Alfred Ernest Cornelius Bray (1897-1968)

 

 

On 22 June in 1968, Alfred Ernest Cornelius Bray passed away at the Repatriation Hospital, Concord, NSW, Australia, aged 71 after serving in two world wars, being heavily involved in sport, and the RSL movement, starting up his own business while with his wife Belle raising two children. One or my regrets is that I didn’t get to know my grandfather better.

Alf Bray

Alf was born on 3 March in 1897 at Hurstville, NSW, the second child and eldest son of the eight children of Alfred Charles and Ellen Louisa (Cole) Bray. Growing up in Hurstville as a youngster he played rugby union but then converted to rugby league which became his passion.

His father was a railway mail guard which probably enabled Alf to get a position as a clerk with the NSW Railways at Railway Yards. However in 1914, at the age of seventeen is father Alfred Charles Bray was one of fourteen people killed it the Exeter rail disaster (see my post if March 16, 2018). This caused considerable problems for his mother Ellen and her family.

Alf was now the male head of the family but just over a year later at the age of just 18 years, in August 1915, he enlisted in the AIF answering the call of mother England to fight in World War 1. Sailing from Sydney in December and after training in Egypt he arrived in France in March 1916 part of A Company of the 3rd Battalion. He served in France and Belgium at the Somme, in Flanders and many other theatres until 22 June 1918 when at Strazelle he was caught in a German gas attack. He was seriously injured and after treatment in Boulogne, convalesced in England for a period before returning to his unit and final back to Australia in February 1919. Alf kept diary throughout the war years and it is now held by the NSW State Library. While in Flanders he bought a souvenir pewter broach of the coat of arms of Ypres and which he later gave to his wife.

Ypres WWI Souvenir

He returned home and lived with his family at Woids Avenue, Hurstville before marrying Clarice Belle Bryant on 16 October 1919 at Kogarah, took up his position of clerk in the Railways and a year later their daughter Norma Beryl was born.

His war service entitled him to a War Service home and in early 1923 the family moved to their brand new home in Restwell Street Bankstown. The following year a son, Douglas Arthur was born. He also transferred to the railway sheds at nearby Punchbowl and under doctor’s orders walked to and from work to further help with recuperation from his gas-affected lung problems.

At Restwell Street created a family home making maximum use of the back yard. He laid out paths separating garden beds where he grew vegetables and flowers. He built fish ponds, aviaries, and there was garage that he used as a workshop. Norma would recall how he would arrive home from work, have a cup of tea and then spend all evening until dinner in the back yard or garage. When I was only young we would enjoy visiting Nana and Pa and exploring the back yard with their silky terrier, Skippy.

He encouraged and supported both children in sports with Norma taking up competitive diving while Doug raced bicycles. There were also plenty of family outings, a favourite being boating in his cabin launch on the Georges River.

His own sporting activities had started when he played rugby union but in 1915. He soon transferred to rugby league with the Penshurst R.L.F.C. in the St, George Competition. After the war he took up the whistle, becoming a referee in 1923, and he officiated in the Canterbury-Bankstown Competition until 1933, and was the Hon. Secretary of Canterbury-Bankstown Referees’ Association in 1929. In 1936 he became Secretary of the Canterbury-Bankstown Junior League, and then on the Committee of the District Club when they won their first premiership in 1938. He replaced Frank Miller as Canterbury-Bankstown Club Secretary in 1939 until WWII intervened (refer The Rugby League News July 1, 1939).

Alf’s war experiences also generated a deep interest in supporting his fellow war veterans. He was one of the instigators in the establishment of the Bankstown Sub-Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSL) in October 1928 and was its first President. He remained in the role until 1933 and was a member of the State Executive of NSW in 1932-3. When a Women’s Auxiliary was also formed, Belle was its first Secretary.

The RSL Club started at the top of Restwell Street in a tin shed near the railway line but meetings were also held on the Bray residence in Restwell Street with Belle baking cakes for supper. The RSL members assisted out-of-work men during the Depression. Working out of Alf’s garage, scrap pieces of timber from timber yards were made into toys for Christmas presents such as wheel barrows, school cases, chairs, etc.

He again volunteered for service when World War 2 broke out, enlisting in July 1940 claiming he was born in December 1900 (giving him an age of 39 years instead of 43). . He served as a Temporary Warrant Officer training recruits at Dorrigo, Uralla and Armidale but was discharged “being medically unfit for further military service” in October 1944, no doubt as a result of his WW1 injuries.

