The sixth of eleven children born to William James Flynn and Elizabeth Maud Holt, Ernest Holt Flynn (my Great Grandfather) was born on 11 August 1893 in York. Following on from the pattern already established with his five elder siblings, Ernest (known to everyone as Ernie) was given his mother’s maiden name for his middle name. This legacy however did not stop at Ernie. It also continued with Ernie’s younger brothers and sisters and in the end, all of William and Elizabeth’s children were given the name ‘Holt’.
Growing up in York where his parents had become firmly established, life would’ve been vastly different in the small country town in comparison to that of the booming city. Ernie’s father was a bootmaker by trade and his mother (as most were back then) was a housewife. The family had a small farm in Bland’s Brook (a small cottage town in York) and they kept a few cows as well as some chickens.
Ernie was one who belonged to the war generation. The same year and the same month that he turned 21, war had broken out in Europe. Up until this point he had been working for the Western Australian Government Railways (W.A.G.R.) as an Engine Cleaner but with the onset of war he lost no time in choosing to fight for his country. On 5 September 1914 (less than a month after his 21st birthday) he enlisted in the Australian Military Forces in York and became a part of the 11th Battalion, G Company.
Ernie’s departure happened quickly. On 2 November 1914 after only two weeks of training Ernie said farewell to Australia, to his family and to his quiet rural life and sailed away from Fremantle Harbour on the A11 Ascanius.
In early December he arrived in Egypt and the 11th Battalion continued with more training. During this time he wrote home to his mother on the back of a photo of himself and his friend, Daniel Cocking. Good natured and polite, he expressed his concerns about his group’s reptutation being spoiled by the arrival of the next ‘mob’ who were generally regarded as being tough. More information about this photo can be read in an earlier post, Reuniting a Soldier with his Family.
The soldiers of the 11th Battalion were not always required to spend their days training. They were given free time to use as they wished and were able to explore the local sights of Cairo. On one such day the soldiers (including Ernie) were requested to sit on one side of the Great Pyramid of Khufu so that several photographs could be taken. The final result was one of the most renowned photos associated with WWI.
From Egypt, Ernie and the 11th Battalion travelled to Gallipoli. The battalion was one of the first group of ANZACs ashore on 25 April 1915 and mounted one of the first raids against Turkish forces. He fought for several months in Gallipoli before eventually being taken to hospital with influenza in August. Upon recovery he was sent back to his unit where he rejoined the fighting until the troops were evacuated in December.
By January 1916 he was back in Egypt and in March he was transferred to the 51st Battalion. This battalion took him to France where more fighting ensued. It was during his time in France that he was promoted to Sergeant.
The fighting continued for several more years. On 5 January 1918 Ernie left France and travelled to England for more training. He trained at Bhurtpore Barracks Tidworth and qualified 1st class with a fair working knowledge of Lewis Guns. He took advantage of his time in England to visit and stay with his cousin, Emily Louise Ashford whom he’d never met before. His mother had immigrated to Australia as a 15 year old and left behind many of her brothers and sisters. Emily was the daughter of his mother’s sister, Eleanor Louise Ashford (nee Holt). Interestingly, distance did not hinder their friendship. Emily made several trips to Western Australia to visit her cousins and correspondence between her brother’s daughter and Ernie’s daughter (my Grandma) was also established and continued for many years.
He returned to the field in France in April 1918 but this time he wasn’t there long. On 27 September he proceeded on leave to Australia and arrived back on 8 October. After about four years of being at war and away from his family, Ernie was finally home. A month later on 11 November 1918 at 11am the war was officially declared to be over.
Now that he was home, Ernie went back to the life he knew before the war and resumed his position with the W.A.G.R. Though writing such a sentence is easy I’m sure that the task for Ernie would’ve been a difficult one. He lost one friend, Daniel Cocking (featured in the aforementioned photo) and he probably lost many others too. In reality, there would be no such thing as forgetting the horrors of war.
War however did not hinder his ability to love. A few years later he met a young girl, Grace Esther Wallace (the daughter of Jesse Wallace) and the couple married on 28 September 1920 in the Church of Christ on Lake Street in Perth.
For about four years after they were married, Ernie and Grace lived in Fremantle. During this period of time they had two children: Audrey Flynn born on 7 November 1921 (my Grandma) and Maxwell Flynn born on 2 September 1923. By about 1925 they and their two small children moved back to Ernie’s hometown of York where they lived on Avon Terrace. Ernie was now working as a fireman on the steam engines and his job would’ve been to tend to the fire so that the trains could run. While in York they had two more children: William Flynn born on 14 March 1925 and Elizabeth Mary Flynn born on 8 June 1927.
Not long after the birth of Elizabeth, the family left York and moved to another country town, Merredin. Ernie was still working for the railways and he was often required to work long hours away from home. Despite this he and his family became settled and remained in Merredin for nearly ten years. It was also while they were living in Merredin, on 27 July 1932, that Grace gave birth to their youngest child, Cynthia Grace Flynn.
By 1939 Ernie was 46 years old and working as an Engine Driver. In September of this year WWII began. Having already seen the effects of war first hand, he now remained at home and watched as his children enlisted into the Australian Military Forces. His daughter, Audrey enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force as an Aircraftwoman in 1942 and his son, Maxwell enlisted into the Australian Army in 1943.
The 1940s also saw Ernie, Grace and their family move locations once again. This time they moved from Merredin to 39 York Street in North Perth. With the children eventually marrying and living fairly close by to this location it was much easier to visit them while living here (especially Audrey who actually lived with her husband a few streets down).
His eventual retirement from the W.A.G.R. saw him spending his time leisurely. He regularly visited his grandchildren who lived nearby and took them for drives to the beach in his car or played card games with them in their home. He was described by one of his grandsons as being a good man who, at the same time, wouldn’t hesitate in scolding him if he happened to put down the wrong card during their many games.
Ernest Holt Flynn passed away suddenly at his home in North Perth on 3 February 1959 at age 65. He was buried in the Anglican section of the Karrakatta Cemetery and years later a WWI commemorative plaque was added to his gravesite in memory of his services during the war.
In 1967 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, the Department of Defence issued medals to the survivors of Gallipoli or to their next of kin. As Ernest had already passed away it was my Grandma, Audrey who contacted the Department of Defence and received it on behalf of her father.
- Some information courtesy of Audrey Edwards’s Flynn family synopsis.
- Photos obtained courtesy of my Grandpa.
- Western Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages [online index] (http://www.bdm.dotag.wa.gov.au/).
- Details of Ernest’s WWI service record obtained from the National Archives of Australia’s Mapping our Anzacs website (http://mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au/default.aspx).
- 1920 ‘Family Notices.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954), 16 November, p. 1, viewed 16 May, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27791486
- Ancestry.com. Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903-1954 [database on-line].
- Photo of the A11 Ascanius courtesy of the Australian War Memorial photograph collection (http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/PB0127).
- Photo of the 11th Battalion sitting on the Great Pyramid of Khufu courtesy of the Australian War Memorial photograph collection (http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/P05717.001).
- The AIF Project website (http://www.aif.adfa.edu.au:8080/index.html).
- Various information on the 11th Battalion obtained from the Australian War Memorial website (http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11198.asp).
- Metropolitan Cemeteries Board website [online database] (http://www.mcb.wa.gov.au/Index.aspx).