Charles Holdorf. 1869-1953

Thanks to Nigel Johns for this fantastic article about Charles Holdorf, painstakingly researched and referenced, which he sent to me in May 2015. Reprinted with permission. Slightly edited from the original.

Charles John Holdorf was born on the 11th March 1869 to John Holdorf (Johann Holtorf, 1828-1898) and Caroline Victoria Fischer (1847-1924). (1) John and Caroline were German immigrants who met and married in Sydney in 1868.(2) Charles was the first of their 11 children.

Commercial traveller and part time soldier
In 1891 Charles was 22 and living in Clifford Street, Goulburn. The 1891 Census records 5 males and 6 females were living at the house. This indicates that Charles was still living at home with his parents and all of his surviving siblings.(3) Charles was a member of the Goulburn Senior Cadet Corps and was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain of the Corps.(4)

About 1895 Charles was a commercial traveller that regularly attended the Wyalong district.(5)

In June of 1896 Charles was already serving in the militia. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Infantry Regiment on the 19th.(6) On the 30th July 1898 he was promoted to First Lieutenant.(7)

In August Charles was working as a commercial traveller for Baxter and Company. They were a well known shoe manufacturer in Goulburn. That same year of 1898 Charles’ father John Holdorf died in Goulburn on the 19th August. Charles, like his father, was a Mason with the Lodge of Australia.

Charles marries Florence Stacey, 1898
On the 26th December 1898 Charles John Holdorf married Florence Caroline Stacey in St Andrew’s Church at Goulburn.(8,9) Charles’ sister Minnie was a bridesmaid along with Florence’s only sister Alma. The wedding breakfast was held at the residence of Florence’s parents. Charles and Florence left on the 11:20am train for Sydney and they were to visit Moss Vale and Berrima before they returned.(10,11)

Family life
In 1899 the first of Charles and Florence’s children were born. Charles John Stacey was born at Goulburn. The 1901 Census records that Charles was living in Clifford Street, Goulburn. Only now the house comprised of 2 males and 1 female. Their second child, Florence Caroline Mary Stacey, was born in 1901 at Goulburn. Their third child, Sylvia Victoria Stacey, was born in 1903 at Goulburn.

On the 12th September 1903 Captain Charles Holdorf was presented with a framed enlargement of a photograph of the team he commanded at a field firing competition. The team won first place out of 26 competing teams.(12) At the beginning of April 1904 Captain Charles Holdorf with 3 Lieutenants and 56 men left Goulburn at midnight on a special train for the Easter Encampment. The train went to Ashfield where they would change for another train to Canterbury. The camp lasted five days and involved infantry and light horse troops from the metropolitan and country areas.(13) The annual dinner for G Company 2nd Infantry Regiment was postponed from the 12th August 1905. The postponement was due to their commander, Captain Charles Holdorf falling seriously ill in Lockhard.(14)

Illness and death strikes the family
Their fourth child, George Stacey, was born in 1906 at Goulburn. Their fifth child, Eric Claude Stacey, was born in 1908 at Goulburn. On the 17th March 1908 one of their daughters was in a private hospital with a suspected case of meningitis. Another daughter was bitten by a dog and Florence, with a son a few days old, was seriously ill in a private hospital.(15)

Florence Holdorf died on the 8th April 1908 at Nurse Jeffcoat’s Private Hospital in Hurst Street, Goulburn. One of her children had contracted typhoid that was diagnosed as meningitis. Florence nursed the child and also caught typhoid and died four weeks later. Her youngest child Eric was a month old.(16) She was buried in the Church of England Cemetery at Goulburn. Archdeacon Bartlett conducted the service at the grave. The officers and men of G Company were present and acted as pall bearers. Wreaths were sent by the officers of the 2nd Regiment (Sydney), his fellow employees of Messrs. M’Murtrie and Company (Sydney), the Southern Rifle Association, NCOs and men of G Company, the 3rd A.L.H. Band, Goulburn Half Squadron, 3rd A.L.H., Duke of Edinburgh Royal Arch Chapter and other residents of Goulburn and Sydney.(17)

Move to Sydney
After Florence died Charles moved to ‘Tecoma’ in Miller Avenue, Ashfield.

In August 1912 Charles, who was the southern representative of M’Murtrie and Company Limited, was presented with a silver mounted walking stick by the employees, as a momento of his taking over the command of the 44th Battalion. The Wollondilly Press reported that he had been appointed as the officer in charge of the 43rd Infantry Battalion. This included A Company (Liverpool, Moss Vale, Mittagong, Bowral), B Company (Goulburn), C Company (Yass, Braidwood, Bega), D Company (Cootamundra, Murrumburrah, Young, Temora, Wyalong, Tumut, Gundagai), E Company (Wagga, Junee, Narrandera, Hay) and F Company (Albury, Wodonga, Chiltern).(19)

In 1915 Charles had moved to 11 Birkley Road, Manly. On the 5th August 1915 Charles applied to join the Australian Imperial Forces as an officer. He was accepted and promoted to the rank of Senior Major. He was assigned to the 30th Infantry Battalion as part of the 8th Brigade.
The 30th Infantry Battalion was raised at Liverpool in New South Wales. Most of the recruits were from the Newcastle region and other parts of country New South Wales.

