Charles John ANSETT

ANSETT, Charles John

Service Number: 11640
Enlisted: 15 May 1916
Last Rank: Not yet discovered
Last Unit: 4th Motor Transport Company
Born: Abbotsford, Victoria, Australia, 1878
Home Town: Not yet discovered
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Motor Mechanic and Proprietor of Bike Repair Shop and Motor Garage
Died: Frankston, Victoria, Australia, 12 August 1965, cause of death not yet discovered
Cemetery: Springvale Botanical Cemetery, Melbourne
Cremated and ashes scattered
Memorials: Inglewood War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

15 May 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1
5 Jun 1916: Involvement SN 11640, 4th Motor Transport Company
5 Jun 1916: Embarked SN 11640, 4th Motor Transport Company, HMAT Afric, Melbourne

Help us honour Charles John Ansett's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Heather Ford


Who in Australia doesn’t know the name Ansett.  It blazed across our skies for 65 years as Ansett Airlines, the pioneering venture of Sir Reg Ansett.  His son Bob, another well-known Ansett, also found his fame in the transport field with his company, Budget Rent-A-Car.

However, the subject in this story is a lesser known Ansett, and the patriarch of this ‘transport’ family, Charlie Ansett.  Born in Abbotsford, Victoria in 1878, he was the second of seven children, and as the eldest son, was named after his father Charles John.  Charles Snr had been born in Clapham, England, and had come to Australia as a toddler, with his parents and 2 siblings in 1853.  He married Charlie’s mother Maria Ann Tickle in 1874.  Charlie (Jnr) grew up in the inner Melbourne suburb of his birth, and in 1902 at the age of 24, married Mary Ann Phillips.  They settled in the Victorian country town of Inglewood, and over the following nine years they had five children, including (Sir) Reg who was born in 1909.

Charlie operated a Bicycle Repair Shop and Motor Garage, from which he also hired out cars.  A community minded citizen, he became a volunteer member of the Fire Brigade, and the treasurer of the local Australian Natives Association.  In 1906 he was elected to the local council and took on the roll of Mayor and chief magistrate from 1912 to 1916.

It’s Charlie’s signature, as the Attesting Officer, that will be found on the majority of Attestation papers of those who enlisted from Inglewood in the early days of the war.  This came to an end however, when on the 15th May 1916 at the age of 38 years and 5 months, Charlie also enlisted.

In response to a letter one of his friends wrote to the local paper, Charlie had the following to say:  My friend is right when he says I have been uneasy for the past 12 months, and, I may add, more uneasy since my only brother sailed last October.  I felt that trench warfare would be too strenuous for me, and I might only be a burden through a breakdown, but when I saw 300 men were required for a Motor Unit I gave in my name with the remark, "If you want me, I am ready."  Just one month elapsed, when an urgent telegram came, "Selected for Motor Transport Report Barracks Monday."  This I did, and passed the tests, and am most anxious to get into training.

Charlie wasn’t necessarily taking the easy road, as he knew how dangerous motor transport could be.  Only a month prior to his enlistment, he had narrowly escaped injury, by jumping clear, when a car in which he was traveling burst into flames.

In his farewell speech given at the function arranged for him at the Town Hall, Charlie informed the crowd of townspeople that:  He had read that it was difficult to obtain motor drivers in England.  No one present realised the immense amount of work involved in conveying stores and ammunition to the fighting line in France, which had to be done by motors.  He had heard it said by the Anzacs that had they had more men Constantinople would have fallen, but did not want to hear Australian boys in France say their efforts had failed because they did not get munitions.

After only a matter of weeks in training, Charlie (11640) embarked on the 5th June on the A19 Afric.  He sailed with the 3rd Division Supply Column (DSC), Mechanical Transport, with another Inglewood boy for company, Ron Nixon (11858), who in his later life was also destined for the role of Mayor of Inglewood.

Three days after Charlie’s embarkation, his brother Arthur (3229) landed in France with ‘Jacka’s mob’, the 14th battalion.  Charlie wrote that ‘life on board ship is full of interest’ and that ‘he had increased a stone in weight in six weeks’.

Traveling via Egypt, the 3rd DSC disembarked at Marseilles on the 19th July 1916 and the men entrained for Le Havre.  Here they embarked on the African Prince, which deposited them at Southampton on the 24th.

Charlie’s mate Ron had the following to say, regarding a close call on the final leg of their journey on the AfricWe consider ourselves lucky we are not at the bottom of the Mediterranean, as we were very near to the submarines.  A boat that left Port Said the same time as we did was torpedoed not far from us a little way out from Marseilles.  A submarine which was chased by a French destroyer dived about fifty yards in front of us, so that is quite close enough.

