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Richard and Dick Camm

 

Kilmore’s Adopted Sons

By Elizabeth Pidgeon

 

Missing Soldier.

 

“Advice has been received that Capt. R. A. Camm who went abroad, with a Victorian

Pioneer Battalion, is reported missing. Capt. Camm had also been a member of the 1st A.I.F., and since residing in Kilmore had been a very active President of the local Branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association. His son, Richard, and his brother Aubrey, are also serving overseas.”

- Kilmore Free Press 24 July 1941

 

Richard Andrew Camm was born on a rural property between Strahan and Zeehan, Tasmania on 29th January 1893 to Richard, a hotelkeeper and Catherine Kinnear, (nee Gill) Camm.  He was the second child of seven children.  The family had long pioneering  associations in Tasmania. His grandparents were English and Irish convicts. He grew up on a farm outside Scottsdale at Bridport a northeastern coastal town.

 

On the 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany, Prime Minister Joseph Cook, declared that Australia will naturally join the Mother country in defending her shores.  He offered an expeditionary force of 20 000 men.  “If the Armageddon is to come, then you and I shall be in it… if the Old Country is at war so are we.  Our resources are great and the British spirit is dead …our duty is quite clear, namely to gird up our loins and remember that we are Britons” Mr Cook said. Nationalist sentiment was high in the community with reports of wild enthusiasm and patriotic songs taken up by crowds in the City streets.  In September Andrew Fisher took Federal Office.  He had won great support in his campaign by pledging “our last man and our last shilling” to help with the war effort.

 

Richard enlisted immediately in August 1914. He was 21 years old, he listed his occupation as farmer (in fact he was a sheep farmer) on his attestation papers and had already served in the senior cadets which was the compulsory military training program for boys and young men at this time.

 

Richard was assigned to C Squadron 3rd Regiment of the Australian Light horse and was part of the Force that landed at Gallipoli.  There, in 1915 he was promoted to Corporal.  In 1916 the Camel Corps was formed to help fight a revolt by the Senussi Arabs in Egypt’s Western Desert, Richard is recorded as being twice wounded while in the Anzac Camel Battalion.  The cameleers were known to be a tough lot but magnificent fighters.  A new field of military operations was opening up and many light horsemen were recruited to join the No. One Squadron AIF Flying Corps, Richard among them.  They were considered to be physically fitter and have quicker reflexes and a “better character” than other men. Around this time Richard would befriend fellow Tasmanian and Gallipoli veteran of the Light Horse, observer and later flyer Hudson Fysh – in 1920, one of the founders of Qantas. Richard was involved in a number of long-range photo-reconnaissances as an observer.  This involved deep penetrations into enemy territory. As well as bombing raids over Palestine usually in a two-seater plane, in which the observer, armed with machine guns, sat behind the pilot. In 1916 he was promoted to First Lieutenant. In June 1918 he was shot in the wrist, while stationed out of Ramleh and was wounded seriously enough to be invalided home on the 3rd August 1918.  He had served with distinction in World War One, having shot down three aircraft.

 

On home soil, Richard married Grace Elizabeth Wardlaw. She was from a prestigious Tasmanian family.  Richard was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the District of Scottsdale and was registered as such in the trade directory section of the Wise’s Post Office Directory 1921-1922.  On the 8th September 1922, a son was born in Scottsdale.  He was named for his father and Grandfather – Richard – known as Dick.

 

For unknown reasons, Grace was not to be a major influence on Dick’s life. In 1928 The Camm Brothers of Tasmania, purchased Reg Moore’s successful 14 year-old poultry farming business.  At that time it contained 3000 birds. Richard Jnr. was six years old.  It is not known if he came to Kilmore with his father at this time or at a later date.  The unnamed brother was probably Gilbert.  Their property was named “Tel el Beda”. Perhaps there is some significance to this name from Richard Seniors experiences during the War. Reg Moore was a former blacksmith and mechanic who had already established a successful egg farm.  In 1921 he had averaged 770 eggs daily from his fowls, commanding top prices in the Melbourne market. Reg Moore, by 1941 was a grazier living in Kilmore East.  He was to be the executor of both Camm wills and is probably the “Regie” referred to in letters that Dick Camm later wrote.

