"Looking for Uncle Sonny"

The Keevils, Rawnsleys & Crutchleys in World War I

Michael Organ

Private "Sonny" Keevil (right) and three other Australian soldiers in Turkey, 1916. Original postcard in the family collection. The reverse of the postcard reads: "To my dear Sister May with fond love from Will wishing you a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year."


Whilst searching through a collection of my mother's old photographs during April 2006 I came across a number of postcard portraits of World War I era (1914-1918) soldiers. My mother - Roma Organ nee Crutchley (b.1930) - was able to identify some of the people pictured, based on her own memories and assisted by the postcard inscriptions. The photographs also started the process of her recalling in greater detail a number of interesting and related family stories, told to her by her mother, aunties and assorted relatives. This outflow of information was further spurred on by a visit she made around this time to Singleton to see her elderly 91 year old sister Idora Philomena May "Maisie" Smith (1915-2006). Roma returned from this trip with copies of some of the family history research Maisie's son Paul Smith had been carrying out in recent years. I, at the time, did not follow any of this up, but I vowed to sit down with my mother at some stage in the near future and record here reminiscences in more detail. A couple of months later, in June 2006, my then 15 year old son Andrew informed me that he was doing an assignment at high school on World War I. As a result, we got talking about possible family involvement in the war and a number of questions came up. I had carried out a detailed investigation into the Organ family line during the 1980s and knew that, through circumstances, none of my immediate Organ ancestors had fought in either of the world wars. However, the postcard photographs seen in April then came to mind and I was motivated to investigate further my mother's line of descent - the Crutchleys and the Keevils - specifically focussing on their experiences in World War I. The search began with two images of my mother's uncle "Sonny" Keevil. The account below records details of the search to find out who Sonny was, the various dead-ends encountered, and the findings. It remains a work in progress.

The Keevils

As is often the case with historical research, you can take two steps forward and then hit a brick wall. Such was the case in trying to pin down mum's Uncle Sonny. According to Roma Organ's reminiscences during April-May 2006, "Sonny" Keevil served overseas during World War I and was gassed during an encounter with the enemy. Upon returning to Australia he lived in a health asylum at Orange, in western New South Wales, where he eventually passed away, the victim of the war, the gas and a hard life which included heavy drinking. Roma remembers meeting him once as a 7 year old child in Orange, around 1937. At the time Sonny dropped by the house of my mother's aunty Jeanette to meet up with his visiting sister May, Roma's mother. This information was all that was available on Sonny at the beginning of my research, along with two postcards supposedly of him, various photocopies of birth, death and marriage records relating to the Keevil and Crutchley families and acquired from Paul Smith, and the invaluable online resources of the Australian War Memorial relating to those who served during World War I. This was more than enough to get started with, and the results came quickly. Additional information was also provided second-hand by the 84 year old Betty Harrison nee Gentle, daughter of the late Sarah Jane "Jeanette" Keevil, sister to Sonny. Perhaps finally, in September a family historian from the north coast of New South Wales - Pat Kennedy - contacted me with information providing conclusive evidence that Sonny was a soldier. But let's go back to the beginning.

Prior to the revelations of Pat Kennedy, the resources at hand told me that Sonny Keevil was one of nine children of Elijah George Keevil (1856-1930) and Mary Ann Byrum (1859-1928). Elijah Keevil was the son of Colin Mark Keevil, born in England in 1818, and Mary Ann Nunan, also born in  England in 1826. The couple had married in Adelaide during 1846. It is unknown when they arrived in the Colony, however we do know that Elijah was born on 28 May 1856 at Fiery Creek, Raglan in Victoria. Elijah Keevil's future wife Mary Ann Byrum was born in the same colony three years later. Following their marriage Elijah was employed driving a Cobb & Co. coach in the Hay district of New South Wales. He travelled extensively, as did his family, however there were also many instances when he was absent on the road. During one such occasion Mary Ann answered a knock on the door and entertained to tea the notorious bushranger Captain Lightfoot - subject of the later Peter Finch movie Robbery Under Arms (1957). A scene in the film presents Lightfoot as a charming man, and one can well imagine Mary Ann welcoming him to tea. The known children of Elijah George Keevil and Mary Ann Byrum were:

'Mary Ann Byrum, Nymagey, August 10/1882'. Original postcard photograph. Collection: Pat Kennedy.

