A young man raised on a farm in the Bega Valley almost made it to the end of the Great War before tragically being killed in action.
The life of Bernard Joseph Heffernan has been researched and commemorated by his great nephew John Rheinberger, who last month visited the grave of the soldier in France.
Born in 1893, Bernard was one of 10 children and the son of respected farmer Denis Heffernan who lived in Buckajo.
When he was young he worked on the family farm, before studying mining in Sydney and later being employed as a draftsman in the Department of Mines.
A few weeks before World War 1 broke out, Denis died from influenza. Bernard’s younger brother Patrick Francis Heffernan enlisted for the war effort in Bega on April 21, 1916, which encouraged Bernard to also sign up that October.
“I think it was because of the enthusiasm in the local area,” Mr Rheinberger said.
“This was an opportunity to get to Europe and see the world, unfortunately they didn’t envisage the amount of fighting that was to occur.”
Bernard left Sydney by ship in November 1916, arriving in England about three months later.
He was hospitalised for a time due to influenza – a virus which would, incidentally, kill up to 100million people in Europe about a year later which was about five times as many killed in the war – before leaving for France and joining the 19th Battalion on July 18, 1917.
After joining the frontline he suffered a couple of injuries.
In October that year he received a gunshot wound to his thigh in Belgium and had to return to England for treatment.
He rejoined his battalion in January 1918, but that July was gassed and taken to a casualty clearing station to recover before going back to the fight a few weeks later.
In November, Bernard’s mother received a telegram stating he had been wounded in action. But the day after she received it, a local police officer travelled Buckajo to tell her an error had been made and Bernard had actually been killed on October 3, 1918. He was 24 years old. The war ended a few weeks later on November 11.
Mr Rheinberger said Patrick – who survived the war – visited his brother’s grave, located near Estrées in France, before he returned home to Australia. As at the time many graves were dug where the person was killed, Mr Rheinberger said it was likely Patrick was near the site where Bernard died.
Bernard’s grave has since been moved to Prospect Hill British Cemetery, near the French town of Gouy. It is a place Mr Rheinberger has visited three times, the most recent in October as it was the centenary of Bernard’s death. This time he left a glass poppy at the grave.
He said Bernard’s sisters never spoke about what kind of person his great uncle was.
“People didn’t talk about things like that back then. It was the war and it was gone, and that was it,” he said.
Bernard’s story has been immortalised in Pat Raymond’s book Remembering Bega Valley Serviceman of World War I: Battlefield and War Related Deaths.
Remembrance Day is on Sunday, November 11.