Injustice exposed after 102 years

Constables John Green of Booval and John Smith of Redbank were called to the Bremer River near the ferry at Riverview on the morning of 30th of August 1919. There they found the floating body of a man who had evidently been dead for some time. He was wearing the uniform of the 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment and was missing two fingers on his right hand and a third finger was very crooked. I recently told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

The Treaty of Versailles that formally ended the First World War had been signed two months earlier, and the German Armistice to stop the fighting was signed the previous year in 1918, but Australian soldiers were still coming home and lives were falling through the cracks even now that war was long over. Constables Green and Smith were summoned to find too many of them from their stations at Ipswich, Queensland.

Neither men were strangers to tough circumstances. Six days earlier, Constable Smith had been called to a particularly gruesome suicide on the railway line between Dinmore and Riverview. Two years later, Constable Green would be attacked by a crowd at Booval and then transferred away from the station.

The discovery by the two constables on this occasion appeared to quickly solve a mystery that had been in the news for over a fortnight. Trooper Ernest William Weeks had been reported missing by friends on the 14th of August when he left his home at College Road by what today is Roma Street Parklands in Brisbane. His father was the caretaker and the family lived in the caretaker’s cottage. Ernest had intended to travel to Taringa by train but had not been seen since.

Trooper Ernest William Weeks c1915

Ernest’s disappearance made headlines until the Ipswich constables made their discovery. There was now one more mystery and injustice to solve however, which was fated to last for over a century.

Ernest was born in 1891 and was the oldest surviving of eleven siblings, five of whom had died as infants. He was twenty-three years old when he enlisted for the First World War in December 1914 at a time when his youngest sister Vera was just ten. He served with the 5th Light Horse at Gallipoli and Palestine including all three attacks on Gaza. When he got home five years later, little Vera would barely have recognized her brother such was his experience at war, and she would barely have time to get to know him again. 

Ernest arrived home in Brisbane on the 3rd of August 1919, he went missing eleven days later, and was found drowned on the 30th of August. He was buried by his family at Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery and commemorated on the family memorial there.

But incredibly, his army record shows that he was then discharged on the 4th of October 1919 – this was more than a month after he was drowned – and that’s where the injustice begins. Ernest died while still serving in the Australian Army, but he was never included on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The Australian War Memorial

I sent my evidence supporting Ernest’s inclusion on the Roll of Honour to the Australian War Memorial.

This week I received welcome news from Jorja Haywood who is the Assistant Curator of the Honour Rolls in the Research Centre there: Jorja had written a case for Ernest’s recommendation. It will be presented to the Memorial’s Council at their next meeting in March.

“We are increasingly becoming aware that names have ‘fallen through the cracks’ and have not been added to the Roll of Honour,” Jorja explained. “In 2020, the Honour Rolls team recommended the names of approximately twenty First World War soldiers who fell into this category.”

“If he (Ernest) is accepted by Council he will be added to the Roll of Honour database in the following days… His name would then be cast in bronze when the supplementary panel for the First World War is next recast.”

Those on the council to decide Ernest’s fate include its chairman the businessman and philanthropist Kerry Stokes AC, former prime minister Tony Abbott AC, and Victoria Cross holder Corporal Daniel Keighran VC. Ernest appears to be in good hands.

Corporal Daniel Keighran VC (middle) supported by two other holders of the Victoria Cross

So even though Ernest Weeks was one of those who ‘fell through the cracks’ and there was a blunder with his discharge one hundred and two years ago, hopefully next month both his family – and the Ipswich police constables Smith and Green who found him – will be pleased that justice is finally being served.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE VERSION TOLD LIVE ON WEST BREMER RADIO

Photo credits:
5th Australian Light Horse Regiment in Cairo Egypt 1915, Trooper Ernest William Weeks is second from right – Australian War Memorial C00385
Ernest Weeks in uniform c1915 – Helen Smith, Dragon Genealogy, HVS Research

The Australian War Memorial, 2018 – my own
Keith Payne VC, Corporal Daniel Keighran VC, and Corporal Mark Donaldson VC – The Australian, 2 November 2012

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