Ernest George HORNER

HORNER, Ernest George

Service Number: 5121
Enlisted: 27 December 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 10th Infantry Battalion
Born: Somerset, England, 1 January 1887
Home Town: North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Labourer
Died: Killed in Action, France, 24 April 1918, aged 31 years
Cemetery: Meteren Military Cemetery
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, College Park Congregational Church Honour Roll, Myrtle Bank War Memorial, St Peters All Souls Anglican Church Honour Board WW1
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World War 1 Service

27 Dec 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 5121, 10th Infantry Battalion
25 Mar 1916: Embarked Private, 5121, 10th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Shropshire, Adelaide
25 Mar 1916: Involvement Private, 5121, 10th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '10' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Shropshire embarkation_ship_number: A9 public_note: ''
Date unknown: Involvement 5121, 10th Infantry Battalion

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Biography contributed by Saint Ignatius' College

Ernest George Horner was born in Somerset, England to the Church of England in 1887, before moving to Adelaide at the age of 24. He was of average height, about 5’9, with blue eyes and brown hair, and was married to Margaret Horner, with whom he had a child. They resided at 7 Palm Place, in Hackney, South Australia, and he worked as a labourer for 4 years before enlisting in the army at the age of 28.

On the 27th of December 1915, Horner enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a Private, about a year and a half after the start of World War 1. He was enrolled as a member of the 16th reinforcement of the famed 10th Infantry Battalion, one of the first Infantry units formed for the AIF, recruited solely from South Australian volunteers, to join the 9th, 11th and 12th Battalions as part of the 3rd Brigade. Horner, and the rest of his unit, departed from Adelaide on board the HMAT A9 Shropshire, on the 25th of March 1916, bound for the battlefields.

Horner’s unit, the 16th reinforcement, travelled from Adelaide to Perham Downs, England, arriving on the 9th of August 1916, a journey that took almost five months. With a quick turnaround, the unit left England and travelled over the English Channel to Étaples, a French commune, arriving on the 11th of August. Étaples was home to a large Allied military base, serving as a training and retraining ground, a supplies depot and a prisoner-of-war detention facility, and the 16th reinforcements likely landed there, as it was a central meeting place close to the coast, allowing a boat to ship them straight into an Allied camp. He joined a new unit in France on the 23rd of August, and on the 1st of September, training started.

The unit moved from the French coast up into Belgium and spent much of September and October 1916 moving around to different camps and little villages along the French/Belgium border, frequenting around the Bernafay Wood and Dernancourt area, training and preparing. In November of 1916, the unit attached to the 2nd Infantry Brigade to provide nightly relief for troops fighting in the trenches at Guedécourt. By this time, the weather had significantly declined, and conditions were very difficult, with the trenches almost flooded after rain, men standing up to their knees in mud and water. Many were suffering from exposure to the elements, due to relief unable to get there in time, and had to be evacuated. Some men removed their boots and were unable to get them back on again and many people fell sick.

Moving back through the Bernafay Wood area, into Flers, the unit were shelled by enemy forces and many lives were lost. Conditions at this time made it even worse, as they were unable to move long distances with ease, horses were slipping, and people were being evacuated due to exposure. It wasn’t all bad though. In December, the soldiers were visited by the Australian Comforts Fund and the Y.M.C.A, who treated them with better quality food, more supplies and even performed little shows for the soldier’s entertainment, which were all greatly appreciated by the troops. Much of January was continuing training, moving to Albert, and no major operations were in place.

Training continued for the first week or so of February, before the unit moved to Hexam Road, where they relieved the 2nd Battalion on their work on the area. For 15 days the soldiers worked around the area, with the Battalion base situated on the corner of Hexam Road and Pioneer Avenue. The thaw made for difficult, muddy conditions as the Battalion performed fatigues, salving and carrying parties, whilst trying to improve communications to the front line. They relieved the 12th Battalion in the Left sub sector of the Brigade Front, working to duckboard and improve the trenches, as the thaw had left considerable damages. Under misty and muddy conditions, the Battalion’s ‘heavies’ were very active on enemy line with heavy retaliation, and on the 24th operations continued smoothly, and they moved forward and occupied Gird Trench. The next day, the unit attacked again, penetrating well into Le Barque Switch Trench, despite heavy barraging from opposition, and occupied prime positions. By midnight, they were relieved by the 12th Battalion. The operation had about 20% casualty rate and the next day was spent carrying out fatigues and burying the dead. Congratulations were received for the Battalion’s work on the operation.

