Little Digger’s flight of fancy

France, circa February 1919. Private (Pte) Timothy William Tovell, an air mechanic with No 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, with the French orphan boy Henri Heremene who became the squadron mascot after he wandered into their Christmas dinner on 25 December 1918.

On Christmas night 1918, an orphaned boy wandered into the No 4 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps at Biggendorf in Germany, begging for food.

The young boy had lost his father, a French soldier who was killed in action, and then his mother and sister when their family home was shelled soon after.

Luckily for the boy, who was named Little Digger by the squadron, he and Private Timothy William Tovell, an air mechanic, took an instant liking to each other and Tim, along with his brother Ted, “borrowed” a couple of army coats to make a uniform for the young boy.

The medical section calculated his age as 11 and 25 December 1918 was set as his birthday.

Donning his handmade uniform, Little Digger, or Henri as he was later known, moved with the squadron in February 1919 to France, and then on to England, where he was smuggled on board the ship in a modified oat sack.

Tim decided to “adopt” Digger and when the squadron embarked from England for Australia on 6 May 1919, Little Digger was smuggled on board in a sporting equipment hamper.

The ship’s captain discovered he was on board, but let him stay and with the aid of the Queensland Premier Tom Ryan, who was also on board, special permission was granted for him to land in Sydney and move with Tim to his family home in Cooroy to join Tim’s wife, Gertie, daughter Nancy and son Timmy.

Eventually the French Consul agreed that Digger could be adopted by Tim Tovell, but he could not be naturalised until he was 21.

In 1926, when he was 18, Digger left for Melbourne to work for the RAAF as a civilian member at Point Cook, obtaining an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner.

Sadly, on 24 May 1928 Little Digger died from injuries received when his motorcycle collided with a taxi the night before.

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