HARRY’S DIARY – THE SECRET TO SURVIVAL

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By Jill Wild

Harry Heyme was my beloved grandfather. I have the most wonderful childhood memories of him. He was a generous soul, loved by all, with the most wicked sense of humour; something that must have seen him through the battlefields of the Western front during the First World War. After reading Paul Ham’s book on Passchendaele where Harry fought, I have a much deeper understanding of just what these brave men went through. When he sailed home in 1918 aboard the Union Steam Ship Gaika, a little piece of history travelled with him: his 1918 diary. I am now the honoured custodian of this precious little gem.

Born at Katamatite on November 7 1890, Harry enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force on January 5 1917. He did his initial training at Broadmeadows and Royal Park and was promoted to the rank of Corporal, attached to the 15th Light Railway Operating Company. His regimental number was 541. Sailing on the troop transport ship the A70 Ballarat, Harry survived a German torpedo attack 125 nautical miles from the Bay of Biscay. Fortunately the A70 took several hours to sink due to the torpedo exploding in the cargo hold and the only injury sustained onboard was to one soldier suffering a broken arm.

With the German U boat hot on their heels, the rescue ships were unable to stop and the troops had to abandon their life boats and cling to cargo nets being dragged through the sea. Harry was rescued by the Navy mine sweeper the City of Edinburgh and was later transferred to the Royal Navy Destroyer Phoenix, for the onward journey to England. Harry and his fellow survivors disembarked at the naval barracks in Devon and were re-kitted, having lost all on the Ballarat, and were then sent on to Hampshire for the final phase of their training.

Harry’s Light Railway Company played a significant role in the battles along the Western Front. Their main task was to keep up the supplies to the front line trenches. The small, steam driven locomotives were also able to carry additional rail tracks and lay the narrow gauge tracks when required. They worked under the most appalling conditions, wading in mud up to their waist and were under constant shelling attacks.

On October 21st 1917, Harry was wounded by a shrapnel blast at Dickiebusch and sustained a massive wound to the neck and shoulder. Bleeding profusely, he lay waiting on the battlefield for the stretcher bearers. Upon turning him over he heard their damming words “Leave him, he’s finished, bring in the others”. As luck would have it, one of Harry’s friends from the Goulburn Valley Phil Prendegast was a stretcher bearer that day. In that precious, brief moment of time, our family history was written. Phil wasn’t going to let his mate Harry die there alone and become yet another tragic statistic of this bloody war. Phil stood his ground. “No, bring him in – I know him”.

Harry always acknowledged that he owed his life to his mate Phil. He was operated on in the third Casualty Canadian Field Hospital and then sent on for further specialist treatment in Devon.

After several weeks he was sent to recuperate at the Third Australian Hospital at Dartford in Kent and was given frequent leave to attend various charity events and explore the sights of London. He must have been delighted to receive an invitation to attend a reception in Hyde Park where Sir Ian and Lady Hamilton were the hosts. General Sir Ian Hamilton was the British commander-in Chief of the Gallipoli operation.

Returning home after the war ended, Harry rejoined the Victorian Railways where he was employed as a store man at the Newport Workshops and worked there up until his retirement in November 1955. After a brief illness Harry passed away in August 1973 and I can remember singing the song ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ at his funeral.

To honour Harry’s legacy I started marching in the ANZAC parade a few years back and now I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I can feel his spirit with me as I march proudly up St. Kilda Road with his medals clanging on my chest. It’s an emotional walk as I reflect on the huge sacrifices that Harry and his mates made for all of us in the most horrific conditions; I know Harry would be chuffed. To Harry’s mate Phil, our family is forever grateful, and your heroic act is legendary within our family.

I hope that Harry’s precious little gem can see out another hundred years and in time my grandchildren and great grandchildren will treasure it as I do now, and seek out Harry’s story of survival and come to know and love him as I do. Harry loved to reflect on life and always had some heartfelt words of wisdom on offer. In the last page of his diary he wrote……”It is better for to love and be poor, than to be rich with an empty heart”.

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