Australia - WWI


In terms of human suffering the first world war was the most traumatic in Australia’s history. From a population of less than 5 million, an army of almost 417,000 men was raised between 1914 and 1918; over 330,000 of them served overseas. 58,132 servicemen died and 156,228 were gassed, wounded or taken prisoner of war.

Why was Australia involved  in world war I? The answer is it had no choice. In 1914 it was a British colony, not a sovereign  state.  Although the Australian Government had achieved federation in 1901 over what the constitution called  ‘external affairs’, this had been taken to mean only relationships between Australia and Britain. In 1914 when Britain declared war, it did so on behalf of the whole empire.

3 Parle brothers from Sydney, Harold (aged 23), Frederick (21)  and  Septimus (22) enlisted between October 1915 and April 1916. All three spent many years in the battlefields of France. Harold and Sep were away from home for three and a half years whilst Fred was repatriated after two and a half years suffering from shell shock and the effects of gassing. Harold (Military Cross) and Fred (Military Medal) were awarded medals for bravery under fire.

After long periods in the battlefield it was the army’s practice to grant some leave and would transfer the troops to England for a break of  2-4 weeks. Harold, Fred and Sep took advantage of their rest periods by visiting Ireland which was the birthplace of their father James.

In 2000 Cameron Parle decided to put a comment on the internet about the Australian Parle’s and his opening paragraph read:

“Hello everyone, I've been meaning to make a contribution about Australian Parles for a while, but haven't had the time until now. My first piece of information originates from my great-uncle Harold Parle (died June 1976) ……  I can't remember much about him, but I do remember he was an Australian Army Captain in the First World War and won the Military Cross - such things tend to stick in the minds of small impressionable boys.”

This comment about Harold Parle was noted by Mike Parle who lives in Sligo, Ireland, when he was exploring the internet researching the Parle origins and this started an exchange of emails which revealed some interesting stories about the 3 brothers.

The relevant emails which have been edited follow.



To: Cameron Parle from Mike Parle

Subject: A Most Extraordinary Coincidence Re: Your Grandfather Harold Parle

Dear Cameron,

I was the executor and trustee for my father's estate after he died on 7th December 1986. Among his memoirs, and safely kept, I discovered two items that are most unusual:

1. The army 'dog-tags' for a certain - Lieut Parle.H.W   RC  2 BN. A.I.F

2. A pair of Military Medals from World War 1 (hanging from a metal pin with ribbons) - the 1st circular medal is golden coloured with an angel with left arm outstretched on one side, and the words 'THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILISATION 1914 -1919' on the reverse.  The 2nd medal is bronze coloured with a naked ancient warrior on horseback and 1914 - 1918 on the outer edge, and on the reverse side the head of King George V, with the words 'GEORGIVS V BRITT. OMN.REX ET IND.IMP.' on the outer edge.

I believe that if this is the same Harold Parle, then he stayed, during or just after the war (circa 1918/1919) in my Dad's home in 8, Belvue Terrace, in Waterford City. My father Joseph (Joe) Aloysious Parle would have been only 8 years old or so at the time.

He was accompanied by two other Parle brothers, one named Fred, after whom my older brother was named when he was born in 1940. The third was called Zepp Parle.

My brother tells the story that after the war, it was British forces policy to place members of the British or Commonwealth forces with a family of the same name for a short duration. He said that Fred used to walk down the streets of Waterford City with the young Joe Parle sitting on his shoulders. Like your own story - to a young boy these men were returning heroes from the Great War. 'The war to end all wars.'

The following is a direct quote from a personal hand-written letter Joe Parle left with his private papers:

"During the 1914/1918 World War we were visited from time to time by 3 brothers Parle, who were with the Australian forces. As I remember them their names were Zepp, Fred and Harold. Either Zepp or Fred suffered from shell shock. Harold who stayed with us was awarded the Military Cross. A copy of the piece of ribbon from this medal is attached together with a copy of his military ration book (unused) both kept by my mother (Mary Margaret [Mai] Parle) as mementos. Either Harold or Fred also gave my mother a present of a specially commissioned Australian Forces badge in the form of a brooch made in London and is of gold and enamel. The badge takes the form of the rising sun.

This is all I can tell you about the Australian Parles who thoroughly enjoyed themselves when they stayed with us."  Perhaps the 'Zepp' was in fact Sep a shortened nickname for Septimus which was interpreted on hearing it spoken as Zepp?

