Victor John TODD

TODD, Victor John

Service Number: 4605
Enlisted: 19 July 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 58th Infantry Battalion
Born: Ballarat East, Victoria, Australia, 23 February 1897
Home Town: Ballarat, Central Highlands, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Painter
Died: Directly attributable to war service, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, 17 June 1921, aged 24 years
Cemetery: Ballarat New Cemetery and Crematorium, Victoria
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World War 1 Service

19 Jul 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 4605, 8th Infantry Battalion
28 Jan 1916: Involvement Private, 4605, 8th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '9' embarkation_place: Melbourne embarkation_ship: HMAT Themistocles embarkation_ship_number: A32 public_note: ''
28 Jan 1916: Embarked Private, 4605, 8th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Themistocles, Melbourne
1 Apr 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 28th Infantry Battalion
19 Jul 1916: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, 4605, 28th Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix), GSW to chest - never got over would and associated pneumonia
25 Mar 1917: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 58th Infantry Battalion
12 Feb 1918: Discharged AIF WW1, Private, 4605, 58th Infantry Battalion

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

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Ballarat & District in the Great War

Pte Victor John Todd and LSgt Albert Henry

In commemorating the darkest day in Australian history – the Battle of Fromelles – it is particularly important to remember that not all the 5533 casualties of the 19 July 1916 survived to be old men. The damage sustained on the battlefield during that 24-hour period would continue to echo through the years.

Many local families were directly affected by the disastrous charge at Fromelles. Nearly 30 young men from Ballarat and district died during the fighting or in the immediate aftermath. Others had their lives changed forever. These included Bert and Victor Todd.
Ballarat-born couple, George Charles Henry Todd and Sarah Jane Wilson, raised a family of ten children in their home at 80 Nicholson St (now number 704) in Soldiers Hill. Their fourth child, Albert Henry, was born on 23 May 1895. His brother, Victor John, was born nearly two years later on 23 February 1897.

The Todd children were students at the Black Hill State School, which was just a short walk away from home. On Sundays the whole family worshipped at the small weatherboard church of St John’s Presbyterian, in Peel Street south. Victor also became involved in the Young Men's Club at the church where he took part in impromptu speech-making and lively debates.

The death of their father, George Todd, on 24 July 1913, was not unexpected. Although only 48, he had been ‘ailing for some considerable time’ with phthisis – “miner’s complaint”. Both Bert and Victor had learned at an early age, however, that the children were expected to be a support to their mother. By this time, Bert held a good job as a plasterer, having secured an apprenticeship with neighbour, Joseph O’Neill, and Victor was working as a painter.
Like many of the Todd family, Victor grew into a tall, well-built young man being 6 feet in height, which was several inches taller than the average Australian male of that period. Bert was slightly shorter, at 5-feet 9¾-inches, but weighed a substantial 168-pounds.
In the few short years between school and the outbreak of the Great War, both boys served with the Senior Cadets attached to 70th Infantry Regiment, with Bert continuing on into senior ranks. It was seen as a crucial grounding for young men who were to make up the Australia Imperial Force.

Bert and Victor were particularly close, and so it was that the pair enlisted together at Ballarat on 21 July 1915. As Victor was still only 18 years-old and Bert just 20, they both required their mother’s consent to join the AIF. It must have been a terrible wrench for Sarah, knowing that she was sending two of her sons to war.
A poor chest measurement, which was seen as a lack of physical fitness, was one of the main issues for rejection for volunteers, however, neither Bert or Victor had any difficulty passing their medical examinations. Bert had a base measurement of 34-inches, but he could expand the girth a further three inches. Victor, whose youth has to be taken into account, measured just 32-inches, but he, too, could achieve an easy extra three inches on taking a deep breath. Both boys had fair complexions, but Bert’s eyes were blue and Victor’s brown. Their hair, too, was of a different hue – Bert had chestnut coloured locks, whilst Victor’s had none of the reddish colour and was noted as just brown.

