Buried thousands of miles from home—But not forgotten
Name: Henry Norman (Harry) Fisher
Unit: 15th Battalion, Gallipoli - 4th Australian Pioneers, France
Location: France, Gallipoli
When a young Australian soldier was killed during fighting in France just two months before the end of World War I, he wasn't buried alongside his mates.
For some reason unknown, Sgt Harry Fisher, aged 23, was buried in a communal cemetery near Maissemy, north-west of St Quentin, close to where he died. He is the only Australian soldier buried in the Vendelles Communal Cemetery, which is the final resting place for the local French community.
The interest of this story lies in the fact that it gives a wonderful insight into the depth of feeling still felt by the French towards Australians - and that story is not yet finished.
In September 1999, Mike Goodwin from Mackay in Queensland, led a group of high school students on a commemorative tour to the battlefields of Gallipoli and northern Europe. Their project and tour was featured on an episode of Australian Story on ABC Television on 4 November 1999, entitled Carve Their Names With Pride.
"Whilst overseas, our group located, commemorated and photographed 98 graves and memorial names of local ancestors and we then presented the photos to the families on our return," Mike Goodwin said recently.
"One soldier we researched was the great uncle of my wife. His name was Harry Fisher, and whilst his war record is of great interest (he was an original Anzac who fought his way through Gallipoli and then the Western Front, only to be killed in sight of the end of the war, on 18 September 1918), it is his burial and subsequent influence on some French people that gives this story a unique quality," he said.
"Harry is one of the few Australians not buried in a military cemetery. He lies, it seems, in his original burial position in a quiet churchyard in the village of Vendelles in France. It is a small local cemetery and Harry is amongst French civilian graves and family tombs.
"We don't know why he was left there. Our knowledgable French historian guide, Yves Fohlen (who was featured in the Australian Story program) puts it down to one of those strange events of war.
"Most interestingly, when we visited Harry's grave, we (especially my wife) were intrigued and delighted to find beautiful flowers placed on his grave. Someone had put them there recently and Yves felt that some French local had probably been doing this for some time.
"This touched my wife and when she related this to her family on our return, they too were moved. Interestingly, Yves revisited Harry's grave a month after we had left and he sent us a photo of the grave - there was a fresh bunch of beautiful flowers on it.
"This act of kindness was too much for our curiosity, so we sent Yves a photo of Harry and a letter to the anonymous people who were visiting Harry's grave. The photo and letter were placed at the base of the headstone and we sat back and waited for a response, not knowing if we would get one or not.
"Early last month [October 2000], Yves received a phone call from the 'flower layers' - an elderly French couple - Monsieur and Madame Simonin. Madame Simonin's mother is buried in the cemetery and she explained to Yves that whenever they visited her, they took another bunch of flowers for the young Australian who was buried so far from his home and family.
"We have all been very touched by this - we have written the Simonins a letter and hope for a reply soon. We plan to visit them on our next trip to France," Mike Goodwin said.
Footnote: Mike and Roz Goodwin did hear from the Simonins. They received a parcel just after New Year which contained a number of gifts as well as a photograph of the Simonins and a letter from them. They told the Goodwins that although they lived a long way from Vendelles, whenever they visited Mrs Simonin's mother's grave, they always took flowers for Harry.
The material for this article was supplied by Mike Goodwin from Queensland