By JARROD POTTER
BROTHERS in arms until the very end, a well-loved and greatly-mourned Dandenong Football Club tandem gave their lives in the service of our nation 100 years ago.
Henry “Tom” Couve, 24, and Alan “Dutchy” Couve, 21, were inseparable – whether on the football field or the battlefield – and side by side the two popular Dandenong footballers marched up the beaches and towards the cliffs of Gallipoli as part of the 8th Infantry Battalion.
Born to Joson Couve, a pharmacist who emigrated from Mauritius, and Minian “Minnie” Couve (nee Ladson), the brothers excelled at whatever they tried.
They were brought up in the town pharmacy, on Robinson Street, and while Dutchy followed the family trade, Tom became a civil servant.
Football was the great unifying passion for the brothers and they joined up with Dandenong and had an immediate impact.
Tom loved the Redlegs – standing as an honorary secretary for the club as well as a league delegate – and featured in the 1912 premiership alongside his brother.
The duo celebrated their 1912 Berwick District Football Association victory – with the Redlegs winning 3.10 (28) over Pakenham 4.3 (27). Dutchy was the main driver of the Redlegs’ success that day – as the wily forward booted all three of Dandenong’s goals to bring home the cup.
Tom played longer than Dutchy, finishing up in the 1914 grand final loss to Pakenham, with his last match only a month before the pair set off across the seas to Africa and beyond.
They embarked in October 1914, leaving on the HMAT Benalla to head towards Albany and onwards to Egypt – and the two lads were left to wonder what was going on back in Dandenong, especially with their beloved Redlegs.
Hard-working go-getters, the brothers rose through the ranks in the army as Alan became a lieutenant and Tom a second lieutenant.
Their campaigns at Gallipoli were sadly cut extremely short, with Dutchy falling on 26 April and Tommy succumbing less than two weeks later.
Their legacy lives on through a series of photographs highlighting their involvement in the Expeditionary Forces – which still exist as part of the Australian War Memorial collection – and the community mourning the loss of their young champions.
From the outpouring of grief printed in papers across the Dandenong region, it seemed as if the entire community wept for their passing – their lads, taken far too soon and robbed of their futures.
On 20 May 1915 The Journal reported: “A. (Alan) C. Couve was the second son of Mr Jason Couve chemist of Dandenong and was 21 years of age.
“On Tuesday morning widespread regret was expressed when it became known that Lt Couve had succumbed to the wounds received whilst fighting with the 8th Battalion at the Dardanelles, and many messages of condolence have been received by the sorrowing relatives.
“The flag on the Town Hall was at half mast, in honour of the local volunteer and mourning was displayed outside the business premises in Lonsdale St.”
A later report described the grief felt by the congregation at St James Church.
“Last Sunday very impressive intercessory services were held in St. James Church of England, Dandenong. The sad news of Lt Couve’s death cast a shadow over the whole congregation, in fact the whole township.”
Even the Dandenong Shire Council felt the burden of bereavement with the Couves’ deaths starting calls for the council to create a Dandenong Roll of Honour, which to this day remains in the Drum Theatre.
“At the Dandenong Shire Council meeting on Monday, the president (Cr Rain) said that before proceeding with the business of the council, he regretted to state that a second son of Mr Couve of Dandenong had been killed in action, whilst lighting for the Empire at the Dardanelles,” the report said.
“It was hard indeed for Mr (Joson) Couve to have lost both his sons, and he would also move that a letter of condolence be sent from the council. Every councillor present spoke in support of the motion.
“The president directed the secretary to ‘forward letters of condolence to the relatives of those who had been killed in action, and intimated that notice of motion would be given in regard to obtaining a Roll of Honor for the municipality’.”
The final word about the well-loved Couve brothers was left to family friend Jack Walker, who published in the South Bourke and Mornington Post a sad edict on 21 October 1915 edition to inform the wider Dandenong community about their passing.
“Lastly, and with great reluctance, I refer to the sad loss sustained by Mr and Mrs Couve, and by many Dandenong friends, by the death of Tommy and Dutchy Couve,” Walker’s letter read.
“I can add a little to what has been said about them by telling you that from my own personal knowledge they were greatly admired by all ranks.
“Again and again I have talked over their short life in the AIF, with men who were under them, men who were above them and their equals in rank in the forces, and all have the same good things to tell me about them.”
Tom’s final resting place remains unknown, but he is honoured on the Helles Memorial, a magnificent obelisk at the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, while his brother Alan is buried at the Beach Cemetery.
– WITH CHRIS KEYS, PRESIDENT OF THE DANDENONG AND DISTRICT HISTORICAL SOCIETY