Ernest Old

Honour roll location: Pillar 7C
Feature story location: Pillar 7A

Ernest Old was an inventor, cyclist and soldier. He engaged in active service in the Boer War and World War One. He even attempted to enlist for World War Two in his late 60s.

He was born on 10 July 1874 at Barrys Reef near Blackwood, Victoria. Ernie was the son of Thomas Spear Old and his wife Charlotte (née Mitchell.) Thomas selected some land at Dingee, north of Bendigo. Ernest went to Prairie State School and he worked on his father’s farms with his brothers. He enlisted in the Boer War but never saw action. He also enlisted in WWI firstly with the 13th Light Horse Regiment in Gallipoli and then with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion on the Western Front.

Ernest after marching with the 13th Light Horse in the ANZAC march, 1956.

Ernie’s story is also an interesting one because of his inventions and his keen lifelong interest in cycling. In 1896, Ernie and two of his brothers moved to Swan Hill to develop land owned by the family. It was here that Ernie became interested in machinery rather than farming. He later created a design for an innovative scarifier with parts which were easily replaced. He sold his farm and instead purchased his father’s interest in a smithy, manufacturing his scarifier.

Whilst in Swan Hill, Ernie began to cycle competitively, experiencing success locally. In 1901, Old competed in the Warrnambool to Melbourne road race, finishing eighth overall. After not racing in 1902 due to his enlistment in the Boer War, he competed again in 1903 in the same race and finished fourth under the handicap. Though his performance was promising, he suffered a bad fall in the 1904 race. It was a wet year, and many of the cyclists fell in the ‘mud and slush.’ After WWI, he returned to long distance cycling, undertaking many amazing rides between major cities in Australia and raising money for charity.

Seventy-three year old Ernie Old finishes his 5,200 mile bicycle ride at the showgrounds, Melbourne, 1947. Herald & Weekly Times Limited portrait collection.

Whether through a sense of patriotism or adventure, Ernie enlisted in two wars, even attempting to enlist again at the age of 65. In the Boer War he enlisted in the 4th Battalion on the 11th of February, 1902. As the war ended in May, Ernie did not participate in active duty and arrived home in July 1902. On the 23rd of February, 1905 Ernie married Marion Patience Grylls at the Dingee Methodist Church. They remained in Dingee.

On the 22nd December 1914, Ernie left his business in the care of his brother and enlisted at Raywood to serve in WWI. He was forty years old at the time. He was sent to Gallipoli, serving with the 13th Light Horse Regiment and later on the Western Front with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion. He contracted the mumps (or ‘Parotitis’) but recovered before long and returned to his Battalion. It was in Flers, France that he received gunshot wounds to both his thighs on the 14th November 1916. From there he was transferred to England to receive medical treatment before being discharged from the army on the 22nd March 1918.

When Ernie returned home, he discovered that his scarifier design had been made redundant, with other improved alternatives on the market. He turned his attention toward making motor vehicle improvements. His motorcar steering stabilizer- a cost-effective alternative to replacing worn parts- was so successful that Ernie was able to comfortably survive the Great Depression years.

The patent for Ernie’s steering stabiliser.

During WWII, Ernie tried to enlist in the A.I.F. but was denied due to his advanced age (65 years old!) He then took on projects as a blacksmith such as the construction of the Lauriston Reservoir, near Kyneton. He later worked at the Ordnance Factory in Maribyrnong, Melbourne.

In 1955, Ernie wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies, to offer a contribution to the publicity for the Melbourne Olympic Games. His idea was to personally deliver invitations to the various Premiers, inviting them to the Games by way of a national bike ride.


Ernie Old on one of his famous bide rides.

His letter suggested that Australia had “given me a long and happy life” and that it was up to him to contribute “as much as possible to our big projects.” The Prime Minister did not take up Ernie on this offer, for fear that the ride may put unnecessary strain on Ernie, possibly killing him. He was 82 at the
time. While he did not make the wonderful journey between states, Ernie again displayed a love for Australia which he will be remembered for many years to come.


Martin O’Donoghue

Life as a 19-year-old farm hand, in country Kamarooka, Victoria was relatively smooth sailing until WWI broke out.

Martin O’Donoghue enlisted on the 19th of September 1914, in Bendigo, Victoria. With a scar on his right eyebrow, blue eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion enlisting all went smoothly. He left his father, Patrick O’Donoghue home in Kamarooka to be his next of kin.

Martin in his uniform

The 25th of February was the day that would change many people’s lives and Martins. Embarking from Melbourne, Victoria, aboard the HMAT A54 Runic. to be part of the 8th Light Horse Regiment A.I.F, ranked trooper.  Life would never be the same again. Now known by his regiment number 633, Private Martin O’Donoghue set sail.


HMAT A54 Runic


Martin’s life through was not a smooth run. Landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula on the 16th May 1915, the worst was yet to come. Administrations to the hospital became an all too often occurrence for this battling soldier and 3 months after landing (25th August 1915) he was admitted at Alex. on S.S Ulysses and was administered to number 2, Australian General Hospital, Cairo as a debility arriver. The date of return to the Peninsula is unknown but it was a quick encounter as a shell mine explosion lead him to again be admitted to the British Red Cross Hospital at Montash Alex. on the 5th September 1915.

Just over 2 months later he returned to active service on the battlefields. The next 24 days were fraught with danger but without any injuries, everything was running smoothly. It was then on the 30th November 1915 when he was admitted as sick to hospital. Records then tell us that 2 days later he was admitted to the 21st G.H because of septic foot and was now dangerously ill.

Christmas came around on the 25th December 1915, but from what we know there would have been no joy shared. It would have been a day of pain and agony for this seriously ill soldier. It was just after, on the 26th December 1915, at 12:15 am when one young, determined and loyal twenty-year-old soldier left our world. It is suggested that the death was caused because of Gaseous Gangrene and may have also contracted septicemia after his amputation (No records stated a body part was amputated but the death is thought to be due to an amputation).

It would be fair to say that the family would have been devastated after his death. His possessions were sent home. Two brown paper parcels were sent, containing some items clearly holding sentimental value. The first parcel contained: three razors, a rifle cleaner, two shaving brushes and shaving soap. The other containing: a mirror, brush, notebook and housewife. A ‘housewife’ was a small kit to patch/fix socks and clothes, containing buttons, thread and needles.

Also after his death, he received a Victory Medal that his family received on the 1st November 1922, British War Medal and a Star Medal. Along with other fallen soldiers Martin received a King’s message, which was printed onto parchment paper as a scroll. Martin’s reading:

“He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self – sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others may live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten. Pte. Martin O’Donoghue, 8 L.HR. A.I.F”

This scroll was handed onto family members for them to treasure as a remembrance of a much loved fallen soldier and family member.


Cairo Cemetery

Martin’s body was not returned back to Australia, but he was buried in Cairo, Egypt at the Cairo British Cemetery. His name is on the Roll of Honour, located at 6 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.


Records state that Martin was buried in Cairo, Egypt. He is also remembered at the Raywood Cemetery, where both his parents are buried. This is what many families did to mourn their lost sons killed overseas. It was a way of remembering those who had fallen and were buried overseas.

Many families saw their soldiers return but for the O’Donoghue family all they had to do was mourn over the death of their son. Life for them would never have been the same again.

As Australians we appreciate the sacrifices that soldiers made and realise that for some it ended their life, including Martin. Their sacrifices now mean that we can live in freedom.