Private Garnet Roy (Paddy) Dettmann

At the 2016 ANZAC Day Ceremony, in the Lane Cove Plaza, Nicholas Dettmann read the speech below on behalf of the Dettman Family.  It is a fascinating insight into a Lane Cove family.  Thank you to Nicholas Dettmann for allowing us to reproduce the speech below.



Paddy Dettmann
Garnet Roy (Paddy) Dettmann in World War I uniform, circa 1915 – 1916 (Courtesy of J. Dettmann/Lane Cove Library)

The Dettmann family has a long association with the Longueville community going back to 1886 when, after teaching at Bathurst High School headmaster John Dettmann and his wife Elizabeth returned to Sydney to live with Elizabeth’s widowed mother at her home “Wahroonga”, at 13 Stuart Street. The house still stands.

Their eighth child was my great-uncle, Garnet Roy Dettmann, always known as “Paddy”. Educated at Sydney Grammar School (where his brother Bert later served as headmaster), Paddy then worked as a clerk and played cricket for Lane Cove and Gordon clubs before he enlisted into the 30th Infantry Battalion of the 8th Brigade of the AIF in November 1915, aged 26.

After initial training at Liverpool the Battalion sailed for Egypt in February 1916, where they defended the Suez Canal against the Turks. Then the Battalion became part of the 5th Division and received orders to sail for France.

Arriving in the Armentieres sector, south of Lille, in June 1916 the Australian 5th Division and the UK 61st Division were ordered to attack the German line at Fromelles.

The Germans had been developing their defences around Fromelles for over two years. The attack took place on the night of 19th-20th July 1916, which has been called “the worst night in Australian military history”. The attacking forces suffered severe casualties over a 15 hour period – the 5th Division 5533 casualties, the 61st Division 1547, while the Germans suffered an estimated 1800 casualties. In total, almost 9000 casualties for nothing.

Paddy’s 30th Battalion was initially tasked to carry ammunition to the assault troops but was then committed to the fighting when the situation deteriorated. It suffered 352 casualties, which was more than 35% of its strength.

During the attack, Paddy was severely wounded. In those very different times, it was 16 days after he was wounded until his mother in Longueville was told by telegram that he had been “wounded”, and a further 13 days before a second telegram told her that he had received “gunshot wound, chest and throat severe”. It was some weeks before she received any further information about his condition.

Paddy was evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station, then to hospitals at Boulogne in France and Dundee in Scotland, and finally to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital near London.

While in Scotland Paddy had surgery to remove some of the shrapnel from his neck, but his wounds were so severe that he was returned to Australia in October 1916, and discharged from the AIF in April 1917. With shrapnel still in his neck and no further surgery possible, his wound required regular dressing at Concord Repat. Hospital for the rest of his life.

Paddy didn’t find returning to civilian life easy, as he had been badly affected by his war service, but he married Dorothy later in 1917, and they had two children, Beth Dettmann and John Frederick Dettmann. John’s daughter Melissa is here today.

Paddy mostly lived on a service pension. However, his disability didn’t prevent him from playing many seasons of cricket again for Lane Cove and one more for Gordon, as did many other members of the family. The scoreboard that stood until recently beside the pavilion at Kingsford Smith Oval at Longueville was named The Dorothy Dettmann Scoreboard in honour of Paddy’s wife Dorothy’s many years of service as scorer to Lane Cove cricket teams.

Family legend has it that Paddy was good enough to have played cricket for Australia as a fast bowler if it hadn’t been for the shrapnel embedded near his bowling arm. (I think most families have a legend like that.) Whatever the truth of the legend, by 1930 he was reduced to bowling leg spin, but still broke the Gordon Club record for most wickets in a season in the City and Suburban team.

Paddy is remembered in the family as a funny and fun-loving man, but also as a man who never recovered from the physical and mental effects of the war.

Paddy and Dorothy lived at 25 Stuart Street, only a few houses away from the family home at No.13. Perhaps the fact the he named his house “Fleurbaix”, after the French village nearest to where he was wounded, nicely captures both the lighter and the darker sides of Paddy Dettmann’s post-war life.

Paddy died in 1947, aged 58, and is buried in Gore Hill cemetery.

Paddy’s story is special to our family, but I am sure it is also typical of the stories of very many others who served.

Nicholas Dettmann
Anzac Day 2016