After the war he decided to pursue his passion for gardening and on resigning from the Railways he established Bray’s Bankstown Nursery which operated in the Bankstown CBD in Fetherstone Street for many years.

Alf and Belle finally retired to Toukley on the Central Coast of NSW where they he enjoyed their last years together and he continued to propagate plants while his son Doug took over the nursery business. On his death he was cremated at Woronora Memorial Park and a plaque placed on the Wall of Remembrance in Row 16, Panel R.

Bankstown RSL 70th Anniversary

At the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Bankstown RSL in 1998, Alf’s service to the Club was also commemorated and a special certificate of appreciation presented to his daughter.

Although he had lived a full life, my Pa still died too young surely shortened by his war experiences, and at the same age I am today. I share a common regret with many family historians, after having discovered some details about an ancestor that I didn’t have a chance to get to know my grandfather better.

 

Alfred Charles Bray – Exeter Train Crash

On this day, 16 March in 1914 my great-grandfather Alfred Charles Bray died in the Exeter Train Disaster.

A Young Alfred Charles Bray

Alfred was the son of Harry Cornelius Bray who had arrived in Australia on 26 September 1853 at the age of 6 years with his family from Portsmouth on the barque St. George. Alfred’s mother, Mary Bannatyne (Armitage) also from England arriving with her family as assisted immigrants. Mary was named after the ship Mary Bannatyne on which she was born in the English Channel shortly after leaving Plymouth in 1949. Harry and Mary both grew up in Sydney and were married at St. Lilas Church, Waterloo on 22 Dec 1870.

Harry and Mary lived in the south Sydney area while Harry made a living firstly driving a baker’s cart and later as a van proprietor of carrier. Alfred Charles was the eldest of their eight children and born at the family home at 32 Bullinaminga Street, Redfern on 24 May 1871.

By the time Alfred married in 1894, he was employed as a sorter at the General Post Office and his family had moved to Hurstville where they owned adjoining properties at Woids Avenue and Bellevue Avenue. His bride was Ellen Louisa Cole who was born at Bungendore in the Monaro District of NSW on 22 January 1874. Her parents Frederick William and Ellen (McFarlane) Cole were both born in NSW, at Gundaroo and Raymond Terrace respectively. Frederick worked at several of the larger properties or estates in the Bungendore area including Foxlow, Carwoola and Gidleigh. Here the Coles raised their seventeen children.

Little is known of Ellen Louisa’s early life but it is not difficult to imagine that in such a large family that everyone would be kept busy with the daily family chores as well as contributing to work on the estates where they lived. It is likely that she received a basic education at the school at Gidleigh, establish on the property by the owner Mr. Rutledge for the benefit of his family and the resident staff.

It is not known how Alfred met Ellen but before her twentieth birthday she was in Sydney and they married at St. Thomas’ church, Balmain South on 15 February 1894. The couple initially lived at Hurstville with the Alfred’s family and their first daughter, Levena Mary, was born six months after their wedding on 29 August. In 1897 their second child, my grandfather Alfred Ernest Cornelius, was also born at Hurstville.

By the time their next child, Marjorie Elizabeth Martha was born in 1899, Alfred was working as a mail guard based in Orange. They then spent a number of years in Cootamundra where Daisey Fredrita and Dorothy Grace were born in 1901 and 1903 respectively. Finally the family moved back to Hurstville and the Woids Avenue/Bellevue Avenue property. Here they had three more children with Pearl Louisa born in 1906, Charles Cole in 1908 and Ruby Esther in 1910 but she died after two days.

The Crash Scene

On that fateful night in 1914, Alfred was at work, as normal in the mail van of the Temora Mail train with 134 passengers on board that left Sydney at 8:10pm. It was a foggy night and the train was running late. As the train approached the station at Exeter shortly before midnight it was thought that the heavy fog obscured the signal. The driver was proceeding at only 13 miles per hour but he was not aware of a goods train shunting onto the loop line, until he was only about 65 yards away and although he applied the emergency brakes it was too late to avoid a disaster. The crash occurred 200 yards north of the Exeter station and although the impact speed was about 7mph in the carnage that followed 14 people were killed and another 26 injured.

In an article compiled by Philip Morton, sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, he explains in part that:

“Postal guard Alfred Bray was at the open door preparing to throw mailbags onto the platform – with his head crushed, he died. The second car, caught between the weight of mail van and engine, and the cars behind, leaped from the rails and drove through the front of the third.”

