The Battle of Broken Hill

Four months before the 25th of April 2015, when the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landed on the Turkish coast at Gallipoli, the first Australians to fall from Turkish enemy fire were Oddfellows and members of their families – civilians on a Broken Hill picnic train.

The incident occurred on New Year’s Day, 1915, in Broken Hill, located in the far west of NSW. Broken Hill is a mining town, and was where the BHP mining company was founded in 1885. Members of the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows and their families – 1,200 people, including children, crammed into open ore trucks of a train steaming to the picnic grounds at Silverton, located 25 kilometres north-west of Broken Hill. Short of the picnic grounds, however, the train groaned unexpectedly to a halt.

Picnic train
A picture of a Broken Hill picnic train – the exposed positions of the passengers can clearly be seen.

The engine driver had braked at the curious sight of an unattended ice cream cart by the side of the track. Attached to it was a pole, and from the pole hung a flag – the Turkish flag, although none of the passengers recognized it as such. The happy babble on the train died down as the passengers pondered the meaning of the deserted cart and the forlorn flag.

The silence was suddenly broken by the sound of a gun shot, followed by another. It took the crowd a short time to realise that they were under attack, with a boy, girl, old man and three women hit in the initial volley of bullets. Some of the people on the train realised that they were under fire from two men in a trench dug in a nearby sand dune. The two men firing at them were the town’s ice cream vendor and part time camel driver, Gool Mahommed, and the butcher for the Afghan camel drivers and the leader of the local Islamic community, the elderly Mullah Abdullah. As well as the dead and injured on the train, a man riding by on a horse was also shot, while another man chopping wood 500 metres away was killed by a ricochet of a bullet. The train started up again, taking the petrified passengers out of range, while news of the attack was telegraphed back to the town police and citizen militia.

Mahommed and Abdullah made a run to a new vantage point, and along the way they shot a man who had barricaded himself inside a hut. Near the Cable Hotel, the pair into a group of police. When the police saw they had rifles, two constables were ordered to approach them to ascertain their identity. Mahommed and Abdullah opened fire, and one of the constables was wounded by two bullets. The police decided to retreat and wait for reinforcements. The killers ran for cover to a rocky white quartz outcrop a few hundred metres away that gave them good protection and from there, for the next 90 or so minutes, the they shot it out with police, with the militia and enthusiastic civilians joining in.

Quartz
The quartz outcrop where the final shootout occurred between the Turks and the local police, militia and citizens.

 

The Barrier Miner reported the engagement:
“The general operations were under the direction of Inspector Miller and Lieutenant Resch. The attacking party spread out on the adjoining hills, and there was a hot fire poured into the enemy’s position, the Turks returning the fire with spirit but without effect, which is rather surprising, as the range was short and the attacking parties in some cases exposed themselves rather rashly to get a shot.”

The reason for the ineffectual return fire from the Turks was that Abdullah had been shot dead early on in the battle. Eventually Mahommed stood up with something tied to his rifle – either the Turkish flag or a white flag of surrender, and was shot immediately.

The Barrier Miner reported on the end of the shooting:

“In the battle there was a desperate determination to leave no work for the hangman or to run the risk of the murderers of peaceful citizens being allowed to escape. It was not a long battle. The attacking party was constantly being reinforced by eager men who arrived in any vehicle they could obtain or on foot. At just about one o’clock a rush took place to the Turks’ stronghold and they were found lying on the ground behind their shelter. Both had many wounds. One was dead, the other expired later in hospital. They were in the dress of their people, with turbans on their heads. The police took charge of the bodies.”

Found on the body of Mohammed was a note, which read:

“In the name of God, all Merciful, and of Mahommed His prophet. This poor sinner is a subject of the Sultan. My name is Gool Badsha Mahomed, Afghan Afridi. In the reign of Abdul Hamid Sultan, I have visited his kingdom four times for the purpose of fighting. I hold the Sultan’s order, duly signed and sealed by him. It is in my waistbelt now, and if it is not destroyed by cannon shot or rifle bullets, you will find it on me. I must kill your men and give my life for my faith by order of the Sultan. I have no enmity against anyone; nor have I consulted with anyone, nor informed anyone. We bid to all the faithful farewell.”

