Reading through his records – his name was Harold Hartley Browning, called Hartley – was a very interesting and emotional experience.
Seeing the signature of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Anne Browning, on the Letter of Consent to enlist brought a tear to my eye.
Actually, Grandpa (although I hardly knew him, he died when I was 4) was nearly 20 when he enlisted. His records say he was an Architect, which seems pretty young. But he had been to The Tech – ie. RMIT, the name which my mother still uses. He practised as an architect after the war, designing houses in the South-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, some of which still stand.
While he was quite short, 5 foot 7 inches, he was very light at the time – just over 8 stones (53 kilos). I guess lean men were common in those days.
We knew that he was a member of the Australian Flying Corps, which was part of the Australian Army. This was prior to the establishment of the RAAF.
Flying in grown-up versions of balsa wood and rubber bands, he was shot down over France, but managed to get back to England. He spent some months in a rehabilitation facility in Kent (it was probably a commandeered stately home by the look of the records – think Brideshead Revisited) where he recovered from his injuries and complained of tooth ache. (Bad teeth were pretty common in those days.)
While expressing a reluctance to return to flying – gosh, what a surprise – he was sent back on flying duty and luckily escaped further injury. He returned to Australia and his appointment was terminated on 25 May 1919.
What effect did his war service have on him? Who knows, really? He was a pretty heavy drinker and spent a lot of time with his men friends at the Savage Club. But of course no one was encouraged to talk about their war experiences at that time.
It seemed like the right day to re-read his records.