Germans in the AIF (or should we say, men of German descent) numbered in their thousands. You need only peruse the First World War Embarkation Roll to see exactly how many men with Germanic names, actually served under the fur felt hat – of the Australian Imperial Force. It is interesting to note, that many of these Germans were second and even third generation Australians….. their ancestors having migrated to this far flung outpost of the British Empire in the mid 1800’s. A large number settled in the Barossa Valley of South Australia and the farmlands of southern Victoria.
It is also highly likely, that many others ‘Anglacised’ their names or enlisted under a pseudonym – in order to hide their Germanic ancestry. Whether this was to save themselves from ostracism or merely so others would not cast dispersions as to their loyalty, can only be speculated. Regardless of their family background, the vast majority of these men considered themselves just as “Australian” as the next man. And this did not stop many of them from doing, what they considered to be their duty. Certainly, if their mates enlisted ….. then many of these men would have followed suit. But perhaps in some cases, we can exclude their motivation to enlist as being a “desire to serve the King” part of the equation in ‘God, King & Country’ !
IMAGE RIGHT: A Norman Lindsay recruitment poster – appealing for Australians to enlist “Quick”. It depicts two diggers who are outnumbered and with their backs to the wall. With one man wounded and laying helplessly on the ground – he appeals for his fellow Australians to join them in the struggle whilst his mate, fights for his life. Dispite the fact that this poster was printed in the latter part of the war (actually printed in 1918) it still depicts ‘the Hun’ wearing their Picklehaube helmets; despite the fact these obsolescent helmets were no longer being worn in front line service.
However, as many readers would know – German ancestry was in the blood of Briton’s Royal Family itself. The ‘Windsor’ family name only came about, when they legally changed their name during 1917 from the German surname ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’. All efforts were made by the Royals to distance themselves from their Germanic past and prove to the English populance – where their loyalties lay. Indeed, Lord Louis Mountbatten (who served in the Royal Navy during World War 1 and distinguished himself as 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma during WW2) was the youngest son of Prince Louis of Battenberg. Who was to guess that just twently one years later, history would repeat itself and the two countries would be at war for a second time. However in this latter war, the Royal family would be thrust into the front line when Buckingham Palace was struck by Germans Bombs during the Blitz. An incident which was welcomed by the Royals with relief – at least now they could show the East Enders of London that nobody – rich or poor- was immune to the devastation.
IMAGE LEFT: Another Norman Lindsay painting, depicting the beastlike “Evil Hun” who’s blood drenched hands are staining the free world with the German attempt at domination. Note again, the Picklehaube depicted on the German’s head, which had become synonymous with the public’s mental picture of German troops.
However, the subject of this article is to detail those Australians who retained their German surnames and served amongst the ranks of the A.I.F. Whilst their distant cousins would be donning their Picklehaubes (iconic leather helmets or ‘hard hats’ which usually sported a spike on top – or similar brass protrusion and a helmet plate) these men adorned themselves with the ‘brown slouch hat with the side turned up’ which would become a popular song later, during World War 2.
Two such Germanic-Australian families who had sons which enlisted as volunteers into the Australian Imperial Force, were the LUHRS family from South Australia and the SCHULTZ family from Victoria.
Brothers, Berthold Heinrich (Henry) LUHRS and Herbert Norman LUHRS signed up seperately. Berthold, a 26 year old Labourer from Milbrulong in New South Wales (though he was born near Bagot Well in S.A.) had an interesting military career. He enlisted on the 17th of February, 1916 ….. only to be discharged …. surprisingly …. at his wife’s request; just over one month later (on the 26th of March). See attached link to page 4 of his personal record with the Australian Archives http://naa12.naa.gov.au/Scripts/Imagine.asp . However Berthold seemed to wear the pants in this relationship, as he rejoined again on the 28th of July, 1916 and entered service as a reinforcement to number 22nd Infantry Battalion with the service number 6115. Berthold would have a few brushes with the miliatry law, before the war was out. His first offence occurred on the 30th of December, 1916 whilst on board the troopship HMAT Argyllshire; where his crime entailed ‘Using Threatening Language to an N.C.O’ . For this, Berthold was awarded a punishment of “4 days confined to ship and forfeit 4 days pay”.
