Lieutenant John Learmonth of the 2/3 Australian Field Regiment

John Learmonth and Diary Extract

At the end on Crete he took to the hills, and said he’d fight it out with only a revolver.
He was a great soldier …

“I wonder,” mused my brother a few years ago now, “whether things would have been different if we had had uncles.”
I stopped short. I treasured my two aunts. Mostly for their abundance of attitude. Would my brothers, likewise have respected and revered their uncles had they had them?

Last year I reflected a little on the life of Uncle Charlie.

Uncle John’s diaries are his very personal story. But can I put his story in the broad context of the war? What were the conditions like in Germany at the time? How were the prisoners treated? Did this differ from camp to camp – Uncle John spent time in four officer camps:

Oflag XC Lübeck
Oflag VIB Warburg
Oflag VIIB Eichstätt
Oflag IX A/Z Rotenburg

In June or July this year I hope to follow John Learmonth’s restricted World War II journey through the German country side. This post is my starting point.

I would love to hear suggestions as to what might add value to what Uncle John wrote in the diaries that have survived him.

We know that John Learmonth wrote eleven diaries before he died in May 1944. We don’t have them all. Nor do the ones we have cover all of Uncle John’s experiences.

At the beginning of Diary 3 and on 3 November 1939 John Learmonth wrote about his previous diary (Diary 2):

I cannot remember when I wrote the last entry in my previous diary, or even what I wrote about. That diary will probably be found amongst my other possessions at Carramar, Tyrendarra, Vic.

John confirms in later diaries that he sealed his first two diaries and sent them home with the rest of his possessions at the time he transferred from the Militia to the AIF. We assume they were later destroyed.

Uncle John’s Diary 3 covers the period from when he attended training at Seymour until he sailed from the Clyde on the Empress of Canada for Egypt. At the beginning of his Diary 4 he wrote:

My third diary, covering the twelve months (approx) ending 19/11/40, is with me now and will probably remain with my possessions wherever I go until the end of the war.

This was not to be the case. Written when he was a prisoner of war in Germany entries at the beginning of Diaries 8 and 9 indicate that Diary 3 was in his uniform trunk which was stored in the AIF kit store in Alexandria. However, this diary must have become separated from his kit for John wrote

Mum says my diary has been removed from my trunk returned from Alexandria.

The original of Diary 4 is held in Russian Archives. A copy was given to the family in 1998. It covers John’s Greek and Crete campaign but not, alas, the final two months leading up to his capture in Crete on 30 May 1941. Perhaps mindful that his diaries were being read by the German censors Uncle John recorded in Diary 9 that he had destroyed Diary 4

on being captured in Crete in May 1941.

Diaries 4 & 5 were probably destroyed in the Parcels Office fire. Just be careful here:

The fourth I destroyed on being captured in Crete in May 1941 and subsequently rewrote as the 4th and 5th while in Salonika.

Uncle John was in the Salonika Transit Camp in northern Greece 11 June to 22 July 1941. This was a large transit camp where the conditions were appalling. The prisoners were starving and covered with lice and other bugs. They received no letters, no food parcels from home nor any Red Cross parcels.

The rewritten Diaries 4 and 5 together with Diaries 6 and 7 were confiscated on Uncle John’s arrival at Oflag XC Lübeck. This camp was located near Hamburg and Uncle John was there for 6 weeks – 29 July – 8 October 1942. The conditions were better than Salonika but rations were minimal and still there were no food parcels nor any Red Cross parcels. On the nights of 7 and 8 September 1942 the Parcels Office in the Lübeck camp caught fire and it seemed that John’s diaries had disappeared forever. On 4 December 1942 he wrote

I regret very much losing the diaries preceding this one (No 8). They throw an interesting light on my state of mind when first taken prisoner. Although I am now well on the way to re-writing them I cannot entirely recapture the atmosphere of that period.

