Private Valentine Ayr (or Hares) was allowed to spend only two weeks with his family in Barambah when he returned from WWI i. But his family would never give up trying to connect with him for close to 100 years. His niece, Auntie Iris Glenbar, tells the story of her family's century-long odyssey and how she spent 40 years of her own life looking for her uncle; the breakthrough and what it means for the family.
Upon his return from WWI in 1918 Private Valentine Ayr, aka Valentine Hare, went back to Barambah where his family lived but was only able to stay there for two weeks. His family would lose all traces of him for close to 100 years.
In a yarn with NITV Radio, his niece, and respected elder Auntie Iris Glenbar recounts how the family tried relentlessly to reconnect with him. She spent 40 years of her own life looking for him with no clues except bits of information gleaned from conversations with her mother.
“When he returned from Egypt on a ship with a couple of other servicemen from Cherbourg, from Barambah, they were called the Boys from Barambah... He went back to Barambah with them and met up with his mum and three of his siblings and one of them was my mum.”
Auntie Iris explained that back then Cherbourg, which was called Barambah at that time, was a government-run community and Private Valentine wasn’t allowed to stay there because he was considered as a non-resident of the locality. So, they moved him on.
A breakthrough occurred in 2015 thanks to a Logan City Council project documenting the stories of Indigenous WWI servicemen and their families.
Serendipitously, Auntie Iris’s daughter was working at the Logan City Council at the time and was able to include Private Valentine's story in the research project.
Thanks to this study, historians were able to trace Private Valentine while painstakingly scouring through medical records.
The family’s previous attempts at finding him had been unsuccessful because like many other young men who'd enrolled in WWI he’d lied about his age. Moreover, his service records had been altered.
ANZAC Day has never been the same for the family as they now feel connected to the ANZAC story
“He was too young to enrol. Many of them were too young to enlist. His name at the time was Valentine Hares (with an S), they changed it to Hare, then Ayr. They misspelt Valentine as well. So, we couldn’t find him at all.”
Auntie Glenbar also revealed how another layer of complication to trace their relative stems from policies of forced displacement of Indigenous peoples.
“The whole story was, they forcibly removed my mum and her family amongst other families from the Burdekin River area down to the area which is now Cherbourg. And they left behind five brothers; Valentine was one of them."
“The only thing we knew, because my mum always talked about being removed from up north... I actually moved to Townsville in 1977. That same year, in 2015, I found out that that is the year that he died. 1977."
“I went back to Townsville to try to reconnect with the rest of whatever family members were remaining out there. None of the family knew where he was because of the change of his name. Nobody knew where he was.”
The breakthrough in 2015 allowed the family to learn more about Private Valentine’s service and his life after his return and they were blown away by the amount of information that had evaded them for close to a century.
“The documents that they showed me, the enlistment records and all that... I was just blown away because his handwriting was exactly the same as my mother’s writing.”
"When I saw that I couldn’t talk for a while. I said this has got to be him because his handwriting is exactly the same as my mother’s, and the family resemblance from the only photo that we got, that one photo… The War Memorial didn’t have a photograph of him."
The development allowed them to trace Private Valentine Ayr's final resting place in a cemetery where other servicemen and women are buried.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provided the family with an official plaque now adorning Private Valentine's grave. The family are now able to visit his resting place and pay their respects regularly.
Auntie Iris says that since then ANZAC Day has never been the same for them as they now feel connected to the ANZAC story.