Another diverse and interesting World War I collection from the John Oxley Library, which has recently been digitised, is that of the O’Shea family of New Farm, Brisbane.
The collection includes material relating to the war service of brothers, Charles and Timothy O’Shea. Charles, who served with the 36 Australian Heavy Artillery Group in France, spent time in a German prisoner of war camp, while Timothy (Ted) served with the 7th and 12th Field Ambulance in France before being invalided to England suffering from shell shock.
The collection includes photographs, postcards, correspondence, publications and ephemera, providing a compelling insight into the wartime experiences of two brothers.
The boys were the sons of Denis O’Shea and Minnie Hanlon who lived at Harcourt Street, New Farm. Denis O’Shea was born in Ireland and worked for the postal department as a letter carrier. On 7 March 1907 he drowned in Breakfast Creek, Brisbane, leaving a widow and six children. He was 47 at the time.
A subsequent inquest was unable to determine whether this was the result of an accident or suicide. Denis was not in any financial or domestic trouble and his wife could find no explanation as to why he would take his own life. (Brisbane Telegraph, 15 March 1907) In aid of Minnie and her six children the local community organised a benefit concert which was held in the Exhibition Hall on the 5th June 1907 and which attracted an attendance of between 800 and 900 people (Brisbane Telegraph, 6 June 1907).
Timothy (Ted) O’Shea (No. 10060) enlisted on the 22nd September 1915. He was a 24 year old clerk. He initially served with the 7th Field Ambulance before being transferred to the 12th Field Ambulance in France. In August 1916 Ted was wounded in action, suffering from shell shock and was invalided to England for treatment and recuperation. He was then transferred to the Australian Army Pay Corps in London, where, through a series of promotions, he reached the rank of Extra Regimental Sergeant in November 1918.
Ted returned to Australia on the ship Anneus on 22 November 1919. He married Hilda Gertrude Brewer in 1926 and worked as a public servant until his retirement in the early 1960s when the couple moved to Kirra on the southern Gold Coast. Ted died in 1966 and Hilda died in 1969.
Charles O’Shea (No. 666), a 21 year old plumber, enlisted shortly after his elder brother, Ted, in December 1915. He served with the 36 Australian Heavy Artillery Group in France until he was taken as a prisoner of war on the 10th April 1918 during a battle at Ploegsteert, Belgium. Charlie was held in a German prisoner-of-war camp until the end of the war. He was repatriated to England in 1919 and returned to Australia in April of that year.
The collection includes several interesting photographs taken in the prisoner-of-war camp.
Also included in the collection is a letter from 2nd Lieutenant Lionel Keir Robinson of the Royal Garrison Artillery in Newcastle on Tyne, England, to Charles O’Shea and Gunner Michael John Ryan, written in January 1919. Robinson was captured with O’Shea and Ryan in Belgium. He enquires as to their welfare and hopes that they have been repatriated to England, and also describes the night of their capture and the harsh conditions as a prisoner of war where the food consisted of:
“nothing except those two thin soups and a little black bread. I thought very often of the tea & toast you made just the day previous to our capture. However I weathered that all right – although several chaps died…I managed to exist until the parcels got through at the end of August & then it wasn’t so bad… No words of praise from me are adequate to thank you for your splendid behaviour on the 10th. Without your co-operation & devotion during that awful previous night we could never have held on as we did. Your loyalty & bravery was superb & I will never forget you two. I recently met Major Manchester in town & he personally thanked me for what we had done. No doubt he is anxious to thank you both. He also said he had recommended you both for the military medal but unfortunately the “powers that were” were unable to grant you it. I know of no more deserving case of recognition. It is some consolation at any rate to know that you will go back to your dear Old Aussie safe and well. Well you two “diggers” I will dry up. A letter from either of you would be more than welcome as I am still somewhat uneasy about you. Wishing you both Godspeed! success and a happy prosperous future.” (Acc: 29834, item 23)
After Charles returned to Brisbane he resumed his trade as a plumber and married Kathleen Josephine Pringle in 1937. The couple lived with his mother, Minnie, in the family home at New Farm and had one child, a daughter. Minnie died in 1938 and tragically, a year later, on the 20th February 1939, Charles also passed away at the age of 44.
Kathleen, a young widow with a small child, must have found life difficult after losing her husband and appealed to the Australian Government for a war widows pension. She was knocked back as the authorities determined that Charles’ death was not caused by his war service. Some of this correspondence is included in the collection.
The O’Shea Family Collection (accession 29834) is available at the John Oxley Library and may be viewed online at: http://onesearch.slq.qld.gov.au/SLQ:OM:slq_alma21152754290002061
Lynn Meyers, QANZAC100 Content Curator