Looking for a Ghost

A few years ago, I searched for my grandfather, Frank Cave, formerly of the 15th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, and a survivor of the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign. Or at least I went looking for his ghost since I knew he was long dead.

I knew that his full name was Francis Horace Cave, an Australian who had fought in the First World War. I also had one photograph of him in uniform, which my mother kept close until she died, and I knew that his arrival in England, in less than auspicious circumstances, led to her birth in the hours following Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.

Frank Cave
Frank Cave, Australian Imperial Force


Fortunately, Australian archives, much of it available on the internet, provided a considerably fuller picture.

Early Years

When Life was a Picnic

Frank Cave, was born in Fitzroy North, a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, in 1892. He later claimed that his father, John Newman Cave, was a diamond setter. My mother told me that Frank’s mother, Emily Frances (née Pilkington), was a piano teacher.

Nothing else is known about Frank until 1911 when he had his first reported scrape with the law. It was an innocuous enough incident, but one which upset some of those on the foreshore of Mornington beach. It was a hot day in March, and young Frank, who claimed to be a member of the ‘Wood Workers Picnic‘, was ‘enticed to bathe nude‘. That didn’t wash with the police and so they arrested him.

Frank subsequently pleaded guilty, which with hindsight proved to be a rare occurrence, and he was fined the grand sum of £1.

War – Frank Cave Enlists in the Australian Imperial Force

And a Promise to Serve

In 1914, with Great Britain having declared war on Germany, there was a call to arms across the Empire. Frank travelled from his native state to Queensland in order to enlist in the newly formed Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Why he went to Queensland is unknown. He may have been rejected by enlisting officers in Melbourne. He was far from tall, 5-8, and the first draft concentrated on selecting bigger men. It is also possible he was running from the law. He would not have been the only one escaping Australia for the same reason, but no matter because at Toowoomba on September 23 he met with success, swearing to ‘well and truly serve our Lord Sovereign the King‘.

After leaving Queensland, he found himself back in Victoria, receiving training at Broadmeadows.

15th Battalion, E Company
Frank Cave (circled). 24 of these men would be dead within 12 months.

The photograph above is of 15th Battalion, E Company and was taken at Broadmeadows in December, 1914. Shortly after it was taken, the AIF set sail from King George’s Sound in Western Australia. The fleet called in at Columbo, Ceylon, where several soldiers either deserted or went on a drunken spree. As a result, the troops were confined to their ships when the fleet next stopped at Aden.

Finally, after much debate as to their final destination, the AIF disembarked in Egypt, which was where the trouble really began.


The Curse of the Wozzer

On arrival in Egypt, the 15th Battalion, part of the 4th Infantry Brigade, set up camp on a former aerodrome in Heliopolis


4th Australian Infantry Brigade tent and horse lines at Heliopolis.
4th Australian Infantry Brigade tent and horse lines at Heliopolis.

The town was only a few years old and stood on the edge of the Sahara, some eight miles from Cairo’s centre. But it was the city, rather than the more sedate environs of the camp, which acted as a magnet for Australian soldiers who quickly made themselves extremely unpopular with the locals. In return, the Cairenes exacted retribution, often in the form of food delivered with a well-placed hand-wipe, or alcohol which had been doctored. Even more insidious were those who inhabited the streets surrounding the Ezbekiah district and in particular the Harat el Wasser, known to the Australians as the Wozzer.

The 15th Battalion diary for March records my grandfather’s presence thus:

No: 727 Pte Cave, F.H. No: 3 Co: Admitted to Venereal Hospital 2/3/15

Thus began the first of frequent stays in an army hospital bed. However it also meant that when the time came for the 4th Infantry Brigade to set sail for the Dardanelles, Frank Cave was otherwise detained.

Isolation tents for infectious diseases. Palace Hotel, Heliopolis.
Isolation tents for infectious diseases. Palace Hotel, Heliopolis, 1915.

Before the war, the hotel was regarded as the finest in Africa. This is where Frank Cave would have been taken in March 1915. The tents also housed those with measles.

The Wozzer
Aftermath of a lethal riot in the Wozzer on Good Friday, April 2, 1915, when 4000 soldiers attacked pimps and prostitutes, setting alight the brothels.


A Casualty of War

On July 3, 1915, Frank Cave was drafted to Gallipoli, by which time the battle with Turkish soldiers had reached a deadlock. Trapped on the beach and dug in on the cliffs, the Australians, along with New Zealand and Indian troops were forced to withstand constant Turkish sniper and artillery fire, while suffering from disease and sickness.

In August, Allied commanders hatched a plan to break out from the beach. On the night of August 6, men of the 15th Battalion were tasked with taking Hill 971 (its height in metres). However the Australians were hampered by poor maps and failed to achieve their objective. At some point during the night, Frank Cave was shot in the left thigh. He was taken to a clearing station on the beach for evacuation to a hospital ship and then to the island of Lemnos.

Koja Chemen Tepe
Hill 971. Known to the Turks as Koja Chemen Tepe, which translates approximately to ‘The Great Grass Mountain’.

Between August 6 and 9, the 15th Battalion, which consisted of 600 men, suffered nearly 400 casualties.

