Anthony Cook knew he shared a birthday with his great-great-uncle, Panmure-born Alfred Mollenoyux, but there was much more he didn’t realise, JENNY McLAREN writes.
FOR most of his 96 years, Alfred Leslie Mollenoyux lived the fairly unremarkable life of a Brisbane tram driver.
To a young Anthony Cook, he was simply ‘Uncle Fred’, the polite, elderly uncle of his grandmother Muriel Cook whose homes at Laang and Terang Fred would occasionally visit, and in later years, live out his days.
Were it not for the fact that he was born on Fred’s 75th birthday — February 25, 1967 — Anthony may never have learnt the more remarkable story of his great-great-uncle’s war service.
That he had dodged Turkish bullets by a hair’s breadth at the Gallipoli landing, survived life-threatening diseases in the trenches and convinced a surgeon in a field hospital in northern France to patch up his shattered leg rather than amputate, was a revelation.
With no children of his own, Fred , or ‘Molly’ to his mates, chose to pass on his Great War keepsakes to the boy who shared his birthday.
Along with his service medals, Gallipoli medal and a little brass tin that contained tobacco and assorted comfort items sent by Princess Mary for Christmas 1914, were several bullets, including two which tell the story of Fred’s improbable Gallipoli landing survival.
The two bullets are neatly dovetailed — the Turkish into the point of the Allied one — which it struck inside Fred’s pocket against his hip as he and his mates in the landing party crested the top of the sheer cliffs in the pale dawn light of April 25, 1915.
One hundred years on, Fred’s service remains a source of pride to Anthony, who has always felt privileged to be the caretaker of such treasured mementoes.
“Even as a kid I understood what they represented,” said Anthony, 49, a field officer with Warrnambool Cheese and Butter.
“I was about 10 when my grandmother passed them on to me from Uncle Fred and I can remember being so overwhelmed at the time that I cried when I went home.”
The grandson of a convict and the eighth of 11 children born to Mark and Eliza Mollenoyux at Panmure in 1891, Fred attended Laang Primary School before working variously as a milkman, in a smithy’s shop at Terang, and as a sharefarmer with four of his siblings.
At 19 and fed up with the Victorian winters, Fred moved north to Brisbane, making his way as a tram driver before putting his hand up to serve his country in September 1914, just weeks after the declaration of war.
Leaving behind his girlfriend Adelaide, the 23-year-old private in the 1st reinforcements of the 9th Battalion found himself among about 250 Aussie Diggers aboard the lifeboats of the covering landing party on that momentous first Anzac Day at Gallipoli.
Supplied with an extra 25 rounds of ammunition each in their pockets, the party, many of whom drowned in the confusion of darkness, found themselves pushed by currents well up the beach from the planned landing site and confronted by sheer cliffs.
In a 1985 interview recorded in Terang two years before his death, Fred recounted the events of that fateful day.
“I was in one of the first boats with three other lads and so we started off together,” he recalled. “We jumped out and started climbing the cliff with the aid of our trench tools and dug toe holes in the cliff. We were up the top of the cliff before the sun was starting to rise in the east.”
When a shot rang out and Fred was knocked off his feet, his mates feared the worst. “They’ve got Molly,” one called.
“When I got up I checked myself. I couldn’t feel anything and there was no blood. I didn’t know what had happened. I thought that maybe it’d been a mule — those things sure can kick,” Fred quipped at the time.
It was only later when it came time to reload that he discovered the reason for his lucky escape.
“I put my hand in my pocket for extra bullets and found the Turk’s bullet had hit the tip of one of mine so they didn’t explode and blow off my leg. I tell you what, I was damn lucky that day.”
It was not to be Fred’s only close call. After five months he was evacuated from Gallipoli on a hospital ship, dangerously ill with typhoid and dysentery. He recovered, only to be sent to the bloodbath of the Somme.
There, in February of 1917, a bullet tore through his thigh leaving “a hole that was three inches wide”, and ultimately ending his war service.
“The doc wanted to take my leg off. I argued the point with him and wouldn’t give him permission. I kept up the argument and eventually won it,” he recounted later.
Discharged as medically unfit, Fred was sent back to Brisbane where he married Adelaide and, once sufficiently recovered, resumed driving trams, a job he continued until retirement.
Fred would make occasional trips back to visit his Western District family, returning for good after Adelaide’s death in 1974.
At the age of 93 and nearly blind, Fred joined other surviving Anzacs at the 1984 opening of the Gallipoli Gallery at Canberra’s Australian War Memorial
He died on April 1, 1987 aged 96 and is buried in the Terang cemetery.
n An excerpt from Alfred Mollenoyux’s recorded interview will form part of the documentary, Australia Will Be There, to be screened at Cannon Hill from 5.35am before the dawn service on Anzac Day. Fred’s account of his Gallipoli landing will comprise just over one minute of the 15-minute documentary, which traces the progress of the war through personal stories.