Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

Ebenezer Robert Thorburn - Private 3343

This page is dedicated to the memory of Ebenezer Robert Thorburn who died on 5th September 1916 in Belgium.

Ebenezer Robert Thorburn was born in 1897 in Balmain, New South Wales, Australia, the third son of Robert Thorburn and his wife Alice May Rose. He died on 5 September 1916 in Belgium, one of the many millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life until his untimely death aged just 20.

Ebenezer's father was a Scot who had emigrated to Australia, presumably in the hope of a better life. Robert Thorburn had been born on the tiny island of Muck and Australia must have been a very different place for him. But he was part of a large extended family, many of whom had also moved to Australia. When Ebenezer was just 6 years old, tragedy struck when his mother died aged only 30, leaving Robert Thorburn with a large family of small children to look after. The family resided in Balmain, New South Wales. As an adult before the war Ebenezer worked at the Sunlight factory in Balmain, where they made soap. His father Robert died in May 1915 and I imagine the rest of the brothers and sisters had to pull together to support the youngest children.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that Ebenezer was a Private in the 3rd Battalion of the Australian Infantry and that his service number was 3343 and that he is commemorated at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here. The Australian War Memorial website confirms much the same here.

Fortunately Ebenezer's attestation papers and service record survive and have a wealth of information about his time in the army. The records show that he signed up on 26th October 1915, he was aged just over 19 and his occupation was given as Mill Hand. The image below shows part of the Attestation form. His brother David Thorburn is listed as next of kin as by this time both his parents were dead.

The service record shows that Ebenezer left Australia on 22nd March 1916 when he embarked on the H.M.T.S Grampian, landing in France 6 days later. He was put on a Machine Gun course in August, before rejoining his regiment. His battalion crossed the border into Belgium and on 3rd September he received a gunshot wound to his foot. He was admitted to the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station, but sadly he succumbed to his injuries two days later and died on 5th September. He had been on active duty for less than 6 months. Unfortunately for Ebenezer those 6 months had coincided with some of the bloodiest battles of WW1 and the 3rd Battalion were in the thick of it - at both the Somme and Ypres.

Eventually after some correspondence to confirm he was the next of kin, his brother David received Ebenezer's personal effects, which included letters, a writing wallet, purse and some coins. David was also the one who presumably received Ebenezer's medals. The image below shows his entitlement.

It took a few weeks for news of his death to reach the local newspapers, but it was eventually reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14th October 1916 (image reproduced courtesy of The National Library of Australia). Touchingly not only his family, but his old work colleagues at Sunlight Oil Mills, chose to post notices of remembrance for him.

In his will Ebenezer left everything he had to his two youngest sisters Irene and Wilhelmina (Mena) Thorburn. His other siblings would have been grown up by the time Ebenezer went to war, so he presumably felt that the two youngest and parentless children were most in need.

Ebenezer Thorburn is buried in Lijssenthoekon Military Cemetery in Belgium. Image courtesy of the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery website

As I haven't tracked down a photo of Ebenezer yet, the next best thing I've found is this description from his service records: Height 5 feet 4 inches, weight 8 stone 3 lbs, chest measurement 34 inches, complexion fair, grey eyes and brown hair and a scar on his leg. It would be so much better though to be able to add a photo of Ebenezer - so if anyone out there has one, do please get in touch. Feel free to e-mail me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

In researching Ebenezer's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great site to start with to give you the basic details you would need to then start digging deeper:

The Australian War Memorial website gives lots of information on Australian soldiers who died in WW1 (and other conflicts)

The National Library of Australia is a fantastic online resource for, amongst other things, digitised newspapers and images.


If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

Nicky Rowberry 2017

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry