Harding, Horace James; Stoker; RAN 7216

Horace Harding could be termed the wild child of the AE2 crew. One of the tallest crew members at almost six feet, he also had by far the most tattoos. Harding’s service record shows that his career was volatile – good conduct badges were granted, deprived, restored, deferred and granted again, and there was a good deal of ‘time forfeited’. He was chosen for service on the AE2 in 1913 after signing on for a tour in the fledgling RAN in 1912, aged 22.

Life in the prison camp did not dampen Harding’s exuberant behaviour. In a mess with a group of crewmates who also liked to party and enjoy themselves, he soon got into scrapes. Camp caterer Corporal George Kerr recorded Harding’s drinking antics with great glee. On 24 February 1916, he wrote: ‘Harding grabbed me then a fight ensued … a general brawl took place … Afterwards those still standing looked around to see who needed help … Harding was not in the room and [Cullen] scoured around and finding no trace of him looked behind the building, and found him asleep on the ground. He was brought back inside.’

A few days later, Kerr and Harding met in a violent boxing match, during which Kerr apparently defeated his opponent. There was yet another brawl, this time involving AE2 men from another of the Protestant frames. Harding came to the attention of the Turkish warders, was punished and then removed from Belemedik and sent back to Afion Kara Hissar. This probably saved his life, even though at the time it was thought to be further punishment.

Harding was transferred from Afion Kara Hissar in 1917 to San Stefano. After release, he reached London early in 1919 via Malta. He re-enlisted in the RAN for a further tour, and was officially granted passage for his wife Blanche to join him in Australia, where they lived at Surrey Hills in Melbourne. Serving at Cerberus, and on the Melbourne and Sydney, the tough and resilient Harding’s naval career continued until 1926.