Although Charles was living in Sydney he spent much of his time travelling. On the 25th October 1915 a send-off was held for him in the Royal Hotel at Goulburn. He was entertained by officers of the 43rd Werriwa Infantry (a militia unit) and the Light Horse.(20)

War service, 1915-17
To Egypt with the 30th Battalion
On the 9th November 1915 Charles embarked on the HMAT Beltana with the 30th Battalion; they disembarked on the 11th December in Suez. On the 16th February 1916 another battalion, the 54th, was raised in Egypt. It was formed from Gallipoli veterans and reinforcements from Australia. The authorised strength of the Battalion was 1,023 men.

To France
On the 16th June 1916 Charles embarked on the HMAT Hororata and disembarked at Marseilles in France on the 23rd June. The 30th Battalion moved to Morbecque via Hazebrouck and Steenbecque. In July the 30th Battalion moved to Estairs then Jesus Farm. On the 11th July 1916 the 30th Battalion move to the front lines at Boisgrenier where they were heavily shelled several times. On the 16th they retired to Fleurbaix.

Fromelles with the 30th
On the 19th July the 30th Battalion were involved in the attack on Fromelles. The battalion was involved in heavy fighting They suffered 3 officers and 51 other ranks killed, 5 officers and 224 other ranks wounded and 68 other ranks missing. On the 28th July they were shelled by the Germans who fired over 400 shells at them. They received no casualties and very little damage. The units war diary describes the retaliation as feeble. At the beginning of August the 30th Battalion strength was 22 officers and 504 other ranks. In June it had been 30 officers and 984 other ranks.

The 54th Battalion was committed to the front in July 1916. On the 19th July 1916 the 54th launched a diversionary attack at Fromelles during the battle for the Somme. They went in during the first wave of the assault. They suffered 3 officers and 70 other ranks killed. 11 officers and 277 other ranks wounded and 4 officers and 169 other ranks missing. A total casualty list of 18 officers and 516 other ranks. The effective strength of the battalion after the battle for the Somme was 16 officers and 317 other ranks.

After Fromelles, temporary command of the 54th
On the 28th August the commanding officer of the 54th Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Cass, was transferred to the 14th Training Battalion. His health suffered after the battle for the Somme and he was eventually evacuated to England. (Read more about Walter Cass here and here.) This left the 54th without a commanding officer and it was unlikely that there would be any available unattached officers of suitable rank during a major offensive.

The Army would have looked at nearby units for a senior officer to take command. Charles was in the area and had extensive command experience. He also had several months of battlefield experience. The 30th Battalion had suffered considerable casualties during the battle but it had more available officers than the 54th Battalion. Charles was a Major which was the next rank under Lieutenant Colonel. It is likely that all the officers of the rank of Major in the 54th Battalion had been killed, wounded or were missing.

The entry in the 54th Battalion’s war diary for the 28 August 1916 records Charles as taking temporary command of the battalion at Fleurbaix. The strength of the unit was 26 officers and 575 other ranks. The diary notes that the battalion was reinforced with men from the Light Horse. It was noted that those men were not trained or equipped as infantry.

On the 1st September 1916 Charles was transferred to the 54th Infantry Battalion as the temporary commander and given a temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The Goulburn Evening Penny Post expressed regret that he was not attached to the 55th Infantry Battalion that contained so many men from Goulburn and the district.(21) Charles may not have agreed with the reporter after seeing so many men of his battalion killed and injured during the Battle of the Somme.

At the beginning of September 1916 the 54th was at Fleurbaix. They moved to Wye Farm until they were relieved by the 56th Battalion and returned to Fleurbaix. While they were at Wye Farm the battalion engaged the Germans with machine guns and rifle fire. They also had quiet periods, engaged in training and repaired the damage.

Leave in England, September 1916
Charles left for England for ten days leave on the 25th. At the end of September there were 33 officers and 678 other ranks.

