A Mother and Her Seven Soldier Sons

13 August 2013 by Tamsin Hong

 

It seemed like an ordinary day where I was busy researching areas of our collection, when two remarkable badges were offered for donation. They were a Female Relative Badge with seven stars and a Mothers and Widows’ Badge with four stars, both from the Second World War. Some of you will immediately recognise the value and rarity of these badges. However, as I learnt about the story behind these badges, I came to realise the significance of their meaning.

The two badges belonged to Mrs. Mary Hutchins. She had nine sons and two daughters with her husband Henry in Woorinen, rural Victoria. Seven of her sons enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force during the Second World War. They were aged between 17 and 30 and they worked mostly as labourers in the local rural community. Mrs. Hutchins must have been very proud of her boys because in order to be issued the Female Relative Badge she would have needed to prove she was their closest female relative and she would have also applied for each star individually: one star for each son.

Four of her sons, David, Alan, Fred and Eric, had served in the ill-fated Gull and Lark Forces in Ambon and Rabaul respectively. A few servicemen managed to escape the overwhelming Japanese invasions, but for the duration of the war, little was known of what happened to the remainder of Gull and Lark Forces. Later in the war, the Hutchins family heard anecdotally from one of the successful Rabaul escapees that Alan Hutchins might have been shot and killed whilst trying to escape the advancing Japanese.

By the end of 1945, three of the Hutchins’ sons had been discharged and were safely home, but still, there was no definite word of the fate of their four brothers. Then, in one week in February 1946, four telegrams arrived confirming the deaths of four of the Hutchins boys. One of the telegrams confirmed Alan had been killed in Rabaul during the hostilities in March 1942. In the following years, Australia would learn of the ruthlessness of those invasions and the horrific experiences faced by the prisoners of war. Conditions for the prisoners on Ambon were particularly harsh and they suffered the highest death rate of any Australian prisoners of war with three-quarters of prisoners dying during their captivity due to mistreatment, malnutrition and disease. Three of the Hutchins brothers died due to the brutality of their Japanese captors in Ambon. Eric was executed at Laha in February 1942; Fred and Eric died as Prisoners of War.

We cannot know to what extent these losses affected the Hutchins family. However, these badges reveal something of Mary. Her Mothers and Widows’ Badge would have involved a similar process to the Female Relative Badge and Mary would have applied for each star individually. According to the Hutchins family and their descendants, Mary never wore this badge nor did she ever speak about her loss of four sons. In light of this, it is curious she ever went to the trouble of applying to be issued the Mothers and Widows’ Badge. Yet she wore her Female Relative Badge with pride, every day for the remainder of her life. But the Mothers and Widows’ Badge was kept hidden away with her grief.