Edgar Ricardo George LANG
Eyes blue, Hair brown, Complexion fresh
Edgar LANG, served in both World Wars
“A very kind and lovely man.” – This is how Edgar was described by his granddaughter, Valerie.
Edgar Ricardo George Lang was born on 28 July 1884, being the second son of John and Harriet Lang of Bowden, South Australia. Five more daughters were to follow, two dying in infancy. Sadly, his mother died during childbirth in 1893 at the age of 37 when Edgar was 9 years old. His father John remarried in 1896 and went on to have 2 sons and a daughter with his second wife, Mary Jane Trott.
Edgar left school at age 11 and worked in a boot factory cutting the leather uppers. On Sundays he would walk from Hindmarsh to the library on North Terrace, Adelaide, and spend the day reading to increase his knowledge. He was a member of the West Hindmarsh Cricket Club in the early 1900's, his older brother William being captain.
Edgar married Sarah Emily White in 1906 and took up employment as a mason's labourer. Edgar and Sarah went on to have 3 sons, Edgar (Ralph), Fred and Hugh (Burton) before Edgar enlisted in WW1 on 3 January 1916.
The War Years
Aged 31 on enlistment, Edgar was allocated to the 32nd Battalion (5th reinforcements), a battalion raised from South Australia and Western Australia. They embarked from Adelaide on 25 March 1916 on HMAT A9 Shropshire arriving in Egypt on 24 April, just in time to mark the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. The battalion continued training exercises in Ferry Post and Moascar camps before leaving on 16 June 1916 by train for Alexandria to board ship for France and the Western Front.
As described by the Australian War Memorial website:
The 32nd Battalion fought its first major battle at Fromelles on 19 July 1916, having only entered the front-line trenches 3 days previously. The attack was a disastrous introduction to battle for the 32nd - it suffered 718 casualties, almost 75 per cent of the battalion's total strength, but closer to 90 per cent of its actual fighting strength.
Edgar was one of those 718 casualties being severely wounded by shrapnel in the hip, arm and foot. A telegram was sent on 4 August to his wife Sarah advising of his injuries and that he had been admitted to the 2nd Australian General Hospital at Wimereux, France on 21 July.
Recuperation back in “Blighty”
From Wimereux, Edgar was evacuated on 23 July to the 4th London General Hospital at Denmark Hill in London. He remained there until 28 August 1916 and was then transferred to training battalions to continue his recuperation. He was hospitalised again in January 1917, finally being discharged on 29 January.
During the early months of 1917, Edgar was corresponding with his nephew and niece in Adelaide by way of postcards. He described snowballing as good fun, and that they were occasionally given stewed Australian rabbits to eat. He also wrote praising the good job the women of Australia and England were doing for the war effort and passed on news that he had made contact with a cousin whose husband was doing duty guarding the Parliament buildings.
Remainder of the War
Edgar rejoined the 32nd Battalion in France on 24 May 1917 and fought on the Western Front for the remainder of the war, including at Paschendaele.
In early 1919, he returned to England for nonmilitary employment - agricultural work at Cobham Hall, a convalescent home in Kent. Edgar eventually left England for return to Australia on the RMS Orontes on 15 May 1919, disembarking in Adelaide on 26 June 1919.
He was discharged from the AIF on 10 August 1919 having completed more than three and half years’ war service.
After the War
There is no doubt his family were overjoyed at his return, but as a result of the horrors seen on the battlefield and gassing, Edgar developed a debilitating stammer. This gradually improved but it would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Edgar's father, John, had been suffering with ill health during the war and did not see his son again as unfortunately John died in May 1918 at the age of 60.
After the war, Edgar and Sarah went on to have twin boys, Colin and George, in 1920 and he started a poultry farm at Findon. He was also editor of the National Utility Poultry Breeders Association magazine. He was an articulate man and wrote many business letters and letters to the editor in the Adelaide newspapers regarding current issues that were of interest.
Edgar had met two brothers in the 32nd Battalion - 2579 Arnold and 2580 Ernest Chapman. Ernest was also wounded at Fromelles and admitted to Wimereux. The Chapman brothers were both gardeners who joined up around the same time as Edgar, and the three remained lifelong friends.
