Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion fair
Story text (with some minor edits and additions) is reproduced with permission from the copyright holders, the Australian Jewish Historical Society on behalf of Peter M. Allen.
Joseph Hart was born in Carlton, Melbourne, in 1896 to Rachel (‘Rae’ née Levy) and Victor Moses Hart. They moved to Paddington, Sydney, where Joseph went to Paddington Superior Public school and was a naval cadet for four years. He was apprenticed four years to W. G. Jira and then worked as a jeweller.
Joseph HART’s Family
Joseph’s father was born in London but emigrated to Victoria where he married Melbourne born Rachel Levy in 1894 and worked as an ink-maker and a commercial traveller. They had six children before moving to Sydney, living initially in Paddington, but later moved to Bondi.
Victor Henry HART 1867-1934 m. Rachel Sarah LEVY 1871-1957
1) Phyllis Phoebe HART 1895-1949 (married name Webster)
2) Joseph HART 1896-1916
3) Emma Bettina HART 1898-1986 (married name Wiles)
4) Louis Leopold HART 1899-1971
5) Olive HART 1902-1994 (married names Jacobs / Rothfield)
6) Esther HART 1905-??
Age 19, Joseph enlisted at Liverpool, New South Wales, on 19 July 1915: No. 190 Private Joseph Hart in the 30th Battalion (A Company). He trained as a signaler, and they embarked aboard HMAT A72 Beltana on 9 November and arrived in Egypt on 11 December whilst the evacuation from Gallipoli was underway.
Bolstered by some ANZAC veterans and after further training, the 30th embarked Alexandria on 16 June to join the British Expeditionary Force, arrived Marseilles 23 June, and entrained to the north of France, 20 kilometers west of Lille.
As part of the 8th Brigade, they entered the frontline trenches of the 5th Division (comprising 12 battalions plus support units) – the most inexperienced of the Australian divisions. On 10 July at Fleurbaix, they were adjoining Britain’s 61st Division and facing the German Army’s entrenched and experienced 6th Bavarian Division. There at Fleurbaix, in a flawed tactic, the British Commander, Lt General Sir Richard Haking, had decided to create a diversion to the main fighting against the entrenched German forces further south, in the Somme.
A little over a week later, in the AIF’s first major battle on the Western Front, the 30th Battalion was tasked with providing carrying parties for supplies and ammunition but was soon drawn into the vicious fighting of the disastrous Battle of Fromelles, 19-20 July 1916. In Australia’s worst-ever civilian or military disaster, with more men killed in that one night than in the Boer, Korean and Vietnam Wars combined, the division’s casualties totaled 5,533 out of around 7,000 attackers, including over 2,000 dead.
Remembering a chum and a loving and faithful son
Joseph Hart’s mother, Rachel, later received a letter “from one of his chums on The Firing Line, Flanders”.
The letter sent by then Corporal 233 Syd Murdoch was published in October 1916. By 1917, Sidney Murdoch had been promoted to sergeant, was wounded and mentioned in despatches. In 1918, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and promoted to Lieutenant. Aged 21, he was killed in action on 3 September 1918 at St Quentin Canal.
Another witness, Sergeant 107 Arthur David Burns later reported to the Red Cross:
“They had just hopped over the purpose being to dig a sap (i.e. trench) in No Man’s Land. Casualty was about 5 yards in front wearing his tin hat with the strap at the back of the head. He was struck on the hat at the back of the head by a piece of shell. Death was instantaneous.
Owing to circumstances it was impossible to bury him and witness cannot say if this was done later.”
The family were told that Joseph had no known grave, but incredibly, some four years later, in August 1920, Hart’s family were advised that in fact, he was buried at Ration Farm New Military Cemetery, La Chapelle-d’Armentières, France - and, like other next-of-kin, they could pay for additional inscriptions on his headstone: threepence halfpenny (or 3 cents) per letter - and would be sent a photograph.
On 26 November 1921, following receipt of a photo of the grave, Rachel Hart wrote a heart-wrenching letter from Jocelyn, Murriverie Rd, Bondi to the Officer in Charge:
A great mistake has been made in my son’s grave. He was a Jewish boy, and a small square tablet would answer. Please see that the Cross is removed. Any expense I will willingly pay. The attention of the Jewish authorities if called to the matter would settle it without any trouble. I sincerely hope you will give your strict attention to this matter, as I filled in a form 12 months ago giving every particular explicitly.
Thanking you for copies of same.
Yours truly, R. Hart (Mother)
Subsequent correspondence from Victoria Barracks assured her that the photo was of a temporary memorial only and that her wishes would be faithfully observed. And they were.
Pte Joseph Hart who was killed in action, aged 20, on 20 July 1916 - exactly a year after he enlisted – now has a permanent headstone with a Magen David (star of David) and inscription: “Loving and Faithful Son”.
Joseph Hart was the only one of the ten Jewish Diggers killed at Fromelles to have an identified grave – until 2010, when the 250 ‘Lost Diggers of Fromelles’ were reinterred, including Lt Berrol Mendelsohn. By 2019, 166 of them had been identified and the quest to identify the remainder continues.
From the Hart family perspective, they were to suffer another blow later in 1916 when a cousin, 1590 Pte Frederick Felix RAPHAEL (1888-1916), was also killed in France on 15 November 1916 whilst serving with the 21st Battalion. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.
Links to Unofficial Records
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