After training at Seymour Camp, the brothers were assigned to the 14th reinforcements for Ballarat’s 8th Infantry Battalion on 16 December 1915, and given consecutive regimental numbers – 4605 and 4606, with Victor first in order. The pair embarked from Melbourne on 29 January 1916 onboard HMAT Themistocles. It was a particularly bad trip for Bert, who was said to have been terribly seasick for the entire voyage. They eventually arrived at Port Suez a month later on the last day of February.

On 1 April, Bert and Victor were transferred to the 58th Infantry Battalion after having spent time with the 2nd Training Battalion at Ferry Post. The pair finally embarked for France on 17 June, sailing from Alexandria to Marseilles onboard the transport Transylvania.
According to the Australian War Memorial, ‘…Having only arrived in France on 23 June, the 58th became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front at Fromelles on 19 July. The battle was a disaster. The 58th had the dual role of providing carrying parties and a reserve force. The reserve force (approximately half of the battalion) was ordered to attack late in the battle and was virtually annihilated by machine-gun fire; as a whole, the 58th suffered casualties equal to almost a third of its strength. Despite the grievous losses in its battalions, the 5th Division continued to man the front in the Fromelles sector for a further two months…’

Both Victor and his brother Bert fell during that disastrous battle. Victor was the first to fall - he received a severe gunshot wound to the chest. Having seen his brother go down, Bert continued on and was himself wounded later the same day, suffering machinegun bullet wounds to the chest and arm.

Given up for dead, Victor was, according to his family, eventually found by members of the Salvation Army and brought in to the 8th Casualty Clearing Station, where he was admitted on 20 July. Bert was admitted to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station the same day.

Both Bert and Victor were evacuated to England – Bert was the first to be stabilised for travel and sailed from Calais onboard the Hospital Ship Dieppe on 22 July. He was admitted to the 3rd Southern General Hospital in Oxford. Just a day later, Victor was carried onboard HS St Denis outside Boulogne. He was then taken south to Kent and admitted to the Shorncliffe Military Hospital, near Cheriton. They would eventually be reunited at the No1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield.
Whilst Bert was eventually able to return to active duty (but not until 28 June 1917), Victor was again never fit enough to serve in the firing line.
Although Sarah Todd was informed of her son’s having been wounded in action – she received the generic letter regarding a casualty ‘not stated as being serious, and in the event of further information coming to hand, you will be promptly notified…’, it was clear that she was aware Victor had been the more seriously hurt. Her concern was evident in a letter written to Base Records on 2 November,
‘…I see a letter in Tuesday Courier where a man in France had wrote to his wife saying one of the [boy’s] Todd had died of wounds and on making enquiries I found that he meant one of my boys as mine had both been wounded, but I have had no word. I was told if I wrote to you that you would make enquiries for me as I am greatly worried over it so if you can find out I will be greatly obliged to you. The one I think it is Pte V. J. Todd C Company 58th Battalion…’

Victor had not died, however, and, following a month at Lady Northcott’s Convalescent Home, at Eastwell Park, Ashford, he was finally well enough to return to the No2 Command Depot at Weymouth.

His health was not helped by consecutive illnesses: a short bout of diphtheria in November 1916, and pleurisy and pneumonia in May 1917. He was discharged to Monte Video Camp at Wareham, where he was reunited once again with Bert.

After a relapse, Victor was found to be afflicted acutely from the damage to his lungs. A medical report, dated 23 June 1917, disclosed that he had had fluid drawn from his chest and was still suffering from a cough and generalised weakness. He was also very emaciated. As the doctor observed, he ‘looks thin and anxious.’ The ruling was that Victor was to be discharged as permanently unfit and his incapacity was total.

Bert returned to France on 8 June. The time leading up to Bert heading overseas was the last time the brothers were to see one another. Victor, on the other hand, was soon back in hospital. He was admitted to the Sidney Hall Military Hospital in Weymouth, on 26 June, where he was to remain for a month.
Victor sailed home to Australia on 27 July 1917. It was a long, slow voyage, and the Demosthenes did not dock in Melbourne until 24 September. He was admitted to the No5 Australian General Hospital in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, on 8 October with ‘gunshot wound to chest [and] post pneumonic debility.’ The details were far more graphic:
He was suffering pains in right chest, which were worse on coughing; he was short of breath and the cough was particularly bad at night; he was still losing weight and looked thin and anaemic. There was dullness with diminished breathing sounds at the base of his right lung.

