BEYOND THE TREE | Soldiers charged over Liverpool store robbery

The exhibition Beyond the Tree opens at Liverpool Museum on July 6 and includes a growing community tree to which you can add your own family history. Bring in photos of your family moments to be scanned, printed, mounted and added to the display. Learn about others' histories, research your own. It's in conjunction with Liverpool Genealogy Society. Volunteers available Tuesdays to Saturdays to help with research and family enquiries. The exhibition launch is on Saturday, July 6, 11am to 1pm. The Champion is running a series of local family stories in conjunction with the exhibition. Here's Margaret's story of her grandmother's cousin, Alec, who may have got up to mischief with his soldier mates in the Liverpool camp. They all ended up in court but the judge dismissed them so they could go fight. Alec ended up in a civilian job but died very young:

MY GRANDMOTHER'S cousin, Alexander Dunning, joined the Navy as a trainee seaman at the Naval Depot at Edgecliffe in August, 1915. Yet, four months later, by November, he'd absconded and joined the AIF at the Casula camp at Liverpool.

At Liverpool court a few months after that, Alec and six other soldiers ranging in age from 17 to 19 had to face charges of stealing from a retail store, the Gowing Brothers Liverpool branch, at the Liverpool encampment, on February 2, 1916 with goods consisting of military outfits valued all up at £46.

Lieutenant Rayne, of C Company, 4th Battalion, gave evidence that he had a search conducted of the huts at the camp.

The findings were:

  • Soldier Butchard had a new money belt rolled up and stuck in the front of his pants.
  • The witness found nothing in soldier Bates' locker.
  • Soldier Abbott brought in an officer's tunic.
  • In soldier Andrews' locker they found shirts, handkerchiefs and ties.
  • Private Matthews carried in an armful of clothing and told a witness that someone had put the clothes in his locker.

There was nothing specific against Andrews but the other six were troublesome, and wouldn't do drill. They were put into the "awkward" squad -- comprising soldiers who resisted discipline.

William Baggley, manager of Gowing Brothers Liverpool, said the premises had been robbed four times in five weeks, with the missing goods valued at £100.

The magistrate committed the seven accused for trial at Parramatta sessions court. Here the judge ruled that as the soldiers were due to do active duty overseas they were all ordered to return to their camps.

However, Alec was dismissed from the AIF in March, 1916 with an entry on his record: "Service no longer required."

As the timeframe was around the 1916 riots at Liverpool, he may have been one of the 1000 soldiers discharged from the AIF for their involvement in the riots.

According to the NSW Archives, on February 14 thousands of soldiers from the Liverpool camp went on strike. They marched and rioted through the streets of Liverpool before catching trains into Sydney and marching down George Street.

The riot ended with a skirmish at Central station where one soldier was shot dead and six others injured.

The riot was viewed by military authorities as a mutiny and took many by surprise but it can also be viewed as the culmination of ongoing problems at the Liverpool camp.

A great number of the dismissed soldiers went on to rejoin in other districts.

However, Alec joined the crew of a New Zealand shipping company sailing between Sydney, Auckland and Vancouver with passengers, mail and other goods.

He stayed in this job until 1925 when sadly he died in Sydney, at just 26.

  • Beyond the Tree exhibition at Liverpool Museum, 462 Hume Highway, corner Congressional Drive. July 6 to October 12, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 4pm.