Anyway I thought that this was such a fascinating story it should be sent to you with warmest regards.

Perhaps you would check it out within your family for comment.

Kind personal regards

Michael (Mike) William John Parle


The Australian reply to the above:

21 February 2001
From: Denis J Parle 
Subject: Some More Surprises on Harold Parle

Hi Mike,

Your email to Cameron was very interesting, as Harold Parle is my father.

In 1983 when we first met your brother Freddie and exchanged notes about our origins, Freddie wrote back to your father and told him of our meeting. A few weeks later Freddie called at my home and gave me Harold's army ration book that he had left with your grandparents, and is referred to by Joe Parle. Small world isn't it.

Your comments about the medals came as a shock. Dad received his Military Cross for bravery in France in 1918 and had it presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21 Feb 1919 (today 82 years ago). He must have visited your grandparents shortly after, as he was back in France on 9 March 1919. I am currently writing his war history so have all these dates from his records.

As for the other 2 medals I have these here exactly as you described them, so he must have received 2 sets. The one's I have has his name and army number engraved on the edge.

I had a feeling he went to Ireland on another occasion when on leave from the front.

Fred was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in Ypes in 1917.

Sep is Cameron's grandfather and Harold is his great uncle.

Their father James was most upset at the thought of his son's going off to fight for England, and none of the son's enlisted until after James died in August 1915

Best regards



Further investigations revealed…………..

22.2.2001  To: Dennis J Parle  From: Mike Parle


When you said that "the one's I have has his name and army number engraved on the edge." - I had a look at the one's Dad left in his safe.

I was amazed to find the following mystery - etched on the edge of both medals is "63671 PTE J Clarenden RAMC".

Am I correct in thinking that RAMC is Royal Australian Military Cross?

Note: No. It is ‘Royal Army Medical Corps’

If your Dad or uncle Sep or Fred gave this as a memento to my grandmother in 1919, who is Private J Clarenden?  And why would your family have the medals?

This is a real Agatha Christie novel in the making or there is a very simple explanation.

Fond regards,



5.5.2001 from Dennis to Mike

Subject: Private Clarenden

Hi Mike ,

Just to let you know I visited the Australian War Museum in Canberra this week.

In looking through the records I can confirm that Pte Clarenden was not an Australian and that RAMC is the Royal Army Medical Corps.

I have sent an email to the UK WWI records to try and find some more details on Pte Clarenden as detailed below so let's see if they can assist .




NOTE: Many of the UK world war personnel records were destroyed in the bombing of London during WW2 and they were unable to provide any assistance regarding Pte Clarenden.


14.05.2001 from Dennis Parle to Mike

Subject: Re: World War 1 Information

Hi Mike

Re: private Clarenden I see no point in following all this up as it appears the UK records have been destroyed we have discussed this matter and also done some brainstorming and here is our theory but we will never know the real truth.

The only facts we can be certain about are:

  1. Pte Clarenden was a British soldier;
  2. He was in a British medical unit.

Now to our theory:

Pte C was known to your family and gave the medals to your family himself and Harold or Sep had nothing to do with the medals. We must remember the war didn't end until 11 November 1918 and almost certainly the victory medal and the 1914 -1918 medals probably weren't produced for a year after the war, and then each one had to be individually engraved.

I am confident that Harold and Sep would have been back in Australia long before the medals were a reality and therefore your medals couldn't have come from the Parle boys. (Fred was at sea on his way back to Australia when the war ended so he wasn't involved, Sep sailed in Feb. 1919 and Harold left in may 1919).

I will try and find out when these medals were produced and if we know this date it might eliminate many other theories. Harold was so proud of his own medals that I find it hard to believe he accepted someone else’s medals no matter what the reason.

On re-reading your email to Cameron on dated 20 Feb. 2001.....a most extraordinary coincidence...........etc. You don't actually say where these medals came from although as you follow on with a letter from Joe I guess we have inferred the medals came from one of the Parle boys in view of the other items you have from them. We must remember Joe was only 8 years old at the time, so he may have been confused about everything that happened about that time so Mike for what it's worth these are our thoughts.




May 13, 2001   From: Mike Parle   To: Dennis Parle 

Subject: Re: World War 1 Information


Many thanks for making the inquiry and getting all the information.

I believe it will require a fair amount of time and research to get to the bottom of the Pte. Clarendon mystery.

Should anyone independently wish to do this, please proceed.

