Five Diggers from Mayday Hills

These short biographies tell the stories of five men who served on the Western Front in World War One. They suffered injuries and illness but after the War they returned to Victoria and tried to pick up the threads of their previous lives. Years later, each was diagnosed with a mental illness but at the time, in the days before Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this was not attributed to their War service. They were admitted to the public mental health care system and transferred to Mayday Hills, where they died and were buried in unmarked graves in Beechworth Cemetery. After lobbying from the Beechworth Cemetery Trust and the Mayday Hills Research Group, in 2019 the Department of Veterans’ Affairs erected a headstone on each man’s grave to acknowledge his War service.
Find the headstones of each man’s grave that acknowledges their War service in the Beechworth Cemetery Virtual Tour

DUDLEY GEORGE TONG
1887–1973

Dudley TONG was born in Fitzroy, VIC., in 1887, third of four children of William TONG and Florence SHADE. Before the War he worked as a driver, played football for Richmond, and ran a pub in Waaia for a year. In 1915 he married Maud LUCKING, a widow with two daughters. He enlisted in Melbourne, service number 3932, one of only 200 men of Chinese descent who were accepted for service. He joined the 9/21st Battalion and sailed for France early in 1916.

He received gunshot wounds to the buttocks at the Battle of Mouquet Farm in August 1916 and was transferred to hospital in England for treatment. In May 1917 he was declared unfit for service because of his injuries and repatriated. He was discharged on medical grounds in September 1917 in Melbourne and awarded an Army pension.

His life deteriorated after the War, with episodes of drinking and domestic violence, and he separated from his wife. He lived in Melbourne and worked as a horse and cart driver. He was admitted to Mayday Hills in April 1939 with a diagnosis of Korsakov syndrome (brain damage caused by alcohol). He is remembered fondly by staff who knew him. He died on 12 September 1973 and is buried in the Beechworth Cemetery, Church of England, Section C, Plot 187.

THOMAS CHARLES O’HARA
1894–1952

Thomas Charles O’HARA was born on 30 May 1894 in Burwood, NSW, a suburb of Sydney. His parents were James O’HARA and Mary Ann CHILDS, married in 1871 at Patricks Plains, NSW, near Singleton. One of many siblings, O’HARA spent time in the Roman Catholic Orphanage at Baulkham Hills, NSW, and was committed to the ‘Sobraon’ training ship (industrial school) in May 1905, being described as habitually wandering the street with no ostensible occupation.

He enlisted for the AIF on 28 October 1914 at Broadmeadows, VIC., giving his next of kin as his mother, Mrs Mary O’Hara, Crystal Street, Broken Hill, NSW. On 15 April 1915 he was reported in the Police Gazette as having absconded from Broadmeadows Army Camp.

On 01 December 1915 he enlisted again at West Maitland, NSW, naming his father, James O’HARA of Abernethy, NSW, as next of kin. He was sent to 35th Battalion, Service No. 867. He served on the Western Front and received severe gunshot wounds at Wimereaux in 1917. After treatment in England he was sent back to France and was wounded again in 1918 before repatriation to Australia and discharge in 1919.

He returned to Abernethy and worked as a miner. The date of his admission to Mayday Hills is not known. He died there on 9 April 1952 and was buried in the Beechworth Cemetery, Roman Catholic Section C, Plot 401.


VICTOR WESLEY SEDGMAN
1894–1954

Victor Wesley SEDGMAN was born on 22 October 1894 in Moonee Ponds, VIC., to Mary STRONG and Wesley SEDGMAN, the eldest of their five children. He served in the Citizens’ Force before enlisting on 19 October 1916 while living in Maffra, VIC., stating he was a labourer. He was assigned to 37th Battalion, service number 7070. He sailed for England late in 1916 but had several bouts of illness and spent time in hospital, eventually arriving in France in August 1917.

He was wounded in action in October 1917, receiving gunshot wounds to his shoulder and right leg, and was evacuated to England for treatment before repatriation to Australia and discharge from the Army in March 1918.

In July 1919 he re-enlisted in the AIF. He was living in South Melbourne and again working as a labourer. He was assessed as fit for home service and assigned to the Transport Unit of the Australian Army Service Corps, service number 82874. He served for a year as a driver and was discharged at his own request.

After discharge, he lived in several places around Bendigo and suburban Melbourne. In 1936, he was diagnosed with general paralysis of the insane and spent time in Mont Park Mental Hospital before being transferred to Mayday Hills in 1947. He died there on 12 February 1954 and was buried in the Beechworth Cemetery, Baptist Section A, Plot 124.

CLAUDE FREDERICK REID
1897–1961

Claude Frederick REID was born in 1897 in Port Melbourne, VIC., one of 10 children of George REID and Caroline KING. He worked as a golf club maker and enlisted in Melbourne in July 1915. He was assigned to the 46th Battalion, service number 3444, and later in 1915 sailed for Egypt, where he was based at Tel el Kebir and Serapeum. During his time in Egypt he committed several disciplinary offences and was treated for venereal disease at the Army Hospital in Abbassia.

In July 1916 he arrived in France, had further bouts of illness and more disciplinary offences, with several charges of Absent Without Leave. On 4 September 1917 at Abbeville he was court martialled for desertion and sentenced to death. The sentence was soon commuted to 15 years’ imprisonment in France. In April 1919 he was transferred to England and returned to Australia, where the remainder of his prison sentence was remitted.

He resumed civilian life in Port Melbourne, where he worked as a golf club professional and then a labourer. In 1938, he married Ada Ann HUTCHINSON née GRIFFIN, a widow who was 23 years older than him. She died in 1949. They had no children. In 1956 Reid was diagnosed with alcoholic psychosis and admitted to psychiatric care, being transferred to Mayday Hills in 1960. He died on 15 July 1961 and was buried in the Beechworth Cemetery, Church of England Section C, Plot 119.

EDWARD ALBERT GIBBS
1887–1965

Edward GIBBS was born in Caulfield, VIC., on 23 February 1887, younger son of Solomon GIBBS and Henrietta LOGAN. He first enlisted in Melbourne in February 1915 with service number 380, naming his brother Frank as next of kin. His Army career had a difficult start; he was discharged with venereal disease, re-enlisted with number 4815, and declared a deserter. He also married Ellen PYERS.

He re-enlisted in 1916, service number 6887, and joined the 22nd Reinforcements, 6th Battalion and sailed for England in October 1916. He had laryngitis and pneumonia in England, was transferred to 66th Battalion then back to the 6th and sailed for France in March 1918. He received gunshot wounds to his left thigh in July 1918 and was evacuated to hospital in England, repatriated early in 1919 and discharged.

He married Emma WALKER in Brighton, VIC., in November 1919 (possibly bigamously). They lived in Footscray and GIBBS worked as a labourer, and the couple had six children between 1920 and 1929. Gibbs first became ill in 1927 and was admitted to Royal Park Hospital in Melbourne for assessment. Eventually, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, admitted to hospital in Melbourne and transferred to Mayday Hills in 1943, where he died on 2 August 1965. He is buried in Beechworth Cemetery, Church of England Section C, Plot 42.

Written by Dr Eileen Clark, Adjunct Research Fellow at Charles Sturt University.
See Eileen’s full bio here
Find the headstones of each man’s grave that acknowledges their War service in the Beechworth Cemetery Virtual Tour

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