TOMORROW, July 20, marks 100 years since Henry Westerway, an Aboriginal Tingha tin miner and grandfather of Sydney volunteer Warren Smith, was gassed and taken prisoner of war at the Battle of Fromelles.
Three generations of Henry’s family held a commemorative service at his newly refurbished graveside to pay respect to the sacrifices Henry made during WWI.
The Battle of Fromelles is the worst day in Australian military history with 5533 casualties including 1917 dead with Henry being one of 470 that was gassed and taken on strength as a prisoner of war. War records show he nearly died and was dangerously ill for much of his imprisonment.
Henry Westerway was held in Dulmen prison camp and then transferred to Munster prison camp in Westphalia until the end of the war when he was conveyed to the UK for convalescing.
He then met his bride to be, May and they returned to Australia aboard the troop ship SS Indarra setting up home in Willoughby, Sydney for their remaining years both dying at a young age.
Warren Smith, his grandson said “Through family research I have connected with Westerway family members living in Inverell who are the first family I have ever met".
"The scars of war affected our family generations later. My mother and I had hard upbringings due to the premature death of my grandparents and I am guessing it wasn’t made any easier coming from an Aboriginal descendant.” Warren said.
“It is only recently I learned that Henry was probably from Anaiwan Aboriginal descendancy.
"I was surprised to locate his grave in Macquarie Park Cemetery near my home in Ryde and was able to arrange for his grave to be refurbished to honour the sacrifice he has made for his country and so generations to follow do not forget him as one of less than 1000 aboriginal men that fought in WWI.”
“I think one of the sad parts of my grandfathers story is how his father, also a tin miner in Tingha, did not know for 10 months that his son had been taken prisoner due to a mis spelling of the envelope carrying the devastating news.” he said.
Henry enlisted in Armidale on September 17, 1915 and joined the 55th Battalion AIF and was transported on the HMAT Star of England troop ship landing in Marseilles, France.
On July 12, 1916, Henry Westerway entered the frontline trenches for the first time and then on July 20 they fought their first major battle The Battle of Fromelles in France where they were “taken on strength” and “gassed” and taken prison.