In 1931, the Lang family moved to Happy Valley where Edgar built a house on 6 acres of land and established a poultry farm. He was well respected in the community and affectionately and widely known as “Pop”, involving himself in the Congregational Church and local school.
World War 2 and beyond
On 3 October 1939, Edgar aged 55 enlisted as a private in the 4th Garrison Battalion. He undertook tank hunting courses and was said to have guarded sensitive installations. He was discharged on 18 March 1943 with the rank of Lance Corporal.
After the War, Edgar as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer was instrumental in obtaining and clearing land and raising money through sports carnivals, market stalls etc., to enable the building of the Happy Valley Institute Hall. The hall was finally opened on 12 November 1955 by Sir Thomas Playford, then Premier of South Australia. Edgar founded a library at the hall as a valuable resource for the small community and manned it regularly. The hall was demolished in 1984 and the foundation stone with Edgar's name on it is kept at The Hub Library at Aberfoyle Park.
His name is also inscribed on the Happy Valley War Memorial monument for his WW2 service, at the Keane Memorial Gardens.
After the war, their second son, Fred, and family moved to Happy Valley war and purchased 5 of the 6 acres of Edgar and Sarah's land to build their own home. They lived at this property next to Edgar until 1974. Three and a half acres were given over to the growing of grapes on Fred’s property, and Edgar assisted in the harvest until well into his 70’s. He also had chickens, almost a necessity in those days to help feed a household.
There were two homes on Edgar’s parcel of land, one being Edgar and Sarah’s home and the other, known as the “Shacks”, which was built by Fred for Edgar to lease out as an extra income stream. Sarah died from cancer in 1960 with Edgar nursing her with great love and compassion during much of her illness. He never really recovered from her loss. After Sarah’s death, he moved to the Shacks and leased out the other residence but remained living at Happy Valley into his late 80's, being partially cared for by Fred and his wife, Rita.
Edgar’s Christian faith no doubt helped him through the war years and afterward although he did not talk about his war experiences, the same as many others of that era. He was a regular worshiper at the local Happy Valley Congregational Church where he also arrived early to set up the church for the Minister. He would walk the 3 kilometers from his home to church and then back again on most Sundays, well into his old age. His work ethic was passed down to his sons and he was a most upstanding member of the Happy Valley community, loved and respected by all who knew him.
Edgar would regularly correspond with his cousin Alice Pomeroy in England and his granddaughter, Heather, remembers looking at English magazines in Edgar’s lounge room with great interest, no doubt sent by Alice. Another great source of interest to Edgar was “Blue Hills”, a very popular radio serial in those days before television, and one which had a huge following in Australia. It was a well-established social norm that there were to be no interruptions or callers during the broadcast of “Blue Hills”!
Fred and Rita’s daughters, Heather and Valerie, have wonderful memories of carrying down Edgar’s Sunday baked dinner, smelling the aroma as they walked down the steps to Edgar’s fruit drying cellar. A favourite memory is of visiting Edgar’s little shed where he had stored a wonderful array of old leather working tools from his earlier boot-making career. The fascination children have for seeing a master craftsman enjoying his passion and creating wondrous items from pieces of leather must truly have been a delight for small eyes. At the very least, it is still strong in the girls’ memories of their “Papa”.
However, failing eyesight and advancing senility meant Edgar could not remain at home and he spent his last few years at Wynwood Hospital in Norwood. Edgar finally died of pneumonia on 4 May 1974 aged 89 years. His funeral was held in the Happy Valley Congregational Church where he had worshiped for many years, and he was laid to rest next to his beloved Sarah in the Happy Valley Cemetery.
In looking into Edgar’s story and the Lang family history, Edgar has brought distant members of the family together with a number of reunions taking place. In one meeting with her cousins, Valerie enquired if anyone knew what had happened to their grandpa’s WWI and WWII medals. Unfortunately, their whereabouts are unknown, but the family hopes they may one day be re-discovered. In the meantime, Valerie treasures Edgar’s oil lamp that was passed on to her as a memento of a kind and loving grandfather; she remembers the lamp sitting on the mantlepiece in Edgar’s loungeroom.
Private Edgar Lang, wounded at the Battle of Fromelles, is remembered for his service in two world wars and for his love and faithfulness to his wife, family and community over many decades – a long and fulfilling life.
Lest we forget.
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