One of the great unknown electoral heroes in Australian history may be Edwin Maurice Little. I revealed this recently on West Bremer Radio. As a 24-year-old on behalf of the Nationalists he contested the 1918 Queensland election in the Ipswich seat of Bremer.
Young Maurice had spent the two years leading up to the election touring the district giving lectures in support of the war effort.
He’d previously been a school teacher and an outstanding cricketer at Toowong in Brisbane and was on the verge of representing Queensland, until the First World War broke out in 1914.
At the 1918 state election Maurice gave a good account of himself, winning thirty-four percent of the vote in an electorate that was never going to change hands.
In fact, in the century since his opponent was first elected, the seat and its subsequent guises through redistributions and merges has only ever been held by the one party.
But young Maurice remained a hero.
You see, three years earlier, he was a Lieutenant at Gallipoli with Queensland’s fighting 15th Battalion.
Maurice was throwing bombs trying to repel a Turkish attack when he held onto one too long and it blew up in his hand.
While he was being stretchered away, he took the time to recommend for a decoration a man who was fighting alongside of him. It was an even younger school teacher who he may have known from Toowong, Eric Wilson Simon. Simon went on to be awarded two Military Medals for bravery.
Maurice’s father was the Methodist minister The Reverend William Little in North Ipswich. He was told first that Maurice had been killed in action, then he was told that his son had been wounded but not seriously – but neither report was true.
The injuries that Maurice received resulted in his forearm being amputated, both his eyes removed, and leg stiffened.
While he was recovering in hospital at Alexandria in Egypt, an English nurse called Bessie was caring for him, and they fell in love without Maurice ever seeing her face. Bessie was twenty-two years older than him.
They married in Alexandria a few months later, with Maurice being carried in a chair to the alter.
His love story attracted world-wide attention.
A personal letter from Lady Maxwell the wife of the British commander and with the support of Queen Victoria’s daughter, was delivered by Prince Henry. In it Lady Maxwell apologised that she wasn’t able to attend his wedding.
Maurice was repatriated home in 1915, and he went directly to his parents’ house in North Ipswich. Straight away he started receiving a regular flow of visitors including politicians and the media.
His story had captured the hearts of Australia.
Maurice never lost touch of where he was from, because he talked of reading about the Ipswich Eisteddfod in the Queensland Times while he was sheltering in a trench at Quinn’s Post at Gallipoli.
He went on to become an active writer and published a book of poems – and that despite it being incredibly hard to use a typewriter with only one hand.
People were amazed that despite his disabilities, Maurice was always so positive and welcoming. Everyone loved and respected him. He was a hero and remained so for the rest of his life.
Maurice’s political opponent back in 1918 was Frank Cooper who went on to become the twenty-fifth premier of Queensland.
Cooper’s strong support for the war effort during the Second World War defied that of his Labor party. The optimism of his opponent Maurice Little, who toured so bravely in support of the war effort back in 1918, may well have had a profoundly lasting effect.
CLICK HERE TO HEAR ABOUT MAURICE LITTLE ON WEST BREMER RADIO
Lieutenant E.M. Little – The Queenslander Pictorial 26 June 1915 p24 – State Library of Queensland
Lieutenant Little a bomb-shattered hero leaving a hospital ship – The Queenslander 11 December 1915 p27 – State Library of Queensland
Queensland Premier Frank Cooper 1940 – State Library of Queenland