One Australian mother who certainly knew what happened to her son at Gallipoli was Meta Jerrett, of Tyrandarra near Portland, Victoria. At some point before September 1916 she had received a copy of a statement from Lieutenant Charles Orbell, 12th Australian Infantry Battalion, describing how Staff Sergeant Reginald Jerrett had been walking along a beach at Gallipoli on 28 April 1915 when, in Orbell’s words, he ‘was shot in the neck, shrieked and fell on one of our bayonets which went through his leg’. Jerrett was evacuated and died in a military hospital in Egypt. He is almost certainly among the first, if not the first, local Portland area soldiers to die of wounds received in action at Gallipoli.
Reginald Jerrett, and all the Portland men who died in World War I, are remembered in a visually striking manner each year on Anzac Day. The minutes of the Portland Returned and Services League (RSL) Branch record that, at a special meeting of the branch on 19 February 1935 to consider arrangements for Anzac Day, Captain David Hislop, Portland’s harbour master and a war veteran, proposed:
… we have small crosses made to place on the grass in front of the soldiers’ memorial, each cross to have the name of a soldier who died either on active service or in camp, or who died since his return and a wreath to be placed on each cross.
So began Portland’s tradition, continued to this day, of commemorating each soldier with a cross and of asking the deceased man’s family to lay a circular wreath for him over it. In 1935, because so many veterans went to Melbourne for Anzac Day, the local commemoration was held on Sunday, 28 April, and the Portland Guardian spoke of a ‘new note’ having been introduced to the service by the white crosses. The report also stated that a local digger had brought the idea from Maryborough to Portland, and indeed the RSL minutes do not say that Captain Hislop actually had the original idea but simply that he proposed this innovation to the RSL for the ceremony. Leaving the precise origin of the tradition aside, we might wonder if Meta Jerrett, who died in 1940, ever laid a wreath on her son’s Anzac Day cross at Portland.
Copy of statement, Lieutenant C Orbell, re death of Staff Sergeant Master Reginald Jerrett, 12th Battalion AIF, attached to letter from Meta Jerrett to District Pay Master (Victoria), 9 September 1916, Application for War Gratuity, P1868/T13059, National Archives of Australia.
Minutes, Portland RSL, Special Meeting, 19 February 1935, Portland RSL.
‘Anzac Day – local commemoration’, Portland Guardian, 29 April 1935, p. 2.
4 Reginald Jerrett, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920, National Archives of Australia:
Death notice, Meta Mary Edith Jerrett, The Argus, 16 February 1940, p. 6.