Back to the Western Front, Lt. Col. C.J Holdorf V.D.
At the beginning of October 1916 the battalion was reinforced and comprised of 33 officers and 770 other ranks. On the 7th they returned to the front lines at Wye Farm. They bombarded the German barbed wire entanglements with artillery, engaged them with machine guns and patrolled no-mans land. The battalion also received reinforcements who were men from the 1st Australian Division. They were mostly wounded men returning to duty. In the middle of October the battalion was relieved by the 2nd Battalion 3rd New Zealand Infantry Brigade and retired back to Fleurbaix. They were moved to Rueberquin, then Outtersteen where they were reinforced bringing the complement to 34 officers and 950 other ranks. The battalion moved to Bailleul West, Pont Remy, Bellancourt and then to Pommiers by lorries, trains and marching. On the 22nd they moved to Thistle Dump at the front on the Somme. The battalion was shelled and suffered casualties. Towards the end of October the battalion was relieved and retired to Pommiers Redoubt before moving up to the front lines agains between the 55th and 56th battalions. Charles was signing his orders as Lt. Col. C.J. Holdorf V.D.

At the beginning of November 1916 the battalion was shelled heavily and the weather conditions were adverse. They were moved off the line to Fricourt then to Ribemont and billeted in inadequate accommodation. They moved to Rainneville where they were inspected by Douglas Haig, the Commander in Chief in France. The strength was 34 officers and 918 other ranks. The battalion moved to Buire then Mametz where the previous troops had left the billets in an indescribably filthy condition. The latrines were inadequate and the ground was fouled.

Charles later related two stories of his time at the front. One day he ordered short artillery barrage at the Germans. The Germans retaliated by sending a barrage at the 55th Infantry Battalion resulting in 18 casualties. The 55th was commanded by Colonel Dave McConaghy of Cootamundra. On another morning his batman, a soldier named Pinkstone from Cootamundra, brought him a billy of steaming tea balanced on the end of his rifle. Charles noticed it was rather red and asked where the soldier had got the water. The soldier indicated a shell hole. Charles informed him that there were some dead Germans in that shell hole. Charles had rum that morning.(25) These stories were later told as amusing anecdotes at a meeting held at Cootamundra in support of conscription. They apparently drew much laughter!

Hospitalised in France
On the 2nd November 1916 Charles was admitted to hospital in France with emphysemia. This was later diagnosed as a dilated heart. The strain of command certainly took its toll on the commanders of 54th Battalion. Charles later commented in his speeches about the strain of looking after a thousand men. The 55th Battalion was a unit raised in the area that Charles lived and he would have known many of the men. The 55th often fought alongside the 54th Battalion and it is likely that many people familiar to Charles would have been killed or wounded. Hundreds of men that Charles knew or commanded were killed, horribly wounded or just disappeared in the carnage.

Medically unfit and return to Australia
On the 4th November he was transferred to Calais on the No. 3 Ambulance Train for evacuation to England. He left France on the Hospital Ship Newhaven and on the 6th November he relinquished his temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was admitted to a hospital in England before being transferred to Cobham Hall Hospital. On the 27th January 1917 he was discharged from Cobam Hall and on the following day was at Weymouth. He embarked on the Hospital Ship Ulysses on the 13 February 1917. His file was endorsed that he was unfit for general service and would carry out home service for six month.

Home service and discharge
In late April 1917 Charles spoke at a recruiting meeting in Martin Place, Sydney. He said that as one fresh from the fierce fighting in France he was in a position to assure them that the boys at the front were handicapped through lack of reinforcements. He spoke on behalf of hundreds of brave fellows who were overworked and almost worn out.(22)

Charles returned to Australia and spent six months in Randwick Hospital. He had been diagnosed with a dilated heart. After his release from hospital he was under treatment at Moree Baths.(23) Charles Holdorf was discharged from the Army on the 17 October 1917.

Charles spoke strongly in support of conscription. In Cootamundra in December 1917 he addressed several gatherings in favour of voting for conscription. He spoke of the need for reinforcements for the troops at the front. He spoke of how they were tired, sick and war weary. He said people who vote “no” should be put with the Germans in the internment camp and the Germans should be let loose on them. He said the troops didn’t want the gaps filled with British or American troops, they wanted their own countrymen. Charles is also reported as calling any person who votes “no” is a traitor to his country and that the dirty rotters who voted “no” should not be allowed to have a vote.(24,25,26)

After the war
In 1930 Charles was living at 82 Raglan Street Mosman. His occupation was traveller. He had changed his name in the Supreme Court from Holdorf to Holford.

