Pte Clarence Hoffman [1894-1916]
AWM Collections P09291.398

Clarence Rhody Swan HOFFMAN

Regimental Number
Known As
War Service
Egypt and Western Front
Prior Military Service
21 Sep 1915 at Adelaide, SA
07 Feb 1916 from Adelaide, SA, on the HMAT A28 Miltiades
Next of Kin
Mother – Mrs Sarah E. BRIGGS, Adelaide, South Australia
Date & Place of Birth
17 Jan 1894, Moonta, SA
Sarah Elizabeth HOFFMAN, and Rody SCHWAN (dec’d)
Marital Status
Sister – Elizabeth Hoffman Half-siblings - Lily, William & Frederick Hoffman
Physical Description
5 feet 1 1 inches, 118 pounds (157.5cm, 53.5kg)
Eyes blue, Hair brown, Complexion fair
Church of Christ
Killed in Action, 20 Jul 1916, Fromelles, France. On German Death List - aged 22
Place of Burial
No known grave
V.C. Corner, (Panel 5), Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France
Positively Identified

The Spelling of Rhodys name

The spelling of the ‘Rhody Schwan’ part of this soldier’s name varies considerably across historical records for the family with Rody, Roady, Rhody and Schwan, Schwann, Swan, Schwoon appearing at various times. It seems that Clarence’s immediate family adopted the spelling ‘Rhody Schwan or Swan’ whereas his namesake father’s family most commonly used Rody or Roady Schwan. For the purposes of this story, we have adopted Rhody for the son and Rody for the father. The Hoffman family name too had various spellings – Hoffman, Hoffmann, Huffmann, Heiffmann

The Schwan – Hoffman family

The notice above appeared in August 1894 with Clarence’s mother seeking maintenance from Rody for their son born in January of that year. An earlier notice gives Rody’s height as 6ft. 1in. – only one can be correct and given that Clarence’s height is stated as 5 feet 2 inches at enlistment, perhaps this second notice is the more accurate.

Clarence Rhody Schwan Hoffman was born in the mining town of Moonta, South Australia on 17 January 1894, the second child born to Rody Schwan and Sarah Elizabeth Hoffman. Clarence’s older sister, Elizabeth Rhoda Schwan Hoffman, was born in 1891. Their parents weren’t married and Rody left South Australia while Clarence was still an infant, travelling to join his brothers in Kalgoorlie Western Australia.

His brothers were William and Albert Schwan, both also born in Moonta but later became prospectors in the Kalgoorlie region. Rody also had an older sister, Elizabeth, who was believed to have remained in South Australia as a nurse; she did not marry. Both brothers married and raised families in the Kalgoorlie area and became prominent community members.

William’s granddaughter, Maggie Schwann, reports that from the soldier’s portrait she can see a resemblance between Clarence and his uncle William. Both uncle and nephew had military training as William was a sergeant who served in the Boer War departing Australia in November 1899. From newspaper reports, it seems that the Schwan brothers were well known in WA footballing circles with all three umpiring at various times. Rody was also a successful sprinter as a young man winning several Sheffield handicaps – these were 130-yard handicap races that were popular in the era, usually with a monetary prize for the winner.

In September 1904, Rody Schwan who had been prospecting in Western Australia for some years, was killed by lightning. He is buried in Duketon near Laverton – one of only three burials in that cemetery.

Clarence’s mother, Sarah Elizabeth Hoffman, was the eldest of a large family born to Sarah (nee Martin) and William Robert Hoffman in Kanmantoo, a small mining town in South Australia. She worked as a domestic servant and it seems that she had some support from her parents as she raised her family of five children - Clarence and Elizabeth (born of her relationship with Rody Schwan) as well as William, Frederick and Lily. In 1903, she married Joseph Briggs but was widowed in 1912.

