Kingsley Fairbridge’s project Pinjarra Fairbridge Farm School commenced about 1910. Until WWI about 30 boys had passed through. Following the end of WWI and in 1921 parties of boys and girls once again began arriving at Fairbridge. From Fremantle the first group of 15 boys and girls took the train to Pinjarra where they were met and transported to Fairbridge. The first group was initially accommodated at another less permanent location on the farm until two cottages were completed at the current site. Shakespeare for girls and Warren Hastings for the boys. Kingsley Fairbridge was himself living in a tent as his home during the early stages of construction.
Over the years further houses, workshops, school, dairy shed, machinery shed, etc. were constructed.
Sadly Kingsley Fairbridge died in 1924, however his ideals were continued under the guidance of Fairbridge Society, well that is up to and including WW2. The formula changed after WW2 and it is believed Fairbidge’s ideals were no longer relevant.
The children were always referred to by the surnames, never their christian names.
At most times the School housed 340 students.
There were 7 girls’ cottages housing 100 girls and 16 boys’ cottages housing 234 boys.
Research shows 70% of all Old Fairbridgians enlisted into the WWII Australian Forces, which is a remarkable number. One wonders whether they were fighting for Australia or England!
In reality the reason so many former students enlisted was for the following reasons:
To escape their current working positions and life which really held very few options. They were contracted through Fairbridge and were Wards of the State until they were 21 years old. A very large percentage of the Fairbridge workforce were seen as hardworking (due to their disciplined early life) and they were inexpensive ti their employees – many of whom were struggling during the Depression of the 20s and 30s. These were difficult years before WW2.
Enlisting offered the opportunity for adventure and to see the World! For some it was the means of a dream to return to England. Perhaps for most it was a chance to get away from their places of employment.
1500 students students passed through Fairbridge up until WW2. 620 young women and men enlisted with the Australian Forces – the largest contingent in Western Australia. 500 returned home to Western Australia.
Those who enlisted with the AIF mostly joined the 2/28th or 2/4th MG Battalion.
Once you turned 14-15 years of age children were found employment within the state. Girls to domestic jobs in rural areas and the boys to assist with farm work, i.e. agricultural labourers. Fairbridge Farm School Students remained officially Wards of the State of Western Australia until they turned 21 years old. As a student of Fairbridge there was no question of furthering one’s education – there were some who were talented students and could only dream of what might be.
Many were fortunate to be placed with kind and generous employers and for others, it was anything but ideal. They encountered isolation in remote locations, particularly in the north-west and wheat belt regions, inadequate accommodation and discrimination. Communication with Fairbridge and friends was by letter only. The cost of telephone calls was prohibitive in rural regions. Many young women and men lived in remote and sometimes isolated positions. They often worked alone, were unable to visit the local town, did not know where their former school friends were and would spend their day off at the property. Some never had or rarely had a free day.
There have been many humorous stories over the decades. This one concerns Reg Pascall, a most gentle and delightful man. He was employed on a farm where he was regarded as nothing more than a ‘slave’. When the farmer and family drove away for the day Reg recognised an opportunity to take a proper bath in warm water! He filled the bathtub to capacity with nice warm water. Naturally he didn’t think to clean the evidence and tell -tale deep-water bath stains. Reg was soon sent on his way! (and of course he did not have running water nor a bath for his own use!)
Fairbridge representatives would drive around the countryside and check on their wards, however it could be a long time between visits. Several reports printed in the “Fairbridgian” Magazine barely mention the names of the Fairbridge kids they were visiting, only writing of ‘their’ interlude with the property owners, describing morning or afternoon tea, conversations, how many miles driven, how many towns they visited and how many children! Did they ever talk alone with the childrren?
Reports from these visits were compiled on each child, in particular the quality of accommodation, etc. These employment records, school reports and records for every Fairbridge kid was maintained and unless collected by families, are today kept at the Battye Library.
Noel Matthews’ (aka ‘Cowboy’) first job was on a farm south of Fairbridge. His accommodation was in the shed that housed the stallion. He was absolutely terrified as this horse kicked and lashed out at the walls every night as he tried to sleep in the loft above.
For many prospective farmers it was an opportunity to have cheap labour. The girls were employed in the farmhouses and boys outside. Their only skills and knowledge came from Fairbridge, this was all they had ever known.
