18 October 2017

Fritz Wurm

This is one of those complicated stories where the family heritage and the research to find the current generation were both difficult to unravel.
The medals came from WO2 Michael S who told me the following story:
‘Having recently conducted a deceased estate clean out of one of my grandparent residences, I discovered two WW1 Service medals belonging to a member of the 24th reinforcements, 6 Bn Pte Fritz Wurm. How my Grandmother came to be in possession of the medals is a long and complicated story, but PTE Wurm’s story is certainly very interesting.
Having done some research I was able to determine he was from the Benalla (Vic) local area, possibly a very distant relation of mine and almost certainly on board when the transport ship was torpedoed in the English Channel in 1917. I have learned much about his post war life and burial location, but I have not been able to identify who his next living relatives are........Mavis Ryan and Leila Pollard (Mansfield District) who was my Grandmother was a lifelong friend with Mavis. With Mavis’ death the majority of the estate was willed to my Grandmother – which is how I came to be in possession of the medals.’
Michael also came across the medals of 408526 WO John Claude Ryan and he sent me both groups.
My initial thought is that Fritz (Fredrick) Wurm must have been subjected to some good natured teasing during WWI at the very least. Although it looks like Fritz had a pretty interesting war even when not fighting in France with 6th Battalion AIF.  Below is an article that was published following the sinking of the SS Ballarat on Anzac Day 1917 on which Fritz was a passenger.

The story of the SS Ballarat is interesting just on its own:
‘SS Ballarat was a vessel before becoming a troopship, carrying Australian troops.
In February 1917, Ballarat left Melbourne on passage to Devonport with 1,602 Australian troops (reinforcements from Victoria for the 2nd and 4th Australian Brigades) and a general cargo which included copper and bullion. This was the ship’s thirteenth voyage, which caused concern amongst some of the troops.
By April, the ship was approaching the end of its voyage. On the 25th, as Ballarat steamed into the English Channel, the Australian officers arranged a memorial service to commemorate Anzac Day.  At 2pm, as preparations were underway, a massive explosion tore a hole in the starboard side of the ship and Ballarat started taking water instantly. Despite a number of lookouts and an escorting destroyer, nobody had seen the U-boat UB-32 approach and fire a torpedo.
Vessels were summoned to take the Australian soldiers and crew off the sinking liner and within an hour all of them had been safely rescued. Ballarat was taken in tow and hopes were high that she might be saved, but in the early hours of the next morning she sank approximately 9 miles south of the Lizard Point.
The captain of Ballarat, Commander G. W. Cockman, R.N.R., D.S.O., received the congratulations of the Admiralty and the Australian troops were congratulated by the King.
Today the remains of the Ballarat lie in approximately 80 metres of water off the Cornish coast.
Originally a passenger liner built in 1911 in Scotland by Caird & Company. Prior to the war she was used to transport emigrants from the UK to Australia but in 1914 the British government requisitioned her for war service. Ballarat initially served as an Indian transport.’
(Source: http://forgottenwrecks.maritimearchaeologytrust.org/ballarat)

The more I dug in to the family history the more interesting it got. Fritz’ father, also Fritz, immigrated to Australia from his native Germany in the early 1870s. He was a watchmaker and established a jeweler business in Benalla in 1873. The newspaper accounts I found indicated that the Wurm family were well regarded in this part of Victoria and that the business was very successfully.
Fritz Snr and his wife Dorathea had a large family, but as I have found on so many occasions, this does not always translate to a vast network of descendants in the current generation. In total Fritz had six sisters and three brothers. 
It appears that his brother Charles was the closest to Fritz. Charles married Margaret and had a daughter, Mavis. When Fritz died in 1970 all his possessions were left to Mavis. Mavis married late in life and didn’t have any children. Mavis’ husband was John Claude Ryan which answers the questions as to why Fritz’ medals and John’s medals came from the same source.
I followed the family line of one of Fritz’ brothers. The impact of the Depression had an impact on this family and there were accounts of the police being called to the family home. Accusations of assault were played out in the courts and subsequently reported in the press. It looked like Fritz’ bother tried to make a clean break and was using his wife’s maiden name rather than Wurm. I lost this family after WWII.
It was Charles’s obituary that gave me the next clue to follow. It says that Charles’ sister was Dora (Mrs J Stewart). Using the Victorian BDM records and the electoral rolls I followed Dora and her husband John. It wasn’t straight forward due to a number of moves around Victoria but the end result was I’ve recently been in contact with Fritz’ great nephew Jeff and his wife Jan. Jan has done also conducted some family research and the Wurm name is very familiar to them.
The returned medal tally is now 2167.

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