News

WWI diary calls Corowa home

By Jarryd Barca

The diaries and notebooks of 2678 George Albert Hall, Daysdale, have been donated to the Corowa Federation Museum by the 8th/13th Victorian Mounted Rifles Regimental Collection.

The Regimental Collection is in the process of transferring some items from its collection to museums in the district where the soldier had close ties.

George Albert Hall was a military officer during WWI and his diaries and notebooks have been transcribed, a seven-month process, by Albury historian Jan Hunter. 

George Hall was enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1915 and sailed to Egypt, where he was selected to serve in the Anzac Provost Corps.

His diaries and notebooks are incredibly precious; they are unusual because they offer a very different view of the Australian soldier in camp and on leave in Egypt.

What is sometimes today excused as ‘larrikinism’, Hall, a sober and upright man, saw as drunken conduct was customary, and a willingness to frequent the most unsavory and unhygienic parts of the city. 

Military police are frequently denigrated, but on them fell the task of maintaining discipline and good order among tens of thousands of servicemen and their relationship with the civilian population. 

Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Doug Hunter, in making the handover on behalf of the Regimental Collection on Wednesday, October 31 said “the Hall diaries are a valuable addition to Australia’s military history”. 

Mr Hall’s name was already mentioned in the Corowa District Roll of Honour framed list in the Federation Museum.

His diaries are a handy and convenient addition to the already history-filled Federation Museum ahead of the Centenary of Armistice on November 11. 

Mr Hunter said though many soldiers kept diaries from the world wars, Mr Hall’s is quite unique.

“It’s a very valuable aspect of history because we get all of the stories and learn of the Australian soldiers in battle and their heroism, but this is a whole new perspective,” he told The Free Press. 

“It’s interesting and valuable because it’s different; he actually called those that he dealt with ‘scum of the earth’ because they were often drunk, caused trouble, broke out of camp or stole things.

“He despaired a lot of the soldiers.” 

Ms Hunter, in regards to transcribing the dear diaries from over 100 years ago – which had some parts written with pencil and in a font size equivalent to today’s ‘7’ on a Microsoft Word document coupled with hard-to-read exquisite penmanship – said she found the internet helpful but admitted there were some words she simply couldn’t discern. 

“For instance, in writing he said he had gone somewhere and I had to put it into the internet. Even though it was spelt incorrectly, it would come up straight away,” she said. 

“I worked on transcribing it all from February to August, a couple of hours a day.”

Ms Hunter said George Hall’s punctuation, or lack thereof, was poor, but chose to leave the transcription exactly as he wrote in order to best represent the accuracy of his notes from those times. 

The cover of the diary reads “on patrol nothing doing very hot” – an example of Mr Hall’s concise but clear messages.

A typical day’s notes would be no more than 40 words. Following is an example of Mr Hall’s daily notes, this one transcribed from Thursday, January 20, 1916: 

“Nothing much doing only travelling about a trip to the A.P.M. twice and one to Helliopolies just missed being caught in a heavy shower caught six men trying to blow the camp Bugle up.” 

George Albert Hall, who passed on April 24, 1954 at the age of 74, is buried at Corowa Pioneer Cemetery. 

A 1954 edition of The Free Press reveals he was admitted to the Corowa Hospital with a severe chest infection that same year. 

The obituary lists there was a son, John (Melbourne) and daughters Vera (Mrs Randall, Yackandandah) and Evelyn (Mrs L Obrien of Albury). He also had five brothers and four sisters. 

Mr Hall’s complete diary and journey from 1915-1919 is transcribed on 154 pages of A4 sized paper, which is also accessible from the Victorian Mounted Rifles website at https://victoriancollections.net.au/.