For much of March and April of 1917, the Battalion moved through different towns and communes in France, camping and training. For 9 days, between the 7th and the 16th of April, the unit were situated around the front line north of Louverval, fighting and advancing the line, until they were relieved by the 7th Battalion. On the 22nd of April, Horner fell ill and was moved to a hospital to recover. Only six days later, he was re-admitted to the hospital for a sprained ankle, for which he was in no way to blame, and transferred to SMCCS. This began a long stint in the hospital, which cost him involvement in the commended Second Battle of Bullecourt, a two-week span of intense trench fighting, which in turn lost thousands of Australians their lives, to capture parts of the strong enemy Hindenburg Line. The 10th Battalion played a 6-day role in this operation, between the 4th and the 9th, with the intention of bombing and capturing the communications trench, of which they were successful.

Horner re-joined the unit from the hospital on the 12th of May, and by June, the Battalion was re-involved with an operation around Auchonvilliers, to capture a line where defence is said to be weak. The 10th Battalion helped form the centre attacking wave, with the 9th on the right and the 11th on the left. On the 2nd and 3rd on July, the Battalion was involved in a trench to trench attack in Mailly Maillet, with verbal orders only, and the rest of the month was spent training and moving around. All of August was spent training and doing drills, with route marches and Battalion inspections.

Early September was marked by training, before a two day mission on the 20th-22nd in action at Polygon Wood, before a route march from Steenvorde to Chateau Segard in preparation for a staged battle, between the 1st and 10th of October. Horner’s company, the B company, took up supporting positions alongside A,C and D companies, despite casualties. Soldiers took up positions along what would be the second half of the Third Battle of Ypres, near the France/Belgium border, and over the next few days consolidated themselves in the trenches. On the 8th, a trench raid was issued and carried out against German positions, before they were relieved on the front line on the 10th and spent the rest of the month training.

November 1st to 9th, the Battalion spent relieving different troops along Anzac Ridge and supplied carrying an working parties to other Battalions, before moving back to Westhoek Ridge where they worked to improve accommodation and were relieved by British 66th Battalion. The rest of the month was spent training and moving around. On the 24th of November, Horner was promoted to Lance Corporal. December was spent training, doing parades and having inspections, with a brief stint on the line towards the end of the month. A highlight though, was the Brigade competitions, where different Battalions competed in races and competitions, with the 10th Battalion excelling in the running races, but falling behind on field firing and Lewis gunners.

The new year started off in the field with the Battalion holding the line, before training for much of February. The troops were situated in Hollebeke, in western Belgium to repel counterattacks and German raids, and were in position to prepare to hold the system at all costs or reinforce and counterattack any portion of the front, before being relieved by the 12th Battalion over the 24th of March.

Horner’s war journey as of yet had been plentiful and full of achievement but would sadly soon come to an end. On the 24th of April 1918, a raid team from the 10th Battalion attacked at Meteren, France. Sometime between 12 and 3 in the morning, Horner, fighting alongside at least six other eyewitnesses, was killed outright, shot through the head by explosive machine gun fire. He fell about 70 yards from enemy lines, after the team had advanced 200 yards in, but the mission was a failure and the rest of the team had to retreat some 400 yards from where he was hit. He was on a Lewis Gun team alongside fellow soldier, Private James Raymond Butterick, and was described as a ‘fine chap’. All eyewitnesses described seeing him fall, and a few mentioned seeing him slumped over his gun as they retreated, however due to the failure of the mission, they were unable to get out to him and retrieve his things and were unaware of whether Red Cross stretcher bearers were able to retrieve his body. They described him as a ‘very nice, quiet fellow’ who was a family man and had a photo of his ‘little kiddie’ that he was incredibly fond of. All the members of his raid team wrote of their great disappointment in being unable to reach him and collect his things.

Ernest George Horner was a quiet, fair mannered man whose World War 1 journey began at 28, before his untimely death at 30. Many soldiers, like Horner, never made it home to their families, but through the telling of their stories, their wartime experiences are revived, and we are able to re-ignite their ANZAC spirit. The stories of everyday men, turned wartime heroes, show the bravery, strength and comradery that can come from a shared knowledge of unique experiences. Horner showed his bravery through his continued efforts to engage in combat, despite hospital visits and the loss of many of his comrades. His mateship and comradery are prominent through the accounts of his fellow soldiers, who reflected regrettably on their inability to retrieve his body and spoke fondly of Horner as a member of their unit. Horner is buried in Meteren Military Cemetery, where his headstone reminds us to this day: ‘Only goodnight beloved, not farewell.’

