Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In Memory of Eric

I grew up in a small household, with just my parents and my grandmother Ada Irene DOUGLASS (née KING). I knew from a young age that my mother, Erica Rosemary DOUGLASS, was named after Grandma’s cousin who died in WWI, her “cousin’s” name was Eric Hugh BARKER. When I started the addiction of genealogy a few years ago I finally realized that Eric was Erica’s second cousin rather than Grandma’s first cousin. I also finally realised that mum’s middle name Rosemary, was for Remembrance – I can’t believe for over 40 years I didn’t make the “Rosemary for Remembrance” connection!

Eric Hugh BARKER was born in Sydney in 1886 into a large extended family on his father’s side which included many 3rd and 4th generation Australians. It was a time when Australia lived on the sheep’s back and the 1890’s depression and the Great War to end all wars were not on the horizon.

Eric was the first born to Dr Theodore Hugh BARKER and his English wife Edith May née EMBELIN. Theo and Edith were married at the Highbury Wesleyan Chapel, Islington, Ldn, Eng, UK on 6 Oct 1885, as witnessed by Theo’s brother Herbert and Edith’s parents Robert and Sarah EMBELIN (née WICKS). Theo and Herbert had travelled from Sydney to study medicine at Edinburgh.
Eric’s father’s, Theo, was born in 30 June 1861 at Mandeville House, Waverley in Sydney. As a small boy Theo’s father, the Rev Hugh BARKER had came from Tandragee in Ireland to Sydney with his parents Hugh and Jane (née BLACK) and his 4 older siblings, William, Harriet, Mary Ann and Sarah.

In the 1850’s the BARKER brother’s, William and Hugh, married sisters Emma and Jessie UTHER – the daughters of Reuben and Ann (née IREDALE) UTHER. So Theo grew up with a large Australian born family, on his mother’s side alone there were 42 first cousins, born in New South Wales between 1835 and 1891. With Theo having so many first cousins the same age as his children, the different generations grew up together as “cousins”.

Theo gained another first cousin just two years before Eric’s birth – my grandmother Ada Irene KING. Theo’s family suffered tragedy in 1899 when his only sibling, Dr Herbert Llewyllyn BARKER died.

From Ashfield (where Eric was born) the family moved to farm at Wellington NSW, there Eric gained more siblings: Hilda J in 1888 (who sadly died the following year), Mabel Uther in1890, Lillian Ruth (known as Ruth) in 1892, Mavis Edith in 1896, Kenneth Gordon Uther in 1899, Marjory Amy in 1901 and lastly with the family back in Ashfield, Sydney, Ella Nea in 1903 , before Eric’s parents separated and divorce proceedings started in 1907.

In this large family of UTHER descendants Eric and Ada became very close, there were many picnics and tennis parties together, particularly as young adults after the BARKER’s moved back to Sydney.

Like many of his contemporaries Eric (by then an orchardist) signed up 28 December 1915, he served in No. 10 platoon, C Company of the 45th Battalion AIF, as Private no. 5044.

We have some of Eric’s postcards back to my grandmother Ada, including those beautiful French embroidered ones, they were clearly very fond of each other.

His last known postcard home was to his mother dated 5th June 1917 Western Front:

Dear Mother,

We probably will be going into the front line tomorrow, so do not expect to get a letter from me for a time –

The guns are kicking up a devil of a racket. Do you wish you could hear them?

Love to you and to all

Sadly Eric died two days later on Thursday 7th June 1917.  Eric had a short AIF career, he was first reported killed in action on 7 August 1916, but reported “now returned to battalion not killed” just two days later. There are numerous references to his hospitalization for deafness. 

There was a court case in December 1917 which could not decide Eric’s fate. Another case held in March 1918 in part included the following evidence and concluded killed in action:

Sgt C Kelly no. 522 wrote:

“In June 1917, I was corporal in No. 10 platoon, “C” Company, 45th Battalion, No.5044 Private Barker E H was in the same platoon, and I knew him personally. On 7.6.1917, the platoon took part in the attack on Messines Ridge, when we made an advance of about 1½ miles. I did no see Private Barker fall, but next morning I took a roll-call of the company of which I was left in charge, and Private Barker was not there.

It is possible that Cpl Hunt J 10th Platoon “C” Company 45th Battalion (now with the Battalion in France) may be able to give more definite information.”

Pte Bertram Hills, 3106 45th AIF D XIV, while in Exeter Military Hospital, No I wrote:

“Pte Barker was killed at Messines Ridge, on the 7th June 1917, and one of this comrades (name unknown) who saw him killed told Informant this; the comrade was in the same Coy, and Informant feels certain the information was correct. He knows nothing about his burial, nor if he was buried.”

Eric was finally buried at Messines Ridge Cemetery, at Belgium, plot VD13. There are two photos of his memorial – one dated c1921 with a wooden cross and helmet made into a postcard.

Miss Ada I King is listed as his other next of kin on the Australian War Memorial file. Eric is also memorialized on the Galston War Memorial.
Eric’s younger sister Mavis married in 1919 not long after Eric’s death and she named her first born, Eric Bruce in his memory.

So Eric will always be remembered. I am sure this story is similar to many other families, whose children and grandchildren are named after those who have gone before.



  1. Thanks for sharing Eric's Story. I love the embroidered postcard!

  2. There is a hand painted drawing in behind this particular card. Others were handkerchiefs to be unfolded from the card. Such a contrast to have things which are so delicate and tender, with messages of war.