Joseph Davis Depass JOSEPH
Eyes blue, Hair light brown, Complexion fair
Dutch Jewish connections
This story is a blend of material reproduced with permission from Amanda Bentley on the Ballarat & District in the Great War Facebook page, the Australian Jewish Historical Society on behalf of Peter M. Allen and information from relatives of Private Joe Joseph. As a result of amalgamating various sources, some editing has occurred and any errors arising are ours.
Youngest of three children, Joseph Davis De Pass(e) Joseph was born 13 June 1900 in Melbourne to Lily, and Leopold Emanuel Joseph, a bootmaker and commission agent.
When Leopold Emmanuel Joseph married Sarah Elizabeth “Lily” Handricks on 20 June 1888, two Jewish families of Dutch origins were also united. Lily, who was born at Port Fairy, was the daughter of Dutchman, Jozef Levi Handricks (Hangjas). Leo, however, was born in Sunderland, in the north of England. His connection to Amsterdam, in what was then Holland, had originated generations earlier. Both families were connected to the Sephardic Jews that had been forced out of Spain and Portugal in the late 15th Century.
According to relatives, Leopold was “the Strongest Man in the World” at some stage.
Joseph the boy soldier - only just 15
The Joseph family resided at various times in Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat, and Joseph attended Christian Brothers College, Melbourne, and was in the Naval Cadets. As a member of the Naval Cadets, he received a modicum of military training, but was particularly noted for his ability as a boxer. Along with his older brother, Cedric, Joe would often participate in boxing tournaments.
On 24 July 1915 - one month after he turned 15, but claiming to be three years older (and apparently without providing a permission note for being under 21) - Joe enlisted at Melbourne.
In his enlistment papers, he answered every other question with only slight prevarication. As he was still a student, Joe said that he had no trade or calling. He said that, due to living in an exempt area, he had not received formal military training – by answering otherwise may have risked his true age being revealed. In truth, Joe had not reached the age where he would have been compelled to join a military regiment.
Neither did Dr W. Sheriton Garnett, of the Australian Army Medical Corps, appear to question the age of the very young recruit. He confirmed that Joe was 5-feet 6¼-inches tall, that he weighed 8-stone 10-pounds and could reach an expanded chest measurement of 35-inches. His fair complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair revealed nothing about his age, nor did the scars on both his knees – or the small gold filling in one of his teeth. But if Dr Garnett had looked a little closer, he may have noticed the excessive youthfulness in the boy’s face. All too often, those signing up new men either deliberately or were actively encouraged to overlook underage recruits.
Joe’s initial time with the military was spent at the Albert Park Depot. He was eventually assigned to the 11th reinforcements to the 8th Infantry Battalion on 7 October, but for some inexplicable reason the military required a second attestation by the young soldier.
Joe was at Broadmeadows Camp when, on 15 October, he underwent a second medical examination and signed a second oath of allegiance. Variations appeared in the physical examination – this doctor measured Joe as being 2¼-inches shorter and made no mention of the scars or gold filling. On this occasion, Joe stated that he was a clerk in civilian life, which suggests that the two sets of papers were never compared.
Once again, there was no indication that any request for parental consent was sought. Instead, Joe, who was now just four months passed his 15th birthday, was immediately assigned as private, number 1055 in A Company of the 31st Infantry Battalion.
It must have seemed like the beginning of the grandest adventure for Joe Joseph when he stepped onboard HMAT Wandilla at Port Melbourne on 9 November. The troopship, a new passenger-cargo vessel, had like so many similar ships, been requisitioned for military service by the Australian Government. She made the trip to Egypt in the usual four weeks and landed at Suez on 7 December.
Joe’s time in Egypt was marked by less than memorable moments from the perspective of the casual viewer – he suffered a painful bout of mumps that resulted in him being hospitalised at Serapeum for two weeks in January 1916. He also struggled with aspects of military discipline, which resulted in a number of charges including:
- breaking camp,
- being absent without leave,
- absenting himself from a fatigue party,
- and leaving Company Lines when he was on inlying picket duty.
