Tuesday 23 December 2008 by Pen Roberts. 6 comments
News

On Christmas Day 1918 the Air-Mechanics of No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corp, sat down to a Christmas dinner. Their quarters, located at the Bickendorf aerodrome, just outside Cologne, had been transformed with Xmas decorations. The Squadron was there as part of the Army of Occupation in Germany. Food for the meal had been sourced by members of the squadron from local supply depots and canteens. A German orchestra had been booked to play ‘English melodies' for the lunch.

Into this festive gathering walked a little French boy. Henri Heremene had been an orphan since 1914. For the duration of the war he had befriended a succession of English units, travelling across the battlefields. He had come to Cologne with No. 48 Squadron, RAF. By the time the Christmas meal ended, he had asked No. 4 Squadron members if he could stay with them. The medics estimated that he was about 11 years old and 25th December was designated as his birthday.

The Research Centre holds a copy of the Christmas menu from Bickendorf.

Christmas dinner menu. AWM4-8-7-22-69 Christmas dinner menu. AWM4-8-7-22-69

Henri quickly became part of No. 4 Squadron life. This photo shows him collecting rats at the aerodrome.

 

Henri Heremene working on the aerodrome field, January 1919. P00826.151 Henri Heremene working on the aerodrome field, January 1919. P00826.151

In late January 1919, members of the squadron went ice skating on the Stadtwald (town park) lake in Cologne. A series of beautiful photos captured the magical freedom of the moment. It was a New Year without war!

Henri skating with Lieutenant N C Johnson. P00826.235 Henri skating with Lieutenant N C Johnson. P00826.235

Members of No. 4 Squadron Australian Flying Corps at the rink in Cologne. Lieutenant H W Ross is skating. Lieutenant E A Collins prepares to skate while Captain J W Wright and Lieutenant E J Richards watch. P00826.237 Members of No. 4 Squadron Australian Flying Corps at the rink in Cologne. Lieutenant H W Ross is skating. Lieutenant E A Collins prepares to skate while Captain J W Wright and Lieutenant E J Richards watch. P00826.237

When the Squadron left Cologne in February 1919, Henri went with them. By this time he had attached himself to Air Mechanic Private Timothy William Tovell. Henri was smuggled across the English Channel in an oats bag, and then in May he was smuggled on board SS Kaiser-I-Hind for the voyage to Australia. The French Consul eventually allowed Tovell to adopt him.

Henri remains the best known orphan adopted by an Australian unit in the First World War.

Comments

denis connelly

Great to see a good story in all that carnage.What happened to Henri? Where Henri settle after the "Great War"?

new memorial website

Really touching incident. A French boy being adapted by the Australian unit during World War I is really unique. Henri Heremene, the orphan could not have thought of finding such an unlikely family. Thanks to this new memorial website for sharing this unique information with us. Indeed some events are worth remembering over and over again.

Liz

I have started reading the book about Henri a couple of days ago! "Young Digger" by Anthony Hill (not realising it started at Christmas!)

Pen Roberts says:

Thank you for all you comments! Now for the rest of Henri's story. He settled in Brisbane with the Tovell family. Apparently the French consul permitted his adoption but stipulated that he was not to be naturalised until his 21st birthday. At the age of 18, he was accepted in a civilian capacity by Point Cook RAAF, Victoria. On being naturalised he would have been offically able to join the RAAF. Sadly before this could happen, he was killed in a motor bike accident in May 1928. In response to this tragic loss and in memory of such an extraordinary and brave little digger, The Argus newspaper in Melbourne started a public fund to errect a memorial on his grave. Several books have now been written on him. The Memorial's Photographs section holds a lovely image of him taken in his late teenage years with his adopted father Tim Tovell.(See H13597)

Bev Clark

I noticed the initials on the Christmas Menu for 4th Squadron A F C are H P W. On the Xmas card I have for 1918: From 4th Squadron A F C : has an illustration on the front cover of two airborne biplanes and below two aircraft hangars surrounded by tents was drawn by H P Wood. I think this must be H P W on the Christmas Menu in illustration.

chris Hollywood

Its Anzac day and I was examing this site to seek details of Lt E A Collins from 4 Squadron there are a couple of pictures of him skating and I was wondering if anyone has any further info by chance. He lived to a ripe old age in Adelaide and left his medals to my father. I have them now! Would be happy to hear of any relatives that may exist. seems a shame for them not to be held by a real family member. chris hollywood hollywood@adelaide.on.net