Harry Freame at Gallipoli. This is the sixth in a series on Australia's early intelligence activities, the second on the life of Harry Freame.
In my last column in this series on Australia’s early spies, I referred to two stories about Harry Freame that became built into the Freame legend.
The first was that in 1904 he served as part of an international band of mercenaries hired to help suppress a revolt in German East Africa, the second that he worked as an intelligence office for President Porfirio Diaz during the Mexican wars.
The legend also says that with the collapse of the Diaz Government in 1911, Freame fled Mexico by pack horse with a price on his head, escaping to Australia via Chile.
In his book Australia’s First Spies, John Fahey points to evidence that suggesting that that these stories are just not possible. That said, events would now occur that do make we wonder. Just how did a merchant seaman acquire some of the skills Freame apparently possessed?
When war broke out in 1914, Harry was working as a horse breaker at Glen Innes with wife Edith still in England. Horse breaking is a skilled trade. If Harry spent all his time at sea, where did he learn to break horses? Was he just a quick learner? He could certainly bluff.
Harry enlisted and in late October 1914 sailed with the 1st Infantry Battalion for the Middle East. He arrived on Gallipoli on 25 April as lance corporal and was subsequently promoted to sergeant.
On Gallipoli, Harry worked as a scout, Here, writer Darryl Kelly suggests,” Harry's skill and knowledge of previous campaigns began to surface.” Perhaps not, Mr Kelly accepts the legend, but Harry was clearly very brave and adopted a swashbuckling style that fitted with his claimed past.
The army uniform was modified. Leather pads were fitted to elbows and knees, the .303 rifle was replaced by pistols worn on both hips, a third pistol was carried in a small shoulder holster under his shirt, a bowie knife in a boot scabbard. A black and white bandana worn around the neck completed the outfit.
In service, Harry earned Australia’s first Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery under fire. Australia was in need of heroes and his exploits were reported in local newspapers and later in Bean’s official history of the war.
On 14 August 1915, Harry was badly wounded and was evacuated and finally repatriated to Australia. A new chapter in the Freame story was beginning.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 20 February 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017, here 2018, here 2019