Darwin war history
Written by Norman Cramp, Director Darwin Military Museum.
The Budgen brothers, William Ernest and Roydon Richard were born in Darwin, NT (at that time South Australia) some 6 years apart. William was born in Darwin, NT in 1894, while Roydon arrived on the scene in 1900. The brothers were the two sons born to Sydney Richard and Florence Alice Budgen.
Both boys grew up in Darwin with William being educated in Darwin and completing an apprenticeship as a Fitter and Turner in the South Australian Railways ‘Loco Workshop’ in Darwin. Roydon trained as an ‘Electrical Wireman’, although it is unclear from his military service record as to where and when he undertook the training and whether or not it was ‘formal’ (i.e. he was qualified as an electrician or linesman).
Roydon travelled to and from Darwin on several occasions as a boy and it is possible he left Darwin with his mother prior to the outbreak of war. He was mentioned in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette (NTT&G) as having sailed on the S.S. Eastern for southern ports on 27th November 1908. He returned to Darwin aboard the S.S. Empire on 3rd January 1911 and, it appears, remained in Darwin until 1913. He is mentioned in the NTT&G again as having left Darwin for southern ports aboard the S.S. Mataram on 7th July 1913. As there is no further mention of him in the NTT&G, it seems he never returned to Darwin.
The family separates
Roydon was living in Annandale, New South Wales (NSW), when he enlisted in 1918 while his mother was living in Brisbane. It is possible that Mr and Mrs Budgen separated some time prior to the outbreak of war, as Sydney Budgen was operating a taxi service in Darwin.
When William enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), he nominated his mother, Florence, as his next of kin and provided her address as ‘c/- Mrs Pott, Darwin’. This was later ruled through and the address of Sherwood Road, Rocklea Brisbane included. William enlisted as a Private in the 1st AIF at Darwin on 8th March 1916 and was allocated service number (SERN) 2391. At that time, he was 20 years and 10 months of age, single and employed in his trade of fitting and turning, presumably at the railway workshops. He stood five feet ten and a half inches tall, was of ‘medium’ complexion with brown eyes and dark brown hair. Interestingly, his weight was not recorded on this enlistment documents.
William transferred to Brisbane to undertake basic training at the Enoggera Camp before embarking for overseas service aboard HMAT Sean Choong (ship A49) on 19th September 1916. The trip wasn’t all smooth sailing for young William, as he was arrested and charged with ‘Breaking out from quarantine’. He was found guilty of the crime and received fourteen days’ field punishment number 2 (FP No:2) as the penalty.
He arrived in Plymouth, England on 9th December 1916 and was posted, initially, to Number 13 Camp at Codford, following which he was posted to the 12th Training Battalion at Folkstone. He completed his infantry training and ‘proceeded overseas’ aboard the S.S. Victoria on 2nd February 1917, arriving at Etaples, France two days’ later. He was soon in trouble again as a result of going absent without leave (AWL) between the hours of midnight to 8:30pm on 1st January 1917. Perhaps he had been seeing in the New Year and wanted a (perhaps last) fling before moving up to the line.
Missing in action
Move up to the line he did, serving in the Somme and Bullecourt areas. On 14th April he was reported as ‘Missing in Action’ following more heavy fighting in the Bullecourt area. Seven months later, a military Court of Enquiry that was held in the field determined William Budgen had been killed in action. Why it took so long to determine William had been killed in action is a mystery, as the authorities had an eye-witness account of William’s last hours and a hand-written note on the ‘Casualty Form – Active Service’ on his file states he was ‘Buried 500 yds to the E. of Bullecourt’.
William’s short life was over, but, within two years, mystery would surround this young man and his family.
On 1st July 1918, Roydon Richard Budgen, who was residing at Annandale, enlisted in the 1st AIF at Newtown, NSW. At that time, he stated he was nineteen years and one month of age, single and employed as an ‘Electrical Wireman’. Interestingly, he listed no next of kin. He stood five feet, ten and three-quarter inches tall, weighed 158 pounds (lbs) and recorded a chest measurement of 36 inches. He was of ‘fair’ complexion with blue eyes and ‘fair’ hair. A totally different appearance to his brother.
