Albert William Broomhall was born on 23 July 1879, the seventh of twelve children born to my Great Great Grandparents, Michael Broomhall and Mary Wilson.
Albert’s eldest sister, Annie, was just ten years old when Albert arrived. His other siblings were James, born in 1870; Edwin (or E J), born in 1871; Tom, born 1873; Jessie, 1875 and Andrew, born 1877. When Albert was growing up he was joined by Claude, 1881; my Great Grandmother, Mary, in 1883; Richard, 1885; Alfred, 1887 and Herbert Greig (known as Peter) in 1890. Sadly Peter died from croup when he was just five years old. Richard and Alfred also died early, age 25 and 26 respectively.
The family was living at Latrobe when Albert was born. His father Michael worked as a labourer. Albert also gave his occupation as labourer when he enlisted to serve his country during World War 1.
His military records tell us that Albert was single and 33, living at Latrobe, when he enlisted on 10 August 1915 as a Private in the 26th Battalion’s 6th Reinforcement. Albert served in Alexandria, in France (at Amiens and Etaples), Belgium and Bologne. Albert’s nephew, Walter, son of his sister Annie, also served in the Battalion.
Amongst the events recorded on his military papers we see that he suffered from Trench Feet in France and got himself into trouble for drunkenness in France and being absent without leave in Belgium. On 23 September 1918 he was wounded in action but returned to the field before finally embarking for England in February 1919 and return to Australia, via the Suffolk, in April.
The Examiner of 2 May 1919 reported that ‘Mrs M Broomhall, of Latrobe, has received advice that her son, Pte A W Broomhall, 12th Battalion, left England on April 12 in the transport Suffolk, and is due to arrive in Melbourne about May 30.’ On the 19th of June the paper reported that two more of Latrobe’s soldiers, Lieut V Ibbott and Private A W Broomhall, returned home to a hearty welcome and a large crowd at the railway station where they were heartily cheered. Mrs J T Lucas, on behalf of the Red Cross, motored them to their homes with their friends.
Albert moved to Lower Barrington where he again worked as a labourer, probably on one of the many farms in the district. He also lived for a time at Latrobe and in the years leading to his early death, he lived and worked at Railton.
Tragically, Albert (known as ‘Lal’) died at Latrobe’s Devon Hospital on 1 December, 1941, following an alleged assault in the Railton Hotel yard on Saturday 29th November. Percy Sheen was charged with assaulting Albert who fell to the ground and was later found unconscious. He was taken to the Devon Hospital at Latrobe on the Sunday but died shortly after.
A report of the Coronial Inquiry that appeared in the Examiner on 9 December saw the accused’s son, Lawrence Sheen, given evidence that he had given Albert £2 to mind but when he asked for the money after tea Albert said he didn’t have it. Having told his father, Lawrence later saw his father and Albert go into the hotel yard. ‘He took his father by the arm saying “You are not going to touch him.” His father replied that he would not, and witness walked away some distance. Later he saw Broomhall lying on the ground. Another witness, an invalid pensioner named Joseph Best, said that Percy Sheen had approached him in the yard of the hotel and said that Albert had taken £2 and handed it to Best, adding that he had ‘cracked and knocked Broomhall’. Best said that Sheen would have knocked him also if another man had not intervened. He added that he saw Albert lying on his back in a shed at the hotel the next morning.
When the case went to trial in February 1942, the licensee of the Railton Hotel said that Broomhall ‘went to the pack’ after a few drinks and that it was usual to put him in a shed when he was drunk! It was said that ‘Broomhall was a man of rather intemperate habit, so that when he lay where he fell in the yard after that blow it excited no comment. He had every appearance of being drunk, and some other men lifted him into a shed. Next morning he was taken to hospital. He died the following afternoon.’
Giving further Evidence, Joseph Best said that he and Albert had attended the sports gymkhana at Railton and gone to the hotel around 4pm for a ‘spree’. He said that Broomhall was ‘lightly built’ and ‘was accustomed to drinking freely, but he was a quiet man. The more drink he had the quieter he became.’ It was also revealed that ‘Sheen and Broomhall had been to war together and were close friends for many years. On the Sunday morning, Sheen tried to do what he could for Broomhall, and it was Sheen who went for a utility truck to take him to hospital.’ Best also said he was certain that Albert did not have the £2. When another witness was asked whether it was Broomhall’s practice to get drunk very often, he replied that he used to come into Railton every two to three months. Louis Baker, licensee of the Railton Hotel testified that he did not think that anyone was actually drunk in his house that night – a particularly busy night because people were in from the surrounding districts for the sports.
Detective Lewis produced a statement that the accused, Sheen, had given on the Sunday of Broomhall’s death. ‘Accused said he was a returned soldier who had lost his right arm. In the back yard of the hotel on Saturday night … he saw his son and two Shepheards, and it was said that Broomhall had taken money from the son. In further discussion Broomhall admitted this, and accused asked him to return it. Broomhall said he would give him 2/- of it. Witness punched him on the jaw, and Broomhall fell on his back on the gravel yard and did not move.’ Next morning the accused found Broomhall lying in the shed, vomiting, and with the licensee the accused washed him and took him to hospital.
In his evidence Sheen corrected Best’s comments about his friendship with Albert. He said they had been friends for 15 years but that he was not in the same battalion during the war and not correct that they received their wounds in the same battle. He said that he did not know Broomhall until after the war.
On Thursday 5 February, the Mercury reported that the accused was found Not Guilty and discharged.
Albert’s Obituary said that ‘He fought in the Great War, being a member of the 12th Battalion, and went through the campaign from 1915 till 1918 with an honourable record. He saw action in Gallipoli, France and Belgium and was acknowledged as a capable and intrepid machine-gunner. … A good muster of returned soldiers paid their last respects and my Great Grandfather, Lou Coventry, played the Last Post.’
Albert was 62. He was buried at Latrobe General Cemetery.