Sick in Egypt

Imprisoned in France

Frank Cave eventually returned to Egypt where he was hospitalised, first in Alexandria and then in Cairo.

In October 1915, he returned to his battalion, but soon afterwards he went absent without leave (AWL). He was disciplined and when the curse of the Wozzer returned he was again hospitalised in Abbassia, Cairo.

In June 1916, he found himself in France, first Marseille and then a hospital in Etaples. He escaped from there but was eventually arrested and imprisoned; then he escaped again.

In January 1917, after arrest by British Red Caps in Paris, he faced a Court Martial. If he had been British he would have been shot for desertion, but the Australians, despite intense pressure from the British, refused to execute their own men. Frank Cave was given the equivalent of a slapped wrist, for which the author is eternally grateful, and sentenced to 6 months hard labour.

War may have been a profitable exercise for some, but at that stage Frank had forfeited a total of 241 days pay. But all was not lost because in February the sentence of hard labour was suspended.


Court Martial and Marriage

Once released, he joined the 47th Battalion. Nevertheless front line service was avoided because Frank urgently needed medical care and, while on leave in England, he was admitted to No. 1 Australian Dermatological Hospital, Bulford, Dorset.

No. 1 ADH Bulford
No. 1 ADH Bulford

In August 1917, Frank Cave was well enough to leave Bulford, but in late October, having been ordered to join the Overseas Training Brigade in Longbridge, he failed to report for duty. He remained AWL until apprehended in London on January 14, 1918. Once again he escaped, only to be re-arrested on February 18. He now faced a second Court Martial, pleading not guilty to one charge, that of failing to report for duty in October when ordered to do so, and guilty to the second charge of being an illegal absentee. In the event, he was found guilty of both charges and sentenced to 70 days detention in Lewes Detention Barracks, near Brighton.

He was freed in May, sent for training, and then shipped back to France, although not for long. On July 11, 1918, Frank Cave married Gladys Haywood in St. Philip’s Church, Battersea.

On July 26 he was back once more in France, this time with the 49th Battalion, and that is where he remained until he was repatriated to Australia in October.

He was aboard a ship when the war ended. That same day, my grandmother, while celebrating the Armistice in Trafalgar Square, went into labour. She was helped away by a police officer and taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital where she gave birth to my mother in the early hours of November 12. Therefore I think it is safe to say that by the time of Frank Cave’s arrest in February, not only did he know my grandmother but she was also pregnant by him.

Back to Australia

A Broken Promise

On January 31, 1919, Frank Cave was discharged from the Australian Army. Soon afterwards, my mother and grandmother set sail for Australia.

Once in Melbourne, they lived with Frank and his mother. However my grandmother became homesick and so he encouraged her to return to England. As a result, she and my mother sailed on the Themistocles, only for my grandmother to discover her passport was missing. She had her suspicions that Frank had stolen it. Nonetheless she and my mother were permitted to continue and they arrived back in England on April 29, 1920.

The Themistocles of the Aberdeen shipping line.
The Themistocles of the Aberdeen shipping line.


Frank Cave promised to join them later. He never did, instead he chose another course.

A Suspected Person


Australian records show that Frank Cave ‘married’ Susan Turner in 1920. One can only guess the marriage took place after my grandmother left the country. My mother told me she had a half-sister, in other words Frank Cave’s daughter. Unfortunately I have been unable to discover anything else about this bigamous relationship although, as will be seen, someone claiming to be his wife did contact military authorities. Nevertheless many other incidents from Frank Cave’s life are well documented.

In August 1922, following a visit to a Melbourne restaurant, he and a friend, Arthur Gilbert, were charged with assault and wilful damage of property. It seems they were acting as pickpockets, and after Gilbert attempted to ‘dip‘ another man, a fight ensued and Frank Cave hit the man in the eye.

A witnesses had this to say:

Cave knocked over a screen and a dinner waggon loaded with crockery, took plates from the hands of a waiter and threw them about, broke a chair, and kicked over a table … When Cave had finished you could not tell whether it was a cafe or a pig stye.

Frank Cave was fined £5 on each charge, and he was ordered to pay £10 damages. He also had to pay Gilbert’s bail because his friend failed to show up at the court.

 Frank Cave, South Australian police files, 1923. He is described as being, 5ft 8 in, strong build, medium complexion, brown hair, hazel eyes, small flesh lump right side of face.
Frank Cave, South Australian police files, 1923. He is described as being, 5ft 8 in, strong build, medium complexion, brown hair, hazel eyes, small flesh lump right side of face.

In April 1923, Frank Cave and John Christie were arrested by Adelaide police who had been tipped off by counterparts in Melbourne. Again it would seem the pair were intent on pickpocketing, this time at the races in Adelaide. They appeared in court and were charged as ‘having insufficient means of support and being suspected persons‘. Frank Cave had just 3/6 in his pockets but nonetheless pleaded Not Guilty. He gave his occupation as a carpenter and he also claimed to have met Christie only days before his arrest. He told the court a story about having arrived in Adelaide in order to borrow money from friends; this was soon shown to be false. He also claimed to have been in constant work since 1912. Unsurprisingly, details of his time in the army were not volunteered. The court found him Guilty and he was given a choice of 6 weeks’ imprisonment or to get the next train back to Melbourne.

