In 2014 I was contacted by Bob Phelps, son of the late Capt. Robert Maynard Phelps WX3465, Headquarters Company, 2/4th MG Battalion. R. M. Phelps was born Geraldton 1911 and enlisted December 1940. His appointment with the AIF was terminated in March 194, he died in 1971.
Bob Phelps’s mother had recently died and on going through her personal belongings the family was surprised to discover a quite dilapidated watch with an inscription “WX 9231 Leonard Hodgson from John”.
Bob quickly confirmed Leonard Hodgson was also in the 2/4th and tragically did not return to Australia.
Bob’s father suffered ill health following his return to Australia. It was apparent Leonard Hodgson’s watch had somehow been unknowingly mixed with Bob’s mother’s belongings for all these years.
We believe Tim Hodgson gave his watch to Bob Phelps at Khonkan where Phelps was working as an orderly. Due to the ravages of ulcers, Hodgson had bravely undergone an amputation of his leg below his knee. It had not been successful and tragically Tim Hodgson died following a second operation to amputate above his knee. The success rate for amputations was minimal.
Phelps no doubt planned to return Hodgson’s watch to his family however it was March 1946 when Phelps returned home, almost 2 ½ years had passed since Tim Hodgson’s tragic death in 1943. Like many others, Phelps aged 35 years returned home an unwell man, resumed civilian life, work and family commitments, always hoping to live life as it was before WWII.
So began months of searching for the family of Tim Hodgson.
My search included BDM, Headstones, Electoral Rolls, Newspaper archives and phone calls.
Born 1919 in London England to John Henry & Minna Bertha Hodgson, ‘Tim’ had 2 older brothers Thomas John & Charles Henry. In 1924 the Hodgson family migrated to Western Australia from England and took up dairy farming at Carmarthen, Denmark, part of the Government’s
Group Settlement Schemes. The boys were then aged 16, 15 and 5 years. Tim would have attended the local one teacher school and the older boys would initially have worked on the family farm.
Establishing a dairy farm on virgin land at Denmark in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s proved to be very challenging, many farms failed the “owners” walking away. The Hodgson family were able to succeed and remained in Camarthen until they retired to Albany.
Leonard “Tim” Hodgson enlisted 30 October 1940. He married in 1941 to Patricia Mary Swain b. Kalgoorlie 1922, she d. 1999 in Perth. The marriage took place at Kalgoorlie. We believe Tim had travelled to Kalgoorlie to find work and his older brother who was working in the area.
Patricia Hodgson had apparently moved to live in Denmark while Tim was away.
Tim’s older brother Thomas (sometimes recorded as John) was residing in the Murchison area, in fact he was recorded living in Wiluna in the1933 Electoral Roll. He married in 1935 to Runic Linda Mews East Murchison (Kalgoorlie). They were to later divorce and she continued her nursing career. Thomas (John) Hodgson died in Gosford, NSW in 1981 having resided in NSW for the last few years of his life.
Tim’s wife Patricia Mary Hodgson (nee Swain) also joined the forces. After the end of the war she remarried at Boulder in 1948.
Older brother Thomas (John) enlisted in the RAF and thankfully survived WWII. It seems it was John who gave the inscribed watch to younger brother Tim.
Tim’s parents continued farming at Carmarthen with second son Charles who married Francis ‘Eileen’ Whitten about 1938. Charles and Francis known as ‘Eileen’ had a family of four children, believed to be the only grandchildren to Tim’s parents Minna & John Henry Hodgson.
Tim’s parents are buried at the Denmark Cemetery. John died July 1965. This was 22 years after the death of his youngest son. Minna died November 1977, about 32 years later.
Following Minna’s death Charles and ‘Eileen’ Hodgson left Carmarthen. They are recorded in 1977 Electoral Roll residing in Albany where Francis ‘Eileen’ continued school teaching. (Following the end of WWII Francis ‘Eileen’ Hodgson’s (nee Whittem) sister married Thomas Albert Henry Minchin WX9222 of the 2/4th MG Btn. Minchin was a Driver/mechanic & Tim Hodgson was a Rangetaker in ‘A’ Company. The two men were at Selerang Camp Changi, and Burma’s Green Force No. 3 Battalion. They enlisted the same date and obviously Minchin was in contact with Hodgson’s family either before or after the war. Minchin’s pre-war occupation is Rock Driller. Tim Hodgson had spent time in the Murchison also. Minchin was 9 years older than Tim, and may well have been associated with or worked with Tim’s older brother Thomas ‘John’ Hodgson.
I eventually spoke with a daughter of Charles & Eileen Hodgson. She advised the family thought they would gift the watch to a nephew; a great grandson to Minna & John Hodgson and great nephew of Tim Hodgson.
The daughter of Charles Hodgson told me the story of her grandparents lives and shared with me the sorrow and despair her grandparents endured when Tim did not return from the war, often meeting arriving trains from Perth hoping to see their youngest son.
Many months after the end of WWII, the Hodgson’s received official notification of Tim’s death on the Burma-Thai Railroad during 1943. Their grief was deep and lasting knowing the details of their youngest son’s death, his suffering and incarceration. Learning their son undertook two amputations with little or no drugs. With this knowledge, Tim’s father’s health rapidly declined.
My earlier research had shown me Minna was born in Germany.
When WWI broke out, the Hodgson’s were in Hamburg, Germany with their 2 sons – because this was Minna’s home country – I believe John was working there. (Tim was born later in England). John Henry Hodgson was in fact interned as a civilian in Germany during the war whilst Minna managed to return with her 2 sons and lived in England. (I don’t know how difficult it was for Minna alone with 2 sons – in addition being German born and spoken).
John Henry Hodgson was interned on 4 August 1914 at Hamburg. As a British civilian detainee, he remained at Ruhleben until 27 November 1917 just over 3 years.
Ruhleben internment camp was a civilian detention camp during WWI. Located about 10kms west of Berlin it had been a former harness racing track. The detainees were men (only) mostly from Allied countries. Men who had been holidaying, studying, living or working in Germany as well as detained shipping crew & trawler fishermen captured at the outbreak of WWI.
Conditions at Ruhleben were cramped and the camp housed between 4,000-5,500 mostly British detainees. The Germans adhered to the Geneva Convention and the detainees administered their own internal affairs. Once organized they were allowed access to books, letters, sporting equipment and even a printing press. It would have been luxurious compared to life on the Burma-Thai Railroad!
The detainees organized their own library, theatre productions, police force, printing their own magazine and postal service.
I am unable to tell you about the food at Ruhleben – other than it was minimal, and bvery scarce towards the end of WWI, perhaps is was as inedible as that provided to POWs in Singapore and South East Asia. However, the Japanese POW’s with their minimal diet also worked and lived as slaves 7 days a week and never received Red Cross Parcels, mail and most importantly desperately required medicines.
It was probably cabbage verses rice!
This was a sad story for a family who had undergone many hardships, challenges and succeeded in creating a dairy farm in the unforgiving Denmark virgin land made up of dense growing tall trees and tough, wild undergrowth.
Story by C. Mellor.