Henri Hermene Tovell

Birth Date 1907
Death Date 1928
Also known as Henri Heremene Tovell
Conflict/Operation First World War, 1914-1918

Henri (Honore) Hermene Tovell was orphaned around age 7 in France. His father, a soldier, was reportedly killed on the Western Front and his mother died as a result of a German shell attack on their home. Henri attached himself to a number of allied military units during the war however, on Christmas Day 1918, he wandered into Bickendorf Air Base mess hall during lunch and was adopted by the Australian Flying Corps No. 4 Squadron. His unofficial guardian, air mechanic Timothy Tovell looked after Henri during the war, and ensured he accompanied the squadron when they were sent to England. From England, Tovell smuggled Henri onto a troop ship bound for Australia in a sack, only being discovered too far into the voyage to turn back and return the boy. Henri was granted permission to land in Australia and went to Brisbane to live with Tovell and his family.

When he turned approximately 16 (his exact age is unknown), Henri (nicknamed 'Digger') relocated to Melbourne to work as a mechanic with the RAAF. He applied to join the air force, however as a French citizen he was stopped from doing so by the French High Commissioner. Henri continued to work as a mechanic until his untimely death in a motorcycle accident on Spring Street in Melbourne in 1928 at the age of 21. Despite not being a member of the air force he was buried with military honours. His death was widely publicised and The Argus newspaper ran a subscription service to pay for a memorial headstone to be erected over his grave. The memorial featured a bronze statue of the young Henri. This headstone disappeard in the 1950s and a new stone was paid for by the RAAF Association of Victoria and the Federal Government.


Date of birth 1907
Date of death 1928