Remembrance Day takes on special meaning this year for New Zealander Christine Bradley, who went searching for her postman grandfather’s missing war medals only to find he was one of the first Australian WW1 soldiers to successfully send a farewell bottle-message home by sea.
58 year-old Christine is tickled pink at finding her Tasmanian-born grandfather Frederick Henry Sharp featuring in the blog story WW1 Bottle-post: Messages from the Sea.
“It’s amazing,” says a delighted Christine
“I haven’t seen this photo of my grandfather before.”
“I have never met him. I was just wanting some information, and then I came across this story.”
Frederick Sharp was among the first Aussies to answer the national call-to-arms when he sailed from Hobart in October 1914 aboard HMAT Geelong.
As the vessel sailed westward through Bass’ Strait bound for war, 23 year-old Fred leaned overboard and cast a bottle to the sea, carrying a farewell message to a friend back home.
Four months later Fred’s bottle-message washed ashore at Nullawarre on what is now Victoria’s Great Ocean Road memorial to the war dead and his note home was re-published in a local paper.
“I could imagine him doing this, he loved to write,” granddaughter Christine recalls.
“He always wrote: he sent birthday cards and stamps when we were young as my brother and I had stamp collections, and because he was on the post office he would collect stamps for us,”
“And I have a copy of a letter he wrote to his mother, from Egypt dated June 6th 1915.”
Sharp’s story helped shape a war trend where thousands of soldier’s farewell bottle-post messages made their way across Australia by bush telegraph and with the help of newspaper publishers and willing civilians.
Frederick Henry Sharp was one of 11 siblings, a Geeveston boy, born near Huon in 1891 in Tasmania’ south and named for his grandfather who lived and worked as an orchardist there.
Fred’s father Henry Sharp started off as a storekeeper at Geeveston and then Trial Harbour, before moving the family to Scottsdale when Fred was just 8 years old. Henry Sharp was a champion paling splitter who averaged over 1000 8-foot palings a day, before taking up road construction and clearing contracts for the railways.
Fred was a blue-eyed, fair-haired 5” 5’ and barely 11-stone country lad who signed up for war duty and came home a war veteran, serving the full length of the war: first at Gallipolli before slogging it out in France.
After four years of dodging death, and keeping communications open on the war fronts, Frederick Sharp was on his way home to Australia aboard the Taranto on ‘1914 Furlough’, a relief for the 1914 Anzacs, when Armistice was reached.
At 11am, on the 11th day of November 1918 the battlefields of the First World War fell silent.
“My grandfather returned to Tasmania for six months leave in 1918 and while travelling home armistice was signed on 11 November 1918,” Christine recalls from her step-nanna’s notes.
“I feel he was restless after the war, shifted all the time never settling long.”
Frederick Sharp took up a position in the PMG as postmaster and moved about Tasmania with his wife and children.
He might have escaped physical wounds but his granddaughter says he didn’t escape the war unscathed.
“I feel he was emotionally wounded but he wasn’t alone there as experiences were just too painful to talk about,” Christine says of her soldier grandfather.
“He was reserved, not always affectionate: grief was covered up and left inside.
“But he worked hard, liked making money, achieved in his career, loved his home and family.”
WW1 hostilities formally ended in accordance with the Armistice signing and 96 years ago the first remembrance occasion Armistice Day was observed by King George V, at Buckingham Palace.
This year’s Remembrance Day is extra special for Christine Bradley whose grandfather Frederick Henry Sharp at age 94 died one of the last surviving Tasmanian Anzac soldiers.
“Remembrance Day is a day of history for me, so first I will feel sadness for all the troops that died and families whose lives were changed forever,” says Christine.
“But then I will feel blessed as I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t returned.”
“He wouldn’t like all this fuss about himself as he was only one soldier who was lucky and because of that luck he tried to make the most of his life.”
“But I was proud of him and I am proud to be his granddaughter.”