Darwin war history
Written by Norman Cramp, Director Darwin Military Museum.
Matthew Garr, also spelt Ga, Gar and Gah, was one of five children: four boys and one girl, born to Filipino/Australians Carlos and Mary Anne Garr on Thursday Island, Queensland in 1889. Matthew was the twin of William and was most likely residing on Bathurst Island prior to enlisting in the 1st AIF in September 1915.
There is some confusion as to Matthew’s date and place of enlist, as one form on his file, his ‘Application To Enlist In the Australian Imperial Force’, records he enlisted at Darwin on 18th September 1915, while another form states he was enlisted, or at least sworn in at sea aboard the HMAT Demostheues (Ship A64) while enroute to England. This form records he enlisted at Brisbane on 20th October 1915, however, that has been ruled through and the details of him being enlisted at sea written in.
A Filipino Volunteer
Regardless of where he enlisted, it is thought that Matthew was one of the four Filipinos volunteers recruited by Jesuit Father Gsell to help establish the Catholic Mission on Bathurst Island in 1911. To add to this belief, Matthew nominated his wife, Fanny Garr, ‘C/o Bathurst Island Mission Darwin, NT’ as his next of kin when he enlisted.
Matthew and his three brothers enlisted in the 1st AIF with three of them serving overseas in the Great War (1914-1918). At the time he enlisted, and was attached to the 41st Infantry Battalion, Matthew was twenty-five years and eleven months of age, married and employed as a 'laborer'.
He stood five feet and five inches tall and was said to be ‘Dark Skinned’, with dark brown eyes, black air and of the Roman Catholic faith. Interestingly, his weight was not recorded on his Attestation to Enlist paper. He was tattooed with a large heart and flowers on his chest and crossed flags and anchors on his forearm(s).
He departed Darwin with the Fourth Contingent in October 1915 and embarked for England, and the war, aboard His Majesty’s Army Transport (HMAT) Demostheues, (Ship A64) in Sydney in May 1916. He found himself in trouble prior to embarking for the front for being absent without leave from the Exhibition Camp, Brisbane, and during the voyage as a result of being charged with ‘Breaking out of quarters while on active service’ while in Capetown, South Africa. He was found guilty and fined 28 days’ pay, although his character was reported as being ‘Good’.
It was a hefty financial penalty that resulted in Matthew being much the poorer when he arrived in England, but, as Australians do, his mates took up a collection (‘sent the hat around’) so that he could spend his four days’ disembarkation leave with them in London.
He decided to take unofficial leave again in August 1916, prior to proceeding to France, when he went AWL for 13 hours on the 15th of that month. On that occasion he was fined 3 days’ pay. After completing his training at Salisbury Plains, England, he proceeded to France on 30th September 1916 following which he was taken on strength (attached to) in the 47th Infantry Battalion AIF in October that year.
A bout of illness
He suffered quite a lot of illness during 1916 and 1917, having been admitted to a clearing station in November 1916 suffering ‘pyrexia’, a technical term for ‘fever’, following which he was hospitalised in Rouen, France.
He was admitted to hospital again on 15th December suffering mumps and again on 20th December suffering from tonsillitis. On 20th February 1917 he embarked for England on the Hospital Ship (HS) Dieppe, where he was admitted to the Norfolk Hospital for observation.
Following his discharge from hospital, Matthew was granted furlough in England from 6th March to 21st March and was transferred from the 47th Battalion to the 69th Battalion AIF on 1st April.
Belgium: His final resting place
On the 29th April, Matthew was transferred back to the 47th Battalion as a reinforcement, joining the Battalion at Estaples, France on 6th May 1917. It is unknown when he, and the 47th Battalion, were transferred to Belgium, but it was in Belgium that Matthew’s life came to an end, as he was killed in action (KIA) near Zonnebeke, (in the Paechendale area), on 29th September 1917.
He was buried at/in the ‘Anzac House’ cemetery, ‘Approx. 1800 yards S.W. of Zonnebeke Belgium’, although it appears he was not buried in an official military cemetery at that time. His death notice was published in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette on 1st November 1917, along with notices regarding Lieutenant Lloyd Herbert, the son of former NT Administrator Charles Herbert, and Private Alexander McKinnon, the only NT Aboriginal man to forfeit his life in the Great War.
His lost grave
In 1921, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC), Base Records wrote to Carlos Garr advising him that Matthew had been ‘buried approximately 1800 yards from Zonnebeke, Belgium’. The OIC went onto say that, ‘It is pointed out that an intensive search is now being made over all battlefields with a view to locating unregistered graves and should the grave of this soldier be discovered his wife would be notified through this office’. It is not clear as to whether or not Matthew’s grave was ever found, so it appears his final resting place is now unknown.
In 1922, Matthew’s mother, who signed as ‘Marie Garr’, received Matthew’s Memorial Plaque. October 1924, his sister Mary wrote to the AIF requesting Matthew’s daughter, Mary, be allocated the war service brooch (badge) owed to Matthew. In the letter, Mary also stated that the child was 12 years of age and that the pension she (the daughter) was receiving was ‘not enough to keep her in food and clothing’, which implies Mary was asking the government to pay Matthew’s daughter some form of pension or compensation.
The OIC replied that the war service badge could not be issued ‘as the issue of Nearest Female Relative and the In Memoriam Badges ceased on 31.3.22’. It is not clear as to why the daughter Mary, through her aunt, was requesting the badge as Fanny (Matthew’s nearest female relative) was still alive and there is no record on Matthew’s military service file as to whether or not the child received any gratuity or pension. It is more (highly) likely it was paid to his wife Fanny, who had been given his war medals, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, in June 1922.
Matthew was survived by his wife and children, his brothers Glamor, who was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during the Great War and served in WW2, and Prudencio, who was discharged from the AIF prior to embarking for active (overseas) service, his sister (Mary) and his parents. Sadly, his twin brother William, Service Number 3051, was also killed during the war. Both Matthew and William are commemorated on the Darwin Cenotaph, The Esplanade, Darwin.
His parents lived out the rest of their lives in Darwin with his mother dying in a drowning accident at Fort Hill wharf in/around 1921 and his father passing away in February 1931. In April 1939, Matthew’s only daughter, Mary, passed away in the Darwin Hospital. She had married Mr. Stephen Cigobia and together they had produced six children, all of whom were living when she passed.
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