IN THE THICK OF IT: Private James Reardon spent four years and 11 days in the army during World War I.
IN THE THICK OF IT: Private James Reardon spent four years and 11 days in the army during World War I. Contributed

From farmer to horseman

BEFORE Private James Reardon went to war, he was a 23-year-old farmer from Coaldale.

Six months after he enlisted in the Australian Army on August 9, 1915, James was a Private in the 5th Light Horse Regiment 15th Reinforcements travelling to Egypt.

The young farmer embarked on a journey from Sydney on HMAT Orsova on March 11, 1916, and transferred to the Imperial Camel Corps 4th Battalion on November 2, 1916.

The 4th Battalion was made up of two companies of New Zealanders and two companies of Light Horse Reinforcements from Australia.

The Camel Corps was disbanded after the Es Salt operations in May 1918 and the men returned to the Light Horse.

In 1919, Private Reardon boarded the ship Morvada for his return to Australia.

His son Ken, who recently spoke to The Daily Examiner, said his father frequently told him he spent four years and 11 days in the army during World War I, but most of the things he learnt about his father's time came from later research.

"Like most returned soldiers, he didn't speak much about it," he said.

"Those days they were right in the thick of it.

"I knew he was in the Camel Corps; it was the best way of transport and they used to get the troops and horses to the front line."

Like most returned soldiers, he didn't speak much about it.

Through his research, Ken found that while his dad was one of the lucky few who came out of the war without a scratch on him, medical records painted a different picture.

Reports from his time overseas showed instances of malarial symptoms on September 19, 1917, and August 20 1919, including headaches, shivers and sweats.

Thankfully they passed, as it wasn't too long after the last entry that James Reardon was welcomed home with Sergeant Fred Amos.

According to a historical book of Clarence Valley soldiers, about 90 people attended their party in James' backyard home.

"The tables were nicely laid out by the ladies and the dance room was beautifully decorated with evergreens, flowers and flags," the book reads.

"Dancing was indulged in until 10.30pm, when a break was made for the presentation of a gold medal to each of the returned men, on behalf of Coaldale and Barretts Creek friends."

When the party was over, John went to work on a cane farm at Tyndale but didn't stay long due to floods.

He spent the rest of his working career with the Clarence Valley Council as a groomsman, getting up at 4am every day to get the council's seven horses ready for work, and later as a maintenance worker.

John and Margaret Spencer were married in Grafton and had five sons, of which Ken is the youngest.

When his elder brother Eric Spencer served in Papua New Guinea, Mr Reardon said his dad was concerned but proud.

"He was proud of him for going but glad to see him back safe," he said.

"He also had a brother, Albert John Reardon, who served in France during World War I at the same time as him."

If you have a war story to tell about a family member who fought in the First World War, we'd love to hear about it and feature it in our regular Milestones features. Email newsroom@dailyexaminer.com.au or phone 6643 0500.



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