Claude Lawrence LACEY MC

LACEY, Claude Lawrence

Service Number: 1161
Enlisted: 14 July 1915
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Last Unit: 29th Infantry Battalion
Born: Northcote, Victoria, Australia, 1895
Home Town: Northcote, Darebin, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Clerk
Died: Benalla, 1978, cause of death not yet discovered
Cemetery: Benalla Cemetery, Victoria
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World War 1 Service

14 Jul 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Company Sergeant Major, SN 1161, 29th Infantry Battalion
10 Nov 1915: Involvement SN 1161, 29th Infantry Battalion
10 Nov 1915: Embarked SN 1161, 29th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ascanius, Melbourne
12 Apr 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant
28 Jul 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Lieutenant

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Biography contributed by Virtual Australia

Contributed by Sheila Burnell (Violet Town)

Claude Edwin Lacey (1865-1925) and his wife Jessie Hutton Lacey (1866-1957), lived in Northcote, a suburb of Melbourne. Claude worked as an architect and together they raised a family of three boys. Claude Lawrence (1895), known as Lawrie was eldest brother to John  Lipscombe Lacey (1896); the youngest brother, Bertram Hutton Lacey was born in 1900.

On 12 July 1915, when he was 21 years old, Lawrie left his job as a clerk to enlist. He had already served for two years with senior cadets including one year as a Lieutenant.

On 10 November, after initial training to turn civilians into soldiers, Lawrie embarked aboard Ascanius bound for Egypt. There he attended officer’s schools at Ferry Post and Zeitoun , resulting in his being promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. The following June he sailed to Marseilles, from where he travelled north to serve on the Western Front.  On 28 July he was further promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. 

Lawrie’s service records are scant but following the 29th Battalion’s tour of duty gives some insight into his whereabouts.  The 29th and its sister Battalions were sent to ‘The Nursery’ in the Armentieres sector of northern France, near two villages either side of the front line, Fleurbaix to the west and Fromelles to the east; here they were introduced to trench warfare.

In May Lawrie was awarded the MC (Military Cross) for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed great skill and courage in leading the attack made by his battalion.  He captured the position with several prisoners and a machine gun. He consolidated his position and later successfully repelled an enemy counter attack.

‘The above has been promulgated in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No 69 of 4 October 1917.’

The medal was presented by General Birdwood.

Meanwhile in August 1917 Lawrie trained to be an Intelligence Officer. The following

December, after returning from two weeks leave he was officially promoted to be 29th Battalion Intelligence Officer.  This was followed the following March by further promotion to 8th Brigade Intelligence Officer.

In May 1918 Lawrie was caught in a gas attack for which he was hospitalised in London General Hospital, for some weeks. He re-joined his unit in August and returned to Australia on 8 May 1919.  

There is no statement of his discharge in his service records.

Further research has revealed that Lawrie applied for a Soldier Settlement block after the war.

During WW1 there was optimism regarding farming due to guaranteed prices for wheat and milk. Governments bought up larger holdings which were subdivided for more intensive farming and made available for returning soldiers.

However, there were many causes to undermine the success of the scheme. War injuries such as loss of limbs, exposure to gas attacks, shrapnel wounds and shell-shock reduced the ability of many men to cope with the heavy manual work. Added to this there were initial expenses in building a house, buying live-stock, fencing materials as well as general living which soon ate away any grant money from the government. Returned men had to borrow money for which interest payments had to be met. Not all applicants had knowledge of farming; some were registered as ‘clerks’ on their service records.

Such was Lawrie’s case. Born in Northcote, he worked as a ‘clerk’ and enlisted when was he was 21; there was barely time to learn about farming even if he had the opportunity. But anyone knowing him in later years would witness his determination and tenacity. Some did not understand what returned soldiers experienced and simply wrote them off as ‘grumpy old buggers’.

In 1920 Lawrie married Helen Aileen Hughes (1898); they had two daughters. He was granted land at Watchupga in the southern Mallee district of Victoria.  Helen died in 1947. Three years later Lawrie married Helen’s best friend Thelma Constance St.John George.

They bought a small farm in Upotipotpon  in north-east Victoria during 1954 which was kinder country than the Mallee and where they were well loved. In 1963, according to the electoral rolls they moved to Benalla.

Thellie died in 1970; Helen’s sister Josie came across from Adelaide to look after Lawrie … and stayed … they were later married. Lawrie died in 1978; Josie continue to live in Benalla until her death in 1987. 

Lawrie was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.