 

In 1931 there is evidence of three boxes of chickens sent to a Mr. Camm at Somerville Railway Station originating from the Kilmore Railway Station.  Mr. Gibb A. Camm operated a roadside kiosk in the 1930s in Hastings Road, Somerville. Among other fresh products, advertised “chickens for sale in season”.  This was most certainly Gilbert Alexander Camm, Richard Snrs. younger brother. In November 1931 “Athmos” writing in “The Kilmore Free Press” refers to Gipps Street, “the place …now occupied by Cam Bros and used as a poultry farm” – once open land on a hill where the members of the football club met and indulged in a game of toeball.”

 

My Grandmother, Miss Annie Murray Good was employed by Richard as a housekeeper and nanny for young Dick around this time. She had come to Kilmore during the Depression in search of work from Burwood.  In January 1932 Annie married Thomas Cornelius Comans, a farmer from nearby Bylands.

In May of 1932 Richard is described as the sole proprietor of the Kilmore Poultry Farm when local press reports his decision to nominate for the recent vacancy of the Kilmore Shire Council. He had recently become President of the recently formed Returned Soldier’s Association and described as a “very progressive young man with many new and up-to-date ideas”.

In January 1934, Richard’s mother, Catherine visited her son in Kilmore.

 

 During his time in Kilmore Richard became involved with the Board of management at the Kilmore  hospital and was an active member of the local rifle club.

 

Australia was at war once again on September 3, 1939.  We would stand by Britain who had declared war with Germany.  Dick enlisted at the Melbourne Town Hall in March 1941. He cited his occupation as labourer and his age as 21 and four months, being born in Scottsdale, Tasmania. He was in fact only nineteen years old. He followed his father, now a Captain who had enlisted in May, the previous year. They were both assigned to the 2/2 Pioneers Battalion.  As was Sgt. Aubery Kirling Camm, known as Aub, Capt. Camm’s younger brother who served in the Battalion till the end of the war.  Dick joined his father almost immediately, embarking on the Queen Mary, for now a converted troopship.  They crossed the equator on Anzac eve, and on the day Captain Camm, a WW1 veteran, reportedly  “delivered an inspiring address which earned the unqualified admiration of all who attended the service, and the limited number of typewritten drafts of his address were eagerly sought as souvenirs of the voyage”.

 

After a successful campaign against the Vichy French, the 2/2nd Pioneers, were given the task of occupation troops in order to rest and re-in-force, re-equip and receive further training.    It is from this Headquarters base that Dick wrote a number of letters, still preserved, to Ann, now Mrs Tom Comans. A farmer’s wife with three young children underfoot. One letter is also addressed to her sister Flo (Mrs Fred Dickman). Despite the age difference, they shared a friendship and common interest in the little town of Kilmore. Ann sent him canteen orders and Kilmore news.  Dick described to Ann, the cold weather, the routines of night guard duty, digging latrines and driving trucks – and then washing them fruitlessly in the dusty conditions! The rugged landscape he was witnessing, looking forward to the “comforts” sent from home and he spoke of Home, both Tassie and Kilmore.

 

On the 10 July 1941, the “Kilmore Free Press” published a letter from Captain Camm thanking the community for the canteen orders, which he had received.

 

Captain Richard Andrew Camm was killed in action on the front line at Merdjayoun on 27th June 1941.  He was only 48 years old. He had been well liked amongst the soldiers with a good reputation.  Lives were later risked to retrieve his body. He was to be mentioned in despatches for distinguished service.  During their correspondence both Dick and Annie lost their father’s within a month of each other. That same year a Committee was formed in Kilmore to notify relatives of fatal war casualties.  Capt. Camm was their first one.   He was buried in the Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery, Syria.

