Coal mining was rapidly developing
in the rich seams of the Hunter valley.
The Neath Colliery coal lease was acquired by the Wickham and
Bullock Island Coal Company during 1903. The seams here were very
thick. One bore sunk by the Wickham and Bullock Island Coal Company
struck coal on Tuesday 3rd October 1905 at a depth of 286 feet.
This coal seam was 27 feet 10 inches in thickness.
A settlement developed at Neath. It was described as a "calico"
mining village. Between 1910 to 1915 the mining employees totalled
some 300 people. Tents and bag "humpies" housed the
miners and their families. The tents and temporary dwellings were
soon converted to rough sawn timber houses with corrugated galvanised
iron roofs. Alongside the mining village was a football field,
and a boxing gymnasium.
contrast to the ‘Calico’ village work began early
in the century on the ‘Neath Hotel’. A substantial
three storey building even today with steel floor joists provided
by the same Scottish company who supplied materials for the Sydney
Harbour Bridge. It also boasts, as do most of the hotels in the
valley, the ‘Iron Lace’ balustrading which was shipped
as ballast from foundries in England and Scotland.
The Littlefair family
had moved from Merewether to Weston, a settlement near Neath and
Harry took employment in the mines. The advent of War and the
tragedy of Gallipoli generated great patriotic zeal and Harry
attempted to enlist not once, but five times. Disappointed at
being rejected, he never gave up hope.
On Monday, August 30th. 1915, he was one of the many volunteers
who turned up at Maitland's Drill Hall and were successfully enlisted.
He was in!
but very important part of the miners' equipment is a small oil
wick lamp, usually worn on the cap or hat to provide personal
underground illumination. Against the day of his return, Harry
chose to leave his lamp together with a small brass fuel container
in the care of Edwin Anstey, the proprietor of the Neath Hotel
which had become his favourite ‘watering hole’.
the words of Winston Churchill, Harry was ‘sent to the wire’
in France where he sustained a major injury to the chest from
a large piece of shrapnel. After convalescence in England he was
left with a hole in his chest into which “ a man could place
his fist”. He was declared ‘ Unfit for active service’,
and was to be sent home. But, he had a lot of mates still fighting
in France! Displaying the same determination and tenacity that
he had in enlistment and because the Generals at this stage of
the war were running out of fit combatants, Harry was allowed
to rejoin his battalion in France.
Back in the field he was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal
and found that his Battalion and Division, like all the Australian
Divisions, were being used as spearhead troops and were sent to
many areas where the fíercest fighting was occurring. During
the German advance in April 1918 the Ist Division, of which the
3rd Battalion was a part, was rushed in to turn the tide of the
Thursday 11 April 1918, The now infamous General D.
Haig F.M wrote this famous memo:
“ To All Ranks of the British Forces in
Three weeks ago today the Enemy began his terrific attacks
against us on a 50 mile front. His objects are to separate
us from the French, to take the Channel ports and destroy
the British Army.
Despite of throwing already 106 Divisions into the battle
and enduring the most reckless sacrifice of human life,
he has as yet made little progress towards his goals.
We owe this to the determined fighting & self sacrifice
of our troops. Words fail me to express the admiration
which I feel for the splendid resistance offered by
all ranks of our Army under the most trying circumstances.
Many amongst us now are tired. To those I would say
that Victory will belong to the side which holds out
the longest. The French army is moving rapidly &
in great force to our support - - - - -
is no other course open to us but to fight it out!
Every position must be held to the last man: there
must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall,
and believing in the justice of our cause each one
of us must fight on to the end. The
safety of our Homes and the Freedom of mankind alike
depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this
the Battle of Lys, near the village of Strazeele, L/Cpl Littlefair
was killed in action on the 15th April, 1918, when he was hit
in the head by a German machine gun bullet.
Harry’s name is inscribed on the Australian National Memorial
He has no Grave. Perhaps the most appropriate and fitting memorial
to Harry Littlefair is that little blackened miner’s lamp
still sitting on the top shelf of the Bar at the Neath Hotel.
John Woods May 2003