A Patriotic Man

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Pte Edward Leonard Burley, Service No. 1926

There was no extraordinary hero medal for Private Edward Leonard Burley, nor was there a welcome home banner. He was wounded at Amiens on 8 August 1918 and died two days later, and while we do not have his post war thoughts and feelings, we know that he was a compassionate young man who joined the war for definite reasons. He believed it was his duty to protect the Empire. He enlisted early in the war and his patriotism never wavered. He remained committed to the cause throughout his war service. This biography is based on the letters he sent to his sister, Fanny Isabelle Keft, and on his war record.

When England declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Australia was also at war. ‘Cultural and emotional’ ties to the motherland were strong. History was being made and ‘the land was full of visions of glory’. Patriotic fervour was widespread and Australia was ready to defend King and country.

Anti-German sentiment surfaced quickly and motivated men to enlist, as did casualties, public opinion, and that the army paid well, but most of the early volunteers were enticed by a ‘sense of adventure’. Then there were the men who enlisted ‘to do their duty’. Edward Leonard Burley was one of those men. He was ‘sorry to leave’ his family ‘yet glad’ that there was a ‘chance of striking a blow against German tyranny’.

Len, as he was known, enlisted on 29 December 1915 at Kempsey, New South Wales, aged 25 years. He was a cheerful and optimistic fellow. A railway storeman, who had a good writing hand and loved the theatre, he had no burning ambition other than to do what he thought was right. Amongst his final possessions were two bibles. Growing up in the strict doctrine of the Methodist religion was very much part of his sense of duty. The youngest of seven children, Len was single, but a man of family. His mother had long since died, and while close to all his siblings, he was closest to his sister Fanny Isabelle, known as Iss. To her he wrote, ‘It was twice as hard to leave you Iss as any of the others because we were mates from childhood.’

Len’s early training was spent at Casula, New South Wales and then at Broadmeadows, Victoria amidst patriotic community support before the conscription referendums of 1916 and 1917 divided the nation so violently with ‘high levels’ of public hostility. ‘We had a great march through the town with bands playing, crowds cheering, flags waving and so forth.’ But Len was eager. In his first letter to Iss he indicated his desire to get on with it, ‘they told us we could get away in 6 weeks by joining the infantry so I threw up the artillery, but I can transfer again if I want to.’ He didn’t, and chose the front line of defence instead.

While waiting for his overseas transfer, Len indulged in a favourite pleasure, the theatre. There he saw a display honouring the death of Nurse Cavell with the inscription: ‘This will be avenged’. Public opinion was strong, as was Len’s and he intended to ‘stick it out’. On 4 May 1916, he was finally on his way on the HMAT Port Lincoln A17 from Melbourne as part of the 60th Infantry Battalion, 2nd Reinforcement. With a patriotic heart, before he left, he wrote to Iss with a message for her husband, ‘Tell Charley not to think of enlisting while so many able bodied single men fill up the city streets, hotels and billiard rooms. You see them here playing billiards with wounded returned soldiers. They must have no hearts at all.’

By December 1915, the unsuccessful Gallipoli Campaign was over. In July 1916 the Allies launched a large-scale offensive ‘astride’ the Somme River at the Western Front. After two ‘miserable’ months of training in Egypt, and then to England and France where Len had a few days leave, he marched out to the Somme on 30 September 1916 with the 57th Battalion of the 5th Division. The unit war diaries give a detailed account of life at The Front – foot inspections, the mud, the cold, digging trenches, strengthening wire, bombardment, artillery barrage, gassing, dangerous night patrols in No Man’s Land, aircraft activity, the death and the wounded. Len wrote that he was ‘getting quite used to it’ and felt that he had ‘found a settled place at last with C Company of the 57th Battalion’.