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Biography contributed by Adelaide Botanic High School

Ernest George Horner, the husband of Margaret Horner was born in Somerset England in 1887. Horner moved to Adelaide at the age of 24 in the year 1911, where he took up residence at 7 Palm Place Hackney. Horner worked as a labourer for a number of years, before enlisting in the army in 1915. Horner was of average height (5’9); he weighed approximately 62.6 kilograms; he had brown hair, and he had blue eyes.

Horner enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force at the age of 28 on the 27th of December 1915. Where he joined the 10th Battalion, one of the first infantry units ever formed for the AIF. Horner arrived at Perham Downs on the 9th of August 1916. Horner and his unit then left England and travelled through the English Channel to a large Allied military base in Estaples, France arriving on the 11th of August.  On the 23rd of August Horner joined a new unit, and then after that his training began on September 1st.

The unit then moved from France to Belgium and spent almost two months traveling to different camps and villages around the border of France and Belgium, mostly in the Bernafey wood area. In November of 1916 Horner and his unit were serving as nightly relief for the 2nd Battalion, fighting in the trenches at Guerdecourt. 

After moving back to the Bernafay wood area, into Flers Horner and his group were shelled by enemy forces and many people lost their lives. Due to weather conditions at the time, it was difficult to move long distances to avoid enemy fire, and many people were being evacuated due to exposure to the elements.

Training for Horner and his unit went on into the first few days of February 1917, until the unit moved to base in France that was commonly referred to as Hexam Road. Where once again the unit served as relief for the 2nd battalion – this time helping to work on their area. For almost two weeks the battalion worked around the area to assist in a variety of tasks around the base such as cleaning up the camp area, transporting supplies, improving communications with the front lines, and helping to repair the trenches as the snow and ice thawing had caused some considerable damages. The Battalion attacked the enemy lines with heavy retaliation and on the 25th of February attacked once again, forcing their way well into enemy trenches, despite heavy barraging from the enemy. And by midnight they were relieved by the 12th battalion. The next day – the 26th of February, was mostly spent performing menial tasks around camp, and burying the dead.

For much of the March and April of 1917 the unit moved through different towns and communes in France. And from the 7th – 16th of April the unit were stationed on the front lines in Louverval fighting, and advancing until they were relieved by another battalion. However only a week after this time on the 22nd of April, Horner fell ill and was set to hospital. And a mere 6 days after being discharged from hospital, Horner was readmitted due to a sprained ankle. Horner spent a long time in the hospital due to this injury and it cost him involvement in the second battle of Bullecourt, which was a 2 week long intense span of non-stop intense trench fighting, in which many Australians sadly lost their lives, to capture. Horner’s battalion (the 10th battalion) played a crucial role in this battle, as they were successful in bombing and capturing the enemy communication trench.

Horner was discharged from the hospital on the 12th of May, and by June he had re-joined his unit. His battalion was heavily involved in capturing an enemy trench in Auchan Villiers where the defence was said to be weak.

The Beginning of November was spent relieving troops along the Anzac ridge, where Horner and his unit worked to improve living conditions and accommodations. On the 24th of November Horner was promoted to Lance corporal. December was mostly spent training, although a short amount of time was spent on the frontline.

The new year started off in the field for Horner and the 10th battalion, holding the line. Much of February was spent training, the unit were stationed in western Belgium, working to repel German raids and attacks and to counterattack themselves, before being relieved on the 24th of march by the 12th battalion.

On the 24th of April 1918, Horner’s journey would soon come to an end. While fighting alongside 6 other comrades in raid team in the early hours, Horner was sadly killed outright, shot in the head by enemy machine guns, and on top of that the mission as a failure, and his comrades were forced to retreat. Due to failure of the mission. Horner’s comrades reported to have seen him being slumped over his gun while they were retreating. Due to failure of the mission his comrades were unsure if the red cross stretcher bearers if would be able to retrieve Horner’s body. All Horner’s comrades described how Horner was a “very nice quiet fellow” and his comrades wrote about their great disappointment of the fact they were unable to retrieve his body and to collect his things.  

Horner is buried in Meteran Military Cemetery in France, where his headstone reads his name and age of death, his unit, his rank, and the quote “only goodnight beloved, not farewell”.

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