(last updated: 3 April 2017)
Ralph Edward Cheeseman was the youngest child of Alfred John and Jane Elizabeth Cheeseman nee Wright. He was born at Carngham in central Victoria on 14 March 1895 and grew up there working as a labourer. The Ballarat Hospital Admissions Register 1856-1913 shows he was admitted to the hospital on 4 June 1912 when he was 17 years old. This was not long after his mother died and, as the youngest child, with whom he would have been very close. This is evidenced by the following 'In Memorium' notice he and his Beaufort-based siblings penned for her in 1914: 'The one word, mother. Compare it with no other. The first word of the infant. The last word of the brave. So gentle and forgiving. So love her while she's living. No truer friend than mother. From the cradle to the grave' (Riponlea Advocate, 16 May 1914). Following the outbreak of war a few months later, Ralph enlisted in the First AIF on 5 July 1915. He was assigned to the 10th reinforcements for the 5th Infantry Battalion and embarked from Melbourne on the RMS Osterley on 29 September 1915. Before he left he had the two uniformed studio portraits shown below taken in Melbourne. He disembarked in Egypt and was assigned to the 57th Battalion. This had been raised on 18 February 1916 as part of efforts to double the size of the AIF. Half of its recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 5th Battalion, and the other half fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the composition of the 5th, the 57th was predominantly composed of men from the suburbs of Melbourne. The battalion became part of the 15th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division. On 18 March 1916, the Ripon Shire Advocate quoted from a letter Ralph had written to his father from Egypt on 26 Dec 1915:
This is Boxing day. We drilled Christmas eve and went into Heliopolis at night, but it was very dead. The rain fairly poured down all evening. The first rain I have seen since just after leaving Australia. All of the hotels were closed and most of the picture shows. At midnight the band came round and played Christmas carols. Next day we had a church parade at 10 am. Subsequently each soldier got a billy. My billy was from Miss Walton from Yarraville.
The paper continued that 'the writer then described the contents of the billy among which was a tin of insectobane. He took that as a joke for the lice were thick there. After dinner he went with two others, got donkeys and went for a ride to see some aeroplanes. They then went to a sports meeting. Missing their train, they got a carraige and pair and drove to the biggest cafe in Heliopolis and had a big dinner. They spent the most enjoyable Christmas they could in this rotten hole. His thoughts were of home all day as it was the first Christmas he had spent away and he hoped it would be the last. Their captain was a grand man. He dismissed all his guards and turned out all the prisoners on Christmas day, saying that he believed in peace on earth and good will to all. They were always counting up the hours and thinking what they were doing in Australia. The time there was 8 and1/2 hours behind Australia so that they were having tea at home when the boys in Egypt were having breakfast. Writing on Jan 2, Pte Cheeseman says, "I am jogging along pretty well and feel extra good. He described the mosques and said Mr Fred Finches' son from Eurambeen was in the next line"'.
These two photos of Ralph are contained on the Australian War Memorial database. They were
taken by the Darge Photographic Company not long before he sailed from Melbourne on the RMS Osterley.
On 27 May 1916 the 57th Battalion sailed from Alexandria to Marseilles on the Transylvania. Ralph survived the infamous battle of Fromelles but was was later wounded in action (a gun shot wound to the left side) in France on 24 March 1917 during the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. He was repatriated to England to the 3rd General Hospital at Wandsworth. As the following report published in the Riponlea Advocate on 27 April of that year noted 'Mr A. Cheeseman, of Shirley road, Beaufort, has received an intimation from the Base Records Office, Melbourne stating that his son, Sergeant Ralph E. Cheeseman, has been reported wounded. The nature of the wound and the hospital to which he has been admitted is not at present known, but the wound is not stated as being serious. In the absence of further reports, the communication adds, it will be assumed that all wound ed are progressing satisfactorily'. The report went on to tell sits readers that 'Sergeant Cheeseman left Australia as a private over 18 months ago, and was among the first Australian troops sent to France. A week ago his father received a letter from him, stating that he had been recommended for his commission, but it would be a few months before it came out. Sergeant Cheeseman added that it was awfully cold in France at the time of writing the ice being a foot thick and the snow very deep. The cold was almost unbearable at times, but still one had to pull through. Corporal W. Cheeseman, another son of Mr Cheeseman's, is on active service'. Two further reports, one published in the Ballarat Star on 16 July and the other in the Sheparton Advertiser on 3 September, provided a few more details of how Ralph was wounded. He had been shot by a German sniper, who was some 400 yards distant, the bullet striking him in the arm and then passing in to his hip. He was evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station and thence to a Field Hospital where 'the doctor who attended him said there was absolutely no danger, and considered it would not be long before Sergt. Cheeseman would be able to again take his place in the firing line'. A colleague of Ralph's, Sergeant A. Wilson Dow, later shot the sniper 'after waiting for him for 10 hours'.