Alfred Charles Bray was buried on 17 Mar 1914 at Woronora Cemetery, Section J, 0001. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 18 March that Alfred’s funeral was “one of the largest funerals ever seen at Woronora Cemetery”. He was just short of 43 years old. Alfred’s death left Ellen a widow at 40 years of age with one married daughter and the six other children at home aged between 17 and 6 years. Ellen’s father had died 15 years earlier and her widowed mother was seventy and living in Balmain. Luckily she had the support Alfred’s family who were still living at the Hurstville properties.

Philip Morton further tells us that:

“The verdict of the Coroner’s Inquest held at Bowral on March 24, 1914 was that [the Temora Mail driver, Peter] Irwin caused the accident by over-running the home signal. A rider was added that loops should be lengthened or refuge sidings placed at both ends, and further precautions taken during fogs to ensure safety of the public by calling out fog signalmen earlier than was the case. Irwin was committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter.”

At the Goulburn Courthouse in April the jury considered there was sufficient doubt, and Irwin was acquitted.

Ellen Louisa Bray

Alfred’s estate was probated on 17 April 1914 and letters of administration granted to the Public trustee. He died intestate and his estate was assessed at under £700. A claim was subsequently made, on behalf of Ellen Louisa Bray, to recover compensation from the Railway Commissioners for alleged negligence in connection with the death of her husband in the collision. The matter was settled for £1200. The deceased left seven children. The jury allocated compensation of £400 to Ellen, £50 to the married Levena Mary (Hebblewhite) and £125 to the other six children.

Ellen was known as a strong independent woman and she successfully continued to raise her children at Hurstville as well as watching her older son, my grandfather Alfred Ernest Cornelius, go off to WW1 when he was 18 Years old in 1915. In 1923 she was remarried to a widower Walter Clark at 103 Baptist Street, Redfern. She died on 27 September 1943 and was buried on 28 September 1943 at Woronora Cemetery next to Alfred.

Woronora Cemetery

In March 2014 a solemn memorial service was held at Exeter station commemorating the centenary of the train crash and a memorial plaque was unveiled, which included the names of people who died in the 1914 disaster.

Memorial Plaque
Exeter Memorial

Ann Eloisa French (1787-1835)

On this day, October 13 in 1835, Ann Eloisa (or later Eliza) French, who is believed to be my 3rd great-grandmother died in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

Eliza Thomasina’s Baptism, St. Catherine’s Parish Church, Spanish Town

I say ‘believed’ because although it can not (yet) be proven conclusively all indications, including the advice from a professional Jamaican genealogist, are that this is the right person who was the mother of my 2nd great-grandmother Eliza Thomasina Walsh. This Eliza was born in Spanish Town on March 3, 1808 and her mother was A.E. French.

Ethnically, Ann Eloisa was a quadroon, being of mixed race, the grand daughter of an African who was undoubtedly a slave. Her parents were Jane Charlotte Beckford, a free mulatto and George French, one time Crown Solicitor/Clerk of the Jamaica Assembly and later the High Court, Assistant Judge, Solicitor for the Crown and Clerk of the Peace in Spanish Town. Jane was George’s mistress and they had six children together.

White Church and Ellis Streets, Spanish Town

Eliza Thomasina’s father was Thomas Walsh, an Irish officer in the 56th Regiment of the British army serving in Jamaica and who acknowledged Eliza as his daughter in his 1809 will. In that will Thomas had requested that Eliza Thomasina should be returned to Ireland when four years of age. Thomas had returned to England by 1809 and he died in an accident the following year but his wishes regarding Eliza were carried out and she eventually married Henry Harrison Briscoe in Ireland in 1830. It is not known what part, if any, Ann Eloisa had in this decision or in Eliza Thomasina’s life before her return to Ireland.

The old Lodging House is now the Freemason’s Hamilton Lodge Meeting House

Jane Charlotte ran a lodging house on the corner of White Church and Ellis Streets in Spanish Town. This was later known as Miss French’s Lodgings presumably after Ann took over running of the establishment when Jane Charlotte died in 1825. The building that stands on that corner today I likely to be the same

Excerpt from Lady Nugent’s Diary, wife of Gen. George Nugent, Governor of Jamaica

Ann Eliza French (as she was then known) was the administratrix of her mother’s will and presumably also the beneficiary.

Currently no more is known about Ann’s life except that she died in 1835 and was buried in St. Catherine’s churchyard in Spanish Town.