Charles John Holford died on the 17th August 1953 at Mosman.(27) His funeral was held at St Clement’s Church of England, Raglan Street Mosman on the 19th August. He was cremated at Northern Suburbs Crematorium.(28)

  1. Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Compiled from publicly available sources. Certificate No. 1869/831.
  2. Australia, Marriage Index, 1788-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Compiled from publicly available sources.
  3. State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 683; Book: 17A; Item: [2/8411]; Roll: 2521. 1891 New South Wales, Australia Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors. New South Wales – 1891 Census. NRS 683, reels 2510-2542. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia.
  4. 1891 ‘Cadet Appointments.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 29 October, p. 4, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  5. 1915 ‘PERSONAL AND SOCIAL.’, The Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette (NSW : 1900 – 1928), 23 October, p. 4, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  6. New South Wales, Australia, Government Gazettes, 1853-1899 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc. Original data: New South Wales Government Gazette. Assorted volumes, 1853–1899. Sydney, Australia: New South Wales State Records Authority, 1853-1899.
  7. New South Wales, Australia, Government Gazettes, 1853-1899 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc. Original data: New South Wales Government Gazette. Assorted volumes, 1853–1899. Sydney, Australia: New South Wales State Records Authority, 1853-1899.
  8. Australia, Marriage Index, 1788-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Compiled from publicly available sources. Certificate number 1898/7801.
  9. 1898 ‘Family Notices.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 29 December, p. 3, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  10. 1898 ‘WEDDING.’, Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 28 December, p. 3, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  11. 1898 ‘Wedding.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 29 December, p. 4, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  12. 1903 ‘PRESENTATION TO CAPTAIN HOLDORF.’, Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 16 September, p. 2, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  13. 1904 ‘EASTER ENCAMPMENT.’, Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 1 April, p. 2, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  14. 1905 ‘ILLNESS OF CAPT. HOLDORF.’, Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 2 August, p. 2, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  15. 1908 ‘AN AFFLICTED FAMILY.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 17 March, p. 2, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  16. 1908 ‘OBITUARY.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 9 April, p. 2, viewed 15 April, 2015,
  17. 1908 ‘THE LATE MRS. HOLDORF.’, Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 14 April, p. 6, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  18. 1912 ‘CHIEFLY PERSONAL.’, The Tumut Advocate and Farmers and Settlers’ Adviser (NSW : 1903 – 1925), 20 August, p. 3, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  19. 1912 ‘Military.’, The Wollondilly Press (NSW : 1906 – 1914), 7 August, p. 1, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  20. 1915 ‘GOULBURN AND THE WAR.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 26 October, p. 2 Edition: EVENING, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  21. 1916 ‘MAJOR HOLDORF.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 23 September, p. 2 Edition: EVENING, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  22. 1917 ‘LIEUT. COL. HOLDORF.’, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940), 3 May, p. 4 Edition: EVENING, viewed 16 April, 2015,
  23. 1917 ‘COLONEL HOLDORF.’, Cootamundra Herald (NSW : 1877 – 1954), 21 November, p. 4, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  24. 1917 ‘ADDRESS BY HON. W. H. WOOD,.’, Cootamundra Herald (NSW : 1877 – 1954), 5 December, p. 4, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  25. 1917 ‘COLONEL HOLDORF.’, Cootamundra Herald (NSW : 1877 – 1954), 21 November, p. 4, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  26. 1917 ‘GENERAL MEMS.’, The Gundagai Independent and Pastoral, Agricultural and Mining Advocate (NSW : 1898 – 1928), 22 November, p. 4, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  27. 1954 ‘Family Notices.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 18 August, p. 36, viewed 17 April, 2015,
  28. 1954 ‘Family Notices.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 19 August, p. 20, viewed 17 April, 2015,

2 thoughts on “Charles Holdorf. 1869-1953

  1. I read this with great interest. My family also originaly came from Holstien area my g.g.grandfather being Claus Fredrick Holdorf. I belive he came to Hull U.K. via Malmo about 1880 he was on his way to USA but settled in Hull as a boo and shoe maker. I wonder if we are related. I did have some photos taken at port Perie of men marching on anzack day I belive.
    Regards Harold.

    1. Hi there! My ancestors’ original name was Holtorf. Johann Holtorf (b.1827) changed his name to Holdorf after he arrived in Australia in the 1850s. Johann’s father was Claus Holtorf, and he also had an older brother called Claus Holtorf (b.1820). You can see some of my wondering about what happened to all of Johann’s siblings including Claus on the following page which you may have already read. When I was in Bad Bramstedt the year before last I discovered that Holtorf is a fairly common name in the area. There were five in the local phonebook. I didn’t phone any of them to find out if they were related. There were no Holdorfs in the phonebook. I suppose it is possible that your ancestor Claus was also called Holtorf but changed his name after he arrived in England though why he would have done so I don’t know. My ancestor Johann’s older brother Claus was born in 1820 so he would have been 60 in 1880. It is still not impossible that they are one and the same. After all Johann’s two sisters appear to have moved to England at some stage in life. If you have the possibility of tracing your gg grandfather backwards we may be able to work out of there is a family connection, which would be very cool. Thanks for writing! Kind regards, David

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