Edmund 'Fraser' Parkes was a most remarkable man.
Over dinner one night, I chatted to Graham Parkes and wife Di, about Graham's grandfather, Fraser Parkes.
"Fraser and his wife Ilma (Graham's grandmother) came from an era where they endured incredible hardship but they never showed it, taking everything in their stride," Graham said.
"He was a very loving man, and it was so special to be with him."
Born in Geraldton, WA in 1895, Fraser moved to Victoria with his parents to attend Melbourne Grammar School. Then in 1910, Fraser boarded at Longerenong Agricultural College (in the Wimmera near Horsham) for two to three years. It was here at Longerenong and later as a jackeroo that Fraser gained much of his experience in horse riding.
Fraser's mate, Eric McGuinness, and future brother in law, Frank Spreadborough, were also students at Longerenong.
In 1914, Fraser was 19 years old and employed as a clerk for the agricultural firm, Dalgety. However, WWI had not long been declared and Fraser was keen to enlist in the First AIF so he went to Melbourne to join on September 8, 1914. He was so keen to be an early enlistee that he was allocated the service number of '15'. (15 Trooper E.F.Parkes, 8LHR AIF)
Since he had horse riding experience, he was allotted to the first intake of the 6th Light Horse (a Victorian unit renumbered one month later to the 8th Light Horse Regiment AIF) and would be known as an 'original'.
Nine days later, his mate Eric McGuinness, a 21-year-old farm labourer and lifelong friend, enlisted in the 8th LHR with Fraser. (323 Trooper E.R. McGuinness, 8LHR AIF). A bullet wound to Eric's hand probably saved his life as he missed the tragic fatal charge of his regiment at The Nek, where most were killed or injured.
In January 1915, Frank Spreadborough also joined the 8th Light Horse AIF (549 Trooper F. Spreadborough, 8LHR AIF). Frank served at Gallipoli with Fraser, but after suffering enteric fever and a lengthy convalescence at Heliopolis in Egypt, Frank was discharged to Australia in 1916 unfit for further duty.
Fraser Parkes fought on the blood-soaked peninsular as a very young man, and was convinced that armed warfare was the most hideously wrong way for great nations to settle their differences. As a signaller with headquarters squadron, Fraser would have been detailed as a stretcher bearer or dispatch/signaller during the horrendous charge on foot by the 8th and 10th Light Horse at the Nek on August 7, 1915.
Charging uphill against tiers of well-prepared Turkish trenches, the Australians were cut down by a withering fire from the Nek, the Chessboard and Baby 700. Three more waves similarly fell in heaps and none of the hundreds killed between the trenches were recovered until four years later in 1919.
Although fortunate not to have to charge himself, Fraser would have dealt with the horrendous aftermath of wounded and dying.
Six days after the charge, Fraser was admitted to field and base hospitals for dysentery and enteric fever.
Surviving the carnage of Gallipoli, Fraser went on to serve with the 8th Light Horse in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Egypt, Sinai and Palestine. During his mounted service in Palestine, Fraser suffered injuries to his leg and hip, and was hospitalised for illness. In 1919 he was also promoted to sergeant.
It wasn't until July 1919 that Fraser finally embarked from Egypt for his return to Australia.
Upon his return home he settled at Blink Bonnie at Merton near Mansfield, Victoria, farming with his brother Reg. He and Ilma were married in 1921 and she joined him on the property and it was here they raised their only child, Richard (Dick), born in 1924.
In 1944 Fraser and Ilma shifted to Narracan in Gippsland where Fraser pursued his great love of breeding Jersey cattle.
Ilma had a passion for breeding Scotch Terriers and both she and Fraser enjoyed their gardening.
While dairy farming, the ABC visited Fraser's property to cover the innovative Jersey breeding he and son, Dick, had introduced. They were so impressed they invited him to join the ABC and he ended up working with the broadcaster.
In 1952, Fraser went to Horsham with the ABC, followed by Wagga, Corowa and Bega NSW when he was 57 years old. Finally, he became head of the ABC Rural Dept. at Canberra.
Typical of many light horsemen, Fraser loved horses and encouraged his grandchildren to ride.
He was always well dressed and in later life he was normally seen in sports coat, slacks and a hat. Graham remembers that Fraser would drive his car with his knees while cleaning his pipe out, the car full of smoke. And Saturday night was always cards night - Bridge, Misère.
Following a heart attack many years before, Fraser developed a heart condition and passed away very quietly one afternoon in 1967 at Camperdown where son, Dick, and family had moved. He had a lifetime of smoking and the war didn't help.
Fraser, and Graham's father Dick, were both broadcasters for radio station 3WV.
The era and conditions produced special Australian characters like Fraser and Ilma, and we may never see the likes of them again.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.