From country lad to WW1 Light Horseman

John ‘Jack’ Woodland Loomes was always a man of principle. Polite, respectful, hardworking and patriotic in a time well before the term became part of our national psyche.

Perhaps it was the times in which he was born. April 6, 1891, in the small town of Nyora. He was the fifth of six children born to John William Loomes and Ann Frances Woodland.

Jack Loomes wasn’t born into privilege or money. Times were tough. He was a labourer’s son, his mother died when he wasn’t even 10. Work was hard. You started young and you grew up fast. As was the era, young John was known as ‘Jack’ to distinguish him from his father. From a young age he stood tall and was a proud man.

Part of his legacy remains in Bendigo long after his death in 1972. He was a returned soldier, a veteran of four years serving in World War 1.

Jack Loomes’ family is large and varied. Today, on the centenary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli, there are grandsons, nieces and nephews, great grandchildren and, in the past couple of years, great great grandchildren have arrived. Two of his three grandsons, John Loomes and Mick Loomes, still live in Bendigo.

Like many who served with Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant Jack Loomes, memories of family, love and laughter live on long after the turmoil and horror of war. Events of the day forever made them soldiers but, more importantly, they were men with families.

John and Mick, fondly remember eating plenty of meals at their grandparents’ table at their house in Golden Square. For any young child grandparents always appeared larger than life despite their actual stature, John recalls. “I can still remember I was a child and seeing Grandpa wearing his cap and Nanna with her bun,” John says. “They seemed larger than life, but then I was only a child. Even as I got older I always respected and looked up to them.” Grandparents are known as warm, inviting people with big hearts, and Jack Loomes had that in spades, along with respect for elders and manners, John says.

He (Jack Loomes) had a dry sense of humour and a wry smile. Interestingly he was always a teetotaller and a non-smoker. - Mick Loomes, grandson

“You wouldn't leave the table without asking,” he says. “I had to pull up my shirt and show my belly to him a couple of times - it was all in fun - to ‘show’ that it was full. I was about six. He was a lovely man, kind and he loved his family.”

When his beloved country was at war with Germany in 1914, a 23-year-old Jack was quick to enlist. A Bendigo lad, he was visiting his sister Winifred in Melbourne when on August 19 he rushed to sign up for the cause at Broadmeadows, Melbourne.

Just as he was in a hurry, so too were the armed forces to accept its sons for battle, listing Jack’s middle name in error as “Woodlands”. It followed him through his time in uniform as it was listed on all his military paperwork.

His early service number 438 is testament to his commitment to perform his public duty and fight for his country.

A pragmatic man, John says, he knew joining the army meant hard work and possible death on foreign soil. “He was an ordinary man doing what he thought was right,” he says of his grandfather enlisting.

“He didn't speak about it (war) when he returned. He never did. Mick and I would play under the house and find his uniform and service items in a duffle bag. For us it was always a part of him, but like other men of the time they didn't talk about war or dwell on it.”

Adds Mick: “I can still see the room and the passage we would go down to get there. He had a dry sense of humour and a wry smile. Interestingly, he was always a teetotaller and a non-smoker. But he liked his chocolate.”

Jack served with the 4th Light Horse Regiment, C Squadron. His medical examination certificate for the Australian Imperial Forces listed him as “5 feet 5 inches, with green eyes and black hair”. His younger brother Percy later served in the same regiment with service number 4396, enlisting as an underage 17-year-old on February 28, 1915. Both men returned to Bendigo, married and raised their families.

For Jack, his love was Nellie McShane. A quiet woman of the same age, they met before he left for battle.

After the mandatory period of army training, Private John Woodland Loomes embarked with his unit from Melbourne on board Transport A18 Wiltshire on October 19, 1914. Destination: Egypt.

On May 20, 1915, he landed at Alexandria.