As the following report in the Riponlea Advocate indicates, Ralph was able to enjoy some leave in England before before rejoining his unit at the front. Around this time he received a most welcome parcel of comforts from Australia: 'In the course of a letter to Miss P. Chibnall, written in London on 11/9/17, Sergt. Ralph Cheeseman gratefully acknowledges receipt of a parcel from the Beaufort and Waterloo 15th Infantry Brigade Comforts Depot. They knew their women folk were sacrificing a lot to send comforts to them. He shared his parcel with a Waterloo boy, Pte. G. Gray. He (Sergt. Cheeseman) had thoroughly recovered from his wounds, and expected to return to France in a few days' (3 November 1917). He returned to his unit in October and was wounded again on 27 April 1918 near Villers Bretonneux. The circumstances surrounding this second incidence were detailed in a letter to his father which was subsequently published in the Riponlea Advocate on 20 July 1918. It is worth repeating in full as it provides us with a detailed (and sobering) account of what took place on the battlefields of the Western Front.
SOLDIER'S LETTER. Writing to his father (Mr. A. Cheeseman) from France recently, Sergt. Ralph Cheeseman, of Beaufort, states 'Before you get this letter, you will know that I stopped another one, but not a whole shell this time. I only got a little bit where the chicken got the axe - just half way up the neck. It was sufficient to give me a fortnight's rest from the line, but I will have to get a bigger one next time, for all leave to England is stopped now the push is on. But, joking aside, you must not worry, for it is slight this time. I went over to go under my operation this morning, but the doctor would not do it, for he could not find the exact spot where it was, so I told him to leave it in as a souvenir of our stunt. I will give you a description of the charge.
At 4 a.m. on 24/4/18, the enemy opened out and for 2½ hours he threw all sorts of steel explosives and gas. We had to have our gas helmets on for all that time. While this was on he attacked the village with tanks, gained a portion of it, and advanced some distance. During the day things got a little steady. Then orders came out that our brigade would counter attack, so that meant get ready. At about midnight we started on our stunt and the 25th being Anzac Day, we had to keep it up. Anyway we advanced wave after wave for a while, for we did not know the exact spot where the German front line was, owing to the enemy's advance. So we kept pushing ahead, and at last struck the Germans. The enemy opened up with machine guns here and there, and our chaps let out one yell like a war cry. This was taken up by hundreds, and it was an awful din. He never kept up his fire long, for this sound advancing nearer and nearer must have put the fear of God into his heart.
At last we saw them start to run. There he goes! After him! Shoot him!! was the cry. At last we hunted him from his outposts and got to his first row of trenches. There I saw one figure with his hands up, and by this time I was full of murder. He was yelling, "Mercy Kamarad". A bullet soon ended him - the first man I ever shot. I went round a corner and there were four in a dug-out. Another lad and I put in about half-a-dozen bullets and then a bomb that stopped their squealing. By that time the howling, murdering mob was pushing on, so I pushed to the front again, and after a couple of minutes, I saw a hat go up in the air, so I yelled out "Hands up" in German. With his hands up he made a good target, so I bowled him over, and got a bomb into a few others. We also got a German machine gun, but had to leave it behind for it was too heavy to carry.
