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When Harry Hogan went to war


'Anzac Day' by Chris JohnstonThere wasn't much doing in the tiny New South Wales town of Quirindi on Christmas Eve, 1914, but the Federal Hotel in Whittaker Street was riotous with shouts and laughter. The young blokes were full of talk about the war in Europe and, as the beer flowed, several boasted they would enlist and find excitement in exotic foreign lands.

Harry Edward Hogan, great-grandfather of my mate Gary Hogan, was one of the more determined, though maybe also one of the more inebriated. But Harry was stone cold sober when he travelled down to Sydney early in the new year. He stayed at his sister's Kings Cross pub for a couple of rowdy nights, then enlisted in Liverpool.

Harry was 18, a knockabout bush larrikin ready to give just about anything a try. He joined the Second Machine Gun Battalion on 10 February 1915, trained for four months, embarked on 25 June and set foot on the beach at Gallipoli on 16 August, a few days after the start of the doomed August offensive that was the Allies' last throw of the dice before their retreat from the peninsula.

For the next four months Harry Hogan, like so many of his fellow soldiers, had an undistinguished, brutalising time, memories of which would stay with him forever. If, in his happy-go-lucky, thoughtless way, he had imagined performing daring, perhaps dramatic deeds, it took no time at all for such notions to founder amid the chaos, the blood, the wounds, the deaths.

Never shirking but always scared stiff, Harry staggered through the months until serious head wounds were added to his more or less constant and worsening state of shock, and he was taken to hospital in Alexandria on 23 December.

He was following in the wake of many wounded fellow Australians, including 21-year-old Albert Facey, repatriated from Gallipoli after a direct hit on his trench and a gunshot wound to the shoulder. He had been 'on Gallipoli only six days short of four months'. As for Harry Hogan, having arrived virtually on the eve of the August offensive, he left as the great retreat from Gallipoli was beginning.

Harry recovered after treatment but, still not 19 years of age, he had seen gruesome sights, experienced indescribable horrors and confronted his own crippling fears. He was scarred beyond any treatment that the hospital in Alexandria could give him or even knew about. And this was only the beginning.

Discharged for duty on 13 January at Ras-el-Tin, Alexandria, he was attached to the British Expeditionary Force and disembarked at Marseilles on 23 March 1916. For nearly two years he slogged robot-like through the cauterising life of the trenches, succumbing periodically to agonising bouts of trench fever and the maddening itch of scabies.

By the time Harry Hogan was sent to England for treatment, his whole personality seemed to be faltering. He began to figure on charge sheets for various offences — drunkenness, refusing to obey an order from an MP, absence without a pass while under treatment, AWOL for a month and picked up by MPs in London.

Recovering yet again, however, he returned to France on 23 July 1918 with the Second Machine Gun Battalion and saw out the war in scarifying encounters with the Germans' last ditch offensives. During this stint his arduous path crossed that of 18-year-old James Lovell, 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, whose forward lookout post was threatened by one of the last massive German pushes of 1918 but who kept reporting under fire on enemy movements and won the Military Medal for bravery in the field.

Harry embarked at Le Havre for England on 15 January 1919 but, defeated again by serious illness, spent six months in various British hospitals before at last sailing for Australia on the Karmala, on 1 July.

Once he was as fit as he was ever going to be, Harry Hogan — a raddled, stooped and haunted looking 23-year old — went bush and stayed there. He worked as a jackeroo and a fencer and, though he eventually married, he would disappear into the backblocks for months on end, returning broke, hung over and impenitent.

His obdurate, grieving silence was as eloquent a statement about his shattered spirit as the luckier James Lovell's summary of those years: 'I lost a lot of friends. It was a massive waste of lives, a slaughter that should never have happened.' Or Albert Facey's anguished recollection in his marvellous memoir, A Fortunate Life: '[The time] on Gallipoli were the worst four months of my whole life. I had seen many men die horribly, and had killed many myself, and lived in fear most of the time. And it is terrible to think it was all for nothing.'

Machine gunner Harry Hogan would surely have agreed.

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place, The Temple Down the Road and Manning Clark — A Life.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, Harry Hogan, Gallipoli, James Lovell, Albert Facey, A Fortunate Life



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Existing comments

This is another occasion for children to share this empathy with their elders. Many thanks, Brian

RAY O'Donoghue | 21 April 2010  

My partner's grandfather had a similar history to Harry Hogan's. He was a country lad from Victoria, trained as a machinegunner, injured at Gallipoli, evacuated to Egypt to be patched up and then posted to France, where he was injured and died of his wounds on 1 August 1917. She has had the consolation of visiting his grave at Les Trois Arbres cemetery. Her abiding question is: Haven't we learned anything from the two World Wars?
Going to war, if it is ever to be justified, surely must be the last, the absolutely and completely last, option when trying to resolve international disputes.

Uncle Pat | 21 April 2010  

And still we have our politicians spending megabucks on aircraft and weapons of war. And very little empathy for those from war torn environments attempting to reach our shores by whatever means they can!!
Brian Thanks for a great article sad though it is.

Rosemary Keenan | 21 April 2010  

Nice one, Brian.

Rick Hosking | 21 April 2010  

Thanks for this sensitive article Brian. It could have been my mother's father - the outline is so similar.

Frank Golding | 21 April 2010  

Thanks, Brian, for a timely and powerful reminder of the tragic realities of war - lest we forget!

Peter Johnstone | 21 April 2010  

This was about the time my uncle, Tom Finnerty, left Quirindi at the same age, went to Gallipoli. was wounded and later went to France. In a small town like this they would have known each other.

Elizabeth | 21 April 2010  

Thank you, Brian, for sharing the story of a great man. It is a good time for us to remember how many, like Harry Hogan gave their lives for their fellow Australians. May we redouble our efforts for peace!

Maryrose Dennehy | 21 April 2010  

My grandfather spent six months training and travelling to WW1. When first sent over the top in France he took a German bullet in his arm then neck and that was his war over. Back to England then home, there to live a productive life. What was that all about?

david burke | 24 April 2010  

Brian, thanks for this very well written account of the horrors of war and the price exacted from its participants. In these days, when in Austalia the peace movement has only a quiet voice, your prose is a sobering reminder that armed conflict is never something to be chosen lightly.

Leigh Newton | 25 April 2010  

Hi Brian, I am the great great Grandson of Harry Hogan (nephew of Gary Hogan)and I wish to thank you for this story. I only knew about when he went to Gallipoli from my Grandfather Francis Edward Hogan. You have done a wonderful job in writing this story.

Thank You, Luke.

Luke Clark | 24 April 2011  

Hi Brian, I am also a Great great grandchild of Harry (Gary is my Father) and found this wonderful write up whilst looking for info to share with my 7yr old Daughter (Willow Hogan). She and I attended the dawn service this year with new found meaning and thoughts thanks to this. Willow is marching in 2 hrs time. We also both thank you for the article.
Lest we Forget..

Lisa Hogan | 25 April 2011  

Thank you so much Brian for bring Harry Hogan's story to light, he was my Grandfather and I am a very proud grand daughter and Gary's sister.

Pop as we called him never ever spoke of the war that he fought in and now I understand why. My Great Aunt Mona Hogan was the one who ran a hotel in Kings Cross and that is where Harry must have headed to before enlisting.

Many thanks for sharing my Grandfather's war history with other Australians whose families would have had a similar story to Harry's

Patricia Clark nee Hogan | 04 May 2011  

I wish to thank you Brian for detailing my grandfathers Gallipoli experiences. We will be remembering him with pride on Anzac day.

Patricia Clark nee Hogan | 23 March 2017  

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