The following month he was admitted to the 1st Australian General Hospital with a leg wound – ‘a small affair’ he wrote light-heartedly. Soon after, he was back in hospital with the mumps. During that time, and the following month, he wrote a war diary. It reads almost the same as the official unit war diaries – a record of his daily routine carrying grenades, laying cables, digging trenches, and foot baths. He says that the ‘mud-slinging’ is hard and his ‘hands have suffered’, and that ‘three shells fell quite close killing 29 and wounding 4’, after which he says, ‘ditto, ditto’ for every day of the last week. In comparison, his letters home talk about the weather, the family, his dream of owning land, and his appreciation of the parcels and mail he received. These he ‘valued most highly’, not only from his family but from the ‘patriotic workers knitting socks and raising money’. It kept his spirits high. Always positive, he told Iss that they ‘are very fortunate though as far as casualties are concerned. The 57th is always termed the lucky Battalion of the Brigade.’

The 57th Battalion went on to defend the second Battle of Bullecourt in May 1917. In September, Len had his last leave – ten ‘glorious days’ in England. He enjoyed the historic castles, the lovely parks and the ‘grand’ weather. He even had time to see a ‘few decent plays’. ‘Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t’, he wrote. And then it was back to defend the Ypres sector in Belgium, attacking the German stronghold at Polygon Wood. 

With the collapse of Russia in October 1917 the expected German offensive came in late March 1918. The 57th Battalion was part of the counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux in April. On the 1st May Len wrote, ‘We have been having rather exciting times lately but everything in the garden is lovely with me’. Then came the Allied offensive at Amiens on 8 August 1918.The Battle of Amiens cost Australia 6,000 casualties. Len was one of them. Of the 417,000 Australian men who enlisted 330,000 served overseas with casualties of 60,000. As Jobson states, ‘what is clear, is the significant per capita commitment in human resources…made by Australia when compared to the other allies’.

Private Hopgood’s witness statement dated 10 August 1918 gives an account of when Len was wounded in action.

‘Burley was my mate, a S/B. in XI pl. His No. began with 19 and he came from Sydney. Near Villers-Bretonneux on August 8th we went over the top and Burley was wounded whilst bandaging up the wounds of some men who had fallen. He was shot through the groin by m.g. fire and fell. I heard him say, ‘I’ve got one’. He then got up and managed to walk back as far as the trench. I was not more than a yard from him when he was hit. Later I heard he died of his wounds at the CCS. My mate was a grand fellow and was much missed by all who knew him.’

From October 1916 to August 1918 Len spent 22 months overseas, 12½ months in the field, 7½ months out of the field training and resting, and 2 months sick with 18 days’ leave. He entered the war a private and died a private and was wounded while on stretcher-bearer duty helping another soldier. He remained committed and patriotic throughout. The last letter Len wrote to his sister, Iss, was never opened. It arrived after he died.

Edward Leonard Burley believed in the cause and died for it. He received the three standard WW1 campaign medals, affectionately known as, ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ – the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, respectively. He is buried at the Vignacourt British Cemetery.


Primary Sources

‘Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Files’, Australian Red Cross Society, 1914-1918,
1DRL/0428, AWM.

57th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, AWM4 23/74/27.

Australian War Memorial, P08668.001, Edward Leonard Burley, Photograph Collection.

First World War Embarkation Rolls, AWM8.

Obern, Gwennyth, Memorial Plaque, 2015. Personal Collection.

Service Record, B2455 National Archives of Australia

Strachan, Jenni, Gravestone Edward Leonard Burley, Vignacourt British Cemetery, 2014.
Personal collection.

Secondary Sources

Australian War Memorial, ‘57th Australian Infantry Battalion’,
https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U51497/, Accessed 11 April 2017.

Australian War Memorial, ‘Gallipoli’, https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/gallipoli/,
Accessed 21 April 2017.

Australian War Memorial, ‘Timeline: Australia in the First World War, 1914-1918’,
https://www.awm.gov.au/1914-1918/timeline/#36, Accessed 11 April 2017.

Beaumont, Joan, Australians and the Great War: Battles, the Home Front and Memory,
Australian National University, 2015, pp. 20-27.

