Maxwell James TRENGOVE

TRENGOVE, Maxwell James

Service Number: SX7890
Enlisted: 5 July 1940, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Kadina, South Australia, 9 December 1911
Home Town: Bute, Barunga West, South Australia
Schooling: Bute Primary School; Prince Alfred College Adelaide, South Australia
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Killed in Action, Sattelberg, New Guinea, 16 November 1943, aged 31 years
Cemetery: Lae War Cemetery
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Bute District Council WW2 Roll of Honor, Bute War Memorial Garden
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World War 2 Service

5 Jul 1940: Enlisted Private, SX7890, Adelaide, South Australia
5 Jul 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SX7890, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
6 Jul 1940: Involvement Private, SX7890
16 Nov 1943: Involvement Private, SX7890, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, New Guinea - Huon Peninsula / Markham and Ramu Valley /Finisterre Ranges Campaigns
Date unknown: Involvement

Maxwell James Trengove

Max was born at Kadina on 9th December 1911. His siblings remembered Max to be a very active child, and he was always playing tricks on them. He used to love teasing his sisters. As young boys Max and his brother Ross would make forts out of sand, and throw clods of dirt at each other. When he was older, Max would often waltz his mother around the kitchen table on a Saturday morning before football.
Max spent his schooling years at Bute and then Prince Alfred College in Adelaide. He left school in 1927 to go home on the family farm. He also picked up shearing work around the district with his relative Clarrie Warren.
Max was an exceptional sportsman. He used to travel to Adelaide to pay country cricket - his highest score being 168. He was a good leg break bowler, and would be in the top 3 or 4 bowlers in country cricket for getting the most wickets. The highest score that he ever made was at Bute - 205 retired - against the Kadina Colts.
He gave up cricket to play tennis because he wanted his brother Ross to give cricket a go. However Ross stayed with his tennis. During the first year Max played tennis, his father was captain and siblings Ross and Connie were in the same team.
Max excelled at football. He won the Yorke Peninsula Association Best and Fairest Award, and the Holder Medal in 1934. During 1934-35 he played league football for North Adelaide. He would share a ride down to Adelaide with a couple of men from Port Pirie, and would sometimes stay at the Grosvenor Hotel, and sometimes with his cousin Ron Trengove. Once he was given one pound for being best on ground. During the years 1937-38 he was captain/coach of the Bute A Grade team. When playing in the forward lines he would often have a group of young school boys following him. It would be fair to say that Max Trengove as the best all-rounder footballer that Bute has ever produced, and he could play any position on the field.
Following the outbreak of WW2 Max tried to enlist in the Air Force but was rejected because he was colour blind. This did not deter him, and on 5th July 1940 he enlisted with the AIF. He was a member of the 2/48th battalion, which was the most highly decorated unit in the AIF. Whilst on board the ship heading for the Middle East, he beat up a bully who was challenging the other men to fight. His boxing skills from Prince Alfred College certainly came in handy.
Max was one of the “Rats of Tobruk” and fought in the battle of El Alamein. He would swap his beer rations for cigarettes, and would look after the soldiers who had too much to drink, and he’d put them to bed.
The biscuits the soldiers received were so hard they would be hit with a hammer. Tins of biscuits were dropped out of aeroplanes with parachutes. The tins were dented but the biscuits did not break. Max broke a tooth on one of these biscuits.
Arthur Whyte, who served with Max and later became a member of the state Legislative Council, described Max as having a “……keen sense of justice and a strong belief in God – he was one of the finest men I ever met…”. Col Fryer, who served in the same battalion, remembered that “Max was very popular with the boys of the 2/48th. He played football for the battalion in division sports. He was a fine stamp of a man, 6 foot, well built and a damn good footballer.”
Max would make the most of his time on leave, often going on picnics with his family. On his last leave, he went to Jamestown and Spalding to visit relatives, and also spent time getting to know his young nephew, Malcolm Wehr.
On the days before he was killed, Max had dysentery. He told the doctor he was not well enough to go out to fight, but was made to. The 2/48th was given the job of attacking the first Japanese position on Sattelberg. They had already taken Lae and Finschhafen. Sattelberg was a key position, as it overlooked the coast and had to be taken. The allies sent in heavy bombers to soften up, and then used 25 pounder guns. They took the position, but Max and a chap called Maurice “Lofty” Beecken were both badly wounded. Max passed away when the stretcher bearers were trying to get him back for treatment. Col Fryer remembered that Max was very calm. He is buried at the Lae War Cemetery.
Reverend Davies, who was the minister at Bute, broke the tragic news to the family on 1st December. He stopped Max’s father and brother, who were reaping in the paddock by the house. They all came home immediately. Max’s sister Ruth had been going to write a letter to him, but she returned to the house as she had an unusual feeling, and she simply could not write the letter. Two days later, Max’s sister Connie gave birth to a daughter named Maxine.
The family never got over their loss.
Max’s namesake, niece Maxine, remembered learning about her uncle Max: “I can remember a photo which always stayed in the sitting room, as we called the lounge in those days. On questioning Mum she told me that it was Uncle Max and that he’d gone away to the war and he wouldn’t be coming home. When I further questioned as to why he couldn’t get home by train or boat, I was told that he was in heaven, and boats and trains did not go there. I was most relieved and decided that I’d see that we got him home by plane. That was my first lesson on death and a very distressing one. I was later to learn that I had been born two days after the family received notification of his death.”
Max was well liked and respected in the local Bute community. This was evident when, in 1957, a new football dressing shed was erected at Bute as a memorial to Max.
Written with admiration and pride by his great niece, Justine Jenke.

Ross Trengove, Connie Fogden, Ruth Wehr (Max’s siblings), interviewed by Justine Jenke
Horace Axford (Max’s cousin), interviewed by Justine Jenke
Letters from Arthur Whyte and Col Fryer to Gabrielle Rose (Max’s great niece – researching a school project)

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Biography contributed

Biography written by Zali Kerley from Pt Broughton Area School, attached as a document. Winning entry for 2023 Premier’s ANZAC SPIRIT School Prize.