On 18 October, Victor was admitted to the Military Sanatorium at Macleod, where he underwent investigation for tuberculosis. All tests came back negative. It was then seemingly concluded that the issue was the combined damage done first by the bullet wound and then by the pneumonia.

After three months at Macleod, Victor returned to the No5 AGH. Although he said he felt better, and had gained weight, the chest x-ray showed the true nature of his condition – his right lung was almost totally incapacitated and there was also damage to a third of his left lung.

It was finally concluded that Victor should be discharged as medically unfit and that for at least six months he was totally incapable of earning a livelihood. He was discharged as medically unfit on 12 February, 1918, a mere eleven days before his 21st birthday.

Meanwhile, Bert had found a measure of success with the 58th Battalion. On 24 August 1917, he was appointed to the rank of lance-corporal. Further promotion to corporal and appointment to lance-sergeant followed on 4 October.

The 58th Battalion was near Villers-Bretonneux on 6 August 1918 when Bert was gassed. This time it was Bert who was evacuated to England onboard the St Denis. He was admitted to the 4th Southern General Hospital in Plymouth before once again returning to Harefield Park.

Effectively for Bert Todd the war was over.
Family anecdotes say that, due to the terrible seasickness that he suffered on his first crossing of the Indian Ocean, Bert could not face the return trip to Australia. He had also met a young woman, who he intended to marry and it was clear she did not wish to leave England.

Bert received a further promotion to company quartermaster sergeant at Tidworth on 1 August 1919, but it soon became apparent to the authorities that he would be seeking a discharge in the United Kingdom.

On 10 November 1919, at Newbury in Berkshire, Bert married Frances Maud Leech. His request for discharge included the following information:

‘…I am being financed to establish a large contracting business for the purpose of benefiting the housing problem in England, and as the building trade is in such a big demand over this side I consider I am benefiting myself considerably…’

His discharge was granted and he and his wife settled in the town of Reading in Berkshire. By 1939 he was running a shop selling floor coverings. They eventually retired to Brighton, where, after a long and happy life, never having returned to Australia, he died in 1983.
Meanwhile, in Australia, on 22 July 1918, the engagement between Victor Todd and Selena Mary Bray had been announced. The young couple married later the same year and they made their home at 109 Crompton Street in Soldiers Hill.
Even though he was eventually granted a total disability pension, something he was forced to fight for, Victor attempted to resume a normal life. His efforts as a traveller (door-to-door salesman) were doomed to failure, however, with his severely limited lung capacity leaving him tired and weak after half a day’s work. He would have to pack up his case and return home to Lena.

The birth of their first child, Joyce Edna, on 12 August 1919 must have been one of the brightest moments in Victor's short life. It is easy to see in the portrait of him holding his baby girl that he had been vastly changed by the experience of war and yet there is a definite look of happiness in his brown eyes.

His chest injuries saw him visit the MacLeod Sanatorium in Melbourne on many occasions. But he never fully recovered from his experience at Fromelles. Victor died at Ballarat on the 17 June, 1921. He was buried in the Ballarat New Cemetery and his place is marked by the Commonwealth War Graves. Although his death was directly attributable to war service, Victor had missed the cut off for the National Roll of Honour by 78 days.

He was just 24 years of age.

Lena, who had been pregnant with Victor's second child, Bernard, at the time of his death, eventually remarried and moved to Newcastle, New South Wales, where she established a new family.
His daughter Joyce, lost touch with her Victorian family and some sixty years would pass before they were reunited and she would see photographs for the first time of her soldier father. The then 81-year-old remembered vividly the taunts from other children who refused to believe he had died. Information gathered by Victor's family gave Joyce the opportunity to learn and be proud of the special young man who had been her father.