75a. LASSETER, DIED of WOUNDS.

"SAP. L. H. LASSETER. Meredith (Vic) Died of Wounds".

Sydney Mail. 29 November 1916.

 

This entry is part of a larger story about Lasseter's first fraud, a surprisingly well documented affair that reveals a great deal about Lasseter and his motive for joining the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War. He was a reluctant volunteer, an avowed pacifist who bedevilled military bureaucracy with war machines and strategies, he never fired a shot in anger and never left Australia yet his obituary, with a photograph, appeared in the Sydney Mail on the 29th of November 1916, "Died of Wounds", apparently while serving with the ANZAC Mounted Division in the Sinai, now that demands an explanation!

This conundrum was first raised in the Weekend Australian, 15/16th April 1989, in an article titled "Legendary Lasseter Stranger than Fiction", the Author, Carmel Egan concluded, and many have agreed since, that Lasseter had faked his own death to escape an unhappy marriage. At the time the obituary appeared, Lasseter was alive and so so and annoying officialdom in Melbourne, he had been discharged from the Army five weeks earlier as medically unfit due to blindness in his right eye, and still married to his first wife, Florence, and would remain so until at least 1921. It has been suggested that the obituary was the newspapers mistake, a fortnight later the Sydney Mail printed a correction to Lasseter's obituary, with the same photo the caption now read, "Sapper L. H. Lasseter. Tabulam and Meredith (Vic) Blinded in one eye. Previously incorrectly reported died of wounds".

The correction leaves the clear inference that Lasseter had been blinded in the line of duty, and that was intended, a part of Lasseter's longer term plan to defraud the Repatriation Department for compensation and a disability pension, a more detailed entry that does have a tidy conclusion. Meanwhile the Sydney Mail has some questions to answer starting with the obituary and it's inclusion in a full page feature titled, "With the ANZAC Mounted Division in Sinai", the article was short on detail but included two large photographs of Diggers on patrol and security duties as well as five smaller photos of soldiers who had been killed or wounded in action, Lasseter was one of the five, his name and initials, rank and domicile are correct.

Knowing Lasseter did not serve overseas raises questions about the other four men, Private O. Ling, Private A. Poole, Trooper L. J. Butcher and Gunner W. Tipping, had the Sydney Mail compounded an error or was there something sinister afoot? An hours absorbing research in the National Archives confirmed an unfortunate truth, the captions to the photographs were correct, although three photos were out of context to the feature headline, Pvts Ling and Poole and Gunner Tipping were killed or wounded in Europe, Trooper Butcher in the Middle East, so how did Lasseter end up in such august company? There is a way.

On the evidence so far it would appear that the Sydney Mail did make a mistake, duly corrected a fortnight later, however there are several anomalies in Lasseter's obituary and the correction, not the least, what was Lasseter's photograph doing in a Sydney newspaper office when he enlisted in Victoria? the other four men enlisted in New South Wales. No other paper in Australia mentioned Lasseter's demise and resurrection and he is not mentioned in the meticulously recorded official casualty lists, only in the low and restricted circulation weekly edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, but as an item in a full page special feature!. The correction on the other hand appeared in a regular column, 'Query Club' (how ironic) along with an obituary to Private A. G. Melville K.I.A. France, he too enlisted in Sydney, the correction included a reference to Tabulam where Lasseter and his family lived from 1911 to 1915, and the inference remained that he had been wounded (blinded) in action. To be crude about it, I now have five dead or wounded Diggers from N.S.W. and one unscathed scoundrel from Victoria.

It was Lasseter's biographer, Murray Hubbard (The Search for Harold Lasseter) who noticed that Lasseter had a knack for manipulating the Press, and here is a fine example. During the First World War there were two main sources of information regarding casualties, the official lists carefully compiled by the Navy and Army, freely available but necessarily brief, or from family and friends who desired a more elaborate tribute to a loved one, and that was simply done, post the appropriate obituary with photograph to the paper of choice, Lasseter chose the Sydney Mail with a very specific readership in mind, the Negus family, distant relations by marriage, who accommodated Lasseter and his family for several weeks while Lasseter was in transit from Tabulam to Melbourne where he enlisted. Lasseter's arrival out of the blue on the Negus's doorstep was a great imposition, especially over the festive season, and no doubt they were glad to see the last of him and given Lasseter's record it was probably a rancorous departure with debt involved.

After careful consideration I've concluded, that at the most, perhaps a couple of dozen people would recall Lasseter being in Sydney from December 1915 to January 1916, Lasseter was safely anonymous and could post his own obituary from Victoria knowing it would only mean something to the Negus family, and the Sydney Mail was not widely read in Victoria at threepence a time. This was a malicious act on Lasseter's part, directed at the Negus family for sending him on his way and of course to write off any debts. There's subtle proof of Lasseter's perfidy in the correction where he included Tabulam as a former domicile, the Army was not aware of this, only Lasseter, and the inclusion was aimed at the citizens of Tabulam who did not take Lasseter seriously, a great blow to his pride and his departure was not auspicious.

While this charade was being played out in N.S.W. Lasseter was becoming an imposition on the Victorian taxpayer with free travel far and wide in search of unsuitable work, that when found, usually lasted a matter of days. He gleaned 6 household expenses from the State War Council and neatly dumped 18/7/7 assorted debt on Red Cross Relief, claiming his difficult circumstances were aggravated by his blindness, a consequence of military service, but as mentioned earlier, that's another story, ten years in the making. Of course the Negus family accepted the obituary at face value and mourned appropriately and had no reason to expect a correction. Several years later, probably in 1924,  they were understandably surprised to learn that Lasseter was alive, had remarried and returned to Sydney, the Negus's reasonably concluded that Lasseter had faked his death to escape his marriage to Florence and always the debts.

Shortly after he was discharged from the Army (the second time) Lasseter took to drifting about Gippsland, talking big and doing little, he became involved in setting up a couple of ex servicemen's clubs and was an advocate for their rights and opportunities, and he didn't bother to correct anyone if they were left with the impression that he had served overseas with the 8th Light Horse Regiment, no doubt he would have a copy of the Sydney Mail as proof. The deception would catch up with him in due course, but Lasseter's sojourn in Gippsland is yet another story.

In short the Sydney Mail didn't make a mistake, it just published obituaries as received and in good faith, with minimal if any checking of the official record, besides it would be somewhat unseemly to doubt the word of a bereaved family. Over the next five or so years Lasseter wasted an enormous amount of bureaucratic and political time with impractical schemes and then using the Press to blackmail and bully the unfortunate decision makers, one senior Army officer was moved to warn his staff to be very careful in their dealings with Lasseter, he had a nasty habit of creating situations in order to "twist the tail", of the military, a favourite ploy was to misdirect his replies to correspondence and then complain to higher authority about unreasonable delays.

LASSETERIA

 

Murray Hubbard, The Search for Harold Lasseter, pgs 62-65. Billy Marshall-Stoneking, Lasseter In Quest of Gold, pgs 220-221. National Archives Australia, Title, Lewis H Lasseter, Obtaining Assistance in Connection with Land, Series No., A2489, Control Symbol, 1920/1492, Barcode No. 5141862. Title, LASSETER Lewis Hubert : Service Number - 23636 : Place of Birth - Meredith VIC  Place of Enlistment - Melbourne VIC : Next of Kin - (Wife) LASSETER Florence Elizabeth, Series No. B2455, Control Symbol, LASSETER LEWIS HUBERT, Barcode, 8334260. The Weekend Australian, April 15/16, 1989, pgs 1,10. The Sydney Mail, 29/11/1916, pg 21 @ 13/12/1916, pg 26.