'It’s quite horrific what they went through'

07 May 2019 by Claire Hunter

Clarence Harre laid a wreath at a Last Post Ceremony

Clarence Harre laid a wreath at a Last Post Ceremony.

Clarence Harre is lucky to be here. His great-great-grandfather was accidently buried three times by shell-fire during the First World War and his great-grandfather had a narrow escape when HMAS Kuttubul was attacked and sunk by the Japanese midget submarines in Sydney Harbour during the Second World War.

“I had no idea until recently,” Clarence said. “They didn’t open up much – or at least that’s what my grandmother tells me – and I only met my great-grandfather when I was too young to remember.”

An electrical engineering student, Clarence was visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to learn more about his family’s military service thanks to the Gallipoli Scholarship Fund.

The Gallipoli Scholarship aims to foster an understanding among young people of the enduring traditions of perseverance, courage, self-sacrifice and mateship forged on Gallipoli, and to raise awareness of the sacrifices of Australians who have served in war and on peacekeeping operations.

Clarence Harre, centre, with the Memorial's Jennie Norberry and Chris Wagner

Clarence Harre, centre, with the Memorial's Jennie Norberry and Chris Wagner.

It is awarded annually to a direct descendant of an Australian who served during the First World War, Second World War, or the Korean War.

Clarence was awarded the scholarship in 2018, and is also one of the first two recipients of the inaugural Bill Hall Bursary in 2019, which provides assistance for a second year of study.

He is studying at the University of New South Wales and hopes to one day serve in the Royal Australian Air Force.

“Thinking about the future makes me also think about the past a bit more … and this is a great opportunity to explore further, not just my family history but also the general Australian service to the country,” he said.

“I’m very proud, especially knowing the lives they’ve impacted, including my own right now.”

Clarence visiting the Memorial's Research Centre with Jennie Norberry.

Clarence visiting the Memorial's Research Centre with Jennie Norberry.

Clarence’s maternal great-great-grandfather, Walter Harold Edwards, enlisted in October 1915 and served until December 1919. He proceeded to the Suez, but a broken arm meant he had a brief stopover in England before deploying to France.

“He got injured quite a few times,” Clarence said. “He got frost bite, trench foot, a bad back … and he got buried three times. The bombs went off and he got covered in dirt, and the only way they found him was his legs were sticking up through the dirt … I also found out today that he got married to somebody over there.”

Clarence’s maternal great-grandfather, Edwin Charles “Ted” Nichols served in the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War.

“My great-grandfather Ted Nichols was somewhat of a legend,” Clarence said.

“He served on [HMAS] Perth and helped out with the evacuation of Crete in May 1941, and then later he was meant to be stationed on the Kuttabul … but he swapped shifts with someone and he ended up on the Lolita on the night of the Japanese sub attack when they blew up the Kuttabul. He was one of the guys that … tried to blow up the sub, and it’s just pure chance that he didn’t end up sleeping on the Kuttabul that night. If he had been … I wouldn’t be here.”

Clarence's great-grandfather

Clarence’s great-grandfather, Edwin Charles “Ted” Nichols during the war. Photo: Courtesy Clarence Harre

Clarence grew up seeing his ancestors’ photographs at his grandmother’s house in the Blue Mountains, and was pleased to be able to learn more about their service.

“They didn’t open up much … but there was a book written about Ted’s experiences on the Lolita,” he said. “It was a great opportunity, not just for me, but also for my broader family, to learn more … because they didn’t talk much [about it].”

For Clarence, the chance to visit the Memorial and research his family history was particularly special.

Clarence's great-grandfather

Clarence’s great-grandfather, Edwin Charles “Ted” Nichols. Photo: Courtesy Clarence Harre

“It’s definitely something I’ll be sharing with my grandmother,” he said. “She said the war really impacted on my great-great-grandfather, as well, I assume, as my great-grandfather. And my great-great-grandmother, my great-grandmother, and their children had to grow up with that.”

He said visiting the Memorial helped him to gain a greater understanding of their war service and what they endured.

“It’s quite horrific what they went through,” he said. “We were told in history class just how bad Gallipoli was, but I didn’t see how bad the rest of it was. On the Roll of Honour, you’ve got people who died who were in occupations that aren’t even meant to be in combat positions … it makes no sense, but that’s war I guess.”

Clarence remains extremely grateful to the Gallipoli Scholarship Fund for their help and support.

“I’m definitely grateful for the support they’ve provided as well as the mentorship,” he said. “I would recommend anybody thinking of applying to give it a crack. You really get a lot out of it.”

Clarence's great-grandfather served in the navy during the war.

Clarence’s great-grandfather, Edwin Charles “Ted” Nichols served in the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War. Photo: Courtesy Clarence Harre