Despite the loss of his previous diaries John handed a completed one in for censoring at his new camp Oflag VIB Warburg – near Dossel in Westphalia. John’s trust was rewarded as it was eventually returned to him. Uncle John arrived at Warburg on 9 October 1941 and stayed for 11 months. Here Red Cross Parcels started to arrive – together with the first of many letters and parcels from home.

Uncle John moved yet again – to Oflag VIIB Eichstätt for ten months until July 1943 and finally to Oflag 9 A/Z Rotenburg for the ten months until his death there in May 1944. During this period he wrote his last three diaries – Nos 9, 10 and 11.

John Learmonth is remembered in Hanover Cemetery looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

No story about Uncle John is complete without including John Manifold’s elegy. Yes, there is a story in the words written but the genius of the poem is in its form – based on the Classics? The form accentuates the emotions expressed. From the second verse look at the first and third lines. They rhyme with the second line of the preceding verse:

This is not sorrow, this is work: I build
A cairn of words over a silent man,
My friend John Learmonth whom the Germans killed.

There was no word of hero in his plan;
Verse should have been his love and peace his trade
But history turned him to a partisan.

Far from the battle as his bones are laid
Crete will remember him. Remember well,
Mountains of Crete, the Second Field Brigade!

Say Crete, and there is little more to tell
Of muddle tall as treachery, despair
And black defeat resounding like a bell;

But bring the magnifying focus near
And In contempt of muddle and defeat
The old heroic virtues still appear.

Australian blood where hot and icy meet
(James Hogg and Lermontov were of his kin)
Lie still and fertilise the fields of Crete.

Schoolboy, I watched his ballading begin:
Billy and bullocky and billabong,
Our properties of childhood, all were in.

I heard the air though not the undersong,
The fierceness and resolve; but all the same
They’re the tradition, and tradition’s strong.

Swagman and bushranger die hard, die game,
Die fighting, like that wild colonial boy –
Jack Dowling, says the ballad, was his name.

He also spun his pistol like a toy,
Turned to the hills like wolf or kangaroo
And faced destruction with a bitter joy.

His freedom gave him nothing else to do
But set his back against his family tree
And fight the better for the fact he knew

He was as good as dead. Because the sea
Was closed and the air dark and the land lost,
“They’ll never capture me alive,” said he

That’s courage chemically pure, uncrossed
With sacrifice or duty or career,
Which counts and pays in ready coin the cost

Of holding course. Armies are not its sphere
Where all’s contrived to achieve its counterfeit;
It swears with discipline, it’s volunteer.

I could as hardly make a moral fit
Around it as around a lightning flash.
There is no moral, that’s the point of it,

No moral. But I’m glad of this panache
That sparkles, as from flint, from us and steel,
True to no crown nor presidential sash

Nor flag nor fame. Let others mourn and feel
He died for nothing: nothings have their place.
While thus the kind and civilise conceal

This spring of unsuspected inward grace
And look on death as equals, I am filled
With queer affection for the human race.

The Tomb of Lieut. John Learmonth, AIF
by John Manifold

Stony barriers

This blog is the final of four blogs written for National Family History Month 2016 and describes volcanic stony barriers that are a little more than they seem.
A land of sweeping plains? Thousands of years ago my favourite place may have been part of a verdant plain. Thousands of years ago before the volcanoes were active. Then my favourite place may have looked like the freshly mown lawns and the avenues of elms that are just a short walk across the tram lines from my home.
Continue reading “Stony barriers”

Wool staplers and wool classers

Dunmore wool shed

The 1891 shearers’ strike is just one consequence of the many pressures applied to the wool industry which has been in decline since Hargreave’s invention of the spinning jenny. some of these pressures include:

  • the mechanisation of weaving through the use of power looms,
  • the mechanisation of shearing through the introduction of powered hand pieces and the introduction of wide combs,
  • the decline in the demand for wool to cloth armies against severe winters,
  • the introduction of alternative clothes made of cotton and synthetic fibres and
  • the periodic government regulations applicable to the selling of wool.

