The last of his line
Ted Eames was desperately ill in hospital when the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918.
The guns had finally fallen silent after more than four years of war, but 19-year-old Ted was still fighting for his life.
He had been serving with the 18th Australian Infantry Battalion when he was wounded in action during the final stages of the Great War.
He had written to his father from his hospital bed saying he was in A1 shape and that he hoped to be home soon, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
As millions around the world celebrated the end of the First World War, Ted Eames succumbed to his wounds.
He died in hospital later that same day.
For Meghan Adams, a researcher and writer at the Australian War Memorial, his story is particularly poignant.
“He was only 19 years old, and to die on the last day of the war, it’s just heartbreaking,” Adams said.
“You can’t imagine what that must have been like for his family.
“For everybody around you to be celebrating the end of the war, and to be thinking, ‘The war is over, my son’s safe, he made it,’ only to get a telegram with the sad news that he’d died of wounds.
“I’m not a parent, but I can only imagine how that must feel for someone.”
Edward Wareham Eames was born in the Sydney suburb of Petersham in May 1899, the eldest of two children born to Walter Eames and his wife Alice.
Affectionately known as Ted, he went to school in Petersham and later Newtown where he was an active member of the local cadets.
“He was just 15 when the war broke out in 1914, and was working as a builders’ apprentice,” Adams said.
“Because of his age, he had to wait several years before he could enlist in the Australian Imperial Force.
“He was still only a young man, just a teenager, but was he still very keen to do his bit.
“He gave his age as 18 years and ten months when he went to enlist in May 1917, but he was actually 17 years and 10 months.
“At that time in the war, people who were under the age of 21 required their parents’ permission to enlist, so throughout the course of the war, you see many people who are much younger than that, or even people who are much older than the age limits, getting in.
“He has his father’s permission to go, but this may have been forged, or perhaps his father just figured that Eames was almost 18, so he might as well let him join.
“We will never know.”
In April 1917, Eames was farewelled at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Sandringham. He embarked for overseas service two months later as part of reinforcements for the 18th Battalion on board the troopship Beltana.
It was the last time his family would see him.
Eames joined his unit in the trenches of Belgium on New Year’s Day 1918.
In March, the Germans launched their Spring Offensive, making a series of attacks along the allied front as part of a final push to break through the lines.
For Eames, it was a brutal introduction to life on the Western Front.
“He arrives in the midst of a bitterly cold winter, and then he’s confronted with the German Spring Offensive, so it’s pretty hard going,” Adams said. “It’s a pretty hard introduction to the war; there’s no easing into it.”
Throughout April, Eames’ unit was stationed around Hangard Wood, where he was wounded in action during a patrol near enemy lines
“It’s not exactly clear what happened,” Adams said. “But he’s wounded in action during what looks like a standard patrol. Despite this, he remains on duty with his battalion throughout the remainder of the German offensive.
“The Germans were trying to make a final push to break through the allied lines, but that failed, and the allies put into play their own plans for their own major final offensive.
“That starts on the 8th of August 1918, a day which German forces refer to as the Black Day of the German Army because the allied forces basically threw everything they had at them and pushed them back.
From August through to November there’s a series of devastating defeats for the Germans, and the allied forces pushed them back further and further, all the way back to the Hindenburg Line, which is their final line of defence.
“During this period, however, Eames came down with a case of dysentery and had been removed from the lines and hospitalised before the massive allied attack began.
“And that may just have saved his life.”
Writing to his father from his hospital bed, Eames was well aware how lucky he had been.
“I expect it was a bit of luck that I was sent down the day before the last big stunt,” he wrote. “But I can assure you it was disappointing after getting everything ready and looking forward to it for so long, waiting to have a good slap at Fritz after practically playing with him for so long. Anyway, I am looking forward to getting back before the offensive has finished.”
By the time Eames rejoined his unit in late September, German forces had been pushed back to their final lines of defence.
“It’s not long before Eames finds himself back in the thick of the fighting,” Adams said.
“His final act of the war is at the village of Joncourt, when his unit attacks the Beaurevoir Line.”
The battle began in the early hours of the morning on 3 October 1918, when Eames and his comrades advanced following a barrage of artillery fire.
They came under heavy shelling, gas and machine-gun fire as they struggled to push forward through lengths of uncut barbed wire.
“It’s not clear exactly what happened, but at some point Eames was shot, probably by German machine-gun fire, and wounded through the groin,” Adams said.
“It was a pretty serious wound and he was lucky to survive and make it to hospital behind the lines.
“But in the end, there wasn’t really much they could do for him.”
In the weeks that followed, nursing staff held out hope as war raged on around them.
Several days later, Eames wrote to his father from his hospital bed.
“I was x-rayed today but do not know the verdict,” he wrote.
“I am feeling A1 as far as myself goes, and have just finished having a good feed.
“I have a very good chance of getting home with this wound, but it will take some time to heal.
“Well, Dad, news is very scarce so I will close, wishing you the season’s greetings, your loving son, Ted.”
The letter was accompanied by another, written by Claude William Smith, who was serving in the medical corps.
"Dear Mr Eames, you may possibly remember me, when I was living at Sans Souci in Alice Street," he wrote.
“Ted is at present in our hospital.
“He was admitted three weeks ago, suffering from a very severe wound in the groin.
“His condition since he was admitted has been very serious ...
“When I first saw him I thought that he would not live the night out as his temperature was 106.
“He improved slightly, but the wound has still continued to discharge freely.
“Today he has been x-rayed and we cannot trace any foreign body in the wound or any fracture.
“He was also seen by the senior surgeon who does not hold out any hope for his recovery ... he may pass away at any minute.
“I am very sorry indeed to have to write such a melancholy letter, but I thought that you would like to know that he is among friends.
“Everything that is possible is being done for him and I am certain that the feels quite comfortable at present.
“I visit him every day and will see that he wants for nothing.
“Of course, even surgeons make mistakes at times and [he] may possibly pull through.
“But I’m afraid Ted’s case is too critical.”
Eames died in hospital, just hours after the signing of the Armistice.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Adams said.
“His mother had passed away, so it was only his father and his sister left.
“I think people often think of Remembrance Day as having been almost a celebration of the end of the war, that this is the end of it, but it’s actually a very sombre occasion.
“There’s still people who dying on that day, still people who are dying in the days and weeks afterwards, and still people who are dying well into the 1920s and 1930s because of their service during the war.
“So, while it’s the end of the war, it’s also the start of another period of people’s lives.
“There’s all that excitement and happiness with people thinking the war is over, that my son, my brother, my husband, or whoever, is safe, only to find out that they’ve died of illness or wounds later on.
“Eames himself is in pretty bad shape, but he writes home from hospital, saying, ‘I’m fine Dad, I’m not that badly wounded ... but maybe it’s bad enough I’ll get repatriated home and see you again’.
“You see that a lot with soldiers during the war; they don’t want to worry their families, and they try and downplay their injuries, by saying, ‘I’m fighting fit’, when in reality, it’s a very different story.
“Accompanying that letter of course is the one from the medical staff saying we need to be realistic about what his circumstances are.
“To know that those two letters came together and that they had those two conflicting accounts, it would have just be absolutely crushing.
“You can only imagine the rollercoaster of emotions his family must have been on: ‘Oh, we have a letter from him: he’s alive, he’s okay, he’s happy,’ accompanied by another letter saying, he may not last much longer.
“And then, the final blow, to lose him on Armistice Day.”
Eames was laid to rest three days later, on the 14th of November 1918.
Today, he lies at Terlincthun British Cemetery in northern France, beneath the words chosen by his father: “The last of his line.”