The fourth Australian soldier to be buried in Milton Cemetery presents us with a pretty interesting story indeed. Harry Alan Cheshire Gearing was born in India, on 16 August 1884. Hence he was very much a son of the British Empire. He was the son of Henry George and Mary Gearing. In civilian life prior to joining the Army he was Secretary and Accountant, and his wife was Bertha Gearing.
Sadly, as he was an officer Harry Gearing did not go through quite the same recruitment process as the rank and file. Harry Gearing was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Australian Army Service Corps on 22 April 1915. Prior to embarking for the Middle East, Gearing was in charge of rations at the Brisbane Army base, issuing rations daily for 4,000 men and 1,000 horses.
2nd Lieutenant Gearing embarked from Australia onboard the HMAT Ascanuis (A11), from Brisbane on 24 May 1915. He reached Egypt sometime later, but had been taken ill on the voyage. On 21 July 1915 he was examined by a Medical Board at the Australian Hospital in Heliopolis, outside Cairo, and found to be suffering from Diabetes, his symptoms including glycosuria, unquenchable thirst and asthemia.
On 28 July he left Egypt, onboard the HMAT Ceramic bound for England. By 7 August he was in Britain, and was again examined at the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth. Again, a Medical Board found that he was suffering from Diabetes, caused by service, and that he was unlikely to be fit for any future active service away from home. He was immediately given 3 months sick leave, leaving London on 31 August 1915.
Whilst on sick leave Gearing seems to have been perpetually on the move, taking in vast swathes of England and Scotland in something of a grand tour. His letters to the Australian Headquarters in London passed on his forwarding address, even if he was only staying for one or two days! In September he stayed with a Mrs Stewart at Culgruft, in Cross Michael in Scotland. From there he went to Dollar in Clarkmananshire, and from there on to Lauriestone Hall in Mossdale. In October he took in Corsock, Dalbeatie, Kircudbrightshire; and Balmaghie House, Castle Douglas.
In late October 1915 he was informed that he had to come back to London to sit before another Medical Board, in order to assess his fitness for further service. An argument then ensued, about whether he was entitled to a Railway Warrant for his journey! Gearing also stated that he would be willing to foregoe the rest of his sick leave if he could be garuanteed a post with the ANZAC base depot at Weymouth, but AIF Headquarters would not promise this.
Gearing was finally examined by yet another Medical Board at the AIF Headquarters at 130 Horseferry Road on 26 November 1915 The board found that his weight was still fluctuating, and that he had Polyuric and pains in the limbs, much sugar in the urine. He was found permanently unfit for active service. For some reason he does not appear to have been discharged there and then, but sent on more sick leave.
Between November 1915 and April 1916 his movements are somewhat vague, but we do know that Lieutenant Gearing was finally discharged from the Australian Imperial Forces in April 1916, in London. Although his letters suggest that he wished to return to Australia, for whatever reason he did not do so immediately. Upon arrival in London in April he was staying at Messrs Wallace and Co,Russell Court, ClevelandRow, in West London. In early May 1916 he sent a number of telegrams that suggest that he had been to Marseille in the South of France before returning to London. At some time in early April we know that he was in Gibraltar, making that a likely possibility. Later in May he stayed at Faulkners Hotel, Villiers Street, Strand, before travelling to stay at The Bungalow, Praa Sands, Vis Ashton, Cornwall.
Intriguingly, Lieutenant Gearing does appear to have had a sister in England – Hope G. Gearing, who lived in Culver Lodge, at Sandown on the Isle of Wight – by no means a million miles from Portsmouth. Ironically given his extensive travelling, there is no indication that he visited her during his time in Britain.
It seems that Gearing did not return to Australia. He died of Diabetes on 16 March 1917, almost a year after he had left the Australian Army. He was 31. Death records suggest that he did die in Portsmouth. Perhaps he was in the Military HospitalHe was buried in Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth, alongside other Australian Great War soldiers. Why he was buried in Milton is something of a mystery, but in 1919 his widow, who had been in Australia during the war, was living at Red Lodge, Craneswater Park in Southsea. She was still in Britain during 1920 and 1921, and according to her brother, was ‘always on the move’ – much like her husband, it appears.
Although he did not see active service, Harry Gearing’s experience is another example of the way in which servicemen could become ill during their service, and many sadly died. Although Gearing seems to have been of a slightly different class to most Diggers – an accountant, who seemingly had contacts throughout Britain – like his comrades, he died and was buried thousands of miles from home.