Private Herbert Freeman, of Parramatta, NSW, brother of Private Percy Freeman, died of wounds on 14 August 1917, while a prisoner of war at Kriegs Lazarett 7, Gruppe 2, Sous le Bois, Mauberge, France, aged 28. He is buried in the Maubeuge-Centre Cemetery, France. A labourer prior to enlisting, he embarked from Melbourne aboard the HMAT Port Lincoln on 4 May 1916.

Freeman’s interesting life and the news and the mystery surrounding his death was reported in the Cumberland Argus.

News reached Parramatta the other day of the death (whilst a prisoner of war in Germany) of Private Herbert Freeman, of Parramatta, of the 57th (late 59th) Battalion, A.I.F. The deceased was brother of Mrs. W. Weeden, George Street, Parramatta; and lived formerly with his family in Albert Street, Parramatta North, He has two brothers soldiers also another one, Private Percy Freeman, was killed some time ago. Private Ernest Edward Freeman and Trooper William Frederick Freeman are still fighting. Another, the only remaining brother, enllsted also; but was discharged medically unfit.

Private Freeman, reported died of wounds, was actually knocked on the head with a sentry’s rifle. Noticing the familiarity of the name of the soldier mentioned with that of a family of North Parramatta fighters, an ‘Argus’ reporter made inquiries, and has learned that Mr. H. N. Freeman, of Harold street, North Parramatta, and Mrs. W. Weeden, of George Street, have practically conclusive proof that the soldier so inhumanely sent to his death is his son and her brother, Private Herbert Freeman, a well known local young man. Private Herbert Freeman was a single man, and would, had he lived, been 26 years of age now. He was the eldest son of a family of five brothers, four of whom have fought, and one offered and was rejected. ‘Herb’, as he was generally called, was a fine, thick-set lump of manhood, and was of a particularly determined and unfearing disposition. He was one, also, who had the name of being able to ‘use ’em a bit,’ although he did not go in for prize fighting. When war broke out he was in Lismore, and afterwards went to Queensland. From there he went to England, where he was rejected when he volunteered to go to the war. He afterwards found his way to Vancouver, and was engaged for some time in the taking of mules to Egypt and England for war purposes. Whilst thus engaged he contracted malaria, and was in hospital for six months, when he was discharged. The fever affected his hearing somewhat. Returning to his home at Parramatta, he was back but a week when he offered to enlist and was accepted. He went into camp on January 17, 1916, at Liverpool, thence to Melbourne and England. Not long afterwards he was sent to the. firing- line; and on November 9, 1917, the Rev. Hilhouse Taylor visited his relatives and conveyed the tidings that he had been taken prisoner of war. This was confirmed on the following day by a telegram received by the Rev. R. C. Blumer and conveyed to the relatives. Following upon that, Mrs. W. Weeden, of George street, got into touch with that mighty organisation, the Red Cross Society, which is now appealing for funds to carry out its good work, and the good work of which is exemplified by the following In stances of what it has done in this case— only one of thousands. From the Red Cross Mrs. Weeden got the sad news that her brother had died from wounds, whilst a prisoner of war, at Limberg, Germany, according to the German official list, 3/5/17. No date of death was given. The Red Cross letter, dated November 16, said: ‘We have just received from our agents in London the following cable, ‘1897 — Freeman, 57th Battalion, died of wounds at Kreigslazarette, Souslebois, buried at Maubeuge, Kreigslazarette, we understand, means war hospital.’ Another letter from the A.I.F. Administrative Head quarters stated :Freeman reported taken prisoner March 25, 1917, at Lourewal, during operations with expeditionary force and to be interned at Gefangenenlager, Limberg, Germany.’ The French Red Cross wrote under date October 18, as follows: — ‘We are much grieved to inform you that we have very bad news to convey to you respecting Private Herbert Freeman. The following report appears on lists despatched from Berlin on 9/10/17: ‘Private Herbert Free man . . . died in war hospital, F group 2, at Sous lo Bois. He was buried in cemetery of Maubeuge, and the number of his grave is 3′ It is needless to say how much we feel for you in this sad time, and we wish, to express sympathy with you in your sad loss.’ Complaints were received from Private Freeman that he was not getting any letters from his relatives, and the Red Cross also investigated this matter, and replied explaining that they were assured that all correspondence was forwarded to him from England. However the last letter received from him was dated July 1, 1917, and interspersed with family business were the following passages: — ‘Nothing to worry about, only when the war is going to end. I only hope it will be over soon. It is not too bad over here now — the hot weather has started. It was too cold.’ It was a very brief letter.


How He Was Taken. The following statement, supplied to the Red Cross by a, Private P. Cook, No. 1883, in No. 5 General Hospital, Rouen, under date May 7, 1917, throws a little, light upon the probable cause of Private Freeman’s capture by the Huns, and also adds to the testimony re his general popularity: — ‘I knew Freeman very well. We used to call him ‘Darkie.’ He was fetching rations at Beaumetz on March 27 last. They had brought the rations up to the trench and went back for water. He said he knew a short cut, and, being a very determined sort of fellow, he went off on his own, against the advice of the other men of the party. Not long afterwards we heard them throwing bombs from the German trench, and we came to the conclusion that he must have lost his way and walked straight into their line. There was not any shelling going on at the time, and we were not making any raid on the German trenches. He was a very game man and a great loss, and much liked in the battalion. He came out from Australia with me in the same boat from Port Lincoln. “

 

Peter Arfanis, Archivist, Parramatta Council, Heritage Centre, 2014