BURIED in an unmarked grave for nearly a century, a man who fought in the Boer War and First World War was finally found and recognised by the Mildura RSL Sub Branch recently.
A headstone has now been erected on the grave of Wilfred Eric Harper, bearing his service numbers and the Australian Rising Sun emblem, after permission was granted by the Australian War Graves Commission. A small ceremony was conducted by committee members of the Mildura RSL to mark the occasion on Wednesday.
Research shows that Wilfred Eric Harper, also known as William Earnest Harper and William James Harper, lived an interesting and somewhat roguish life.
Harper was born on April 14, 1875, in Riddles Creek in Victoria. Not much is known about his early years but there are documents that suggest he worked for a local Justice of the Peace.
On February 14, 1901, Harper enlisted in the Tullibardine’s Scottish Horse and served in the Boer War for three years on the Transvaal. Records show he was the regimental barber before becoming a recruiting sergeant in Cape Town.
A year earlier, in 1900, Harper married Anne Maria Smith (formerly Fraser) who was a widow with three children. A fourth child had drowned at the age of 10.
After three years away, Harper returned to Australia and Riddle Creek, but at some time during the next three years he leaves Anne Maria and the kids and moves to Tasmania.
The Gisborne Gazette reported that on the February 28, 1907 W.E. Harper appeared before the Gisborne court charged with the theft of a set of barber’s clippers. Harper had been working as a barber at the time.
Not long after, Harper returned to Victoria and William James became Wilfred Eric/ Earnest Harper. It was also when he met and married Rachael May Johnston.
In early 1908, Harper was sentenced to Pentridge Goal where he served six months for non-payment of maintenance.
He and Rachael produced eight children between 1912 and 1921, four boys and four girls, and were reported to have lived in Maribynong, Ouyen and Red Cliffs.
On November 27, 1915, Harper enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces at Murray Bridge in South Australia. While not a lot is known about his time during the First World War, after basic training he was sent to the Middle East. Medical records show that he had mumps and was sent home to Australia and discharged. He served for 264 days.
In 1921, he was given 17 acres of land as part of Red Cliffs soldier settlement, Allotment 335 (Section B) in the Parish of Mildura.
Harper died on December 4, 1921, and was buried at the Mildura Cemetery in the Roman Catholic section with no headstone. The cause of his death is listed as Gastric Carcinoma (stomach cancer). He was 46 years old. Nearly a century later, his grave is now marked as a thank you for his service in two wars.