At Fairbridge these children were fortunate to eat good food – the farm grew vegetables, they produced their own eggs, milk and meat. Their bakery baked fresh bread every day. In many aspects the children were tough – they never owned a pair of shoes since they day of their arrival in Pinjarra. They were rostered on chores everyday either milking cows, in the bakery or workshops either carpentry or machinery. They were also required to maintain their cottage garden and their cottage.
For this reason it would be fair to say most Fairbridge children, in particular boys were physically well developed. They had the privilege of eating well (with meat) but also exercised consistently in the form of farm-work, gardening, and sport – possibly more so than many young Australians living through the Depression with unemployment and poverty at that time. And most importantly they were well disciplined. They were also wards of the state until the age of 21 years and were supposedly bound to Fairbridge and their contracts.
For Fairbridge kids, from wherever they were and whenever they could, would make their way ‘home’ . The construction of the Old Fairbidgians Club House in 1933 meant they were able to have full board whenever they wished, i.e. annual holidays. This was their ‘home’ – they could meet up with other ‘kids’, catch up with the many employed staff and be where they knew best. They could also swim in the pool, play tennis, etc. There was a record book for names and addresses of Fairbridgians who stayed throughout the year, with news of their lives and their locations. (the only way former Fairbridge students tracked and resumed friendships)
Other than two week annual holidays, Fairbridge kids would try for a Christmas lunch or other festivities to be at Pinjarra. Another favourite was the Mandurah Holiday Camp which ran in January. The Old Fairbridgians Assoc. organised a camp for former students to use (for a fee). This was the highlight of student years – when the school set off for Mandurah. Swimming, fishing and lots of fun.
OLD FAIRBRIDGIANS’ ASSOCIATON
The Club House was opened June 1933 financed by donations from supporters in England. 365 pounds raised towards the erection of a club house by O.F.A. was used to furnish the building.
Prior to 1933 it was difficult to accommodate Old Fairbridgians returning to school either for holidays, illness or when changing employment. Girls were camped in rows on the Rectory verandah and at one time the boys had to sleep in a disused dairy.
Founded in 1929 the OFA had a membership of 120 with an annual subscription of 10/6. In its first year 350 members visited and in 1934 there were 400. During those years a weekly average of 20 girls and young men were staying at the club house.
Girls paid 12/6, boys 16/- per week and non-members paid a further 5/3 more. Those who were not earning wages could visit the club, provided they work for the school in lieu of their board. Girls over 21 years paid 16/- and boys one pound weekly.
The Club House was ‘home’ to Old Fairbridgians as was their cottage in school days.
For many prospective farmers it was an opportunity to have cheap labour. The girls were employed in the farmhouses and boys outside.
At Fairbridge these children were fortunate to eat good food – the farm grew vegetables and produced their own eggs, milk and meat. Their bakery produced fresh bread every day. In many aspects they were tough – had never worn a pair of shoes since they day of their arrival in Pinjarra. They were rostered on chores everyday either milking cows, in the bakery or workshops either carpentry or machinery. They were also required to maintain their cottage garden.
For this reason it would be fair to say most Fairbridge children, in particular boys were physically well developed. They had the privilege of eating well (with meat) but also exercised consistently in the form of farm-work, gardening, and sport – possibly more so than many young Australians living through the Depression with unemployment and poverty at that time.
Above; Believed to be 8 Fairbridge ‘boys’. ‘Cowboy’ Matthews standing 3rd from with arm around shoulder of Hurst.
L-R Standing: Harry Lucas, possibly Reg Tooze or King, Cowboy Matthews, Pat Hurst, possibly Ron Burchell, Front L-R unknown, unknown, Tom Pilmoor. Others could be Pascall, Davies and even Tanner.
21 OLD FAIRBRIDGIANS JOINED 2/4TH MACHINE GUN BTN
- THE FOLLOWING 11 DID NOT RETURN
WX14022 BURCHELL, Ronald Reinforcements. ‘E ‘Coy. KIA South-west Bukit Timah, Singapore aged 22 years on 11.2.1942 (Enlisted 11/6/1941). Read further about Burchell brothers.