So we cleaned out this trench. Then we came to a road, so we stopped there and organised our company, and then pushed forward. We got several more Fritzes, which added more sport to our big game shooting expedition. Anyway, we got back the village and all the ground that the tommies lost in the morning, so we stopped and dug in. Talk about work, it was the hardest I ever worked. We were dead-beat, for we had been on the go then for 24 hours without rest, this being about 5 a.m. on the 25th. Day was breaking, and the haughty Hun was having pot shots at us, so that made us work a little harder. At last day came, so we had a little blt of bread and jam and cheese, and kept our heads under cover. At about 10 a.m. he put an intense bomardment on us. It felt as if every shell was coming straight for my funkhole (that is what we call these holes we dig). We had that for an hour. Then things were quiet again until some of our chaps got wounded and the stretcher-bearers were carrying them out. Then the Hun turned his guns on them, and killed one of the wounded men and some of the stretcher-bearers. That made my blood boil.
A few hours later he put up a heavier bombardment and killed my captain and his second in command within four feet of where I was. I felt as if my hair stood on end. Before I go further let me add that I was acting C.S.M. of the company, and had rather a busy time with the new O.C. of the company. He had not been long in France, but we worked well together. The next 24 hours were fairly quiet, only had five bombardments. Another sergeant, two of the lads and myself collected nine German machine guns which the Huns had run away and left. Then we had orders to move a little behind, so we moved at about 2 a.m. on the 27th. At about 3 a.m. another big party of Australians went over the top again, so the enemy gave us a few more of his munitions to keep us awake. About 7 a.m. he counter-attacked the party that had attacked him, so the bombardment was awfully heavy. Then my new company commander got wounded, and our stretcher bearers were all wounded or away with other wounded, so another chap and I got him out and had just finished dressing his wound when I got my small piece in the throat. I can tell you I did not take long to get out of the line. As the reporter says, "Nothing more to report." I am grand, and the doctor and nurses are very kind to me. I am in an American hospital, but will not get to England this time.
It would not be long before Ralph got to England again. After leaving hospital in France and rejoining his unit, he was wounded for a third time on 8 August 1918 (a gun shot wound to the right hand). It was sufficiently serious for him to be repatriated to England to recover, this time at Brighton. While recuperating from his wounds he met and married Elizabeth ('Bessie') May Palmer (1890-1964) at the Parish Church of England in Tavistock in the County of Devon on 9 November 1918. Bessie was born at Bratton Clovelly in Devon, the daughter of Thomas Palmer (1859-1923) and Mary Martha Palmer (1859-1937). Thomas, a tenant farmer, was born at Ashbury in Devon. His parents were probably William and Mary Palmer. Mary Martha was born at Germansweek in Devon, the daughter of Walter and Mary Maria Palmer nee Rowe. The censuses show that Walter ran a 130-acre farm near Germansweek, and that Bessie's siblings included: Thomas Banbury (born at Germansweek in 1882), Walter (Germansweek, 1884), Theresa Mary (Bratton Clovelly, 1887), Annie (Bratton Clovelly, 1891) and Reginald (Nutfield, Surrey 1894). At the time of their wedding Ralph was 23 years old and Bessie was 28. The wedding party (pictured on the left) shows, in addition to Ralph and Bessie, Bessie's parents, Thomas and Mary, Ralph's older brother Lieutenant William Charles Cheeseman and an Australian nurse, Edna May Richards.
Ralph left England for Australia on the H. T. CERAMIC on 25 January 1919. His brother William was given leave to help out the Palmers on their farm in Devon (he eventually returned to Australia on the SS NORMAN on 4 July 1919). Although we have not been able to confirm this, we think Bessie travelled to Australia the following year. His military record shows that Ralph disembarked at Melbourne and was discharged from the Army there on 30 May 1919. We know from a report in the The Ballarat Star that he travelled by train to Beaufort on 26 March and was welcomed at the local railway station by the Shire President and 'a large number of residents' (apparently he made a 'suitable' response to the President's welcome home speech). After the war he initially farmed land near Skipton before moving to Horsham, where he worked as the proprietor of the Cecil Cafe. In 1938 he and Bessie sold their cafe and bakery on Firebrace Street Horsham and went on a cruise to New Zealand. On their return they relocated to Melbourne where they lived at Chelsea and later Caulfield. In later years Ralph became a justice of the peace and served for a time on the council. His military record shows that he also served in the Australian Defence Canteen Service during the Second World War, joining up on 7 July 1942. By that time he was 47 years old, and was said to be a retired caterer. Click here to see a copy of his signed oath of enlistment.
