Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Desperate to serve: William Henry George Barry's war

6224 Private William Henry George Barry, 14th Infantry Battalion, 20th Reinforcements.

William Barry was born in Coburg (then known as Pentridge) in 1869, the son of William and Isabella (Johnson). He did not marry and lived with his widowed mother Isabella (nee Johnson) at 3 Barry Street (or Barry's Lane), Coburg, a street off O'Hea Street named after his family.

William Barry was 44 years old when he enlisted. By then he'd served in the Australian Navy for three years and been in the 1st and 4th Battalions of the Victorian Militia for four years. He'd done home service, too, with the AIF, for four months. A big man for the time (5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 13 stone) and used to hard physical work (he was an ironworker on the railways), he'd been rejected as unfit before with a hammer toe and bad teeth. Even so, he wanted to fight and he was finally accepted in August 1916. He embarked from Melbourne on 7 September 1916 on board the Port Sydney.

Port Sydney on the day of its departure, 7 September 1916. Photographer Josiah Barnes.
Image courtesy AWM. Image PB0910.

20th Reinforcements of the 14th Battalion on the wharf at Port Melbourne, ready to embark. 7 September 1916. William Barry is probably in this photo.
Image courtesy AWM. Image PB0913.

Port Sydney,  20th Reinforcements, 14th Battalion. Note that the patterned sunshade that is on the left in the photo above is now being used as shelter by the two soldiers on the left. Was it a gift from a sweetheart, perhaps?
Image courtesy AWM. Image PB0917.

There are many more photos of the Port Sydney taken that day. They are all available online at the Australian War Memorial website and were all taken by Josiah Barnes, a photographer from Kew whose two sons served in the 1st AIF. He was known as the 'embarkation photographer'. 


William Barry arrived in France on 3 March 1918. He was wounded in the thigh and hand on 31 May 1918. On 13 June 1918, aged 47, he was sent back to England with haemorrhoids. At the end of July he was returned to Australia suffering from premature senility, which the medical report claimed was pre-existing. It also noted that he had 'markedly defective vision' in his right eye.

It's a wonder he was ever accepted in the first place, but William Barry's four months in France gave him a taste of the experience of war and on his return he was granted a pension. He lived with his mother at 3 Barry Street, Coburg until the 1920s when he moved briefly to Gisborne. By then he was working as a gardener, an occupation he continued to pursue on his return to the city, to Abbotsford, in 1931. He lived alone, his mother having died in 1929. I have found no record of his death.

Interestingly, during the war years, his sister Elizabeth, who was married to Chief Warder Hugh Foy, lived inside the walls of Pentridge Prison. His father William, who died in 1909, had been a warder at Pentridge in the 1870s and 1880s.

Sources: Attestation papers, National Archives of Australia; Victorian Birth Index, 1869/10711; 1903, 1909, 1914,1919, 1924, 1931 and 1936 electoral rolls.

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