A trip through wartime history

By Southern Riverina News

On Sunday September 22 2019, Jerilderie Public School will be celebrating its 150th anniversary, at which the great grandson of Sir John Monash, Michael Bennett, has agreed to attend as a special guest.

At the school’s centenary celebrations in 1969, another distinguished soldier and former student of Jerilderie was to attend but unfortunately illness prevented him from doing so. Instead, Maurice Alfred Fergusson sent a letter to the school, and as we approach Remembrance Day on November 11, it is worth reproducing his reminiscences of his school days in Jerilderie, but more importantly, to reflect on the contribution that not only Maurice made to Australia’s future welfare, but also the contributions made by his parents, brothers and sisters, as well.

The following is a reproduction of his letter to the school, in 1969.

I can’t remember when father was appointed manager of the Bank (Australasia) but I can remember that when we crossed from Tocumwal in Ben Robinson’s coach the country was almost bare of grass and we did not see any game, even rabbits. It must have been in 1902 or soon after that.

The police sergeant’s name was Currie. One year he announced that he intended to stop any shooting of game out of season. Mr Meillon the solicitor, gave me a double-barrelled 12-gauge shotgun, I think it was a Purdey (cost in England today £1015); at the time I was 11 years of age, I was coming home from the Billabong with two rabbits and two ducks, one duck in my billy, the other in my shirt. I was very tired and decided to walk down the main street, only to meet the sergeant and Mr Steel. I decided to adopt the bold course and walk past them. The sergeant said “Hello Boss (my nickname) you’ve had some luck!”

I replied “yes sir”, and that was that.

I remember the big flood when we were at school, it was before we used to drive down to Sleemans’, for Miss Hardingham’s tuition – about 1908. The flood nearly reached the back of the school and for some days we had a mud slide, which was great fun. Herb Wilson – (from a very nice family) tumbled in the mud – thus an unpleasant drive home.

Mr Elliott told us one day, that the Kelly Gang made him hold the bag while they robbed the Bank (NSW).

I believe Jerilderie sent every fit man to the war (World War I). One of these men was Smythe. His father was a boot mender. The boys, three I think, were outstanding soldiers. There is reference to them in Bean’s History.

(Signed) M A Fergusson

About the Author:

At Regimental number 334, Maurice Alfred Fergusson was credited with being the first Jerilderie person to enlist for service, on the 24 August 1914, at 18 years of age. Born on 5 December 1895 at Caulfield, Melbourne, Maurice came to Jerilderie in August 1904 when his father, Ernest Fairchild Fergusson, was appointed Bank Manager of the Bank of Australasia’s Jerilderie branch, which merged many years later to form the ANZ Bank.

Maurice Fergusson was a student at the Jerilderie Public School until the end of 1908 after which he received further education at the University High School. For a short period of time he worked as a jackaroo before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force.

Maurice sailed for Egypt as a gunner in the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, promoted to bombardier, and landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.

While serving on the Western Front from July 1916, Maurice received several promotions, ending the war as a Lieutenant. Along the way Maurice Fergusson was mentioned in dispatches, received the Military Cross, and a bar to his M C. He was wounded twice and was granted a pension on discharge, which he declined.

Lieutenant Fergusson’s appointment with the A.I.F. was terminated on 25 March 1919, whereupon he took up wheat farming at Bogan Gate before trying fruit growing at Dora Creek.

In 1927 he purchased a dairy farm at Whittlesea where he stayed for seven years, during which time he served on the local council from 1930 to 1934, including one term as president in 1931/32.

With the depression in full bloom Maurice Fergusson joined the staff of Australian Estates, serving the company at Lockhart, Corowa, Euroa, and at Stawell when World War II began.

He enlisted on the first day possible, with his regimental number being VX23, and was given command of the Sixth Cavalry Regiment as a Lieutenant-Colonel.

Badly wounded during intense fighting at Glarabub Oasis in the Western Desert Lt-Col Fergusson was repatriated to Australia before returning to the Middle East to take command of the 2/17th Battalion, before then being recalled to command the 2nd Armoured Brigade, as a Brigadier.

Transferred to the 3rd Armoured Division he was on the verge of promotion to Major-General when Field Marshall Blamey directed him to New Guinea to take command of the embattled 8th Infantry Brigade.

At the cessation of hostilities and his discharge in Brisbane in October 1945 Brigadier Maurice Fergusson had earned another M.I.D, and the Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.

On discharge from the army after the Second World War Maurice Fergusson took up farming in the Inverell district before moving to Leadville where he purchased the properties Moreton Bay, Round Hill, and Lighthouse.

He eventually retired to the Sydney suburb of Pymble where in 1975 he died.

Maurice Fergusson’s father, Ernest, retired from the bank in 1921, due to ill health, but he and his wife remained in Jerilderie, building the residence at 9 Powell Street, Jerilderie. He died in 1933 at 71 years of age.

The senior Mr Fergusson was very active in the P&C, being one of its founding members. He served on Committees that raised funds for the war effort, and was also a member of the Project Committee charged with the responsibility for having the cenotaph erected in Jerilderie.

Maurice Fergusson’s mother remained living in Jerilderie until her death in 1949 at 83 years of age.

At a small ceremony held at the school on Friday September 20, 1918 she was given the honour of unveiling an Honour Board listing all 71 former students of the school who had enlisted in the First World War.

Mr and Mrs Fergusson had five children – three boys and two girls – with all three boys enlisting.

Apart from Maurice’s (the youngest son) war record, another son, Rupert, who enlisted one week after Maurice, was to see service at Gallipoli and France where he was wounded on four occasions, invalided out in 1917 as a Sergeant.

Rupert went on to have a career with the Bank of NSW (Westpac).

The eldest son, Frank, delayed enlistment until he graduated as an engineer in February 1915, after which he immediately enlisted.

By the end of the war Frank had risen to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. On discharge he remained in England to further his studies in engineering, eventually becoming branch manager of an English firm of engineers, located in India.

Of the two daughters, Olive graduated from Narrandera Hospital as a nurse in 1922, after which she sailed for France and England.

In 1932 Olive went to India and when WWII broke out she enlisted, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the British Indian Army Nursing Service.

The younger daughter, Vera, who was Dux of the Jerilderie Public School in 1912, graduated from Mooroopna Hospital in 1924 as a nurse as well, before marrying Forrest Crockett, of ‘‘Wononga’’, Jerilderie, in 1928. Forrest Crockett was a councillor for the Jerilderie Shire Council from 1945 to 1960, serving as its president from 1951 until 1954.

Maurice’s letter mentions three boys by the name of Smythe who enlisted. There were actually four Smythe boys who served in WWI – Herbert (Bert), Edward Vivian (Viv), Percy Ellesmere (Percy), and Erle Vernon (Vern). Only three returned from the war, Bert, the oldest, who had been promoted to Sergeant was killed in France in 1917. Viv, a Lieutenant at war’s end, had been award an M.C. and a bar to his M.C., Vern a Captain by the end of the war, had also been awarded an M.C and a bar to his M.C., while Corporal Percy Smythe had been awarded an M.C.