No. 12288 Private Charles Harold Emery
[Listed on RSL Honor Board as Emery, C.]
[Listed on Metropolitan Farm as Emery, C. J.]
Charles Harold Emery was born near Christchurch, New Zealand in July 1890. It is not known when he and his family moved to Australia, but by the time war broke out in early August 1914, Charles was working as a labourer at the Metropolitan Farm and living on Synnot Street, Werribee.
He joined up on 1 July 1915, aged 25. His mother, Mary Ann Emery, is listed as next of kin and was living at Upper Hutt in the Wellington region of New Zealand, while his father appeared to be living in Western Australia.
He was assigned to the 10th Field Ambulance Brigade and was sent to Ascot Vale, Melbourne for initial training before being assigned to the clearing hospital in Seymour, just over 100 kilometres north of Melbourne.
He qualified as a driver in May 1916 and embarked for England the following month aboard HMAT Runic. Following further training at Lark Hill on Salisbury Plain and then Park House in Hampshire, he was sent to France on 12 October 1916 as part of the 12th Field Ambulance Brigade.
This unit supported the 12th Brigade which consisted of four infantry battalions (46th, 47th, 48th and the 49th Battalions, AIF) and was part of the Australian Fourth Division. It had been raised in Egypt after the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and was first sent to the Western Front in June 1916 – just in time for the equally disastrous Somme offensive which began on 1 July 1916.
The 12th Brigade was in the thick of the fighting from day one – Pozieres and the first battle of Bullecourt in 1916 in France and then in the mud and horror of Belgium at Messines, Polygon Wood, Passchendaele. In 1918, the Brigade was back in France fighting at Amiens, Albert and the assault on the Hindenburg Line as German resistance was rolled back.
By the time the armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, the four infantry battalions that made up the 12th Brigade had lost 2,782 killed, and 6,838 wounded.
These figures would not include those casualties from ancillary units that supported the Brigade structure – including members of the Field Ambulance Brigade.
These men were in the second line assisting with the treatment, evacuation and transport of those wounded soldiers who had been removed from the front line by unit stretcher bearers or those who had been able to make their own way back to comparative safety.
The whole treatment ethos focused on what became known as the 'golden hour'. Seriously wounded men who didn't receive aid during the critical first hour had a considerably reduced chance of survival – this in a period when antibiotics were still a scientist's dream.
This task wasn’t made any easier by the conditions – the likelihood that the men would be under fire not to mention the vagaries of climate and the ever-present mud.
In the 12th Field Ambulance Brigade war diary for October 1917, at the height of the fighting in Belgium along Menin Road, the entry for 24 October was particularly sobering:
“Cases treated at ADS – wounded 647, died of wounds 28, dead on arrival 12, gassed 584. The gas cases received any urgent treatment necessary and were forwarded to the gas centre, CMDS. The wounded comprised a very large percentage of severe cases. All were stripped, had wounds dressed, clothed in pyjamas and warm blankets and furnished with comforts. As in many other instances, the operating centres are too far back. Many lives could be saved by operating on head, chest and abdominal cases much sooner.”
What seems totally astonishing is that at this juncture, the 12th Field Ambulance Brigade numbered just nine officers and 204 of other ranks. In October 1917 alone, the Brigade admitted and evacuated 90 sick and 1,299 wounded men, and treated a further 136 who were returned to duty.
It can be said with a high degree of certainty that Private Charles Harold Emery would have been in the thick of the action in Belgium and in France between 1916 and 1918. By his own request, he relinquished his role as a driver in June 1918 and returned to the ranks.
He survived the last few months of the war and returned to Australia in May 1919, and was discharged in September 1919.
Although Emery declared that he was just a labourer on his attestation papers in 1915, there was clearly much more to his talents and ambitions than perhaps he admitted to. He held an eight-acre Agricultural Labourer’s Allotment on Werribee Estate that was producing lucerne. While he had worked as a general labourer for two years he also had experience and qualifications in irrigation.
Despite not being discharged from the army until September 1919, former soldier, Mr Charles Emery, had applied for land under the Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act 1917.
Between 1918 and 1934, 11,639 returned servicemen were allocated blocks of land in Victoria. The land was not free. In Charles' case, he secured 59 acres in the parish of Girgarre, near Stanhope, Victoria.
There were no payments for the first three years to allow Charles to establish his farm. The payments were to begin on 13 April 1923, comprising 72 instalments of £24, four shillings and sixpence during the 39.5-year lease.
The scheme, perhaps brilliant in conception as a means to find new opportunities for returning servicemen while mobilising previously unproductive land, was largely a failure.
Many of the blocks were too small. Charles himself tried to secure additional land within a year or so of establishing himself at Stanhope saying that the size of his allotment wasn’t economically viable.
In many cases, the quality of the land was poor, and then there was the constant threat of drought and falling commodity prices as Australia and the world drifted towards the 1930s and the Great Depression. There was also a lack of expertise from some of the settlers and a distinct lack of capital to invest as the economy tightened.
Charles married Grace Lewis in 1921. She was of English stock and had been born in Gloucester in 1900. They raised four children – three boys and a girl.
By the mid 1920s, Charles Harold Emery's health was beginning to fail. In the official papers relating to the property his 'delicate state of health' is mentioned, as was a note to say that he was an industrious fellow and a good worker.
Charles Emery died at Caulfield – presumably at the repatriation hospital – in 1928, leaving a wife and four young children. He was aged 38. His wife went to live in New Zealand with family for a short time, before returning to Australia.
Grace died in Heidelberg in April 1977, aged 77, and is buried at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery.
The Girgarre allotment at Stanhope had a particularly difficult history. Of the five returned soldiers who took up land grants in the area, three had been handed back by 1922, the Emery's allotment was returned after Charles' death, and the last lease was surrendered in 1930.
Medals and Entitlements:
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
NAA: B2455, EMERY CH 12288
12th Field Ambulance Brigade war diary
Australian War Memorial
Discharged Soldiers Settlement records
Public Records Office Victoria