William Bradshaw fought in the battle of the Somme in France with the Australian infantry from 1917 until 1918. He was a qualified engineer before the war and was recruited to work as a signaller or ‘sapper’ on the battlefields. Signallers were required to be proficient in morse-code signalling on flag, lamp and heliograph, as well as in map reading (note the flag patch on his right forearm). William had ambitions to be a farmer on his return to Australia and leased land at Avon Plains in 1920. Things didn’t go as planned, despite working on a pretty good block he sold his lease. On a good year he harvested 930 bags of wheat and 800 bags of oats. Working two teams of eight horses left him physically incapacitated, and as a sufferer of acute neuritis by 1924 he had to abandon the land.
His granddaughter and historian Barbara Minchinton talks of William’s physical struggles as a soldier settler.
Abandoning The Land
William might have held onto the farm if he could have afforded to hire labour during his recovery. The costs and the poor timing of this farming scheme meant many farmers couldn’t make it work. The government’s large-scale purchase of land had inflated prices, which inflated the repayments on the leases soldier settlers signed. As the war ended the world-wide supply of agricultural goods and labour increased and therefore the value of the soldier’s investment in land and stock started to fall. Soldier settlers frequently became deeply in debt to stores and suppliers as well as to the government. William’s bundle of wheat, which in 1919 would have sold for 7.5 shillings, by 1929 was selling for 3.17 shillings. As the Great Depression set in, the value of all agricultural capital acquired by soldier-settlers was greatly diminished, and was often worth less than half its purchase value in 1929.
William’s story is one of thousands of cases whereby the blocks were transferred to other leaseholders due to either ill health or poor financial returns.