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Harry, Gilbert (1893–1931)

by W. H. Connell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Gilbert Harry (1893-1931), soldier and farmer, was born on 21 February 1893 at St Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands, son of Samuel Harry, Primitive Methodist minister, and his wife Sarah Ida, née Bleathman. He migrated to Queensland shortly before World War I and when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 13 May 1915 gave his occupation as gunsmith and settler. He had been working his own land at Milmerran.

Harry was allotted to the 26th Battalion and because of his knowledge of firearms and service with the Derbyshire Volunteers was soon posted to unit headquarters as armourer sergeant. The battalion sailed for Egypt in June and landed at Gallipoli on 11 September; five days later Harry was transferred to Ordnance, Anzac Corps. On 29 October he returned to his battalion which remained at Gallipoli until evacuation in December. It embarked from Egypt for France on 15 March 1916; from May to August Harry was attached to 2nd Divisional Armoury but he rejoined his battalion in time for the terrible fighting around Pozières in August. There, during the 26th's fifty hours in the trenches, he won his first decoration, the Military Medal. Although a non-combatant attached to battalion headquarters, he pleaded to take part in the attack. When the officer commanding the battalion ammunition dump became a casualty he took over and 'despite the fact that he was once completely buried and later was severely shaken by a high explosive shell stuck to his job gamely'. At great personal risk, he guided carrying parties across the open from the dump to the captured trenches. Commissioned as a second lieutenant on 16 August, he was appointed sniping officer to the 7th Brigade in September; he was promoted lieutenant on 9 December and attended a staff course at Clare College, Cambridge, from February to April 1917.

Harry was awarded the first of his Military Crosses in September for 'courage, devotion to duty and plucky and clever reconnaissance' as brigade intelligence officer before the attack on Westhoek Ridge, near Ypres, Belgium. Because of his work, which involved being under continuous heavy shell-fire, the battalions of the 7th Brigade suffered no casualties while they were assembling for the assault. On 4 October he was wounded during the fighting around Broodseinde. He was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross for 'fine courage and determination' south of Framerville, France, on 11 August 1918; as brigade intelligence officer he obtained required information even though he was caught in a barrage and 'his clothing was pierced by enemy snipers' fire'. He was wounded again at Mont St Quentin on 1 September but remained on duty; that month he was made a temporary captain in the 26th Battalion but remained on secondment for brigade intelligence work for the rest of the war. He embarked for Australia in June 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment ended on 19 September.

Little is known of Harry's post-war civilian life. In 1922-30 he was dairy farming at Kanyan near Gympie, Queensland; a nearby storekeeper recalled that his agricultural career was dogged by misfortune. He died, unmarried, at Gympie on 21 March 1931 of acute respiratory illness and was buried in an unmarked grave in Gympie Anglican cemetery. Harry was reserved by nature, dapper and small in stature. He was one of only nine members of the A.I.F. to win the Military Medal and Military Cross and Bar.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • London Gazette, 19 Sept 1916, 28 Dec 1917, 5 Nov 1918
  • embarkation roll, 26th Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • war diary, 26th Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

W. H. Connell, 'Harry, Gilbert (1893–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harry-gilbert-6587/text11337, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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