Herbert Andrew Smythe (Bert)

1889-1917

Bert was born at Toorak, Melbourne and grew up at North Winton and Jerilderie. He had very blue eyes and fair hair. In Percy's words he was always "kind and thoughtful, with bonny blue eyes and a cheerful smile". He left school at an early age and at times worked for his grandfather at North Winton and for Steele's Drapery, Jerilderie and later joined PMG and learnt morse code. He had an understanding with Elsie Maloney, a Jerilderie girl. He was adored by his brothers and sisters had affectionate nicknames for them, was universally liked for his sense of humour, not always to be taken seriously.

With PMG he worked at Katoomba and Sydney head office. He contributed to the Starr-Bowkett Society, which eventually enabled the family to get their own home.

At the outbreak of WW1 he was granted leave from PMG, joined up eagerly and was seconded to the signallers because of his knowledge of morse code and sailed on “Euripedes”. He was in the Landing at Gallipoli where he was a sniper because of his skill as a crack shot, Some of his letters were published in Jerilderie Herald.

“Presently we got to a plateau with a lovely trench in it that the Turks, with commendable foresight had provided for us … A concussion shrapnel landed right in the trench fair opposite us and buried us up to our necks in dirt. I scrambled to my feet to see if I was hurt and was mighty thankful to find I wasn’t.”

After being injured in the shoulder, he was sent to recuperate in hospital in Birmingham, where “the nurses are about as sober as a captured spy. Got one to look happy for 10 secs.” On recovery he went back to Gallipoli. Later in England he did a special course in instructing and became part of the First Training Battalion and taught signalling. He was regarded as an expert in semaphore, getting 299.5/300, beating everyone including the officers. Feeling that he was not pulling his weight in the war, not facing as much risk as his brothers, he continually agitated to get back to the front. Finally in March 1917 he was sent to France. His diary was full of his original abbreviations, colloquialisms, and ironic comments.

THURSDAY 12th: Wednesdays tea of stew & tea did not arrive until 2 in the mng, & of course it was not exactly hot. Slept all day only getting up for meals. Fritz shelling the road near us & the village pretty constantly. Owing to the men not standing to smartly this afternoon everybody is up on duty all night - no reliefs of "off duty" at all. H of a lot of grumbling. Weather vile wind, snow, rain & very occasionally sun. Everything in a vile condition. Mud from head to sole. Our new dugout which we built pretty good except one gets horribly muddy coming in & getting out & every time we come in, bring enough mud on our boots to sta rt a brick kiln...Splendid luck this arvo. 8 letters & one from the "one and only" Bonzer one too. it seriously interfered with my efficiency on patrol cos i was thinking thinks as we prowled about, instead of keeping my mind on the most serious job. Everything seems quite rosy- Havent been able to post the letters I wrote some time ago .

Two months after getting back to the Front in France, at the age of twenty-six he was killed at Bullecourt and was sadly missed and fondly remembered. After the war while awaiting repatriation, men were employed digging up the remains from the fields and ditches and re-interring them. Bert’s remains were removed to Maricourt as noted on his record. His somewhat cryptic diary and letters are treasured. He was awarded a medal commemorating the Gallipoli landing. His only concrete memorial in France is a name among thousands on a memorial wall at Villers-Bretonneux, in the main entrance of the old GPO in Martin Place, Sydney his name in gold lettering on a marble slab and in a book “in memory of officer of PMG Dept”, as well as Honour Boards at Jerilderie and Gladesville churches. He is affectionately remembered in the next generations:- Viv's son Herbert, Viola's son Colin Andrew, Ida's son Charles Andrew, Rita's son William Andrew. Also Phillip Andrew Johnston, Peter Andrew Kuestler, Andrew Glasgow, Andrew Joseph Said, the name Andrew coming originally from the early Currie ancestors.    

Elsie Maloney ("the one and only" or "t.o.o.") did not marry. The Smythes kept in touch with her and her brother Lorrie. Later she took on the care of her niece and nephew after the death of their mother. She loved them dearly and treated them like the children she would never have. She had lived in Jerilderie all her life until the 1950s when she left and was glad of the change. In her old age she gave to Viola some trinkets given her by Bert, so that they could be kept in the family. One was a rising sun badge on a mother-of-pearl background. She died aged about ninety at Hammondville.

 

 

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