Despite this, his commanding officer, Major Rupert Hockley, saw potential in the young lad and commented on his conduct sheet that Joe was of good character. And, undoubtedly, Joe filled those seven months in Egypt with a world of experiences that didn’t translate to paperwork.
On 13 June 1916, he also celebrated his 16th birthday in those most exotic of locations – a young boy in an ancient land on a man’s mission.
As part of the 8th Brigade in the newly raised 5th Australian Division, the battalion sailed from Alexandria on 16 June to join the British Expeditionary Force and disembarked at Marseilles on 23 June. They were destined for the Western Front at Fleurbaix in the north of France, 20 kilometres west of Lille.
The 31st Battalion fought its first major battle at Fromelles on 19 July 1916, having only entered the front-line trenches three days previously. The attack was a disastrous introduction to battle for the 31st. It suffered 572 casualties - over half of its strength – many during the pre-assault phases by enemy or ‘friendly’ artillery fire and some advancing too far, lost in ‘no-man’s land’ or cut-off by the German counter-attack – a result of poor planning, maps and communication.
Searching for Joseph
Like 1800 other Australians, Joseph was listed as ‘Missing in Action’ and his parents hoped he was one of the 500-odd Prisoners of War. They sought help from the Red Cross, who were told in November 1916 by a Sergeant G.W. Cummings:
I saw (Joseph) in the German Trenches at Fleurbaix on the 19th July 1916, between 8 and 9 p.m. He had his heel blown away. We were advancing then and left him there. We retired next morning, and that ground was retaken by the Germans.
Despite receiving Joe’s identity disc and two notebooks in July that year, the family clung to the belief he could still be alive as his father had received “several letters from soldiers at the front, who saw him wounded in the German trenches …”
There was also another Red Cross report dated August 1917 from Pte R. Henry, a POW at Friedrichsfeld, that stated:
On the 19th July, 7p.m. [Joseph] was last seen by me about 400 yards over the German lines. He was then wounded in the foot and was crawling back towards the English lines.
The same month, a Court of Enquiry determined that he was, ‘Killed in Action on 19 July 1916’ – a boy, aged just 16 years and 1 month – the youngest Australian Jewish soldier to (enlist and) die in WW1.
As he has no known grave, Private Joseph D DeP Joseph’s name is engraved on Panel 3 at VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, Lille, Nord Pas de Calais, France. He was one of ten Jews amongst the 2,000 diggers killed at the Battle of Fromelles, Australia’s – and Australian Jewry’s - worst-ever 24 hours.
His family left behind
Perhaps hoping to find his little brother and get him sent home, 25-year-old Cedric (Morris Cedric Clair) Joseph enlisted in the AIF in February 1916. But as it transpired, Private 2794 Cedric Joseph did not embark for France until the following October - and ironically, joined the 58th Battalion, following the loss of almost a third of its men at the Battle of Fromelles.
In February 1917, he received a gunshot wound to the hand in the advance that pursued the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. After discharge from hospital in England in June 1917, he briefly joined the Provost Corps then, as a mechanical engineer, he transferred to the Australian Flying Corps in February 1918, becoming Air Mechanic 2nd Class.
Cedric Joseph married Hannah Winifred (née Coleman) on 23 June 1918 at St John’s Wood Synagogue in London, and in October was admitted to hospital with influenza and pneumonia. Fortunately, he survived to be discharged as a Corporal on 11 November 1918 – Armistice Day – and returned to Australia the following January 1919.
Cedric also enlisted in the 2nd AIF in World War II, when they were living in Ballarat, and Cedric Joseph died in West Heidelberg in 1971.
Mother, Lily (officially Sarah Elizabeth), and father, Leopold Joseph, died in 1921 (age 56) and 1929 (age 63), respectively – another family devastated by the cruelty of the Great War.
DNA (Y and Mt) has been provided for Joseph
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