IMAGE RIGHT: An example of a German Picklehaube, as worn by front line troops in the early stages of the First World War. These helmets would eventually be replaced by the steel helmet but until then, they were a prized ‘souvenier’ for any British Commonwealth soldier and many were sent home as such. Whilst this image shows clearly, the helmet plate and the brass ‘spike’, it was common practice to wear a cotton cover made from field grey cloth over the Picklehaube; to camoflage it’s shiney surfaces.
On the 15th of March, 1917 he left England for France and he was taken on strength of the 22nd Infantry Battalion on the 31st of March, 1917. This breach of military discipline blew out to his first period of being AWOL (Absent Without Leave) from 9.15am Parade and 2.00pm Parade on the 17/08/1917 and for this indiscretion, he earnt himself 48 hours Field Punishment and a forfeit of 2 days pay; by order of the C.O. 22nd Battalion AIF. A letter written by his sister (Miss R. LUHRS) and dated the 15th of June, 1917 indicated that she had written to Berthold but that he had not received his letters and papers. Perhaps it was this lack of receiving correspondence, which contributed to his poor morale and resulted in him abandoning his duties? On the 28th of September, 1917 – he was sentenced to two years imprisonment with ‘hard labour’ for being AWOL from 4pm on the 19/09/1917 till 8.30pm on the 22/09/1917 (about 1 month after his first period of AWOL). He spent this period of incarceration at the No. 1 Military Prison in Rouen, France. However, he would only serve out a little over 12 months of that sentence, being released and returned to his unit on the 18th of October, 1918 (the remainder of his sentence being suspended). On the 9th of May, 1918 – his sister wrote to the Base Records Office again, regarding the whereabouts of Berthold and questioning the reason for him not receiving her mail. She had not heard from him for over 12 months. Unbeknown to her at this time, was that he was a guest of His Majesty’s Military Prison and serving out a sentence. Apparantly, he had been a regular letter writer, up until then. However Base Records returned her letter on the 16th of May, 1918 indicating that they had not received any recent report and they assumed that he must still be with his unit. It would appear as if they also had no idea that he was serving a custodial sentence !
IMAGE LEFT:The younger brother of Berthold Heinrich LUHRS – Private Herbert Norman LUHRS (Service Number 56104). Incidently, this photo was returned to his descendants by Medals Gone Missing in 2008. It had been located for sale on ebay and the family did not even know that the photo existed!
Herbert Norman LUHRS was too young to join up when the war broke out during 1914. Born in 1899, he was not old enough to enlist until the last year of the war – this being 1918 (a man had to be 21 years of age before he could enlist into the AIF). However, one could enlist at the age of 18 with the consent of a parent. So after his 18th birthday, Herbert signed up to serve overseas in the Australian Imperial Force. Embarking on the 23rd of July, 1918 – he did not arrive in France until the 31st of January, 1919. His family would no doubt consider it fortunate that he was too late to see active service. He was subsequently mustered as a Driver with the 4th Australian Motor Transport Company and after a brief military service during the “clean up” of Europe; he returned to Australia on the 2nd of February, 1920.
A soldier who is believed to be a cousin or distant relative of Herbert Norman LUHRS is Private Oscar Roy LUHRS of the 24th Infantry Battalion, AIF. A missing First World War medal (1914-1915 Star) pertaining to this man was purchased for $164.75 from ebay on the 5th March, 2008. This medal is in the possession of a distant relative to Oscar. However the Medals Gone Missing Administrator, Gary Traynor is hoping to locate a descendant who is closer in relationship to Oscar Roy LUHRS. Perhaps then, the 1914-1915 Star may be reunited with the British War Medal and Victory Medal, to which he was entitled. Despite his Germanic name, Oscar stated on his enlistment papers that he was a British born subject from Lorquon in Victoria. His next of kin was Frederick LUHRS from Cavendish in Victoria.
