The Lane Boys go to War

Once upon a time there were seven little boys. In 1896 their father, a process photographer with The Mercury in Hobart, took these carefully-posed photographs of his five youngest sons. Ben Lane sent copies of the photographs “home” to his family in England to show them what fine lads he was raising out here in the Colonies.

five boys playing soldiers

The Lane Children 1896

five boys playing soldiers

“Receiving Cavalry”

The four kneeling to receive cavalry are, from left: Denis (aged nine), Fred (aged 7), Harold (aged 5) and Bernard (about 3). Big brother Albert (“Barsh”) (aged eleven) is in command. Later they all joined the Army Cadets, but only Denis went on to a military career. One of them won first prize for his marksmanship in 1909 – 32 out of 35.

medal in shape of Tasmania on a chain

This is what happened to them eighteen years later when war stopped being a game.

In 1914 Ben was working in Melbourne. His eldest son, Alf, was in Malaya working as a civil engineer. The next son, Norm, was farming at Nala, near Oatlands. Denis was an officer in the regular army and was Adjutant, 12 AIR in Launceston.

Fanny Lane and the other nine children were living in a rented house in Lindisfarne. The older boys had bought a property, which they called The Turning, on the ridge behind Lindisfarne and over the course of ten years had established a farm there and slowly built a house. By about 1911 some of the boys were living on the farm while they finished the house, and the rest of the family moved into their new home early in 1915.

Because The Turning was in a rural location and operated as a farm, the young men living there were exempt from military service. There was no official requirement for Fred, Bern, Hal or Norm to enlist when war was declared.

Denis Arthur Lane

Denis Arthur Lane – born 3 November, 1886

DENIS joined the Derwent Regiment, and in 1907 passed his first exam for a commission. In 1911 he took over as temporary Area Officer at Beaconsfield, a full-time position, and in 1912 became Adjutant of 12th A.I.R. in Launceston.

When war was declared he transferred to the First A.I.F. as Commander, “C” Company, 12 Battalion, 3 Brigade. The 12th sailed on 20 October 1914 on the troopship Geelong, the first to sail directly from Hobart. The Devanha, carrying the 12th Bn with Capt D.A. Lane at Battalion HQ as Quartermaster, was the first ship to arrive at Mudros on Lemnos.

The 12th landed at Gallipoli about 4.30 am on 25 April 1915, HQ and “A” Company almost on the extreme north of the Divisional front, at the foot of Russell’s Top in a portion of the beach under direct machine-gun fire. By mid-afternoon Capt D.A. Lane had taken command of “D” Company on the death of its commander, Capt Lalor (grandson of Peter Lalor). The following day Denis’ promotion to Major was gazetted. The 12th Bn was detailed as part of the Divisional Reserve for the attack on Lone Pine; “D” Company, under Major Lane, went into action about 9 pm on the 6th August. During this operation the Battalion Observation Post was in charge of Lance Corporal Norman Lane, Denis’ older brother.

When the A.I.F. was re-organised after withdrawal from the Peninsula in November and the old battalions split up the decision on which half of the 12th Bn should stay and which become the 52nd Bn was made by the toss of a coin in the Officers’ Mess. Major D.A. Lane, as the senior major, marched out with 52nd Bn. In France the 52nd Bn relieved the 12th at Fleurbaix, and fought at Fleurbaix, Mouquet Farm, Ypres, Bullecourt, Lagnicourt, Messines, Devancourt and Villiers Brettoneaux before being disbanded in December 1917.

At Mouquet Farm  the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Beevor was severely wounded. Denis Lane was promoted to Lt Col and commanded the battalion until he was seconded to 13th Infantry Training Battalion at Codford on Salisbury Plain on 21 March 1917. On 1 November 1917 he took command of Sub Depot D, No.2 Command Depot, Littlemoor Camp, Weymouth, which was opened in September 1917 as a training camp for convalescent soldiers on the way back to the Front and after the Armistice in 1918 became a concentration Depot for troops awaiting repatriation. Denis embarked as O.I.C. Troops on the Tras-Os-Montes, bound for Sydney where the troops disembarked and their place was taken by prisoners of war and aliens being deported to Rotterdam. In September 1919 he was able to gather up his wife Eva and their infant son Bernard and go home to stay. His appointment in the A.I.F. terminated on 22 Jan 1920, and he temporarily resumed his pre-war position as Area Officer before resigning from full-time military service.

