Otto Arthur TIEDEMAN
Eyes blue, Hair dark brown, Complexion dark
Who was Otto?
Private Tiedeman’s birth certificate states that he was born Otto Arthur Tiedemann on 19 November 1898 to John Tiedemann and Mary Ann Hole in West Maitland - the fourth of six children to this marriage although two died in infancy. His military records show his names in reverse order but it seems the family called him Otto. The spelling of Tiedeman varies too from document to document – Tiedemann, Tiedeman, Tiedman, and, in one case, Tiedemant.
John Tiedeman, a coal miner working in the East Greta coalfields, was born Germany in about 1868. John married Mary Ann Hole in St Paul’s church, West Maitland on 12 April 1894. Mary Ann was possibly the daughter of magistrate Thomas Grills Martin Hole and Margaret, an Aboriginal Kamilaroi woman from Walgett, New South Wales.
As a domestic worker, Mary Ann worked at various places in the Hunter before coming to West Maitland. She had at least one child before her marriage to John, a son called George (registered under the surname Hole) who was born in West Maitland in 1889. It seems that George (1889-1949) took the name Tiedemann and worked at the local paper as a printer. It is presumed that George was a half-brother to Otto as no father is named on official records.
Mary Ann died in March 1904 aged about 35 years leaving John to care for George (probably already apprenticed as a printer) and the four surviving children of their marriage aged from 2 to 9 years. Just over a year later, John re-married but sadly a few weeks after the wedding he was killed in a mining accident in June 1905. His new wife, Nellie (Ellen Louisa Mitchell), gave birth to a son, Edwin, in January the following year – a second half-brother for Otto.
Otto, orphaned at six - a tough start
Nellie was the one left with the care of all the stepchildren. The eldest, George, was gainfully employed but, at just 15, hardly capable of taking on younger siblings aged between 3 and 10 years. Newly widowed, Nellie already had one toddler of her own and was pregnant with John's child (Edwin Tiedemann born 24 January 1906). She took all of the children to Sydney and, shortly after little Edwin’s birth, she put the four youngest stepchildren into foster care – probably her only option in those days.
Otto was admitted into foster care on 7 February 1906, by then having had his 7th birthday. Initially he was fostered with his sisters, but they were soon split up and he was sent to various foster carers in Wetherill Park including a Charles Paul and then J.A. Smith. He went to Wetherill Park School but by 1914 and 1915 he was living at a shelter in Sydney.
Otto was eventually discharged from the foster system on 22 September 1915 – a little short of ten years in care. A few weeks later, on 6 October, he joined the Army, probably an escape from the poor life he had known. It was another month until he would turn 17 but he put his age up one year, claiming to be 18 years and 5 months. Maybe the reversal of his Christian names on his enlistment papers was a deliberate ploy to hide his deception about his age – we will never know.
Having no parents living, Otto indicated that he had state consent and gave his address as 103 Regent Street, Newton. This was the home of his married sister, Ettie Rothwell, who he also nominated as his next of kin.
Life in the army
Otto was assigned to the 20th Battalion, trained at Holsworthy Camp and then embarked for Egypt. This meant taking a troop train to Central station and then marching to a review in the Domain, perhaps staying at the Sydney Showgrounds overnight. The next day Otto would have marched with the troops to their ship – HMAT A60 Aeneas - to find a huge crowd on the wharf to call and sing farewell, ribbons entangled, streamers tugging, military bands playing and people throwing chocolates and cigarettes. Quite the adventure for a young man!
In the normal reported routines of the day, the ship was crowded, with no room for sports or drill, time was spent in more sedentary ways, playing simple games with perhaps a boxing match in the evenings. Many men slept on deck, not liking the hot confined areas below. Hammocks were issued. The ship headed for Albany or Fremantle perhaps stopping at Melbourne and Adelaide along the way ─ a few hours shore leave only, while more units joined the ship, then on to Western Australia and a last chance for mail.
After finally departing Australian shores, the more serious military restrictions began, such as censorship of mail. Many men not wanting to have their letters read by others, said very little, but after a while it became routine, as initial reticence was overcome and the writers expressed themselves freely. Their pay rates immediately dropped from six to one or two shillings a day, depending on what was allocated to families.
