Ernest Malcolm (Ern) CHAMBERS

Poppy

CHAMBERS, Ernest Malcolm

Service Number: 373
Enlisted: 15 August 1914, Prahran, Victoria
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 5th Infantry Battalion
Born: Ascot Vale, Victoria, 1892
Home Town: Ascot Vale, Melbourne, Victoria
Schooling: Ascot Vale Primary School
Occupation: Book-binder
Died: Killed in Action, Strazeele, France, 14 June 1918
Cemetery: Villers-Bretonneux Memorial
No known grave
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)*
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World War 1 Service

15 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 373, Prahran, Victoria
21 Oct 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 373, 5th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
21 Oct 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 373, 5th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Orvieto, Melbourne
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 373, 5th Infantry Battalion, ANZAC Gallipoli
26 Apr 1915: Wounded Private, SN 373, 5th Infantry Battalion, ANZAC Gallipoli, GSW (thigh)
1 Aug 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Corporal, 5th Infantry Battalion
14 Jun 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Corporal, SN 373, 5th Infantry Battalion, Merris (France)

My Great Uncle

The 5th Battalion was and is a Victorian battalion; one of the first battalions to be formed during World War One. The men who volunteered saw action during the First World War at Gallipoli, the Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele and other bloody battles along the Western Front. One of those men was my great uncle, Ernest Malcolm Chambers, an Original Anzac.
I became fascinated with his story when I was 13 and forced to take history as a subject. My first assessment item was on soldiers of the First World War so my father handed me a book that had been in the family for years; The All Australia Memorial: Victorian Ed.. On the dedication page there was a small summary of Ernest Chambers which stated he was declared dead at Gallipoli and then went missing in France in 1918. I couldn’t understand how he could die twice. This is his story which has greatly influenced my life and career.
Uncle Ernest was born in 1892 and grew up in Ascot Vale, a suburb of Melbourne in Victoria with his parents, Ethel Waymouth and Matthew Flinders Chambers. Ernest was a direct descendent of the famous explorer Captain Matthew Flinders – 5th Generation of a famous family. He was educated at Ascot Vale Primary School, went to St Paul’s Church of England and like many of his generation who was born and raised in a town, never had plans to leave it. Ernest was a member of the Senior Cadets, and graduated into the local Citizens Military Forces unit; the 58th Regiment Unit (Essendon Rifles). When war was declared in Australia in September 1914, Ernest was amongst the first to enlist, volunteering on the first day being attached to the 5th Battalion (E Company). When he signed up, aged 22 years and 1 month, he had been a bookbinder for 7 years for Sands & McDougall.
He sailed from Port Melbourne on the HMAT Orvieto in October 1914. The HMAT Orvieto was one of the largest ships to embark, carrying 1,457 men and women, representing Victoria’s substantial contribution to World War I. The ship also carried the General Staff and war correspondent C.E.W. Bean and was at the head of a convoy of ships escorted by Royal Navy and Japanese cruisers, including HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney. She called in at Colombo, Aden, Suez, Port Said and Alexandria. The troops carried, although originally destined for Europe, were to be disembarked at Alexandria and sent into action in the Gallipoli campaign (Manchester, Peter B.Sc (Hons), 2007). While in Egypt he passed the sharpshooting test.
The following is a short letter from Private E Chambers to his father at Ascot Vale:-

Railway Station, Cairo
4/4/15
Dear Dad,
I have written this note while waiting for the train, and given it to a native, so it is only a matter of his honesty in your getting this note. Well, as we are bound for the real thing now (Dardanelles, I think), I have taken the opportunity of dropping a line to let you know that everything is going right so far; but in a few weeks' time it will be a different life. All I want to say is to tell all at home not to worry at all. In the case of the AIF suffering reverses, as it is almost impossible to go right through without some defeat, do not come to any conclusions, and believe no rumours; only take note of Government information. But, at any rate, if I am not amongst the troops to return, then you will know. I intend to take every care of myself, and at the same time try my best. If luck is not in my way, you will know that I did my best to help in clearing the world of a cowardly lot of curs. Well, I will now close, with the best love to all. Also hope to see you all before long.
Your affectionate son.
(373) Ern
Remember me to all friends.

