ANZAC Centenary 2014-2018: Sharing Victoria's Stories

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WWI Stories – Bertie Harrison

Albert Harrison shares the story of his father, Bert (Bertie) Harrison.

HarrisonMy father enlisted in the 5th. Battalion AIF in St. Kilda Road 1914, and was given the enlistment number 398. He boarded the HMAT Orvieto and sailed from station pier on 21 October 1914, and sailed for Egypt with the last sighting of Australia being Albany.

While in Cairo, many Australian and New Zealand troops were involved in the ‘Battle of Wazzir’ – an incident in the red-light district sparked by bad liquor that has been mythologised over time. My father insisted he was not involved.

After a brief stay in Cairo, camping near the Sphinx and pyramids, they embarked for Gallipoli. Bertie took photos of the Gallipoli landing that are now displayed in the Australian War Memorial and featured in the book Forward with the Fifth.

He survived Gallipoli and went on to France where, after only one week at the front, took part in the Battle of Fromelles where more than 5,000 Australian troops were listed as casualties in a 24-hour period. This statistic weighed very heavily on my father. He fought at many places on the Western Front before being gassed in France, after which he was nursed by a French family before returning to his Battalion.

Later injuries saw him repatriated to England to recuperate where he was engaged in submarine duty.

He returned to Australia at the end of the war undergoing further treatment at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital. I have been told that records indicate my father was the second-longest serving soldier in the firing line.

Like many, he was reluctant to speak of the war, but the little he spoke of painted a picture of horror, hardship and deprivation mingled with camaraderie and mateship.

I am proud of my father and the role he played in the war. He put his hand up like so many other young men and he came home – many did not. My father too was a casualty in a way, haunted by the memories.