Eric Floyd HANCOCK
Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion unknown
Dungog teacher and a fine student
In preparing this story, we acknowledge the invaluable support provided by the Dungog Historical Society in undertaking and sharing much of the research with the Fromelles Association.
Little is known of Eric’s younger days however his father, Henry J. Hancock, was both a mineworker and a farmer in the fertile lands near Gloucester, New South Wales. He was involved in mining in Dungog and Stewart Brook and owned and managed a mine at Monkerai. Monkerai is a beautiful spot, near Wards River, and it is some of the best farming land in NSW. It is here that Henry had his grazing and fruit-growing property called ‘Redleaf’.
Eric was the eldest of four children. His brothers were Reginald (a signaller, 34th Battalion) and Lyle, and his sister, Rita.
Eric was reported as being a fine student and in 1911-12 he took up a two-year scholarship at East Maitland High School in preparation for Teachers’ Training College. Then in 1913 he was awarded a training college scholarship. A news report also describes him as being on the staff of the Dungog Public School in 1913 so it is likely that he was teaching there as one of four assistants to the headmaster. By 1915, Eric had completed two years at Sydney Teachers’ College at Blackfriars and his occupation is listed as schoolteacher in his attestation papers. He had also commenced his first year studying science part time at the University of Sydney and was a member of the Sydney University Scouts, a Citizens Militia Unit.
‘Winning’ the lottery and going to war
Eric was a member of the Sydney University Scouts, a Citizens Militia unit. Henry Hancock describes how his son was in the midst of a university examination and was called upon to leave the exam and defend the cable station at La Perouse. News reports of the time confirm that detachments were assigned in early August 1914 to positions of strategic importance across New South Wales including the cable station. Later, the Scouts were told that three of their number were required to enlist. In Henry’s words, ‘lots were drawn and he E.F.H. “won” and went’. He did not return.
Eric enlisted in September 1915 and was allocated to the 17th Battalion. The Eastern Telegraph newspaper reported on 23 November 1915 that:
Mr Eric Hancock, son of Mr H Hancock, of Monkerai, and lately of Dungog, we learn has joined the Sydney Training forces and expects to leave on active service today for Egypt. The HACC farewelled him at the railway station and presented him with a gold mounted fountain pen and a writing block with each of the member’s signatures attached.
Eric left Australia in December 1915 for Egypt and was transferred to the 55th Battalion not long after arrival. In March 1916, he spent some weeks in hospital suffering from the mumps but recovered in time to leave with his unit for France in June. On 10th July, Eric was promoted to corporal and ten days later he was killed at Fromelles.
Reports of Eric’s death
It seems that rumours reached the Hancock family in April 1916 that Eric had been killed. After urgently seeking information from official sources, the family were assured that this information was incorrect. But how heartbreaking that time must have been.
Cruelly, the family again heard via private sources in August that Eric had been killed in action in July. Sadly, this time the news was confirmed but only after Eric’s father wrote twice to the authorities seeking information (the 2nd letter crossed in the mail with the army’s reply) and after he had seen his son’s name printed in an official casualty list in the newspaper.
Eventually, on November 8th 1916, James Green, Chaplain of the 55th Battalion, wrote and confirmed Eric’s death – probably one of many letters the chaplain had to write after Fromelles.
Both Eric’s parents struggled with the uncertainty and lack of details about their son’s death. Henry wrote at various times seeking confirmation and details and his place of burial, clearly still carrying the hurt surrounding his death and not knowing where his body lay, and how the authorities communicated about it.
Even more tragic was his mother’s response - Eda pursued every opportunity to find a reason to believe that Eric had not been killed. Whilst many wrote to any who might be able to help, including mates, Ministers and the Army, Eda tried nine different clairvoyants, all of whom indicated “that he was not killed but was taken prisoner”. Her heart-rending letter can be seen in the Red Cross Wounded and Missing file ((pages 11 to 14 see link).
The Red Cross investigated thoroughly gathering many reports from witnesses and responded kindly but tried to discourage false hope stating “we fear there is unfortunately no reason to doubt the official report of his death in action” and, later, ”We deeply regret that we are unable to give you any hope of your son being a prisoner and would like to assure you of our sincere sympathy in your loss.”
In addition to this Roll of Honour notice in the newspaper, Corporal Eric Hancock’s name is memorialized on the following:
- Monkerai First World War Honour Roll at the Monkerai School of Arts hall. In fact, his father was given the honour of unveiling this memorial in1921 as his two sons served in the Great War – Eric killed in 1916 and Reg returned to Australia in 1919.
- Dungog & District First World War Honour Roll – Dungog RSL Club
- NSW Public School Teachers Who Served Abroad Great War Honour Board – NSW Department of Education building in Parramatta
- University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon – main entrance to the Quadrangle at the university’s Camperdown campus
- Book of Remembrance published by University of Sydney in 1939 – his entry is copied below.
It is hoped that one day Eric can be memorialized with a headstone placed on his grave but, for now, he lies unidentified and unnamed somewhere in France.
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