Clarence Hoffman – we know just a little

Clarence was educated at the Public School in Adelaide and became a saddler. Below average height, being only 5 feet 2 inches and weighing 8 stone 4 lbs (118 pounds), he was rejected when applying for the Citizen Military Forces because he had a withered arm. Despite his apparent disability, he was able to enlist in Adelaide on 21st September 1915 and he embarked with the 32nd Battalion for Egypt in February 1916.

Private Clarence Rhody Schwan Hoffman was killed in the Battle of Fromelles, France on 20th July 1916 at the age of 22 years 6 months. Clarence was named as buried in the mass grave between the Australian and German front lines (known as Pheasant Wood) by a German burial party after the battle. A list of the Australian dead was compiled by the Germans as they buried them, taking ID tags from the bodies.

Notice of Death for Rhody Schwan
source NAA: B2455, HOFFMAN, Clarence Rhody Swan - First AIF Personnel Dossiers 1914-1920, p 24

His family left behind – fond memories cling

We know his mother and siblings were heartbroken, posting memorial notices for their son and brother, Clarry Hoffman, each July for decades. The examples below are from 1917, 1929 and 1938.

Having been officially advised in December 1916 that Clarence had been killed in action, his mother, Sarah Briggs, wrote a letter to the Officer in Charge on 5 April 1917, asking for information about her son’s death:

“He was reported missing in July & in December reported killed. It is very hard for a mother to take for granted she has lost her son just on the word of a cable. Could you let me know if they found him or his disc & if I am entitled to any Private articles he may have had in his kit bag as I have had no word relating anything about his deferred Pay. I feel very anxious and would be very grateful to you if you could let me know anything at all about him.”

NAA: B2455, HOFFMAN, Clarence Rhody Swan - First AIF Personnel Dossiers 1914-1920, page 20

Sarah was never to discover where her son was buried but she did receive his identity disc in November 1917. His personal effects (a notebook, letters, photos) were finally returned to her in July 1920.

In January 1918, there was a sad query from Clarence’s sister, Elizabeth, asking the authorities for the death certificates for her brother and also for her husband, David Joshua Pascoe. He had died on 27 September 1917 in Belgium, aged 27. They had been married only 3 weeks before he left for Egypt. Like Clarence, David also has no known grave but is commemorated at the Menin Gate.

In 1920, Sarah applied for an extension to her living allowance as she was a widow and had lost the support from her eldest son. Life would not have been easy.

Application for Assistance by Mrs Sarah Elizabeth Briggs
source NAA: A2489, 1920/4679, page 5
While Pte Clarence Hoffman may have no known grave, his name is commemorated on the Unley Arch of Remembrance (pictured above), the Unley Town Hall WW1 Honour Board, the Adelaide National War Memorial, the Australian War Memorial (panel no. 120) in Canberra and at V.C. Corner (panel no. 5) Australian Cemetery Memorial in Fromelles, France.
source Virtual War Memorial Australia

We are still seeking suitable DNA donors and hope that Clarence will one day be identified.

DNA is still being sought for family connections to

SoldierClarence Rhody Schwan HOFFMAN 1894-1916
ParentsRody SCHWAN 1857-1904, South Australia and Western Australia
And Sarah Elizabeth HOFFMAN(N) 1869-1937, South Australia.
PaternalJohn Anthony SCHWAN(N) b. abt 1846 and Mary FLAHERTY 1839-1903 – 3 sons, 1 daughter
MaternalWilliam Robert HOFFMAN(N) 1846-1914 and Sarah MARTIN 1846-1937 – 8 daughters, 2 sons

Note re Parents
Rody Schwan (father of Clarence and Elizabeth Hoffman). [Note: spellings vary across records - Rody Roady Rhody Rhoady / Schwan Schwann Schwoon Swan]
Sarah Elizabeth Hoffman (mother of William, Elizabeth, Clarence, Lily, and Frederick Hoffman)

Seeking DNA Donors

Fromelles Association of Australia


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