100 years ago two cousins in their 30s met for the first time in Solihull and fell in love.
At the Core Library, Solihull, we have photocopies of some letters written by an Australian First World War soldier – Private Frederick William Forder – from a convalescent hospital in England in 1916 and on board a ship home to Australia in 1919 (our ref.: D125).
The letters were sent to his wife, Edith Forder (née Hobbins) whom he had married at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 5th June 1918. It seems that after six months of married life in England, the couple were parted when Frederick returned to Australia in January 1919, and they never saw each other again.
Frederick was born in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on 9th March 1878 and appears to have been the second of seven children (four girls, and three boys) born between 1876-1890. His father, William Henry Forder (1851-1918), was born in London but had emigrated to Australia by 1875 when he married Charlotte Eliza Morely (1851-1928) in Victoria.
Frederick appears in an Australian electoral register of 1910 as a farmer at Bulga, Victoria. By 1912 he had moved to Blackwarry, Victoria but by 1913 he was listed as a farmer in Miles, Queensland a small town 210 miles from Brisbane.
In February 1915, he volunteered for the Army, joining the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) and sailing from Brisbane in June 1915. His service record, available free of charge on the Discovering Anzacs website, shows that he was wounded in the right eye in July 1916 and was admitted to the 18th General Hospital at Amiens. He rejoined his unit in August 1916, but then developed bursitis of the knee and was sent to hospital in England in December 1916.
A letter written to his “dear cousin” (believed to be Edith Hobbins) from hospital, expresses his desire to see the “land of my sires what mortal hand could here untie the filial band”. He was given furlough 2nd-17th January 1917 so it seems likely that it was during this time he visited the Hobbins family in Solihull.
Edith’s father, Edward Hobbins, was a watch and clock repairer who had premises on Warwick Road, Solihull, in the building that used to house the parish workhouse. Edith’s brother, Arthur, became their father’s assistant, and also took up photography. In a subsequent letter, Frederick reminds Edith of their first meeting during the winter, and how they looked at each other as they put away the phonograph plates.
Frederick remained in England on release from hospital, qualifying as a an assistant instructor at the Southern Signal School in Weymouth in June 1917. He then returned to France in October 1917. In April 1918, he was again admitted to hospital in England, suffering from epilepsy. He was discharged from hospital in May 1918. At the time of his marriage to Edith Hobbins in June 1918 at Solihull, he gave his address as Hurdcott, Wiltshire, and his occupation as serving with No. 4 Command Depot, Australian Imperial Force. He was aged 40 at the time of the marriage, and Edith was aged 37.
He was discharged from the Army and sailed back to Australia in January 1919, writing Edith two loving letters from on board the ship, promising to work hard to build a house “fit for my queen” and expressing hope that it wouldn’t be too long until they were together again. He said he wanted to forget the war, and only look forward to the future, describing the Australian landscape, and the life that awaited them both once they were reunited.
Despite these loving sentiments, it seems he never sent for Edith. According to Charles Lines in his book Solihull in Old Photographs, Edith would explain her husband’s situation just by saying he was in the Australian Bush. Presumably, when Edith died in Solihull in 1945, she had no knowledge of what became of the husband to whom she had been married for 27 years but with whom she had spent only six months of married life. Thanks to records becoming available on the internet, we have been able able to find out a little more.
The 1925 electoral register for the district of Maranoa, Queensland, shows Frederick William Forder back in Miles, and listed as a “selector”. The Queensland State Archives gives some background on land selection in the State.
By the time of the 1930 electoral register, Frederick William Forder was still in Miles, but working as a labourer at Yellowstone. It looks as if he moved to the Annerley district of Brisbane, where he died suddenly on 10th June 1930:
The Brisbane Courier, 11th June 1930:
SUDDEN DEATH AT ANNERLEY. While walking along Annerley Road, near his home in Lillott Street, yesterday, an elderly man, Frederick Forder, collapsed and died.
The “elderly man” would actually have been only 52! His youngest brother, Arthur, wrote to the Australia Army in 1944, when their other brother, Ernest, had died. Arthur asked if they had any particulars as to Frederick’s medals, and saying he was now the last surviving family member. He noted that Frederick had dropped dead in Brisbane in 1929 or 1930. There was no mention that Frederick had a widow in England, so we have no information about whether Frederick’s family knew about his marriage, or were able to contact Edith in Solihull to let her know of Frederick’s death.
It seems likely that, having promised his wife a home fit for a queen, Frederick found himself unable to provide a suitable house for her and, therefore, never sent for her to join him. Edith died in Solihull in 1945, aged 64.
If you have any more information or can shed any further light on this story, please get in touch.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977