Having a look back through the wonderful Ben Edgcumbe WW1 Diary & Photographs Western Front 1917-1919 12th FAB AFA recently, I spotted what looked like a regimental service number written on a kit bag, visible on the right hand side of the first photograph. The number appeared to read 28447.
I decided to search for this number via the National Archives Australia website – which is a brilliant research tool and lo and behold, this record popped up, showing that a Ernest Melbourne Schmidt held this service number as part of the Australian Imperial Force. Ernest Melbourne Schmidt enlisted on 25th May 1916, aged 18 years and 11 months. He was 5’6″ tall, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. Ernest was a farm labourer, single and came from Malvern, Melbourne. His terms of service were to be for the duration of the war plus 4 months. He was assigned to be a Gunner with the Australian Field Artillery and later became a Driver.
He left Melbourne on a ship ‘Ulysees’ on 25th October 1916, arriving in Plymouth on 28th December.
He marched into Larkhill, Salisbury Plain on 29th December 1916 and must have spent several months in England training before arriving in France as part of the 12th Australian Field Artillery Brigade on 4th October 1917. He seems to have spent a couple of months sick soon after and was returned to Base Depot, Le Havre.
On 7th January 1918, he rejoined his unit.Now this is the very interesting bit and confirms that his regimental number is correct. Records show that as part of the 12th Australian Field Artillery Brigade (the same unit as Ben Edgcumbe) he marched into No 4 Command Depot, Hurdcott Camp on 23rd April 1919 as part of ‘Quota 35’ and left England on the same ship as Ben, a confiscated German boat named ‘Swakopmund’, departing England on 15th June 1919 and arriving back in Melbourne on 2nd August.
He was discharged from the Australian Imperial Forces on 9th September 1919. In the Ben Edgcumbe records there is mention of Schmidt as part of the ‘Quota 35’ although the initials and service number do not match, but it must be him.It is fascinating to think that sleeping under that blanket in the photograph is Ernest Melbourne Schmidt. He almost certainly appears in some of the photographs Ben took as Quota 35 would have been kept together from their time in France, right through the re-patriation process and then onto the boat back to Australia.
Tragically, Ernest Schmidt’s records show that he died on 15th December 1923, he would only have been about 26 years of age. The records state ’cause of death unknown’.