Although Roydon claimed to be nineteen and one month, in fact he was eighteen and one month as he was born on 24th June 1900. At the time he enlisted, he also stated that both his parents were deceased, probably as means of avoiding the AIF checking his age with his parents in the event the matter arose. As it eventuated, the ruse was unnecessary as Roydon was re-examined and rejected on the grounds of being medically unfit as a result of an ‘Old injury to foot – Wasted by’. Given the war had only five months to run, it is highly unlikely Roydon would have seen any action given he would have undergone basic training in Australia prior to embarking for England, then having to complete his infantry training prior to being posted to the front.
In late 1919 the mystery of the Budgen family commenced!
The Budgen Family mystery
In November 1919, Florence Budgen wrote to the ‘Officer Commanding Australian Forces, Melbourne’ requesting a copy of William’s death certificate. The letter is reproduced below.
The Officer in Charge, Base Records, Melbourne forwarded a copy of the certificate to her at Sherwood Road, Rocklea, Brisbane. That appears to have been last piece of correspondence between Florence and the AIF until April 1921, when Base Records wrote to her advising they wished to ‘dispose’ of his war medals and seeking information on whether or not William’s father was alive and to confirm Florence’s postal address. They received no reply.
The matter was left in abeyance until November 1923 when Base Records wrote to Headquarters (HQ) 1st District seeking information regarding any pension being paid to Budgen’s family. HQ 1st District advised that no pension payments had been made via the War Gratuity scheme regarding the deceased person, William Ernest Budgen SERN 2391. That same year, Base Records wrote to HQ 1st District seeking updated information on Mrs. Budgen’s postal address to which HQ replied they had the same address as Base Records and no other.
Base Records wrote to Mrs. Budgen again in May 1923 but the letter was returned having been unclaimed by her. Mrs. Florence Budgen had disappeared – or had died.
In June 1923 the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions wrote to Base Records inquiring if W.E. Budgen’s next of kin had received any pension for his wartime service and death. Base records replied there had been no pensions payments made to the Budgen family. Correspondence on the matter continued until July 1923, without any progress being made on locating Mrs. Budgen, and then stopped. The AIF and the Commissioner for Pensions had given up and the matter was now closed.
It appears Roydon never contacted the AIF requesting his brother’s medals or personal effects, to which he would have been entitled had both his parents been deceased. As a result, it appears William’s medals and personal effects, if there were any remaining in 1923, were never issued or passed to his next of kin.
Roydon married Lilly May Cox in Brisbane on 17th February 1927 and found employment as a Tramways Employee, although it is not clear as to what exactly his role was. The Budgen’s lived at 161 Kent Street, New Farm, Brisbane until he enlisted in the 2nd AIF on 23rd April 1940 at Kelvin Grove Brisbane. He was issued service number QX7277 and was attached to the 2/2/Machine Gun Battalion in which he served in the Middle East.
He was discharged from the 2/AIF on 6th December 1941, probably as a result of injury or wounds, as a Private attached to the Australian Depot Battalion. Post-war he took employment with the Post Master General’s Department at the General Post Office, Brisbane, and became the Honorary Secretary of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Association in Queensland. He was survived by his wife, a married daughter and two sons.
And so the final details of William, his mother and his brother remain a mystery. For example, where is William’s exact place of burial (i.e. name of cemetery, place of cemetery, grave and lot number), did Florence and Sydney Budgen separate prior to the outbreak of war? Why was Roydon so different in appearance to William? What happened to Mrs. Budgen – did she die prior to 1921? If not, where did she move to and why didn’t she, or Sydney, seek William’s pension? Why didn’t Roydon request his brother’s medals and/or the pension payment that were rightfully due to him upon his parents dying? Was Roydon estranged from the whole family and if so, why?
It all remains a mystery in 2018 and I suspect it will remain so forever!
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