1. Herbert Thomas "Bert" Keevil (b.1885).

2. Ernest A. "Ernie" Keevil (b.1888). Ernie was a train driver. He lived at Redfern with his wife Jessie May (b.1900). Unfortunately she died in child birth during 1934, leaving him to take care of 9 children. Some of the children were Terry, Jim and Nancy. His sister Jeanette Keevil travelled to Sydney to help her brother take care of the kids. She moved from Redfern Dulwich Hill with some of the youngest and brought them up there. Ernie also died young, and the rest of the children were left to fend for themselves. It is said that some of the girls went into prostitution to survive during the Depression years.

3. Catherine May "Kate" Keevil (1890-1963). Kate married Edgar Robert Crutchley (1882-1955) in 1912. They were the parents of Roma.

4. Cornelius John (?Joseph) "Sonny" Keevil (1893-1963).

5. William Henry "Bill" or "Will" Keevil (b.? - d.1942). Will married Gladys.

6. Margaret Eveline "Biddie" Keevil (b.1898). Biddie married John Melling "Jack" Spiers of Austinmer near Wollongong on 30 April 1921 at Newtown. The pair subsequently lived in the Newcastle / Stockton area. Jack served in the army during WWI. He was also part of the local contingent that trained in the park at Bulli and serviced the gun formerly mounted on the hill overlooking Bulli beach. Biddie had worked as a saleswoman in one of the large stores in Sydney prior to marrying Jack. Biddie and Jack had three children - Lenny, Neville (d.2005) and Nancy.

7. Mary H. "Myrtle" Keevil (b.1900) - Myrtle died of tuberculosis around 1947. She had married Charlie Leonard who was a taxi driver and "bag man". Their son Charlie Leonard was supposedly a gangster - the story is told of how he protected a Sydney doctor who performed certain illegal operations.

8. Sarah Jane "Jeanette" Keevil. She later moved to Sydney to care for the children of Ernie Keevil when his wife died. Jeanette married a Mr Gentle and their daughter Betty Harrison helped to provide reminiscences during 2006, aged 84. It was suggested that Jeanette was not the natural daughter of Elijan and Mary Ann, but was a cousin brought up by them, and this may explain the lack of official records of her birth.

9. Nita Philomena Keevil (1904-1952). Never married. She was an epileptic.

Sonny Keevil

The "Sonny" Keevil of the postcards found among the collection of Roma Organ and reproduced above was one of the four brothers of Katherine May Keevil and the uncle of Roma Organ. Neither Roma nor Betty Harrison were sure of Sonny's actual name - Roma initially thought it was Will (William), whilst Betty thought Cornelius. This proved problematic, as in seeking information on the military career of "Uncle Sonny", a search of the Australian War Memorial's Nominal Roll for those Australians who fought overseas in World War I between 1914-1918 revealed only the following single entry for a Keevil:

* Private Thomas Keevil | Age 24 | Painter | 2nd Infantry Battalion | Regiment No. 1373 | 30.10.14 - 21.3. 19 | R.T.A | CofE | Father - Thomas Keevil (90), London.

This was not our Sonny. In fact, there appeared to be no record for either Cornelius or Will Keevil serving during WWI, and the aforementioned Thomas does not appear to be our Herbert Thomas or Cornelius Joseph Keevil. For example, Sonny's father was not the 90 year old Thomas Keevil of London, and if Sonny was Cornelius John he would have been closer to 21 when he signed on in 1915 to the 2nd Infantry Battalion AIF. If it was Herbert Thomas then he would have been 29, and if Ernest A. then 26. This unit was part of the 1 to 12 reinforcements taken on between December 1914 - December 1915. The Private Thomas Keevil noted above is recorded as embarking for Europe on the HMAT Seang Bee at Sydney on 11 February 1915. He was eventually discharged on 21 March 1919 after returning to Australia.

Apart from the reminiscences of Roma Organ and Betty Harrison, two contemporary postcard portraits of Sonny Keevil survive in the family collection. They were passed down to Mrs Organ from her mother Catherine May Crutchley. The first postcard (reproduced above) is undated, though there is a note in ballpoint pen on the back that it was taken in Turkey during 1916. The postcard is labelled 'Carte Postale' (French) and contains the following message, supposedly from Sonny, in ink:

"To my dear Sister May with fond love from Will wishing you a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year."

The postcard image is of four soldiers, with Sonny Keevil seated on the right, wearing a set of leather riding boots and a turned up hat reminiscent of that worn by the Australian Lighthorse Regiment. The reference to "Will" is most like his brother William Henry who died at Manly in 1942, though we have no precise details of his birth. This inscription adds to the mystery - is the person in the photograph Will Keevil or Sonny; or, is the man on the right of the photograph Will?