The 9 November 1943 issue of the Melbourne Argus included in its 'Silver Wedding' notices: 'CHEESEMAN - PALMER. On November 9 1918, at Parish Church Tavistock, by Rev L. Bickerstoth, vicar, Ralph Edward, younger son of Mr Alfred Cheeseman, Beaufort, Victoria, to Betty May, younger daughter of Mr and Mrs Thomas Palmer, Newington Park, Tavistock, Devon England'. In August 1950 Ralph and Bessie visited Horsham where, the local newspaper told its readers, 'they renewed many old friendships. Since leaving. Horsham' the article continued, 'Mr. Cheeseman has spent six years as a councilor of the City of Chelsea during which time he served a term as mayor. Mr. and Mrs. Cheeseman now reside at Healesville, where they purchased the freehold of the Mt Healesville Chalet' (8 August 1950). By the time of the 1954 election they had moved back to Melbourne and were living at 33 Oakleigh Rd in Carnegie. Ralph died at Caulfield in Melbourne in 1961 and was cremated at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery on 17 July 1961. His wife Bessie died at East Malvern three years later.
Ralph and Bessie had one son, Palmer Selwyn 'Charlie' Cheeseman, who was born at Skipton in Victoria in 1921. The Department of Veterans Affairs' nominal roll for World War II shows that VX89730 Palmer Selwyn Cheeseman enlisted in the Australian Army in the field on 26 July 1942. He was then living at Chelsea in Melbourne and gave as his NOK Pauline Cheeseman (his wife Bendigo-born Pauline Jose Jones, daughter of Albert John Jones and Hilda Maria Chandler who were married in Victoria in 1885). He was discharged on 6 December 1945 and was then a Cpl in the 114 Light Anti Aircraft Regiment of the RAA. The 1949 and 1954 electoral rolls shows Charlie and Pauline living at 199 Honeysuckle St and then 27 Myrtle St in Bendigo where Charlie was working as a bank officer. They were 153 Olinda Street in Bendigo in 1963, 1968 and 1972. Pauline died in Bendigo in 1973. Charlie continued to live at Bendigo after his wife's death but eventually moved to northern NSW where, according to the Ryerson Index, he died aged 85 years, at McKay House in Tamworth on 20 December 2006. Notices were published in the Northern Daily Leader (Tamworth) and the Bendigo Advertiser. Information provided to us recently by Jenny Tapungao, a granddaughter of Ralph's sister Rosina Olive Tulloch nee Cheeseman (1891-69), tells us that Charlie and Pauline had three children: 1) Susan Jose Cheeseman who married Michael Thomas Taylor and has two sons; 2) Peter Charles Cheeseman and 3) Carol Ann Cheeseman who married Michael Robert McHugh in 1974 and has two children.
Pictured below at the Carngham cemetery, Charlie became interested in his family's history, and spent a great deal of his time collecting information on the Cheesemans of Carngham and their forebears. Some of his findings informed a mimeograph entitled 'The Cheeseman Family Tree' which was, we believe, the first attempt to list Benjamin and Jane Cheeseman's Australian descendants. In his Foreword, Charlie spoke of the joy of meeting 'lots, and lots, and lots' of new cousins, and hoped that 'some day, a reunion will take place, when we can all come together, [and] meet one another.' Unfortunately that grand reunion has not yet taken place although, inspired by Charlie's enthusiasm, a number of us continue to add to his initial findings. Since the late 1980s, a move away from Victoria coupled with declining health have prevented Charlie from meeting more cousins. His work is held by his daughter in Ballarat, Sue Taylor (pictured below with some of her extended cousins), who has graciously contributed to the photographs and information contained on this website.
Palmer Selwyn 'Charlie' Cheeseman
Charlie's daughter Sue Taylor nee Cheeseman (third from the left) at Ballarat in Victoria in around 2005.
She is with three of her Australian Cheeseman cousins: Cynthia Tizzard nee Bodger,
and Daryl (on the left) and Graeme Cheeseman.
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