Continue reading “Wool staplers and wool classers”

Autosomal DNA and Probability

The general wisdom is that matches on autosomal DNA are only accurate for up to four or five generations (or to second cousins). Beyond this limit any matches that may occur probably occur by chance, not by inheritance. This is because there is always the probability that any match of any kind of 5% or less can be attributed to random chance and not to inheritance.
My purpose here is to suggest that, by referring to our traditional written family history research and by careful planning our DNA tests, we may be able to identify matches way beyond our great grandparents and our second cousins.

My Ancestors
My Ancestors

I have two parents. It is expected that I receive half or 50% of my autosomal DNA from my father and half from my mother. This seems to be an acceptable proposition.
I have four grandparents. It is expected that I receive one quarter or 25% of my autosomal DNA from each of my grandparents. That is, it is expected that I received 25% from my grandfather Bert Baulch, 25% from my grandmother Annie Abbey, 25% from my grandfather Noel Learmonth and 25% from my grandmother Edith Salter.
I have eight great grandparents. It is expected that I received one eighth or 12.5% of my autosomal DNA from each of my eight great grandparents.
At the fifth generation it is expected that I received one sixteenth or 6.25% of my autosomal DNA from each of my two great grandparents. Can the expected values for receiving autosomal DNA from my two greats grandparents definitely be attributed to inheritance? After all, the upper mark of 5% which is used to indicate matches that may be wholly attributed to chance is not all that far removed from the 6.25% that may be attributable to inheritance from one of my two greats grandparents.
Now none of my direct ancestors are alive and so aren’t available for DNA testing. I have to rely upon my siblings and upon my cousins. The expected values of a match on autosomal DNA tests for my ancestors, siblings and cousins can be summarised in tabular form as follows:
Relationship-Chart
The expected value of sharing autosomal DNA with one of my siblings is 50%. I actually share 38% autosomal DNA with one of my brothers. The expected value for shared autosomal DNA with any one of my first cousins once removed is 6.25%. I actually share 7.3% autosomal DNA with one first cousin once removed and 5.4% with another.
Should actual values that differ from expected values be cause for concern? Absolutely not!
However, rather than accepting the relationship for any autosomal DNA match by a testing company as being set in stone, I do believe that my written genealogy confirms the autosomal DNA match result. Equally, the autosomal DNA match is a further independent source that may substantiate my written genealogy. The two are not separate but dependent one upon the other.
The methodology for calculating the likelihood of what autosomal DNA we are expected to have should be familiar to us all.
Consider tossing a coin. The first toss may be heads. The probability of the second toss being heads is still 50%. Even if the second toss is heads the probability of the third toss being heads is still 50%. Thus in a small population of 3 tosses the result of three heads doesn’t indicate that a double headed coin is being used. However, if the result still remains heads after hundreds or thousands of tosses I might be inclined to check whether the coin is biased in some way. According to Bernoulli’s theorem, the more a coin is tossed the more likely it is that the actual value of the number of times a head is tossed approaches the expected value of 50%.
Now consider throwing a die or dice. The first toss may be a 4. The probability of throwing a 4 is one sixth. Indeed for an unbiased die the probability of throwing one of the six numbers is always one sixth irrespective of the previous throws. For a short number of throws there may be a run on a particular number but this in no way alters the probability for the next throw of the die. For each number that probability is one sixth. As for the coin toss, over hundreds and thousands of throws of the die the actual value over all of these throws will approach the expected probability of one sixth for each of the six numbers on the die.
This method of calculating expected values for the toss of a coin and the throw of a die can be applied to the passing of autosomal DNA from two parents to a child. The options for a toss of a coin are either heads or tails. The options for the throw of a die are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. The options for a child are that the child receives its autosomal DNA half from its father and half from its mother. As for the coin and as for the die the actual value of autosomal DNA received in the short term may differ from the expected value. As for the coin and as for the die over millions and indeed billions of generations the actual value of autosomal DNA a child receives from its parents will approach the expected value of 50% from its father and 50% from its mother.
But is this so? What is it that Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA testing with respect to autosomal DNA? Is there an equal chance of this autosomal DNA information coming from one parent as from the other parent? Let’s start by looking at DNA in the whole cell before focusing on autosomal DNA.
Each cell in our body contains DNA. In the cell proper DNA can be found in the mitochondria. This DNA is known as mitochondrial DNA. DNA is also found in the cell nucleus which contains 23 pairs of chromosomes each containing DNA. The 23rd pair is known as pair of the sex chromosomes. The 23rd pair for men is made up of one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. Women have 2 X chromosomes.  The first 22 pairs of chromosomes are known as autosomes. Autosomes contain autosomal DNA.