Gammage, Bill, The Broken Years, Australian Soldiers in the Great War, Australian National
University Press, Canberra, 1974, pp. 4-24.       

Jobson, Colonel K.H., First AIR Enlistment Patterns and Reasons For Their Variation,
Australian Defence Force Journal No. 132 September/October, 1998, pp. 61-66.

Matt McLachlan, Battlefield Tours, ‘Bullecourt France, Australian soldiers…, Accessed 27 April 2017.

Meyer, Jessica, Men of War: Masculinity and the First World War in Britain, United
Kingdom, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, pp. 14-16.

The Great War 1914-1918, ‘A Guide to British Campaign Medals of WW1’,
http://www.greatwar.co.uk/medals/ww1-campaign-medals.htm, Accessed 27 April 2017.

The Great War 1914-1918, ‘Battles of the Somme: Introduction’,
http://www.greatwar.co.uk/battles/somme/somme-battles.htm, Accessed 21 April 2017.  

The Great War 1914-1918, ‘Location of the 1914-1918 Battlefields of the Western Front’,
http://www.greatwar.co.uk/places/ww1-western-front.htm,  Accessed 27 April 2017.

A Day at the Beach

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The first time I fainted I was a teenager. Sunstroke was the culprit, but my lack of good sense was the reason. I sat far too long on a sun-drenched beach, frying in the heat.

I had travelled by train that day with my younger brother and his mates, who took off the minute we arrived. That was fine by me as we had agreed to meet at three o’clock, close to where I was spending the day, for the journey back home.

I was so grown up, all by myself on an uncrowded beach, preening and posing in my new bikini on my new beach towel with waves crashing in the background and seagulls screeching overhead. It wasn’t about swimming for me that day, it was about sunbathing. I had no hat, no umbrella, and no water, but what did that matter. I was in a world of make believe.

Two hours later, the midday sun was blazing and I was thirsty. A  milkshake! Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted – a cold, cold milkshake. The shop, however, was at the other end of the beach. I squinted down the endless stretch of sand. Could I make it?

I started full of gumption, but with each step, my flimsy sandals sank deeper into the hot white sand. It was harder than I thought, but determined, I valiantly plodded on, and on, and on.

At last… shade. The little shop was crowded, and I had to wait. When it was my turn, overcome by thirst I blurted out, TWO milkshakes please. As the seconds ticked by my throat began to constrict. It was so dry I couldn’t swallow. Then there they were – two glistening, ice-cold, silver tumblers, looming large as they moved across the counter towards me. Oh, how I was looking forward to those milkshakes. My hand was so close. But as I leaned forward, ready to reach out, my ears began to buzz. My head filled the room, my legs wobbled, and before I could speak, blackness enveloped me and I hit the floor.

Then a blurred memory of sitting on a chair with my head between my knees and being helped through a door behind the counter, into another room. It was the owner’s lounge room. They lay me down on their couch, and before they were gone, I was asleep. Two hours later, with a thumping head, I stumbled out. With words of concern echoing in my ears, panic set in. Where was my brother? How would he know where I was? What if he’d left without me? I had to get back to my little pile of belongings on the beach.

As luck would have it, amongst the waiting crowd when I fainted was one of my brother’s mates. So, I was not abandoned after all. My brother knew where I was and he was waiting. Being the eldest, I didn’t want to lose him at the beach or have to answer for him getting home without me.

So, together, we headed home. One responsible brother and one grateful, limping big sister. But the lesson was learned – the sun and I were no longer friends.   

Inara Hawley © 2021

The Best Ride

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Our first family car was a sleek-looking import—an American Hudson. Photographs of this new wonder depict our family standing proudly in front. Everyone except me—an unsmiling eleven-year-old. It was a fancy two-tone number, but I hated it. It is the only car in which I have ever felt unrelentingly and horribly car sick. Given Dad loved it so much, it’s surprising we didn’t have it for very long, but I was immensely pleased to see it gone.

