Walter Crebert was 26 when he died in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany six days before the First World War ended.
The 100-year anniversary of his death and the war’s end will be commemorated on a particularly special Remembrance Day this year.
The Newcastle soldier was one of many members of the Crebert family who fought the Germans in World War I, despite having German heritage.
Relative Ron Crebert, of Adamstown Heights, said his great great grandfather Peter Crebert was German.
He emigrated to Newcastle from Germany in 1849.
“Sixteen of Peter's grandsons enlisted to defend Australia against the Germans, knowing their grandparents came from Germany,” Mr Crebert said.
Three of them died during the war, including Walter Crebert who worked as a painter in Newcastle before entering the battlefield in France in August 1915. He was captured just over a year later and sent to the POW camp in Kassel in Germany.
He was imprisoned at the camp for more than two years. He died of influenza in the week leading up to the signing of the Armistice, which ended the war on November 11, 1918. War records show a Spanish influenza outbreak occurred in 1918 in German POW camps.
Mr Crebert said his relatives must have been feared for the lives of their boys at war.
“They would have spent many sleepless nights wondering how they were and if they’d ever see them again.”
Walter’s mother died in 1920, following the heartache of losing two of her four sons in the war.
As well as losing Walter, her son Harold was killed at Pozières in the Somme in August 1916 at age 33.
Walter’s father, Joseph Crebert, wrote in a short autobiography that his wife Elizabeth suffered a nervous breakdown “for most of the war period”.
“The poor dear wasted away to a skeleton and died on November 20, 1920. Now I am waiting for God to call me home to her,” he wrote, as he neared the end of his life.
Ron Crebert said it was sad that a branch of the family tree ceased to grow because of the war.
He has been to memorials and battlefields in France and Belgium to remember his great uncles.
“It was a very moving experience,” he said.
It was the discovery of old photos of soldiers in the family that led to the search for information about their involvement in the war.
“Our family has really only become aware of the sacrifices of our great uncles in recent years,” Mr Crebert said.
His family was like many – the men didn’t speak about the war.
“My father, if he did know about his uncles, certainly never told me anything,” he said.
“His father, who was the brother of these men and for unknown reasons did not serve, died when I was a little boy, so I have no memory of him.”
Mr Crebert is keen to pass down the stories of his family’s involvement in the war.
“I’m making an effort to ensure my adult children and grandchildren know as much as I can tell them.
“Three of my grandsons have now worn the family medals and marched on Anzac Day. I have 16 grandchildren, so we should be able to carry on that tradition.”
Aside from the war, the Crebert family played a big part in Newcastle’s history.
Crebert Street in Mayfield was named after Peter Crebert.
He established an orchard and vineyard in the area in the 1850s and died in 1895. It's been said that he created the first wine in Newcastle.
As for the Armistice, a national ceremony will be held on Remembrance Day (November 11) at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, along with several events in the Hunter.
The War Memorial is displaying 62,000 handcrafted red poppies in its grounds in honour of the those who gave their lives in the First World War.
The idea inspired Fort Scratchley’s 2127 Poppy Project, where donated poppies made by hand have been used to represent the soldiers who did not return to the Hunter after World War I.
A Hawk 127 aircraft will perform a flypast on Sunday over Civic Park at 11.02am to mark the occasion.
- Your Remembrance Day services guide, P18