Cell with nucleus and mitochondria
Cell with nucleus and mitochondria

In a search for genealogical DNA the testing companies test in excess of 700,000 markers on the “junk” DNA portion of our autosomal chromosomes. These markers are the sites of single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs (pronounced snips). A person’s autosomal SNPs can be identified and compared another person’s autosomal SNPs.
Apart from identical twins, each of us is unique. We see this as we walk down the street or glance around a football crowd at the MCG. It is easy, therefore, to apply the law of large numbers as discussed above to the more than 700, 000 SNPs. To me 700,000 seems to be a large number. Surely, for each marker or SNP there is a 50% chance that I inherited that SNP from my father and a 50% chance that I inherited that SNP from my mother. Surely, as with the coin and the die, I had an equal chance of receiving each marker independent of the previous marker and the marker following.
There are two difficulties with this assumption.
Firstly, autosomal DNA tests are not able to distinguish which markers I inherited from my father and which I inherited from my mother.
Secondly, if the first wasn’t a knockout blow, the markers are set out on a strand of DNA. Unlike each toss of a coin or each throw of a die, whether or not I inherit a marker from my father or from my mother is not independent of who I inherited the previous marker from or who I inherited the next marker from. That is, the 700,000 SNPs are linked along the DNA strand. For example, the autosomal DNA I share with my brother on chromosome 3 and which we must have inherited from our father or our mother or a combination of both occurs along most of the chromosome.

Chromosome 3
Chromosome 3

Now we don’t match along the whole of chromosome 3 but where we do match it is mostly in one long strand. Indeed, the longer the strand we share the more closely is our predicted relationship.
Consider a little. This phenomenon of linked markers has helped me detect relationships beyond those predicted by chance – beyond our great grandparents and our second cousins. For example, I have confirmed a relationship with a third cousin twice removed as well as – wait for this – a sixth cousin twice removed! These results are quite beyond my great grandparents and second cousins (that is second cousins without any removes).
DNA testing for family historians is still in its infancy. The databases of results are still very small. Nevertheless I think I can apply traditional genealogical research techniques to my DNA research:

  • DNA is no substitute for quality traditional genealogical research. Sad to say but true.
  • I have started my analysis with an autosomal DNA test and started with myself. Then I moved from my closer relations to my more distant relations.
  • I have tried to optimise my chances of detecting matches by including a family tree of my ancestors and of the names of my ancestors were possible.
  • I have uploaded my information to Gedmatch as some family have tested on Family Tree DNA and some on AncestryDNA. My challenge now is to encourage our family to also share their results by uploading to Gedmatch (www.gedmatch.com) especially those who have tested with AncestryDNA for AncestryDNA has no facility to examine results  (for those who tested with AncestryDNA go to Settings and download the raw DNA data. Create a Gedmatch account and follow the instructions for uploading to Gedmatch. BE WARNED! These raw files are very, very large and take quite some to download and upload).
  • It will involve some of that boring work that doesn’t seem to yield any exciting results but I suspect that it may be worthwhile in the long term to examine my results down to the 1centiMorgan level and by each chromosome. I see this as akin to searching through parish registers or census results.