Before its arrival, our mode of transport was either by bus, train, or Dad’s motorbike. Mum’s early memories were sitting on the back and holding on tight, frozen in her best dress and heels while flying into the city to go to the movies. My memories, and they are some of my absolute best, were riding in the huge side car. Mum would line it with soft blankets, and my brother and I sat deep within its bowels, often eating fish and chips while the outside world whizzed by unseen. We felt cosy, warm, and very safe, especially late at night as we zoomed along with lights flashing  past and the wind whistling above. It was always exciting, but also, just a little bit magical for it was not every day we got to ride in the sidecar. We never popped our heads out—it was much more fun staying hidden inside our secret little cubby on wheels.  

When it was time for the Hudson to depart, our next family car was a Ford Falcon Station Wagon, and oh, how we loved that car. We had the happiest of times going places in that vehicle, in the days when there were fewer cars on the road and it wasn’t against the law for three children to sleep in the back. Some years later, when my brother was a car-mad teenager with a licence, he and Dad put their heads together and decided it was time for a new car. Mum and I literally wept as our beloved station wagon backed out of the driveway heading to the car yard. If you have ever wanted to drape yourself emotionally over an object, you will know how we felt—saying goodbye to that car was a heart-wrenching moment.

Being the sensible girls we were, Mum and I envisaged they would come back with a sensible car—beige or white perhaps with four doors, but we were in for a shock. In drove a bright red, two-door Holden Monaro with a garish black stripe down the side. Dad and my brother were beaming, Mum and I were cringing. Neither of us ever felt happy or safe in that car. It was loud and obvious, and we disliked it immensely.

Looking back, the two boys in our family should have looked after that Monaro better given its worth in later years, but they did not. It eventually went the way of all cars over-revved by reckless young drivers—to a mechanic who could fix it. That was my last ‘family’ car. When I was twenty-one, I left for wider pastures while it still sat in the driveway.

Later, for Dad, came a practical Mazda hatchback, which he drove for many years till one day, it blew up. He was distraught as it was beyond repair, but the family was hugely relieved. By then, his driving had become so erratic we said a little prayer whenever he got behind the wheel. It was the perfect opportunity for him to retire from driving, but sadly for Dad, the end of an era.

Our family cars were an integral part of our lives, representing not only how our family evolved over the years, but the different aspirations of those who had a hand in purchasing them. They were either loved or loathed by various members of the family.

As for me? The worst ride was the Hudson, the happiest ride was the Ford Falcon Station Wagon, the most embarrassing ride was the Monaro, but by far, the best ride was in the magical sidecar of the motorbike.  

© Inara Hawley 2020

Crossing the Desert

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The tired confusion on my face, and the strained smile on my mother’s tells a story. I know where I am, but I cannot remember it. Strangely enough, I can remember standing in the snow in Germany many months earlier dressed in a green, hooded, furry coat, but I cannot remember standing beside my mother and brother, in our winter clothes in the heat of late summer, in 1951 at Central Station in Sydney, after a hellish journey across the desert.

But I do know exactly how you were feeling Mum, because years later, you told me. You could barely hold yourself together, and yet, you did. With two babies, what else could you do?

Soon after we arrived at the Northam Refugee Camp in Western Australia, my grandparents who were already in Sydney, started the process of getting us over to New South Wales.

The first leg of our journey was by bus to Kalgoorlie, then across the desert by rail. When we boarded the train, families were separated—women and children at one end and men at the other, meeting only in the dining carriage for meals. There was no access to water and no provision for the needs of babies, especially for those like my brother, who was bottle-fed. Dad managed to get hot water to wash the bottles, but Mum was left with the dirty nappies. She washed them in the hand basin of the toilet late at night and held them out of the train window to dry. It worked well until one night there was a desert storm, and all the nappies were covered in red dust! Disheartened, she wept.  

We arrived in Melbourne at 9 p.m. seven days later, but the ordeal did not end there. And I know just how you felt with what came next Mum. You and Dad were told that you had to change trains in Melbourne for Sydney, but no one bothered to tell you that the train for Sydney departed the following morning. You had no access to timetables nor were you given any information as to where you could find accommodation for the night. With no English, you had no idea how to ask.