Denis had been wounded at Gallipoli, and like many others suffered permanent kidney damage from the lack of drinking water, but seems otherwise to have returned relatively unscathed. He was a professional soldier and had learned to use humour to cope with situations. He wrote from The Somme: “It will be no use us coming home, as Norm won’t feel at home in the house and will want a dug-out prepared outside and will only come in at Mealtimes to the kitchen pot with his mess tin. Fred will refuse to live in anything but a tent, and I will want billeting space in the two best rooms for our H.Q. and will have to stable my horse in the kitchen. Besides, I won’t feel half at home unless you knock odd corners off the house, crack the mirrors with bullets and sear the plastering with hunks of iron. Continual explosions throughout the night would also sound homely.” He continued to serve part-time as Staff Officer Intelligence with 40th Bn, while joining the newly-formed Forestry Dept as Working Plans Officer. In this capacity he pioneered the use of aerial photography for forest mapping, and conducted detailed surveys of many previously unmapped parts of Tasmania. He was also Scout Commissioner for Tasmania, a Mason, churchwarden at St Aidan’s, Lindisfarne, and the founding patron of the Lindisfarne branch of the RSL.

When WWII broke out the Forestry Department offices became the unofficial HQ of the 1st Bn, V.D.C., Commander Lt Col D.A. Lane; 2IC Major S. Steane (Conservator of Forests and head of the department). Norm, Bert and Hal Lane all joined the V.D.C., and a good many training exercises ended with the Officers adjourning to the The Turning at Lindisfarne, for afternoon tea. This was also the location for the final 1st Bn V.D.C. Officers’ Mess dinner at the end of the war. Combined with the Victory Celebrations was a farewell for the Governor, Sir Ernest Clark.

Colonel Lane was transferred to the Retired List with one step in honorary rank in 1943 and in 1951 retired from the Forestry Commission (as it became in 1946). In 1949 the Chief Scout, Lord Rowallan (later Governor of Tasmania) presented him with the Silver Wolf, Scouting’s highest honour. The Nomenclature Board in 1952 named Lane’s Peak near the Northwestern corner of Mt Field National Park after Denis Lane in recognition of his services. He died 31 March 1958 after a long illness.

Norman Barsham Lane

Norman Barsham Lane – born 12 May 1880

NORM, who was farming at Nala, enlisted in 12th Bn, 1 AIF on 9 September 1914 and sailed with Denis on HMS Geelong. He served at Gallipoli under command of his brother, Major Denis Lane, at one stage at a forward observation post, but was plagued by ill health. He contracted jaundice, and was admitted to hospital in Malta in November 1915.

After the army returned to Egypt he was transferred to Australian Records Section but was back in hospital in Alexandria for a week in July with diptheria. He was temporarily classified “B” and returned to duty, but a few months later was back with bronchitis. Eventually he contracted Malaria. He remained at A.I.F. HQ in Cairo until after the armistice and was eventually evacuated from Chanak  to England in March 1919. He returned to Australia in November 1919 and was discharged early in 1920.

Norm worked for a time as a farmhand on the Burbury property, Inglewood, near Oatlands before taking up a Closer Settlement block at Nala in partnership with a Mr Davis. He had studied at the Church of England religious college in Cressy before that, but decided he wasn’t cut out for the Church.

When he returned to Lindisfarne  after the war he became a lay reader at St Aidan’s and married Linda Collier (nee Pearce) in 1922. For many years he worked at the Diocesan Book Depot at St David’s cathedral. A kind, gentle man, he had written home from the Front of his horror at realising the deaths of human beings were beginning to affect him no more than if they had been rabbits, and never recovered from his wartime experiences. Besides recurrent bouts of malaria he was unable to shake off the horrors of Gallipoli, and talked about them for the rest of his life. He died in 1966 at the age of 86.

Frederick William Lane - born 28 February, 1889

Frederick William Lane – born 28 February, 1889

FRED, who was working as a draftsman, joined 49th Bn, 4 Bde, 1 AIF as a 2nd Lieutenant on 8 Jun 1915. He trained at Broadmeadows, so was able to see his father occasionally. However, there was some confusion at the docks and Ben missed seeing him off when he embarked for Egypt. They never saw each other again.

Fred served behind the lines at training camps in Egypt and England, being promoted 1st Lt in March 1916.

While on leave in England he and his brothers made the most of the opportunity to visit their father’s family. Their uncle James’ daughters Doris and Eva drew straws to decide which of them should go to the station to meet their savage black Australian cousins. Eva lost, and was amazed to find two smart, handsome army officers waiting for her! Barely a month later Fred and Denis were engaged to be married to Doris and Eva. Fred had watched Denis getting promoted and leading a regiment on the Somme while he remained behind the lines as a lowly Lieutenant, and his letters express his frustration at not seeing action. He was finally posted to France with 47th Bn in June 1916. He was wounded in January 1917, and killed at Dernancourt on 28 March 1918. The news was broken to Denis in England on his wedding morning in early April. After a hasty conference with his uncle they decided not to tell Doris, who was to be bridesmaid, or Eva until after the ceremony. Despite Denis’ best efforts, Fred’s remains were never found.