In November of that year, there was a police strike in Melbourne, but that did not prevent Frank Cave from being arrested. The charge, which followed an incident involving stolen jewellery, was also ‘having insufficient means of support‘. The outcome is not known but in May 1924 he was again arrested on the same charge, by which time police claimed he was a well known interstate pickpocket. He was discharged, but not for long because in November he was brought before another court after detectives arrested him and three others at Caulfield Race Course in Melbourne. One detective claimed the quartet were ‘gamer than Ned Kelly’s gang‘. Frank Cave was found Guilty and received 6 months’ imprisonment. He was released from prison in April 1925. In October, he was again arrested for pickpocketing after a football match at Melbourne Cricket Ground. This time he was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.

There Will Always be an England

Hard Labour

What happened next is open to conjecture, because Frank Cave, like many criminals, used a number of aliases, including Frank Wilson, Francis Gilbert, Francis Burns and John Christie. He certainly travelled extensively and committed crimes in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Passenger lists for the era when he was active show the presence of ‘F.H. Cave‘ taking a number of voyages overseas. My mother always claimed that at some point after WW1 her father served time in Brixton Prison. If true, when did he visit London? Unless a prisoner was of historical significance, UK prison records have been mostly destroyed for the period in question. There is one notable case in 1930, when an Australian confidence trickster named Frank Wilson was tried for a fraud committed in London. He was sentenced to 3 months’ imprisonment, and even though Frank Cave was known to commit such a crime there is no proof this was him.

In September 1939, shortly after the outbreak of WW2, a woman claiming to be Frank Cave’s wife wrote to the military authorities from an address in Glenelg, South Australia, asking for a copy of his army discharge papers. She claimed he was unable to write for himself and said it was a matter of urgency. This was not the first request for these documents. In 1927, he had done the same, either shortly before or immediately after being arrested at a Brisbane racecourse. Whether he had been arrested by South Australian police in 1939 is unknown, but in April 1941 he most certainly was.

Frank Cave was living in Brighton, a seaside town outside Adelaide and close to Glenelg, when, with two other men, he was accused of conspiring to defraud members of the public by exploiting feelings of patriotism.

The three had arranged for someone to print stickers, approximately the size of a postcard, with pictures of a Union Jack and the head of Winston Churchill. There was also a slogan: ‘There will always be an England.‘ The printing cost of each was 2¼ pence.

At first, the three said they wanted 50,000 printed, later reduced to 30,000 and then just 500. Frank Cave and his confederates travelled the state in a borrowed car, selling these certificates at 2 shillings each. They claimed the money was for either the Red Cross or the ‘Fighting Forces Comforts Fund‘. Sometimes they said: ‘It’s for the boys over there.

When finally apprehended by police, the gang produced two receipts, both for little more than £1, paid to the Red Cross and ‘Fighting Forces Comforts Funds’. It proved impossible to know how many certificates they had sold, but when it came to court the prosecution had 20 witnesses to call. The three pleaded Not Guilty. The jury found all of them Guilty. Frank Cave, then aged 47, was sentenced to 9 months’ imprisonment, which he served in Yatala Labour Prison. He was released in December 1941.

Electoral records prove Frank left South Australia and eventually settled in New South Wales. Whether he avoided breaking the law again is unknown and there is no record of him being arrested again, let alone charged.

My Mother’s Search

So close and yet …

In October 1965, my family emigrated to Australia. In part it stemmed from my parents’ wish to make a better life for their children. However there was also my mother’s determination to find her father.

We lived in South Australia and eventually, with the help of the Salvation Army, my mother discovered that Frank Cave was living in a hostel in Sydney. Despite her pleas to see him, he refused, saying if she was looking for money she was wasting her time because he had none.

Instead, she met his brother, Otway Hamlet Cave, who lived in Melbourne.

Otway Cave and my Family
Left to right, Otway Cave, my mother, Otway’s wife, my father, my brother Jamie. (front) my sister Lorraine and my brother Shaun

Otway apologised for his brother’s behaviour, describing Frank as ‘the black sheep of the family‘.

We left Australia the following day on board a ship bound for England. We stopped once more in Australia, in Sydney. RHMS Ellinis remained moored alongside the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a day and a night. We went ashore and even stood on that famous bridge, but what we didn’t do was cross it.

RHMS Ellinis in Sydney Harbour, late 1967
RHMS Ellinis in Sydney Harbour, late 1967

Some 50 years later, I discovered that Frank Cave was living a quarter a mile from the far side of the bridge.

End of the Line

Field of Mars

Frank Cave died in Concord Hospital, Sydney on July 8, 1968. He was buried in the Church of England Cemetery, Field of Mars (grave no. 3155). Even to the last he avoided telling the truth. Despite him knowing otherwise, his death certificate states he was a widower, that his wife Gladys died at the age of 28, (in fact my grandmother outlived him) and that he had no children.

To see photographs of the voyage from Adelaide to Çuracao go here.

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