War-time photographer Frank Hurley captured this image of Private John 'Barney' Hines at Polygon Wood, Belguim, in September, 1917.
War-time photographer Frank Hurley captured this image of Private John 'Barney' Hines at Polygon Wood, Belguim, in September, 1917. Contributed

Macabre habits stopped brave soldier from amassing honours

IN 1917, the highly acclaimed war-time photographer Frank Hurley captured an image that was felt to be the epitome of the typical Australian Digger, whose reputation as a fearless fighting soldier, but prone to periods of ill-discipline when not on the battlefield.

The picture was taken on September 27, 1917 after the Battle of Polygon Wood that depicted Private John Hines, of the 49th Infantry Battalion, who was known as 'Wild Eyes - The Souvenir King'. However, when looking into the record of Pvt Hines one could form the opinion he was an extremely brave soldier but his habit of collecting battlefield items and his unenviable behaviour record, sullied what could have been a highly decorated Anzac of World War 1.

John 'Barney' Hines was born in Liverpool, England, in 1873, and little is known of his early life but he claimed to have enlisted in the Royal Navy at 16 years of age. His enlistment papers show that he had three years previous military service with the 8th King's Regiment, including Ireland, and as guide in the second Boer War in South Africa. He had a varied career as a seaman, engineer and, when he enlisted in Sydney on August 24, 1915, he claimed to be a shearer.

His enlistment was short-lived as he was medically discharged on January 20, 1916, as medically unfit.

After the casualties of the Gallipoli campaign were announced, more recruits were needed for the 1st AIF, so John Hines, at the age of 38, enlisted again and was accepted. He joined the 49th Battalion on August 22, 1916, and sailed on the HMAT Wiltshire bound for England and the Western Front.

After arriving in London, John's record for ill-discipline began to emerge. He was a heavily built man and heavily tattooed and soon won a reputation as a brawler, who gained the nickname of 'Wild Eyes'owing to his menacing scowl. He was court martialled nine times for being absent without leave, drunkenness and for forging entries in his pay book. Altogether, he lost a total of 168 days forfeiture of pay and periods of confinement to barracks but, when it came to the battlefield, he proved to be a brave soldier with erratic behaviour and, at times, undertook almost suicidal charges on to enemy machine gun posts.

Barney was an unconventional soldier who discarded the standard Lee Enfield rifle and went into battle armed only with a haversack full of Mills bombs (a type of hand grenade).

During the Battle of Messines, he charged onto a German pill box, scaled its roof, put on a dance, then threw his bombs into the machine gun vents. In this action, it was claimed that he took 63 German prisoners. It was thought that he killed more Germans than the average soldier on the Western Front.

His Commanding Officer said "he was a tower of strength in the battalion".

When issued with a Lewis gun he was delighted, as he could now "spray death upon the enemy". It was also claimed, but not confirmed, the German Kaiser was so enraged when Hurley's photograph appeared in the media of him sitting on his collection of enemy loot, he put a price on his head.

Some Military historians thought Barney's bravery, where he was wounded twice in action and gassed in Belgium, was worthy of a decoration but it appears his behaviour off the battlefield was a reason for this.

Barney became a loner in the battalion and many of his digger mates admired him for his courage on the battlefield but his erratic behaviour and ghoulish habits of collecting personal items - wrist watches, German Iron Crosses, helmets, knives and pistols - and selling them put him offside with other diggers.

He would come back to the battalion with his sack full of loot after he disposed of his Mills bombs. He fought in the Battle of Passchendaele where he was wounded, and thrown 20 feet from his trench when a German artillery shell exploded nearby. He climbed back to the trench and continued to fire his Lewis gun until he fainted from his wounds.

In the spring of 1918 Barney fought his last battle at Dernancourt in Belgium.

Eventually, Barney's gassing and persistent haemorrhoid condition (which he was medically discharged for in his first enlistment) saw him medically discharged from the AIF and he returned to Australia on board HMAT Sardinia, on December 31, 1918. Although it could not be confirmed, among his belongings was his battlefield loot.

Barney, always a loner who never married, appeared to have few friends and suffered greatly from war neurosis.

He retired to a small humpy near Mt Druitt, in western Sydney, built from hessian sacks and saplings which he constructed himself, with a wire fence displaying his wartime loot which he sold to exist, as odd jobs and his small war pension did not go very far.

Local children were reportedly scared of him as, being a large man, he had a menacing appearance but he was no threat to anyone and became a member of the local Soldier's Club (RSL).

Barney gained some notoriety in 1933 when the Australian War Memorial displayed Frank Hurley's famous photograph to the media and his face was displayed on the front cover of Reveille, the returned soldiers' journal. It was reported that Barney tried to enlist in the World War II at the age of 66 but was rejected.

John 'Barney' Hines died on January 29, 1958, in the Concord Repatriation Hospital at the age of 84. He lies at peace in Sydney's Rookwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave but is remembered in a memorial dedicated to him at the Great Waterholes Remembrance Gardens at Mt Druitt and the Blacktown City Council honoured him by naming a street in Minchinbury the John Hines Drive.

Barney Hines was a great soldier of World War 1 who could have had honours and awards for his bravery and Frank Hurley's famous photo has given him legendary status in the annals of World War 1 history.

But although Frank Hurley pictured him as the typical Australian (although British-born) larrikin of the war and his courage was never questioned, his macabre habit of looting German dead, somehow taints that image.

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