Ernest George Austin was born in early 1888, one of four children – all boys – to Edward Austin and his wife Harriett. The Austin family lived in the village of Cliffe, in the North Kent countryside, where Edward was a carpenter.
Ernest’s older brother Edward worked as a telegram messenger when he left school, and Ernest followed suit, becoming a postman by the time of the 1911 census. The four boys all lived with their now-widowed mother, their father having died seven years earlier.
Duty soon called, however, and Ernest enlisted in July 1916, joining the Army Service Corps. After training in England, he was shipped overseas that autumn.
Private Austin was discharged from the army just over a year later, and the medical report from that time sheds a lot more light onto this young man’s life:
Father [Edward] died of “consumption”.
Has had a chronic cough since a boy. Developed tubercle of lung in 1907. Went to Chile same year, where all symptoms disappeared. Put on weight and lost his cough completely. Returned to England and joined Army July 1916.
Has been in Mesopotamia three months. Cough has returned. Lost weight. Night sweats. Admitted to [military hospital] with sore throat; TB found present.
Admitted to this hospital 14th June 1917 with above symptoms. High temperature, evidence of infection.
In my opinion, the relighting of a latent infection is entirely attributable to active service in Mesopotamia.Private Ernest Austin’s medical board record, 23rd Jun 1917
Ernest had been hospitalised in the Cumballa War Hospital, Bombay. He was sent home and ultimately discharged from active service on 8th October 1917.
Demobbed, Ernest married Antoinette Gurton at the start of 1918. The marriage was to be short-lived, however, as Ernest appears to have finally succumbed to his illness less than a year later.
Private Ernest Austin passed away on 14th November 1918. He was 31 years old. He lies at rest in the graveyard of St Helen’s Church in his home village of Cliffe, Kent.