6) John Francis Coyle: 1919 to 1973 – His Life After the Great War

Image Unfortunately, in 1919, the decorated Lieutenant John Francis Coyle (MM & Bar, Croix de Guerre*) did not return to a glorious post-war career. He may have taken advantage of the lessons and education offered in England, France & Belgium : but from what we know he almost immediately returned to the Cockatoo Island Dockyards to assist in the process of ship-building.

In 1933 John made an application to work within the PMG (Postmaster General’s Department). He sent a letter to the war records department to ask them to forward his details of War Service so as to “add to my chance on this”. He considered at the time that he had “an excellent chance on securing this position”. His embrace of letter writing & poetry demonstrated his skill, and love of language.

What became of his dreams for advancement, we do not know.  He continued to work at Cockatoo Island until retirement. Cockatoo Island 1926 John Coyle had begun a courtship with Olive Alma Holden in the early 1920’s (She was called Alma by all, and always affectionately ‘Al’ by her beloved ‘Jack”). His lovely précis of her entitled “A Short Biography of My Sweetie” is noted as being written in 1921, when she was “about 23 summers”. Within are the comments that she is “Rather fickle, inclined to flirt a little, tries to do the Charleston while under the influence, keeps bad hours occasionally”. But his charming footnote adds that “A careful analysis of the above will prove that the lady in question is one of God’s greatest creations – a good woman”.


Unfortunately, John had also lost a sister, Sarah Isabel (Day), while he was away at war – and then his eldest sister Mary (Beckhaus) just before he returned in 1919. After so many brothers and sisters had died too early he took upon himself the task of caring for little sister, Teresa.

It can be left unsaid that Alma was patient and very much in love with her ‘Jack’. They both waited until Teresa passed away due to consumption in 1928 and John Francis Coyle finally married his sweetie when he was 34 (in 1929). A very difficult decision was to be made on behalf of Teresa’s son, Frank Coyle. It was decided that he should live with Hugh and Mollie Coyle, raised as a younger brother to their son John. Both these boys idolised their Uncle John and went on to serve bravely in the Second World War.

The 1st born child of John and Alma was Denis Coyle, named for his grandfather, arriving in 1931; John in 1932 and Mary in 1934. Denis followed a grand Irish and Roman Catholic tradition and very early joined the De La Salle Brothers – training as a teacher in Melbourne for many years. He had been the recipient of awards for his scholarly nature and the “Sallys” weren’t about to see another 1st born Irish-Australian family boy become a humble priest. A future school principal, and an excellent educator, in the making.

John Coyle grew smart and very athletic and went on to marry Patricia Crane and father three boys – Luke (1958), David (1959) and Stephen (1961). His sporting prowess led to many a trophy displayed at Margaret Street, Petersham. One of the highlights being chosen as a runner in the Torch relay for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. His career also took him to futuristic places with the laying of the first interstate coaxial & communications cables (groundwork for the NBN) with major organisations Telstra & later Optus.

Coyles & Nichols families

Little Mary Coyle in front, with John & Denis behind & Alma on right

Mary Coyle married Norbert James O’Keefe (commonly called Jim) and was a mother to Marieanne (1956) and James (1957). Jim’s family also spent some years in Melbourne, while Jim was completing University studies and working. Alma & John were fortunate to be able to visit and spend a vacation at Noble Park. Image While Alma was still alive John Coyle penned the following – noting the passing of the years…

“Be kind to your mother for when you were young

She nursed you with tenderly care,

Your joys and your sorrows are hidden among

The snowy white strands in her hair.  

Be kind to your father for now he is old

His locks intermingled with grey, mine have all flown away

His footsteps are now feeble, once fearless and bold

Your father is passing away.”

Alma Coyle passed away on May the 2nd, 1962. She had been a devoted, very loving and fun grandmother to Marieanne, James and to Luke, David and Stephen Coyle. “Pa Coyle” wrote at that time;

“For forty years in fair or stormy weather

Despite our many setbacks we climbed the hills together,

But the day is not far distant when the struggle will be over

Then we’ll meet again Al, old pal,

and be with God forevermore.”

John spent his remaining years living with Alma’s sister, Auntie Flo (Florence Holden) at 14 Margaret Street in Petersham. A small rented 2 bedroom home that had at one time housed 5 to 6 people – Pa and Nana in the front bedroom, John sleeping in the lounge/sitting room and little Mary and Auntie Flo in the back bedroom behind the kitchen.

The memories remain of playing at Pa & Nana’s house in the backyard, down the side lane. There are recollections of Nana “having a go” at kicking an old blue plastic football.

At the back of the house there was the mechanical marvel of the clothes boiler & wringer – the tools and home-made toys in Pa’s wondorous shed – and austerity of the old-fashioned iron bathtub, always complete with a perfect looking bar of Pears soap.

Pa’s ferry trips to see the O’Keefes at Manly and Fairlight were usually accompanied by the purchase of a family-sized meat pie and one or two longnecks of DA (Dinner Ale). By this time he was suffering from arthritis in the hips and was very adept at the use of his new aluminium crutches, by then calling himself Hopalong or Hippity Hoppity.

On the way home, John Coyle always preferred to walk or bus himself down to Manly Wharf – probably for another ale before boarding the ferry home.

At other times he would visit John and Pat’s family (now including Luke, David & Steve) Hunter’s Hill and be visited by Denis (Brother Luke of the De La Salle order), who had taken up teaching at various schools in Sydney.

We believe that he did not regularly march on Anzac Day but did observe a solemn gathering of some of his old digger mates at the local pub at Petersham.

At the time he also left another very personal note amongst his possessions, which speaks for itself.

“Once more it comes to my bedtime, Al

After another lonely day

I’ve never been the same,old Pal

Since the day you passed away.

So ask our Lord to take me home

To His Heavenly kingdom above

Where you and I will meet again

For we are still very deeply in love.”         (circa 1963)

John Francis Coyle died at age 78 when his old ticker finally gave out.

His death certificate lists his occupation simply as ‘boilermaker’.

On a note left in his bedside possessions it says simply :

“I shall pass this way but once;

any good therefore, that I can do

or any kindness that I can show to any human being,

let me do it now.

Let me no defer nor neglect it,

for I shall not pass this way again.”


* Military Medal, Bar to the Military Medal and the Belgium Croix de Guerre – see his military records for details.


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