We’ve all experienced it at some point during our lives. Coincidence: “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection”. Some may view coincidences as momentarily intriguing but ultimately insignificant in our daily lives. Others, however, will see a higher meaning and call it synchronicity. But for others, supposed coincidences are (as put so eloquently by Homer Simpson) “just a bunch of stuff that happened,” and readily dismissed.
Are these coincidences nothing more than mathematical improbabilities bound to occur in an infinite universe, a higher consciousness pushing and prodding us towards the right path … or just a bunch of stuff that happens?
“A little over two years ago a sensational incident took place at Wyong, where a horse took fright and galloped away with a young boy in the sulky behind it,” reported the Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser on 7 November 1928.
“Straight for the railway bridge dashed the terrified animal, and it seemed as though, the boy would be frightfully injured, when a lady on a horse flashed on the scene and, with great danger to herself, reached down and wrenched at the horse’s bit until she stopped the animal just as it was about to rush on to the bridge.”
In appreciation of saving the life of his son, the young boy’s father presented the heroic young lady with a gold medal.
Two years later and the young lady was now in Dubbo in western NSW (over 400 km from the scene of her earlier heroic deeds).
“The other day she was with some friends in a car, when she saw a boy boldly riding his bicycle along the street without his hands on the handles. The obvious happened, the front wheel twisted, and the foolhardy youngster was thrown heavily to the ground. The young lady, who, incidentally, is a nurse, immediately sprang from the car and ran to render first aid to the boy. To her great astonishment, it was the same boy whom she had rescued from the run-away accident two years before.”
There are countless stories of individual tragedies associated with the First and Second World Wars. But among the horror, many amazing stories of heroism, survival, good luck and happy coincidences also emerged.
The following letter from “Springbok” of Perth published in the Western Mail on 22 December 1932, is one such happy coincidence of war.
“April 6, 1917 had been a strenuous day in the 34th Casualty Clearing Station on the Poperinghe road. Wounded soldiers had been pouring in all day. A request went around for a volunteer from among the nursing staff for a blood transfusion for a poor fellow lying almost at the door of death.
“Feeling that I should get a rest from the horrors around me, I volunteered. A test was taken of my blood, and I was chosen. After the transfusion I had 24 hours’ rest, and when I resumed to my duties I was told by the doctor that the man to whom I had given my blood wished to see me.
“I made my way to his side, and when I saw his face I promptly fainted across the bed,” Springbok wrote.
“He was my own brother, who had been reported ‘killed in action’ eight months previously. He is alive today.”
Experiencing the horrors of war on a daily basis for months on end meant that it was often the little things that would bring some momentary joy and happiness. In May 1942, Narrabri’s North Western Courier reported on a relatively small, insignificant coincidence. But for a brief moment, that one small coincidence would bring one Aussie soldier just a little closer to home.
“Whilst sheltering under a camouflage net recently at an advanced Allied base in the north, Allan Mathieson, of the R.A.A.F., noticed a tie on tag. On examining the label he was surprised, but delighted, to learn that the net was made by Stuart Johnson, and had been consigned by the C.W.A. [Country Women’s Association] of Inverell.
“… His wife resides next door to Mr. and Mrs. H. H, Johnston (parents of Stuart) in High Street and since his departure young Stuart has regularly filled Mrs. Mathieson’s wood box.”
Of course, with all the death and destruction of the war years, there were bound to be coincidences of not such a happy nature.
A rather poignant coincidence was relayed by NSW Minister for Lands, Ernest Buttenshaw, whilst speaking at the opening of the Avenue of Honour at Manly on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
“In the western town of Barmedman, 126 men volunteered for the war. Five were killed and 121 returned. The townspeople planted an Avenue of Honour, in which there were 126 trees. Five of the trees died and 121 grew.”
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate reported on 9 September 1916 that, on her husband’s birthday, the wife of Lieutenant Collier of Bathurst received the grim news that he had been killed in action. He had been killed on her birthday.
What is it with coincidences and birthdays?
In July 1935, Bourke’s Western Herald reported: “Constable and Mrs. George Lithgow, of Sydney, have five children all of whom have their birthdays on the same day. The first children (twins) were born on June 13, 1927.”
“Three years later, on the same date, another boy was born, and on June 13, 1934, another set of twins arrived. It must be a fine thing to be able to have a birthday party for five in the one family on the same day.”
And the Singleton Argus of 2 August 1939 reported that Mrs F Roff, of Bulimba, who was born on 17 July 1905, had her first child, a boy, on 17 July 1935. Four years later, Mrs Roff was blessed with another child, this time a girl … she was also born on 17 July.
Lost and found
And a birthday also figures in the following coincidence of a treasured gift lost and later found.
The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser in March 1926 told the remarkable story.
“A quarter of a century ago the people, of Bellingen, in recognition of the splendid service rendered in musical and other spheres made Mr. Sam Hattersley, of Bellingen, a public presentation of a neat gold Maltese cross with his initials engraved on the front and inscribed on the back:
“To Sam Hattersley presented by the people of Bellingen.”
“Fifteen yearn ago. while Mr. Hattersley was travelling by steamer from Sydney to Newcastle, he had the misfortune to lose his medal. High and low he searched for it and every avenue was exploited in order to secure its recovery, all without avail.
“With the passage of years all hopes of recovery vanished completely.
“On January 25, of this year, however, a Sydney man, Mr. C. Archer, picked the medal up in Kent Street, Sydney, and handed it over to the city police who, in turn, forwarded it to Sergeant Roberts at Bellingen, who returned it to its rightful owner. Mr. Hattersley’s astonishment and jubilation on recovering the medal again can be imagined, and the fact that it was picked up on his birthday, after 15 years, adds further to the coincidence of the happening.”
Could there be a better tale of rediscovering a lost sibling than the following touching coincidence?
“Walking out of a Melbourne church recently to secure a witness for his hurried marriage, the bridegroom stopped a young man and found him ready to oblige,” reported the Western Star and Roma Advertiser in March 1926.
“When signing the register, the newly made husband wrote the same surname, a coincidence which led to the discovery that they were brothers who had not met since childhood.”
The hand of fate
“With the death of Archdeacon Boyce there ended, too, by a strange coincidence, the life of the bell that he had tolled for many years,” so wrote the Muswellbrook Chronicle on 10 July 1931.
“For 46 years the fine old Archdeacon had ministered at St. Paul’s Church of England, Redfern, and it was the custom to toll the bell on the death of great citizens. During the war, the Archdeacon set the bell ringing when news was received of the death of a parishioner. For more than 70 years the bell had rung out the dead.
“On the passing of Archdeacon Boyce at Blackheath last month, a member of the choir commenced a toll of 87 peals – one for every year of the minister’s life. Scarcely had he commenced, however, than the tongue of the bell snapped and fell to the floor, ending its life work with that of its master.”
Was it mere coincidence or something more sinister?
In December of 1930, the Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh reported on the coincidental deaths of a number of local cafe owners from a small country town over just a few short weeks:
“… a strange coincidence has been the way in which the Hand of Fate has bereaved families conducting refreshment rooms in Cowra during the last few weeks.
“The first to go in answer to The Last Call was Mr J Bargwanna, of the Imperial Cafe. Then Mr. Oliphant of the Australia Cafe was killed in a motor accident, and just one week later Mrs Melvan of the Central Cafe met her death in a like manner.”
Mathematical improbabilities bound to occasionally occur in an infinite universe, subtle guidance from a higher consciousness… or just a bunch of stuff that happens?