IMAGE LEFT: The ‘white over red’ unit colour patch of the 24th Infantry Battalion, AIF which served in Gallipoli during 1915 and on the Western Front, in particular the battles of Pozières and Mouquet Farm during 1916.
A Gallipoli veteran, the First World War Embarkation Roll indicates that Oscar Roy LUHRS boarded HMAT Anchises on the 26th of August, 1915 from Port Melbourne. He joined his unit at ANZAC on the 12th October, 1915 and was there until the evacuation in December, 1915. Later serving in France and Belgium, the 24th Battalion took part in its first major offensive around Pozières and Mouquet Farm in July and August of 1916. Taking into account his surname, one can only imagine the treatment that would befall Oscar, should he become a prisoner of war. Like many soldiers, Oscar would suffer from the harsh winter conditions and developed mild trench foot. He would survive the Great War and met his future wife whilst serving in the United Kingdom. Oscar married his Scottish bride, Charlotte Horner Donaldson DAVIDSON on the 23rd April, 1919 in Aberdeen. The AIF Service Record of Oscar Roy LUHRS is on hand at the National Archives of Australia. Page 22 of the 29 page records, shows that Oscar received his 1914-1915 Star and signed a receipt on the 1st September, 1920. The condition of the ribbon clearly displays wear and how it ended up on ebay is anybody’s guess.
Another man who thought it prudent to change his name upon enlistment was a soldier from the Illawarra whose birth name owas James TEICHMANN. Strange as it may seem, he chose a ‘French’ name for his alias; that of Claude LIMONAIRE and entered the AIF with the service number of 3182 on the 6th of November, 1916. (NOTE: His first name is misspelt on the First World War Embarkation Roll, in that Claud is spelt without the letter ‘e’ at the end). At the time of his enlistment at Wollongong, he indicated that his next of kin was Margaret LIMONAIRE of Bathurst – so if this alias was a ruse to hide his German ancestry, then his story was very well weaved indeed. He claimed on this enlistment that he had been born in ‘Geraldton, Western Australia’. He left Australia as part of the 45th Infantry Battalion aboard HMAT Beltana and served in France during 1917. A medical case sheet held within his file (National Archives of Australia) indicate that he served in “the band” of the 45th Battalion after being ‘knocked over by concussion’ during a period of shelling, requiring him to be carried out. The case sheet goes on to state that in October 1917, he was ‘blown up’ and had to go on sick report – due to him falling out of band continually. He was subsequently admitted to hospital in April of 1918 and this eventually led to him being discharged as ‘medically unfit’.
IMAGE LEFT: James Samuel TEICHMANN a man of German descent, who enlisted under a ‘French’ name as 3182 Private Claude LIMONAIRE at the old Post Office, the bottom of Market Street in Wollongong, NSW in late 1916.
If his game had been ‘up’, it could have occurred when a letter dated 25th November, 1917 was written by his father – clearly indicating that his true name was James Samuel TEICHMANN and not “C. LIMONAIRE” as per his enlistment. Claude…..or should we say “James Samuel TEICHMANN” survived the war and returned to Australia. He was discharged from the AIF on the 2nd of September, 1918. Not happy with this result, he tried to re-enlist in October of 1918 …. this time, stating that he was a single man and born in Paris, France. This enlistment, however was cancelled and he remained in Australia.
And without any doubt, many soldiers of these AIF soldiers were manning trenches – opposite their very own German cousins or other distant relatives.
Indeed, there was to be “No Picklehaubs” for these diggers. They wore the fur felt ‘Slouch Hat’ with pride and earned their right to call themselves ‘Australian’ !!
DO YOU HAVE ANY AUSTRALIAN MEDALS IN YOUR COLLECTION WHICH BEAR GERMAN NAMES? IF SO, WE WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU.
ALTERNATIVELY, IF YOU HAVE A RELATIVE WHO WAS OF GERMAN DESCENT BUT SERVED IN THE AIF, THEN PLEASE ADD HIS NAME TO THIS STORY. Contact the Medals Gone Missing Administrator to include his name and battalion number on our list.