"We are camped under the pyramids … they are marvellous!”
With what seems to be amused expressions on their faces the brothers, atop their mouths, gaze towards the camera. Though both are country lads it's unlikely they've ridden such mounts before. The scene behind is not a vast fertile Australian plain, the construction not a homestead as they'd remember. Instead, they are surrounded by desert sands as their camels stand before the tombs of men long dead. Neither man knows their own deaths will be mere months away, yet their letters home show that such a fate is in their thoughts.
Joseph Cumberland enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 31 August 1914. The brothers were so close that when Joseph was due to embark for service overseas his older brother felt compelled to join him. As he wrote home afterwards, Oliver could not see Joseph go alone while he remained behind. Just one day before embarkation Oliver was also accepted into the 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion. Both men were bound for Egypt. They thought it better that they were now together.
The men were from Satur, near Scone, NSW. A “quiet and well-behaved lad”, Joseph, worked for the Railways Department at nearby Werris Creek. Oliver was employed as a stockman. During their training in Egypt the brothers took the opportunity to experience a camel ride beneath the stony gaze of the Great Sphinx of Giza.
A little over two months later the 2nd Battalion took part in the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. While charging enemy lines Oliver was wounded and was evacuated to Egypt. While in hospital in Cairo, Oliver received the news that Joseph had died of wounds sustained on Gallipoli. When news of Joseph’s death reached home the local newspaper reported it “… cast quite a gloom over the town, flags being immediately half-masted”.
In June 1915, Oliver re-joined the 2nd Battalion on the Peninsula. A major offensive was about to begin and as part of that the first Australian Brigade, including the 2nd Battalion was committed to attack enemy trenches at Lone Pine. During that attack Oliver was one of those who charged towards the Turkish trenches in the late afternoon of 6 August. The Australians encountered formidable Turkish positions, securely roofed with pine logs. Despite that, the main Turkish trench was taken within twenty minutes. Over the next four days intense hand-to-hand fighting resulted in over 2,000 Australian casualties. Among them was Oliver Cumberland, who went missing during the attack. A 1916 court of enquiry determined that Oliver most likely had been killed on 8 August 1915. His remains were found in 1922. Oliver now lies in the Lone Pine Cemetery beneath the inscription “A brave young life that promised well, at the word of God a hero fell.” His young brother Joseph rests in the Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery beneath the inscription “Tossed no more on life’s rough billows, the storms of life are past.”
In 1920 their names were recorded on the Scone Public School Honour Roll.
- National Archives of Australia website https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=3474…