 

The last letter is incomplete and is undated but thought to be winter, early 1942.  Perhaps the last letter he wrote in Syria.  It is evident, that these letters were a bright light in the anxious times in which they all lived.

 

“The Kilmore Free Press” at the time published letters from local soldiers:

 

Dear Ladies, (Kilmore Ladies’ Club)

 

I wish to thank you for your kind and thoughtful gift of £1 in Canteen Orders that arrived safely. They will help to make my Xmas a happy one.

 

I wish you all a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Pte. R. Camm

 

Also: from Senior Sergeant Stan Norris. (in part)

 

“I do not see many of the Kilmore boys over here apart from Len Johnson and Dave Rainey. I did meet Richard Camm quite some time back but have not seen him since his father’s death was announced. What a great pity that a man of Dick’s type had to go, and what a loss his death will be to Kilmore…”

-         Kilmore Free Press 22 January 1942 p.4

 

As a tribute to Captain Camm, the Anzac Day edition of The Kilmore Free Press on April 30, 1942 printed a whole page of the address Captain Camm had given to the men at sea.

 

Linda Goetz Holmes in her book: “4000 Bowls of rice” a prisoner of war comes home” outlines what then followed for Dick and his Battalion. “In January 1942, the combat-seasoned unit was rushed, aboard the “Orcades”, back to the Pacific to defend Australia.  Instead, in a decision that remains controversial to this day, the Battalion was put ashore at Java and placed under Dutch command.  When the Dutch capitulated, nearly all of the Pioneer Battalion was forced to surrender to the Japanese as well”.

 

In April 1942 Dick was reported missing in action in Java.  By October it was believed that he was a Prisoner of War, interned in a Thai Camp.    After the fall of Singapore, Japan had a garrison of over 70, 000 prisoners to deal with.  They lacked the sea power to transport them to Japan, nor had adequate jail facilities to house them.  They had a potentially strong and well-trained work force. It was decided to put them to work on the construction of the Thai-Burma rail link. It was intended to reduce the logistical problems of maintaining a large army in Burma.  Work was to commence at Thanbyuzayat and join 415 kilometres later at Ban Pong. It was constructed through remote mountainous jungle territory, in a region subject to tropical diseases and the vagaries of tropical weather.  Dick, along with Aub Camm were among the thousands who was then put to work on the infamous Burma – Thailand Railway as slave labour under extreme, inhuman and tortuous conditions. Len Dyer, a fellow Pioneer, six years older took Dick under his wing. Early in 2001 Mr Dyer remembered: “Young Dick reminded me of a student from a University or some such.  I only met up with him in Burma…He was in good health most of the time… and was eager to learn.  We helped those who couldn’t do their work, or didn’t know how to work.  Us old cranky ones knew the easier ways to do things.  We had an old doctor with us, Colonel Eadie…When we were crook we’d go on sick parade in the morning.  When you were let off going to work you were given a wooden tag with a number on it.  That was your pass for the day.  Well, we knew Colonel Eadie was pretty interested in poultry.  So when Dick and I got close to the Doctor in the queue we’d start a serious discussion about the merits of different chooks, and get stuck right in.  The old fellow look up and say, “Are you boys interested in poultry?”  “Yes sir”, would come the answer, and then, “Here, take these two wooden tags.  Come back and see me later when I’ve seen all these boys”.  Well, he’d forget all about us and we’d have the day off.  After a while someone woke up and dobbed us in, and that finished that little lurk.”

