Sabina (Sybil) Daffodil Dale
War widow, mother
Sybil Dale, aged 18, was left a widow with a young baby when her husband, Adjutant Charles Coning Dale, 21, was killed on Gallipoli on 7 August 1915. They had married in Melbourne on 10 November 1914, eight days after Dale graduated from Duntroon Military College, Canberra, and a week after he enlisted in the AIF as Lieutenant in C Squadron, 8th Light Horse. Their daughter, Valda Rita Dale, was born on 19 April 1915 at 595 Canning St, North Carlton. Tragically the Dales’ daughter contracted viral meningitis and went into care from the age of seven until her death aged 42.
Sybil (Sabina Daffodil) Wootten, aged 18, married Charles Coning Dale in Melbourne on 10 November 1914, eight days after he graduated as an Army officer in one of the first group of cadets from Duntroon Military College, Canberra. Always known as Sybil during her marriage to Charles Dale, Sabina Daffodil Wootten was born in Abbotsford in 1896, a daughter of Arthur George Wootten and his wife, formerly Theresa Sabina Atkins.
A week before their marriage, Charles Coning Dale enlisted in the AIF as a Lieutenant in C Squadron, 8th Light Horse. Dale, who was born at Longwarry, near Bunyip, Victoria on 21 July 1894, had entered Duntroon Military College as a cadet on 7 March 1912, aged 17. He was a member of the guard of honour of cadets at the naming ceremony of Canberra as the National Capital on 12 March 1913. Following the start of World War I, the progress of his Duntroon class was accelerated so that graduating officers could serve with the first AIF. Dale embarked for Egypt on the Star of Victoria on 25 February 1915 and landed on Gallipoli from Alexandria on 16 May 1915. Towards the end of the following month he was promoted to Adjutant of the 8th Light Horse. He was killed, aged 21, in the first line of men who charged The Nek on 7 August 1915. His commanding officer described him as ‘a most capable and popular officer with all ranks’ who had shown ‘excellent qualities, ability and promise’.
After a short marriage, during which she spent only brief leaves with her husband, Sybil was a young widow. Already pregnant when she married, she had a daughter Valda Rita Dale, who was born on 15 April 1915. She was granted a widow’s pension of £91 per annum from 22 October 1915 and her daughter Valda was granted £13 per annum. During the years following the day she received a telegram at her mother’s address, 595 Canning Street, North Carlton, telling her of her husband’s death, Sybil’s life was punctuated by poignant communications from the Army. These began with the return of her husband’s personal effects, then in February 1916 his kit bag, valise, a tin trunk and a cabin trunk arrived via Thomas Cook. In May 1918, she signed for his form of his commission; in July 1921 she signed for a Memorial Scroll with the King’s Message and in November 1921 for the British War Medal.
In January 1919 when Sybil was receiving a war widow’s pension of 35/- per week plus 10/- per week for Valda, she applied to the Repatriation Department for a supplementary living allowance. The Charity Organisation Society in a letter of support stated that she was ‘a respectable woman’ who was living with her mother to whom she paid £1 a week board. Her payment was increased from 70/- to 84/- per fortnight but after about two years, the living allowance was discontinued when the rate of pension was increased. Late in December 1919, the Department was notified that Valda, aged 4¾, was ill with diphtheria and was being ‘well cared for by her mother’. The statements on Sybil’s respectability, and competence as a mother, appear to reflect a judgmental interest in the moral character of such a young widow. There is nothing comparable in the files of the other widows in this study. The last record in the Dale file is a notification to the Repatriation Department on 18 June 1923 that Valda who was then aged seven had been admitted to an asylum. The note ends: ‘No further particulars are stated.’ Valda Rita Dale died at Beechworth Mental Asylum in 1957, aged 42. It is now known that she contracted viral meningitis.
In 1924 Sabina Daffodil Dale (nee Wootten) married Rennie Wright Henderson and they had five children. In the years between her marriages, Sybil played women’s cricket and hockey for Victoria, playing in Tasmania. She died in Melbourne in 1981, aged 85.
DR PATRICIA CLARKE OAM FAHA
Additional information courtesy of the family of Sybil Henderson.
- NAA, B2455, First AIF Personnel Dossiers 1914-1920, Dale, Charles Coning, Lieutenant, barcode 3482817.
- NAA, B72, Repatriation Department, Personal Cases, World War I, Dale, Charles Coning, Lieutenant, R42765, barcode 20658205.
- Charles Bean, Official History of the Australia in the War of 1914-18, vol. II, p. 623n.
- ACT Heritage Library, Stories from the ACT Memorial, 'The Honour Guard at the Canberra Commencement Ceremony', www.library.act.gov.au/find/history/stories_from_the_act_memorial/honour_guard_at_canberra_commencement_ceremony_1913
- ACT Memorial, DALE, Charles Coning, www.memorial.act.gov.au/search/person/dale-charles-coning
- AIF Project UNSW, Charles Conning Dale, www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=71140
- Victorian Birth, Marriage, Death records
- Victorian Electoral rolls.