Remembrance Day

Different fates for Purdey brothers in World War 1

By Liz Mellino

A French/English dictionary belonging to Tongala’s Joseph Earnest Purdey was inside his shirt pocket on the day he was severely wounded in World War I.

Shrapnel fragments can be seen lodged in the dictionary’s pages and a large bullet hole is visible through the book, going from the front to the back.

More than 100 years later the dictionary now rests inside a large memorial frame for Joseph alongside a number of other mementos he was carrying the day he died.

A rising sun badge, three war medals, a handful of coins, a compass, two dog tags, a Dead Man’s Penny and an Australia pin sit alongside the dictionary in the frame, to paint a picture of the events that unfolded on that day in October 1917.

Private William Thomas Reeve, Sapper George Rising Purdey, Sapper Joseph Ernest Purdey (brother of George and brother-in-law to Will) and Sergeant Frank Douglas Burkitt (seated).

Joseph enlisted in WWI on February 14, 1916, alongside his older brother George Rising Purdey.

‘‘The war had been going for a couple of years when they enlisted and I think they just thought they would do their piece,’’ George’s son Arthur said.

The brothers were appointed as privates to the 18/4 Light Horse Reinforcements at Seymour on March 1.

That same month they were assigned as drivers with the 10th Field Company Engineers and embarked on June 20, 1916, aboard the Runic.

For the next year the brothers spent their days together facing the challenges of war and watching their fellow soldiers succumb to many injuries.

‘‘Dad and his brother were very close and that’s why they enlisted together,’’ Arthur said.

‘‘They were both in the 10th Field Company and used to transport supplies up to the front line mainly at night time . . . they used to have to walk along these little duck walks which were not very wide and every now and again one of them would fall off.

‘‘They wouldn’t know where the bottom was because there was that much mud.’’

Joseph and George were both wounded in action at Broodseinde Ridge on October 4, 1917.

George suffered a gunshot wound to his biceps and was sent to England to recuperate.

‘‘My father and his brother got wounded on the same day and they sent my father over to England to have a month off,’’ Arthur said.

‘‘When he left they said we will look after Joe for you . . . he had a few weeks over in England and when he came home he asked ‘where’s Joe? and they said Joe died.’’

Joseph succumbed to his wounds on October 13, 1917.

CaptionJoseph Ernest Purdey and George Rising Purdey.

Arthur’s son Noel has a letter in his collection from the Base Records, Department of Defence dated March 9, 1918, which explains how George carried Joseph off the battle field after being wounded.

The letter reads: The above NCO was wounded by a high explosive shell which hit him in the right foot, ankle, leg, throat and right leg while in charge of the mule transport (packs) of this Unit at the attack on October 10, 1917 Ypres. He was carried to the Advanced Dressing Station by his brother Lance/Cpl G. R. Purdey. Second Cpl. J. E. Purdey died of these wounds at No. 55 General Hospital, Boulogne on October 13, 1917 and is buried in grave No. 2132, Wimmereux Military Cemetery, Boulogne. It is his brother’s intention to place a cross over the grave at the first opportunity.

Arthur said the death of Joseph had a significant impact on his father.

While George was fortunate enough to survive the war and returned home on March 2, 1919, Arthur said people told him his father was never the same again.

‘‘Dad used to talk about his brother and how close they were; he didn’t glorify war or anything like that though,’’ he said.

‘‘He had heart problems after the war and being a boy he had to come home and work on the farm in Tongala.’’

Arthur’s son Noel and his wife Jenni have gathered an extensive collection of history on the Purdey brothers.

The frame commemorating Joseph sits on a wall in their home and they hope to get a similar one made for George.

While Noel said it had been difficult hearing recollections of his grandfather and great uncle, he said it was important to preserve their legacy for the next generation.

‘‘A lot of the stuff in our collection got scattered different ways and it’s only recently that it all came together in one place . . . we felt it was important. I feel we’re custodians of the family history; it’s not ours, it belongs to the family,’’ he said.

‘‘When you look at how many people have gone from Australia to serve in all the different wars it’s just phenomenal that they have signed up to go and fight for the British Empire.

‘‘Certainly around the time of WWI there was a belief that it was the right thing to do.’’

An excerpt from a letter written by George Purdey on November 29, 1918, from Fontaine-le-sec

My dear sister Jessie,

You will see by the above that we are still stuck in the same lousy hole.

We expected a move either today or tomorrow but it’s all fallen through as far as we can hear.

There is no mistake about it but my luck is out and from what I can see will be among those last in returning.

This last week we were allowed to mention the town that we are staying in, also close out letters without anyone reading them but the censorship still exists to a certain extent.

No doubt you were surprised when I cabled for the money but as I said in a previous letter the war was as good as finished and I intend seeing as much as possible.

It’s rained now for two days and nights and the mud is awful but with it all we are able to avoid getting wet.

The only time I go out is for my own amusement and that’s not often as there is nothing about.

Another mail must be along soon as it’s more than three weeks since we got any.

There is a very kind person here in this house and she treats us real well, quite different to those whom we have come in contact with on several occasions.

I have scored a few times myself; last night we were singing around the fire and she brought up a bottle of wine and brandy but it didn’t last long.

Comforts funds came in this week and as there was not enough all around we drew and I was successful for once.

The parcel which the Scott family sent on August 22 arrived in good order and at a good time as staples were scarce.

Well Jess, this is the last of the pad so I will ring it off.

How I wish that I was on my way back but perhaps that will come in the near future.

Your loving brother George Purdey.

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