Monday, September 3, 2012

An unremarkable life

Most of us live unremarkable lives, in the grand scheme of things. We are followers. We are part of the crowd. We matter only to our family and friends. And that is the most that we can ask for. And, that is what is important. To matter to family and friends before 'the lone and level sands stretch far away'. We are not Ozymandias, and we do not aspire to be.

It was the quiet pride in this headstone which caught my eye. 'An ANZAC'. Even the parentheses were emphasising the ordinariness of his achievement.

Reuben Ernest Starkey (known as Ernie) joined the AIF (Australian Infantry Forces) on 21st August 1914, which was 17 days after Great Britain (and her Dominions) declared war on the Kaiser's Germany. He was typical of so many other young men, from small country towns in NSW who heeded their nation's call. A response we find hard to comprehend nowadays. Which was the aim. However, Ernie was already 32. He was short: 5'7". He was stocky: 11.5 stone. He gave his occupation as 'surveyor's cook'. He was in the middle of the large family of Joseph Starkey and Emma Green, who lived on the rivers and gullies between Gosford and the Hawkesbury. They were grafters.

Ernie was allocated Regimental Number 184 and joined the 1st Machine Gun Division of the 4th Battalion. They had 16 Vickers Machine Guns. He embarked from Sydney on HMAT 'Euripedes' on 20th October 1914 and returned to Sydney on 28th October 1918. He served in Egypt, the Dardenelles, the UK, and France. He alternated between being a Private and a Driver. A severe case of pneumonia saw him in hospital in Alexandria when the intial landing at Gallipoli occurred, but he rejoined his Company on that blighted peninsula on 17th August 1915. During his service, he had bouts in hospital for chronic bronchitis, VD, and a septic hand.

Ernie never married, instead living with his father at Spencer on the Hawkesbury River, until his father's death in 1941. He spent most of his life as a labourer, and the last decade of his life as a gardener with rooms in Faunce Street, Gosford. Ernie could read and write (as could his father), but even before he joined the infantry, he was missing 11 teeth. A basic, hard-scrabble of a life.

For the record the images are:
Ernie's grave in Point Clare Cemetery, outside Gosford
A page of his Service Record showing his Gallipoli service
Another page showing his dental problems
A letter from his father to the War Office in 1918
A letter from his younger brother (Herbert Donald born 1889) requesting his Regimental Number to place upon his headstone


Gemma Wiseman said...

An ordinary life that had a fair share of challenges and struggles! So good to see such a person taking his place as an interesting person! Intriguing post!

Nicola Carpenter said...

Such a fancinating post. I love old military records as you can find out so much more about the person than birth, marriage, death certificates or even census returns could ever tell you.

Beneath Thy Feet

Julie said...

Yes, old military records are simply engrossing. Not many places give you the person's dental status.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed by how much you were able to learn about this man! Very nice post.

Wibbo said...

Terrific post - I'm really impressed with your detective work!

Deb said...

A long and hard life, he was clearly much loved and respected by his brother.

Red Shoes said...

I'm not quite sure how I found your blog, but this is great... really great.

Thank you!


Ash Starkey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.