THE GREAT WAR 1914-18: FROM LIFESAVERS TO AUSSIE DIGGERS
by Life Governor Ralph Devlin AM QC, Club Historian.
BY 28 DECEMBER 1915, the birth of Maroochydore Swimming and Lifesaving Club was only 3 days away. That day the hamlet of ‘Cotton Tree’ was about to be formed by the sale by auction of the first 80 Lots, situated along the surf beach and at right-angles along the river esplanade at the ‘Cotton Tree’.
IN THE LAST WEEKS OF DECEMBER 1915, the ill-fated Dardanelles Campaign of World War I, which began with the Gallipoli landings on 25 April 1915, drew to a close. The gallant Turkish forces, defending their Homeland against invasion, had stood firm against the combined armies of the British Empire and its Allies. The British, French and ANZAC forces had suffered massive losses during their ambitious but unsuccessful expedition to take Turkey for strategic reasons. The ANZAC forces, from 10 to 20 December 1915, had completed a skilful and resourceful evacuation of all remaining Diggers from Suvla Bay.
On Friday 31 December 1915 the Nambour ‘Chronicle’ reported the successful completion of the ANZAC evacuation of Suvla Bay and the results of the Cotton Tree land sales on Tuesday 28 December. In the third newspaper column the public meeting set for Saturday 1 January at Cotton Tree Camping Reserve to form the Surf Club was advised to readers.
In late 1914 and throughout 1915 the terrible battles for France and Belgium had begun. Many of the Australian soldiers who had endured Gallipoli were now to serve in that dreadful theatre of the War. 1916 was to see the beginning of such epic battles as The Somme and Pozieres. In the months and years following the establishment of Maroochydore Swimming and Lifesaving Club, 11 members heard the ‘call to arms’ and enlisted in the AIF. About half of the 11 joined the Club after their discharge from military service in the War.
The Surf Club Centenary History, ‘Home of the Black Swan’, officially launched on New Years Day 2016, tells the stories of its 11 World War I Diggers. Five of the 11 were Foundation Day members. Perhaps the most remarkable story of all is that of Hjalmari ‘Zola’ Hannus of Bli Bli, who was Captain of the first-ever Surf Club competitive team in April 1916.
THE FINNISH FARMING COMMUNITY OF BLI BLI AND MAROOCHY RIVER DISTRICTS was to contribute significantly to the early decades of the Maroochydore Swimming and Lifesaving Club : the Suosaari and Anderson families contributed much in the period 1919-1950. But the first and the most poignant Finnish contribution is that of a humble young immigrant farmer. Zola came to Australia at the age of 2 years in 1900, his family settling briefly at Chillagoe in North Queensland but then moving to the ‘Finsbury’ farming settlement at Image Flat near Bli Bli. Zola’s father died in 1907 and his mother married Johann Anderson in 1910. Zola answered the call to Lifesaving service at the age of 17 years. Remarkably, he became Captain of the Bli Bli Squad for Lifesaving training during those closing days of 1915. Considering that Jack Parry captained the rival Maroochydore Squad at age 34, Zola was clearly an exceptional young man.
The Swimming and Lifesaving Club was able to form on New Years Day 1916 because eight ‘locals’ earned their Royal Lifesaving qualifications the day before. Zola was one of the eight local men who qualified and so is a member of a select group – the Foundation Members. Unlike Jack Parry, Owen Youngman and others, Zola was not old enough to have an impressive list of community involvement to include on his CV – we can conclude that the Surf Club was his first entry – but it was not to be the last, by any means: on 15 January 1916 a meeting at Deans Boatshed, on the Prentis property at Petrie’s Creek, determined the Club colours of Royal Blue, Canadian Red, a Pale Blue star and white piping. On 13 March 1916 a meeting of the Bli Bli members at the home of Hubert Wells decided to send a team to a Lifesaving competition in Brisbane called the ‘Barry Cup’, to be held on 3 April 1916.
As Captain of the Bli Bli squad, Zola Hannus was the first Maroochydore member to lead a team in Lifesaving competition. The team came third at its first outing. It was given a warm welcome in far-off Brisbane by the Royal Lifesaving Instructors of December 1915. How could the young man have imagined that the Black Swan record in competition which he began was to take his Club to 2 World Championships (2000 and 2002) and almost 200 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships in the next 100 years?
But more serious and life-changing events lay ahead for Zola. The cataclysmic conflict in Europe continued to draw patriotic volunteers from the cities and towns and villages of Australia. On 9 May 1916 Zola enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, joining the 41st Battalion and later the 3rd Pioneers. Zola embarked for the Front in November 1916 and did not see his adopted Homeland again for almost 3 years. He survived what lay between, but only lived to age 32.
In less than 2 years Zola fought in the battles of Armentieres, Messines, Ypres, Passchendaele, the Somme and Villers-Brettoneux. He was wounded twice. In 1917 he was a victim of a mustard gas attack by the enemy. He recovered and was returned to the Front in early 1918. He survived until Armistice Day 1918, returned to Australia in July 1919 and was honourably discharged in September 1919. Zola settled on a soldier settlement at Tolga near Atherton and died in 1930, presumably from the debilitating effects of war service. Zola never returned to his Club which he so ably and so briefly led.
THE FOUNDATION SECRETARY WAS DUNCAN MARTIN. Duncan trained with Zola for his ‘Proficiency and Elementary Certificate’ and was one of the eight local men to qualify as part of the two local Squads. On New Years Day 1916 he was elected as Honorary Secretary of the Club, by acclamation. Duncan must surely be the shortest-lived office bearer in the Club’s 100 years because he enlisted for military service on 31 January 1916, just 30 days after the Foundation meeting. Duncan joined the 11th Machine Gun Company and rose to the rank of Sergeant. He fought in France between March 1917 and Armistice Day 1918, winning the prestigious Military Medal for bravery in November 1917.
ROY GRAINGER TRAINED WITH THE ORIGINAL GROUP BUT WAS TOO YOUNG TO FULLY QUALIFY. He was only old enough to gain the ‘Elementary Certificate’. That didn’t stop him enlisting, but a fib about his age to the Recruitment Officer was all it took to join the 5th Light Horse in June 1916. His ruse lasted until August 1917. The Light Horse was not amused and Roy was promptly discharged.
ANOTHER FOUNDATION DAY MEMBER TO ENLIST WAS TOM PRENTIS. Tom was to pay a crucial role in the revival of the Club’s fortunes in the post war early 1920’s. Tom was in the original Maroochy Squad. He enlisted in March 1918, joining the 9th Battalion and serving in France from July to November 1918.
The final Foundation Day member was James B. Nuttall. He is recorded as having participated in the training of the 2 Squads prior to Foundation Day, but did not take a qualifying exam. Perhaps the reason was that he had already enlisted in 1914 and expected a posting. According to the records it didn’t come until 1918, but we don’t know why. His records are sparse, unfortunately.
THE OTHER 6 DIGGERS either joined the Swimming Club, or joined the Surf Club after returning. They were:
- Clarence Sherwell – 2nd Light Horse
- William Burgoyne – 36th Battalion – wounded in action
- George Jarrett – 5th Battalion – wounded in action
- Eric Eggins – 42nd Battalion – wounded in action
- Frederick Clarke – 2nd Remount Unit – wounded in action
- Joseph Percival – Enlisted August 1918.
Lest We Forget.