Barrier_Miner_31_January_1915_p03_gool-note_1qaa1

 

The Battle of Broken Hill left four people dead and ten wounded, and had far reaching implications. The Australian Attorney-General, Billy Hughes, used the incident to agitate successfully for the internment of all enemy nationals (mostly those of German descent) in Australia during World War 1.

Paul Taylor’s book “Australian Ripping Yarns”, Five Mile Press, Rowville, Victoria, 2004, p. 175-177 was used as the basis for this blog entry.

 

 

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The shadowy “Owen” motor car

There have been many examples of “shadowy” makes in motoring history, with little hard evidence of any manufacturing.  Some of these were linked with stock market fraud to fleece investors and customers. The granddaddy of the “shadowy” makes was the Owen, a make with at least six different names, listed on and off for 36 years, no press descriptions after 1902, no road tests, advertisements or even a photo to show that even just one Owen was built.

The first reference to an Owen car was in March 1901, when Edward Hugh Owen announced that the Automobile Transport Company of Comeragh Rd, West Kensington, London was building a 3.5 hp voiturette called the Twentieth Century. By December of that year, Owen told the Motor Car Journal that he was prepared to take orders for 9, 12, 16 or 24 hp cars, with delivery in early 1902. In January 1902 the company name had changed to the Twentieth Century Travel Co, and the cars were now named Lococars. Only one model was described, a 24 hp powered by a 4-cylinder engine. No illustration was forthcoming.

By 1905 the company had reverted to the name of the Automobile Transport Company, and was listing cars under four different names – 10hp Parisia, 20hp Londonia, 30hp Twentieth Century and 40hp Owen’s Gearless. These cars were listed up to the beginning of World War 1, along with a 60hp model listed up to 1913. Cars named Models A, B & C were said to have been made during World War 1. Owen provided details of chassis numbers, but this doesn’t prove that complete cars were manufactured. While most makes would provide names of famous people who drove their cars in publicity materials and advertising, Owen conveniently said “On Application”, thus hiding the fact that no cars had been built and sold.

After World War 1 Owen listed the smaller Orleans model, with 10hp, 15hp and 20hp models. The first 8-cylinder car was listed in 1921 – the Model OE with a 5.3 litre V8 engine, 2-speed gearbox and a starter motor and carburetor of Owen’s own manufacture. A chassis price of £2,250 pounds was quoted, £150 pounds more expensive than a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The car was actually illustrated in the “Buyers’ Guide”, (picture below) but the side view is suspiciously like the American Kenworthy, with slight retouching. The Kenworthy was never offered for sale in Great Britain and would be thus sufficiently obscure to be unknown to most British readers – another example of Owen’s cunning.

 

1921 Owen Eight
The only known photograph of an Owen car.

In 1925 the V8 gave way to 7.6 litre straight-8 engined model with a chassis price of £1850, which was steadily reduced to £1775 in 1929, staying at that price until the Owen disappeared from buyers lists in 1935. Owen never took any paid advertising in any known magazine. All of the lists which contain details of the Owen are in buyers’ guides and insurance manuals, which would have been free insertions.

Two addresses in Comeragh Road pop up in regard to the Owen – Nos 6 and 72. No. 72 is part of a terrace of late-Victorian era houses with no commercial premises. No. 6 consists of a small shops with a flat above, so once gain there is no chance of any manufacturing taking place there. Links to other cars produced around the same time and in the same area show that the Owen was not one of these cars. The most plausible explanation is that EH Owen was a fantasist in the Walter Mitty mould, and judging by all of the contradictions in his history and specifications of the car, not a very good one.

Nick Georgano’s “Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile”, Stationary Office, London, 2000, was used as the source for this blog post.

Living chess

Living chess, or human chess, involves human beings taken the part of chess pieces and moving around on a giant board. The earliest examples can be traced back to the 15th century. Most commonly such games are intended as a spectacle or pageant and a rehearsed game is “played”, to avoid the problem of a long and/or boring game which would not be enjoyable for the spectators (and probably for the people being used as the pieces!)

In 1891 a Club of Living Chess was formed in Dublin, Ireland with the purpose of giving living chess displays for suitable charities. In 1892 one of the members, Dr Ephraim McDowell Cosgrave wrote what is probably the only book devoted specifically to living chess, “Chess With Living Pieces”.

ChessWithLivingPiecesBook
The front cover of Ephraim Cosgrave’s 68 page book on Chess With Living Pieces.

