My Anzac Hero

by Catherine Hambling

This is the story of my father, Sgt. Maurice George Delpratt, who at the age of 28 joined the 5th Light Horse (AIF) at the outbreak of World War I in August, 1914.

After initial training at Enoggera and later in Egypt, his regiment was sent to Gallipoli. On June 28, 1915 after fierce fighting they were in an impossible position and were ordered to retreat from a place called Balkan Pits. My Dad volunteered to take a message to the frontline troops to retire.

When he arrived he found the troops gone and the Australian machine gunners, thinking he was an enemy soldier began firing at him as did the Turks also. When he did not return, he was reported as “missing, believed killed”. Later his identity disc was found on newly captured ground and on August 27, 1915 he was officially declared killed.

His family at Tambourine House near Beaudesert, Queensland received letters of condolence from his officers and no one expected to see him again. Then on September 11, 1915, his father received a letter from him from Constantinople saying that he had been taken prisoner. The letter also said: “I got too far out that night. It was bad soldiering on my part, but I am sure you will understand that it is not cowardice that makes a man do this. With both sides firing at me I jumped into the nearest trench which proved to be a Turkish one. I was spared the ignominy of laying down my arms as they were speedily laid down for me. So here I am a prisoner in Turkey and no longer able to serve my King and country.”

His brother, Bert, who was also in Gallipoli received a letter from him asking that his regiment and all his friends be informed that he was safe and well. Apparently this was the cause of much jubilation. He then endured 3 more years as a POW and worked on the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad railway, albeit as slowly as he could without arousing suspicion.

In 1919, after the Armistice, he returned home and in 1928 married my mother, Mary Davies and they had three daughters (I’m the middle one).

In 1939 at the start of WW2, he again enlisted but, much to his chagrin, was considered too old to serve overseas and so spent the war years in the army working in the Australian Records Office. He died of coronary disease in March 1957.

Recently my sister, Jan, collated all the letters he wrote home during his captivity (about 200) and we have donated them to the John Oxley Library in Brisbane. They have mounted them in a permanent display

SOURCES: “Prisoners of War” by Patsy Adam-Smith , “Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War”, but mostly family knowledge including a 50 page letter of Delpratt Family History written in 1946 by my father’s eldest sister, Elinor White.