Ednott Burbank – The Would Be Farmer

Ednott Scoles E Burbank – 6th Light Horse Regiment

In August 1915, Mrs Muriel Ferguson wrote to the AIF for information about her brother because she hadn’t heard from him for some time. In November, Mrs Ada Burbank wrote asking for her son’s address so she could send him money. A month later she wrote again to ensure that the AIF had recorded her change of address. These letters are examples of correspondence received by the Army from worried loved ones during the First World War. The mail to and from the Front was intermittent. From mid 1915 onwards alarming casualty figures from Gallipoli were being reported daily. The polite letters barely hid the worry and distress felt by families for the young men who left so enthusiastically in 1914.

Ednott Scoles E Burbank was twenty years old when he enlisted in the Australian Army in September 1914. He was the only son of Albert Burbank, a Sydney city dentist, who died of kidney failure at his Homebush home in 1907. He left his wife, Ada, to support and nurture her daughter, Muriel, 16 and son Ednott, 13.   Muriel married Charles Henry Ferguson in July 1910. They had a daughter, Thora in 1911. The marriage failed about the time the daughter was born, leaving Muriel to raise her daughter as a single mother. By 1915 Ada and Muriel were living together at The Hermitage, Milson Rd, Cremorne. Daily, they waited for word from Ednott, the only male in the family.

Ednott Burbank joined the 6th Light Horse Regiment. He left Australia in December 1914 and was in Gallipoli, when his family became so concerned for his welfare. He arrived at Anzac Cove at the end of May and spent the next three months defending the far right sector of the Anzac line. He was involved in several confrontations with the enemy but not in a major battle. In September he contracted dysentery. This highly contagious disease swept though the Anzac troops during the summer of 1915. In an attempt to contain the outbreak, those who became ill were evacuated to hospital. Ednott was admitted to hospital on 4th September 1915. On 9th he was evacuated to Cairo because he was also found to have influenza. He remained in hospital until September, rejoining his regiment in Gallipoli on the 22nd of the month.

In November 1916 Ednott was admitted to hospital with chaneroids. This sexually transmitted disease is rare in developed countries but was common in Egypt during the First World War. In the days before antibiotics, it took several weeks to cure. Trooper Ednott was in hospital in Cairo until the beginning of January 1917. He did not return to his regiment until March. He fought in battles at Gaza and Beersheba and then in the chase that pushed the Turks across the Sinai.

After the evacuation from Anzac Cove in December 1915, the Anzac forces were reorganised into ANZAC I & II. This reorganisation extended to the Light Horse regiments. These regiments rode their horses from place to place but dismounted when they went into battle. Each regiment comprised 600 mounted troops organised into three squadrons, A, B, & C. Each squadron was further divided into troops and then into ten four man sections. When dismounted three troopers per section could fight and one would hold their horses in a safe area away from the battle. After the reorganisation, each regiment had a machine gun squadron which was supplied with twelve Vickers machine guns. As the war progressed these were replaced by Lewis guns and, from April 1917, with the French design, the Hotchkiss M1909 Benet-Mercie machine- gun. This was a light weight weapon of 12kg. It was ideal for transporting into battle by mounted troops. The gun fired 303 bullets at the rate of 400 per minute. It could reach a target 3800 metres away. Ednott was a machine gunner with A Squadron in the 6th Light Horse Regiment, 2nd Light Horse Brigade. In September 1917, he attended a two week course at the School of Instruction for the operation of the Hotchkiss gun. When he rejoined his regiment, the Anzacs were pushing the Ottoman forces back towards Jerusalem.

After the city capitulated in December, the British and allied forces captured Jericho in February and then moved into the Jordon Valley.   The commander of the Allied Forces, General Allenby, ordered the destruction of the Hejar Railway lines near Amman, Jordon. The Hejar line, which opened in 1908, linked Damascus in Syria with Medina in Saudi Arabia. If it was broken, the supply lines to the Ottoman forces would be severely disrupted and, as a consequence, the army would be weakened. It was also hoped that the people of occupied Jordon and Syria would be encouraged to support the British forces and rebel against the Ottomans. The aim was to surprise the Turks, who were well entrenched behind strong fortifications in the city. Following the construction of temporary bridges across the Jordon River at Ghoraniyeh, the British Expeditionary Forces crossed into Jordon on 23rd March 1918. They advanced along the road to Es Salt and occupied the town on 24th/25th March. So far the advance had been relatively easy. In an attempt to surprise the Turks, the force split up and rode to Amman along mountain tracks that were difficult to traverse by horse and camel and almost impossible if heavy guns and supplies were being transported. The assault was made towards the end of winter. It was very cold and rained heavily. The tracks crossed 1000 metre high mountains, separated by deep rocky ravines. By the time the troops arrived at the outskirts of the city, they were wet, hungry and exhausted. Their artillery guns had not arrived and they were short of supplies.   Worst still, the Turks were ready and waiting for them. Reinforced by German troops, over 25,000 soldiers and thirty heavy guns were waiting for the attack by two Anzac mounted brigades and a mounted camel brigade, supported by three mountain gun batteries. The Turks lay in silent ambush until the Anzacs were well within the range of their guns. Then they opened fire. The Anzacs sustained many casualties and were forced to retreat. The 6th Light Brigade was heavily hit. Gunner Burbank was operating his Hotchkiss gun with a mate forward of the advancing troops. His mate was shot in the arm and he in the leg. Nevertheless, Ednott retreated, grabbing his spare parts bag and carrying his gun. He was found on his knees behind the forward line. He was bleeding badly. He was placed on a horse and rode back to his regiment, still clutching his spare parts bag and his machine gun.