Kindest regards,



14.05.2001 reply from Mike to Fred Parle

Subject: Re: World War 1 Information - Private J Clarendon


The attached (see above) is a note from Dennis who has put a considerable amount of time and thought into trying to solve the mystery of where the Military Medals for Private J Clarendon came from, and how they might have been given to Joe’s Mum, Mrs Mai Parle (Mary Margaret nee Walsh Parle) in Waterford?

I would welcome any thoughts that you may have on this, as I just assumed that they had come from one of the three Parle brothers (Harold, Fred or Sep). This is now obviously not the case.

Could there be a possible link to some other incident that occurred during the 1919-1920 period?

The precise extract from Dad's (Joe Parle) hand-written letter to you is as follows:

"During the 1914/1918 World War we were visited from time to time by 3 brothers Parle who were with the Australian forces. As I remember them their names were Zepp, Fred and Harold. Either Zepp or Fred suffered from shellshock. Harold who stayed with us was awarded the Military Cross. A copy of the piece of ribbon from this medal is attached together with a copy of his Military Ration Book (unused) both kept by my mother as momentos. Either Harold or Fred also gave my mother a present of a brooch made in London and is of gold and enamel. The badge takes the form of the rising sun. I still have this in my safe.

This is all I can tell you about the Australian Parles who thoroughly enjoyed themselves when they stayed with us."

A few thoughts strike me:

1.  The only reference to the Military Medals is the incorrect term 'Military Cross' awarded to Harold Parle.

2.  Accepting that this was in fact the Military Cross, he goes on to say that 'a copy of the piece of ribbon is attached etc etc. No mention is made of the medals themselves?

3.  The Pte J Clarendon medals stand in a sort of 'no-mans-land'.

The only theory I can offer is that Dad acquired these (he was a collector of silver etc) at a much later date.

Obviously as a young boy of 8/9 the arrival of soldiers from the Great War, bearing his own name would have had an enormous emotional impact on him. The medal award to Harold would have left a deep and positive impression. He could, with just a copy of the piece of ribbon, have kept an eye out in auction rooms over the years for a full set of medals. On finding them he probably purchased them for sentimental reasons, which would be really nice, if true.

If my theory is correct then it is likely that the medals would have been acquired in Ireland. Therefore it would be reasonable to assume that Private Clarendon was Irish, serving in the British Forces in the Royal Army Medical Corp.

Would welcome your thoughts and memories. We could then check out some things from our side of the world.

Fondest regards


PS: The bad news is that in the Dublin telephone directory there is no Clarendon listed!


23rd May from Dennis to Freddie and Mike Parle 

Subject: Fw: WWI Medals

Hi Freddie and Mike,

This message below from the Australian War Museum should clarify the medal mystery once and for all


----- Original Message -----

From: Jane Peek  
To: Dennis Parle 
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2001 

Subject: WWI Medals

Dear Mr Parle,

All the First World War campaign medals were struck in England and sent in bulk to Australia to be named. The military authorities in each state were then responsible for issuing medals to the last known address of each soldier.

The medals were first issued towards the end of 1920 but the process took a number of years, especially as men, or their next-of-kin, had often changed address. Medal issues from 1924 onwards were often accompanied by a letter to the effect that if you knew a serviceman who had yet to receive his medals, would you kindly ask him to apply for them stating a current address.

Despite this the army and navy still hold many named medals which have never been claimed by the recipients or their nearest next-of-kin.

Yours sincerely,

Jane Peek
Curator, Military Heraldry


6 Sept 2001 from Dennis Parle to Fred Parle, CC Mike

Hi Freddie

Re your namesake Fred of WW1 fame I am currently writing his war story. He was in the Artillery and won the Military Medal for bravery. The MM was a bravery award for all ranks other than officers whereas the Military Cross was the equivalent for officers. Both rank just below the Victoria Cross the highest award for all ranks. Harold (my father) won the MC, as he was an officer

For your historical interest here is Fred's citation:

"On 1st October 1917, at HOOGE, near YPRES, this 6th llery battery position was heavily shelled for a considerable time and suffered a considerable number of casualties; amongst others the medical orderly.

This man (Fred Parle) with the greatest disregard for his personal safety and in the face of the shelling attended to the wounded, dressing their wounds and bringing them to safety. His conduct which was of greatest value undoubtedly saved lives and had a very valuable effect on the personnel as a whole."

So there you are. You were named after a very brave man.




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This page last changed on 04 March 2019