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Harold Percival Gavin. Image courtesy

When 19 year old Harold Percival Gavin embarked for overseas service in August 1916 his mother Ellen bestowed upon him her engagement ring, presumably as a token of good luck and talisman for his safe return.

Harold was wounded on three occasions during his service on the Western Front. He survived the first two injuries – gunshot wounds to his left arm, followed by one to his back – but his third injury proved fatal. At 7am on 3 October Harold was killed when a shell exploded nearby, hitting him on the left side of his head.

In May 1919 Harold’s family received a package containing his personal possessions: his wallet, a notebook and calendar and some photographs, letters and cards. Ellen’s engagement ring was not included, either was Harold’s watch.

Harold’s father, Alfred, wrote a stinging letter to the Army Base Records Office:

…he possessed a ring and a watch which were not of very large value, but the ring was his mother’s engagement ring, taken from her finger and given him when parting, so you can imagine her bitter disappointment at not receiving this tiny memento. I presume you have not received any record of the articles, but the act proves what a pack of ghouls accompanied the men who gave their lives for the honour of their country.

The Officer in Charge of the Army Base Records Office replied:

In the event of the articles you mention coming to hand later, they will be promptly transmitted to you.

Alfred and Ellen Gavin received no further news as to the fate of Ellen’s engagement ring.

Harold was born in Cargo in 1897, the third of ten children. He attended Patrician Brothers school in Orange, where he was a member of the School Cadets. Following his education Harold completed a three and a half year apprenticeship with Orange carpenter James Douglas of Summer Street. He also served in the Commonwealth Trainees units; a Lance Corporal in the 42nd Infantry A Company.

Harold, aka Boyd, served with the 17th Battalion during the First World War. At 6am on 3 October 1918 the 17th launched an attack on the village of Wiancourt in France. One hour later, at about 7am, Harold was mortally wounded by a shell wound to his head. He was 21 years old.

Harold Percival Gavin is commemorated on the Patrician Brothers’ Roll of Honour, the St Joseph’s Church Orange Honour Roll, on the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph, and on panel number 82 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte HP Gavin”; it was donated by Dr Wally F Matthews. Very few of the trees are still standing today.

Private Francis Joseph Campbell Brewer of Queensland describes the assault on Wiancourt