You were not only isolated, given what happened next, you were also ignored.

You had nowhere to go, so all you could do was sit and wait. Fortunately, it was summer so being out at night was not overly cold. And that is exactly what you did. You sat on the station, with your babies, all night. It would have been clear to the station master that you needed help—a family who did not speak English, but true to the xenophobia at the time, without a glance or a word, he turned off all the lights, locked the doors to the station buildings and waiting rooms, and left.

My father, who could always move mountains and get things done, must have felt useless and completely emasculated. He carried out a bench from the platform and moved it to the side of the building to afford some protection for the hours to come. Mum laid me down on the seat between her and Dad, and my brother, who luckily had a full bottle, fell asleep in her arms. And that is how we spent the night, with no food or water.

When the sun came up, exhausted, we boarded the train for Sydney. While we were not separated this time, Mum was in such a distressed state she had no memory of this last part of the journey. The experience had stripped her bare, emotionally, and physically.

As with all non-English speaking migrants, the introduction to our new life was proving to be very tough indeed. All we had left was the hope that what was to come, would be better. 

© Inara Hawley

A Story About Love

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This is a story about love.

My mother and my husband have a delightful relationship. He has a twinkle in his eye and so has she.  When all is well with the world, they have a lot of fun together. Recently, however, hubby has been very ill and during that time, my mother who is now so frail she can barely walk, did her special thing – her ‘healing with the heart’ love thing, which reminded of a time 42 years ago.

Not long after we were married, hubby was admitted rather dramatically to hospital with a suspected heart attack. After four days in cardiac intensive care it was discovered he required gall bladder surgery, but the night he was admitted, I was lost and needed my mother.

She was at a formal Latvian ball. I found the telephone number of the venue caretaker, a family friend, rang and asked him to find my mother amongst the crowd, and he did. Within half an hour, in all her finery, she stepped out of a taxi and I was wrapped in the loving arms of the one person I knew I could trust.

That night I was terrified and asked her, ‘Mum, is he going to die?’ She held me close, and with complete certainty, promised me that he would not. And I believed her.

We talked about that moment today, and she said that she truly believed she could save him with the power of love. And that’s how she still feels today. She gives that same love in this very moment to me, to my husband and to all our family. It is a mother’s love.

She is an Angel in our midst. I am so grateful that at 94 her heart is still so giving and that I have the blessing of hearing her loving words every day.

What a gift.

Inara Hawley © 2018

A Beautiful Thing

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“I can’t leave it behind. What if I don’t come back?” said Karline, as she looked at her most precious piece of porcelain.

Karline, my grandmother, was preparing to leave Latvia and the Russian onslaught that was coming. She was packing her most prized possessions and sending them to a friend in the country. The piece she held in her hand represented the life she and her husband, Theodore had built for themselves.

As her husband’s business, had grown, so had their social standing. Karline learned to cook French cuisine, a dressmaker was hired to make new clothes, and she visited the hair salon regularly. On weekends, like all well-to-do people, they walked in the parks, listened to bands and drank coffee at cafes. They even had a private box at Riga’s Opera House.

And of course, they entertained often. Guests arrived in the early afternoon; the gentleman played cards and the ladies chatted, while they nibbled on French tartlets and cakes before dinner was served. This is the life she was leaving. The life the porcelain piece represented.

She could not leave it behind, and she didn’t. She carried it through war-torn Europe, as they moved from city to city and as the bombs fell. They survived the annihilation of Dresden and they survived the refugee camps. And miraculously, the porcelain that held my grandmother’s memories survived as well.

Today, I am privileged to own it. A beautiful handmade Jessen soup tureen – not only a tangible memory of my grandmother’s glory days, but a symbol of survival and a life well-lived.