 

Dick was to survive over two years here before he was chosen to be transported to Japan for work in munitions factories and mines. With little concession given to the Threat of Allied Naval activity, on the 6th September 1944, Dick was placed aboard the “Rakuyo Maru” with about 1, 350 other Briton and Australian prisoners. Conditions in the bowel of the ship were almost worse than what many had just experienced.  Without air, water, food or toilet facilities they huddled with the fear of knowing they could well be attacked by the Allies.  It left Singapore as part of a convoy bound for Japan. It showed no sign to allies that it was carrying prisoners of war.  An American submarine, one amongst a fleet, however, without the knowledge that POW were aboard torpedoed the ship, after first attacking its accompanying fuel tankers.  They had believed war supplies only were aboard.  It lifted the boat out of the water, but surprisingly not killing any of the prisoners stashed in the holds.  The ship did not immediately sink and prisoners abandoned the ship, clinging onto whatever debris from the ship they could salvage.   The searing sun, oil slick, fierce thirst and hunger combined with his probable existing weak condition made Dick simply too weak to hang on to life till rescue came days later by the American USS  Pampanito. There is local anecdotal evidence that he was indeed cited in the water after the ship was hit. He is commemorated on the Labuan Memorial in Malaysia.

 

Dick and his father are also commemorated on the Kilmore War Memorial.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission acknowledges only their association with Tasmania. Richard only is acknowledged on a “list” in the Bridport (Tas) Community Club (formerly the Bridport Services Club).  The Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour Database does not include any next of kin, place of enlistment or native place for either man.

 

Ann Comans was to maintain a life- time friendship with members of the Camm family, in particular Shirley, daughter of Gilbert who became a hairdresser.  In 1951, J. Camm & Son advertised in “The Kilmore Free Press” as upholsterers and motor trimmers.  It is unknown if this family was related. Reg Moore died in Kilmore in 1967 aged 87.

 

My Grandmother passed away in 1987 but had kept Dick’s letters all those years. Grace Camm was still listed as Richard’s wife in 1940 on his attestation papers when she was living in Launceston.  She married Colonel William Fotheringham, remaining in Launceston.  She inherited (along with Mrs Richard Camm Snr, (Catherine)) a large proportion of the estates of both Dick and his father – despite the separation. Perhaps somewhere today the Fotheringham family in Tasmania have possession of Dick and his father’s medals.  She passed away in 1967.  I believe that Dick in his own way believed Ann to be part of his “family”. It has been a great but sad pleasure to research the author of my Grandmother’s letters and to get to know a little of this Father and Son who had adopted Kilmore, like my Nana, as their home.

 

LOCAL NEWS ARTICLES:

   

Mr Reg Moore, the well known poultry farmer in our town has sold out to Camm Bros, of Tasmania, who took over on October 2nd.  Mr Moore has most successfully conducted this poultry farm (which contains 3000 burials) for the past 14 years, and will shortly take a well earned rest.

    - Kilmore Advertiser 15 September 1928

 

Mr. R. Camm, the sole proprietor of the Kilmore Poultry Farm, has decided to nominate for the vacancy in the Kilmore Riding of the Shire Council caused by the resignation of Ex Councillor Wortley.  Mr. Camm, who has extensive interests in the Shire is a very progressive young man with many new and up-to-date ideas.  He is a returned soldier, having gone away with the first contingent form Tasmania and finally finishing up in the first Australian Flying Squadron when he was shot down by an enemy plane and badly wounded in the hand and arm.  He is the President of the newly-formed Returned Soldier’s Association in which capacity he has proved himself both capable and energetic. Mr Camm will address a public meeting at a later date when he will expound his views in council matters in general and the Kilmore Shire in particular.

    - Kilmore Advertiser May 14, 1932

 

Mrs Camm, of Tasmania, is on a visit to the mainland to see her family who are settled here.  At present she is staying with her son, Mr R. A. Camm of Kilmore.

    - Kilmore Advertiser 27 January 1934

 

RETURNED SOLDIERS MEETING.

 

The annual meeting of the Kilmore Branch of the R.S.S.I.L.A. was held on Wednesday evening. Present were Capt. R. A. Camm (President), Messrs J.S.MacDonald, A.S. Missen, C.D. Alcock, and the Secretary (Mr. L.V. Smith).  The President welcomed new members to the meeting in the persons of Messrs Missen and Alcock. The annual Balance Sheet and General Relief accounts were read, received and adopted.

