an ANZAC in the family


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It seems that May disappeared from sight, at least from the electoral registers, from 1925 until 1931. It is maintained, in The Gallipoli Samurai, that her condition deteriorated to such an extent that she was admitted into a psychiatric institution, apparently not to be heard of again until she was seen by a young girl to step off a train, "... clutching a small suitcase after a puzzling absence of some years ... in late 1930 or early 1931". This statement appears to be based on an interview, more than 50 years later, with that same person who also asserted that she came to gain the confidence of May who shared with her the happenings of the missing years. Can this be true or could there be another explanation? Perhaps, with her disturbed state of mind she merely withdrew from taking any part in the life of the community, becoming increasingly reclusive, much as she had when visiting her family the previous year. If not ... where was she? Where did she go?


Henry in his corn

Over the years of her disappeance we read that Henry played an active part in the life of the settlement, both in the organisation of the working practice of the settlers, and the recreational and social activities. He served on committees and organised the settlement's own fruit growers' union.

Josephine, herself, took an increasingly active part in the life of the community and also joined a number of committees. Henry enjoyed the respect, trust and support of his fellow returned-soldiers and Anzac day each year was a red-letter day in his calendar. The reunions in Sydney, not to be missed for any reason.

What is in no way questioned is the fact that Josephine and Henry had a daughter, named Josephine Grace, born in October 1927. It seems that May appeared on the scene again, when Grace was about 3 years old ... and that there was tension between the three adults in the household. However, May must have been sufficently recovered to involve herself in community life again, as she did. In 1934 Josephine made the decision to leave the Freame household and went to live in Sydney. We read that her son John had also left Kentucky to enrol for study at Hawkesbury Agricultural College. After marrying a girl from Kentucky, he would also settle in Sydney in 1935.

Harry Freame jnr. 1937

Harry Freame jnr. age16

A letter from 16 year old Harry, thanking Frank & Lizzie for Christmas presents, just after Christmas 1937, is full of news of being back at school in his final year; of successes in sports and of Grace insisting on polishing one of his silver trophies; of being a prefect and looking back on his school years and remembering all the good times.

Our own last surviving letter from May, to Frank & Lizzie, her Failsworth family, was sent just before Christmas 1938. She writes of no longer having help in the house, "... I'm glad to say say I have been able to manage it so far with a little assistance from Henry when he has not been too busy and I much prefer having my home my own again ..." amongst other things she goes on to write of family affairs, the need for rain and hope of a good crop of fruit, of family affairs both in Australia and back in England; of Harry's final year in school and his hopes of good exam results and a job in Sydney.

Pages from a letter written by young Harry Freame, to family in England,
The following extracts are from the next surviving letter, which was a long one, from Harry, and dated 25th September 1939, letting the family in England know that his mother had died and that Henry was devastated at her loss.

... Of the letters I have written to you I am afraid this is the hardest ... my dear mother, and your sister, passed peacefully to eternal rest at 6:45 pm on Thursday evening September 7th ... ever since the cold snap in June she has been ill and after fighting to keep going she eventually broke down on the morning of August 24th when she had two heart attacks. Although she was fairly ill that day she insisted that dad keep a delayed appointment in Sydney on that day and so he left Kentucky on the Wednesday night before to meet a lady friend and missionary from Japan who knew and worked with his sister Grace so that he was in Sydney with me at the time. Apparently mother got up to get Grace away to school and just after she had left mother suffered the two attacks while alone and it was not until a salesman called that she was able to get help ... dad left for home immediately and doctor told him that it was a matter of days. The real trouble was that mother was suffering from the worst form of sugar diabetes which naturally affected the heart besides other severe complications ... she put up a gallant fight ... she passed on after being semi-conscious for a long period ...

The main trouble was that mother never realised she was so ill ... as she would have nothing to do with doctors and was afraid of having to go to hospital ... dad, who after all the worrying months while mother was ill has been completely broken up ...

... I am working in the city but intend giving my job up now to help dad, which I feel is my duty despite the fact that people keep telling me to look to the future before I throw the job up ... during the final High School Examination last year I secured a pass and won a bursary tenable at the Sydney Technical College which I attend at night. I am afraid that shall have to be forgotten too because my ideas are these - although dad never ever said much he always thought a lot and he has suffered a terrible blow with mother's death and is ever so lonely so that with Grace going away to school next year I know I must try and fill the empty place to a certain extent and keep his time occupied ... Next year we plan, overseas circumstances permitting, to live in Sydney and sell our own fruit, having a manager on the orchard and Grace will go away to Armidale High school and the Church of England Girls' Hostel... we are having a very lean time at the moment but hope that things will improve ...