Only the railway track to the south of Amman was destroyed. Ottoman reinforcements arrived from the north. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Anzacs regrouped and attacked. Again they met heavy resistance and were forced to retreat. On the last day of the battle, the artillery finally arrived. It was too little too late. On 30th March 1918, the allied forces withdrew from Amman. They incurred 724 casualties including 551 wounded. For the wounded, like Ednott, the journey to hospital was a nightmare. After he made his way to the aid station about 2.5km behind the battle lines, he was transferred by sand- cart to a dressing station nearly 5km away. The journey may have taken up to five hours. Then it was back onto his horse again for a ride to the Amman to El Salt road. This was where the nearest clearing station was established. Horse dawn ambulances were then used until the road became passable for motor ambulances. These took the wounded to Jericho, where surgeons operated. The wounded were then sent to Jerusalem and finally a further 320km by train to Cairo. This endurance trip may have been as much of a nightmare as the battle.

Trooper Burbank was recommended for a Military Medal on 3rd April 1918. Despite the recommendation, he was not awarded a medal.

Ednott’s main injury was a gunshot wound to the ankle. He remained in hospital in Port Said until June. After a further period of recuperation he rejoined his regiment in September 1918. They were then advancing towards Damascus. He did not see much more fighting however, because he contracted Malaria in early October. He returned to hospital and when he recovered embarked for Australia on 16th November 1918. He arrived in Sydney on Boxing Day and was discharged from the army on 24th February 1919.

Ednott Burbank had been a farm labourer before the war. When he returned home he had an ambition to become a farmer. He applied for land through the Soldier Settler Scheme and was granted just over 687 acres at Ariah Park, near Temora on 23rd December 1919.

The NSW Government had introduced the Returned Soldiers Settlement Act in 1916. It provided Crown Land and loans at reasonable rates of interest. Further money could be obtained to improve the land and to buy equipment, machinery, stock and seed. The blocks granted were often in poor condition, and men like Ednott had to work very hard to improve them. The land around Temora was used for mixed farming with grain crops being grown and sheep farmed. It was hard work but Ednott persisted, adding another 167 acres to his holding in 1921. Nevertheless the farm was still small by Australian standards, and the land marginal for growing crops. When drought arrived in the mid 1920’s, farming became untenable. Ednott was forced from his land in October 1925, when the bank foreclosed on his loan.

With his hopes of becoming a farmer dashed, Ednott was unprepared for the future. He was thirty-one years old without any qualifications, or training, and he was bankrupt. He returned to Sydney and lived with his mother in Helena Street, Randwick. In 1929 he married Rosalind M Hendrie at North Sydney. It was her second marriage. She was Rosalind Conwell, born at Petersham, Sydney in 1904.

After marrying, the family moved to Ryde. Ednott and Rosalind lived in Griffiths Avenue where they had two children, a son and a daughter. Mother, Ada, lived close by in O’Conner Street. It was the time of the Great Depression. Ednott found work where he could. Most of the time, he worked as a labourer. Sometimes he drove taxis. In 1937 Ednott returned to live with his mother. Was there a breakdown in the marriage, or was Ada Burbank sick and in need of care from her son? She died the following year.

When World War II began to threaten Australia, Ednott again joined the armed forces. He enlisted in the Australian Air Force on 29th July 1942. At the time he was living with Rosalind in a terrace in Stafford St Paddington. Rosalind was working as a machinist. He became a Flight Sargent and served in Darwin. The Air Force base at Darwin was severely bombed by the Japanese in 1942 and 1943.

While he was serving in Darwin, he and Rosalind separated. He later returned to Sydney and married Ethel Florence Neill in Randwick in 1944. Rosalind also remarried in 1945. Her third husband was Frederick Haager, an engineer from Newport.

Ednott was serving at No 2 Aircraft Depot, Richmond, when he was discharged on 19th October 1945. Once again he tried to acquire land through the Soldier Settlement Scheme. He was not successful. He and Ethel settled at 1338 Botany Road, Botany. Except for a short period when he worked as a salesman, Ednott Burbank spent the remainder of his working life driving a Taxi. He died in Sydney in 1992.