1877 Sapper Vernon Alfred HARDING
Vernon Alfred HARDING, the fourth child of Walter James HARDING and Emily HARDING (nee Parsons), was born at Port Elliot on 3 September 1895. Using his farm labouring experience, he displayed strength and skill in sheaf tossing at Port Elliot’s 1915 annual sports. He enlisted in the AIF in Adelaide on 13 March 1916 and was posted to the 2nd Reinforcements Unit of the 5th Pioneer Battalion, despite having nearly three years experience with the Militia Light Horse.
Less than a month later, after minimal training, his party of reinforcements sailed on 11 April 1916 from Adelaide, aboard HMAT Aeneas, reaching Egypt on 15 May. Six days later he was on his way to France, landing at Marseilles on 29 May.
Vernon then remained at the Australian Base Depot at Etaples for three months before joining the 5th Pioneer Battalion on 28 August 1916. The Battalion, located near Fauquissart and Cordonnrie in northern France, was busy digging drainage channels and burying signal cables to protect them from shell-fire.
After spending most of December 1916 in hospital recovering from bronchitis, Vernon was admitted to hospital again on 18 January 1917, with foot abrasions and did not return to duty until 7 March. During September 1917, the Battalion was near Dickebush in Flanders, giving valuable support to the Australian Infantry Divisions during the Battle of Menin Road. Historian Charles Bean wrote “The most vital part of the effort at this stage, as before and after every stage of this battle, was the intense work put in by pioneers, engineers, tunnellers, and transport drivers in extending the plank roads and railways”.
The Battalion was building a track and a road near the village of Hooge, Belgium, when Vernon was wounded in his right ear on 24 September. After initial treatment he was evacuated to the American 16th General Hospital at Le Treport in France. Convalescence followed, with Vernon rejoining the Battalion on 20 November 1917. His name was among the list of wounded in the 344th Casualty List published in Australian newspapers around 24 October.
Thereafter, the Battalion continued their important work of building and maintaining roads and tramways, digging communication trenches and light engineering tasks. One notable achievement in April 1918 was burying 4.1 km of signal cable to one metre deep in a single day.
Vernon was granted leave in England from 7 to 23 October 1918 but, soon after returning, was sent to hospital and did not rejoin his Battalion until 17 December after the Armistice.
Men were returned to Australia as quickly as shipping permitted, with Vernon travelling to England on 16 April 1919 before sailing for home on the Transport Beltana on 2 June.
Vernon was discharged from the Australian Imperial Force at Adelaide on 29 August 1919. Later he received the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
During the early 1920s he played both cricket and football for Port Elliot, becoming captain of both teams. On 3 September 1923 he married Marguerite Jessie ABBOT at Middleton and there were two children of the marriage. Vernon Alfred HARDING died in Adelaide on 2 November 1967; he and his wife are interred in the Victor Harbor Cemetery.
His older brother, Leslie Elliot HARDING, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 3 September 1914 and was later commissioned and awarded a Military Cross while serving with the 50th Infantry Battalion in France.
Service file of 188 Vernon Alfred HARDING, downloaded from the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au).
Australian War Memorial database ( www.awm.gov.au ).
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, February 2016.