In a recent virtual ceremony, former director of the Australian War Memorial Brendon Nelson dedicated a room in the Woden Valley RSL Sub-Branch, to the memory of a local hero, Ernie Corey.
During the ceremony, Dr Nelson noted that Ernie became one of Australia's greatest ever soldiers during WW I when he was awarded four Military Medals for bravery and courage and, after serving again during WW II, became a foundation member of Woden Valley RSL.
Ernie was a local lad, born in Green Hills near Cooma in the Southern Highlands, the eighth child of Thomas and Ellen Corey. On finishing school, he gained employment as a blacksmith's striker in nearby Cooma.
The story of how his military life began is a familiar one. Snowball Recruiting Marches to join the Army for service in World War One were capturing the imagination of the nation when Ernest Corey and 13 other locals joined the most famous of them all, the Men from Snowy River march that set out from nearby Delegate on 15 January 1916.
They marched behind the banner that had been sewn by the women of Cooma. Despite rain and dust storms, the men persevered and picked up more volunteers on the way.
Feted at rallies and receptions, they numbered 142 when they reached the AIF camp at Goulburn 23 days later. Ernie's mother signed his enlistment papers as he passed through Nimmitabel.
After further training, the marchers headed off to fight in World War I, then raging on the French or Western Front in Europe.
Ernie chose to serve as a stretcher-bearer soon after first contact with the enemy, and for the following 16 months of horrific fighting he saved countless numbers of wounded and dying on the battlefield.
He was seriously wounded himself and evacuated to a hospital in England. Following a long recovery time, Ernie returned to his home and family in Australia for discharge and resumption of life in Canberra and the local region.
Replicas of his medals illustrate the unique nature of his service, not only for the number of times that his courage and bravery were recognised, but also for the fact that he did not fire an angry shot while saving so many lives in the face of the enemy.
His repeated acts of courage were acknowledged and by then promoted to the rank of Corporal, Ernest Corey became the only soldier in the world to be awarded an unprecedented four Military Medals - represented by three silver bars added to the original Military Medal ribbon.
The original flag behind which Ernie and his mates marched was re-used during the Second Word War and later appeared in the Australian Bicentennial celebration of 1988.
It now forms part of a special display at the Australian War Memorial with Ernie's medals, his helmet and other artefacts.
As a national hero, he was buried with full military honours in the Ex -Servicemen's Section of the Woden Cemetery.
Woden Valley RSL would like to encourage a revival of local interest in our greatest soldier. In addition to its Corey Room displays, the RSL points to significant tributes to Corporal Ernest Corey MM (and Three Bars) that include his actual medals and other items on display at the Australian War Memorial.
Further afield is a memorial display by the citizens of in Centennial Park in Cooma. Locally, there is a street named after him in Gowrie, and a plaque to highlight his bravery on the ACT Honour Walk in Civic.
If visiting the military section of the Woden Cemetery, visitors can check the location of Ernie's grave in the register located inside the front gates before attempting to find the site.
All military headstones are the same regardless of the parent service, campaigns fought, and the rank or hero status of the serviceman/woman.
However, the visit and search can be rewarding when one realises that Ernie is not far from some of the mates he once served with and some he had possibly saved.
- Woden Valley RSL Sub-Branch welcomes enquiries from schools and other interested parties to view their collection.
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