No.3182 Private Edward James Latham
Edward James Latham was born in Nantwich, Cheshire, England, on 6 November 1894. According to the United Kingdom Census 1901, the family was still living in Cheshire:
- father Edward James Senior, described as a farmer, aged 37
- mother Catherine, aged 38
- Catherine Junior aged 9
- Ethel aged eight
- Edward Junior aged six
- Fred aged one
They left England in January 1911, bound for Melbourne. According to the Australian Electoral Roll, they settled in Werribee in 1912 and were living at Police Paddock with Edward Junior and Edward Senior both working as labourers.
Edward Junior had served with the 29th (Port Phillip) Australian Light Horse Regiment prior to the war.
He volunteered to serve in the AIF at Geelong on 24 November 1916, just after his 22nd birthday, and was assigned to the 4th Reinforcements, 59th Infantry Battalion.
Barely a month after enlisting, Edward found himself aboard ship and heading back to England, arriving in February 1917. From there, he and his unit headed to Hurdcott camp on the Salisbury Plains, a major training centre for the AIF throughout WWI.
The area had a reputation for being cold and inhospitable – even at the height of a British summer!
Clearly not happy with his lot, Private Latham skipped camp on a number of occasions, as well as over staying scheduled leave. His misdemeanours not only earnt the opprobrium of his superiors, they also cost him 25 days’ pay and a two-pound fine – a significant amount of money from his ‘six bob a day’ wage.
He was sent to France in October 1917, where he was taken on strength with the 59th Battalion, AIF.
The 59th Battalion had been raised in Egypt after the evacuation from the Dardanelles. It was made up of a core of experienced infantrymen from the 7th Battalion that had fought at Gallipoli, and some new recruits from Australia.
The 59th Battalion was sent to France in July 1916. The Battalion suffered horrendous casualties along with much of the 5th Australian Division at the battle of Fromelles. The Australians lost more than 5,500 men – killed, wounded, or missing in action – in just two days of fighting.
Private Latham missed most of the action in Belgium. The 59th had participated in the battle of Polygon Wood in September 1917. A string of battles that raged from September through to early November 1917 – Polygon Wood, Poelkapelle, Broodseinde and Passchendaele – were to cost another 38,000 Australian casualties.
In 1918, the unit fought at Villers-Bretonneux. German forces had captured the town from British troops, and it was left to Australian soldiers from the 13th and 15th Brigades to recapture the town in a well-coordinated night attack in late April 1918.
Private Latham was taken ill in June 1918 and was evacuated to England with a condition known as pyrexia or ‘fever of unknown origin’ – most likely a form of trench fever. The symptoms included high fever, severe headaches, aching muscles and, in some cases, skin sores. Trench fever was transmitted by body lice. Lice were a constant companion in the trenches of World War I. One source suggested that up to 97 per cent of officers and men would have been infested.
In his debilitated state, Private Latham also managed to contract tonsillitis.
It appears that Private Latham was sent to his old stomping ground of Hurdcott for a signals course on the Salisbury Plain in late November 1918, by which time the war was over. He spent a brief period with the Second Training Brigade at Codford – also on the Salisbury Plain – before returning to Australia in March 1919.
Now a civilian, Edward James Latham Junior returned to Werribee where he was to live for the rest of his long life. He married Freda Jane Swanton in 1920 – a daughter of Samuel and Helena Swanton of Werribee.
The brother of their daughter-in-law, Nellie (who had married George Swanton), was killed just a few days before George died in France. His name was Private Alan McGregor Gordon who had served with the 8th Infantry Battalion, AIF.
It is believed that Edward Junior and Freda had just one child. They spent all their lives in Werribee – living at Police Paddock, then Lyndhurst, and much later at Bridge Street and Church Street within the municipality. Although he doesn’t appear to have applied for land under the soldier settlement scheme, Edward Junior was an outspoken critic of the challenges facing farmers in Werribee in the 1920s. His 44-acre block produced lucerne used as cattle fodder. However, prices had fallen dramatically in the 1920s due to an over-supply.
Edward Junior was also critical of the government’s decision to allow tax-exempt organisations such as the Government Research Farm and the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works to compete on an open market against soldier settlers. It wasn’t only the lucerne producers that were impacted. Getting a competitive price for milk, fruit and vegetables also proved extremely difficult.
According to an article in The Age, 21 March 1925, p.15, there were 95 soldier settlers working land in the Werribee area.
During World War II, Edward Junior enlisted in the Citizens Military Force, having volunteered at Werribee. He died in March 1981, aged 87, while his wife, Freda, died in 1996, aged 96.
We leave the last word to the entry recording his death; it describes him as a 'retired gentleman'.
Medals and Entitlements:
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
Lest we forget
NAA; B2455 LATHAM JAMES EDWARD
59th Infantry Battalion history
Australian War Memorial
The Age newspaper article: Harvard/Australian citation: 1925 'GLUT IN LUCERNE', The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), 21 March, p. 15, viewed 19 Nov 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155559510