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Hugh McIlrath (1912–1933)

Old men, of notable achievement, Chelmsford, Ranjitsinhji, Brereton, these pass from us suddenly. We are sorry, and we regret the few lost years of possible usefulness or companionship. But they rest from their labours and their works do follow them. Such a death is not one of life's tragedies; it is inevitable, ineluctable, and, as such, not even an evil. It is when a young life of infinite promise is suddenly blotted out, with no chance given it of high performance, meaninglessly, wantonly, as it seems to us, it is then that we doubt and wonder, it is then that we really grieve and feel an infinite compassion.

I knew Hugh Mcllrath first as a small boy, the elated "cox" of a very Junior crew, simple- minded, friendly, full of a most lovable boyish mischief, entirely straight and honourable. Some wireless gear had been borrowed from him: he came to claim it, and I walked home with him in the darkness of a country road. He was full of a fearless respect for age and learning, though obviously puzzled that the learning had gaps in it in respect to wireless. He was not a scholar, not greatly interested in books or examinations, but he did like horses and dogs and motor cars, and the love of the land was in his blood. Even then he had made up his mind to be a country man, not a city merchant, but it was characteristic of him that, when he ultimately "went into the business," as in duty bound, he not only did his job well, but managed to like it. He had no gift for figures yet he worked out for himself the perfect balance-sheet. He would have made a fine business man, keen, capable, generous, and considerate: he enjoyed life himself, and he had the gift of service.

We met the problem constantly in the Great War, the problem of glorious young lives ruthlessly cut short. It is hard to find a solution, it is a platitude to answer that such an existence, however brief, may be complete in itself, "and in short measures life may perfect, be." It is almost a truism, but there is truth in it:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.

Of Katherine Mcllrath I dare not speak. Only Hugh himself had seen her in recent years, and he wrote that he was proud of her, proud of her growing graciousness, and loveliness, and very sure that her coming would bring great happiness to her home – the thought is too poignant for any words.

Hugh, was a young Australian, clean, unpretentious, of a fine type, and not perhaps, a very rare one. The sort of fellow of whom, as a boy, you cannot be sure that he will ever do anything great (though the touch of greatness may come with manhood and opportunity), but of whom you can be very sure that he will never do anything mean. We may well grow impatient with that age old generalisation of elderly people, that children nowadays are an anxiety and a disappointment. "These are the words of the Preacher . . childhood and youth are vanity." Such idle scorners have no real knowledge of the young folk of to-day and they did not know Hugh and Katherine Mcllrath.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

'McIlrath, Hugh (1912–1933)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


New South Wales, Australia


27 March, 1933 (aged ~ 21)

Cause of Death

air crash

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

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