The Families and Friends of the First AIF have assisted the family of Private Henry Mayer to have his New Testament, given to him in World War 1, present at the dedication of the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Cemetery and family graveside reflection on 19 July 2010.
The St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, a local Sydney newspaper covered the story:
Bible placed to rest with WWI Digger
By Jim Gainsford
09 Jul, 2010
Fresh chapter: Hurstville Museum historical coordinator, Gemma Beswick, (left)
and Helen Newton with the New Testament presented to her uncle,
Private Henry Mayer of Mortdale, just before he was killed on the Western Front in 1916.
Picture: Lisa McMahon
The Bible of a World War I Digger from Mortdale who was killed in France in 1916 will be returned to his grave site this month after more than 90 years for a remembrance service after his remains were identified earlier this year.
Private Henry Mayer of the 55th Battalion was killed in the Battle of Fromelles on July 20, 1916, aged 23, one of more than 5500 Diggers who were killed or wounded in what was described as “the worst 24 hours in Australian history”.
Born in Stockport, England, Henry Mayer emigrated with his brother Joseph to Australia aged 19, settling in Mortdale.
On his way to the battlefields of France he received a pocket-size New Testament and wrote his name and rank in the Australian Imperial Forces on the inside cover.
After he was killed, his New Testament was sent to relatives in England.
More than 90 years later, it was found in a local church by Stockport resident Linda Davies who was unable to trace any of his relatives in England and sent it to the Hurstville Museum and Gallery for safe keeping.
Following a story in the Leader, on January 16, 2007, Mr Mayer’s relatives contacted the museum.
This included his niece Miss Helen Newton, 87, of Kirrawee, the daughter of Henry Mayer’s sister, Emma.
But the location of Private Henry Mayer’s grave remained a mystery. When the mass grave of Australian and British soldiers was exhumed at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles in 2009, Henry Mayer’s descendants, including Miss Newton, provided DNA samples.
The remains of Private Henry Mayer were identified in March and were reinterred with 250 other soldiers in a new Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Fromelles.
“It was a moving experience to be able to find him after all this time,” Miss Newton said.
“We were always aware of him.
“We have letters from him and my mother kept his memory alive.”
Private Mayer’s New Testament will be taken back to France for the dedication service of the new cemetery on July 19 in the presence of Prince Charles and Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
It will be carried by Families and Friends of the First AIF (FFFAIF), vice-president, Jim Munro who carried out the research on Private Henry Mayer.
Following the service, relatives visit the graves of individual soldiers.
“I will hand Private Mayer’s New Testament to the chaplain who will read from it at a Family Reflection Service at his grave site,” Mr Munro said.
About nine of Private Mayer’s relatives will be present.
Around the same time, Helen Newton will lay a wreath in memory of her uncle at the RSL Memorial at Mortdale Memorial Park.
The Families and Friends of the First AIF thanks the Australian, UK and French Governments for affording Australian and British soldiers dignified individual reburials in the new CWGC cemetery at Fromelles, and applauds the Australian and British Governments for their joint decision to DNA test the remains at exhumation and use every reasonable method to attempt identification of each soldier.