I send you all my love and best wishes, Your loving nephew, Harry ...

It is at this point that facts become thin, and conjecture often creative. The general picture seems to be that Henry, fluent in Japanese, with influential military and government contacts, family and business interests in Japan and diverse Japanese contacts in Sydney, had for some time been quietly and secretly gathering information and opinions from these sources and passing them on to Australian Military Intelligence Services. If true, it's not clearly known how formalised this was or for how long he had been doing it. In his book, Brian Tate presents very compelling evidence to support the theory that Henry was involved in espionage.

Looking at our own known facts on which to base our assumptions, in December 1939 Henry again writes to Frank and Lizzie in Failsworth telling them that Harry has returned home, and Grace is ready to leave for school in Armidale. However, other plans have changed in that Harry, "... has given up his college and work in Sydney to take my place at home since I have accepted the call from the military ..." What this would entail he doesn't say ... but moves to lodgings in Sydney.

The next pointer to his possibly being employed in clandestine activities is a letter dated 3rd April 1940, which is filed with his attestation papers. It requests the Service Record of 'Sergeant Harry Freame' and any other details "... relating to his personal integrity." Was he being considered for more sensitive, secret activities? Taken with other memos and letters, it's thought more than likely.

In August 1940, in Sydney, Henry married a divorcee, with a son and daughter, Mrs. Harriet Elizabeth Brainwood. Harriet was a nurse and her maiden name was Channon.

The story of what followed is generally known but here it is in Harry's own words, taken from a letter dated January 1945, writing of the circumstances of his father's death,

"... to fill in some of the space for you after mother died. Dad went back into the Army in the Intelligence Corps and I went home to Kentucky to look after the orchard. When the Australian Government decided to set up a legation in Japan Dad was transferred across to the diplomatic Corps and went to Japan with our Minister Sir John Harkham. Actually he went to Japan before the Minister and fixed up the offices, staff, accommodation etc. He was officially sent as an interpreter to Latham but was really in an intelligence role. However, through a bad mistake on somebody's part the news that Captain Freame of the Intelligence Corps was going to Japan as an interpreter was broadcast over our national news. The Japanese Consulate here in Australia must have heard the broadcast and put two and two together. Dad said before he went that it would cause him a lot of trouble but he still went. He was under very strict surveillance by the Japanese intelligence people from the time he landed and was unfortunate enough after some months there to have to go to hospital where he was under Japanese doctors. We have reason to believe that his death was not natural for he came back home to Australia to die and passed away in Easter 1941. Of course nothing could be done about it at the time ..."

From other sources we know that Henry was having tests in hospital in Tokyo, in 1941 and that at the end of January he was found one morning to be barely able to speak. He remained in hospital for further medical investigation but no plausible cause could be found. He was transferred to a ship in mid March for the return voyage to Australia. Once home, but hardly able to speak, he managed to make his family understand that his injury was the result of an attempt at murder, by garrotting. He died only days later. There was no autopsy carried out. The official version was that the cause of death was cancer; the throat injury was brushed aside ... In 1941, although Japan had expressed her friendship towards the Axis Powers, she had still not entered the war, so we can assume that the Australian Government wouldn't be wanting anything 'to rock the boat' of diplomatic relations.

Initiated by Henry's widow, Harriet, what ensued was an exchange of letters, claims and counter claims that Henry had died in the service of his country, that the Intelligence Service hadn't done enough to protect one of their own; that there had been a diplomatic but badly handled cover-up; that various medical experts contradicted one another and finally, but crucially, that no autopsy had been carried out despite the fact that no cause for the injuries to his throat could be found. The only explanation fitting the damage appeared to be an attempt at garroting. Henry's widow had demanded answers, but her requests were brushed aside and she received no satisfactory explanations. She was, however, awarded a paltry one-off payment ... was this just an attempt to keep her quiet?

Henry was buried in Macquarie Park, Sydney, on the 29 May 1941. The mourners included a couple of government and military represenatives, amongst the colleagues, friends and family gathered there.


My over-riding emotion, after doing the research and writing this little story, is one of melancholy ... the lives blighted, damaged, lost or wasted; the victims of circumstances often beyond their control.