Genealogy Do Over – Week 2

In my interviews for Genealogy Do Over Week 2 I returned to when I started collecting my family stories.  I went back to my first official family history visit which, coincidentally, involved going back to my first home, Squattleseamere. For my second interview I went back to the time of big shearing teams at Dunmore. I looked again at the transcript of an interview about shearing at the Dunmore shed when the shed was run by my Grandpa Baulch.

In setting my research goals I have tried to select some goals which should be achievable in the time of the Do Over while, at the same time, giving me time to test my new research process as set out in my Genealogy Golden Rules.

CONDUCTING SELF INTERVIEW

For my self interview I reflected upon my first family interview. This interview marks the time when I changed from just listening and absorbing family stories to consciously setting out to answer the question I am always asked but could rarely answer before this visit – You’re a Baulch are you?

CONDUCTING FAMILY INTERVIEW

As a child I absorbed the atmosphere in the Dunmore shed at shearing time and listened, engrossed, to the many stories Grandpa Baulch told me about the men who shore there. This interview is not with my grandfather but with one of the shearers, Bill Meade. It was to be about Grandpa in the Dunmore shed. Or that is what I thought on my way to Port Fairy for an afternoon’s chat.

FAMILY GROUP SHEETS

I rarely use Family Group Sheets. Rather I use Legacy’s Family Group Report in the List Style format. Why I do so means I need to add another rule to my Genealogy Golden Rules:

Keep it simple. I have ONE place, my Legacy database, which contains ALL the information I have gathered about my family.

SETTING RESEARCH GOALS

In setting my research goals I have looked at what reports and/or output I hope to produce by the completion of the Genealogy Do Over, how I plan to go about this and the limitations that might prevent me achieving my research goals. Consequently, I have tried to keep my goals simple and achievable within the duration of the Do Over.

My focus on output will be confined to:

  • Reviewing a Family Group Report for my three greats grandfather Private George Watts (1792-1845).
  • Reviewing my Family Group Report for my four greats grandfather John Bourke Ryan Esquire (1760 – 1835).
  • Creating a timeline for Squattleseamere Pastoral Run.
  • Substantiating my connection to John Bourke Ryan and George Watts. After all, this is a genealogical Do Over.
  • Creating some charts as I go.
  • Maintaining a weekly blog for at least the duration of the Genealogy Do Over.

My research process, or how I am I going to achieve my research goals, is as follows:

  • I shall start each piece of research by creating a To-Do Item.
  • The completed To-Do Item will then become part of my Research Log.
  • To comply with my Golden Rule of Sources First Sources will be attached to my To-Do Item in the first instance.
  • I shall set aside some time each day in order to achieve my research goals.

Of course, because family history is my hobby there are many things that may prevent me from achieving my research goals. These are my boundary fences:

  • My research should be confined to producing the output given above. In particular my research goals will set aside for the duration of the Do Over for those Individuals who sparkle and say come hither. This applies in particular to two of my great grandfathers, Samuel Baulch and J R Learmonth.
  • I have a time limit. I plan to have completed my research by Congress 2015 (to be held in Canberra 26-30 March). This ties in quite nicely with the duration of the Do Over.
  • I shall remain involved and committed to my genealogical and computer groups.
  • I shall take time out. Often.

Ships and Drays

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How’s school going? This was a question I was often asked as a child. I generally mumbled “alright” in reply. But I remember one time particularly – when Grandpa Learmonth asked me about school. I had a great deal of respect for him and he deserved a considered reply. So I asked him how was it that the Hamilton students could catch the morning train whereas the Warrnambool students had to catch the evening Warrnambool train – long after school had finished and every other student had left for home.

Yes he said. His ships had to tack all the way home to Portland against the sou-westerlies. Those same sou-westerlies blew him back but it could be days after the beginning of term before the Wimmera boys finally arrived back at school. There always seemed to be some problem with the drays that delayed them.

While this story mentions neither paddocks or land selections it does define loosely the fences or boundaries (Portland – Hamilton – Warrnambool) within which my Baulch and Learmonth ancestors held land and where many of my paddock stories originate.