In the second postcard (reproduced below), Sonny Keevil is seated by himself and wearing a rather large plinth safari hat.

Private "Sonny" Keevil. Original postcard in family collection.

This postcard bears the following contemporary inscription on the back: "Dear May, this is a photo that we had struck off one that Sonnie sent mum & I got 1 day done. We are sending one each all round. We just got your letter. Mum is writing straight back to you. Mum is sending Maisie & Jack something 2 weeks before Xmas. From your sister Myrtle."

Jack and Maisie were the young children of Catherine May Crutchley. They had been born in 1913 and 1915 respectively and were the older brother and sister of Roma Organ. The postcard was sent to May Crutchley by her sister Myrtle. It is possible that the original photograph she refers to was one of the first Sonny sent back home to the family in Australia from the front. The shorts and hat suggest that he may have been stationed in north Africa at the time. Once again, we are assuming that this photograph is of Sonny Keevil, though there was some ambiguity until September 2006 when Pat Kennedy contacted me and provided concrete information on our subject.

According to Pat Kennedy, Cornelius Joseph Keevil did join the A.I.F. in November 1915. and at the time named his father George Keevil as N.O.K. George was then living at 334 Abercrombie Street, Redfern. Cornelius told the authorities that he was born in Condobolin, his occupation was Billard Marker and at 13 November 1915 was 23 years and 4 months. He signed on Cootamundra and was described as: height 6ft., complexion dark, eyes blue, hair dark and Roman Catholic.

Sonny was immediately attached to B. Company 4th Battalion as a Private but on 20 December 1915, after only five weeks in the A.I.F. he was discharged for "Riotous Behaviour". Pat Kennedy believes that he may have re-joined almost immediately, but under a different name, however to date he has not been located under an alias. Such behaviour was quite normal for young Australia men at the time keen to fight in the war. It therefore seems that the photos of Sonny Keevil on duty overseas are genuine, but that it may prove difficult to pin his movements down if he maintained an alias throughout his period of service. 

After the war his trail is similarly convoluted. For example, on 22 September 2016 I was contacted by Carmel Theresa Keville who was wondering if the C.J. Keevil included in a Sydney police  mug shot from 1921 was Sonny Keevil? Carmel noted the following:

"Michael, I was reading an article you put up about finding out about a family member by the name of C.J Keevil - possibly Cornelius Joseph Keevil. If this is correct I found an image online whilst doing some research on my family name. Keevil is a variation of my surname. From the photos you put up of him I am pretty sure the image I found resembles him very much .... "

sonny keevil

Hampton Hirscham, Cornelius Joseph Keevil, William Thomas O'Brien and James O'Brian, Central Police Station, Sydney, 20 July 1921.  Digitally coloured photograph.

sonny keevil

Hampton Hirscham, Cornelius Joseph Keevil, William Thomas O'Brien and James O'Brian, Central Police Station, Sydney, 20 July 1921.  Digitally coloured photograph.

"I found this information with the original exibition - this is a mug shot of the following men ~ Hampton Hirscham, Cornellius Joseph Keevil, William Thomas O'Brien and James O'Brien, 20 July 1921, Central Police Station, Sydney. Special Photograph no. 446. The quartet pictured were arrested over a robbery at the home of bookmaker Reginald Catton, of Todman Avenue, Kensington, on 21 April 1921. The Crown did not proceed against Thomas O'Brien but the other three were convicted, and received sentences of fifteen months each. This picture is one of a series of around 2500 "special photographs" taken by New South Wales Police Department photographers between 1910 and 1930. These "special photographs" were mostly taken in the cells at the Central Police Station, Sydney and are, as curator Peter Doyle explains, of "men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension". Doyle suggests that, compared with the subjects of prison mug shots, "the subjects of the Special Photographs seem to have been allowed - perhaps invited - to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked. Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics."

The details of the robbery were published in the Lismore Northern Star and Sydney Morning Herald on 20 and 21 July 1921:



