Thursday, 25 April 2013

War does not determine who is right - only who is left. ~ Bertand Russell

In Australia it is Anzac Day...a national holiday day of remembrance for all the Australian/New Zealand soldiers who fought in any war.  I have always shied away from any of the festivities that go on as I hate any glorification of war, however I do quietly give thought to those who have suffered from it, whether they be soldiers on any side of the campaigns or citizens of any nationality  around the globe who have been affected by its terror and devastation.  I spend time today reflecting on how pointless war is and the logic in the Bertrand Russell quote.  Surely the time has come to have learned by past errors and change how we, as humans, address issues of conflict and difference.

Today I also pause and remember 3 sons in my family tree who fought in WW1.  They are from my O'Shea line and were the sons of a great aunt Maria O'Shea who married a Richard Coutts, she died suddenly at the age of 37 leaving 5 young children.   Although this family are not in my direct line they became a favourite family group in my research as I uncovered a strong bond between the boys and their mother's bachelor brother John O'Shea who took them under his wing as they were growing up.

Percival Richard Coutts 1888-1951 Arthur Theodore Coutts 1890-1917 and Leo William Coutts 1894-1961 all fought in the first world war.

Percival Richard Coutts, Horsham Football Club 1913

Arthur Theodore Coutts, Horsham Football Club 1913

The youngest boy Leo ( a saddler) was the first to enlist at 20 years of age on the 18th August 1914, 8th Battalion, E Company, he returned home 23 Oct 1918.  Percy 25 ( a monoline operator) and Theo 23 (a clerk) enlisted together on the 27th April 1916. Both served in the 38th Battalion, 1st Reinforcement, Percy returned home on the 23 June 1919 and Theo died in Flanders on 30th Nov 1917.  Theo was sadly missed by family, friends work colleagues and his young fiance Ruby.

Percy received the the military medal for bravery - On the 7th June, 1917, during operations south east of MESSINES for his courage and determination.  He led his Company through the area being bombarded by gas shells to the positions of assembly.  Later on during the action he was wounded on four occasions but remained on duty until sent to the rear.  His display of courage and determination greatly inspired his men.

Theo was an avid letter writer and many of his correspondence during the war years were received by friends and family.  Excerpts of these were regularly published in the Horsham Times, Theo wrote  of the war, his comrades, plus the people and places he met and visited.

It is touching to know that Theo after recovering from injury was able to visit Ireland to the country of his grandfather James O'Shea who was one of the early irish pioneers of Australia.  He describes his time in Ireland as one of the best times of his life and ends the letter with when I get back I shall tell you more about my wonderings on the emerald-isle.  Unfortunately it was not long after this that he met death at the front.

In Iceland it is also a public holiday and the flags are flying, not for remembrance of any wars but to celebrate the first day of summer...however Summer is not coming to the party and Winter is vying to be the master of ceremonies with Snow as guest of honour!

This post linked to the Trans Tasman Anzac Day Blog Challenge.


  1. Great reading Vicki...I need to do more research before next ANZAC day.

  2. I enjoyed this post too Vicki, love the stories of our forebears who fought in WWI. Coincidentally, my grandfather was in the 49th battalion at Messines and was shot on 7th June 1917, the same day your Percy Coutts was also wounded and received his medal for bravery. My grandfather was taken out to hospital and spent a long time recovering in a hospital in England, something that took him out of the action for about nine months and probably saved his life.

  3. Thank you Vicki, I'm always touched by ANZAC day, trying to explain the day to 7 year olds is challenging, not glorifying war but appreciating our history and admiring those who fought a hopeless battle at Gallipoli and in other wars. You're amazing for having researched your family's history for Henry. His family tree is a big and colourful one. Hope spring comes soon with a life full of colour and fun.

  4. I mean, it's great for Henry that you've researched your history.

  5. Vicki, I came across you on while looking up my mother's family. She was named Theodora for her mother's brother whose story you have told here. I had not known about John O'Shea taking care of the family after Maria's death. I have a lovely charcoal portrait of her, looking rather severe. The O'Shea connection was always strong and the string of hotels they owned was most impressive. I remember visiting Auntie Edie in Horsham at the last remaining one. I have a few letters sent from the front by several members and friends of the family. My grandmother was Regina, married to Henry Coutts. How wonderful to be living in Iceland - it is a fascinating country. I have just ordered two books by Sjon, and am looking forward to reading them. I must admit I found Haldor Laxness too bleak to persist with. Perhaps I'll take your advice and try him again. I would love to hear from you and compare notes on family history.

  6. Correction. Regina married Henry Downes. They had four children.

  7. Hi Vicki, what a great blog post. I am related to the Coutts brothers being a descendent of their uncle Charles David Coutts. Apparently the Couttses disowned Richard for marrying Maria O'Shea because she was Catholic.

    I have been to Gallipoli and to the dawn service but did not realise I had a relation serve there until I stumbled across a Trove article today and then some Googling led me here!

    Thank you,
    Liz Coutts.