The First World War saw many school teachers enlist from Colac and surrounding districts. Some paid the supreme sacrifice. Although several of these teachers were only in local schools a short time before they joined up, they were embraced by the communities they taught and are memorialised on school and public honour boards.
During his one year stay as Head Teacher at Carlisle River State School, James Stephen Hogan was described as being ‘an earnest student and a vigorous, enthusiastic teacher.’ He also enjoyed the friendship and respect of the local townsfolk, who ensured that his name would always be remembered on the Carlisle River Honour Board and Colac War Memorial.
Born in Bendigo in 1895, James was the son, grandson and great grandson of coachbuilders and wheelwrights, with origins in Ireland. His father, Rody Hogan, was keenly involved in the prominent family business of J. Hogan & Son in McCrae Street, Bendigo, yet his early death in 1906 at the age of 39 robbed James and his three siblings of his financial support and love.
James was educated at Marist Brothers College and then Bendigo High School, from where, aged 17, he was appointed junior teacher for one year at Eaglehawk State School in 1913. He subsequently gained a University Training College studentship, which he passed with distinction. In 1915, and still only 19 years old, James received his trained teacher’s certificate and was appointed to take charge of the school at Carlisle River.
As a member of the local Rifle Club, James took part in sporting competitions and social events and was praised by the community and his friends ‘for his many amiable qualities.’ The school committee, colleagues and district folk of Carlisle River gathered in March 1916 when he enlisted for active service. Gifts of a gold watch and fountain pen were presented in recognition of the esteem in which James was held and they all wished him a safe return from the Front.
He was initially attached to the Australian Medical Corps, yet wanting to be part of the infantry, James transferred to the 22nd Battalion and sailed with the unit in October that year aboard the HMAT Nestor. He arrived in England six weeks later and, after further training, proceeded to France and the Western Front in February 1917. There, he survived the Battle at Bullecourt, was assigned as a signaller in his unit and, despite twice being offered positions in the Postal Corps, preferred to ‘see it through with his mates.’
During the fateful Battle of Broodseinde at Passchendaele on 4 October 1917, James and a pal were bunkered in a trench when a shell struck. James caught the full force of the blast and was killed instantly. In a tragic twist, Sergeant John Commons, an early schoolmate of James’ who sailed with him on the Nestor, was also killed the same day. With no known grave, James is remembered on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France.
Aged only 22, James Stephen Hogan’s life was short, yet his memory lives on. His family treasure his war time letters, diaries and medals and, in a touching tribute, in 2017 they placed a plaque on the family grave in the White Hills Cemetery in Bendigo.
Stephen Brooks & Merrill O’Donnell, authors of ‘Pioneers & Suffragists’ are researching Colac districts soldiers who died in the First World War. Titled ‘Lost Sons’, it will be published in 2018.