The heliograph used by Ernie Curtis to train as a signaler in the lead-up to World War One can still be seen in the Tamborine Mountain Heritage Centre.
With his brothers, Frank and William, Ernie served in the Militia in the Australian Corps of Signalers before the war, becoming proficient in Morse code. Ernie’s cousin, Herbert Curtis, is also listed on the Canungra memorial.
A farmer, Ernie enlisted for overseas service on February 27, 1917, three weeks after his 24th birthday, naming his mother, Mary Curtis, of Tamborine Mountain as his next of kin.
Ernie was initially marked for the 24th reinforcements of the 9th Battalion but was then taken as a Sapper with the Special Draft Reinforcements of the Signal Service for Egypt.
It was six months before Ernie eventually embarked for overseas service on the HMAT Kyarra, leaving Sydney on September 3, 1917.
He arrived at Suez on October 19 and went to the reinforcements’ camp at Moascar before joining the Signal Training Unit three days later.
On November 26, suffering tonsillitis, Ernie was admitted to the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital at Moascar. Two days before Christmas he went to a rest camp at Port Said and on January 13, 1918, returned to the Signal Training Unit at Moascar.
Ernie was proud of the skills he acquired, having achieved high marks in his exams.
Flushed with success in March 1918 he wrote home:
“You have the heliograph and stand slung on your shoulder, you put it up, align it, put the spot on and keep it on while sending the message in morse code at a readable speed, take it down, pack it away and sling it on your shoulder – all in four minutes. It is easily done with practice – I can do it with time to spare.”
Ernie’s letters home also spoke of his love for the Mountain, and he was hungry for news of the orchard he had worked with his brothers Frank and William and which had begun to bear fruit before the war.
On April 9, Ernie, then at the School of Instruction, Zeitoun, was admitted to hospital and that day was transferred to the 70th General Hospital at Abbassia, suffering rheumatic fever.
A month later, with acute rheumatic fever, Ernie was transferred to the 71st General Hospital at Helouan. It was four months after he had first been taken ill before Ernie rejoined the Signal Training Unit at Moascar.
Finally, on September 24, 1918, Ernie marched out to join the 2nd Light Horse Regiment as a signaler.
Ernie joined the Light Horsemen just days after the British had launched the last offensive of the Middle Eastern campaign along the Mediterranean coast. The ANZAC Mounted Division was part of the effort to the east of the Jordan River, finally taking Amman in Palestine.
The signing of the Armistice of Mudros by the Ottoman Turks on October 30 marked an end to the Sinai and Palestine campaign and was followed less than two weeks later by the Armistice in Europe.
On March 13, 1919, Ernie boarded the HT Ulimaroa, arriving at Melbourne on April 19, and travelling on to Brisbane. Ernie was discharged from the AIF in Brisbane on May 22, 1919.
The rheumatic fever Ernie had suffered in the Middle East had taken its toll on his health. However, he returned to farming his orchard at Tamborine Mountain and in 1922 married Jessie Pollard, a school teacher from Brisbane.
The couple had two daughters, Marie and Ailsa.
Despite the ill health he had suffered in the years after the war, Ernie lived on until December 23, 1961. He is buried in the Tamborine Mountain Cemetery alongside Jessie, who passed away in 1983.