© Inara Hawley 2017

Leaving Latvia


For my mother’s family, leaving Latvia was inevitable. When the Russians were close to regaining Communist control in 1944, it was time to prepare for escape.

My mother’s adoptive parents sent their porcelain and crystal to friends, then packed clothes, bedding, and the barter goods they would need. Next, they packed preserved food. Black bread, fish, vegetables, butter, jam, and tea. And my mother, who was still in high school, packed photos of her deceased parents, and her books.

When they heard the guns and saw the fires burning – the Germans were destroying Latvia as they left – it was time to go. On 4th September 1944, they fled on the last ship to leave Riga for Europe, a cargo vessel full of animals, injured soldiers, and terrified people.

With no available sleeping quarters, my grandfather bartered for beds. He bribed the crew with alcohol and cameras. My mother, the smallest, slept in a bathtub.

They arrived safely in Danzig two days later, lucky to have not been bombed. A month later, in October 1944, Riga fell.

My mother did not take in the full seriousness of the situation, nor the fact that they were fleeing to a Europe in the full grip of war. However, in a moment of true defiance, on the day she left Latvia, my mother expressed her true feelings for the first time, without fear of retribution. She scratched, ‘I HATE COMMUNISM’ in large letters across her desk for all to see.

She believed she would return. They never did, and not only did they leave behind their life and their possessions, they left behind their most precious ideal – Latvia’s freedom.

© Inara Hawley 2017

A Hospital Home

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Antonija died of tuberculosis aged 31, but it was her four-year-old her daughter, Ksenija, who would bear the brunt of the disease for the rest of her life.

Ksenija, my mother, had been diagnosed with a spinal injury which required attention, but as her family was in the grip of grief, she was kept quietly at home until her mother died. In her weakened state, however, exposure to tuberculosis was to have serious consequences. It was only after her mother’s funeral that her grandmother took her to the City Hospital in Riga for further tests.

It was a visit, she remembered well. To a small child, it was an ominous place. The rooms were huge, the windows, enormous, the beds impossibly high, and thunderous footsteps echoed through the halls. But most of all, she remembered the fear. In her child’s mind, the doctors were white giants who spoke words she didn’t understand.

The test results confirmed a diagnosis no-one wanted to hear: tuberculosis of the spine, a crippling illness which required long-term treatment in an isolation ward. She was then five years old, but in the 1920’s there was no gentle easing into an extended hospital stay. One day she just didn’t go home.

She entered hospital a confused little girl, and left, nine long years later, an insecure teenager. She had lost her mother, the safety of her home, and the loving kisses and hugs that only her family could give her. The hospital, a bleak, loveless environment, became her home, one from which she couldn’t escape.

In her own words: “The days turned into weeks, the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years”.

© Inara Hawley 2017

Man of Honour

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I was surprised to see Jekab on my doorstep. Even more surprised to find him sober.

He didn’t wait to be invited in. He barged in blustering and demanding to be heard, and a few minutes later, I knew the reason why.  And now I have a decision to make.

Yes, I owe him money. A lot of money. Yes, I am obligated. And no, I will not give a drunk money. I do not trust him.  I will not pander to the demands of an alcoholic. He knows that, and up until today, has not come begging.

But now he demands! He says the child’s needs must be met, and I have the money. The hide of the man! It is his disgraceful behaviour and irresponsible neglect that has cost him everything, not the debts he hasn’t collected. He has only himself to blame.

I abhor weakness and I abhor irresponsibility. Jekab is both of those things, but I abhor dishonour more. So, I have decided. Tomorrow, my wife will go to the children’s home and see for herself. She will tell me what is needed to be done for this granddaughter of Jekab. Then I will see if he speaks the truth.

And if he does, I will gladly pay my debt, on one condition. The money must not grace his palm. It is the child I will be helping, not him. He doesn’t deserve it, but I am not heartless. I will help the child.

After all, I am a God-fearing man of honour.

Author’s Note: Written from the point of view of the man who eventually adopted Jekab’s granddaughter – my mother.

© Inara Hawley 2016