It would have been good to round off the story on a 'happy ever after note', at least for young Harry and Grace, but it wasn't to be.

In Harry's letter of January 1945, he goes on to write of what he did following Henry's death,

"... At that stage the government took over control of the fruit growing industry & it was not a financial success to the growers so I applied to join the Air force now being free to do so. As there was a waiting list for the Air Crews I decided to fill in time with the Milita[sic] and when I was called up by the Air Force the Army refused to release me. I then transferred to the A.I.F.& have been there since. I also did a course through the Australian Royal Military College, Duntroon, which is the equivalent of England's Sandhurst & passed out the Senior of my class winning the King's Medal so I am now a member of the Australian Staff Corps & a permanent soldier. I like the life & am quite contented. Perhaps some day after the war I shall get the opportunity to do the Staff College at Camberley in England and I will be able to see you all. In the meantime we have a big job on our hands to see through and may God will that it does not take much longer. ... Lots of love to all, Harry"

So Harry achieved, in the second war, that which was denied to his father in the first ... he gained a commission. However, Harry's optimism and hopes for a speedy end to the war wouldn't be fulfilled - he in his turn would be murdered, in a hospital ward, by a Japanese soldier who infiltrated the field hospital in which Harry was receiving treatment for an abscess under a tooth. He stayed the night and, as he slept, a soldier crept in and threw a fused shell under his bed. He was killed instantly, on Europe's V.E. Day.

7th May 1945

7th May 1945

Only a couple of days earlier Harry had been in the newspaper in a story of his exploits when he and his platoon destroyed a steel pillbox on Tarakan.

He is remembered on the CWGC website :

Lieutenant Henry Wykeham Freame
Service No: NX 177991
Date of Death: 08/05/1945
Regiment/Service: Australian Infantry A.I.F. 2/24 Bn.
Cemetery: Labuan War Cemetery
Additional Information:
Son of Henry Wykeham Freame and Edith May Freame, of Uralla, New South Wales, Australia.

Harry Freame in 1935

Harry Freame in 1935

From a family point of view, I would like to have known more of Grace, and have the hope that she lived a life that fulfilled her own hopes and found some happiness. Her world seems to have been turned upside down on more than one occasion and to lose the two most important people in her life, her father and her brother, both in horrific circumstances, within the space of three years, and before she was even 20 years old, must have been traumatic. I wonder ... did she find her mother, and half-brother John again? I imagine she might have felt that May was at the root of many of the things that went wrong in her life ... but life is never that simple; never that clear cut; never black and white.

Knowing of May from family stories and reading her early letters she was the much loved younger sister of her brothers and the youngest child of her doting parents. Childbirth and the aftermath of depression appear to have robbed her of all her sureties in life, leaving her vulnerable and desperate. Coming home to her mother didn't solve the problems ... going back to Australia didn't either. Henry and May both became victims of cruel chance and poor Harry became collateral damage. Grace would be the next victim of their own unhappiness. Loved by her father and brother ... what were Grace's and May's true feelings towards each other? What were the feelings of Grace and Josephine for each other?

And again, I wonder about Henry's sister Grace and his niece Cecelia ... did they survive the war and the atomic bombs that fell on Japan? How did they remember Henry?

So many questions still unanswered ... after this passage of time, I know there are unlkely to be any answers but there is always hope ...



1. Family letters, photos and documents.
2. Attestation Documents
3. Traditional Myths and Problematic Heroes: the Case of Harry Freame by Professor Bruce Bennett 2009
4. Wykeham Henry 'Harry' Freame DCM & his son Henry Wykeham 'Young harry' Freame by Kevin Smith in the Armidale & District Historicall Society Journal No. 53
5. The Earlier Life of Wykeham Henry Freame by J.S. Ryan in the Armidale & District Historicall Society Journal No. 27, March 1984
6. Sergeant 'Harry' Freame, DCM - The ANZAC 'Bushido' from the ANZAC Day website
7.'The Story of ANZAC' The Official History History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. by C.E.W. Bean. Vols. 1 & 2, Read on-line or download .pdf HERE
8. Various newspaper reports
9. Various internet sites
10. The Gallipol Samurai by B. Tait
11. The Australian War Memorial Website
12. 'Australia in Arms' by Phillip F.E. Schuler pub. 1916. Read on-line or download .pdf HERE
13. Becoming Japanese in the Meiji Period HERE
14.Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War. Read them HERE

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