WW1 Albert Ernest Pratt (AIF 3099)

A E Pratt, Lieut (Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19160831-46-1)

Albert Ernest Pratt was the son of Henry James and Matilda Annette Emily Pratt, of North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, formerly of Auckland.

Albert attended Auckland Grammar School from 1908 to 1910, where he was an enthusiastic cricket player and later a member of the Grafton Cricket Club’s first eleven, also playing in the senior grade matches. He was also a member of the College Rifles Rugby Football Club in Remuera. [1, 2]

After leaving school, Albert worked as a Clerk with the South British Insurance Company in Auckland, and transferred to the Sydney Office, when the family moved to Sydney.

Albert enlisted on 6 June 1915 in Liverpool, New South Wales at the age of 22. He sailed for Egypt on the vessel ‘Warilda’ as a Private with the 1st Infantry Battalion, 10th Reinforcements of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Whilst in Egypt, he was promoted to Sergeant and in April 1916 promoted to 2nd Lieutenant with the 53rd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force.

On 19 June 1916; his unit sailed from Alexandria, Egypt to Marseilles, France to join with the British Expeditionary Force. On 25 June 1916 they travelled north to the Western Front near Fleurbaix which was the nearest village that stood behind their own lines near German held Fromelles, Northern France, that they were hoping to capture.

On the morning of 19 July 1916, after a preliminary bombardment, but there were fierce machine-gun barrages where many were wounded or killed in action, including Albert Ernest Pratt (AIF 3099). It was the first serious engagement of the Australian forces in France, and the only one to achieve no success, referred to then, as the Battle of Fleurbaix, but now known as the Battle of Fromelles. [3]

A statement about Albert’s death was written on 28 August 1916 by Private John Joseph PRITCHARD (AIF 4839), B Company, 53rd Battalion, AIF:

“I knew Mr Pratt; he was in No. 9 Section of B. VII. and he was shot through the chest on the night of 19th. July at Fleurbaix in a German trench. I carried him from where he was shot into a trench that I thought would be safe. I was with him until he died. …We were driven out about 2 hours later and as we were being surrounded, I had to leave his body there…”

Not being able to recover Albert’s body, it had been mistakenly commemorated in the Pozieres British Cemetery.

In 2010, this error was rectified when he was identified and subsequently commemorated at VC Corner Australian Cemetery, Fromelles. He is now interred in the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, France. The V.C. Corner Cemetery was made after the Armistice. It contains the graves of 410 Australian soldiers who died in the Battle of Fromelles and whose bodies were found on the battlefield, but not a single body could be identified. It was therefore decided not to mark the individual graves, but to record on a memorial the names of all the Australian soldiers who were killed in the engagement and whose graves were not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, commemorates over 1,200 Australian casualties. [4]

Albert was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal 91914-1920), and the Victory Medal.

There is an obituary to him in the Auckland Grammar School Chronicles 1916 and a letter from his manager, Mr T. A. Skinner at the South British Insurance Company in Sydney which stated that:

“He came to me as a youth from the Auckland branch, and very shortly after his arrival, it was patent that he would be an acquisition to my branch. He was a loyal, industrious, obliging and efficient worker, possessing a fair amount of tact and administrative ability for one so young. I must say the loss will be felt at this end.” [5]

Albert Ernest Pratt (AIF 3099) is remembered on the Auckland Grammar School War Memorial, and Roll of Honour, College Rifles, Rugby Union Football & Sports Club, 33 Haast Street, Remuera, Auckland.

G Ralph
May 2020

Pratt A E War Grave Fromelles Cemetery