At Southampton they entrained to Amesbury and then marched to Lark Hill Camp on Salisbury Plains.  When we got there nobody knew anything about us.  We were marched up and down looking for a place to camp.  During the 4 months training that followed, Charlie missed 5 weeks which he spent in the Milbank Barrack Hospital, followed by a weeks furlough.

While Charlie was still in England, his brother Arthur was wounded in the ankle in a bombing raid at Mouquet Farm.  Arthur had just rejoined his unit when Charlie arrived in France on the 25th November 1916.

Luck ran out for the Afric, which had transported Charlie and Ron from Australia, when on the 12th of February 1917, she was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel, with the loss of 22 lives.  On the 16th of that month, Charlie and Ron parted company when Ron was detached to the 11th Field Ambulance.

In the March to May of 1917, Charlie’s unit was employed on road work in the Messines area, where they were exposed to frequent shellfire.  It was midway through this period, on the 7th of April, that his brother Arthur was killed in the action near Lagnicourt.  He is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

After Charlie’s enlistment, his wife Mary had carried on the business of the Motor Garage, but in the May of 1917, she decided to retire, and the Garage was put up for auction.  The business failing to sell, the plant and stock were disposed of in lots, a clearance being effected at moderate prices.  Mary then moved their family to the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell and started up a knitting business.

Charlie’s second lot of leave saw him back in the UK for a couple of weeks in Jan / Feb 1918.  In March the 3rd DSC was disbanded, and Charlie was taken on strength of the 3rd Australian Mechanical Transport Services (3rd AMTS) on the 12th March.  Five days later he was admitted to hospital with Gingivitis, where he remained until mid-April.  He later returned to hospital at the end of July through to September with an abscess.

As Charlie had been aware before enlisting, the role of the transport driver during the war was crucial to the army’s existence.  They traveled endless miles, through some of the most appalling conditions, carrying anything and everything, including meat, laundry (both clean and “chatty”), high explosives, bread, blankets, barbed wire, general rations, road metal, soldiers, timber, garbage, beer, ammunition, dismantled camps, coal ………….. the variety is endless.  In between loads it was necessary to be constantly cleaning out their lorries (or buses as they sometimes called them), as well as regularly overhauling and repairing them just to keep them in running condition.  They often had to locate their destinations in the dark, and were continuously contending with either, boggy roads, dust, snow, shell holes, rain, endless streams of traffic, falling shells, breakdowns, etc etc.  Their only consolation may have been that they didn’t have to fight – yet in some ways they were bigger, easier TARGETS than the man in the trench!

Another former Inglewood Motor Garage Proprietor, Alan Gillespie (9541), who was in the 4th AMTS, lost his mate and co-driver when their lorry was caught in a bombardment:  “The road was simply packed with lorries and horse transport, ………  It was a narrow road and we were clean blocked and the Germans opened a battery of 5.9 on to us.  About the third shell landed just on our right about ten yards away and a piece got Dick.  He was driving and I was sitting beside him, and how I am alive is a marvel and mystery to everyone who has seen the bus.”  [a count afterwards revealed 118 holes in the lorry]

Alan also mentions Charlie in his diary:  Saturday 4/1/19.  Florennes to Liessies.  I always go via Sobre Le Chateau and pick up the chaps at Liessies rations for them.  Sometimes we have to wait a bit, but not too long.  I went in to the 3rd workshop and saw Charlie Ansett and Norman Patterson.

Granted with more leave from 4/2/1919 to 23/2/19 and 23/3/1919 to 1/4/19, Charlie was finally returned to England on the 23rd of April and embarked on the Devanha on the 8th May 1919.  He arrived back in Melbourne on the 23rd of June and was discharged in September.

Having lost his mother in the year he enlisted and his brother the following year, Charlie then lost his father 4 months before his return to Australia.  Luckily he had a wife and children of his own to return to.  After spending some time with his family at his new home, Charlie returned to Inglewood in mid-August on a visit to old friends.  While there he attended a Welcome Home function for returned soldiers, which was held at the Town Hall.

In the years that followed, it seems Charlie may have played a roll in the family knitting business that his wife had established.  His eldest son, also Charles John (known as Jack), followed this new line of work, eventually establishing various companies of his own, while Reg as we know carried on the tradition in the transport industry.

Charlie died in 1965 in the Frankston area at the age of 87 and was cremated at Springvale Crematorium and his ashes scattered.  His name is inscribed on the Inglewood War Memorial, and his photo hangs amongst those of his fellow Mayors (including Ron Nixon) in the Inglewood Town Hall.


Heather (Frev) Ford 2007