John Colet

In Hounour of Wykeham Henry Kobe Freame (1885-1941)

Mixed Media

80 x 60cm

Gallipoli Artprize John Colet

The background of this work represents his career as an Orchardist; the drawings of the medal are to represent the A.I.F.’s first Distinguished Conduct Medal and the portrait drawings are of him through his life.

Wykeham Henry Koba Freame (1885?-1941), adventurer, soldier, orchardist and interpreter, is believed to have been born on 28 February 1885 at Osaka, Japan, though on his enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force he gave his birthplace as Kitscoty, Canada. He was the son of Henry Freame, sometime teacher of English at the Kai-sei Gakko in Japan, and a Japanese woman, Shizu, née Kitagawa. As he was fluent in Japanese and spoke English with an accent it is likely that he was brought up in Japan. In 1906 he was a merchant seaman and on 19 July of that year married Edith May Soppitt at St John’s Anglican Church, Middlesbrough, England.

Freame probably came to Australia in 1911 and on enlisting in the A.I.F. on 28 August 1914 described himself as a horse-breaker of Glen Innes, New South Wales. Posted to the 1st Battalion as a private, he embarked for Egypt on the troopship Afric on 18 October and was promoted lance corporal on 7 January 1915. On 25 April he landed at Anzac and after three days of heavy fighting was promoted sergeant. He was awarded one of the A.I.F.’s first Distinguished Conduct Medals for ‘displaying the utmost gallantry in taking water to the firing-line although twice hit by snipers’. He was mentioned in dispatches for his work at Monash Valley in June when Charles Bean described him as ‘probably the most trusted scout at Anzac’.

Having served in the Hottentot rising of 1904-06 in German East Africa and in the Mexican wars, Freame was an accomplished scout before joining the A.I.F. He had an uncanny sense of direction and would wriggle like an eel deep into no man’s land, and at night even into enemy trenches, to pick up information. His dark complexion and peculiar intonation of speech had led his companions to believe that he was Mexican—an impression which he reinforced at Anzac where, in cowboy fashion, he carried two revolvers in holsters on his belt, another in a holster under his armpit and a bowie knife in his boot pocket. On 15 August he was wounded during operations at Lone Pine and was evacuated to Australia. He was discharged as medically unfit on 20 November 1916.

Freame settled on the Kentucky estate in New England, New South Wales, when the estate was subdivided for a soldier settlement scheme, and was appointed government storekeeper. He eventually acquired a Kentucky block and was a successful orchardist. His wife died in 1939 and on 16 August 1940 he married Harriett Elizabeth Brainwood, nurse and divorced petitioner, at St John’s Anglican Church, Milson’s Point, Sydney. With the outbreak of World War II he offered his services to the Australian Military Forces and in December 1939 was planted among the Japanese community in Sydney as an agent by military intelligence. In September 1940 he was appointed as an interpreter on the staff of the first Australian legation to Tokyo.

Early in April 1941, however, Freame returned to Australia because of ill health and was admitted to North Sydney Hospital suffering from a severe throat condition which greatly impaired his speech. He died on 27 May and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery with Anglican rites. His death certificate records the cause of death as cancer though Freame himself and later his wife alleged that he had been the victim of a garrotting in Japan. He considered that the attack was the consequence of the injudicious wording of the announcement in the Australian press of his posting to Tokyo. He had been described as employed by the Defence Department at a time when he was telling his Japanese acquaintances another story. Extant evidence provides no definite clarification of the circumstances of his death, though the claim of garrotting was investigated, and rejected, at the time.