As mounted troops, the Light Horse were considered unsuitable for work in Gallipoli, so they volunteered to operate as infantry. Initially, the 4th LHR was broken up into component squadrons, distributed as reinforcements to depleted infantry battalions. After June 11, 1915, the 4th LHR was reformed and deployed on defensive activities around Ryrie’s Post. The 4th LHR left the peninsula on December 11, 1915 and returned to Egypt. While serving in Gallipoli, Jack Loomes was promoted through the ranks to Sergeant.

While away he wrote many postcard to his beloved Nellie. Like thousands of couples worldwide at the time it was a long distance relationship that offered only sporadic contact by unpredictable post. What started as a friendship evolved into love.

His grandsons each have some of the cards that hold intimate thoughts shared between the two young loves. There’s a postcard of the ocean liner SS Caledonia on which Jack jokingly wrote would be good for their honeymoon.

On June 10, 1916 he embarked on SS Caledonia for Marseilles, France, arriving on June 17. His service record states that he was ‘taken on strength’ of 2nd ANZAC Army Corps Mounted Regiment from 4th LHR in France on July 7, 1916. On July 27, 1917 he was detached to the Anti Aircraft Section of the 2nd Anzac Corps in the fields of France.

On February 9, 1918 Jack Loomes was promoted to Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant, and on April 20 he was detached to the 9th Corps. He rejoined the LHR from the 9th Corps on May 4. And on September 24 he returned to Australia on board the Taranto. 

He (Jack Loomes) was an ordinary man doing what he thought was right. - John Loomes, grandson

On November 11, 1918 Germany and Allied forces signed an armistice and fighting stopped. On November 28, 1918 the Bendigo Advertiser reported: "Quartermaster J. Loomes, who is a returned Anzac, arrived in Bendigo by the express last night, and was welcomed at the station by a large number of friends and soldiers. After much hand-shaking and congratulations the returned hero departed with his friends for his home."

Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant Jack Loomes was discharged from the Australian Imperial Force on January 24, 1919. Among the items he brought home from battle are the tongue bit plate and rope lead from his horse.

“I have a photo of the AIF camp at Mena Egypt on the wall at home, and at Christmas I was thinking about what he would have been doing then as it was 100 years since he was camped near there,” John says. “The bit and rope lead are reminders of him and what he would have gone through with his horse during those years.”

Months after returning home, and weeks before his discharge from the army, Jack and Nellie married. They settled in Gladstone Street, then 125 McKenzie Street and later at 482 High Street in Golden Square and raised a girl and two boys: Dorothy, William and Peter. Sadly, Dorothy passed away in her twenties in 1947 after a long illness. He started a horse-drawn carrier business and later was involved in the motor industry and sourcing and selling antiques.

Jack and Nellie were active in their community and shared a love for gardening and animals. They grew and showed dahlias and were members of Bendigo’s Horticultural Society, Jack a president and Nellie secretary of the auxiliary. Both won many horticultural ribbons and medals over the years. Jack was also a member of the Sandhurst Rowing Club and his name appears on the Honours List at the club’s rooms at Lake Weeroona. He was also an avid breeder of budgies and Spanish terriers.

At the outbreak of WW2 Jack Loomes again went to enlist, but his age was against him and he was turned away. “It was typical of him wanting to help,” John says. Jack’s eldest son William enlisted and served in the RAAF.

While money was scarce at times for Jack he was talented, regularly making furniture from timber. A treasured item is a single bed that John still has to this day. “He made that for me when I was little. Both Mick and I like to think that we have a little of his talent as we both enjoy making and fixing things,” he says. A small bookcase also takes pride of place at his home.

“I will always remember him and always looked up to him,” John says. Mick agreeing.

Sadly, his romance with Nellie ended “too soon”, when she died early. “She had cataract surgery because she wanted to see for Christmas,” John says. “Grandpa was devastated. She died in the lift at the hospital. They never got to say goodbye.”

Adds Mick: “Grandpa was a very calm man, he never got angry and always had time for us.”

Jack Loomes died in Bendigo on September 18, 1972, aged 83. His family remember him with love and respect.

Footnote: Journalist Marina Williams Loomes is married to John Loomes. She is honoured to share part of her husband’s story about his grandfather.

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