1918.

By 26 August 1918, Doug had been boarded as permanently unfit for general service, although he was still fit for home service. At the end of the war, Doug was one of those granted “1915 Leave” – an early return home. He sailed to Australia on 21 December onboard the transport Mamari. He arrived in Melbourne on 4 February 1919.

His appointment with the AIF was then terminated on 29 March. Given Doug Barnes’ experiences at ANZAC and on the Western Front, it is not difficult to understand that he came home immeasurably changed. However, he immediately resumed working alongside his father in the family undertaking business, and he quickly attempted to fill his life with activities and positive community involvement.

In July 1919, Doug performed the role of adjutant in organising the Peace Day celebrations held in Ballarat. Then, in October, he acted as steward for the Royal South Street Society’s Highland Day. He also found time to become involved with the Ballarat Anglers’ Club.

On 29 December 1919, Doug was elected as honorary treasurer of the Ballarat and District Caledonian Society – it was remarked at the time that he was ‘a most valued addition to the council.’ His personal hands-on approach saw him direct multiple concerts around the district over the ensuing years, with the society raising significant funds for various charitable institutions.

By 1924 he was president of the group. Celebrations for Burns Night, held at the Ballarat Town Hall on 24 January 1920, prompted Doug to recall the occasion when King George had awarded him the MBE.

‘…The young officer had gone to the Palace to receive his decoration…from the hands of King George, and he was the first Australian to appear before His Majesty to secure this distinction. “Where did you come from” queried the King, and Captain Barnes answered, “Ballarat, Victoria.”

Captain Barnes went on to say that His Majesty took him by the shoulders und addressing the assemblage said he well remembered Ballarat with its beautiful wide streets, gardens and statuary, also his visit to the Lake and Gardens, and the magnificent statuary there and finally the welcome accorded him at the City Hall. His Majesty added that he was delighted to meet and decorate a boy from the City which he remembered so well…’

The burgeoning automobile industry resulted in the development of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria; in 1923 Doug Barnes was elected as secretary to the Ballarat branch. The club would often organise special events, including outings for the children of Nazareth House.

The same year, Doug was named as president of the Ballarat Pipe Band. In September, he was part of a “Scottish welcome” and mayoral reception at the Ballarat Railway Station when the great entertainer Sir Harry Lauder arrived to fulfil his concert engagement in the city.

For four years – from 1922 to 1926 – Doug was the Honorary Secretary of the Community Singing Society in Ballarat. During this period, the group raised significant amounts for charityDoug also continued serving with the newly numbered 8th Battalion at a reserve level in Ballarat, and took part in annual camps as a staff captain.

As a returned serviceman, Doug also became a prominent member of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (forerunner of the RSL), and held the position of president of the Ballarat branch during 1929 and 1930. This was during a period of great change around the annual ANZAC Day commemorations and the manner in which they were held. Doug Barnes had very clear ideas on the subject, as expressed in 1929.

‘…Why should the returned men of the country districts flock to the metropolis to swell the city crowds?” This question, raised an animated discussion at a meeting of the sub-committee of the Ballarat branch of the R.S.S.I.L.A., held at the Institute on Thursday night. The business on hand was the arrangement of detail in connection with the ceremonies of ANZAC Day.

The point at issue was stressed by the president, Mr. Douglas Barnes, who said it was time all country branches of the League made a stand and realised their duty to the fallen comrades of their own local districts, and their responsibility to the dependants and relatives of those comrades, and organised appropriate ceremonies in their own town. The inevitable consequence of this centralisation of observances in the metropolis was that all local celebrations fell short of the dignity and the sacredness that might be theirs, because of the absence of those who should take the foremost part-their own returned men. This state of things should not be. The men of Anzac came from Victoria, not from Melbourne alone. In past years probably one-half of the thousands who took part in the ANZAC Day march in Melbourne were from the country, and by their presence they made the success of this march one on which Melbourne folk and their daily papers loved to dwell. How much longer was ANZAC Day to be centralised for the- benefit of the metropolis, and the impoverishment of the services in the districts from which the bulk of the Victorian members of the AIF were drawn?

