Six Hildebrand boys signed up for war, five made it home

MEMORIAL: The war grave of Thomas William Hildebrand in Jerusalem.
MEMORIAL: The war grave of Thomas William Hildebrand in Jerusalem.

MANY families saw their sons go off to the First World War and sometimes these sons never returned home.

If they did return, they often had a battle injury, perhaps a bad chest from inhaled poisonous gas, a missing limb, or at least the disturbing image of the war itself.

At this time local families were often large. It was quite common to have 10-14 children. If there were a number of sons it was likely that several of these would enlist. Such was the story of the Hildebrand family of Leeville, near Casino.

Frederick Hildebrand came to the area probably in the 1860s after the Robinson Land Acts had released land previously monopolised by the squatters.

He had been born to Irish parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Hildebrand (nee Kennedy) at Sydney in 1841.

His wife-to-be, Eliza Emma Sheppard, had been born on Tomki Station, near Casino, in 1856. They were married in Casino in 1875. By this time, Frederick had a farm nearby at what was later to be known as Leeville.

Frederick and Eliza Hildebrand were to have 14 children, 12 of whom survived infancy. All of their six surviving sons enlisted in the army during the First World War.

The first to enlist was Randolph who was a farm labourer aged 22. He enlisted in August 1914 and was attached to the Field Engineers as a driver. Apparently he served in Egypt and France.

His brother, Frederick Severus, aged 25, was also a farmer. He had been a member of the Australian Light Horse for nearly three years but, when he tried to enlist in the Army in October 1914, he was rejected as medically unfit.

In the early days of the war many were said to be unfit because of their teeth or some small ailment. Later they re-enlisted and were accepted. However, it does not appear that Frederick re-applied.

All other brothers were accepted by the army and went overseas, George (machine gunner) in 1915, Leslie (ammunition supply column) and Thomas (Light Horse) in 1916, and finally, the eldest of the sons, Samuel (infantry), who enlisted in 1917, aged 40.

George was at Gallipoli and took part in the evacuation. Apart from Thomas and Samuel, all the brothers had been farmers.

Thomas was a stock inspector and Samuel was a builder. None of the brothers is said to have been married when they enlisted. All were to be involved in important battles during the war.

Several were wounded but they seem to have been very lucky at most times.

The family's luck ran out on July 14, 1918 when Thomas was killed in Palestine. Thomas had put his age back to 30 when he enlisted, possibly because he wanted to join the Light Horse.

At the time he was actually 35. He was attached to the 2nd Light Horse Regiment which fought exclusively against the Turks at Gallipoli and in the Egypt/Palestine campaign.

Thomas joined the regiment after it returned from Gallipoli. The Light Horse was normally mounted on the wonderful Whaler horses taken by the regiment from Australia.

However, Gallipoli was no place for horses so they had been left behind in Egypt.

When the soldiers returned after the evacuation at Gallipoli they were no doubt pleased to rejoin their horses.Thomas was part of this type of warfare and it was no doubt in one such battle that he died. He is buried at Jerusalem.

Three of his brothers enlisted in the Second World War, including Frederick who was rejected in 1914.

Topics:  history world war 1

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