SERVICE NO: 3332
YEAR OF BIRTH: 1889
PLACE OF BIRTH: Fitzroy North
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 5 August 1915
PLACE OF ENLISTMENT: Melbourne
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 25
UNIT: 14th Field Artillery Brigade (late 23rd Battalion, 7th Reinforcements)
EMBARKED: 26 November 1915
TROOPSHIP: HMAT A73 Commonwealth
FATE: Killed in Action – 17 October 1918 – Busigny, France
Richard Hicks, better known as Ern was a son of George Hicks and Janet Herd and was born in 1889. George and Janet were married in Deniliquin in 1879 where their first child Julia was born in 1880. They eventually moved to the Flowerdale area where Richard attended State school during the 1890s. By 1903, George and Janet had moved to Cathkin near Alexandra. Only a few years after they moved to Horsham, however, the 1909 Electoral Roll shows Janet living in Wilson Street, but George wasn’t. While in Horsham, Ern worked at the Horsham Butter Factory, an employee for over three years possibly as an engine driver. By 1912, Janet had moved to Digby Road, Hamilton. Her children were living with her and Ern was still working as an engine driver.
On 5 August 1915, Ern enlisted in Melbourne and went to camp at Flemington on 16 August. He left Australia for Egypt in November 1916. On 23 February 1916, he transferred to the 58th Battalion before moving across to the newly formed 14th Artillery Brigade as a gunner with the 53rd Battery. During his stay in Egypt, Ern sent his mother the following poem, published in the Hamilton Spectator on 9 March 1916.
The brigade arrived in France on 3 June 1916 and spent time around Fromelles and Fleurbaix during July 1916. On 21 August 1916, Ern was evacuated to hospital but was able to return two days later. On 17 March 1917, he had problems with rhinitis and spent time away from the brigade until May 1917. By August, they were near Ypres, Belgium and the following month, Ern took two weeks leave.
On 21 April 1918, the brigade was near Hamel, France. The brigade’s diary told the story of the day, “…the enemy aircraft were active and an enemy plane was brought down by the Lewis gunners of the 53rd Battery.” The pilot of that plane was none other Captain Baron von Richter or the “Red Baron”. By June they were situated at Querrieu, France.
On 6 September 1918, they crossed the Somme and moved into the town of Peronne, France (below).
By October 1918, the brigade was at Busigny, France fighting alongside the Americans. On 17 October, Ern was positioned on the wagon lines near Busigny in a forward gun position. There was an air raid and a piece of shell struck Richard in the abdomen. Some of the men in his battery thought he would survive. Want happened to Ern from that time is vague. Stretcher bearers Sergeant Row and Jack Somers were reported to have carried him to a private house where an American doctor dressed his wounds. He was still conscious but not talking. From there, the Australians lost track of Richard and he was reported missing.
At home, Janet had no idea Ern was dead or even wounded. She had heard the news of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 and was relieved her two sons would soon be home. But just five days before Christmas, Janet was notified Ern was missing. She was beside herself. While she had written letters to the Defence Department asking of George, her first in relation to Ern was on January 22, 1919. She asked for Ern’s kit to be returned safely to her. She explained he was reported missing and believed wounded but she had lost hope of his return. She pleaded for information as she would rather know anything “than this awful suspense”
She went on to tell how the news had staggered her coming six weeks after the war had ended and so close to Christmas. She mentioned George and how she hoped to hear from him soon. By that time, George was free from the German prison camp and in England, some relief for Janet. He began his own investigations into Richards disappearance. He managed to track down men from the same brigade and began to piece together the events of the 17 October. Leonard Kilby of the 14th Field Artillery Brigade said he carried Ern to an American dressing station. Letters were sent to the American Red Cross for information with little success. George concluded the Americans hadn’t reported Ern’s death
She did not find out officially until the middle of 1919 that Ern died on 17 October 1918. The stress was seemingly too much. Janet died in May 1921 at sixty-four.
Richard “Ern” Hicks is remembered on the Hamilton War Memorial.