A couple of years ago when Royal visitors were in Melbourne a large parade was desired to do them honour. Then the country branches of the league put forth every effort to make as good a show in the capital city as they had made in the fighting ranks of the AIF, and it was evident they succeeded. But that was a special occasion. Not so, however, last year, nor was it this year. Geelong, Bendigo, and the Ballarat branch decided, last year, not to be represented in the Melbourne celebrations, and of this action and the other activities in their respective districts much has been said in commendation. Geelong had already been severely criticised by “the powers that be” in Melbourne, probably because they dared to advertise their attitude in the metropolitan Press, but with Geelong the executive officer of this branch rejoiced at the growing feeling of dissatisfaction that existed amongst the country “diggers” at the continual centralisation of ANZAC Day and like celebrations. Surely the time had come to call a halt, and it behoved all returned men to stand by their branches in their home. town. By so doing they would assist to refute the reflection which is cast on the country parts of the State in the assumption that the capital was the only spot in which to hold a parade, a celebration, or an imposing service.

The pleas of great reunions, meeting of old friends, renewal of old friendships which were broadcast from the metropolis must be faced with the stern truth that if the spirit of ANZAC was to be kept alive in the breasts of young Australia the remembrance of ANZAC was to be made the duty of every part of the State, and not be the particular privilege of Melbourne. The local service must recall the local dead, and at the same time it must recall with gratitude the local returned and living. The sacrifices of those who “will never return” must be employed to build up the spirit of nationhood, of loyalty, and of self-sacrifice which alone could make a nation great. Let them then resolve that in future they would make every effort to see that at least ANZAC Day ceased to be an excuse to drag our returned men (and very often, too, their dependants with them) to swell the crowds in Melbourne. Let all earnestly support the local function, because, after all, in however humble a guise the outward celebration might be, the true recognition of ANZAC Day was for each group of the community to assemble around its own memorial, and there render homage to the immortal memory of those who sought not fame, but in seeking to render service, found a deathless name.

These sentiments were supported by other executive officers, and all were united in the opinion that every effort would be made to put into effect the principles enunciated…’ It is due to men like Doug Barnes that we now celebrate ANZAC Day in the form we know so well.

Possibly the only sore point in Doug’s life was a fracture in his relationship with Miss Doreen McLean, of Drummond-street, Ballarat. Doreen was an art student at the Ballarat School of Mines; the pair had become acquainted through Caledonian Society functions. Clearly, they had planned to marry, but when Doug procrastinated, Doreen unexpectedly took legal action, issuing him with a writ through her solicitor in December 1927, claiming damages of £2,000 for ‘alleged breach of promise to marry.’ It seems that nothing further came of the situation, and the couple eventually repaired their relationship and, in 1937, they were married at Toorak.

On 13 June 1940, F. W. Barnes was sitting in a hair dressing salon in Lydiard Street, Ballarat, when he suddenly collapsed and died from a heart attack. His father’s death left Doug as principal owner of their now well-established company. Throughout the war years and into the 1950’s, Doug continued as Ballarat’s pre-eminent funeral director and the name of F. W. Barnes became synonymous with thoughtful care of grieving families.

Around 1960, Leslie Royce Lillingston, a long-time friend of Doug Barnes, joined the firm. When it came time for Doug to retire, having no direct descendants of his own, he passed the business over to Les Lillingston.

Doreen and Doug’s home for their entire life together, was at 8 Lyons street north – one of Ballarat’s most beautiful Art Deco style houses. They were still living there when Doreen died on 21 July 1975. Doug continued to live in the Lyons Street home until he was nearing the end of his life. He died at Ballarat on 21 June 1987 at the grand age of 97-years – one of Ballarat’s oldest Great War veterans and one of our finest community contributors.

The firm of F. W. Barnes, funeral directors, continues to this day.

353515 Comments4 SharesLikeCommentShare

Published by amandabentley62

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: