My Great Grandfather, Charles Victor Barratt was born on 24 May 1895 in Perth, Western Australia. The eldest child and son of Edward James Barratt and Priscilla Masters, his childhood was spent in innocence. Living in Subiaco and Argyle for several years of his life the idea of facing a war would’ve been far from young Charles’s mind.
In August of 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Australia soon followed suit, choosing to stand and fight alongside the mother country. Two years later, Charles celebrated his 21st birthday and in the eyes of the law, was now considered to be of legal age. His parents had settled into a property on Charles Street in West Perth (which would become the family’s residence for many years) and Charles lived here whilst working as a loco (train) cleaner. The war that had started in 1914 was still raging. Young men from around Australia enthusiastically lined up and enlisted to fight for their country. On 3 October 1916, Charles became one of these young men.
At some point during this period of time and before he left Australia as a soldier, he met a young girl, Matilda Maria Crampton. He would become engaged to Matilda and when he left Fremantle on the Argyllshire on 9 November 1916, she stood on the dock along with all the other families and friends of the soldiers on board and waved goodbye to the man she loved. What they both felt would not be hard to imagine. Along with hope and faith there would also be a large amount of fear as well as the thought that this moment could possibly be the last time they would ever see each other. Several letters sent by Charles and Matilda managed to survive all these years and two such examples which highlight their feelings can be read here.
Charles started his military service in Codford, England. Here he received much needed military training to prepare him for his time in the field and once the training was completed, he proceeded overseas to France. Being in the field was of course incredibly dangerous and extremely risky. The enemy could be anywhere and the chance of being attacked was great. It was during his time in France in 1917, while in foxholes (trenches) that Charles became wounded and suffered from mustard gas burns on his right arm and hip. These areas of his body remained scarred for the rest of his life which is why, Charles’s son explained, he never wore shorts. Despite his burns being considered mild, a burn from mustard gas was serious enough to warrant his immediate transfer to Fulham Military Hospital in England.
The wounds eventually healed and once he was fully recovered he remained in England for several months before eventually going back into the field. After nearly three years fighting, on 21 June 1919, Charles was discharged and headed back to Australia.
Upon his return, Charles instantly sought out Matilda. Despite overwhelming odds against them such as distance and time, the couple remained loyal to one another and married on 24 September 1919 in Bunbury.
They went on to have two children: Ronald Victor Barratt (29 July 1920) and Pauline Joy Barratt (17 September 1924).
Charles continued to work as an engine driver on the railways and took up residence in North Perth. While Matilda looked after the house, Charles frequently worked away and often stayed in the town of Merredin. He and Matilda eventually came to live here permanently.
Despite being employed as a train driver, Charles’s love for locomotives was more than just a job; it was also one of his hobbies. Later in life he ordered a model train set and meticulously went about building the train piece by piece. The result of his handiwork still remains and today sits in his son’s lounge room.
The union between Charles and Matilda was a happy one but was sadly cut short. On 22 January 1947 in the Merredin District Hospital, Matilda passed away at the age of 53. She was buried in the Merredin Cemetery.
Charles continued on after the death of his wife and lived for many years on his own in Merredin. He eventually remarried a Polish woman named Mathylda.
His last days were unfortunately spent in pain. Stubbornly refusing to see a doctor regarding his constant health problems, his body reached a point where it could take no more. He bled to death (possibly from ulscers) and passed away on 8 April 1973 at the age of 77. He was buried next to his first wife, Matilda in the Merredin Cemetery.
This post was a long time coming. I started a draft over a month ago and considering Charles’s proximity to me, I wanted to write something meaningful and full of information about who he was as a person. Not just the facts. Of course, we can’t always get what we want. Despite the closeness, details become forgotten and for some, finding the words to describe a person can be difficult. His is a name that has always resonated within my childhood and even though I couldn’t write exactly what I had envisioned, to never know a person but to have grown up knowing their name says an awful lot about the pride and love felt by his family towards him. Part of his legacy (originally started by his father) will continue to live on for many years yet. His middle name, passed to his son and then to his grandson is a lasting reminder of the man that lived.
- Western Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages register (http://www.bdm.dotag.wa.gov.au/).
- Ancestry.com. Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903-1954 [database on-line].
- Information concerning Charles’s war years courtesy of the National Archives of Australia and Mapping our Anzacs.
- Headstone photo courtesy of Lorraine from www.ozburials.com.
- All of the amazing family photographs are courtesy of my Grandpa. Thanks for letting me snoop! x