A Tale of Two Soldiers

Author:
Alan Ralph Barker
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November 10, 1918 – the eve of the Armistice. Two brothers serving in different areas of France were reunited by chance, spending the final hours of the war together in safety and brotherly comradeship. Their nephew, Alan Barker, tells the serendipitous story of his uncles.

Captain Harold Arthur Barker and Fred Barker
Captain Harold Arthur Barker, left, and Fred Barker. 
 
My uncle, Captain Harold Arthur Barker DCM, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on August 17, 1914. Two months later, he departed from Melbourne on the HMAT Hororata A20 bound for Egypt.

CAPT Barker was one of the ANZACs who landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. A Lance Corporal at the time, he was later awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for “conspicuous gallantry” during the Gallipoli landing and promoted to a commissioned rank shortly afterwards.
 

PRAISE FOR HIS ROLE AT GALLIPOLI

Captain Barker was praised by Brigadier General Harold (Pompey) Edward Elliott for his role at Gallipoli.

“One who distinguished himself above his fellows was Harold Barker. He was not a member of the CMF at the time, but enlisted in the 7th Battalion in August 1914, and was posted to the Machine Gun Section under Lieut Whitelaw,” BRIG Elliott said.

“Soon afterwards, he was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, and whilst holding that rank Barker landed with the Battalion on the 25th day of April, 1915, at Gallipoli. At the spot where the boat, in which his detachment was, grounded, the water was deep close to the shore, and into this her stern projected.

“Misfortune at once overtook the detachment in the loss of one of the three guns with which they were armed, through one of the men leaping overboard with it at the stern into the deep water as soon as the boat grounded, and being obliged to let the gun go to save himself.

“The web belts carrying the ammunition for the guns also fell into the water, and after being with difficulty recovered, were found to have expanded and become temporarily useless. The detachment nevertheless pushed forward and were ordered by a staff officer to take up a position in the firing line beyond Monash Gully, where they were exposed to a severe shell fire, and suffered heavy casualties.

“Corporal Golding had been mortally wounded on the beach, and Lieut Whitelaw and Sergt East Almond were speedily incapacitated by severe and dangerous wounds. Both guns were severely damaged and indeed almost destroyed.
 

HAROLD ASSUMES COMMAND

“The command of the detachment was thereupon assumed by Lance Corporal Barker, who managed from the remnants of the two guns to construct one serviceable weapon and maintained it in action throughout that day and the succeeding days.

“This gun played a prominent part in checking the counter attacks of the Turks upon our position. Lance Corporal Barker thus won the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and was shortly afterwards promoted to Commissioned Rank. He served throughout the Gallipoli Campaign until the evacuation in December 1915.

“In France later on he was promoted to the rank of Captain and commanded the 2nd Brigade Machine Gun Company. During a battle in the Somme area he was dangerously wounded.

“It is to be remembered that the landing at Gallipoli was the baptism of fire of our boys and they found themselves plunged at once into the inferno of modern warfare, and Barker and his companions exhibited that initiative and enterprise which made the Australian soldier pre-eminent in war.”

Between the wars, CAPT Barker joined the reserves as an officer and served again in WWII. He held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel when he was demobilised in 1944.
 

BROTHER ENLISTS THREE YEARS LATER

Fredrick Charles Barker enlisted almost three years after his brother, on April 19, 1917, and joined the Division Signals Companies. He left Melbourne in August 1917 and served as a dispatch rider in France from September 1918.
On November 10, 1918, Sapper Barker was given several sealed dispatches and a list of Australian field positions to deliver them. As the sun was setting, his last delivery was to the commander of the machine gun unit.
 

BROTHERS REUNITE ON THE BATTLEFIELD

Lo and behold, the commander turned out to be his older brother. The sealed dispatch notified the commander that, as of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, hostilities would cease.
Thus, the two brothers spent the last night of the war together in safety. At a family reunion back in Australia, Harold related the story of their meeting, saying, “Typical Fred! The first thing he said to me was, ‘Harold, can you lend me some money for cigarettes?’.”

During WWII, Fred was seconded as a procurement officer with the US Army in Brisbane under General MacArthur, where he helped establish military hospitals and building projects.

References available upon request.