SYDNEY, Tuesday.—Hampton Hirsham, Cornelius Keevil, William O'Brien, and James O'Brien were charged at the Central Court with having stolen on April 30th 346 from the dwelling house of Reginald Catton, bookmaker, at Kensington. In connection with this case Roy Frost was arrested and charged with this offence and convicted at Darlinghurst Sessions. An appeal had been lodged against the conviction of Frost on the ground that three men had been arrested and made important statement's. Constable Schinitzet stated that on June 30 Hirsham spoke to him on Newtown bridge, and asked him to arrest him because they had the wrong man in connection with stealing the bookmaker's money at' Kensington. He said he had stolen the money and spent it. Witness took him to the police station. A statement by accused was read in which he said that on the night of the robbery he met Keevil in George-street and drove in a taxi to Kensington. They went to a house, and he said to Miss Young "There is a lot of money in this house, and I have come to get it. I am a pretty desperate man.'' Hirgham then detailed the manner in which they secured the money, after which they drove to Newtown. The statement set out how Hirsham spent various sums of money on Mrs. Buckingham and her daughter. Cavan, the statement goes on, came to see him about three weeks ago, and he demanded the balance of the money. After an altercation he said that if he did not give him (Hirsham) his "chop" he would give him in charge.. He had a quarrel with Mrs. Buckingham, who ordered him from the house. He then went to the Newtown police and told them all about the robbery. A second statement, also written by Hirsham, was to the effect that on the day of the robbery he met Tom O'Brien in a billiard room.. The latter asked him "Are you going out there to-night?" meaning Catton's. O'Brien asked him if he knew where the money was, and then said he had just come from Kensington, and the occupants were going to the theatre. He then left' O'Brien. It was explained by the police that the name Cavan in the statement referred to Keevil. A statement by James O'Brien was put in. He said he met Hirsham and Keevil in George-street. Hirsham said "I'm broke.'' O'Brien then said lie knew where there was a house with money in it. Hirsham said "I'll go and have a look at it." O'Brien then went and pointed out Catton's house. Later Keevil handed him 39 in notes. The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow. ...




SYDNEY, July 19.

Mr Reginald Catton, a well-known book maker, was robbed of 346 in notes on April 30 by two men who came to his house in Todman Avenue, Randwick, at night time, intimidated a young woman who was alone in the place at the time, and after having ransacked the residence, found money behind a grate in a bedroom. A young man named Roy Frost was charged at the June Quarter Sessions with stealing in connection with the affair, and was convicted, but gave notice of appeal, and is now on bail pending the appeal. This morning Hamnton Hirsham (20), Cornelius Joseph Keevil (27), William Thomas O'Brien (29) and James O'Brien (37) appeared before the Central Police Court on a charge of having stolen Catton's 346. P.C. Schmitzer said that Hirsham had approached him, and made a statement setting out that it was he and Keevil who had carried out the robbery at Catton's, and that the two O'Briens were concerned in the matter. There had been an altercation over the division of the money and talk of fight. Hirsham had then decided to tell the police of the robbery. Hirsham had spent his share of the money. There was also put in as evidence a statement by James O'Brien to the effect that he had suggested that money might be got at Catton's place, and that he had pointed out the place to Hinsham and Keevil, and told them that he had heard that Catton kept his money in a fireplace. The hearing was adjourned until next day.




The hearing of the case in which Hampton Hirsham 20, Cornelius Joseph Keevil, 27, William Thomas O'Brien, 39, and James O'Brien, 37, were charged with stealing 346 in the dwelling of Reginald Catton Todman avenue, Kensington, on April 20, was concluded before Mr. Gale, S M, at the Central Police Court yesterday. Hazel Gwendoline Tighe, a married woman, living with her mother at Railway Avenue, Stanmore, said that Hirsham bought her a fur coat for 7 guineas He also gave her a 5o note to put in the bank to her mother's account. Witness accompanied him to Bebarfald's, Ltd., where he paid a deposit of 26 on a bedroom suite. Witness was under the impression that the furniture was bought for her mother. Gertrude Edith Buckingham said that Hirsham had been a boarder at her house. He was there on April 3O, and again next day. Witness was ill. and remarked that she would have to see a doctor. He knew she was short of money, and said something to the effect that the money would be there. Subsequently he gave her 15 to pay bills and buy herself a coat. He asked her to put his money in her account in the bank, as he was an insolvent- He also spoke of a bedroom suite he intended to buy for her. Later he said he had bought it in the name of her husband's brother. She accompanied him to the bank, drew out 68, and then proceeded to Bebarfald's, where Hirsham paid for the suite in full. He also made purchases of other articles. He told her that he had received money from America. Further evidence was given, and each of the accused was committed for trial.


The case was finally heard in August, and the Grafton Daily Examiner reported on the 27th of that month:



|Hampton Hirsham, Cornelius Keevil and James O'Brien, who pleaded guilty to receiving in connection with the Cotton robbery, were sentenced in each case to fifteen months' imprisonment. Judge White said the crime was too serious to call for leniency, but there was a redeeming feature in the fact that the accused had sacrificed their liberty to save an innocent man. He recommended a remission on restitution being made.


The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 23 September 1921:

Righting a Wrong.