He landed at Anzac Cove on the 25th April 1915, with the second wave, and within 24 hours he was shot in the thigh and sent to Heliopolis Hospital. This was the first of many times that he was wounded. He was shot again on the 8th May; a bullet entered his right chest and passed out below the ribs. Ernest was erroneously declared dead and his family were advised of his passing on 12th May after which time Mutual Life and Insurance Company was also advised of his “death”. It wasn’t until the 18th June that his family were advised that in fact Ernest was in hospital wounded.
The news that Ernie Chambers is wounded and not killed, as previously reported, was joyfully received by the two blues, [Ascot Vale Football Club] who wish their old member a speedy recovery. (ASCOT VALE v. WERRIBEE, June 24 1915).
During the August Offensive, on the 7th August 1915, Ernest was once again wounded, being “scalded on his right arm and leg”. After re-joining his battalion, he was again “scalded on the leg” on the 1st September. Although the Turks were given flamethrowers by the Germans to use at Gallipoli, the cause of Ernest’s scalding would have most likely been caused by the frequent bush fires that erupted due to extensive shelling (Department of Veteran Affairs, 2016).
After the success of the evacuation at Gallipoli, Ernest found himself once more in hospital when on the 2nd February 1916, he was transferred to Cairo hospital with Mumps. He re-joined his battalion in March and was soon promoted to Lance Corporal on the 23rd June 1916. Soon after, he went to London and trained as a bombing expert; later being promoted to Corporal on the 1st August 1916. He was wounded yet again in France in April 1917, being treated in a field hospital due to an injury to his right knee. He re-joined his unit in May and returned to London to further his expertise at bombing school, but 6 months later he was reported missing in action.
There are conflicting stories regarding what happened to my great uncle on the 14th June 1918. All reports confirm that he led his patrol of three men on a midnight “recky” to investigate the movements of a German patrol in Strazeele. While on patrol they heard “a great noise and rattling of machine guns” (Lieutenant Hamilton, 1918). Coming across the Germans, Private Sheppard (1918), who was with him that night claims Ernest called back to his men, “Go for your life!” while he kept the Germans at bay.
While reading the conflicting accounts within the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Correspondence that were collected through numerous interviews with the men who fought with him, I can only surmise that he was either killed while protecting the retreat of his men or killed after being taken behind the lines. Ernest Malcolm’s name is listed on the Memorial to Australia’s Missing at Villers-Bretonneux.
One of the most detailed and corroborated accounts from the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Correspondence regarding the disappearance of Ernest Chambers, was from his commanding officer, Lieutenant Neil S. Maddox:
Re 373 Cpl E M Chambers. He took out a patrol to try and locate an enemy post which was giving us some trouble, and he left our post, near Vieux Berquin Strazeele road with 3 men and himself, he was then under command of Lt Hamilton, 5th Battn. This was about the night of the 12th June, but at present cannot say for certain. They had to get through a barb wire fence and it was here that they met strong opposition, and Cpl Chambers gave the command to get back as quickly as possible, and they who were with him got back safely, one being slightly wounded, and they said that he got caught in the wire fence, and that was the last they saw of him.
At dawn, the enemy attacked this post, and were repulsed with a number of casualties - Lt Hamilton being wounded, I went and took charge of the post and a few hours later I took out a fighting patrol of 4 men myself, with intention to recover Cpl Chambers' body, had he been killed. It was now broad day-light, and we scoured the ground in front, and found a number of dead Germans, also 2 wounded ones, whom we took prisoners, These had all been hit in the attack a few hours previously at dawn.
After returning with the 2 wounded and getting them away on stretchers to Coy Hqts, I decided to take 4 men and myself and creep on to enemy post and take them prisoners in hopes we would find that they still had Cpl Chambers in the post, as he was certainly not lying dead anywhere in the vicinity where he had last been seen. I carried this small attack out with 4 volunteers, and we successfully took the post which was occupied by 12 Huns, whom we made prisoners, but unfortunately no trace of Cpl Chambers. My only suggestion left is, that he was caught by the Huns whilst hooked up on the wire fence, and they immediately sent him to their interrogator in rear.
He was tall, about 6', thin, with very long limbs, fair, grey eyes, about 23 years of age, clean shaven, had been severely wounded through the lungs in early days of the war. He was an original man in the Battn, and left Australia in 1914. He was rather untidy in his general appearance as a soldier. Lt Hamilton 5th Battn could probably give you some more details.
Letter from Lt Neil S Maddox
5th Battn
BRC Hospital
BOULOUGNE 2.9.18

