SERVICE NO: 6079
YEAR OF BIRTH: 1895
PLACE OF BIRTH: Bacchus Marsh
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 11 February 1916
PLACE OF ENLISTMENT: Ballarat
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 21
UNIT: 8th Battalion, 18th Reinforcement
EMBARKED: 28 July 1916
TROOP SHIP: HMAT A32 Themistocles
FATE: Died of Disease – 2 February 1917 – Military Hospital, Tidworth, England
Percy Osborne was born at Bacchus Marsh in 1895 to Alfred George Osborne and Emily Drury. Alfred Osborne was a merchant in the town and remained in business there until the early 1900s when his health began to fail. Around 1902, Alfred bought into the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser and the family moved to Maryborough. Percy, an only child, was twelve when his father died at Maryborough in 1906. Alfred aged forty-three had days earlier been elected to the Maryborough Hospital board.
On 19 October 1909, Percy’s mother married Charles Harris, the Anglican Vicar of Hamilton and Archdeacon of the Grampians. Prior to arriving in Hamilton in 1907, Charles was the Canon of the Christ Church Cathedral Ballarat and was Rural Dean of Maryborough. Emily and Percy moved into The Vicarage in Gray Street Hamilton.
In 1911, Percy was one of the first students enrolled at Ballarat Church of England Grammar School where he was a prefect and served in the school cadets. Upon finishing school, he worked as a ledger-keeper at the Union Bank in Lydiard Street South and was a member of the local citizens military forces.
On 11 February 1916, Percy enlisted and spent three months with the 14th Battalion Depot at Ballarat. He then spent a month with the 19th Battalion 8th Reinforcement also at Ballarat before departing Australia for England on 28 July 1916 with the 8th Battalion 18th Reinforcement. Percy arrived at Salisbury Plains, England in September for training with the 2nd Training Battalion and during October 1916, he was promoted to Acting Sergeant and given the task of escorting a prisoner, Sergeant (Sgt.) Adcock. On 12 November, Percy was severely reprimanded by Major St. John Clarke for allowing Sgt. Adcock to escape under his guard.
Due to leave for France, Percy fell ill and was admitted to hospital on 10 December. He had a bad cold and erythema on his face. While in hospital, Percy wrote home to his mother:
On 9 January 1917, Percy wrote to the manager of the Union Bank, Ballarat, Mr Herbert to tell him had been in hospital for six weeks and had missed out on going to France. Percy thought it may have been a blessing as he had heard “our fellows were cut up rather badly”. As a banker would, Percy discussed such matters as his pay arrangements and the Defence Department’s handling of its finances.
Considered well enough for discharge, Percy returned to the 2nd Training Battalion on 20 January 1917 but he still wasn’t feeling well and complained of a heavy cold. His conditioned worsened so he was transported back to Tidworth Military Hospital on 31 January in a serious condition. Two days later Percy Osborne was dead. The cause was Cerebral Spinal Meningitis.
Percy’s death raised questions. Sgt. Arthur Edward Ferguson of the 8th Battalion wrote a letter to the Defence Department with his concerns. He had known Percy from Ballarat where Percy was his company clerk at the Ballarat Depot, himself Acting Sergeant Major. Sgt. Ferguson was “attracted by his sterling qualities”. He claimed Percy should not have been discharged and neglected from the onset of his illness in December 1916. Sgt Ferguson said Percy was not himself when released from hospital and was in a “languid condition”.
Emily Harris was also concerned that Percy’s illness was not communicated to her with his death coming as a shock to her. Emily was in Portland when the news of Percy’s death arrived to Hamilton on 8 February 1917. A Portland clergyman was given the task of passing the sad news on to Emily. She had received Percy’s letter, above, on 10 January 1917, but had not realised he was so ill. She had not received any official notification particularity since Percy had been in hospital ten weeks before his death, referring to Percy’s letter in which he stated he’d been in hospital since the end of October. Emily Harris and Sgt. Ferguson requested an inquiry into Percy’s death which was duly undertaken. It was found that everything possible was done to care for Percy from the first onset of his illness in December 1916.
At the Ballarat Anglican Grammar School’s Annual Speech Day on 15 February 1917, the headmaster Dr. P. Ansell Robin delivered the then recent news of Percy’s death.
On 17 June 1917, a memorial service was held at Hamilton’s Christ Church Cathedral. Bishop Green made a special trip from Ballarat to deliver the service out of respect for his friend the vicar and for Percy who he had confirmed. He told the congregation a memorial window would be installed to commemorate Percy’s memory. They would feature St. John, representing love and St. Alban representing courage.
At the start of October 1917, Emily and Archdeacon Harris left Hamilton after a large send off from community leaders and congregation members. They moved to Elton in Beecroft Sydney. Charles took a leave of absence then gave up parish duties in 1921. He died in 1934 at Rose Bay, Sydney aged eighty-seven. It is unknown what became of Percy’s mother Emily.