 

While most living chess games are “one-off” demonstrations, Marostica in northern Italy is famous for its biennial living chess game, which has been held since 1954. The game is performed in honour of a game played in 1454 for the hand of a lady. The moves of the 1454 game are repeated each year, and the event has become a major tourist attraction for the town. One of the restaurants in Marostica is called “alla Schacchiera” (at the chessboard).

 

David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, “The Oxford Companion to Chess”, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992 pp, 230 & 249 was used as the basis for this blog post.

1940 Swift training rifle

In June 1940, Great Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. Her European Allies, France, Poland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Holland had all been crushed by the Blitzkrieg in 1940. The BEF that was sent to reinforce France and Belgium was almost overrun and was only saved by the evacuation from Dunkirk.

At Dunkirk, they had been forced to leave behind a huge store of equipment and munitions. This created an acute shortage of arms for defence not to mention training of new forces. With invasion pending, the government turned to the Swift Training Rifle to help educate the nearly two million British Home Guard troops and the RAF ground defence forces who would repel German paratroopers expected to land at RAF airfields.

Going back before to the 19th century, rifle-sized practice devices were used for target practice. Earlier examples were the American Hollifield “Dotter” and Cummings “Dot Rifle”. The reasons for this were multiple.

When using an active line rifle to train raw recruits, many of whom were city-dwellers who had never held a firearm before, safety issues were tantamount. By using a training rifle, which was incapable of taking and firing any sort of live ammunition, it was nearly impossible for a recruit to have a negligent discharge. Because a training rifle could not and would not fire live ammunition, you could practice basic marksmanship in any room and were not chained to a shooting range. This also allowed training in inclement weather when outdoor ranges would be closed.

Firearms instructors, both civilian and military, attest to the fact that basic marksmanship is decided by the proper use of trigger control, grip, stance and sight alignment to effect rounds impacting down range of the target. A training rifle taught all these fundamentals. The use of one such device with proper reinforcement could teach the basics of these fundamentals to a platoon of recruits in a single afternoon.

With these skills, the recruits could progress to being issued live weapons and proceed to the shooting range to fine-tune their skills. This training formula also would reduce the amount of rounds having to be fired in training as poor shooters could be sent back to the training rifle for more simulated firing before coming back to the range to try again.

Built in Oxfordshire, the Swift Training Rifle had the same dimensions as either the Short Magazine Lee Enfield or the US-made P14/17 Enfield rifles. Some 16,000 of these devices were built in 1941-43 in five variants. The trigger group, magazine, bolt and sight were identical as was the length of pull, weight and overall “feel” of the device to its model.

Where the Swift Training Rifle differed from a real rifle was that instead of a barrel that fired cartridges, the end of the Swift had a series of metal probes. The soldier behind the sights would aim these probes at a scale drawing of enemy troops and when the trigger was pulled, the prong would ‘dot’ the paper target. The whole affair was set up in a folding frame that held the rifle and target, thus making the Swift a simple and self-contained unit to use. Another feature was a spring-loaded butt plate, designed to help the trainee pulled the rifle firmly into his shoulder. If he didn’t do this, an internal safety mechanism prevented the Swift from being “fired”.

The source for this blog post was the www.firearmstalk.com website. The Forgotten Weapons youtube channel has a video on the Smith rifle, which shows the operation of the rifle, and also shows the targets that were placed in front of the rifle.

 

Pearson 4-2-4 “Single” class locomotive

These remarkable tank locomotives were designed for the broad-gauge Bristol & Exeter Railway by Locomotive Superintendent James Pearson and eight (running numbers 39 to 46) were built by Rothwell & Co of Bolton in 1853 and 1854. They were intended specially for working the B & ER’s section of the London to Exeter express route, including the “Flying Dutchman”, at that time the fastest train in the world. They had the largest driving wheels ever successfully used on a locomotive and no one has come up with an authentic recording of any higher speed previous to one of 130kmh (81mph) made behind a Pearson single while descending the Wellington incline south of Taunton.

HLB_Lok_1
The size of the driving wheels of the Pearson 4-2-4 can be seen in comparison with the crew member standing in front of the locomotive.