An unusual case was concluded at the Darlinghurst (Sydney) Quarter Sessions recently, when three men named Hampton Hirsham, Cornelius J. Keevil, and Jas. O'Brien, who had pleaded guilty to charges of receiving stolen money, were each sentenced to imprisonment for 15 months. The case formed a sequel to a visit of a masked robber to the home of a book maker named Reginald Catton at Kensington, some time ago, when bank notes to the value of 346 were stolen. A young man named Roy Frost was arrested on suspicion and although he set up an alibi, and several witnesses swore that he was nowhere near Catton's house on the night of the robbery, the jury convicted him, and he was sent to gaol. When Hirsham and his accomplices realised the injustice that had been done, they voluntarily gave themselves up to the police, and this fact influenced the Judge, who promised to recommend a remission of their sentences provided they refunded the money that they had received.


The Crutchelys and Rawnsleys

Two photographs and two World War II postcards in the collection of Roma Organ feature Joe, "Bert" and Allan Rawnsley and their family. Joe Rawnsley was the brother-in-law of Edgar and May Crutchley and an uncle of Roma Organ. Roma's father - Edgar "Eddie" Robert Crutchley - had a sister Catherine who married Joe Rawnsley in 1893. Both Edgar and Catherine were the children of Herbert Charles Crutchley (1831-1905) and Emily M. Matthews. Herbert and Emily were married in Deniliquin in 1864 and had the following children:

1. Charles Herbert Crutchley (1866-1946). Married Alice Walker (1901) and Margaret A. Barr (1904).

2. Laura J. Crutchley (b.1870)

3. Catherine A. Crutchley (b.1872). Married Joseph H. Rawnsley 1893.

4. Bertha A. Crutchley (b.1873). Married Terence Wilson 1891 and moved to Perth.

5. Frederick W. Crutchley (b.1876). Married Mary Clancy 1915.

6. Clara J. Crutchley (b.1878). Married Walter S. Tysch 1897, a wealthy grazier. They had a number of children including Idora and Goyl.

7. Edgar Robert Crutchley (1884-1955). Married Catherine May Keevil 1912.

Joe and Catherine Rawnsley had three sons Allan Joseph, "Bert" and Arthur Edward. The family can be seen in the following two photographs. The first, dating from about 1905, is of the family standing outside of Joe. H. Rawnsley's store in Alexandria, Sydney.

Joe H. Rawnsley and family, in front of his store in Alexandria, Sydney, circa 1905. Joe and his wife Catherine are seen on the far right. The tall, thin Allan is second from the left. Original print on cardboard in family collection.

A Rawnsley family portrait was taken at Grace Brothers, Sydney, sometime around 1914. It features Joe and Cate and the three boys Arthur, Allan and Bert. A very young Bert is seen in the family photo on the far right and is easily recognisable with the postcard of a young soldier taken in 1918 (reproduced below).

The Rawnsley family - Joe H, Arthur, Allan, Catherine and Bert. Taken at Grace Brothers, Sydney, circa 1914

Shortly after this portrait was taken war broke out and members of the family considered participating. A postcard in the Roma Organ collection features Allan Rawnsley and his father Joe in military uniform.

Sergeant Allan Joseph Rawnsley of the 13th Field Ambulance and his father Joe H. Rawnsley. Original postcard in family collection.

The World War I Nominal Roll provides information on the war service of two of the Rawnsley boys:

5728 | Arthur Edward Rawnsley | Private | 3rd Battalion | 4.1.16-18.10.17 | Returned to Australia.

17854 | Allen Joseph Rawnsley | Staff Sergeant | 13th Field Ambulance | Aged 22 | Chemist, Manly NSW | 6.5.17-12.7.19 | Cof E | Father - J.H. Rawnsley, Manly | Returned to Australia.

The following postcard, featuring an image of the young Bert, was sent "to Auntie May and Eddie with love from Bert" on 28 April 1918. 

Private Bert Rawnsley, 28 April 1918. Original postcard in family collection.

No record for the service of Bert Rawnsley or his father Joe has been located. Further research may reveal details of the role the Rawnleys and Sonny Keevil played during World War I. It is most likely that Bert signed up late in  the war and did not see active duty overseas. Likewise his father Joe may have served locally. Bert Rawnsley later worked for Burns Philp and served as an administrator in Rabual, New Guinea, where he was located when war broke out in 1939. According to family reminiscences, Allan was a chemist.


Compiled by Michael Organ. Site last updated: 23 September 2016. Return to Michael Organ's Home Page. Any comments, corrections, or additions to this site are most welcome.