James Albert Witham and his brother Robert Percival were both born in Omeo, Victoria. With the commencement of World War 1 both brothers enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces. Robert embarked on 19 October 1914. He sadly paid the supreme sacrifice on 25 April 1915, he was “killed in action” at Gallipoli.
James, known as Jim, embarked on 7 March 1916, one can only imagine how Jim felt, his brother dead and now he himself heading into war.
Action in France came immediately, as recorded;
“At 3.15pm on the 24 April 1916, Driver Witham was lead driver of a team comprising a portion of a convoy carting ammunition. When passing along a sunken road nearing the Bonnay crossroads, the convoy came under very heavy shell fire, killing two complete teams and wounding all the drivers. Driver Witham although himself wounded immediately picked himself up and went to the assistance of other drivers. Although the shell fire was particularly heavy and concentrated on this one point, this driver with utter disregard of personal danger, extricated from amongst the dying mules, one of the drivers who was badly wounded, and still under heavy shell fire carried him 200 yards to a place where his wounds could be dressed. His coolness under fire and his disregard for personal danger, although wounded, set a very high example of courage and devotion to duty”.
For Jim’s action, he was commended and awarded the Military Medal on 10 May 1918.
When Jim returned to Australia from the war, he married Hilda Hodgson and they had four children, Donald, Robert, John and Norma.
Home was now Beaconsfield and Jim had steady employment as a store assistant.
In 1939 the Second World War was announced. Son Robert was first to enlist, he enlisted with Royal Australian Air Force. Bob as he was called, had attended Beaconsfield State School and then Dandenong High School. On completing school Bob had chosen the career of school teaching.
Training on 10 June 1943 at Sale, Victoria , Bob topped his class at the Bombing and Air Gunnery School with a 90.3 per cent pass. “That capital performance bought him his sergeant’s stripes, air gunner’s wings and a recommendation for a commission”.
Jim, who had served in WW1, once again enlisted on 12 May 1942 and served with the 11 Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps.
Son Donald also enlisted on 2 September 1942 and joined the 10 Australian Advanced Workshop unit; his rank was Craftsman.
When the war ended, Jim returned home to his life in Beaconsfield once again, with wife Hilda and their two youngest children, John and Norma. Bob returned to teaching and Don resumed his career as a Police Officer.
Today as we reflect, think about the meaning of the following words; bravery, fearless, courage, selflessness, duty and service, these are just a few deserving words that describe a notable Beaconsfield family.
The Witham Family.
By Penny Harris Jennings