 

The engines were guided by a four-wheel bogie at each end, and they were propelled along by the huge flangeless set of driving wheels located more or less centrally between the two bogies. As with all locomotives that ran on Isador Brunel’s broad-gauge lines, the cylinders and motion were located inside the frames. Water was carried in the tank at the rear as well as in a well-tank between the frames. Pearson’s singles were untypical , thought, in that they carried no names, only numbers.

After 14 years of service four of the engines (39-42) were rebuilt, with the 9-foot driving wheels replaced by wheels measuring 8 feet 10 inches. On the 29th of July 1876, 39 derailed with loss of life near Long Ashton near Bristol, and had to be scrapped. As a consequence, the remaining three locomotives were completely rebuilt on more conventional lines as 4-2-2 singles, which were regarded by many as the most handsome locomotive ever to run on the broad-gauge track, with the last engine being withdrawn from service in 1890.

BE2001
One of the four Pearson singles after being rebuilt as a 4-2-2 engine.

 

 
“The Great Book of Trains” by Brian Hollingsworth and Arthur Cook – Salamander Books, NY, 1987. pp 44-45 was used as the basis of this blog post.

The HMAS Sydney survivor

On the 6th of February 1942, a Carley float containing a body was seen drifting off Flying Fish Cove, an inlet on Christmas Island, an Australian dependency located 1,550 kms northwest of the Australian mainland. The island has a population of approximately 2,000, and phosphate mining has been the main industry since the turn of the 20th century.

christmas_island_thumbnail

An inquest was held to determine the possible injuries of the body, as well as how the body could have ended up in the Carley float. The harbour master, medical officer and radio station manager each contributed to the report. It is unknown if the doctor performed an autopsy; if he did, that report has never been found. The body was interred in the Old European Cemetery with full military honours in an unmarked grave.

grave

The body was partly decomposed, and the eyes, nose and flesh from the right arm was missing, probably eaten by birds. It was clothed in a faded boilersuit, and had no dog-tags or other personal effects. A couple of shoes were found in the life raft. The float had been damaged by shellfire, with shrapnel in the outer covering. The underside was covered in barnacles, suggesting that it had been in the water for a long time.

When WW2 broke out, the island was a possible Japanese target due to the phosphate deposits, so a naval gun was installed on the island. Japanese submarines started patrols around the island, followed by bombing raids. The Japanese landed unopposed on the 31st of March 1942, partly due to a mutiny by Indian troops, who shot their British NCOs. The Japanese stayed for a few days, loaded some phosphate and then returned to the Dutch East Indies, except for a 20 man garrison, who stayed until the Japanese surrender in 1945. Many records, including the inquest on the body, appear to have been lost during the occupation.

So the obvious question was where did the body come from?

The Carley float was named after its inventor Horace Carley, and was standard issue on RN and RAN ships during the Second World War. So it is logical to believe that the float came from an Allied ship that had been sunk, and that the body was a survivor of that sinking. The officials on Christmas Island believed that the body on the float was from the HMAS Sydney, which had sunk off the Western Australian coast on the 18th of November 1941 after a battle with the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran. The crew of the Sydney numbered 645 – there were no survivors, except for the possibility that the body was a member of the Sydney who had managed to get off the ship before it sank. Giving creedence to this possibility was the wording on the float – “LYSAGHT DUA-ANNEAL ZINC. MADE IN AUSTRALIA”. Boilersuits were available to ships officers, commissioned warrant officers and warrant officers in the RAN, and were a popular working dress at the time. The Sydney was the only RAN ship to be involved in an engagement which would result in a Carley float being damaged.

carleyfloat
Carley float.

The 1998 Joint Standing Committee inquiry into the loss of the Sydney stated that on the balance of probabilities, the float and the body came from the Sydney. The Committee made recommendations that the grave should be found, the body exhumed and DNA testing done with living relatives of the Sydney’s crew, to determine if the body was the lone survivor of the Sydney. The body was located in October 2006. Following an autopsy and taking of body samples, the body was reburied with full military honours in the Geraldton Cemetery in November 2008.

HMAS Sydney II Memorial Service - Reburial of the Unknown Sailor
The headstone of the unknown survivor from HMAS Sydney after reinterment at Geraldton.