WX8397 CHIPPERFIELD, Robert William ‘A’ Coy with Ramsbottom. ‘Tallest man in 2/4th’ Died illness Sandakan, Borneo of Cardiac Beri-beri 11/2/1945 . (28 years)
WX20086 DAVIES, Gustav Reinforcements. ‘E’ Coy. KIA Buona Vista, Singapore15/2/1942 aged 20 years. (Enlisted 1/10/1941)
WX9131 GOODWIN, Reuben ‘B’ Coy. Selected in Singapore with ‘F’ Force to work on the Burma-Thai Railway. He was evacuated sick to Tambaya Hospital Camp in Burma where he died of beri beri and dysentery 6/11/1943 . (27 years)
WX17351 HURST, Patrick George Reinforcements. ‘E’ Coy. KIA South-west Bukit Timah, Singapore 11/2/1942 aged 20 years. He had enlisted 22/10/1941.
WX16236 KING, Alfred Victor (aka Albert John) Selected in Singapore to work on Burma-Thai railway with ‘D’ Force S Battalion in Thailand. Sent to Japan with ‘Rashin Maru’ worked Yamane, Niihama. Recovered from Japan at end of war. Rejoined AIF and was KIA 8/11/1950 Korea aged 26 years. (after 42 days in Korea)
WX4949 KINGSWELL Ronald James ‘C’ Coy. Died 25/3/1942 appendicitis Allied Hospital Bandoeng, Java aged 25 years. Kingswell never reached Singapore with the 2/4th – instead he arrived with about 90 machine gunners at Java, where they joined the Allied Forces to fight the Japanese. They were taken POWs in early March 1942.
WX8425 LEADBITTER Edward Jonathan (Ted) ‘D’ Coy. Selected in Singapore with ‘D’ Force V Battalion to work on Burma-Thai Railway. Died cholera following a brutal and extended beating at Kuii Camp, Thailand on 10/10/1943 aged 24 years.
WX7634 OSBORNE Sydney Albert ‘D’ Coy, No. 14 Platoon, Driver. Taken from Singapore to Borneo with ‘B’ Force. Died malaria Sandakan, Borneo 26/6/1945 aged 31 years. Syd was married with two young sons.
WX7617 SCADDEN Harry Wright HQ Coy. Selected in Singapore with ‘A’ Force Burma Green Force No. 3 Battalion to work on Burma end of Burma-Thai Railway. Evacuated sick from Burma to Tamarkan Hospital Camp, Thailand where he died of malaria 22/4/1944 aged 29 years. * (Claude Knott enlisted same day). Please read about A Force Burma Green Force No. 3 Btn.
WX16323 TOOZE Reginald Gerald ‘E’ Coy. Batman/runner. KIA 11/2/1942 South-west Bukit Timah, Singapore aged 21 years. (Enlisted 3/9/1941) Reg had been working and residing at Yarloop when he enlisted. * Tooze & Tanner enlisted same day.
During Mar 2020, a member of Reg’s extended family in England made contact. Geoffrey Tooze is the son of Reg’s younger brother George. When George died, his children discovered they had an Uncle who had lived in Australia and was KIA Singapore 1945.
THOSE WHO RETURNED
WX7600 BOUSFIELD George Reginald ‘D’ Coy. Bousfied was one of about 90 machine gunners AWOL when ‘Aquitania’ sailed from Fremantle 16 Jan 1942. Sent to Burma from Java, Bousfield worked on Burma-Thai railway with Williams Force and No. 1 Mobile Force. Recovered from Nakom Nayok Camp, Thailand.
WX7616 KNOTT Claude ‘A’ Coy. Driver. Selected in Singapore with ‘A’ Force Green Force, No. 3 Battalion for Burma to work on Burma-Thai Railway. Selected from Non Pladuk Camp, Thailand to work in Japan. Left with ‘Awa Maru’ Party and worked at Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 17, Omuta. Was recovered from here at end of war. * (Harry Scadden enlisted same day). Harry Lucas also with Green Force and same camp Japan.
WX13752 LUCAS Harry ‘A’ Coy. Driver/mechanic. Selelcted in Singapore with ‘A’ Force Burma Green Force, No. 3 Battalion to work on the Burma-Thai Railway. From Tamarkan Camp Thailand, he was deemed fit and selected to go to Japan to work with ‘Awa Maru’ Party and worked at Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 17 Omuta, from where he was recovered at the end of the war. Claude Knott also in Green Force and Japan.
WX17000 MATTHEWS Frederick Noel (Cowboy) Enlisted 23 Oct 1941 (underage) Reinforcement with ‘E’ Coy, Special Reserve Battalion. Sent to work Burma-Thai Railway at Hellfire Pass Cutting with ‘D’ Force Thailand ‘S’ Battalion. In 1944 selected by Japanese as fit to work in Japan. Sailed Rashin Maru (70 day journey on ‘junk’ ship) to Moji, Japan then travelled to Yamane and Nihama – Mitsui copper mines till end of war.
