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TOVELL Timothy William
2nd Air Mechanic
8 (Training) Squadron AFC
4th Squadron AFC
Hillington, Norfolk England
28 November 1916
30 October 1917

Timothy William Tovell was born at Hiliington England in 1878 to Timothy Tovell and Annie (Bignell). Tim served an apprenticeship as a carpenter. Married to Gertrude, nee Bass, the couple sailed from London on the 'Rippingham Grange' in January 1912. They settled at Jandowae Queensland where Tim worked as a carpenter.

On 28 November 1916, Timothy William Tovell aged 38 years and 8 months, with his brother Edward John Tovell (Ted) aged 35, enlisted at Toowoomba in the Australian Flying Corps. Tim is described as 6 feet 1 inch tall, 180 pounds weight, with dark complexion, blue eyes, dark brown hair and of the Church of England faith. He trained as a Private with 11 Depot Battalion, then to 10/4 Pioneers and to Engineers (Flying Corps). He was appointed to 13,July, Reinforcements, Australian Flying Corps, at Laverton, Victoria as 2nd Class Air Mechanic in June 1917.

Tim and his brother Ted both embarked on HMAT 'Aeneas' at Melbourne on 30 October 1917 to disembark at Devonport on 26 December. Tim was hospitalised with influenza during the voyage and on embarkation was transferred to Halefield Camp for isolation. On 16 February 1918 he proceeded to the School of Technical Training at Reading. Tim was again hospitalised at Reading War Hospital on 26 March with Pleurisy and Bronchitis and then transferred to 3rd Auxiliary Hospital Dartford until 9 May. On discharge from hospital, he proceeded to AFC Training Depot at Wendover.

In September 1918, Tim was Taken on Strength with 4th Training Squadron AFC Depot, Leighterton and on 15 October, he proceeded overseas to France and posted to 4th Squadron Australian Flying Corps. The Squadron was relocated several times during the last month of the war. Following the Armistice, it was assigned to the British Army of Occupation and moved to Bickendorf Aerodrome, near Cologne in Germany on 17 December 1918. Along with a Casualty Clearing Station, the 4th Squadron of the AFC were the only members of the Australian Forces to be involved in the occupation of Germany.

As Christmas dinner was being prepared, a ragged, hungry little French boy wandered into their camp. His name was Henri Hemene. An orphan since his parents were war casualties, Henri had followed British troops and was, at the time, being cared for by a British Squadron also based at Bickendorf. The Australian Squadron prepared a dinner of poultry, roast and pudding, served by German waiters to the strains of a German band that voluntarily played "God save the King" and "Rule Britannia". As Henri came into the hut, he said the smell of the poultry made him desert the English. Major A W L Ellis who was in charge of the 4th Squadron entertained the lad and 2nd Air Mechanic T W Tovell was given permission to take charge of him. Tim told Henri of his home and family in Australia and determined to adopt him and take him home. Tim wrote to inform his wife when, at the same time, she was writing to advise him that their own son, Timmy, had died.

On 27 February 1919, the Squadron left Cologne for England. On reaching Le Harve, Henri was smuggled across the Channel to Southampton on board the steamer "Lorina" hidden in an Oats sack. At Hurdcott Camp he was a great favourite with the men of 4th Division. An AIF uniform was made for him complete with the AFC colours and a wound stripe - he had been twice wounded. Henri later talked with pride of marching in the Anzac procession in London.

Then came the day, 6th May 1919, to embark on the ship Kaiser-I-Hind for Australia. A large basket was obtained and branded Sporting Goods. "We fitted Henri into the basket which was passed by the Embarkation Officer and stowed below. Three days later, the lad was produced to the amazement of the majority of the troops," Tim related. "When the Commander of the ship passed him on deck, he looked up to the sky as if searching for hostile aircraft. Henri was the pet of the ship." The Queensland Premier Mr Ryan, who was on board, dispatched a wireless message to Queensland arranging for the lad to land. They safely returned to Australia on 19 June 1919.

On 20 June 1919, Henri arrived at Central Station, Brisbane on a troop train from Melbourne in the care of Air Mechanic Tim Tovell and Tim's brother Ted. Tim and Henri visited the French Consul at Brisbane and obtained permission for Tim to keep him and the French Consul would take an interest in his welfare. Medical and dental officers established Henri's age at about eleven. Tim made his official birthday as Christmas Day, the day Henri joined the Squadron. Tim Tovell was discharged on 17 September 1919.

Returning to Jandowae, Tim found there was a shortage of work resulting in the family's relocation to Cooroy. Henri was enrolled at Cooroy State School on 27 January 1920. Nick-named "Digger" Tovell, he is something of a legend at Cooroy. In August 1920, the Prince of Wales - later to be King Edward VIII - visited Cooroy on his tour of Australia to thank the Nation for its support to Britain in the Great War. Henri stood proudly with the returned soldiers to meet the Prince who was very interested in the boy whom he had previously met with the English Squadron at Bickendorf. To the Prince's enquiry as to why he deserted the English, Henri replied that the Aussies' tucker was better. While living at Cooroy Tim and his brother Ted were active as members of the Cooroy Sub-branch of the RSSILA. The Tovell family later moved to Kangaroo Point, Brisbane.

In July 1923, Henri was accepted as a Temporary Junior Assistant at RAAF Headquarters, Point Cook, Victoria. It was Henri's wish to train as an Air Mechanic but the French Consul General advised that the enlistment of a French Citizen in a foreign force was contrary to French law. Henri expected to receive Australian citizenship on attaining 21 years.

Tragedy struck on 24 May 1928 as Henri died from injuries sustained in a motor cycle accident. Official records at Point Cook gave Henri's age as 20 years. His official birthday would have been Christmas Day that year. Tim Tovell and his wife Gertrude were heartbroken when informed of Henri's death. The veterans of No 4 Squadron raised the money to place an imposing memorial on the grave in Fawkner Cemetery, Melbourne, at the apex of which stands the figure of a small boy clad in shirt and short knickers.

Tim Tovell died in 1966, still grieving for his adopted son. Many of Tim's buildings still stand at Jandowae, Cooroy and Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. The names TW Tovell and EJ Tovell are commemorated on the Jandowae War Memorial.

TOVELL Timothy William
TOVELL Timothy William
19 June 1919

Jandowae War Memorial

Photo: AWM H1358 naa dossiers;; Unit diaries; 'Daily Mail' Brisbane; 21 June 1919; 'Gympie Times' 3 August 1920; 'Courier Mail' 29 September 2007; 'The Argus' 26 May 1928; Cooroy State School Admission Register.

Betty Sutton

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