Ninety-year-old photo brings back many memories

Adam PoulsenGeraldton Guardian
Colleen Marsh admires an old photo of her father and mother Bill and Doreen from her Wonthella unit.
Camera IconColleen Marsh admires an old photo of her father and mother Bill and Doreen from her Wonthella unit. Credit: Tamra Carr The Geraldton Guardian

The chance discovery of a 90-year-old photo has unearthed the tragic story of a Scottish-born Gallipoli veteran who came to call Geraldton home nearly a century ago.

On October 8, The Geraldton Guardian published a 1929 photo of the Geraldton British Football Association Town Soccer Club.

Among those pictured was a young William John Francis.

Mr Francis’ daughter Colleen Marsh contacted The Guardian after spotting her father in the photo, which a reader found while sorting through an old friend’s belongings.

“I wouldn’t have recognised my dad, because he was much younger there,” she said.

“I didn’t think for one minute that I’d know anyone in the photo — until I read the names.”

Mrs Marsh said seeing the photograph, taken 12 years before she was born, triggered a flood of emotions.

“Dad was born in Fifeshire in 1895 and came out (to Australia) with his dad when he was about 13, I think,” she said.

“They bought a block of land at Dumbleyung, and then worked together to clear the block and build a house on it.

“Once the house got built, they brought the rest of the family out from Scotland.” During those early years in Dumbleyung, Mr Francis and his father, Richard John Francis, established a close bond.

When World War I broke out, they both enlisted.

“Dad wasn’t old enough, but he put his age up and joined up to go to Gallipoli to be with his dad,” Ms Marsh said.

“When they came into the bay they were just mown down by the enemy.

“My granddad was one of them. When Dad’s ship got there, two days later, he found his dad had been killed the day before. That was just heartbreaking.”

Geraldton British Football Association Town Soccer Club, season 1929, with William John Francis pictured in the front row, second from the left. Names are listed as follows: Back row: E. Cartwright, sen. (Life Member), G. Cartwright, R. Meeks, R.J. Cook (Capt.), R.M. McLeod (Vice Capt.), J. Pearce, A. Hackett, R. Ovens, F.W. Jeffries (Patron). Front row: A. Woodward, W.J. Francis, R.W. Cook, sen. (Vice Pres.), J.H. Gibson (President), J.G. Scott (Assoc. Pres), Lou Barker (Sec.), J. Hayes, G. Jeffries, jun. (Supporter), L. Barker (Mascot).
Camera IconGeraldton British Football Association Town Soccer Club, season 1929, with William John Francis pictured in the front row, second from the left. Names are listed as follows: Back row: E. Cartwright, sen. (Life Member), G. Cartwright, R. Meeks, R.J. Cook (Capt.), R.M. McLeod (Vice Capt.), J. Pearce, A. Hackett, R. Ovens, F.W. Jeffries (Patron). Front row: A. Woodward, W.J. Francis, R.W. Cook, sen. (Vice Pres.), J.H. Gibson (President), J.G. Scott (Assoc. Pres), Lou Barker (Sec.), J. Hayes, G. Jeffries, jun. (Supporter), L. Barker (Mascot). Credit: Supplied

Some time after serving with the 10th Light Horse Regiment, Mr Francis moved to Geraldton, where he met wife-to-be Mary Doreen Herbert, who was 17 years his junior, in about 1930.

The couple had two daughters and two sons, one of whom was stillborn.

Mrs Marsh, their second-born, remembers her father as a “gorgeous man” who was “very amiable” and protective of his family.

He was also a keen athlete.

“He used to play soccer at Queens Park, and then he would run from there to the football field to play an afternoon game,” she said.

“And he was one of the best boxers in town.”

Mr Francis’ other love was fishing, a pastime which provoked the wrath of his wife on occasions.

“He’d start catching fish and forget what the time was,” Mrs Marsh said.

“I remember a couple of times Mum got so worried she’d say ‘I’ve got to go and look for your dad, he might have drowned’.

“So she’d get halfway to the wharf and she’d hear him whistling and be ready to kill him.

“He’d say: ‘Sorry Doreen, didn’t know it was so late’. That’s what he was like — a happy, beautiful man.”

Mr Francis took great pride in his work as caretaker of the Geraldton Town Hall, now home of Geraldton Regional Art Gallery.

At the time the hall was Geraldton’s main venue for events such as dances, balls and concerts.

“He used to keep those jarrah floors like mirrors. You’d walk in there and you’d slip over if you weren’t careful,” Ms Marsh said.

Mr Francis also worked as a pound keeper (ranger), a job that led him to take in stray dogs, cats, horses and sheep.

“He hated putting dogs down,” Mrs Marsh said.

“Mum would come home and find all these dogs everywhere, and dad would be feeding them. He had such a soft heart.”

Mr Francis retired in his 60s after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in 1961.

“My first child, Gary, was born in 1960. Dad died just a couple of days before Gary turned one,” Ms Marsh said.

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