Friday, April 25, 2014

ANZAC Day Blog Challenge 2014: Part 3 - He was keen to go to War....but what changed?

Of the three brothers to go to World War 1, Ernest Geyer intrigued me the most.  I still don't know his story and probably never will, which is probably why I remain curious. 

Ernest Geyer was born 22 November 1897 at Nhill, Victoria.  He was the youngest son of Edward Ernest Edmund Geyer and Edith Geyer.  His father died before he turned two years of age.   He was only four years old when the family took a dangerous wagon journey from Nhill to Mildura.  In addition to nearly dying of dehydration, he also nearly drowned (that's one extreme to another!).  You can read more about the journey here.

Ern atttended Winiam State School for a time as he is remembered on their World War 1 board of honour, while his brothers are not. 

Ern Geyer (Number: 1293) is pictured in the bottom right corner.

The Geyer family did not live in Winiam but in nearby Nhill.  However, Ern's big sister Mabel Geyer married James Pilgrim in 1907 and lived at Winiam.  Ern would have been 10 years old.  Therefore it is probable that he lived with his sister and brother in law (my Great Grandparents) and attended Winiam State School.

The Horsham Times, Friday 28 October 1910, page 6

Nhill Free Press, Friday 5th May 1916 , page 2 

In 1910, he fell from a horse and badly injured his knee.  In September 1915, Ern was in a critical condition with seven perforations of the bowel as a result of a shooting accident where a friend shot him at close range with a pea rifle.

It was felt that his injuries could have prevented him from enlisting but he  "put in 8 months of wheat lumping to give it a test, and decided that it was all right, so (I) went and enlisted straight away".  He was 18. He had previous experience with the military in the Victorian Rangers, 73rd Infantry.

Nhill Free Press, Tuesday 3 July 1917,  page 2
Ern embarked aboard the HMAT Ascanius A11 from Melbourne on the 27th May 1916 as part of 39th Battalion (D Company).   On the 7th June 1917 he was wounded in action in France (gassed).   He was then in and out of hospital and wrote to his mother, an extract of the letter was published in The Horsham Times on Friday 21 December 1917, page 7 and is repeated below;

Ern Geyer
The following are extracts from a Ietter received from Signaller E. T. Geyer and sent to his mother and sisters :-"Somewhere in France." My unit is back in our old billet that we left for the line. When we were here before everyone was glad when word came that we were going away, but everybody was more than pleased when we arrived here. All the boys were tired out when we arrived. We came in motor lorries. We left our camp in the afternoon and marched in easy stages to the line, which was shell holes. Old Fritz started dumping his spare ammunition along our track as we were going up, and continued to do so while we were lying waiting for the magic words. "Over the top, boys."  As I was lying, in my shell hole waiting, and his shells were lobbing close around me, 1 thought, "You'll get paid back shortly, and with compound interest too" 

When our guns opened, and we hopped out, his guns seemed as though the gunners had left them. I looked back several times, and the sky-line was a blaze of light from our superb artillery, which was pounding men and pillboxes into pieces small enough to go into match boxes. Our boys are as good as our guns, for they wander along quite unconcernedly behind our barrage with cigarettes and pipes going. When I was at home, and used to see pictures of prisoners coming in with their hands up, I used to think that they were faked for the purpose, but after seeing some coming down to us with a Red Cross flag flying and their hands up, I can see it is no fake but reality! 

We dug a new front line in what had been Fritz's lines that morning, and made ourselves as much at home as circumstances would permit. We were relieved after some hours and were very glad to get out and get a spell. Our cooks were busy when we arrived dishing out a hot stew; soup, tea and cheese sandwiches, which were very acceptable. We were out for a spell when, in the afternoon, we got a move on for a camp nearer the line, where we stayed for a day and a night. We went up in the night, and Fritz started to dump his ammunition along our track. We didn't have so long to wait for our guns to open up on him. I was in reserve with the rest of the Sigs., and was in a --, which Fritz knew the range of to a yard, and he could dump his ammunition quite close enough to cover one in mud, but could not quite hit anyone. I had a little trench dug on to the end of another that some of the boys had dug, and shell explosions used to cause the mud to fall on to my back. Once when I put my hand into my overcoat to get a smoke , l pulled out a handful of mud.

We were relieved in small parties, and no one in my party knew the way out, with  the result that we got lost, and were wandering among the shell holes. In looking for the track I got into a bog, and sank to my hips, and was powerless to get out without the aid of the other lads. It was quite a common thing for the word to come forward to halt, as someone was bogged. 

When we got out our [cookers] we were going again with a good hot meal, which put fresh life in to one. The mud was coated half an inch thick on my clothing as high as the waist. I looked in a glass, and   discovered that my face had a thin coat of dirt mixed in with my beard.   Don't worry about my being gassed. I do not feel any ill effects of it, and my chest is as good as ever.

It is uncertain what happened but according to defense records, Ern disappeared 9th June 1918.  Letters were returned and communication with Ern ceased.  A court of enquiry found him illegally absent and he was discharged under desertion on 27 April 1920. Maybe the accident prone young man decided that four (or more) near death experiences were enough?  Or perhaps at 21 years of age, he was enticed by a young lady?  How did he get to America?  Or was it Canada as rumoured?  I would love to know!

The Horsham Times, 25 December 1923, p 5

Ern arrived home 5 years after the war ended.
His mother had not heard from him for  "6 years or more" until she inserted an advertisement in the Chicago Tribune. (What made her believe that her son was in Chicago?  Or did she put advertisements in papers around the world?).  She received a reply from a lady who knew Ern and she soon contacted him and as a result he returned to Australia. 

The Geier Family History book states that Ern"travelled to America, where he became a 'Fuller Brush' salesman, then worked for a construction firm, then for the Cadillac Motor company and finally joined the U.S. Army Air Force at Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He served with 11th Bombardment Squadron, Langley Field, and attained the Rank of Sergeant" .

Other newspaper articles repeat this information and I can see that his mother wrote to him at Langley Field.  However, I have yet to confirm any other details.  I think that I may have located him living in Winnebago, Illinois in 1920 but cannot be certain it is him.

I feel that I must point out that Ern served in the 14 Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps during World War II.     

Christmas 1924 the entire family gathered together, including Edith's grandchildren.  What a wonderful gathering that would have been.  The questions that I would have!  If only time machines existed!

Edith Geyer with her Children - Christmas 1924 @ Horsham
Back:  Lily, Sophie, Mabel
Front:  believe it is Ern, Mick, Edith, Lloyd and Arthur

You can read more Anzac Day blogs here


  1. What a fascinating story. I am glad the family were reunited.

  2. What an extraordinary story. You have put such work into this. I'd be curious to know what happened too.