 

The Cole Inquiry in 2009 officially confirmed that the body was in fact a survivor of the Sydney. Interestingly enough, the RAN from the time of when the float was located until the Cole Enquiry steadfastly stated that the float was not from the Sydney, and that the body was not a Sydney crew member. The recovered body had the legs doubled up under the knee, which matches the recollections of witnesses who saw the body when it was discovered back in 1942.

skeleton
Drawing showing the location of the skeleton in the unmarked grave on Christmas Island.

 

The Cole Inquiry determined that the cause of death of the body was brain trauma, with shrapnel found embedded in the skull. The unknown sailor was believed to be aged somewhere between 22 and 31, had size 11 feet, was right-handed and was unusually tall for his generation – between 168 and 187 centimetres in height. The ankle joints had squatting facets, which suggested that the body has spent a lot of time squatting than sitting. This suggests a person who was involved in physical work, possibly in the country. DNA testing suggested that the body had red hair, blue eyes and pale skin. The body also had unique dental work – two missing teeth, wisdom teeth intact and nine gold fillings. Using contemporary enlistment and medical records, 330 members of the Sydney’s crew were eliminated as a possible match. By January 2014 the number of possible matches had been narrowed down to 50. The major stumbling block is to identify and track down a female descendant of the maternal line, so that their DNA and the DNA of the body can be compared. The sailors direct descendants do not share the same DNA. When the RAN has located a suitable relative they have no idea that they were related to a sailor from the Sydney. Hopefully the mystery of the lone surviving sailor will be solved in the near future.

Apart from the identity of the sailor, there are still some other unanswered questions:

1. Was the sailor the only crew member of the Sydney who managed to get onto a Carley float before the ship sank?

2.If there were other survivors who managed to get on the same Carley float, what happened to them? Could they have died and been thrown overboard by the remaining survivors, until only one was left?

3. Was the sailor injured before getting on the float, or did the explosions that occurred when the Sydney sank gave the fatal injuries to the sailor, as well as damaging the float?

4. Could the body have been machine-gunned by either a Japanese aircraft or a submarine while it drifted north from the Western Australian coast to Christmas Island?

The Carley float with the lone survivor was not the only Carley float from the HMAS Sydney that has survived. One other float was washed on the Western Australian coast, but it had no bodies or survivors in it when it was found, as seen in the following contemporary newspaper account.

carley-life-floatnewspaper

The HMAS Sydney memorial website and the Department of Defence Christmas Island survivor report pages were the primary sources for this blog post.

 

 

 

 

Abbott-Detroit Motor Car Company

abbottdetroitbadge
Abbott-Detroit radiator badge.

The Abbott-Detroit was a conventional car, initially powered by a 30hp 4-cylinder Continental engine, and with one body style, a 5-seater tourer priced at $1500. Founder Charles Abbott left his company in 1910, but by 1912 the range had been expanded to five styles on two wheelbases, 2972 and 3046mm (110 and 120inch), priced from $1275 for a 4-door roadster to $3000 for a 7-passenger limousine. That year the company built 1817 cars, its best output as it turned out, and the slogan was ‘Built for Permanence’.

1913model44-50
1913 Abbott-Detroit 44-50 tourer.

Abbot-Detroits were of very conventional appearance, apart from the 1913 Battleship Roadster which had a striking vee radiator. A 6-cylinder engine, also by Continental, joined the range in 1914 when the company was reorganised. New owner Edward F Gerber left in 1915 and was replaced by RA Palmer, who had formerly managed Cartercar. He changed the name to Consolidated Car Co, and expanded the range to include the Model 8-80, powered by a Herschell-Spillman V8. The four was dropped after 1915. In order to increase production Palmer relocated the company to Cleveland in April 1917, a few days before America entered World War 1, changing the name of both company and car to Abbott. He acquired a large factory taken on a ten-year lease, but sales never justified the move and were lower than they had been in Detroit.

1917model6-44
1917 Abbott-Detroit Model 6-44 roadster.

Very few of the 8-80 were made and none at Cleveland, where a small number of sizes were built before Abbott went bankrupt in January 1918. Just 312 cars were made that year, with total production of Abbott-Detroit and Abbott cars over a nine-year period being just over 12,000 units. The Cleveland plant was acquired by the National Electric Lamp Works, and it is believed that a few cars were assembled by them with leftover parts.

The source for this blog entry was Nick Georgano’s book “The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile”, Stationery Office, London, 2000, p. 5