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A Lost Member of my family

Article by Rockborne38

When I was a small child my mother used to tell me about an Uncle who reacted badly to lots of noise, and my Mother, who only remembered this from when she was a child, said that the adults used to say to her and her sisters and brothers "Stay away from Uncle Harry, and don't make too much noise near him". My mother told me they never understood why it was they had to stay away from him and not make noise.

We often wondered why it was that my Mother was told that story by other adults in the family, and then, as part of our research into the family of my maternal grandmother, we found out exactly why

We knew the names of the parents of my grandmother, and the names of the parents of her mother. We researched and found the arrival in Australia of my great grandmother and her mother and siblings, but for quite few years could find no record of the birth of Uncle Harry. We knew he was born in Gloucestershire England in about the period 1866-1868, because we found his record on the Australian National Archives of his enlistment in the Army for WW1 and that gave his age, but not his birthdate. After many years of research, and a few incorrect birth certificates obtained from England, we found his proper birth record, showing he was born in September 1866.

From his military record we found he had enlisted in November 1914 and was blown up at Gallipoli in June 1915, spent time in hospital in Malta, then in England, then was returned to Australia and discharged as "no longer medically fit for active service" and was paid a pension for "shell shock" so obviously whatever other wounds he suffered were well healed by then

We found a record of his death in 1929 in Armidale NSW, but the local Council told us they had no record of his place of burial, so we searched in all the other cemeteries in that part of NSW, with negative results

We looked for quite a few years, even walked around the cemetery in Armidale a few times, just in case we could find a headstone, even though no record was included on the Cemetery register, so every few years, while visiting or travelling through Armidale, we looked, but no result.

We contacted the diocesan office in Armidale for the church whose Minister conducted the burial service for Harry, negative results, they have no burial records at all, they told us the records are maintained by the Council. In 2011 we decided to try the Funeral Director who conducted the burial service, as shown on the death certificate, and they told us they also have no records of actual burial locations, but they did provide us with a copy of their original ledger from 1929, and the record is marked "police job" and the burial cost seven pounds, and they told us that indicated that Harry was buried in a pauper grave, and it would be unmarked. The funeral director, who is the grandson of the man who actually arranged the burial in 1929, told us that each church had maintained their own records of burials till about 1940, then a Cemetery Trust was established, and the churches all handed their burial records to the Cemetery Trust. Then in the late 1950s or early 1960 a fire went through the Armidale Cemetery, and the caretaker cottage and the Trust Office were burned down, and most of the records were burned and lost, so the local Council then took over the recording for the Cemetery, so we thought then that we had hit a brick wall that we would never be able to knock down

We had been in contact with the Curator of the Heritage Centre at the University of New England for some time on other family history research issues, and mentioned the matter of the fire destroying burial records in Armidale, and he told us that at the time of the establishment of the Cemetery Trust, the Church of England made copies of their burial records to give to the Trust, but gave the original records to the Heritage Centre, so he found the records in their Archives, and then found the actual map with the burial place of Harry marked on it. We passed a copy of that map to the Council, and they were able to add about another 200 names to their burial records in a part of the cemetery they had marked as "Vacant - not used", but in fact, it has so many people buried there, but they had no record till we passed them that copy of the map with all the names and burial plot numbers - so now we knew the exact spot where Harry was buried.

We then contacted the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Office of Australian War Graves have now installed a proper memorial for Harry on his burial place, a concrete surround with gravel and a bronze plaque, with his army number, rank and name, his Regiment, the Rising Sun badge and a short inscription, "Gone but not Forgotten".

A Dedication Ceremony is to be held on Remembrance Day 2012 at the Gravesite of Harry, with the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers providing a Guard of Honour, their Regimental Chaplain will conduct the service, Eulogy will be delivered by an officer of the Regiment, and the grandson of the funeral director, a representative of the church of the original Minister will attend, family members, including myself, will travel to Armidale for the Dedication, and finally poor old Harry will be put to rest properly, and we even know know why my Mum was told to stay away from Harry and keep quiet - like all shell shocked soldiers, loud noises alarmed him, and reminded him so much of the day he was blown up at Gallipoli, these days shell shock is called PTSD and sufferers are given so much help, but veterans of WW1 were not so lucky - but our 30 plus years of research into the life of one Great Uncle have resulted in another piece of our family history puzzle being put into place.

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by Rockborne38 Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2012-08-19 18:04:51

My husband and I are interested in tracing the roots of our family and have been doing so since 1956, so we now have about 15+Gb of info on our computer about the families of both of us, and we are interested in making contact with any member of any of the families we are researching to share information, looking also for photos and certificates for any family member to add to our huge files on those families. After all these years they are still a "work in progress" and we would like more please

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by poorone on 2012-08-19 20:31:41

Thank you for sharing your family story about your Uncle Harry. I am glad that you were able to finally find the information you were searching for. This story is an encouragement to others that may have a fimiliar story to keep looking and searching. May you have a special day at the grave site in Harry's honour.

by Scott_J on 2012-08-20 08:04:13

This is a touching story. Congrats on solving this puzzle, and more importantly, getting Uncle Harry his due recognition.

It also gives Harry some posthumous PTSD help, by reframing your memories from Harry simply being a disturbed man (whom you were probably afraid of) to someone who must have suffered terribly due to PTSD.

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