More than 40 years ago, Tony Schar made a promise to commemorate his great-uncle’s service during the First World War. Last year, on the 100th anniversary of his great-uncle’s death, he honoured that promise, travelling to Belton in South Australia to lay a wreath in memory of John Cyril Barrett, who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and served as a private with the 50th Australian Infantry Battalion.
A farmer prior to enlistment, Barrett embarked with the 8th Reinforcements from Adelaide on HMAT Berrima on 16 December 1916. Less than a year later, he was killed in Belgium in the fighting at Polygon Wood during the Third Battle of Ypres on 27 September 1917. He was just 25 years old, and his body was never found. His family back home in Australia never learnt how he died, other than that he was killed in action. Today, he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres, which bears the names of almost 55,000 soldiers, including 6,000 Australians.
“When my father died in 1972, John’s siblings asked if I would get over there and go to the Menin Gate in Belgium and lay a wreath to commemorate the 100 years since he died in the mud at Polygon Wood,” Schar said. “But I couldn’t travel over by plane. My wife Ida has leukaemia, in remission, and we were advised by the doctors not to fly.”
Instead, Schar commemorated the 100th anniversary of John Cyril Barrett’s death in Belton where Barrett and his siblings were born.
“It was a promise that I said that I would keep … [and] on 27 September 2017, my wife and I went to Belton and commemorated the 100th anniversary of John Cyril Barrett’s death,” Schar said.
“The town itself is a ghost town, and Belton today is only marked by … a cairn of stones with a government bronze plaque that identifies the original town. From 1890–1905, there were 200 families, each with a 100 acres, and they cropped wheat, [but] sadly, the rains ceased and all families moved from the district.
“John [and his family] went down to Mortlock near Port Lincoln, and then to Mount Cooper, near Collie, and that’s where they were when they went off to the First World War.