Ernest Hillbrick (highlighted) with his unit at Chatelet France, January 1919. Courtesy of AWM (EO3936)
Lance Corporal Ernest William Hillbrick
Pakenham & District War Memorial
Born: 1895 - Lake George, NSW Enlisted: 9 March 1915 aged 19
Unit: 24th Battalion, A Company (SERN: 3989) Served: Egypt & Western Front
Died: 10 January 1950 - Smithfield, NSW
Ernest was the son of Edward Gustave and Amy Hillbrich (as the surname was also spelt). The Hillbrichs were one of the pioneering German families which settled around Harkaway and Narre Warren in the 1860s. Ernest’s parents were living in the Lake George district of NSW (near what is now Canberra) when he was born, but the family later returned to Narre Warren to farm. According to the Berwick Shire rate books, the Hillbrichs also owned land in the Pakenham area (1). Having followed in his father’s footsteps as a farmer, Ernest enlisted for service on 9 March 1915. As he was only 19 years old, he needed his parents’ permission to do so (2). Interestingly, Ernest’s father later refused to give permission for one of Edward’s brothers to enlist on the grounds that he needed help on the family farm. That brother subsequently enlisted under the assumed name of Arthur George Leckie (3).
Ernest embarked for overseas on 8 May 1915. He was sent to Egypt with the 24th Battalion, but was returned to Melbourne in August 1915 and sent to the Langwarrin Isolation Hospital for medical treatment. Following his discharge from hospital, Ernest embarked again for overseas in late November 1915 with the 5th Battalion, 12th Reinforcement (SERN 3989) (4). By the time he arrived back in Egypt, the Gallipoli campaign was over. In March 1916, Ernest was sent to the Western Front. He was initially assigned to an entrenching unit, before being taken on strength with B Company 5th Battalion in Belgium in July 1916. Just two weeks later, Ernest was wounded in the leg during the attack on the German trenches at Pozieres on 25 July (5). The casualties reported by the 5th Battalion that day were shockingly heavy: nearly 300 killed or wounded and another 159 missing (6). By the end of the month, the effective strength of the Battalion had been reduced from 35 officers and 1001 men on 21 July to just 25 officers and 569 men a week later (7). Ernest was sent to the 8th General Hospital in Rouen, then to England. He rejoined his unit in France in November 1916. In July 1917, Ernest was promoted to Lance Corporal. He was wounded on the second occasion on 20 September 1917 when he was shot in the arm during the Battle of Menin Road, near Ypres. He was one of more than 5,000 Australian casualties sustained in that battle, which involved fierce, often hand-to-hand combat against the Germans (8). It was then several months before Ernest returned to his unit, only to then be wounded for a third time in July 1918 when he was shot in the buttock and arm. He was invalided again to the UK, and only rejoined his unit in France in December 1918 (9). In January 1919 Ernest was sent back to England for repatriation to Australia with other personnel who enlisted in 1915. He arrived back in Australia on 14 May 1919 and was discharged in July 1919 (10). After returning to the district, Ernest lived variously in Pakenham, at “Ardblain” Berwick and Narre Warren (11). Ernest was amongst the group of returned soldiers officially welcomed home to Pakenham in October 1919 (12). Besides the Pakenham & District Soldiers’ Memorial, Ernest’s service was also commemorated on the Narre Warren War Memorial, where he is listed as “Ernest William Hillbrich”.
In the late 1920s, the graves of six Australian soldiers buried at Pozieres were exhumed. Five were positively identified from effects found on the bodies, but the identity of the sixth remained a mystery. The only clue seemed to be a piece of water proof sheeting bearing Ernest’s name which was used to shroud the body. Ernest was contacted by the War Graves Commission to see if he could help identify the soldier. Ultimately he could not assist as the sheet had been recycled from the kit he left in the front line trenches when he was evacuated wounded on 25 July 1916 (13).
In 1932 Ernest married Phyllis Agnes Elliss (14) and eventually had three sons. The family later moved to NSW and settled at Smithfield near Sydney, where Ernest working as a milk carter. His father Edward also worked on a dairy farm there (15). Ernest died in 1950, after a period of ill-health. (16). He was only in his 50s.
(1) Berwick Shire Rates Books - Pakenham Riding 1914 pp. 11.
(2) (4) (5) (9) (10) (11) & (13) NAA B2455 HILLBRICK E W
(3) Ibid & NAA B2455 Leckie, Arthur George
(6) & (7) AWM 4 23/22/17 Unit War Diary - 5th Infantry Battalion, July 1916 - Entry for 25 July.
(8) Dwyer & Duffy (2015) pp. 112, 118.
(12) Pakenham Gazette 17/10/1919 p. 3
(14) Information sourced from www.bdm.vic.gov.au
(15) Cumberland Argus & Fruit-growers’ Advocate 13/8/1941, p.12.& Electoral Roll - Robertson - Fairfield 1943 p. 45
(16) The Biz 19/01/1950, p. 10.