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England, Ernest Roy (1896–1978)

by Keith D. Howard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Ernest Roy England (1896-1978), soldier and railway worker, was born on 28 July 1896 at Middle Park, Melbourne, fourth child of English-born parents Joseph Henry England, miner, and his wife Elvera, née Smith. The family moved to Boulder on the Western Australian goldfields where Joseph was later killed in an industrial accident. Ernest worked for the Western Australian Government Railways and served in the 84th Infantry (Goldfields Regiment), Militia. When he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 23 May 1915 he was 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, with blue eyes and brown hair.

Sailing for Egypt in June 1915, England joined the 16th Battalion on 2 August at Gallipoli. He was evacuated sick on the 28th and did not return to the peninsula until 8 December, ten days before the general withdrawal began. The battalion moved to France in June 1916 and on 9-10 August suffered heavy losses north of Pozières. England was one of two stretcher-bearers who were praised for 'repeatedly bringing-in wounded under heavy shell-fire' within their front line and for venturing into no man's land to recover casualties from earlier fighting. He was awarded the Military Medal.

On 11-12 April 1917 at Riencourt, near Bullecourt, England and three of his comrades showed 'conspicuous bravery and determination' by carrying injured soldiers to the rear in the face of heavy shell, rifle and machine-gun fire. England won a Bar to his M.M. He was promoted corporal in June and sergeant next month. Near Hebuterne on 15 April 1918 he had charge of a small daylight-reconnaissance patrol which unexpectedly came upon an enemy machine-gun post. According to the battalion's records, he took the Germans' gun and returned with it to his own lines. Quickly gathering a larger party, he again attacked the post, killing one German and capturing five. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. In May he was sent to Britain for officer-training and was commissioned on 18 December.

England's A.I.F. appointment terminated in Perth on 8 May 1919. He rejoined the W.A.G.R., working in the Collie-Brunswick Junction district and playing Australian Rules football with the Railways Club; in 1920 he won a best-all-round-player award. On 12 October 1921 he married a 35-year-old divorcee Bessie Williams, née James (d.1973), at the Presbyterian Church, North Perth. Ernest took up dairy farming near Collie, where Bessie had small business interests. After they moved to Perth in the early 1930s, he drove for United Buses Ltd, then assisted her in managing two popular guesthouses in the Claremont-Cottesloe area. A quiet, unassuming man, he was involved in horse-breeding and training, and achieved modest success: one of his favourite winners was named Hebuterne.

Survived by his two sons and stepson, England died on 21 January 1978 at Subiaco and was cremated with Anglican rites. His elder son Bert was commissioned in the Royal Australian Air Force in World War II; the younger Ernie played Sheffield Shield cricket for Western and South Australia; both became medical practitioners.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Longmore, The Old Sixteenth (Perth, 1929)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • C. E. W. Bean, Anzac to Amiens (Canb, 1968)
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

Keith D. Howard, 'England, Ernest Roy (1896–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 December 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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