Sergeant Harold Robert Colquhoun: A Love Story From Gallipoli

Sergeant Harold Robert Colquhoun, ca. 1915. Source: Mareeba Heritage Museum.

Sergeant Harold Robert Colquhoun, ca. 1915. Source: Mareeba Heritage Museum.

Guest Bloggers: Jacqueline Morris & Colin Cater, Mareeba Heritage Museum

The Mareeba Heritage Museum is privileged to hold copies of the World War I correspondence of Sergeant Harold Colquhoun, a brave young soldier from Mareeba.  Harold's letters, written from the battlefields of Gallipoli, tell the story of a man who adored his family, and reveal a much-loved son and brother.  His story is, without doubt, a tragedy, similar to many other tragedies experienced by Australian families during the First World War.

However, it is also a love story; one that captures the spirit of Harold's relationship with his sisters, Minna, Dorothy and Flora, through the poignant letters written during his military service.  They reveal a loving, tender and teasing relationship, with never a word of complaint or reference to the horrors of war.  The letter below was written to Dorothy while Harold was stationed at the Broadmeadows military camp in Melbourne prior to embarking for overseas service.

Letter from Harold to his sister, Dorothy. Source: Mareeba Heritage Museum.

Letter from Harold to his sister, Dorothy. Source: Mareeba Heritage Museum.

In another letter from Alexandria, Egypt, in March 1915, he writes to Dorothy:

Just a heap of letters from you all, also some from Vic Smart and Aunty Florrie, in all there were 28 letters.  You can imagine how pleased I was also at hearing from you.  You must be growing quite a big girl now I would very much like to see my old "Thunder cloud".  I have quite a stack of your letters now, I think I will have to buy a camel to carry them all.  Your are a good girl to write so often to Buzzie...Fancy you being 11 already, hope you had a happy birthday little sweetheart.  As soon as I can get into Cairo I will send you something.  Unfortunately we were not sent to the Canal to fight the Turks otherwise I would have sent you a few "turkeys" home, however now I'll have to wait for the Kaiser...Well dear old Dorothy girl I must close now & write to Flora, heaps & heaps & heaps & heaps of love & xxxxxxxxx from your buzzie Harold.

Harold's mother and three sisters, Dorothy, Minna and Flora. Source: Mareeba Heritage Museum.

Harold's mother and three sisters, Dorothy, Minna and Flora. Source: Mareeba Heritage Museum.

Harold Colquhoun (regimental no. 275) was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, in 1896, being the son of Robert Duncan Colquhoun, a mining engineer, and Marianne Isabel Matthews.  He was educated at Scotch College in Perth, and later when the family moved to Queensland, at the Rockhampton Grammar School.

Minna and Harold Colguhoun, Day Dawn, Western Australia, ca. 1901. Source: State Library of Western Australia, Robert Duncan Colquhoun Photographs, BA2659/2.

Minna and Harold Colguhoun, Day Dawn, Western Australia, ca. 1901. Source: State Library of Western Australia, Robert Duncan Colquhoun Photographs, BA2659/2.

After finishing his education Harold worked as a pupil teacher at the Leichhardt Ward State School in Rockhampton.  He enlisted on the 23rd September 1914 at the age of 18, having previous military service in the College Cadets in Western Australia and in the 1st Light Horse Regiment in Rockhampton.  Harold was assigned to the 15th Battalion, B Company, as a sergeant.  By this time the family was living in Mareeba on the Atherton Tableland and it was his mother, Isabel, who signed the letter giving permission for Harold to enlist.

Harold travelled to the Broadmeadows Military Training Camp in Melbourne before embarking on the transport ship A40 Ceramic on the 22nd December 1914.  He was at the first landing at Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915 and on the 29th May was shot through the lung during a bayonet charge at Quinn's Post.  Harold was admitted to hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, where his condition was described as "dangerously ill".

Source: Queenslander, 10 July 1915, p. 27.

Source: Queenslander, 10 July 1915, p. 27.

Despite this prognosis Harold recovered and, after spending time at a convalescent camp in Egypt, rejoined his unit at Gallipoli in August 1915.  The following letter written by Harold to a relative in Perth appeared in the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper.

Kalgoorlie Miner (Western Australia), 22 July 1915, p.6.

Kalgoorlie Miner (Western Australia), 22 July 1915, p.6.

Harold was only back in Gallipoli two days when he was killed in action on the 27th August during a failed attempt to take Hill 60 in which the Australians suffered severe casualties.  One eyewitness stated that he was shot through the body and badly wounded, and as the position was exposed to the enemy's fire, the injured and dead could not be retrieved.  Harold's body was never found and he was listed as wounded and missing in action.  A court of enquiry was held into his death on the 6th April 1916 at Serapeum, Egypt,  with the finding that Harold had been killed in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula on the 27th August 1915.

The family in Mareeba lived with the uncertainty about Harold's fate for months, even receiving reports that Harold had been seen in England by Private A.E. Warren, a soldier from the 15th battalion.  The letters below were sent by Harold's fiancée, Miss Marion Noon, of Yeppoon. to the military authorities trying to verify the report.

Source: National Archives of Australia, Discovering Anzacs.

Source: National Archives of Australia, Discovering Anzacs.

Source: National Archives of Australia, Discovering Anzacs.

Eventually it was determined that the soldier who had been mistaken for Harold was T. Colquhon of the 14th Battalion.

Harold is commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli, and Colquhoun Street in Mareeba is named after him.  In 1917 a white marble tablet was unveiled in his honour at the Leichhardt Ward State School in Rockhampton where Harold had worked as a pupil teacher.

His letters were lovingly preserved by his sister, Dorothy, and copies are available at the Mareeba Heritage Museum.

More information:

http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/40022891  Cairns Post, 17/7/1916, p.4 - obituary

http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/55166525  Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 3/2/1917 - unveiling of memorial at Leichhardt Ward State School.

Guest Bloggers: Jacqueline Morris and Colin Cater, Mareeba Heritage Museum

 

 

 

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