Eric Abraham was born in the suburb of Hemmant in Brisbane, Queensland on 20 April 1898. He married Enid Hunter in 1923 and they had two children, Ruth and Helen. Eric began his career in the Post Office at Boonah, outside Ipswich. In late 1915 Eric enlisted for the First World War during the Dungaree march. He served on the Western Front and returned to Australia to continue his public service career. At the time I interviewed him, he was one of the few remaining survivors of the terrible World War I conflict. This is his story:
Eric’s earliest memory was seeing ships leaving Brisbane.
“Early in the century my father took me out on the verandah at Hemmant and you could see the ships’ masts going down the Brisbane River. One particular day, I remember this clearly, he came in and said “Eric, see those masts?” and I said “Yes”. He said “Those are ships, Eric, they’ve got soldiers in them going to the war in South Africa”. That was about 1901, I don’t know exactly but that’s what happened. Those ships were taking soldiers to the war in South Africa. That’s the earliest that I can remember, that episode, ships going down the river. Three masts, this bloody ship had three masts. They don’t have three masts any more.”
When the First World War broke out in 1914, Eric was working at the Post Office at Boonah and had no interest in joining the war.
“Didn’t interest me not one little bit. By this time I was at Boonah, outside Ipswich as the second-in-charge of the Post Office. That’s in 1915, the war broke in ’14. That’s where I was in 1915 and I stayed there till 1915 when I enlisted at 17 ½ years of age. I’m not a warmonger. I’m a placid type of a bloke but I had two of my brothers – I had five brothers. In those days brothers had to go and earn a crust as soon as they could and these brothers of mine up in North Queensland – on some cattle properties when the war broke out – they were older than me – they enlisted. My eldest brother and the second eldest and another of my brothers enlisted in 1914, I think. They enlisted straight after the war broke out. At this time I was at Boonah and the Dungaree March came from Warwick to Brisbane down through the valley to Ipswich at the end of 1915, I think it was, looking for troops and they enlisted me at the end of 1915, November or December – I don’t know exactly the date.
“They came out to Boonah. I went to this recruiting meeting with no intention of enlisting, none whatever. Nothing was further from my mind – I mean that. And – you won’t believe this. All the speeches were being made at this meeting at Boonah and eventually they called for volunteers. Blokes were walking up and signing on the dotted line – I was only 17 ½. I was too young anyhow. Then the blasted band played the Marseillaise – la, la, la, la. Before I knew it, I was on the stage signing on the dotted line. That’s a true story – and I’ve never regretted it. I went an unsophisticated country youth, came back a man in four years. By jove – a very sophisticated man too. You can’t be in the bloody army and not be sophisticated. You’d last five bloody minutes. I don’t know how I lasted – I don’t know!
“Conditions on the Western Front were “ghastly” – put all the meanings of that word that you can find – get the worst of the lot and multiply by ten then you get some idea of what conditions were on the Western Front – at Ypres, on the Somme – shocking conditions – indescribable – English language is not good enough for me to describe it – it was terrible – the conditions under which we fought – mud up to the ankles – all over the place – mud, mud, mud – how the hell I survived, I’ll never know – God was looking after me – because my chest is susceptible to all sorts of complaints which I received from service on the Somme in the mud – and in the mud up at Ypres – ghastly place. How the hell they expected us to box on in those conditions. We were expected to box on and to win battles. How we survived – I think we had help from above – and God helps the right and I think we were the right side.”
Eric witnessed the shooting down of the “Red Baron.”
“I’m the only person alive who saw the Red Baron get shot down. I don’t know where I was – day after my birthday, 21st April 1918 I saw the Red Baron. I never had a wrist watch, time didn’t mean anything. It was morning – the yell went up “The Red Baron’s up”. He was flying his red aeroplane – we called him the Red Baron – I don’t know if he was a Baron or not. He was the bloke who drove this red aeroplane and he was a damn good aeronaut, this bloke. And he was chasing his 81st kill – he killed 80 of our blokes – 80 planes – there’d be two people in the plane in those days. Anyhow he was chasing his 81st in the morning period 10 or 11 o’clock. “The Red Baron’s up” we went and had a look-see at the Red Baron. The Red Baron was chasing one of our blokes, weaving up and down right in front of us – grandstand view of this when all of a sudden a bloke came out of the sky latched on to the Red Baron’s tail – dededede – he hadn’t the faintest idea, the Red Baron hadn’t the faintest idea that there was anybody on his tail. He came out of the sky – clear – 21st April 1918. That’s the story of the Red Baron.”
Eric believes he survived the war without bitterness because of his “makeup” and his faith in God.
“A lot of people were hardened and bitter and they didn’t survive. I did survive – through the mud and the slush and all the rest – shellfire and what not. I survived all that – a lot of people didn’t. I can only say that it was from my makeup, from my forebears. I didn’t have much to do with it. I’m not claiming any credit for it. I give the credit to my forebears for what I am inside here. People tell me I’ve had a good life, a life which can be held up to a lot of other people – I don’t know about that part but if that’s the case, I can blame my forebears and my makeup. How I survived, I don’t know. God was looking after me.” (Eric Abraham was interviewed in April 2002)
Eric Abraham died 20 March 2003. LEST WE FORGET.