Eric Ernest von Bibra was born on 2 September 1895 in Launceston, Tasmania. His parents were Eric Ernest von Bibra and Jessie Louisa von Bibra (nee Smith). The von Bibra family was well-established in Launceston and was directly descended from a once-powerful noble family from Bavaria.
At 19 Eric enlisted in the 12th Infantry Battalion soon after the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914. Eric's brother, Elbert, joined the AIF in May of the following year.
The 12th Battalion, consisting of men from Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia, was one of the first infantry units raised for the AIF during the First World War and arrived in Egypt in early December 1914. In the early hours of 25 April 1915, the 12th Battalion was among the first to land at Anzac Cove as a unit of the 3rd Brigade, which was the covering force for the landing.
Eric's leadership potential was recognised early. Within two months of enlistment he was commissioned lance corporal, and within a year, despite extended periods away from the lines recovering from illness and wounds, he had been promoted through the ranks, from corporal, to 2nd lieutenant, and finally to captain.
In August 1915 Eric was evacuated from the Gallipoli peninsula with influenza. As he recovered, he fell ill again with diphtheria, and in January 1916 returned to his unit. After several transfers he was seconded for duty with the 13th Light Trench Mortar Battery in July, serving with the 4th Division in northern France. Promoted to temporary captain and commanding the mortar battery, Eric and his unit were involved in some horrendous battles on the Western Front. After suffering enormous losses around Pozières, the Australian units, including the 13th Light Trench Mortar Battery, pushed on in an attempt to take the heavily defended German strongpoint of Mouquet Farm. On 16 August, Eric was seriously wounded, suffering severe shrapnel wounds to his hand, arm and ribs. More than a month later, whilst undergoing treatment in a French hospital, his condition was reported as "seriously ill" and it was decided that he should be moved to England.
Eric's recuperation took a long time, during which he was promoted to captain, and in July 1917, almost a year after being wounded in action, he embarked for Australia aboard the hospital ship Karoola. His AIF appointment was terminated in February 1918 and he returned to civilian life in Launceston.
Sadly, Eric's brother would not return. Promoted to sergeant, Elbert was killed in action on 30 September 1917 while fighting with the 47th Battalion at Westhoek Ridge.
After his return from the war, Eric von Bibra became involved in the administration of the local RSL and in local government. He eventually became the Tasmanian state secretary of the RSL and served as the Mayor of Launceston between 1935 and 1936. In 1939 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire and became a Knight Bachelor in 1953 in recognition for his service as agent-general for Tasmania.
Sir Eric Ernest von Bibra died in 1958.
Questions for research and discussion
1. In 1914 most Australians had surnames which were British in origin. The most common name for men who enlisted in the AIF was "Smith". The name "von Bibra" looks and sounds German, and with the outbreak of war Germany was Australia's enemy.
a) How were Germans being depicted in the recruitment propaganda being used in Australia at the time? What's happening in the following poster?