‘Is there not two more medals due for my late son?’ The pained parents lamented. ‘To think that my son was prepared to give his life for heis King and Country.’ Bureaucracy bungled from the beginning. Jesse Humprhyis died even before Australia’s main fighting began in the First World War. The anguish continues for his family to the present day.
Jesse was 18 when he enlisted in Sydney in 1914 just nine days after the recruiting offices opened. He was rejected as medically unfit and given a permanent exemption. He thought he’d try Melbourne, so went 900 kilometres south and this time was accepted into the Australian Light Horse.
Boys from Rutherglen in north east Victoria enjoyed the voyage over. ‘We laughed and joked together about our school and boyhood days.’ But come Aden near Suez, Jesse was struck with debilitating illness. A doom descended on the ship. Three volleys were fired. The bugler played the last post. Jesse was buried at sea on 2 April 1915, three weeks before Gallipoli.
One of those school chums Willie wrote to his mum. She in turn sent condolences to Jesse’s unsuspecting mother. The army hadn’t told her a thing. Her querying letter to the Minister for Defence went unanswered. The request by a fellow parliamentarian also went unheeded. It took seven weeks before anything official was said. And informing the mother? The army left that to the brother.
After the war when medals were being handed out, the boys on the boat got three each. Jesse’s father queried why his son got only one. The army explained that Jesse hadn’t served in a theatre of war. That despite just 23 days after Jesse’s death, the same Australian units steamed through the same waters headed for the Dardanelles.
Finally the ultimate affront. The army records had got the spelling of Jesse’s surname wrong. It remained that way for 94 years, until six years ago when I told the Australian War Memorial. The digital Honour Rolls were corrected. But the bronze commemorative wall in Canberra, and the sandstone memorial at the Chatby War Memorial in Egypt, are still waiting to be fixed. One hundred years after young Jesse’s death, they still haven’t got it right.
You can read Jesse’s story in my new book due at the end of this year. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest and receive a discount voucher when the book is released.