War service – Egypt
HMAT Aeneas arrived at Port Suez on 17 January 1916 with an outbreak of mumps in progress, a common occurrence in the close confines of camp and ship life. By 12 February, Otto was admitted to 4th Auxiliary Hospital in Abbassia with a reported mild case of the mumps and remained there for about a month. Coincidentally, a fellow indigenous serviceman from New South Wales, 3636 Private William Daley (18th Battalion) was hospitalised there at the same time with the mumps and both young men had arrived on board the HMAT Aeneas
On discharge from hospital in early March, Otto returned to camp but, at the time, the AIF was in a state of flux and focused on re-building Australia’s fighting forces post-Gallipoli by combining seasoned soldiers with new recruits like young Otto. As a result, Otto was transferred to the 56th Battalion in early April and then to the 60th Battalion on 18 May 1916. The Battalion left for France the following month disembarking in Marseilles on 19 June 1916.
Battle of Fromelles
As described by the Australian War Memorial:
”the 60th became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front on 19 July, without the benefit of an introduction to the trenches in a "quiet" sector. The battle of Fromelles was a disaster for the battalion. In a single day, it was virtually wiped out, suffering 757 casualties.”
There were no reports of Otto after 19 July 1916.
On 4 September 1916, he was officially listed as missing and his sister, Ettie, was notified as his nominated next of kin. It was not until 25 August 1917 - more than a year after the Battle - that military authorities officially found that Private Arthur Otto Tiedeman had been killed in action on that dreadful day at Fromelles.
Official documents show no other detail relating to Otto’s fate and merely record the post-war issuing of his medals and the memorial plaque. In relation to personal effects, the only item reclaimed by the family was Otto’s identification disc which was returned to Ettie in 1920. There are no notes on file to indicate where or how the disc was recovered and returned to authorities.
In 1913, Otto’s sister Ettie aged 16 had married Stanley Rothwell, a tramways employee. The young family were living in Regent Street Newtown, most probably with Stanley’s widowed mother. As a responsible married woman, Ettie’s younger sister (Dora, aged about 12) was able to stay with her. Otto however remained in foster care.
It appears that Ettie had been separated from the elder two brothers Martin (unmarried, no issue) and half-brother George (who had stayed in Maitland, married and had three daughters and worked at the Maitland Mercury office). From file notes on Otto’s military records after the war, it seems that Ettie thought both Martin and George were deceased and so she received the medals after Otto was killed. Both however were still living - George died in 1949 and Martin in 1957, both in Maitland. Ettie herself died quite young in 1930 from complications after childbirth. Her husband remarried and current generations are unsure what happened to Otto's medals.
The remaining siblings both married and raised families. Dora (1901-74) had four daughters while baby Edwin (1906-1996) had two children.
Unfortunately, there are no known photos of Otto and he has no known grave however he is commemorated on:
- VC Corner, Panel 22 – Fromelles, France
- Australian War Memorial, Panel 171 – Canberra, ACT
- The Maitland and District First World War Roll of Honour – Maitland RSL, NSW
- Wetherill Park First World War Memorial Plaque – Wetherill Park Reserve, NSW
- Wetherill Park Roll of Honour 1914-18 – Smithfield NSW
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||Arthur Otto TIEDEMAN 1898-1916, West Maitland, NSW|
|Parents||John Eric TIEDEMANN 1868-1905, Hamburg, Germany|
|and Mary Ann HOLE 1863-1904, Walgett, New South Wales|
|Siblings||George H. Hole/Tiedeman 1889-1949 (half-brother)|
|Martin H. Tiedeman 1894-1957|
|Etty M. Rothwell, nee Tiedeman 1896-1930|
|Dora M. Wicks, nee Tiedeman 1901-1974|
|Edwin Tiedman 1906-1996 (half-brother)|
|Paternal||Possibly Heinrich TIEDEMANN and Ann/Catharina – Germany (research is ongoing)|
|Maternal||Thomas Martin Grills HOLE 1843-1913 and Margaret, an indigenous woman in Walgett area.|
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