Honouring Corporal Ernest Corey

Portrait of Corporal Ernest A Corey during the battle for the Hindenberg Line. Oil on Linen, 91cm x 91cm. Framed in Tasmanian Oak.

2143 Corporal Ernest Albert COREY, in the 55th Australian Infantry Battalion 1st. Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and was a member of the ‘snowball’ Men from Snowy River March in 1916.

Corporal Corey as far as I can tell through my research, has never had his portrait painted. It is my belief that his heroic deeds are so remarkable they deserve to be portrayed forever. Perhaps then more people can be inspired to learn more about his remarkable contribution saving Australian lives. See quotes and NAA Newspaper article below.

I and his relatives couldn’t be more happy to learn that portrait of Corporal Corey has been selected as a finalist in the Gallipoli Art Prize 2023, which means it will be on exhibition for the first time at 6-8 Atherden St (Opposite The Tea Cosy Cafe) The Rocks Sydney, NSW, from Thursday 20 April 2023 until Monday 15 May 2023. My thanks to the judges for this honour and my congratulations to the thirty-nine (39) other finalists.

Ernest Albert Corey, originally from Numeralla, was one of the most decorated men of World War 1 and the only soldier in the British Commonwealth to be awarded the Military Medal four times“. Note: this medal is no longer awarded in the British system so Corporal Corey will be forever the only person to have received it.

His commanding officer of the 55th Battalion described Corey as, “having an undaunted spirit, and worked almost up to the enemy wire, rescuing wounded – foe as well as friend”. Quote April 20, 2015 | Cooma-Monaro Express.

In my portrait I aimed to show Corporal Corey’s bravery, physical strength, and sheer determination during the fierce and bloody battle for the Hindenberg Line WWI, on the 29 September 1918.  Corporal Corey is shown bravely lifting his wounded company commander, Captain Roy Goldrick to safety. Moments later Corey himself was gravely wounded in the right groin and thigh, from a burst of machine-gun, followed by shell burst right alongside him.

Corey saved countless lives, including the life of his Captain. His 55th Battalion was relieved in the line on the evening of 2 October 1918, so Ernie was wounded just four days before the fighting ended for his unit.

To commence and complete the portrait it took many months of researching. I met and spoke with people who had researched his story and, in the process, learnt about Corey’s family in Numeralla; his Irish heritage and as well as his life after his military service in WWI and WWII.

I examined three different photos of Corporal Corey and ended up using, not the photo seen in the Australian War Memorial display of him, but a small black and white photo of Ernest wearing his slouch hat for his portrait. Photo of Corporal Corey here. This photo can also be seen in the Woden Valley RSL Subbranch’s book on Corporal Corey, along with another photo of him, nearing the end of his long life. In the latter you can observe the size and details of Corporal Corey’s hands, which appeared extremely large and strong.

In summary, it was an honour to paint Corporal Corey and attempt to show his bravery and strength in carrying wounded men from the battlefield. He was humble and brave and a fascinating subject for my entry in the Gallipoli Art Prize 2023. I’m also delighted to say that the portrait now lives with the Woden Valley RSL Sub Branch in their dedicated members meetings room ‘The Corey Room”. -On Friday the 4 August I donated the painting and was presented with a lovely bunch of flowers and a certificate of thanks.

My special thanks to:

  • Kevin Browning, veteran and author, for his sharing of historical facts about Corporal Corey.
  • Winston Churchill Phillips who introduced me to the Woden Valley RSL Sub-Branch of which Corporal Corey was a member in his lifetime and for putting me in contact with a distant relative of Corporal Corey, living in Numerella.   
  • The President and all the members of the Woden Valley RSL Sub-Branch for accepting my donation of the portrait and for welcoming me into their meeting room, named after Corporal Corey.
  • Ms. Dianne Rutherford and all the staff at the Australian War Memorial’s Research Centre. Dianne provided me with accurate details of the soldiers’ uniforms and military insignia.
  • Lastly, my thanks to various authors of the newspaper articles for their dedication to keeping Corporal Coreys’ story alive.

See below quotes that were especially helpful in describing Corporal Corey’s unique and personal story. 

“He showed the greatest care and compassion when treating casualties, but his method of transporting them was rather unorthodox, particularly for someone of his stature. He chose to carry them under his arms rather than use the traditional method of evacuation by stretcher.” 

“… Ernie was kept busy, crawling out to no man’s land and repeatedly dragging the wounded to the safety of a shell hole. There he would stabilise the bleeding then call forward the stretcher-bearers. He seemed oblivious to the barrage of fire that surrounded him, and the Diggers watched in awe as the enemy machine-gun bullets seemed to dance around him. …” Quote by Kelly, Darryl 2004, Author of the book ‘Just Soldiers’ : stories of ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things in time of war ‘. ADCC Publications, Brisbane, pages 54 to 58

“At the end of September 1918. the ANZAC forces faced the seemingly impregnable Hindenburg Line: Bands of barbed wire, pillboxes/blockhouses bristling with machine guns and the rumble of the guns as the barrage opened up. Ernie, now a corporal, had a bad feeling, about this one, but he knew his duty and knew it had to be done.”  Quote Kelly, Darryl 2004, Just Soldiers: Stories of ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things in time of war ADCC Publications, Brisbane, page 54 to 58

“…Emie spied his company commander, Captain Roy A Goldrick, lying in an exposed position, trying to control the flow of blood from the stump that was once his leg.  “I’ll get him”, Ernie said, running forward. Rushing from shell hole to shell hole he crossed the open ground crawling the last 50m or so to the officer’s side. “How’s it going skip?” “Not so good Ern!” “Don’t worry, we’ll get you fixed up,” he said as he dressed the officer’s shattered leg. Quote April 20, 2015 | Cooma-Monaro Express

Corporal Corey lifts the wounded Captain Roy Goldrick to safety, moments before Corey himself, was badly wounded from a burst of machine-gun, followed by shell burst right alongside him”.

The third Bar to his Military Medal was published in a supplement to the London Gazette on the 13 June 1919, The citation for his third bar records: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as N.C.O. in charge of Battalion Stretcher Bearers during an attack on the Hindenburg Line N. of BELLICOURT on 30th Sept. 1918. Although enemy M.G. and shell fire were particularly heavy, this gallant N.C.O. directed the operations of the Battalion stretcher bearers with the utmost skill and bravery. Regardless of personal danger, he, on numerous occasions, although the enemy was firing upon him and other bearer parties, attended to men and carried them from most exposed positions. His efforts were untiring, and he set a splendid example to all ranks until he was severely wounded. It was due to his magnificent work that the wounded were successfully removed from the danger zone’.

Newspaper Article from the Australian National Archives.



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