Tag Archives: WWII

In Their Footsteps

For those who didn’t happen to catch the new Channel 9 program In Their Footsteps (http://channelnine.ninemsn.com.au/intheirfootsteps/) on Sunday night, it is well worth watching. We tuned in to the first episode and were particularly enthralled because the focus in this installment was on the life of Sailor and WWII Serviceman, PO Tommy Johnson, whose experiences throughout WWII greatly resembled those of my husband’s Great Uncle Walter Mervyn Dorman.

Walter, known as Merv, was born on the 3rd July 1905 in Leichhardt NSW. He was the eldest son of Walter Henry Dorman (1883-1961) and Alice Lillian Dora Power (1182-1961). In 1919, at the age of 14, he enlisted as a Cadet with the Australian Army and on the 24th June 1940 he joined the 2/12 Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers.

Walter was captured by the Japanese and we believe sent to work on the infamous Burma Railway along with approximately 60,000 Allied POWs. He survived this horrific experience and returned to POW camps in Singapore.

On the 4th September 1944, Merv was one of 1317 POWs placed aboard the Japanese ship Rayuko Maru bound for Japan. On the 12th September 1944, the Rakuyo Maru was torpedoed by the US Submarine Sealion, unaware that Allied POWs were on board. 1159 POWs from the Rayuko Maru and the ship it was travelling with, Kachidoki Maru, perished. Merv survived this event and although American submarines later returned to rescue some POWs, Merv was one of the 136 survivors who were picked up by the Japanese ship Kibitsu Maru and transported to Japan.

In Japan, Merv and his fellow POWs were destined to see out the war working in Japanese mines and shipyards until the American Occupation Forces emancipated them in September 1945. Tragically, after all he had been through, Merv died in a hospital in Tokyo on the 21st May 1945. He missed out on his freedom by a few short months.

Merv is buried in the Sydney War Cemetery at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney.

Some related links –

Royal Australian Engineers Homepage – http://www.army.gov.au/rae/

“Railway of Death” – History of Burma-Thailand Railway – http://www.anzacday.org.au/history/ww2/anecdotes/deathrailway.html

“The Survivor” by Darryl Kelly – An extract from this fascinating book which details the life of Bill Webb, a fellow POW and survivor of the Rayuko Maru – http://www.anzacday.org.au/history/ww2/anecdotes/survivors.html


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Filed under Australian history, Military history, WWII

Some useful military resources

Petty Officer James Armstrong & actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell.

Being ANZAC day on the 25th, I have been doing some more research on family members that served in the military. The very useful thing about researching those who have served is that the military keep very thorough records and are also quite mindful of making historical records accessible. I thought I would make a quick list of some websites that I often use in my research…

The AIF Projecthttp://www.aif.adfa.edu.au:8080/index.html

Created by ADFA, this database is an invaluable resource that gives quite comprehensive details of over 330,000 Defence members that served overseas in the First Australian Imperial Force 1914-1918.

The Australian War Memorial http://www.awm.gov.au/research/family.asp

Users can search the AWM’s collection for records related to individuals or the units in which they served from 1885-present.

World War II Nominal Roll http://www.ww2roll.gov.au/
A searchable database of those that served in the Australian Defence Forces or Merchant Navy during WWII.
Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918 http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/index.html
A comprehensive guide to WWI battles, with a detailed information about European war cemeteries.
Includes a useful database of 1.7 million men and women who served in the Commonwealth Forces in WWI & WWII and details of the 23,000 cemeteries and memorials where they are commemorated.

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Filed under Archives, Australian history, Military history, Research tools, WWI, WWII

Australian WWI Diggers Identified

A story in yesterday’s newspaper caught my eye. Many people would remember that last year the remains of 250 WWI soldiers were found in a mass grave near Fromelles in France. These soldiers were killed in battle at Pheasant Wood in 1916. 205 of the 250 soldiers recovered have been identified as Australians, but the process of proving exact identities is painstaking.

On Friday, it was reported that another 19 of these soldiers have been identified by name, following the previous identification of 75. More DNA testing will be carried out between now and 2014 as more relatives of the soldiers come forward.

How amazing that we now have the technology to help identify these men and let their families put them to rest.

Most Australian families would have a number of relatives who have served in the military. I have to admit that military history is a particular interest of mine and I have always keenly investigated my relatives that have served in the Defence Forces, particularly those that served in WWI and WWII. When I think of WWI I think of two relatives in particular – Robert Dorman and Stanley Higgs.

Robert Cedric Dorman was born on the 23rd Oct 1897 in Leichhardt NSW. Robert was my husband’s Great Great Uncle. He enlisted in the Australian Army in Jan 1916 at the age of 18 and left for Europe in June that year. Almost a year later on 5th May 1917, he was killed in action at Bullecourt by a shell that fell in the trench behind the front line. Unfortunately it is not known exactly where Robert was buried but he is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux in France.

Stanley Higgs was born in 1877 in Wales. I first began researching Stanley’s life after my second cousin Jonathan asked me if I could find some more history on his family. Stanley was Jonathan’s Grandfather. Stanley left a wife and two young boys to join the Imperial Army’s Welsh Regiment, where he moved to the Western Front in Jan 1915. Stanley was killed in action at the second battle of Ypres on the 21st April 1915 at the age of 38. He is buried at Bedford House Cemetery in Belgium.

Robert Cedric Dorman 1897-1917

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Filed under Australian history, Military history, WWI

Military Resources

Walter Mervyn Dorman

I have found that a fantastic way of tracing many of my family members has been through using military records. We are very fortunate here in Australia to have relatively straightforward access to the records of those that have served in the Defence Forces.

Some of my favourite places to begin searching include:

Australian War Memorial – http://www.awm.gov.au/research/family.asp. Users can search an extensive database of nominal rolls, rolls of honour and commemorative rolls. There is also access to photographs, private papers and diaries.

World War II Nominal Roll – http://www.ww2roll.gov.au/. Includes the details of approximately 1 million men and women who served in Australia’s Defence Forces and Merchant Navy during WWII.

The AIF Project – http://www.aif.adfa.edu.au:8080/index.html. Created by ADFA, this web page includes a searchable database of approximately 330,000 men and women who served overseas in the First Australian Imperial Force from 1914 – 1918.

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Filed under Military history, Research tools, WWI, WWII