WX13285 MAUDE Jack ‘A’ Coy. From Java he was selected from Bicycle Camp Batavia with ‘A’ Force Burma, Java Party No. 4 Williams Force. Was later selected from Kanchanaburi, Thailand to work in Japan. Left with ‘Awa Maru’ Party with Harry Lucas and Claude Knott however separated at Moji and worked at Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 24 Sendyu. Was recovered from here at end of War.
Jack Maude suffered all his life with the effects of radiation from atomic bomb.
WX12336 PASCALL Reginald Reinforcements joined ‘A’ Coy.
From Singapore selected with ‘D’ Force S Battalion to work on Burma-Thai Railway. From Chungkai POW Camp, Reg was selected for Japan with ‘Rashin Maru’ Party and worked Yamane, Nihama, Japan from where he was recovered at the end of the war. Others with ‘D’ Force S Battalion: Westlake, Pascall, Matthews, King. The last four were also with ‘Rashin Maru’ Party to Japan. ‘
WX17393 PILMOOR Thomas Reinforcements, Battalion HQ, Selected from Singapore to work Burma, with ‘A’ Force Green Force No. 3 Battalion. He was recovered from Bangkok, Thailand at the the end of war. Lucas and Knott also with ‘A’ Force, Green Force No. 3 Battalion in Burma.
WX14836 RAMSBOTTOM Jack Kenneth (later known as John LANE). ‘A’ Coy. Selected from Singapore with ‘J’ Force Wales Maru’ Party to work in Japan at Kobe. He in fact spent most of his POW days in Japan. From Kobe he worked at Kawasaki Camp, Maruyama Park Wakinohama from where he was recovered at the end of the war. (After the war changed his name to Jack Kenneth Lane.)
WX16324 TANNER George Douglas HQ Coy, selected in Singapore with ‘D’ Force V Battalion to work Burma-Thai Railway. It appears Doug spent a great deal of time at Brankassi Camp before being moved to Non Pladuk. It was here he was deemed fit for Japan and selected with Aramis Party to work at Fukuoka sub-Camp No. 17 Omuta. Claude Knott and Harry Lucas were at same camp at Omuta, although they sailed with ‘Awa Maru’ Party. Doug was recovered from Omuta, Japan at end of the war. *Tanner and Tooze enlisted same day.
WX9570 WESTLAKE Percival Leonard ‘D’ Coy. Selected from Singapore with ‘D’ Force Thailand S Battalion to work on Burma-Thai Railway. Percy was recovered from Nacompaton Camp, Thailand at end of the war.
Chipperfield and Ramsbottom were in ‘A’ Company No 5 Platoon. When Ramsbottom was very sick, Chipperfield endangered himself to get food supplies for him.
Claude Knott and Jack Maude were also in ‘A’ Company, however in No. 6 Platoon. They were joined by reinforcements Harry Lucas and Reg Pascall.
The four young men who died February 1942 were part of ‘E’ Coy, Matthews was the only Old Fairbridgian in Reinforcements in ‘E’ Coy to survive Fall of Singapore.
There were two Old Fairidgians who were Taken on Strength Woodside Camp, South Australia 5 October 1941. King (KIA Korea) and Tanner.
After the war, those who were not married and without family returned to Fairbridge to stay. The below photos (from Cowboy Matthews Collection) show many ‘recreational’ aspects of these men living life after the Forces and after surviving life as a POW!
For them it was back to Fairbridge, the only home they had known!
if you can identify the young men in any of following photographs, please email; email@example.com
Below: taken summer of 1945-1946 at Fairbridge Holiday Camp at Mandurah.
‘Cowboy’ Matthews standing centre back in white.
Believed to be taken after the war. ‘Cowboy’ Matthews standing on right.
Standing in front of Old Fairbridgians Hall. Matthews standing on left.
Returned Soldiers were entitled to generous (?) fuel rations – this group decided to go touring. Matthews standing far right.
John Lane is wearing Fairbridge Farm School Tie.
The following was printed in Borehole Bulletin newsletter December 2000.
Below: 2/4th day at Fairbridge 2001. 2/4th held events regularly.
Above: From Beattie Collection.