An Unexpected Guest joins Christmas Dinner
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.
Henri quickly became part of No. 4 Squadron life. This photo shows him collecting rats at the aerodrome.
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!
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.