Thursday, 26 April 2018

Richard William Laws 1894-1918-before World War 1


             This story was provided by Helen Butler, niece of Richard Laws and she has allowed publication here.


Richard Laws was born at Berry, N.S.W., on 23 May1895, the second child of Lionel and Louisa Laws.  In the next 20 years, their family would increase to 10 children.  Father Lionel had grown up in Queensland and he became a bridge carpenter , but from 1890 there was a depression in Queensland with a failure of the banks,  and construction work had stopped.  So Lionel had found work in N.S.W, where the South Coast Railway Line was being extended from Kiama to Nowra.  There he met and married a local girl Lou, one of the large Chamberlain family established at Berry.

Back L to R Louisa, Lionel , Lily, Richard, Lionel Snr
Front: baby Colin, Victor, Jessie, Frank, Fred
When the railway was finished, Lionel found other work  and stayed on in the area.  By 1896, the Queensland economy had recovered somewhat and Lionel was able to find work there.  So he returned to Brisbane with Lou and the two boys.  Richard was just a toddler.

At this time, Railways in Queensland were built for the government by contractors.  Lionel worked for the contractor W.C.Wilcocks,  and would go away to work wherever the next contract was.  This meant he was away from home often.  However, when he worked on the Gladstone to Rockhampton line, the family, now with five children, all went with him.  They lived at first in a railway camp in the bush, but later in Gladstone.  Here Richard, always known as Dick, attended the Gladstone State School. Then in 1904 when the line was completed, the family was back in Brisbane, and Dick and his older brother Lionel went to the Normal School.  They were great mates and used to walk the 12 kilometres from their home in Clayfield to Sandgate to go swimming.
Grade IV a,  30/3/1906 Lionel Edward on left of middle row.

In 1906, Laws & Trewick in partnership won the contract to build the Helene Street Road Bridge in Warwick. So early in 1907 the family,  now with eight children, went to live in Warwick.  When the bridge was finished, Lionel contracted on his own for all sorts of jobs, some in distant places but the family remained in Warwick for nine years.  Then they moved to Allora.  ( This move was after Dick had gone to the War. )

Dick attended  the Warwick West State school until he was 14.  Then he went to work for his father.  Father had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart, so he took his two eldest boys to help him in his work.  However, after two years, his condition improved, and he apprenticed Dick to a plumber.

The Laws boys were keen sportsmen . Rugby was probably their favourite.  Dick and his older brother Lionel played from a young age with the Warwick Boomerang Club  – Rugby Union at first , then from 1915,  Rugby League with the widespread switch to the new code. In 1913, Dick was only 18, but he played in the Senior team as well as the Junior team , and both teams won their premiership.

Dick second from right
Dick Laws was a very good racing cyclist, both road and track.  He was also a good swimmer and diver, excelling in the competitions held by the Warwick Swimming club in the river.


Championship ribbon Warwick Swim Club in Condamine River. awarded to R Laws

The Commonwealth Military Cadets was another activity for all boys and young men.  Starting in the schools at 11 years of age, boys learned drill and military discipline and became very fit.  Progressing to the Senior cadets and the Citizen cadets, they learned all the soldier skills, including rifle shooting even before cadet training became compulsory.  He became a crack marksman later.
Dick was a keen cadet, passing his Sergeant's exam while only 13 years old .

At the outbreak of war, both Dick and his older brother Lionel had many years training in the Cadets.  Like most of the young men then,  they enjoyed learning the skills, and the activity, and the mateship.  Now here was a real war!  A chance to be a real soldier! It was exciting and adventurous, and besides it was your DUTY – as the propaganda was constantly telling you.  Both Dick and his brother were keen to enlist and be in it all.

However it was discussed in the family and agreed definitely that both could not go.  One of them had to stay for the family's sake.  Father's heart was a worry still.  Mother had never been strong since she had survived Typhoid fever in Brisbane just after she had her fourth child , and now she was expecting her tenth child.   Dick's brother Frank,who was 12 years old at the time, remembered well the family discussions about this problem, and had always thought it was agreed by all that Dick was the one to go.  But the truth was learned sixty years later.  When asked about it, his older brother Lionel stated,  “Yes, we both were very keen to join up.  And Yes, there was much family discussion. But Dick just up and did it !!!  Lionel was still angry about it in his old age. That might explain why Dick did not enlist in Warwick, but went to Toowoomba to “ do it “.

So Richard Laws aged 20 enlisted on 9 October 1915, and became # 4829 in the A I F.  After 5 months training in Brisbane, he went home to Warwick to say his goodbyes, including to his new baby sister Thelma only 3 months old.  Thelma used to say in later years, “My brother Dick saw me, but I never ever saw him.   Dick's mother and father went down to Brisbane and farewelled their soldier son on 28 March 1916, as HMAT 'Commonwealth'  sailed down the river with the 15th Reinforcements of the Ninth Division.