Joseph Leo Nelms

July 21, 2015

NELMS, Joseph Leo- – – – SPC 1900-1903

DoB:- – 1888, Warrenheip, VIC

Father:- – Richard Nelms

Mother:- – Mary, nee Carew

The Annual of 1916-1917 informed the College community that,

-‘-¦ Private J L Nelms enlisted soon after Britain had declared war. He served at first in Gallipoli, and afterwards in France, where he was wounded. His last letter was written from one of the Australian hospitals in London, where he states he is doing well. Joe is a fine type of young man, of splendid physique, being 6 feet 2 inches in height, and very popular with his comrades and friends. We trust he will return ere long covered with glory -¦’

Service No:- 219

Rank:- – Sergeant

Unit:- – 22nd Battalion

Joe Nelms enlisted on 10 February 1915 at the age of 29 years and two months. He was a Police Constable by profession. His attestation papers state his height to be six feet, his complexion ruddy, with brown eyes and dark brown hair. He was unmarried at the time.

Sergeant Nelms embarked for overseas service on 10 May 1915 aboard the Ulysses, sailing from Melbourne to Egypt. After some weeks undergoing training, he proceeded to Gallipoli on 30 August. He remained on the Turkish Peninsula until the evacuation of the Anzac troops in December 1915, after which time he went via Mudros, Greece, to Egypt where he was treated at Tel-el-Kebir for a skin disease. This eczema must have been debilitating, as the treatment continued from January to March 1916, when he was finally discharged to duty from the No 3 Auxiliary Hospital at Heliopolis.

Nelms proceeded to France in July 1916, where he was wounded in action. He was admitted to the No 5 General Hospital at Rouen suffering from shell shock. He was evacuated to the UK to recover, and by 21 August 1916 he was able to be discharged from hospital to the Military Camp at Perham Downs.

The problems he had with his skin condition flared up again and his war record shows that he suffered with it for almost the remainder of his time on active service. There was one mention in his record that suggested his psoriasis was so severe as a result of gassing. By September 1917 when back in France, he was actually hospitalised with what was diagnosed as psoriasis. For several weeks he was transferred to various hospitals for treatment, eventually being invalided to England on 21 October, and admitted to the 2nd London General Hospital at Wandsworth. He remained there for a month, after which time he was granted furlough from 23 November to 7 December 1917.

In January 1918, Sergeant Nelms proceeded once again to France. He was wounded in action (the second occasion) on 19 May, but remained on duty. Two months later, on 23 July 1918, he was wounded in action (the third occasion), this time being admitted to the Casualty Clearing Station suffering from being gassed. By December he was transferred back to England where he was prepared for his return home.

Sergeant Nelms boarded the Orca on 19 February 1919 at Liverpool for his return to Australia. He disembarked at Melbourne on 7 April, and was discharged from the AIF on 6 June 1919.

In researching Joseph Leo Nelms’ life after his return to Australia, the College discovered several interesting things. Firstly, as a career soldier (he joined the Permanent Forces on 28 June 1909), and later as a police officer, Joseph was stationed in different places around the country. In 1909 he was at the Queenscliff Barracks in Victoria. In 1913 he was on Thursday Island, part of the Torres Strait Islands and 39 kilometres north of Cape York Peninsula. It was while on Thursday Island that Joseph met and married Dora Karumba Keily, on 4 February 1913. Dora and Joseph had one daughter, Mary Josephine, who was born in December of the same year. The electoral rolls show that the family had relocated by 1914 to 16 Dorcas Street, South Melbourne, and Joseph was based at the local police station.

On Joseph’s AIF attestation papers in 1915, he states that he was a single man. The College discovered that Dora died on 11 September 1914 at the age of 24. The cause of her death was pulmonary tuberculosis. She was buried at the Coburg Cemetery, and left her husband and 10-month-old daughter to grieve. Seventeen months later, Joseph enlisted for active service. The College was unable to discover who looked after baby Mary Josephine.

When Joseph returned to Australia after the war, he married Lena Effie Campbell on 31 May 1921. Together they had two children and they lived in the seaside suburb of Sandringham.

Joseph died on 13 September 1926, aged 38 years. His death certificate shows that he suffered from arteriosclerosis (a thickening, hardening and loss of elasticity in the artery walls) and chronic nephritis (inflammation that occurs in the kidneys). The death certificate lists all his three children, but gives no details about his first marriage. Mary Josephine was 13 years old at the time of her father’s death, and the other two children were four and two years old respectively. There was still no indication as to who was looking after Mary Josephine.

Joseph was buried at the Coburg Cemetery in the same plot as his first wife, Dora.