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Michael Cleary

Born in Dunedin, New Zealand on 5 December 1883, Michael was the youngest child of Michael James Cleary from Miltown Malbay, County Clare, Ireland, and Catherine Kiely from Melbourne, Australia.

As noted elsewhere in  Letters of a School Boy, Hoxton Park, 1894-1896, one of the letters of the young Michael Francis Cleary, who lived in Australia, was addressed to a "cousin", also named Michael Cleary, in Castle Street, Dunedin, New Zealand. It appears that the letter from the Australian schoolboy was addressed to his second cousin in New Zealand. The Australian boy's parents had lived in the south island of New Zealand until approximately just before both boys were born so, while the boys had never met personally, it is certain that their respective parents were well acquainted. Both boys were named Michael Cleary, as were their respective fathers.

It seems Michael had lived an ordinary life. In his early thirties, he was employed as a farm hand for Hudson Munro at Longslip Station in the mountains beyond Kurow. Select this link to the Otago Daily Times for a relatively recent report about Longview.

No further information is known about Michael until he was in his thirties when war intervened. And politics.

There were enough volunteers to fill the numbers required for the force and its reinforcements until 1916. News of Gallipoli and of the trenches in Belgium and France showed that the war was no longer a ‘glorious adventure’. Conscription was introduced in 1916 to maintain force numbers. Extract from Archives New Zealand Research guide 3: War, January 2010.



Michael Cleary is front left in this photograph.


In February 1917, Michael was drafted into the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (Army). It certainly appears not to have been a voluntary choice. Like many other young colonials. he was given a few months basic training before being exported as fodder for war. His ship docked in Albany, Western Australia, on 23 June 1917 but Michael was not aboard when it sailed for Europe the next day. Although Michael probably saw it differently, the army labelled him a "deserter". See New Zealand army record.

Unlike New Zealand, the people of Australia twice voted against the conscription of young men to fight this futile European war. And some very high profile Australians were on the winning side in the argument, particularly Daniel Mannix, the Irish-born Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne (see Wikipedia). Michael Cleary's father was born in Ireland. His mother had been born in Melbourne to Irish parents, and the couple had married in Melbourne. It was bad luck for Michael that his parents had settled in New Zealand rather than stayed in Melbourne where people like Daniel Mannix were arguing on behalf of a generation of young men. Although there was a lot of angst in Australia about conscription, it is very possible that a conscript absconder may have found more sympathy in Australia than in New Zealand, and Michael may have been able to seek out cousins in Australia.

Apparently the family then referred to him as "Tom" and it is presumed he used this name after 1917. It is thought that he returned to New Zealand, although it is uncertain how soon he might have returned after he left the Army. It is also thought that family members had secret meetings with him even though his brother was probably nervous about losing his government job if he sheltered a "deserter". It is also interesting to note on the Army service record that Michael's next of kin, his mother, changed her address from being C/o of the Police Station in Cambridge to her daughter's farm.

One story that has survived is that he went to Ireland and got involved in the Civil War. There is no documentary evidence to support this story but it is certainly possible. He would not have been a deserter there. Perhaps, if he was going to be coerced to fight, it might as well have been for a good cause.

Young men who abscond from the horrors and/or immmorality of war are among the uncounted casualties. In this case, a man, formerly law-abiding and gainfully employed, is suddenly alientated from his community. His old life is never recovered.

The rest of Michael's story is unknown. Anyone with information about a Michael Cleary or Tom Cleary, whose story is consistent with the above, is invited to contact the website administration.


Thanks to Brigid Baker for providing the photograph and some of this information. The Australian website administrator is responsible for the information and bias about military conscription for a futile war.



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Michael Cleary



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