11/11/2019: Lest We Forget
John "Barney" Hines, "The Souvenir King"
John "Barney" Hines (1878–1958) was a British-born Australian soldier of World War I, known for his prowess at taking items from German soldiers. Hines was the subject of a famous photo taken by Frank Hurley that depicted him surrounded by German military equipment and money he had looted during the Battle of Polygon Wood in September 1917. This image is among the best-known Australian photographs of the war.
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Born in Liverpool, England, in 1878, Hines served in the British Army and Royal Navy, and worked in several occupations. He arrived in Australia in 1915 and volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force in August 1915. Although discharged due to poor health in early 1916, he rejoined in August that year and served on the WEstern Front from March 1917 to mid-1918, when he was discharged again for health reasons. During his period in France he proved to be an aggressive soldier, and gained fame for the collection of items that he amassed, but was undisciplined when not in combat and frequently punished.
Private Hines was a thief and scrounger with a propensity for violence that verged on the psychopathic. But in a place where even brave men were terrified, especially of showing fear, he seemed nerveless.
On description he seems somewhere between “Chopper” Read, legendary Carlton hard man John “Big Nick” Nicholls and Chief Bromden in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. He also happened to be one of the most deadly infantrymen of the war.
At a time when hardly anyone but sailors had tattoos, “Barney” had plenty. At a time when most “bronzed Anzacs” were in fact much smaller than their own grandsons are now, he was regarded as big – a touch under six foot (1.82m) but a genuine “14 stone” (89kg) heavyweight with a barrel chest and muscle from a lifetime of manual labour.
He had black hair, dark eyes and a look that made people nervous.
The Diggers called him “Wild Eyes” and the “Souvenir King” because even in an army with its share of thieves, scallywags and “foragers”, he stood out. Among young recruits, he was a seasoned veteran. When he first enlisted in 1915 he claimed to be 28. He was in fact 42 and had been fending for himself for 30 years, as a seaman, a labourer, a Boer War guide and other things all over the world.
The army discharged him after a few months training because even a big, strong man couldn’t go to war with haemorrhoids. But he re-enlisted later in 1916. This time he said he was 36 and the authorities weren’t so choosy because the Western Front was mincing up tens of thousands of men. He got to France as a 45th Battalion reinforcement in time for the slaughter of 1917.
In a battlefield of horrors beyond imagination, Hines seemed to reduce brutal combat to a sort of macabre sport. “Souveniring” German loot was maybe a way of keeping score, a logical thing to do in a place with no logic, where men lived miserably and died terribly and at random.
He killed and captured dozens of Germans because he was good at it and he robbed them because he needed the money. He’d had his pay docked so often for brawling, drinking and going absent without leave that he was effectively fighting for nothing.
In civilian life he could have made the ideal standover man or rogue cop, with a pistol in his belt, a roll of cash in his pocket and the sort of fearlessness that’s impossible to fake. His fame spread beyond his own battalion as stories of his exploits passed along the lines.
The stories lasted as long as his generation of Diggers did. When they died out, so did the legend. “Wild Eyes” wasn’t as romantic as “Simpson” and his donkey. He wasn’t officer material and contemporary war historians and correspondents weren’t going to praise such a vulgar character. They didn’t give medals to men like him.
When Maria Cameron of Port Fairy began researching the life of her husband’s war hero uncle, Simon Fraser, she discovered the half-forgotten story of Barney Hines. She was in a café in Pozieres in 2006 when she saw French men wearing tee-shirts with an old photograph of a fearsome-looking soldier printed on them. The hulking figure in the photograph is wearing a German forage cap, holding a wad of banknotes and surrounded by a pile of looted goods – a “Hun” helmet, binoculars, rifle, water bottles, bandoliers and knapsacks jammed with jewellery, watches and a bag full of Iron Crosses. The photograph was taken on 27 September 1917, the morning after the battle opened at Polygon Wood.
This was Maria Cameron’s first glimpse of a rogue soldier famous among his fellow troops and still a folk hero in northern France. There might have been snipers with more known “kills” but some suggest Hines singlehandedly killed or captured more Germans than any other foot soldier — and certainly robbed more of them. “He’s the Ned Kelly of the First World War.” Cameron says. “And still a legend over there.”
Hines’ most audacious act was to charge a German pill box, dance on top of it then throw two “Mills bombs” (early hand grenades) through the gun slits.
After the smoke cleared, he captured the 63 shaken Germans who survived the blasts and came out with their hands up. Later the same day, he went back into the field and “knocked out” a German machine gun post.
He preferred to leave his rifle behind and make solo raids lugging two bags stuffed full of “bombs”.
The bags came in handy for bringing back loot.
The stories are many and might even be true. Such as the time Hines “found” a grandfather clock and put it in a dugout until his own troops blew it to pieces because the chimes gave away their position. Another time he returned from Amiens with suitcases full of French francs, apparently “found” in a bank. British military police arrested him but he caused so much trouble he was returned to his unit.
At Passchendaele, a shell burst killed every man in his Lewis gun crew. Hines was thrown 20 metres, had the soles ripped from his boots but still managed to crawl back and keep firing until he fainted from his wounds. After he recovered in hospital he returned, to be wounded again and gassed.
Hines' enthusiasm for collecting German military equipment and German soldiers' personal possessions became well known within and possibly outside of his battalion, and earned him the nickname of "Souvenir King". Although he collected some items from battlefields at Ypres and the Somme region, most were stolen from German prisoner of war. He kept the items he collected for himself, and there are no records of any being handed over to the Australian War Records Section, the AIF unit responsible for collecting items for later display in Australia. Hines sold some of the items he collected to other soldiers, including for alcohol.
He was sent back to Australia a month before the Armistice and discharged in 1919. He went back to doing the best he could – droving, prospecting and timber cutting – but in the 1930s was camping in a hessian humpy on the western outskirts of Sydney. His old army mates took up a collection to help him but peace didn’t suit the old war dog.
When a new war broke out in 1939 he tried to join up again, aged 66, but this time he couldn’t fib his way in. “Barney” died broke in 1958 at 85. Now, he looks like a candidate to be a belated Aussie hero except for one problem. He was born and bred in Liverpool and didn’t reach Australia until he was in his 30s.
But the Poms can’t claim him, either. He was Irish.
Even in an army with its share of thieves and scallywags he stood out.
The photograph of Hines at the Battle of Polygon Wood was published in late 1917 under the title Wild Eye, the souvenir king and became one of the best-known Australian photographs of the war. Many soldiers identified with Hines and were amused by his collection of souvenirs. The photograph was used as propaganda, and a false story developed that the German Kaiser Wilhelm II had become enraged after seeing it.
Away from the front line, Hines developed a record of indiscipline. He was court martialled on nine occasions for drunkenness, impeding military police, forging entries in his pay book and being absent without leave. He also claimed to have been caught robbing the strongroom of a bank in Amiens, though this is not recorded in his Army service record. As a result of these convictions, Hines lost several promotions he had earned for his acts of bravery.He was also fined on several occasions, and the resulting need for money may have been one of the factors that motivated his looting. A member of the 3rd Battalion described Hines as "not normally a weak man but rather one ... uncontrolled". An officer from the 45th Battalion stated after the war that Hines had been "two pains in the neck".
Sensational read.But the Poms can’t claim him, either. He was Irish.