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Great Southern Line | A Soldier's Story: Robert Curtis
Dr Mary Hutchison
By admin Posted in The Great Southern Line on February 18, 2018 2 Comments
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Cleaner, Fireman, Driver


 Robert Curtis and Daisy Guthrie from the Collection of Kate Olsson

War Service record: NAA B2455, CURTIS R (Service no. 25576)

NSWGR Employment Card: NSW Public Records Staff no. 37742


Robert Guthrie Biography

Casual Cleaner Goulburn 1913. Permanent 1914. Enlisted 1916 with four others from Goulburn railway. Served in France as Gunner and Driver in Field Artillery. While at war promoted to Fireman 6 August 1917. Returned to work as Fireman Goulburn 1918 after gassed and discharged as medically unfit. Collapsed at work 1937 and returned to light duties as cleaner but continued as Shunting Fireman and Shunting Driver until retirement in 1945 aged 54 after being off duty due to illness.

Born 1891 in Yorkshire England. Aged 25 and single when enlisted. He married Daisy Guthrie, the sister of his friend and fellow Goulburn railway worker, Bill Guthrie, who enlisted at the same time (see photo of five)

Suffered from effects of gas poisoning for much of his life.  Retired early (aged 54) as a result and worked part-time when he could.  He died as a result of the damage to his lungs after getting a cold. He was 69 when he died in 1959.

Robert’s early life was on an estate in rural Yorkshire where his father was an estate manager. It seems that working the land was important to him.  He passed on the ‘gardening bug’ to his son who provided the current generation with a direct link to this aspect of Robert’s character.

Robert Curtis – As told by Kate Olsson, Grand Daughter to Dr Mary Hutchison

Growing up I always knew that Dad’s father was born in Yorkshire.  Not long after he arrived in Australia he enlisted in the army and went over to France.  There was a great photo of him in his World War One uniform.  He seemed to have been a bit of a hero.  I would love to have known him.

I didn’t know a lot about him. He died at the age of 69 in 1959 and then there was so much more tragedy in the family in the 1960s. Nothing was spoken about.   I didn’t even know where my grandfather was buried until recently.  I did a lot of research for a trip to the UK so I could discover more about the family. I found that when he first came to Australia he worked as a miner in Queensland but he ended up in Goulburn working for the Railway where he met my Nan’s brother, Bill Guthrie, and that’s how he and Nan got married after the War.  Nan was very close to her siblings.

The Guthrie’s lived at Big Hill. And that was where they had the welcome home when my grandfather and Uncle Bill came back from the War.  Uncle Bill moved away from Goulburn and then retired to Merrylands.  I think he died in 1957 after an operation on a stomach ulcer.

My Dad died eight years ago.  He was an only child.  His adopted sister died in the 1960s in very sad circumstances. Nan died when I was 17.  After Dad died I felt I hadn’t asked enough questions.  Now I’m asking Mum and she recently gave me some notes that Dad had written.

I always knew that my grandfather had served at the Somme and had mustard gas poisoning.  From Dad’s notes I know that he was quite young when he retired with a partial disability and a miserable railway pension.  When he was well enough he worked as a storeman on the wool floor at the Farmers and Graziers’ store that used to be near the railway station in Goulburn, in Sloane Street. Nan never spoke about him. When he became really sick he went into St John of God Hospital in Goulburn and then to Concorde Repatriation Hospital in Sydney where he passed away.  What happened was that he got a cold and didn’t recover because of the damage to his lungs.  He died within a month. Last year I found his grave at Rockwood (?) Cemetery.  Dad was very upset that he got sick and died so quickly.

Nan had this great old house in Goulburn.  It was huge because she used to run it as a maternity home (more details about her nursing etc).  There was one tiny room that was a bit of a memorial to the family with lots of photos.  That’s where I first saw the photo of my grandfather in his army uniform.  I used to love to go into that room.

Mum made up the photo album that includes the World War One photos of my grandfather and the men he enlisted with.  The handwriting could be Nan’s or Dad’s.  The only memory that links in with grandfather and his father who was the estate manager at Branston Hall in Lincoln, is a photo of my great grandfather and his sons – my grandfather and his brother – when they were quite young.

Nan kept a lot of photos and letters and personal items in a wooden box which Roundhouse Museum volunteers called an old Railway Workers’ tucker box.  (Perhaps it was my grandfather’s?)  I can remember sitting down with Dad in my teens and asking about it.  What’s in here Dad?’  Nan died in 1987 and in 1990 I moved into her house.  I think the box would have been there then (?) and later when Dad sold the house it would have gone with Mum and Dad. Now I have it and I’m only just learning more about the items that are in it.

Nan kept the box but she didn’t talk about what was in it.  Things weren’t discussed, especially difficult and sad things.  It was important to keep a perfect image.  It was too hard to speak about disturbing experiences.

I’ve learned that my grandfather’s hobby was gardening.  It must have connected him to his childhood on the Estate and his father.  Later my father ‘picked up the gardening bug’ as he wrote in his notes.  For years he had this old saucepan that my grandfather had put a long handle on to mix manure and water to put on the vegies.  He was a good gardener – but it had to be useful, so it was always vegies.

My grandfather’s parents came out to Australia and lived in Exeter where my great grandfather managed a small estate.  There’s a photo of my great grandfather in the garden with his vegetables and flowers.

These links are very important to me because of all the silence of the past.  I love that I have these things to treasure.  It’s a way of healing the sadness and showing the importance of continuing relationships.



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  1. I can provide more information from my childhood memories when I stayed at the big house former private hospital when visiting with my grandmother born Selena Mary Guthrie.