Maddox went on to explain that he too had been wounded and had just had a leg removed when the Red Cross enquiry caught up with him about Ernest in Hospital.

His father, Matthew Flinders, never knew what happened to his son as he died 11th September. A month later, Ernest’s widowed mother received a letter from Gunner E.V. Campbell (1918), stating that “a pay book belonging to your son was given to me by a Tommy belonging to the 29th Division… I have to regretfully announce that your son has given his life for his country”.

The “Tommys”, soldiers of the 1st Royal Dublin Feusilers, who passed in the pay book, later sent a letter directly to Ernest’s parents [presented how typed]:

I take the opportunity of writing you a few lines, has regards to your brave boy who so nobely lay down his life for his King and Country.

Somewhere in France on the battlefield my chum and I, came accross your brave boy’s body, we did what we thought was our duty, we examined his pockets, thinking we were doing you a favour, we came accross these cards which we know you would wish for us to forward on to you.

Please Mr.-Mrs Chambers will you except of our great sympathy for your great loss, thanks be to our Saviour there will be a meeting again, where we shall never part again, your brave boy was simply taken from the battlefield and God gave him that perfect rest which his in Heaven.
Please will you except of our letter, also cards, which was our duty, also pleasure to do for you.

We are yours very sincerely,
[Sgd.] Pte. W. Brown, Pte E. Hopper.
If we have taken to much liberties in forwarding this letter, (Please forgive us).

Uncle Ernest will always remain an important family member despite me never having the honour of meeting him. He was a simple book binder turned bombing expert, who gave his life so his men could live. His family never had a grave to visit but he will never be forgotten. Lest we forget.
Leanne Ross


Bibliography

Battle M.A. (1970), The Year of the Tigers, Melbourne Australia, 5 RAR Association.

Campbell, Ernest Vine, 7 FAB [Field Artillery Brigade] (27 October 1918), Personal correspondence.
Department of Veteran Affairs (2016) Gallipoli and the Anzacs: Hill 60, 21–28 August 1915, Available: http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/north-beach-and-the-sari-bair-range/hill-60.php (accessed: 15.10.2016)

The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918) (1915, June 24)., ASCOT VALE v. WERRIBEE. p. 5 Edition: Morning. Retrieved September 5, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74589175

The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), (1918, July 4). ANZAC AVIATOR FALLS INTO THE SEA. p. 2 Edition: Morning. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74606503

Flemington Spectator (Vic. : 1914 - 1918) (1915, May 20), For King and Country, p. 3. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88513465

Hamilton, Lt. R.C. S., 5th Battalion (19 September 1918), Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Correspondence

Maddox, Lt. Neil S., 5th Battalion (2 September 1918) Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Correspondence

Manchester, Peter B.Sc (Hons) (2007) HMAT A3 Orvieto, Available: http://petermanchester.me.uk/index.php?page=gallery7 (accessed: 15.10.2016)

Sheppard, Pte. C., 5th Battalion (15 June 1918), Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Correspondence


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