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Anzac hero writes letter describing war hell on earth

 One of Private Harry Allen’s letters home from the front line.
One of Private Harry Allen’s letters home from the front line. Contributed

A CENTURY ago today, the decision to invade the peninsula with ground troops, including the Anzac forces, was made after another failed allied attempt in the Dardanelles.

One of these local Anzac heroes was Private Harry Allen from Maryborough.

Pvt Allen was born in June, 1896 and was orphaned about the age of six where he went into the care of his grandfather.

Before enlisting to fight in the First World War, Pvt Allen worked at a Maryborough stove foundry, Daniels & Co. with the Daniel family.

At the age of 19 years, 2 months, Pvt Allen enlisted at Maryborough on August 16, 1915, and embarked from Brisbane per HMAT "Seang Bee" on October 21, 1915 for active service in Europe.

During his active service Pvt Allen was raised to Acting Corporal then Acting Sergeant at the pay rate of a Corporal and discharged as a Private.

Pvt Allen served in the front lines in the Somme and Pozieres where, according to Harry, our troops captured two lines of Germans.

"By June the Bally Germans knew the Australians by then," he wrote in a letter to his work colleague and close friend, James Daniel Jnr while recovering from wounds at a convalescent hospital at Woodcote Park, England in 1916.

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In his letter, Pvt Allen described how he got his war wounds.

"Big guns Jim," Pvt Allen said. "It was a battle where I got wounded. It was in the Somme. Where all the heaviest fighting is taking place.

"We were in the front line till the Saturday night. And early on Sunday morning about one in the morning - the whole lot of us went over the top of the parapet in a bayonet charge.

"The sky was as red as a fire with all the guns going. You could barely hear yourself speaking for the guns and the shells bursting and whizzing over our heads.

"It was hell on earth."

He went on to describe the horrific moment the Germans turned their guns on the charge.

"We lost a terrible lot of men. The whole 3rd Brigade lost terrible heavy," he described. "I got wounded about dinner time on Tuesday."

Following his recovery in 1916 in England, Pvt Allen was again posted to the front line where he was again wounded.

He was gassed three times, suffered shell shock and eventually returned to Australia disembarking at Sydney about December 19, 1918 where he was sent home to Maryborough.

Before returning home, he had at least one more stint in a hospital in England.

He returned home a very sick man, and other than times in hospital, was nursed for the remainder of his life by his adopted (then widowed) mother Isabella Daniel whose husband Smith Daniel passed away in 1915.

It appears that Harry died on February 3, 1920, less than 14 months after returning home. He was buried at the Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane. He brought home with him a German leather flying helmet.

Harry was awarded the 1914/15 Star; British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His adopted family does not know where his medals are today.

In an email to the Chronicle, an adopted family member of Pvt Allen, Adrian Daniel, expressed his respect and love of his adopted uncle.

"Without service personnel like Harry and those that followed we would not be enjoying the freedom and lifestyle we currently do," Mr Daniel said. "Our generation and each one that follows must never forget the debt we owe to our service personnel.

"Anzac Day to me does not glorify war, but a timely reminder of the horrors and suffering war brings and the sacrifices made by those who defend and train to defend our freedom. I have always felt for the Vietnam veterans who to me got a raw deal on their return home and subsequently.

"I feel that all service personnel - it doesn't matter which battle they participated in - they put their lives on the line and if they survived their health in all respects would no doubt be worse for wear."

Topics:  anzac anzac-centenary centenary of anzac digger editors picks hero letter maryborough war



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