Bernard Valentine Lane - born Apr 25 1893

Bernard Valentine Lane – born Apr 25 1893

With three older brothers away at the war, Hal and Bern drew straws to see which of them should join up. BERN won, and enlisted in 22nd Reinforcements for 12th Bn on September 1916. He was posted to France in April 1917, wounded in the second Battle of Bullecourt and died of his wounds in hospital at Rouen a few weeks later. He was 24.

Bern's grave - Etaples Military Cemetery (official photo from Dept of Defence, 1921)

Bern’s grave – Etaples Military Cemetery (official photo from Dept of Defence, 1921)

Albert Barsham Lane - born Mar 24 1885

Albert Barsham Lane – born Mar 24 1885

BERT, usually known as “Barsh” to differentiate him from Lindisfarne’s well-known butcher, also Bert Lane but no relation, was a public servant working for the Railways department, and at the end of 1915 transferred to the Audit Dept. In 1916 he volunteered for active service, but he was recalled to the Department from camp and his enlistment was refused. He was mortified when somebody sent him a white feather, and eventually the Department allowed him to leave two months later. He left Australia with 13th reinforcements for 4 Machine Gun Coy in June 1917. On arrival in England he was allotted to 15 Bn, then to 52 Bn. In December he was posted to 41 Bn in France. He served on the Messines sector then on the Somme before being severely wounded in the leg in April 1918 on the Bray-Corbie road. After several months recuperating in England he was invalided home and discharged in June 1919. He never talked very much about the War, but he had been buried in a collapsing trench and suffered recurrent nightmares besides having to walk with a stick for the rest of his life. He married Grace Denholm, and had three children.

During the Second World War he was Platoon leader of Sandford Platoon, D Coy, No 1 Bn VDC.

After long membership of the Clarence Sub-branch of the RSL he became the first president of the Lindisfarne RSL when it was formed in 1946. He died in 1959 a few days before his 74th birthday.

Alfred James Lane - born 24 March 1877

Alfred James Lane – born 24 March 1877

ALF, oldest son of the Lane family, was born in New Zealand. He spent a few years studying in Australia before going to South East Asia to work as a surveyor/civil engineer for the Colonial Service. After Fred’s death he lied about his age and enlisted at Broadmeadows in 1918. The war ended while he was still in camp, and the family returned to Malaya.

When WWII broke out Alf and his wife Lily were living in Hong Kong; Alf was a member of the Home Guard and was manning a machine gun post when the Japanese arrived. He was severely beaten, but out of respect for his age the soldiers left him alive. Lily and friends rushed him to hospital, replacing his uniform with civilian clothes to conceal his military service so that he and Lily were both interned by the Japanese with civilians at Port Stanley. After the war there was difficulty with his repatriation due to official uncertainty about his nationality, and in the end he was sent to England to join his married daughter. He and Lily could not afford to return to Australia, and he died in 1970 at the age of 93. Although he and Lily, whose family home was in Toorak, Melbourne, had never lived at The Turning in Lindisfarne, they always regarded it as home, and Lily allowed English acquaintances to believe she was part-owner of an elegant homestead and extensive land holdings in Tasmania.

gold bracelet with engraved initials

mother’s bracelet – Marion (Fanny) Lane’s initials are engraved on the front of this bracelet. As each of her sons went off to war she had his initials engraved on the inside. The bracelet remained on her wrist until the end of the War.

HAL (Harold Palmer) remained at home during the war, doing odd jobs around the house and ostensibly keeping the farm running. During the Second World War he joined the VDC with Bert and Denis.

JOHN (Roland Kemp), the youngest son, was sixteen when the war began. He remained at home with his mother and four sisters. Although over forty, he joined the Light Horse, by then a motorised unit, at the beginning of WWII and after basic training at Brighton Camp in Tasmania was posted to Orbost in Victoria. Here he supervised Italian prisoners of war working on farms in the region before being posted back to Tasmania to carry out the same work around Deloraine for the remainder of the War.

verso of photograph

verso of photograph

In 1917 the boys visited relatives in England and signed the back of this photograph. The irony was not lost on them.

LaneBoys (11)

©Elizabeth Barsham

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