 

Election of Officers

 

Capt. R. A. Camm, who is shortly to go overseas with the 2nd A.I.F., resigned from the position of President after holding that honor for nine years. Mr. A.S. Missen was elected in his place. Other elections ….(incomplete)

 

On the motion of Mr. Missen, seconded by Mr. Smith, it was decided to place a minute on the books in appreciation of the sterling work done for the Kilmore branch by Capt. Camm during his years of office.

 

At the conclusion of the meeting, the members present wished Capt. Camm a safe and speedy return from overseas.

        - Kilmore Free Press, 16 Jan 1941. page 4

 

Capt. Camm Farewelled.

On Wednesday evening during the R.S.S.I.L.A. meeting, opportunity was taken to bid farewell and make a presentation to Capt. R.A. Camm, who is shortly to embark for service abroad with the 2nd A.I.F.

 

After the Loyal Toast had been honored, Cr. J.J. Ryan proposed the toast of Capt. Camm, and paid tribute to the excellent public service rendered by Capt. Camm during the past ten years. He expressed the admiration of all present for Capt. Camm in again enlisting to serve his King and Country.

 

Cr. Figgins, on behalf of the Shire President, in supporting Cr. Ryan’s remarks, asked Capt. Camm to accept a pen and pencil set from the people of the district.

 

In responding, Capt. Camm thanked all for their kind remarks and good wishes and expressed the hope to be again back among them in the near future.

      - Kilmore Free Press, 28 Aug 1941

 

Local Soldier Killed.

Advice has been received that Capt. R. A. Camm, 2/2 Pioneer Battalion, has been killed in action in Syria.

 

The late Capt. Camm, who held a Commission during the 1914-18 War, came from Scotsdale, Tasmania, and conducted a poultry farming business in Kilmore for over 12 years.

 

When the call came again for men to serve, this fine soldier enlisted once more to help serve his King and Country.

 

During his residence in Kilmore he made many friends and the news of his death will be regretted by all. He had been a member of the Board of Management of the Kilmore Hospital; President for 9 years of the local branch of the Returned Soldiers Association, and an active member of the Kilmore Rifle Club; also taking a very keen interest in many functions arranged for Empire and Anzac Days, when he always attended to deliver an appropriate address to the scholars of the State School.

 

Our deepest sympathy is extended to all his relatives.

His son, Richard, and his brother, Aubrey, are also serving overseas.

    - Kilmore Free Press, 4 Sept 1941

 

Kilmore Shire Council: Late Captain Camm.

Cr. J. J. Ryan referred to the death overseas of Captain Richard Camm, who was splendid citizen of Kilmore. He moved that a record be placed on the books regretting Capt. Camm’s untimely death.

 

In recording the motion, Cr. Figgins asked that Captain Camm’s family be communicated with and informed of the Council’s deep sympathy in their loss.

 

The late Captain Camm was an energetic citizen and took an active part in many matters affecting the progress of Kilmore. He played a part manfully in civil life and as a soldier. Everybody in the district regretted his death.

 

The Council decided to communicate officially with the relatives of district soldiers who may lose their lives on active service.

    - Kilmore Free Press, 4 Sept 1941

 

 

”Captain Richard Andrew Camm AIF who was killed in Action in Syria 27 June has been mentioned in despatches for Distinguished Service in Syrian Campaign. Captain Camm was the son of Mrs K. Camm of Scottsdale. He served in the Great War at Gallipolli and Egypt. The whereabouts of his son, Pte Richard Camm who enlisted with him from Victoria and served in the same battalion are at present unknown. Pte Richard Camm was last heard of in Java.”

        - Launceston Examiner (Tasmania) 8 July 1942

   

 

 

Elizabeth Pidgeon (nee Ryan)

31st March 2003.

 

Rev. 6 April 2004

 

Last Updated - 27 August, 2009